The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Chukat and is found in Numbers 19:1-22:1. In this passage, the people continue to struggle with wilderness living. Miriam dies along the way and is buried in Kadesh. Soon after, the people again complain about a lack of water. Specifically, their complaint is that they should have died when Korach and his followers died, and that Moses should never have brought them out of Egypt, because of the wilderness hardships. Moses and Aaron bring the complaint to God and God instructs Moses to speak to the rock to produce water. Moses instead, yells at the people, “Listen you rebels! Shall we get you water out of this rock?” God, knowing the people’s need for water, provides the water anyway. God, however, is displeased with how Moses handles the situation and tells him that he will not be able to enter the Promised Land, but will die in the wilderness with the others who have complained. Aaron dies soon after and is buried in the wilderness.
To most of us, it may seem that Moses received a rather harsh reprimand for losing his temper. But more is actually being conveyed here. First, the message that God had hoped to get across to the people, (God would provide for their needs) was missed. Moses’ words “shall we get you water” implies that he is equally responsible for producing water, as is God. Another issue, is the value of human worth. Should all the people rightly have been called “rebels?” It is highly unlikely that 100% of the people complained. Labeling all members of a group with certain characteristics generally leads to devaluing both the group and the individuals in it. Furthermore, is any human being truly unworthy of receiving water, regardless of who they are? Granted, the people were definitely annoying, but they were also still recovering from years of slavery, and as we can see in society today, it takes years, even generations, to heal from that. One of God’s greatest challenges with these newly freed people was to help them realize that they needed to value themselves and others as human beings, and not to take things for granted. What Moses, a leader and a representative of God, communicated to them was exactly the opposite, which is why God responded the way he did. Another sad point to note is how many of the people were still struggling with the unhealthy words and ideas that Korach had spoken, a leader who was also supposed to have been a man of good character. This week, let us continue to remember the value of the human beings we come in contact with, and the power and influence of our words.