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No Pedestals - The Plain and Simple Truth

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Miriam, Moses’ righteous sister, passes away and the water supply (that was in her merit) dries up. The Jewish people thirst for water and lodge a complaint with Moses. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that Moses was then instructed by God to talk to a rock from which water would burst forth. Moses, angered by the nation’s constant complaints, strikes the rock out of anger and water then emerges for the Jewish people.

God turns to Moses and Aharon saying: “Since you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.” This verse is truly astounding! It states that Moses and Aharon were denied access to the promised land because of a lack of belief and faith in God. The Bible has no hesitation in pointing out the transgressions of the greatest leaders of Israel, God’s uniquely appointed messengers. Yes, even Saints err at times and only God is perfect. The Torah’s criticism of these great personalities is a testament to its objective, truthful nature. To my knowledge, no other religious Saints are spoken about in such terms and, in fact, most religions would consider it blasphemous to do so. No pedestals here, just the plain and simple truth.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to understand how the Torah arrived at this conclusion. Where in the ‘water’ encounter do we see Moses and Aharon demonstrating a lack of belief in God? The great 16th century scholar, the Maharal of Prague, explains that it is clear from the biblical narrative that Moses and Aharon felt and displayed anger. As Rashi points out, Moses did not speak to the rock but struck it in anger. Anger and faith in God are mutually exclusive. For one who is truly aware of the presence of God, His omnipotence, and His hand in world history, anger is not a feasible emotion. Moses and Aharon experienced a small lapse in that awareness and, therefore, are classified in the category of “you did not believe in Me.”

Whilst some things in life are in our control, many are simply out of our control. We cannot control the way others think and react. We cannot control the weather, the traffic, or the stock market’s direction on a given day. When these external circumstances are unfavorable we have a choice: 1) to react by getting angry, bitter, and resentful or 2) to react by accepting what we cannot change and by being faithful to God, our creator and mastermind of the universe. The latter is the preferable option.