"Ten times did our fathers test God in the wilderness" (Pirkei Avot 5:4).
As we read through the Torah portions of these weeks, we begin to get an insight of what life in the Sinai Desert was like for the Jewish people for the 40 years that they wandered before entering the Land of Israel. On the one hand, they lived a miraculous existence, above all material needs, nurtured and cared for by the Almighty Himself. On the other hand, they kvetched ... a lot. And the more they kvetched, the more God distanced Himself from them. One has to wonder, after the nation had seen so many miracles and wonders, why were they constantly questioning the Almighty’s power to safely deliver them to the Promised Land?
What is further disturbing is the wording of our Sages when saying that that our fathers "tested God" 10 times. If we look at the many complaints of the Jewish people, they seem to be genuinely concerned for their safety, welfare and overall direction as a nation. How could this be construed by our Sages as testing God?
I would like to suggest an answer by pointing out a fairly common human behavior. Perhaps this can be used to understand the mentality of our ancestors in the Sinai Desert.
We all have people in our personal world that we turn to for love, attention, affection or approval. When they are there for us we feel a sense of completion and inner joy. But if, for whatever reason, they don’t give us the time we need, or express to us the feelings we need to hear from them, we suddenly feel a sudden emptiness, a void in our inner existence. Often, instead of honestly expressing this void to the other, bringing them closer to us, we will try to fill that void by doing the exact opposite. By distancing ourselves we are, in essence, testing the other to see if they will take notice. Though at first this gives us the artificial feeling that we don’t need this person, that we have the upper hand, ultimately it has the reverse effect. This distance soon breeds further distance and we begin to see our precious relationship begin to deteriorate, and the void inside of us grow even larger.
Our ancestors were in a situation where they were completely dependent on the Almighty for everything. They were completely reliant on God to guide them through the desert, provide for them all their material needs and to teach them what they needed to do to deserve all His kindness. But being so dependent also has its setbacks, and whenever God hid Himself in even the slightest way, they felt the void in a very deep way. But instead of turning towards their loving Father, they did the exact opposite. They distanced themselves. They tested Him.
Hence our Sages are teaching us one of the most important lessons in human relationships: How remarkably important it is for us to be up front and honest with our loved ones and clearly articulate to them how much they mean to us and how much we truly need them, even if that Loved One is the Almighty Himself!