D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
12-Step Torah Chukat 5781
When all else fails follow directions
I sometimes joke that I am good at following directions. For the most part this is a true statement, although I have to admit when I joke about it, that often means I’d rather ignore the instructions given to me. It’s also true that every once in a while that joke morphs into a twinge of rebelliousness. When that happens I typically do not follow directions.
But joking or not, for the most part I’m ok with it. For instance, if I purchase an item that includes written instructions, I will read them to make sure I understand how to put together or operate what I just purchased. If I am filling out a form or an application, I will also take care to properly fill out the information required. And…… if the governor instructs me to wear a mask in order to keep others around me safe, I’m on it.
In this week’s Torah portion Chukat, we read:
וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵ֠ל כָּל־הָ֨עֵדָ֤ה מִדְבַּר־צִן֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מָת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם: וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה מַ֖יִם לָֽעֵדָ֑ה
Then came the people of Israel, the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month; and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
And there was no water for the congregation.
In one verse Miriam dies and in the next the Israelites are without water. The rabbis surmised this must mean water is connected to Miriam --- that the water the Israelites enjoyed in the desert was due to the merit of Miriam who watched over her infant brother Moses floating down the Nile in a basket. Now that she has died, there is no more water. The Israelites are worried and that leads to complaining.
Moses and Aaron as usual, take the complaints of the people to God, expecting God to yet again rail against the Israelites. Instead, God simply tells Moses to take his rod, gather the community and in front of them, order the rock to burst forth with water.
It looks like Moses is going to follow God’s instructions, but then instead of speaking to the rock he speaks to the Israelites and says: Listen you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock? (Num. 20:10) Then, rather than speak to the rock he hits it. So, not only does Moses not follow God’s directions, he seems to imply that he and his brother Aaron rather than God are responsible for procuring water from the rock.
If I choose to ignore instructions that will help me put together a bed frame or a lamp, there’s a good chance both the frame and the lamp will never function properly. If I don’t fill out a college application form according to instructions, there’s a good chance I will not be considered by that college. If I hadn’t followed the Governor’s instructions and chose to not wear a mask this past year, there may have been a chance I would have helped to spread COVID.
When Moses chooses to ignore God’s instructions, the Israelites are not punished for Moses’ actions. They do get the water they so desperately need. However, God tells Moses that because he and Aaron did not trust God enough to affirm God’s sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, neither he nor his brother will be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Whatever Moses was trying to accomplish by hitting the rock, his plan backfired. Being denied entry into the Land of Israel was a high price to pay for his actions. Moses learned a little too late that when all else fails follow directions.
If you are interested in learning more about Moses hitting the rock, come and join us for Shabbat services this Friday evening at 7:30pm.