Our Motives Matter to God
Yael Eckstein | July 6, 2022
Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink! — Numbers 20:5
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1.
Like any parent, I don’t like to hear my kids arguing and fighting. Now, my children are wonderful, and I never doubt they sincerely love each other. But kids are kids, and families are families. And sometimes they just push each other’s buttons.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to pay attention to exactly what they’re fighting about. I remember one time we were pulling into a parking spot outside the supermarket. A few feet away, there was a young mother with a huge overflowing shopping cart and a small child in tow.
“Can one of you help her?” I spontaneously said to my kids.
Immediately two of my kids started pushing each other out of the way to be the one who would help her. “I’m helping her!” “No, I got here first. I’m helping her.” It was an absurd argument. The young mother laughed as she thanked us. While I was not happy with the fighting, I reminded myself that they were fighting over who would do this beautiful act of kindness.
Our Motives Matter to God
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about two similar complaints by the children of Israel. In one case, God punished them with deadly snakes. In the other, God did not punish them at all.
In Numbers, the children of Israel “spoke against God 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!” (21:5). After their complaints, God sent the snakes as punishment.
But shortly before that we read, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (20:5).
It was basically the same complaint, but in this case, God showed no anger. There was no punishment. What’s the difference?
In Deuteronomy 8:8, the land of Israel is described as “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” That is where the people wanted to go!
God didn’t punish them because they were not asking to go back to Egypt. Unlike the spies before them, they were complaining because where they currently were was not the Promised Land. They wanted to go into the Promised Land! They were saying, “We want the land of Israel!”
God saw the positive motive beneath the surface of their arguing and complaining and saw that they wanted the right thing. In the end, our motives matter to God.
Do you ever get impatient because you want the right thing? Take comfort that God sees your motives and knows your heart is in the right place.