Chukat - weekly Torah portion
Miriam dies, is buried and the water expires. “The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why then have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.’” It is not the first time that the Israelites complain and not the first time that a solution to the problem is offered, even without threating the people with all kinds of peculiar deaths. The “Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.’ So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.” Moses and Aaron do not fully comply with the Godly instructions but still the water begins to flow.
Nevertheless no good deed goes unpunished and it is Moses and Aaron, not the complaining People of Israel, who receive a punishment. The “Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’” As a result these two leaders who have worked so hard to get the people out of Egypt and through the desert will not be the ones to reap the fruits of this special, perhaps unique, leadership. Each of them has his replacement. Aaron gets replaced as they move to Mount Hor. God then proclaims, “Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.”
This week’s events got me thinking about the punishment of Moses and Aaron which may not be as peculiar as it may seem, but rather a message to leaders and the leadership. Again a young men from Ethiopian decent was shot dead by a police officer. I was not there and it is difficult to know from the current accounts on the news what exactly happened and therefore I will not specifically address that case. However, there is no doubt that the number of cases of deaths or beatings of a civilian getting severely injured requires in-depth examination of this situation. Top to bottom. The power vested in the executive branch must be used with the utmost restraint because of this significant resource inequality. The executive branch receives its powers from us, the citizens of the country and are therefore accountable to us. They have to perform their duties without prejudice, racism, discrimination, or preferences to those who are well-connected.
This week’s portion of the Torah therefore teaches us that there is no place for Moses and Aaron to act with violence because they are frustrated with what the People have been doing. They may beg for them, pray for them, it is the leaders’ duty to do so, it is what expected from them. But they have to keep their cool, they may not call the people by names or mock them. When a minister from the Israeli government demonstrates against the Women of the Wall he loses the right to be considered a state representative, he is at best a sectorial minister not a minister of the people. When a policeman arrests a person because of the color of skin, he loses the right to call people to order.
The sights we saw were not nice ones. We saw a body of a dead young man laying before us. We saw violent riots that have affected most of us. It is wrong to say that the community of Ethiopian Jews should lose our sympathy towards their cause because of that. They expect our support and should receive it because racism is not what we stand for, we cannot accept it, not when it is gender oriented, not when it is ethnic oriented, not when it is the racism that rejects the weakest of the weakest of our society. We must find ways to deliver fresh waters from this tough situation, that which will repair the wounds and fresh our hearts. We must get rid of the signs of racism that we see popping here and there in our society. If we do that early enough it will be much easier than getting to do this later. We must begin today, and if necessary strike the rock, despite the heavy price, before it is too late.
Reuven Marko, 5 July 2019, 3 Tamuz, 5779