In this week’s parasha, Moshe reacts in an astonishing way to God’s declaration that he will provide the entire people with a month’s worth of all the meat that they can eat. Moshe actually expresses doubt that God is capable of such a feat! Amazingly, God does not seem to take offense at Moshe’s lack of confidence in this promise, and simply dismisses Moshe’s doubts with a perfunctory “You’ll see!”
It’s okay for Moshe to express doubts about God?
The rabbis of the midrash compare this passage with the incident of the striking of the rock, and ask why Moshe is punished for his lack of faith there, but not here. The rabbis liken the situation to one in which a king (God) has a close intimate friend (Moshe). When the friend expresses doubts about the king’s abilities privately, the king accepts these doubts as a part of an honest, open relationship. However, when the friend expresses his doubts in front of the king’s legions (B’nai Yisrael at the striking of the rock), the king is forced to react aggressively in order to maintain the respect and loyalty of his troops. Moshe emerges from this midrash as a model for Jewish agnosticism. Even an individual who is as close to God as a Moshe may have doubts about God. The key is to manage those doubts without undermining the morale and commitment of others.
The story is told about Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, that once a hasid complained to him of being plagued by doubt. The rebbe asked him what difference it made if he had doubts or not. The hasid replied that if there’s no God, then creation would have no purpose. The Kotzker asked him, “What difference does that make?” The hasid replied, “What difference does it make!?! Rebbe, what are you thinking? What else could possibly matter to me?” The rebbe answered, “If it matters to you all that much, then you’re fine.” Doubt is not a problem, but apathy surely is.
Rabbi Mitch Levine