THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT CHUKAT 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
Last week we read Parshat Korach, in which the status of Moshe and Aharon as undisputed leaders was miraculously reinforced by HaShem Himself - at Moshe’s unprecedented request. In addition, HaShem caused a mini-earthquake to devour some of the antagonists, and a divine bolt of Heavenly fire to devour the others.
One week later, we find that when the same Moshe decides to hit the rock instead of talking to it as instructed by HaShem, Moshe and Aharon are unceremoniously informed that their leadership days are numbered. They will not bring the People of Israel into the Land of Israel!
What happened between last week and this week?
The most obvious start to any clarification of what transpired is to remember that even though we read these occurrences on two consecutive weeks, they were 38 years apart! The Korach rebellion took place in the second year after the Exodus. The narrative described in this week’s Parsha is part of the final preparations leading up to the eventual entrance into the Promised Land. We are in the final year of the 40-year punishment meted out to the previous generation, following their misguided belief that the ten spies were right and that Yehoshua and Calev were wrong.
So the reality is that for the first couple of years after leaving Egypt, Moshe and Aharon were in their early eighties, and the Children of Israel were all ages, from small babies to people even older than them. They all witnessed how these two brothers, sons of their beloved and respected Amram the Levite, stood their ground against the mighty Pharaoh. They all witnessed how, helped by the awe-inspiring miracles of the 10 plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, they succeeded in freeing an entire nation of slaves, culminating in the ultimate experience of receiving HaShem’s Holy Torah on Mount Sinai.
But what is happening now in Parshat Chukat? That whole generation is dead. Who’s left? An entirely new nation, aged between 0 and 40, plus a small number of people well over 100. And who is still leading them? Still Moshe and Aharon, who are now aged 119 and 122, respectively. Now that’s weird. Can you imagine your child’s kindergarten teacher being 120? Can you imagine yourself as a soldier, even as a 40-year-old in the reserves, taking orders from a Commander-in-Chief who is three times your age?
As long as the people were all aimlessly wandering around the desert for almost 40 years, having those two ageless leaders didn’t really matter. But the exile was over. They were preparing for battle. And the only way Moshe and Aharon could retain their leadership roles with this nation of youngsters, was to show them all that they were there because HaShem put them there. Everything – but everything - they do, is according to HaSham’s will. If at any point, the elderly leaders lose that mandate, they lose the right to lead.
HaShem instructs them to speak to the rock. Moshe strikes the rock, and Aharon says nothing. And even though water miraculously comes out of the rock after Moshe strikes it, the damage is done. They disobeyed HaShem! And they did it in front of the entire nation. HaShem tells them “You had the chance to sanctify My name, but you didn’t. How can you expect Me to let you lead My flock?” And the rest – as they say – is history.
The question of course remains, what on earth got into Moshe? But that’s for another day.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,