Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chukat
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The sad story of Moshe’s fate in not being able to reach the Land of Israel is detailed in this week’s parsha. The commentators to the Torah have spent a great deal of effort and clarity in attempting to explain Moshe’s seeming sin and its attendant punishment of exclusion from accompanying the people of Israel into the Land of Israel. What does emerge clearly is that Moshe is not a victim so much of his own behavior as he is somehow swept into the fate of the rebellious maelstrom of his generation. There is no king without a people is the watchword in Jewish life. The Talmud posits for us that a teacher or leader cannot reside himself in a lonely paradise while his students and people are condemned to the netherworld. The leader is judged, willingly or not, by the results of one’s leadership. If Moshe’s generation is now excluded from entering the Land of Israel it would seem unseemly that Moshe be allowed that privilege. Thus the slightest mishap of Moshe - hitting the rock and not speaking to it - is deemed sufficient to force him to join the fate of his generation and not enter the Land of Israel. There are no theoretical leaders or teachers who operate solely in the abstract. In Avot we read that there is a profound difference between the students and disciples of our father Avraham and the students and followers of Bilaam. Note that the difference appears in the generation of the students in a way much clearer and more blatant than between Avraham and Bilaam themselves. We are always judged by the behavior and value systems of our current and future generations.

Moshe was aware of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad that Moshe would die in the desert and Yehoshua would lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. Yet somehow he thought that he could escape that fate. Rambam attributes Moshe’s shortcoming in this week’s parsha to his frustration and inner anger at the people who rebelled constantly against him and God. Moshe is disappointed in the people of Israel, a people that he loved with his heart and soul. Many times such a reaction and feeling is visible in the relationship of parents to their children - an unquenchable feeling of love tinged with a hue of some disappointment. But part of Moshe’s disappointment is in himself as well. He realizes that the people have not responded to his teachings of love of God and of the Land of Israel as he has. Moshe earlier said to God that You have told me to raise this people to greatness but You did not inform me as to how this was to be done. He is a victim of his generation’s stubbornness and hard-heartedness. And he therefore is disappointed that he was not able to break through that wall of rebellion and sometimes apathy. There are those that say that he purposely did not speak to the rock for then one could say that a rock listened to Moshe’s instructions while his beloved people of Israel did not. Even in his frustration and disappointment his love for his people never waned or weakened.
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