I’m studying Sefer Bamidbar in school and we’ve studied 7 or 8 stories one after the other that all seem to end the same way. Bnei Yisrael complain, or screw up, and Hashem is filled with anger and causes a plague or harsher etc. This bothers me because I’ve always considered Hashem to be a universalist g-d who is loving and compassionate and rational and it seems like often Moshe seems to be the forgiving one who is rationalizing Hashem. I’m ashamed of thinking such things but I felt it better that I ask the question of how could this be rather than just suppress it and let it sit.
You are very correct and smart for reaching out and asking. In Judaism, the path to understanding an idea is to ask questions. It is only thru asking questions that we uncover the deeper meaning and gain a better understanding of things.
Regarding your question, you are correct that on the surface it does seem that G-d was quite strict with the Jews in the desert, however there are a few points that we have to consider.
The first is that the people in the desert were treated to a tremendous amount of love from G-d. They were fed miraculously every day with Manna, they drank their water in a miraculous way, from a rock that flowed water, they were sheltered miraculously with clouds of glory and divine presence all the time. Their whole existence was on a miraculous level. Additionally, it was these people that had the sea split for them and walked thru it. They saw the greatest army of the time lying dead at their feet, without them lifting a finger! The Midrash says that when they sang the shira after exiting the Red sea, that each and every one of them reached a level of prophecy that was much higher than the prophet Ezekiel! This was just the beginning. After that they experienced the divine revelation of G-d Himself at Mount Sinai. After understanding the level of these people and their experiences, it is understandable that if they showed even the slightest doubt in their belief in G-d, who they actually saw, that He would be very upset. The Midrash gives an example of this. Of a man that was carrying his son on his shoulders, and a dog came by and he protected him from it, and he kept on servicing his son. Then afterwards a man came walking by and the son asked the man, “do you know where my father is”? How would you react to such a question? Understandably you would be upset.
Nevertheless, even though they sinned, after Moshe prayed for them, G-d forgave them, although they did get a punishment for some of the sins.
There is another important point that we must know. Although a large part of Torah are stories, G-d didn’t mean that it should be a history book, or a mere story book. The word “Torah” comes from the word “hora’ah” which means to educate. Everything in the Torah, every minute detail, is there to teach us life lessons. The Torah only stated a few incidences even though the Jews were in the desert for forty years. There were almost 40 years that the Jews were fed, clothed, and their every need was taken care of in miraculous ways, which shows G-d’s unending love and benevolence for them. The Torah doesn’t talk about this too much because, what the stress of the Torah is to point out specifically the negative points, in order for us to learn, not to repeat them. Therefore, it appears as if Hashem was very critical of the Jews, but that wasn’t actually the case.
I hope this gives you some clarity on this topic.
I enjoy your questions, keep them up!