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Remember the story of the Exodus, of the Jews’ leaving Egypt? From the beginning of their journey, when they encountered the Reed Sea, they complained; they saw the Egyptians pursuing them in chariots, and they were certain they would die. It didn’t occur to them that they would be rescued by G-d. When they were saved, the Torah says that “they had faith in G-d and his servant Moses.”
But did they?
When they left Egypt so quickly, they were unable to bring much food or drinkable water. So, they complained again. Moses asked G-d what they could drink, and G-d showed Moses a way to make the bitter water sweet. So, their faith in G-d was restored. Right?
When they had run out of food, they feared they would starve to death; they assumed G-d had brought them out from Egypt only for them to die in the desert. So they complained. Again. In response, G-d had the manna rain down from heaven. Moses reminded the Jews that G-d had provided the manna, and that they “. . . would know it was G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt and in the morning you shall behold the glory of G-d, because He has heard your complaints against Him.” One has to wonder how long G-d waited before He reacted to their complaints.
A number of questions came up for me as I reflected on these stories: why did G-d wait until the Jews complained about being hungry to provide them with food? Did he expect them to do something other than complain? How long did he wait as their complaints continued before he provided them with the manna?
There is a possible answer to these questions:
There were three incidents early in their journey when the people complained to G-d: the pursuit of the Egyptians, the lack of pure water, and finally the lack of food. G-d might have expected the people to appreciate that they could rely on G-d, that they could trust Him to protect and care for them, especially after all the miracles they had witnessed in Egypt. He might have believed that on their departure, they would realize that G-d could practice miracles on their behalf.
But at the first crisis, their encounter at the Sea of Reeds, they were certain the Egyptians were going to destroy them. G-d probably assumed that in those moments, it didn’t occur to them that G-d could intervene. So, he forgave them for their lack of belief in Him and their lack of imagination.
When they encountered bitter water and complained again, Moses changed the water; again, he was able to transform the bitter water to sweet with G-d’s help.
By the time the Jews ran out of food, they had developed a habit of complaining. What they didn’t do was pray that G-d would once more intervene. It’s possible that at this point, when the Jews appealed to G-d through complaining rather than praying, He realized that the Jews had a long way to go to realize their sacred, spiritual connection to Him. It was easy and familiar to complain; they wanted food. They were hungry. It was not obvious that G-d would hear their prayers and provide the food, even though He called them his children.
So he provided the manna, but insisted on rules for them to collect and eat it. He wanted them to realize that in a sense, He had a shared relationship with them; they would not just receive his beneficence, but He expected them to reciprocate by following his rules and direction; that He was their G-d, and in turn they had to show their gratitude by accepting His direction. Those who refused learned that their extra portion of manna was not eatable.
There were many shifts in the relationship of the Jews with G-d, times when we could see that they were growing and maturing; that they were better understanding the role of G-d in their lives; that they were becoming G-d’s partners in creation; that they began to better understand their role in the world, and how to live as a holy nation.
But understanding how we can relate to G-d can be challenging and take time.Published in