Light from the Sidra


Numbers 8 - 12

How grateful we should be that the Most High does not leave his people in darkness and ignorance. In this Sidra we read of the many ways in which he guided Israel. There was the lampstand, which pictured the light of understanding he gives us from the Torah. The Levites, set apart for his service, were to study God’s word and teach the people, as we find them doing at various points in Israel’s history.

As Israel moved through the “great and terrible wilderness” about which they knew so little they were not left to decide for themselves where to go. The LORD provided for them the pillar of cloud and fire which indicated when the people were to move and where they were to go next. God provided the trumpets so that Israel’s movements should not be disorganised but should be done in an orderly way.

What more could Israel have asked for? God provided for their need abundantly. He does the same today by the light of His truth in his word, the Holy Scriptures. We live our lives under very different circumstances, but we are not left in ignorance. The Word of God guides us as we wonder about his plans for our lives and teaches us when we wish to know what pleases him.

But there are many who would say that the LORD seems so far away. Does God really care anymore? Does he really guide his people now? One reason why God may seem far off is because we have fallen into the sins of complaining and being ungrateful.

In this Sidra we see plenty of ingratitude and complaint! We read in chapter 11 that the people were in a complaining mood. Then they murmured about the lack of Egyptian-type food. The last straw was when even Aaron and Miriam grumbled because they were not being recognised as God’s prophets as they ought to be; they seemed to think that too much importance was being attributed to Moses.

Some commentators say that those who murmured were the mixed multitude, other non-Jews who joined Israel when they came out of Egypt, and not the Israelites themselves. However, a straightforward reading of the Sidra shows that interpretation to be completely wrong. In Numbers 11:4 we do indeed read of this mixed multitude–the non-Jews–complaining. But the children of Israel grumbled about the same things. All were guilty. To make it even plainer, we read of the sin of Aaron and Miriam in this matter of complaining. Two members of Israel if ever anybody was! No, many of the people of Israel were guilty then, and suffered the consequences, and it is the same today.

Each must ask themselves the question: Am I guilty of this sin? Guilty of ingratitude to the LORD? Guilty of complaining? Do you sometimes think deep inside that God has been unfair to you and to Israel? Do you feel he could have done much more for you than he has? If so, you are guilty of the sin of ingratitude, and just like the Israel in the wilderness, you deserve only his wrath. How can you murmur against him in your heart when he has granted you blessings you don’t deserve? There is so much ingratitude to God in the world, but the worst example of it is when it is in his people whom he has blessed so much.

Maybe you think, “Look at the history of the Jews. Where are the blessings? We have suffered so much!”

Indeed, the affliction of the Jewish people throughout the centuries have been awful and overwhelming. But God is not unjust. There must be a reason for Israel’s tragic history. The rabbis have struggled to find a cause-and-effect answer to Jewish suffering and many relate it to Israel’s failings. An extreme example is Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef who suggested that those who perished in the Nazi Holocaust were the reincarnated souls of sinners. Most recently Rabbi Meir Porush told the Knesset that the reason for the collapse of the Versailles wedding hall in which 24 people died and more than 300 were injured was, “We do not behave as we are ordered by God to behave”. Rabbi Reuven Levy, told the Kol ha’Ir newspaper, “The main lesson to learn from the Versailles wedding hall disaster is that all mixed dancing is incest … Every time a woman dances with a man she’s not married to, both are punishable by death”.

Whatever we may think of those statements, there can be no doubt that in our Sidra the nation’s sufferings were directly linked to ingratitude and murmuring. Is Israel still guilty of ingratitude? If there is a direct link between suffering and ingratitude, what can account for the scale of suffering experienced by the Jewish people over the last two millennia? Consider the little value most Jewish people set upon the Scriptures. The Bible is one of God’s greatest gifts to the Jewish people and yet how many Jewish people, secular or Haredi, read the Tanakh in their own homes and in the privacy of their own rooms to discover the will of the Most High?

The greatest gift of all to Israel was the Messiah, the true manna from heaven, the true lamp of truth. The greatest tragedy for so many in Israel is that they have despised and rejected him. What greater demonstration of ingratitude could there be?

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