Parashah Ponderings

Moses Strikes Rock. God Issues Pink Slip.

Parashat Hukkat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1)

The Israelites are at it again: complaining about the lack of water in the wilderness and waxing nostalgic about their life in Egypt (Numbers 20:2-5). This time, God patiently instructs Moses to order a nearby rock to yield water (20:8). Rather than emulate God’s patience and understanding of the people’s needs, though, Moses ignores God’s instructions and, instead, addresses the Israelites as “rebels,” asks them “shall we get water for you out of the rock?” and then hits the rock, not once but twice.  The water does come forth, and the people’s thirst is sated (20:9-11). However, Moses and Aaron fare less well. In response to Moses’ behavior – whether it is berating the Israelites or defying God’s instructions – God punishes Moses and Aaron by informing them that they “shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them” (20:12). God essentially delivers the leaders of the Israelites a proverbial pink slip. Moses and Aaron are doomed to perish in the wilderness along with the rest of the generation of the Exodus, save Joshua and Caleb, never to step foot in the land God had promised their ancestors.

What exactly does Moses do to set God against him and Aaron? In his article on Parashat Hukkat this week, Rabbi Shai Held, director of Mechon Hadar: The Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas, summarizes the vast array of biblical commentary on Moses’ sin, highlighting a millennia-old disagreement among scholars over the nature of the sin. In the end, Rabbi Held hones in on a particular lesson about leadership, a lesson that can be instructive for all of us. I encourage you to head on over to Rabbi Held’s article at and learn for yourself the value of keeping an open heart and an open mind during times of adversity. May we carry this lesson with us into our places of work, into our communities, and into our homes.

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