Years ago my family and I spent a day hiking in the wilderness of Zin. We complained about the lack of food and water. We complained that we were still wearing the same clothes since our arrival. (The airline had lost our luggage.) Our guide was determined to bring us to the spring of Ein Avdat. When we finally arrived we asked, “This is a spring? The water is so dirty. It looks more like a puddle.” I am sure our leader thought to himself, “Those spoiled Americans. They should spend some time in the Israeli army.”
“The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin… The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord... Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink.’” (Numbers 20:1-5)
The Israelites complain a great deal. The commentators are unforgiving in their judgment of them. They lack faith in God. After all they saw: the plagues, the parting of the Sea of Reeds, Mount Sinai, after all these miracles, they still complain. The commentators are as well unforgiving of their leader Moses and his response to the people. In this portion Moses loses his temper and strikes the rock, saying, “Listen you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” (20:10) It is for this act that Moses is punished. Because of this God prevents Moses from entering the land of Israel.
Most agree that he is punished because of his anger. The leader loses his cool with the people he leads. But who is ever perfectly tempered? And who always has perfect faith? In fact I doubt those who profess blind faith. I question those who are always so even keeled. I wonder. What awakens his passion? What stirs her to anger? What arouses doubt in her soul? What shatters his trust in God?
The most common word for faith in Hebrew is emunah. Its root is related to the word trust. Faith is to trust or rely on God. Abraham Joshua Heschel, however, suggests that a better word for faith is yirah, awe. We are therefore to stand in awe before God. This awe moreover calls us to better our world. Faith does not resolve all questions. It does not provide certainty. Instead it asks more of us. Faith is a call to service.
Most people see questions as contrary to faith. They believe faith calms the soul and quiets doubt. But questions are integral to belief. Thus I believe the more faith, the more questions. Most people see anger as something to be avoided. But anger intimates passion. Why are we not angry that just a few miles from our homes people go hungry? Only minutes from my house people grumble for water. Let this make us angry!
I want passions that occasionally rise to anger. I want as well a faith that is filled with trust and awe, but also many questions.