They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” — Numbers 21:4–5
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
Maybe you’ve noticed that the same challenges keep reoccurring in your life. They could be financial issues or relationship difficulties. Maybe you’re struggling with an ongoing health condition that keeps coming back. If any of this sounds familiar, it could be that God is trying to teach you something. Every difficulty in life is a lesson. Every trial is a teacher. But if we don’t understand what the teacher is trying to teach us, the lesson will be repeated again and again.
God is a very patient teacher. We, on the other hand, often get fed up before we get things right.
In this week’s reading, the Israelites were literally weeks away from entering the Promised Land. In fact, in this portion, they were encountering their first battles on the way into the land. It had been 39 years in the desert, and the end was finally in sight. And then we hear this: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Does this sound familiar? It should! We’ve heard some form of this complaint many times before — Exodus 14 and 16, and Numbers 14, 16, and 20 all contain various formulations of this same complaint. And here again in Numbers 21, the people were still grumbling.
What’s even more frustrating is had the Israelites been more patient, faithful, and trusting in God, they would have been in the Promised Land in just a few weeks without having to undergo the painful journey through the desert and its ensuing trials and complications.
In addition, when we look closer at their complaint, it isn’t even logical. First, they complained that they had no bread, but in the next breath, they complain about how much they detested their food. We know their main source of food was manna, which we learned could taste like anything – including bread. They also say they had no water, but just a chapter earlier we read how Moses brought forth water from a rock. So what’s going here?
As Scripture explains, the nation of Edom would not allow the children of Israel to pass through their land to Canaan, which forced the Israelites to go a longer, circuitous route that involved fighting the giants of Sihon and Og. Simply put, the Israelites had had it. They were running low on patience, courage, and faith. However, God didn’t want them to give up; He wanted them to grow up!
I think that when God sends us the same trials in life over and over again, He is asking us to do the same. Don’t grow weary of the same problems. Instead, grow wiser, aim higher, and learn the lessons God has placed on your journey toward success.
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With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President