The Bible Says What? ‘Moses could not enter Israel because he hit a rock’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Moses could not enter Israel because he hit a rock’

 Rabbi Danny Rich takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Liberal response

“You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it.”

In this verse from Deuteronomy, God is clear. Moses is to die on the east side of the River Jordan, having only a glimpse of the physical manifestation of the idea to which he dedicated his life: a Jewish people, freed from the bondage of Egypt and living in a land of their own.

This divine decision arises from the incident recorded in Numbers 20, where the children of Israel are thirsty and indulge in their typical sentimental whingeing.

Moses and Aaron are fearful of a coup and seek divine guidance. God advises the people should be gathered before a rock and Moses should instruct the rock to produce water.

Inexplicably, Moses does not speak to the rock, but instead strikes it twice and water aplenty is the result. 

The people are satisfied, but God is displeased and announces what seems a disproportionate punishment: not to lead the Israelites into their Promised Land.

The harshness of this penalty meted out to a loyal  servant – and by a God who seeks recognition as merciful – has troubled commentators for generations.

Moses was the leader of a community. Leadership has its perks, but its responsibilities weigh more heavily.

Any individual can carry out an action that may destroy another person’s world, but leaders have the potential to wreak havoc on a greater scale.

No leaders are perfect and there is a hypocrisy in condemning in our leaders those faults we tolerate in ourselves.

Yet leadership is a balance of privilege and burden, of expectation and responsibility.

Perhaps in an inelegant way God was seeking to signal to Moses’ successor Joshua and those after him that a leader is an entity with the potential to inflict great harm, but also the capacity to promote much good. 

Rabbi Danny Rich is a vice president of Liberal Judaism

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