Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Chukat - 5776

My friends,

In this week's Parasha we have the famous story that has to do with hitting the rock instead of speaking to it to get water as being the reason why Moses and Aaron will be denied entrance to the Promised Land.

We are now in the fortieth year of wandering in the wilderness. Almost all of the adults who left Egypt have died during the long journey. The new generation is ready to enter the Promised Land. Miriam dies at the beginning of the fortieth year, and shortly thereafter, the people cannot find any water. They gather around Moses and Aaron and complain. They accuse Moses of having misled them and that they were better off in Egypt. They asked: Why has he brought them to this terrible place where they and their cattle will die from thirst!?

Moses and Aaron retreat to the Tent of Meeting and G-d's glory appears. Moses and Aaron are told to gather the people around a rock. They should speak to the rock and there will be water for all. Moses and Aaron gather the people, and Moses admonishes the people for their lack of faith. He says to them: "Listen, you rebels. Shall we get water for you out of this rock?" Moses then raises his hand and strikes the rock twice with his rod. Water, lots of water, comes out and the people and their cattle drink. Because Moses and Aaron did not follow G-d's instructions of 'speaking' rather than 'hitting', they are told that they will not enter the Promised Land.

One can ask: Does it really matter? Speaking to the rock or hitting the rock, the people could still see the miracle of bringing water out of the rock. Why was Moses punished so severely?

We remember how Moses' first act on behalf of his people was when he hit the Egyptian taskmaster, thus saving a Jewish slave. That act propelled him to become their leader throughout the years. This time he hits a rock. But this hitting causes him to lose favor before G-d, and he will not be the leader who leads them into the Promised Land.

It would seem that the first act was done because of his love and caring for his people. Hitting the rock was a result of losing control, because he called them 'rebels'! We can justify his anger – after forty years he has had enough of their complaints and bad behavior all these years. However, this teaches us a very important lesson. Whenever one acts out of anger, he / she can destroy everything that was built during a lifetime. We know too well of leaders, family members and friends, who at a moment of anger might say or do something they will regret, but the damage has already been done.

Poor Moses. He had worked so hard for his people for forty years. But anger caused him to forget that he really loved his people. He could have seen their pain because of the lack of water. In fact, they did worse things during these forty years, and he was always on their side, praying to G-d to forgive them. This time, anger obscured his real personality, and for this reason he cannot continue to be the leader.

We have seen lately how leaders are expressing one regret after another because they do not watch what they say.

We know that it's tough not to get angry, but that's something that we all have to work on; otherwise, we can hurt many people as well as ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram