“Only do not rebel against the Lord”. That is B’midbar 14:9, one of the key passages in this week’s Torah reading. It’s a good word, this “rebel”. The root is probably the Latin re – “again” and bellum – “war”.
In Yiddish we have a similar word, rebbele – “a little rabbi”. There is no logical connection between the Latin and the Yiddish, but with some homiletical licence we can invent one by saying that a person who makes himself into a rebbele can well be a rebel against HaShem.
A rebbele can be a good thing, a person who shows early signs of rabbinic capacity. It can be a bad thing if it denotes a know-all who thinks he can run the world better than God. That after all was the sin of the men of the Tower of Babel. They fully believed they could storm the heavens, dethrone God and take over the Creation.
God has survived millennia of rebels and rebbeles who knew better than He did.
That is not to say that His governance of the universe is always capable of being comprehended. Throughout history there have been confrontations with God, attempts to sue Him, moments of sheer terror when His creatures felt He had abandoned them.
Within a few weeks when we mark Tishah B’Av we will read of one such event when the prophet Jeremiah saw the city burning and said, “The Lord has become an enemy!”
However, raising one’s fist to God, to use Bialik’s turn of phrase, was never regarded as sinful, even though it was daring. What was sinful was when human beings rebelled and said, “God, we can manage without You. You have not done such a great job with the world; we are taking over.”