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by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Studying the recent portions of the Torah, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the Jewish people's apparent propensity towards sin in the desert.



Studying the recent portions of the Torah, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the Jewish people's apparent propensity towards sin in the desert. Time and again, they demonstrate a remarkable tendency towards rebellion against Hashem, refusing to believe in His constant direction and interest in their lives, in His ability to perform continuous miracles to provide them with food, sustenance, and protection. Weren't these the same people who recently witnessed the annihilation of Egypt through the ten plagues, the wondrous splitting of the Red Sea and drowning of their oppressors, and the remarkable revelation at Mt. Sinai where the entire nation was catapulted by G-d to a unique level of prophecy unmatched in history? Aren't they being openly fed on a daily basis by the heavenly manna, surrounded and sheltered by the clouds of glory, given water to drink from Miriam's traveling well?

Yet, despite G-d's perpetual miraculous involvement in their lives, the book of Numbers seems to be comprised of one failing after another. To mention just a few, in last week's portion we find the Jewish people bitterly complaining about the lack of variety in their diet and longing for the fleshpots of Egypt. This week's portion describes the debacle of the spies' bad report and the people's bitter response, resulting in the death of that entire generation. Next week's portion recounts the rebellion of Korach, in which a group of prominent leaders challenge G-d and Moses. How are we to understand the apparent lack of faith of the generation of the desert, people who experienced outright miracles on a daily basis?

Without a doubt, one must carefully analyze each of these tragedies to arrive at a proper understanding. However, on a broader scale, perhaps we can gain some insight by focusing on another issue which has probably crossed our mind at sometime: We are prone to thinking that if G-d would simply show us one open miracle, our lives would be forever changed. We would be transformed into complete believers overnight, dedicating our every desire and effort towards the fulfillment of the Divine will. Just speak to me once - we think - give me a clear sign of Your existence, and I'll never doubt You again.

The question we must consider is whether or not this would truly be our response. Indeed, what would our reaction be to an open miracle? Would we be permanently transformed into deeply religious people? How did the generation in the desert respond to Hashem's gift of increased spiritual awareness? Is there something to be said for the constant struggle to discover G-d which is inherent in the trials and tribulations of everyday life?


Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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