Parshat Chukat/Balak

In the Torah reading this week, the double parshah of Chukat/Balak, God tells Moses to speak to a rock and bring water from it for the people.  Everyone has already gathered, in anger, to accuse Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to die of thirst.  Tempers are running high, Miriam recently died, and through grief and fear the nation is turning to Moses with despair and anger.  As a result, Moses hits the rock instead of speaking to it. 

God now tells Moses that he will not enter the land of Israel –he will lead the people to the border but never set foot into the land.  Moses, like everyone of his generation, will perish in the wilderness after devoting his life to leading the people, and fulfilling God’s instructions.  It seems unimaginable that such a seemingly slight offense should cost Moses the final piece of his life mission: to enter the land of Israel. 

The problem is not that Moses sinned, it’s that his leadership is still framed by Egypt.  Moses was raised as royalty in the Egyptian palace.  The first time he leaves the palace, Moses sees an Egyptian beating a slave and he kills the Egyptian.  With all the resources of the palace available to him, Moses strikes out in anger and takes a life.  Years later, while standing with Israel at Mount Sinai, Moses comes down the mountain holding the Ten Commandments.  He sees Israel worshipping the Golden Calf, and deliberately shatters the Ten Commandments in anger.  And in this week’s reading, standing in front of the rock, Moses is pressured by the people and resorts to the tactics of Egyptian leadership by displaying aggression and anger –he strikes the rock.  

Moses has now come full circle to when he first left the palace grounds in Egypt.  His response at that moment was to strike out, and in this moment, he again strikes out.  Moses had a lifetime to resolve his responses, but he could never overcome his anger.  Moses can never enter the land because the tactics of violence and aggression learned in the palaces of ancient Egypt must never frame the new society of Israel.   Not entering the land is not a punishment for Moses, but a barrier set between a culture of anger and a culture of Torah. Moses had a lifetime to resolve his responses, but he never did.  

 This difficult emotional moment of Torah challenges all of us to find the things within us that we know we should address, yet we keep putting it off for another day.  We are not perfect, but we are always learning new ways to improve, and in this moment, Moses continues to lead and teach us. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 

Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Rachael