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Parashat Chukat - 5775

My friends,

Chukat, the sixth portion in the Book of Numbers, begins with a description of the process of purification that a person who is unclean (having come in contact with a dead body) must go through before becoming pure and being able to enter the Temple.

Two weeks ago, we read how the generation that was liberated form Egyptian slavery was to wander in the wilderness for forty years, before the next generation will be able to enter the Promised Land. In this week's Parasha we skip through 38 years and we are now on the border of the Promised Land. Miriam - Moses and Aaron's sister - dies. The well that provided water to the people dried up and they came complaining to Moses and Aaron.

G-d directs Moses and Aaron to gather the people near a rock and talk to the rock and water will come out. But rather than talking to the rock Moses strikes the rock twice and water comes out. Because of this Moses and Aaron are punished in that they too will not be privileged to enter the Promised Land and will die in this wilderness.

Commentaries have difficulty explaining the severity of the punishment – after all, getting water out of a rock, whether by speaking or striking, is still a miracle (try it sometime). Maybe Moses misunderstood G-d and thought that he was supposed to strike the rock.

Maimonides explains that Moses is punished because he lost his temper. When he and Aaron gathered the people by the rock, he prefaced bringing the water out of the rock by saying:

"Hear now, ye rebels, are we to bring to you forth water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice, and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank and their cattle." (Numbers 20:10-11)

Calling the people 'rebels' was unnecessary. It indicates Moses' frustration with the people, who after almost forty years still think that Egypt was a better place.

Ka-as - anger, losing one's temper - is a terrible thing that can have unpredictable consequences, Once out, it is very difficult to take back. When angry, one is confused and might say the wrong things. In fact, the Talmud says that a person's true character comes out when he/she is angry and out of control. Self-control is the key. Moses, we can say was human. He did get angry. But he paid dearly for having lost his temper.

In our relationships with others, let's always remember the way of restraint and kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram