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    Why did they want to stay? – B’shallach

    Israelites in the wilderness, Foster Bible Pictures, 1897

    More than once Moses had to coax the people into moving forward.

    We know of their mutiny against life in the wilderness when they wanted to go back to Egypt. But even earlier there was a problem.

    It seems from Ex. 14:15 that they did not want to budge once they had crossed the Red Sea and encamped at Sinai.

    The Midrash asks what made the people reluctant to go any further. Surely they knew they were on the way to destiny!

    Surely they wanted to settle down in the Promised Land as a nation with its own way of life! What was the attraction of the wilderness?

    The answer the Midrash offers is to the people’s credit. They had had a remarkable emotional and spiritual experience. Crossing the Red Sea was exhilarating. Standing at Mount Sinai was inspiring. They wanted the great experience never to end.

    We are all like that from time to time. Like Christopher Robin who wanted to stay six for ever and ever, we have moments when we are on a high and wish it would never end.

    But the Israelites had to move into the wilderness, as we have to move back into day to day living.

    We all have to come down from the mountain top and face life on the ground. We have to move into the sometimes harsh world and face its challenges.

    In “This is my God” (p.54), Herman Wouk relates that the Vilna Gaon once asked the Dubner Maggid to tell him his faults.

    The maggid at first declined. When the Gaon pressed him, he at last spoke somewhat like this:

    “Very well. You are the most pious man of our age. You study day and night, retired from the world, surrounded by the rows of your books, the Holy Ark, the faces of devout scholars. You have reached high holiness.

    “How have you achieved it?

    “Go down in the market place, Gaon, with the rest of the Jews. Endure their work, their strains, their distractions. Mingle in the world, hear the scepticism and irreligion they hear, take the blows they take. Submit to the ordinary trials of the ordinary Jew.

    “Let us see then if you will remain the Vilna Gaon!”

    They say the Gaon broke down and wept.

    There are times for high holiness, but there are times to stand in the market place and hold onto your faith, dignity, ethics and honesty when other forces push and pull you hither and thither.

    The Torah is not for ministering angels in the rarefied atmosphere of heaven, but for ordinary people facing dilemmas on earth.

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