There is a saying: “Seeing is believing.” But, sometimes, for various reasons, we see things and we still doubt what we have seen with our own eyes. We are skeptical about what we ourselves experience, and we are skeptical about the stories we are told, even if the stories come from the Bible…
This week I came across the following story:
A little boy returned home from Hebrew school and his father asked, “What did you learn today?” He answered, “The rabbi told us how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.” “How?” asked the father. The boy said, “Moses was a strong man and he beat Pharaoh up. Then, while Pharaoh was down, Moses got all the people together and ran toward the sea. When he got there, he had the Corps of Engineers build a huge pontoon bridge. Once they got on the other side, they blew up the bridge while the Egyptians were trying to cross.”
The father was shocked. “Is that what the rabbi taught you?” The boy replied, “No. But you’d never believe the story he DID tell us!”
Why do I share this story with you now? Because it is hard to believe some of the biblical stories in our weekly Torah portion. Especially the part about the miracles…
Our Torah portion of B’ha’a’lot’cha reminds us that the Israelites were led through the desert guided by a cloud and pillar of fire! According to the Biblical story, the Israelites saw the cloud and the pillar of fire…So, why did they have trouble believing that God was with them? Why did they complain?
Why were they not open to simply “believing” what they were seeing with their own eyes?
Perhaps it is because, from the earliest time in our history as a people, Jewish tradition has encouraged us to ask questions! We are supposed to use our minds in order to understand more fully whether what we are experiencing or what we are being told is something which is true or not. And, experience teaches us that a healthy measure of skepticism is important in life! Isn’t that kind of “critical thinking” exactly what the Israelites were doing as they “looked right past” the miracles that they were experiencing? Weren’t they just doing what Judaism encourages us to do – to use our minds to ask probing questions…?
But, there is a greater truth embedded in our Parsha. The greater truth is that literal truth is not the only kind of truth which has spiritual value. Sometimes, there is value in “believing” a story even when it is mixed with some measure of “mythology.” The cloud and the pillar of fire were there, literally or figuratively. They were seen by our people. Yet our people complained and denied God’s presence in their lives!
Our Torah portion is asking us to consider: How many times do we automatically disbelieve the stories of everyday miracles and of extraordinary miracles that happen in our lives, or that are part of our Torah’s spiritual message? How many times does our skepticism get in the way of faith and of hope, of purpose and of devotion?
I welcome your thoughts on this subject….What would you say?
Rabbi Gilah Dror