Have you ever thought to put your child to a test that you knew they could not pass? Most of us think that a test is only meaningful if we can pass it. Perhaps thats part of the reason people often say "G-d doesn't give us more than we can handle".
The idea being that a test challenges us to bring out our best and grow. But if we were sure to fail what would be the point.
And yet I think in this week's Parsha we see otherwise. The Torah tells us this week of the final stages of our deliverance from Egypt when our ancestors saw their Egyptian pursuers drowned in the parting of the sea.
We call the Shabbat, Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song in commemoration of the beautiful and profound song of praise to G-d sung by the Israelites on their miraculous salvation.
But lets step back a minute. The Parsha of B'shalach opens telling us that G-d took the Israelites by a longer route to the Promised Land. And why? because He was afraid if the people were to immediately have to deal with the conquest of Canaan they might become fearful and in the face of a great battle, because of that fear, decide it better to return to Egypt.
Obviously from the opening verses we can deduce that G-d did not put much trust in the courage and faith of this fledgling nation to withstand tests of character.
With that in mind we might well wonder why G-d tests the people in this weeks reading and on at least two occasions. In both instances the people ran out of water. They complained, in one case bitterly, to G-d over their circumstances. Now we may well ask why did they find themselves without water? G-d could have provided water before the situation reached a point of crisis. Why did they need to go through all the anxiety?
It seems that G-d had them confront their drought as a test, to see how they would respond in crisis. Would they come to Moshe with respect and appreciation, beseeching G-d's mercy or would they lament and complain with a sense of entitlement, which in fact they did?
Yet if the purpose of putting the people in a position of crisis was in order to test them we might wonder why. Why test them? G-d already knew they lacked character and faith, that's why he took them the long way round to Eretz Yisrael. He knew they would not behave with appropriate respect and appreciation. So why give them a test they were certain to fail?
I think maybe we need to reexamine the premise with which we opened the blog. Is it really true that a test we are certain to fail makes no sense to give? I think not!
Remember the Israelites had just crossed the sea. They had experienced a great spiritual high, so much so that it led them to song, a song worthy of the Torah, a song worthy of being recited each day in prayers, a song we stand for in Shule as it is read, a song for which, generations later, we still give this Shabbat its name. The People might well have believed that after such an inspired moment they had achieved their spiritual call. They might well have thought "we made it". We are G-d's people and we are complete in our work to perfect our faith.
Sadly, as much as the People may have thought that true, it was very much the opposite. The People were raw and immature of faith. As it turned out they needed to journey 40 years in the desert and experience all kinds of travail to finally become the Nation G-d could bring into the Land.
How could Hashem show the people that they had much work to do, and what the work was about? The answer is what we see. G-d gave them a test he knew they would fail. And why? because though He knew they would fail, they didn't. They were sure of themselves. The test and the failures showed them how much was left for them to do to grow sufficiently to be worthy of being the Chosen People.
Truth is that sometimes we need to have tests, even those we are going to fail. They teach us that often we are not near as good as we think we are. When we fail tests they show us what we need to work on, sometimes to our great surprise. Its amazing how often just when we believe we have gotten past a certain character flaw or growing edge a situation comes up which tests us and we find ourselves acting in ways that show us not quite there at all. We believed we had outgrown the issue. The test showed us we still need to work on ourselves.
Failing the life tests we think we should have past is a great gift. It helps us get over the self-deception that we have made it. It shows us that even where we feel good about ourselves we often still have much work to do!