Chukat 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Ariana Berlin

July 4, 2009/12 Tammuz 5769

This week we read the double parasha Chukat-Balak. Parashat Chukat includes the story of Moshe hitting the rock: B’nai Yisrael complained to Moshe that there was no water, so G-d told Moshe to speak to the rock and then water would come out. Moshe hit the rock twice, water came out, and G-d punished Moshe and Aharon by telling them that they would not be able to enter Eretz Canaan. This story and punishment have always baffled the commentators because when does such a small sin result in such a huge punishment?

One puzzled commentator such as Rashi says that Moshe tried speaking to a rock, however when he realized that it was the wrong rock he thought perhaps it was necessary to hit it, as he was commanded in Shemot 17:6 when he said: “Strike the rock and water will issue from it, and the people will drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” When Moshe hit the rock the first time only a little bit of water came out, so then he hit it a second time and more water came out. Regarding Moshe and Aharon’s punishment, Rashi notes that in the past when they have done things that G-d was not happy about, they were not so harshly punished. However, this time they sinned in public, in front of all B’nai Yisrael. Since they did not follow G-d’s words and did not sanctify G-d’s name, they were not being good dugmaot, examples, for B’nai Yisrael.

Just as it was important for Moshe and Aharon to act as proper dugmaot, it is also important for us to act as dugmaot not only in USY or in school, but also as Jews. This is because we are supposed to be a light unto other nations, Or L’Goyim. This comes from Yishayahu’s prophecy in 60:3, where it says: “And nations shall walk by your light, kings, by your shining radiance.” As Jews, other nations look up to us, not because we are better, but because we live by high standards, following all of the mitzvot which make us ethical people.

While it is important for all Jews to act properly as dugmaot, it is even more important for our leaders to act as greater dugmaot. It says in the Talmud that “when a prophet loses his temper, his gift of prophecy abandons him” (Pesachim 66b). The Rambam says that Moshe grew angry when the people were complaining too much, so he called them rebellious and lost his temper. He explains in his Shmoneh Prakim that G-d became upset when he saw Moshe’s anger because when B’nai Yisrael see that Moshe is angry, they presume that G-d is angry as well. This shows us that it is important for people who serve as dugmaot to control their temper because if they don’t, then their position of leadership could be taken away. Similarly, Moshe’s gift of prophecy abandoned him because he lost his temper.

Or Hachayim attempts to minimize Moshe’s wrongdoing by explaining that he hit the rock because of a miscommunication: Moshe thought that G-d had wanted him to use the staff because in the past when he was commanded to bring his staff with him, he had used it to perform miracles. Apparently, he assumed incorrectly. What Or Hachayim said is like what Hannah Montana says in her song, Nobody’s Perfect: “everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days.” Misunderstandings and miscommunications are bound to happen to the best of us, even such a great prophet and dugma as Moshe. However, as she later says in her song, it is necessary to get right back up again and fix what has gone wrong. While we may err it is essential to repair the damage, however what’s most important is that we never give up or lose faith in G-d.

The Etz Hayim Chumash comments that maybe not letting Moshe and Aharon enter Eretz Canaan was not a punishment, but “a recognition that their time of leadership was over. … Moshe and Aharon were not sinners, … they were not the right people to lead a younger generation into battle.” This shows that G-d will protect us and give us good leadership as long as we fix our mistakes. Even though mistakes are bound to happen, once in a while, in the end, yihye tov, it will be okay. Shabbat Shalom!

Did you know (in honor of 4th of July) …

… that the first synagogue building in America was in Newport, Rhode Island, the Touro Synagogue – and it’s still standing, and it was recognized and respected by George Washington!