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   by Jacob Solomon

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This Parasha includes the famous passage where Moses is debarred entry to the Promised Land by Higher Authority. When the supplies of water were down to zero, G-d told Moses to publicly tell the rock to release water. Thereon:

Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation (of the Israelites) before the rock and he (Moses) said to them: 'Listen, you rebels! Can we get water for you out of this rock?' Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his stick. Out in abundance came forth the water… (20:10-11)

The commentators differ when defining the actual sin of Moses and Aaron. Rashi holds that the sin was in striking the rock rather than speaking to it, as they were commanded. The Ramban focuses on the anger implied in Moses' rebuke to the Israelites - Listen you rebels! (20:10). He points out that the text does not state that G-d was angry about the Israelites' vociferous demand for water. Abarbanel agrees with Rashi that the immediate cause of the punishment was because of striking, rather than speaking to the rock - but he holds there were underlying causes, namely previous events. Aaron had been involved in the Golden Calf and Moses (see Rashi on 13:2) had chosen to send the Spies despite G-d's strong hints that no good would come out of it. Both events had caused national suffering. It was wrong, explains Abarbanel, that the very leaders, who could have prevented those events, should have been allowed to enter when the Israelites were excluded. Therefore when they committed a sin which was worthy of some punishment, G-d chose to keep them out of the Promised Land, like the rest of their generation.

In addition, this passage may be seen as a test of Moses, in the same way that G-d 'tested' Abraham (Gen. 22:1). Though the tests were different, the bio-psychological roots of the tests are similar. This is elaborated in the paragraphs below.

G-d' tested Abraham when he told him to sacrifice Isaac on 'one of the mountains that I will specify'. That was the supreme test of Abraham, the hallmark of whose personality was kindness (c.f. Micah 7:20). In putting Abraham into a situation where he had to choose between G-d on one side and the person who was most important to him on the other side, he chose the Creator first.

However, it could not have been easy. Though he accepted that G-d knew more than he did (c.f. Job 38 ff.), the situation would have put him into great fear.

Our current knowledge of bio-psychological processes recognizes that when a person is in a situation of fright, flight, or fight (anger very much included), the bloodstream floods with adrenaline. This hormone channels blood from the brain to the regions where it most needed for maximum strength - the arms, hands, legs, and feet. This leaves the brain running on a minimum level as it is temporarily suffering a considerable reduction of essential nutrients and oxygen.

That means that Abraham was tested when he had least self control, when his judgment was most likely to be flawed, and when he would have been most prone to have 'forgotten' G-d in favor of his son. Because he did succeed - despite his much weakened psycho-biological state - G-d ended the test with: 'Because you have… not withheld your son, your only son… in your children shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice' (22:16-18).

Moses' situation, following the Ramban's emphasis on the anger in Moses' rebuke, was similar. Anger, like fear, robs the brain temporarily of its capacity to make sound judgments. Unlike with Abraham, Moses 'weakened brain' caused him to err…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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