Kvetch or Kvell?

Originally Published at Modern Mormon Men on February 26, 2015
kvetch – k(ə)veCH
 (from Yiddish)
 A person who complains a great deal

Oy vey! My last post has me on an extended tangent thinking about the persona and stereotypical portrayal of the chronic kvetch. Kvetch is a pretty cool word given that it’s both a verb and a noun. Some have argued that it is also an art form. At the very least, it is learned behavior. The determinants that create a kvetch are complex and include societal, cultural and family dynamics.

From the biblical perspective, chronic complaining may be likened to murmuring. Both Hebrew and words translated as murmur in the Bible describe the kvetch. Though there are probably many examples of the kvetch in scripture, we really don’t need to look further than the second chapter of The Book of Mormon for a great case study.

Nephi’s family is the best-described family in The Book of Mormon, and it has more than its share of complainers. Admittedly, they are cast in the light of murmurers rather than complainers, but the difference is merely semantic. Laman & Lemuel, 1 Sariah 2 and even Lehi 3 all had their moments of murmuring. Add to these the constant complaining of Nephi’s in-laws 4 and it is safe to assume that oy vey was a familiar refrain in the Lehite home.

It is also safe to say that the hardships and trials that Nephi went through were at least as difficult as those of Laman and Lemuel. The Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:16-35) is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, and gives great insights into some of Nephi’s personal struggles:

O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins . . . why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? 2 Nephi 4:17-19; 26-27

A common response to this kind of adversity would be to vigorously murmur and complain. This is certainly how Nephi’s brothers generally responded. Yet Nephi does not kvetch, but rather he kvells. Kvell is another Yiddish verb meaning ‘to be extraordinarily pleased; to be bursting with pride.’ Consider his Psalm again:

I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he had led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He had filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh . . . Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. 2 Nephi 4:19-21, 30

Where Laman and Lemuel are defined by the kvetch, Nephi is defined by the kvell. His life is that of one who kvells over the things the Lord has done for him. The perfect brightness of hope he taught was not just some idea, but the experience that defined who he was–in spite of all of his adversity. While many of those around him despaired and complained at every turn, Nephi miraculously finds the way to “raise kvell.” What a guy.

  1. Laman & Lemuel’s murmuring: 1 Nephi 2:11-12; 3:5; 3:31; 4;4; 16:20; 17:17; 17:22; 17:49; 2 Nephi 1:26; 5:3-4
  2. Sariah’s murmuring: 1 Nephi 5:2-3
  3. Lehi’s murmuring: 1 Nephi 16:20; 16:25
  4. Murmuring of the in-laws: 1 Nephi 16:20, 16:35
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