In a series of potentially disheartening verses we see Moses remind Israel of the iniquities and foibles of a petty, complaining, transgressing and ungrateful people. This can be explained somewhat by recognising that this is a generation that did not experience the past. All those from the generation of the sin of the Golden Calf have died, only to be replaced with this new generation that needs to be reminded of their history.
This is an in-between people, unsure of who they are. Suspended between a fuzzy past from which they are both generationally and experientially removed, and a hazy future full of uncertainty. It is a generation that has never known self-sufficiency. They face the loss of the manna and reliance on patchy rainfall in a land without major watercourses.
In a nutshell, they are about to be launched into an existence of labour and self-sufficiency. It is a move towards normalisation, because the dependency they have experienced to date is patently not normal. Why would anyone want to leave the seeming paradise existence of certainty and of needs met?
The utopia of childhood is not infinite. Where would be the room for growth and self-discovery? The child approaches adulthood. Maturity. That too is a normalisation process as she is eased into real life, as adults know it. With that will come success and failure, duties shirked and responsibilities adopted. By reminding this new generation — poised on the cusp of maturation, on the very borders of the land that will see them into adulthood — of the foibles of their past, the didactic message is to know where you come from and what you come from. Allow it to inform your emerging identity as a population in the promised land.
“It’s not normal”: words we have heard repeatedly over the last few months. We are now on the cusp of a new post-lockdown domain. Having been told what to do, where to go and how to go about it, we now move towards normalisation. Easing into a new reality can be disarming. It requires a maturity; we start to make decisions on how to conduct ourselves. There is responsibility, duty.
As we emerge from a non-normative existence into a “new normal”, we look back as well as forward. The very real risk is that we forget the events of the past few months, together with the valuable lessons that the experience can teach us.