Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

Have Doubts About God? (Va’era 1/4/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Have Doubts About God?
Our Parsha begins with Moses in a state of high anxiety and crisis of faith. Since his audience with Pharaoh, the situation of the Jewish slaves has worsened considerably. Their workload has been doubled, Pharaoh is totally unimpressed with the signs Moses showed him (turning the staff into a snake, etc.), and the leaders of the people place blame upon Moses for their worsened state (Exodus 5):
21 And the Children of Israel said to Moses and Aaron “May the Lord look upon you and judge, for you have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, to place a sword into their hands to kill us.”
22 Moses then turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Why have You done bad to this people? Why have You sent me?
23 Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.”
Unsuccessful with Pharaoh and with the Jewish people, is it any wonder that Moses complains to the Lord about this mission which he now reiterates that he wishes to abandon? He’s lost faith in himself, and it seems, in God too.
Nonetheless, God patiently sends him back to his task and reassures him that all will yet turn out well for him and the people (Exodus 6):
1 And the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out, and with a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”
By the end of the Parsha, we find Moses full of strength and confidence in his ability to save and lead the Jewish people. His faith doesn’t quiver again even when the situation would require much faith:
When trapped by the sea, Moses is confident God will split the sea and rescue them.
While resting peacefully in the desert, they’re attacked by the people of Amalek, but Moses is sure the Jewish people will win the battle.
When he’s asked to make bitter water sweet by just throwing a piece of wood into the well, he does so without question.
This crisis of faith has somehow passed, though we do not find that Moses’s earlier concerns have been addressed. God did not enter into a philosophical discussion with Moses, rather merely reiterated the message that Moses has already heard from God a number of times. If so, what was the catalyst for his new found optimism and boldness of speech and purpose?
Perhaps it was just the result of enduring a crisis of faith that made Moses stronger in the end.
Life tests our faith daily. I love when the students in our Hebrew school reach the maturity to ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people? For the believer, this is the ultimate question of faith. It’s a sign of God consciousness and ultimately forces a leap of faith, for we have no answers in the short term.
Even God didn’t answer Moses in the short term, he just told him to get back to work. In the end, your doubts will resolve themselves.
God could have made things easier for Moses. Pharaoh could have been impressed right away. Pharaoh could have started with his “Oh yes, I’ll let them go” routine and then renege. Moshe would be forced to bring on a plague, but then he wouldn’t have looked bad.
The situation Moses was placed in was one that caused him to question and doubt God.
In the end, Moses became a strong believer.
Obviously not every scenario requiring faith ends well. But sometimes we go through severe hardships, questioning and doubting ourselves, as well as our whole belief system, only to gain greater trust in ourselves and in our Higher Power as well.
One of the seminal events in my life occurred when I faced a small crisis at the end of my freshman year at University of Michigan. I was studying for my Chemistry final, and, as I was pre-med back then, I needed to get an A.
I found some previous years’ tests, but they were literally the “exams from Hell.” I thought I was a good student, but I couldn’t do better than 50% on any of these tests. I saw my medical school hopes go up in a wisp of smoke. I was exceptionally nervous, so I placed my yarmulke on my head and prayed to God for help. It was still early in my Jewish journey, and I normally did not wear a yarmulke outside of synagogue, but I promised that for some Divine assistance, I’d wear my yarmulke to my final. After my private, heartfelt prayers, I felt listened to, and calmness encapsuled my body. I studied my notes again and took some other practice exams. Those seemed to be on a “normal difficulty” level, and I did well. I felt encouraged, that my prayers were answered. That next morning as I entered the study hall for my exam, my yarmulke was upon my head. I felt as if all eyes were upon me, but I kept it on anyway. It wasn’t long before I would always wear a kippah.
How would my life have turned out if I didn’t run across those impossible sample tests? If I initially would have found some “normal level difficulty” practice exams, it’s possible I’d now be Dr. Schuman instead of Rabbi Schuman. Enduring that crisis strengthened my faith and belief system forever.
If you’re going through doubts of faith, you’re not alone. Everyone goes through them, even our revered leader, Moses. But if you can hold on for a long term answer, you might be surprised at the reward in the end: greater faith in ourselves and our God.

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