Torah Portion / Synagogues
More Is Expected Of The Righteous
Numbers 19: 1-22: 1;
his week's sedrah contains
something that has puzzled
interpreters of the Bible
throughout the centuries.
The Hebrew people, journeying
through the desert, complain of thirst.
God tells Moses to gather the people
around a great rock. He commands •
him to speak to it and bring forth
water from it.
When the people assemble, Moses
berates them, saying "Listen, you
rebels, shall we then bring forth water
for you from this rock?" Whereupon
Moses raised his hand and he struck
the rock twice. Out came copious
water. Moses then hears the Divine
decree of a punishment that is imme-
diate and decisive. "Since you don't
believe in Me enough to affirm My
sanctity in the sight of the children of
Israel, you, Moses and Aaron, will not
be privileged to lead this multitude
into the land that I have given them."
Irwin Groner is rabbi emeritus of
Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
Why so grievous a punishment for
vation, attitude and inner response.
so minor an offense? What was the
He was impatient and exasperated,
severity of his transgression?
evidencing at that moment deficiency
Commentators ancient, medieval
in his faith in God and love of his
and modern struggle with this ques-
people. When he turned to them, he
tion. Rashi, the classical commentator,
demonstrated his distain and con-
declares that the sin of
tempt of those whom he was
Moses was that he struck
to elevate and guide. His
the rock instead of speaking
words intimated skepticism
to it and, therefore, the will
of God's power.
of the Almighty was not ful-
However, the question
remains. Granted this was a
Maimonides declares that
display of impatience, anger
and doubt, but it was a brief
the sin of Moses was his
anger as he spoke to the
episode. Should Moses be
people. "The great leader,"
denied the attainment of his
said Maimonides, "should
life's goal for this offense?
RABB I IRWIN Should this lapse of Moses
not have given way to
G R ONER
from his usual standards of
Speci al to the
patience, faith and inner
I bn Ezra sees the fault of
Moses and Aaron as fear of
strength be so harshly pun-
Jewis h News
ished? Was the sin really so
the people. Before Moses
spoke to God, he and Aaron
grievous? Other men sinned
fled before the anger of the people.
more, and suffered less.
To other leaders, anger and impa-
Because they lacked faith, they were
tience could be forgiven, but not
fearful; and this was their sin.
Moses. Others could utter harsh
We see a great diversity of opinion
words under provocation and achieve
as to what it was that brought about
forgiveness, but not Moses. Others
the penalty, but all of the commenta-
could burst forth in a rage of denial
tors address a common theme. The
and skepticism, but after supplication,
real offense of Moses was not that he
once more win favor from God, but
struck the rock instead of speaking to
it. His transgression was in his moti-
Common faults can be forgiven
common men, but Moses was a most
uncommon man. Because of his pre-
eminence, he was expected to stand
head and shoulders above others in
conduct and character. He was a
Divine messenger, speaking in the
name of the Almighty. Therefore, his
exalted responsibility and high privi-
lege should have been matched by
equally great powers of restraint,
patience and forgiveness.
This truth speaks not only to
Moses, but to all of us. He who enjoys
a privilege has a commensurate
responsibility. The greater the privi-
lege, the larger the obligation. It mat-
ters not whether the privilege is lead-
ership, wealth, education or talent.
The Talmud says that with the right-
eous, God is more exacting and
Discuss some modern examples
of preeminent figures who
should be exemplary in conduct
and character and have failed to
do so. Has their "punishment"
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