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Chukkat 5781 ~ June 18, 2021

In this week’s Torah reading, Chukkat, we finally learn that Moses is human, no different than you and me. It is a story that is quite familiar to us all. Instead of speaking to the rock as God has demanded, in his anger Moshe lashes out both at the people and the rock. As he strikes the rock, the water that was so desired by the people spews forth. Many commentators suggest that, despite the fact that Moses hit the rock, God did not want to embarrass Moses.

As one reads the narrative, one has to empathize with Moses. His sister Miriam has just passed away and no mourning has taken place for her. Imagine how Moshe must have felt at that time. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with grief for his sister who was his protector in his youth! Might it be that he was distraught by the request for water by the people themselves?  Had he had enough of serving as the prophet and leader of a group that was less than deserving of entering the Promised Land?

As tradition teaches us, God provided the Israelite nation with water throughout their journeys in the desert solely based on the merits of Miriam. Perhaps Moshe was angry at the fact that, instead of mourning Miriam and being grateful that it was through her protecting Moses as he floated down the Nile in a basket that they received water, they became insolent and demanding.

Some may say that there have been other instances where Moses displayed his true human qualities. One such instance was back in Egypt when he smote the Egyptian, protecting a woman and a wife from a sexual predator. Another might be when, in his haste, he neglected to protect his son from the angel of death, being all consumed with his mission to bring the Israelite nation out of Egypt. It was his wife Tziporah who intervened by performing a brit milah, ritual circumcision upon their son.

Some commentaries provide us with God’s explanation as to why Moses was punished for his striking the rock instead of speaking to it.  They interpret the words of God, “because you did not believe in me,” to suggest that Moshe was punished because:

  1. Moses becomes angry and hits the rock
  2. Moses did not have faith that if he spoke to the rock water would come forth
  3. Moses called the people rebels
  4. Moses and Aaron state, “Do you think we can get water from the rock?” It made the people think that Moses and Aaron got water from the rock, not God.

 

Perhaps Moses’ punishment of not being allowed to enter the Promised Land was out of his belief that these people themselves should not be permitted to enter it. In response, God turns to Moshe and says, “Because you wished this punishment upon them, stating that they do not have faith in Me, that punishment instead will be placed upon you because you did not have faith in Me. Not only in this instance when they demanded water and you hit the rock. The same thing happened when I said to you send scouts into the land “for you.” You didn’t have faith in me then either; so, you sent scouts into the land.”

As human beings, we often find ourselves assessing situations. Today, as armchair quarterbacks, we often question the motives of others. It is not simply the way of people; it is also the way we hear of events that transpire in our world and in our own personal lives from those who provide us with the information.  In some ways we assess situations or people simply to gain knowledge of how we might act in a given situation.  In other instances, we want to gain an understanding of the truth. At times, that is most important.  And yet in other moments, we have ulterior motives.

I like the thought which Shmuel David Luzatto notes in his commentary on the Torah with regard to God’s statement “because you did not believe in me!” He states that "My entire life I have refrained from examining this topic closely, because I was afraid of com­ing up with a new interpretation, and this way I might find the chief of all prophets guilty of another sin."

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782