Trust is a fickle thing. It is hard to build and it can shatter in a moment. Once shattered, it is painstaking to rebuild. If this is true of trust between people, how much more so trust in G-d?
The Torah tells us about a trust event that occurred in the desert shortly after G-d began to provide Mana for the Jewish people every day. The Jews traveled from Sinai to a place in the desert called Refidim where they discovered that there was no water for the nation.
You will recall that the approximately two million Jews left Egypt and ventured into a vast arid desert with nothing but trust in G-d and a few Matzos on their backs. G-d never forgot this. Many years later, G-d told Jeremiah, “I remember the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown.”
Well, this trust lasted a while, but when they encountered a place without water, the trust fell apart. Let’s see how they responded.
“There was no water for the people to drink and they quarreled with Moses, saying, give us water to drink. Moses said to them, why quarrel with me, why test G-d? The people thirsted there for water and complained against Moses, saying, why have you lifted us from Egypt to make me, my children, and my livestock die of thirst?”
At this point, G-d responded with a miracle. Moses hit a rock and it gushed forth water. This rock accompanied the Jews for nearly forty years and provided water wherever they went.
But G-d was unhappy with the way things went and, “He named the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarreling] because of the children of Israel’s quarrel and because they tested G-d by asking, is G-d in our midst or not?”
This story presents several questions.
- If G-d planned to provide water miraculously, why didn’t He provide it upfront?
- Why was the place named for their quarrel and test, rather than their complaint, which was much worse?
Have you ever wondered why G-d provided a daily ration of Mana rather than provide provisions for a month at a time? The answer is that If their cupboards were empty, the Jews would rely on G-d, but if they were full, they would rely on their cupboards. The Jews were told not to save Mana from one day to the next. They were meant to go to sleep each night with empty cupboards. The message was that they need not worry about provisions because G-d would provide.
Having received daily rations without fail for a little while, G-d hoped that when the water sources depleted, they would respond similarly. Rather than worrying about water, they would trust G-d as they trusted Him every day for Mana.
If you examine the order of these words carefully, G-d plan will become clear. The Torah doesn’t say that they were thirsty and then quarreled. The Torah says that there was no water, they responded by quarreling, only then did they grow thirsty, and complained bitterly.
Have you detected the message between the lines? G-d was always planning to provide water. But first He wanted them to show some trust. He brought them to a place with no water. The correct response should have been the one they had been trained to have with the Mana. If the cupboards are empty, don’t worry, G-d will provide. Instead, they panicked and quarreled.
Because they quarreled rather than trusted, the miracle was somewhat slower in coming. So indeed, they grew thirsty. The point is that they panicked before they grew thirsty. They weren’t thirsty yet, but without a visible source of water, they panicked about the future. It was only then that they grew thirsty and complained bitterly.
This explains why the place wasn’t named for their complaint. Their vitriolic complaint can be excused considering that they were dying from thirst. That was not the unforgivable sin. The sin was that they panicked before they were even thirsty. Instead of panicking, they should have trusted G-d.
A wise friend once told me that worries are always over the future. No one ever panics over the present. Problems in the present, we either solve or live with. Panic only sets in when we worry about the future. If I am having trouble breathing now, how am I going to make it through the night? If I don’t get along with my spouse three months after we married, how can we hope to get along when we have children and need to face the stresses of life? If I can’t afford to pay my bills, where will I live if I get evicted?
These worries cause us to panic. It is not the present that we can’t handle. In the present, we are still okay. It is our fear for the future. The Jewish people panicked when they should have realized that they were okay at the moment. The future belongs to G-d and He would surely provide as He provided their daily Mana. This was their sin. This was their mistake. And this is what we need to learn from them.
There is a slight difference between our generation and theirs. In the desert, G-d provided everything, and they were only asked to trust. Today, G-d wants us to do the work, which He bless with success. But even we can’t be sure that our work will be a success and whether we will be protected in the future.
Whether in the desert or in the modern-day, we can only be sanguine about the future with a healthy dose of trust. Otherwise, we panic, and panic becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The moment we panic, we lose control. We stop thinking clearly, we react rashly, and do things that we will regret.
Rather than bringing us closer to a solution, panic always digs us into a deeper hole. We miscalculate, overcompensate, and before long, self-destruct. The panic-born-fear proves true, not because we are right to fear, but because fear drains us of fight.
We must remember that the present was once the future and things worked out okay. After all, we are still here. If G-d provided for our future in the past, and we know that to be true because we are living that future right now, He will provide for our future in the present too. As Franklin D Roosevelt once said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.