2003Throughout the Torah, one sees God threatening to destroy all of Israel for one calamitous sin or another, and Moshe comes to advocate on their behalf. Here, even though Moshe does not have the capacity to wreak havoc upon the nation, he exhibits anger where God offers forbearance.
Hearing but not Heeding
Moshe's sister Miriam has died and the community is left without water.
The Children of Israel cry bitterly:
"Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place...? (Numbers 20:5)
And God answers them:
"You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. (Ibid:8)
Moshe rebukes the crowd and hits the rock instead of "ordering it to yield water."
God lashes out against Moshe and Aaron, "Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead the congregation into the land I have given them." (Ibid:12)
Your Torah Navigator
1. Why this turn around, why is God the defender and Moshe the adversary?
2. What is the connection between Miriam's death and no water?
Talmud, Shabbat 35a
If one wishes to see Miriam's well, s/he should go up Mount Carmel and look toward the sea where one will witness something that looks like a sieve amid the sea and that is Miriam's well.
Rashi on this page
Miriam's well: This is the well that would follow Israel through the desert by virtue of Miriam's merit, as it is written, "And Miriam died there." The very next verse says, "And there was no water for the community."
The midrash points out that the community of Israel was right to be worried. Their fear demonstrated their vulnerability once Miriam had died. They knew they had no merit, they were not worthy and so they were afraid. God heard their fear and responded in kind.
Moshe, however took it personally and responded as if it were rebellion. He heard their words, but he lost the resonance behind them. God instructed Moshe to listen differently and respond in kind. Moshe misses the point.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Chukkat at MyJewishLearning.com.