The Failure of Moses
give this over in the name of Menacham Leibtag
The Failure of Moses & Aaron
he hits the rock instead of talking to it.
Moses hits the rock twice,
instead of once.
Moses 'loses his temper' and speaks harshly.
Instead of saying: "can God
get water from this rock?" he suggests that he and Aaron, not
God, draw the water by saying: "can we
get water from this rock?".
all, Abrabanel lists ten
opinions, each of which he disproves before giving his own.
plethora of opinions is due to the seeming generality of God’s
condemnation: “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me
in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not lead
this congregation into the Land that I have given them.” Moses
and Aaron could have done something great "...to sanctify Me in
the eyes of Bnei Yisrael", but failed to do so. But what was
this great something? The Torah seems never to tell us.
instructions are clear and straightforward: "1) take
the staff, 2) gather
the congregation, 3) speak
to the rock before their eyes that it should give water, and 4) take
for them water from the rock, and 5) give
to the people and their animals."
examine each command and Moses’ performance.
"And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as God had commanded him..." Nothing wrong here.
Moses and Aaron gathered
the 'kahal' in front of the rock…” Nothing wrong here.
to the rock that it should give water..."
he [Moses] said to them:
Listen here you rebellious people, is it possible that we
can take water from this rock?" This could be it: God
commands Moses to speak to the rock, and he never does. And most
commentators take their cue from this.
rocks don't have ears, people do! Moses then may have understood
God's command not as "speak to
the rock" but "speak about
the rock to the people," which Moses did.
for them water from the rock..." (20:8)
and Moses lifted his hand and hit
the rock with his staff two
times, then much water came out..." Based on the above, God may,
in fact, have expected Moses to hit the rock. After all, this is
exactly how God had instructed him to produce water from the rock
many years earlier in Shmose
to the people and their animals."
the people and their animals drank."
Nothing wrong here.
this rebuttal of the standard explanations, we can offer a positive
defense of Moses behavior based on the staff that Moses is supposed
to take. God commands: “take the
and gather the people..." But this staff isn’t the staff
that Moses used to summon the plagues or part the sea, because the
text says: "And Moses took the staff milifnei
- from before God, as God had commanded him." "Lifnei
Hashem" usually refers to in front of the Ark of the Covenant.
Moses would not use the kodesh kedoshim" as his personal closet
by keeping his staff "lifnei Hashem.”
it is Aaron's
staff, which in last week’s sedra God had commanded Moses to
"... return the …
'lifnei ha'eydut' - in front of the 'tablets of testimony' for safe
keeping, so that it would be a sign
for any rebellious group
['ot l'bnei meri'] so that they will stop complaining and not die..."
is saying that the next time Bnei Yisrael complain or rebel, Moses
should take Aaron's staff from the Ohel Moed to remind them of what
happened to Korach's rebellion.
the next time Bnei Yisrael complain is in this episode! Once we see
it is Aaron’s staff, and that Aaron’s staff is a rebuke
to the people, the entire sequence of Moses acts fits perfectly with
God’s commands, he gathers the people; rebukes them and speaks
about the rock to glorify God before following the prescribed method
for coaxing water from a rock and giving the people to drink.
Moses and Aaron did not fail to follow the commands God gave them in
the Ohel Moed; we must turn to the only other place in this episode
where they might have failed.--its first scene:
Bnei Yisrael arrived at Midbar Tzin... but there was not enough water
for the people, and they gathered against Moses and Aaron. They
argued with Moses saying: It would have been better had we died with
our brethren 'lifnei Hashem' [before God]... So - why did you bring
us to this desert to die?... and why did you take us out of Egypt to
bring us to this terrible place... there are no fruits here and there
is no water to drink.”
how do Moses and Aaron respond? Do they argue? Do they defend God? Do
they offer the people encouragement? No. "And Moses and Aaron
came to the Ohel Moed [in fear] from the congregation, and they fell
on their faces..."
it not precisely in situations such as these when leadership must
take a stand? Years before when Bnei Yisrael complained for water at
Refidim, Moses's immediate response was: “Why are you arguing
with me, why are you testing God?"
Refidim, Moses immediately challenges their complaints and condemns
their criticism as a reflection of their lack of faith. Only
afterward, when the people continue to complain, does Moses cry out
to God and beg for a solution.
Mei Meriva Moses's reaction is the opposite. Instead of confronting
these complaints, Moses and Aaron immediately 'run away' in fear to
the Ohel Moed and 'fall on their faces'. Does a leader run away?
Wouldn’t strong leaders assure the people that God would indeed
take care of their needs? Wouldn’t they challenge the people's
assertion that "it would have been better had they remained in
we see their fault as a failure of leadership, God’s complaint
is no longer too general but quite specific: you have failed as
leaders because you failed to, "… trust Me enough to
sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael..." And Hashem’s
punishment is the exact meda kaneged meda for this failure “…
therefore you shall not
lead this nation
into the land
that I promised them."
will not lead Israel into the Promised Land because they are failing
leaders. God has informed them that their behavior shows them no
longer able to bear the burden of leadership. They are punished not
and not for a 'technical' flaw in their execution of God's command
but as national
who are no longer capable of bearing the burden of leadership.
in fact, there is nothing very strange about this. They are getting
very far along in years, and there have been earlier signs that they
are no longer up to their duties. Thus, for instance, it is Caleb and
Joshua, not Moses and Aaron who oppose the other spies and the rabble
when they return with their report.
Read so, the incident ceases to be an inscrutable enigma and becomes a richly poignant depiction of the inevitable moment when the demands of office become too much for even the greatest of leaders. Moses’ leadership was the leadership of the lawgiver, Aaron’s of the man of peace. Such were the leaders needed for the Exodus and the wanderings in the desert. But the people, poised on the boarders of the Promised Land and about to make their entry, now need another kind of leadership. They need the youth and military prowess of a Joshua. So the Torah has shown us how the Old Guard passes.