Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
This week’s Torah portion, Chukat, is an important turning point in the narrative of our people. We jump 38 years ahead in the story of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. And the only people who will enter the Promised Land will be those born during the time of the desert wanderings and Joshua and Caleb who were two of the twelve spies who did not spread lies about the land flowing with milk and honey, the Land of Israel. And so this week in preparation for the crossing of the Jordan into the Holy Land, two of the three leaders die. Miriam and her brother Aaron are “gathered to their kin”. And Moses receives the news that he too will not cross over because of the incident at the Rock that unfolds in this week’s portion.
Moses and Aaron are told following Miriam’s death that they will not enter the Land because “you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (Num. 20:12). The great Moses and the High Priest Aaron not affirm God’s sanctity? How is that possible? They served God all these years from the exodus until now. Could it possibly be that they didn’t affirm God’s holiness?
But at the incident at the Rock they had an opportunity and they did not uplift it. The children of Israel cry out because they are thirsty. They “quarrel” with Moses. Aaron and Moses go to the Tent of Meeting and inquire of God. God gives the two very detailed instructions. They have to gather the community, take the rod from inside the Tent of meeting, and order the rock to bring forth water to provide for the Israelites.
Moses and Aaron do this but instead of giving the credit to God’s miraculous power, Moses says to the people, “Listen you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock. (Num. 20:10).” And then Moses strikes the rock rather than speak to it. The water does flow but God immediately tells the two leaders, Moses and Aaron that their term of service will be over because they did not sanctify God before the people. Moses lost his cool. The people finally got under his skin. For years he has been defending them before God. He often pleads on their behalf before God. But now it is clear that he has had it. He speaks to the People of Israel with contempt and in that contempt forgets God!
And I think buried there is an important message for all of us. We are to see the Divine in each and every human being. Even when they annoy us. Especially when they annoy us. When we have contempt for another human being or a group of people or when we lose our patience we tend to dismiss others. We don’t see their humanity. Moses has been leading the people for a long time. He had dealt with their complaints and kvetching and their rebellions. Just last week his cousin, Korach challenged him for the leadership of the people. And now when the people are still quarrelling with him following the death of his sister Miriam he has no more patience for them.
It is also a lesson for all of us who are part of a large group as well. How well do we pay attention to those who lead? Are we so busy criticizing them, challenging them that we also don’t pay attention their humanity? Did the Children of Israel who were complaining bitterly imagine that Moses and Aaron might have been deep in mourning for their older sister Miriam? Could they have made their requests of them in a different way?
It teaches all of us to pay more attention to one another. And most importantly to be kinder.
Now that is a good thought for the week. Practice kindness in all you do!