Parashat Chukat

Are we nearly there yet? How many parents get tired of hearing that one?! The 40 years ‎of wandering are soon to be over, the camp of Israel is close to ‎the borders of the Promised Land, they are almost there and so ‎what happens? Throw a party to celebrate this achievement? ‎No,they grumble and complain, murmur against G-d and attack ‎Moshe and Aharon! ‎

In Numbers (B’midbar) 20:4-5 we read the questions being ‎asked: is this what it’s supposed to be like? It’s too dry, too little ‎fruit, too little progress. It’s just too hard, surely if it was a ‎blessing it would all be easy! Is that what you want? Easy? Or ‎do you want to walk the way of growth and maturity? Do you ‎want easy blessings or lasting blessings? The easy ‘blessings’ ‎were in Egypt, or so they thought, but the real blessings were still ‎ahead. They were growing towards them. It was hard, dry and ‎difficult, they had to struggle each new day it seemed. Stephen ‎summarises it in his sermon in Acts in that they wanted to turn ‎back to Egypt, to their former ways which apparently were so ‎much better, but wrong of course! Isn’t it interesting how the ‎word ‘back’ seems to encapsulate so many of our problems and ‎woes. Only when we say ‘I can’t go back’ do we begin to break ‎loose and move on, being released from the past.‎

Here was the delusion: It was hard in Egypt, but it’s worse now. ‎AND? The delusion is that it somehow should be easier and ‎better. But G-d isn’t interested in easy. The wilderness, and the ‎difficulty of it, got the people ready to enter the Land. Our life’s ‎journey is preparation for how G-d will unfold His will through us. ‎But notice this, G-d is interested in seeing His will done through ‎you, not your will to be used. ‘Am I nearly there yet?’ we ask, ‎surely I am ready to be used for you, to serve you? Not that that ‎in itself is wrong or laudable, but we have begun to see self-‎worth only in service and not in following G-d’s will alone. The ‎difference may be subtle but the outcomes can be vastly ‎different. G-d is far more interested in you and your personal ‎growth (spiritual, personal and knowledge of Him) than what He ‎will do with you. The myth today is that G-d is just waiting to ‎‎‘release’ you into ministry, impatient for your readiness. The truth ‎is, He is far more interested in your life becoming more like His ‎than anything He will DO with you. G-d doesn’t ‘need’ you to do ‎His work. Did G-d need us to conquer the Land? Instead of ‎rushing the job through He waited 40 years for us to be ready, to ‎be in that place where we said yes and submitted to Him.‎

Our decision on how to respond in times of difficulty will ‎determine whether we actually do arrive to where G-d wants to ‎get us. If when problems and difficulties arise (and they will) we ‎choose to attack the leadership by action or word, create ‎problems beyond the one in hand, begin to become angry with ‎G-d, then we shall walk a longer path than the one G-d intends. ‎If we choose to carry on anyway, G-d can begin to work. ‎Obedience is what we need to learn, not expressing our ‎individual needs through a ‘service’ that we feel we need to ‎bring.‎

This is highlighted by the two places mentioned in this portion: ‎Kadesh and Meribah. Interestingly enough both names are used ‎of the same geographical location. In Kadesh G-d wanted to ‎exalt Himself and make Himself holy to them. In Meribah they ‎fought against G-d. In some ways this is encouraging, that ‎despite our rebellions against G-d and revolts, at the end of the ‎day He will get us (either individually or corporately) to the place ‎we need to be in, in other words He will exalt Himself despite or ‎in spite of our sins. But that is no cop out. What place will we ‎choose? Is our will always so important that it’s worth going to ‎Meribah for? Will we continue to fight against G-d’s will and so ‎delay the entry? The hallmark of those who went through the ‎desert experience according to Torah was ‘they didn’t obey the ‎voice of the Lord’, in other words they didn’t act in faith or ‎trusting thus prolonging the walk. In our rebellion, lack of ‎obedience, we extended the learning process, but learn we did. ‎

We need to establish that G-d’s plan for our lives is to make us ‎more like HIM and less like ourselves, our needs and wants. ‎How we want to ‘serve’ is not necessarily how He wants us to ‎be. Service can be as idolatrous as anything else, when in fact ‎all G-d wants in us is change, a reduction in rebellion. Will we ‎see HIM exalted (Kadesh) in our lives, or will we fight and rebel ‎‎(Meribah)? The wonderful divine paradox of all this though is ‎that even at those times when we cause a prolonging and make ‎it harder than it might otherwise have been, He uses that to ‎continue to mould us into the image of His Son. ‎

So, the journey goes on. The length of it is determined often by ‎us, even if with hindsight we can see G-d’s hand at work. But the ‎destination is never in doubt, so lift up your eyes to One who can ‎set you free and bring you into the Inheritance by faith, the ‎hallmark of the Community and people of G-d.‎

Rabbi Binyamin