Faith quenches deepest thirst

BY RABBI JIM BENNETT

“Seeing is believing in the things you see. Loving is believing in the ones you love.”

— Margie Adams

Faith is often difficult. Our weekly Torah portion, Chukat-Balak, teaches this lesson once again. On their journey through the desert, the ancient Israelites discovered just how difficult it is to have unfailing faith. Led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the developing Jewish people learned the lessons of faith that continue to tutor each of us on our own life journey.

A legend teaches that Miriam provided water for the Israelites from a mystical well that followed her and them through the wilderness. Yet Miram dies at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, and the people find themselves experiencing a thirst that saps them of their physical and spiritual strength.

How many of us, too, find ourselves thirsting in our own lives? We wish our faith was deeper, we long to feel God’s presence, we feel dry and parched by the long journey that still lies ahead.

In the Torah portion, God appears to Moses, gently instructing him as to how to once again satisfy his own thirst and that of his people. Moses, however, like so many of us, cannot simply hear the voice of God, and respond. His arrogance leads him to take matters in his own hand and strike a rock to which he was merely to speak. The results are disastrous — water flows copiously, yet Moses will never see the Promised Land he so longs to reach.

Is this fair? Who knows? The story is not about fairness — it is about faith. Moses gets in the way of his own faith. For a brief, fleeting moment, it is all about Moses. He forgets that it is supposed to be about God.

So, too, with us. We often forget this lesson. We begin to think that life is all about us, that we are what is most important, that our own power, ego, needs, and desires are what is all-important. And we forget to put our faith where it belongs — in God.

While the water was plentiful, the faith of the people was strong. Seeing is believing, and the people trusted their eyes and their mouths. When thirst overcame them, when they thirsted even just a bit, their faith wavered and they turned to their own arrogance and that of their leaders.

Our challenge is clear — it is easy to have faith when all is well. “Seeing is believing in the things you see.” Yet our faith must stem not merely from what we see, but also from what we feel. “Loving is believing in the ones you love.” We must love ourselves, each other and perhaps most of all, we must love God, knowing that our faith will guide us through our most difficult journeys, and our quest for the sacred will quench our most powerful thirst.

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth prepared this week’s Torah Portion.

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