When Moses lost his temper

Insights into People in the Torah,  Numbers 19:1–22:1 Our sages teach; “anyone who is angry, if he is a wise man his wisdom will leave him. If he is a prophet, his prophecy will leave him." ( Masechet Pesachim 66b) .<br/><br/><br/>

Moshe Kempinski, | updated: 12:13

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

 We read the following regarding the final years in the desert;

The entire congregation of the children of Israel arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moshe and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moshe, and they said, "If only we had died with the death of our brothers before Hashem.  (Numbers 20:  1-3)

 

We then read the following

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: "Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink." :Moshe took the staff from before Hashem as He had commanded him. Moshe and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, "Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?" Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank. (ibid 7-11)

 

Hashem told Moshe to "speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. " Instead we read that "Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank"

Hashem is quick to respond to what might seem to be disobedience.

"Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them. ( ibid 12)

What happened?

 This was the Moshe of whom  Hashem saud "Not so is My servant Moshe; he is faithful throughout My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of Hashem.(numbers 12:7-8)

There is no greater and more faithful servant than Moshe, so he clearly was could not have been attempting to be disobedient.

What is clear is that he was angry. This man  who has carried his people and stood up for them through crisis and failure finally loses his patience He yells at his people in an uncharacteristic way ; "Now listen, you rebels.. "

 

 Why would have caused that to happen?

Perhaps the beginning of understanding can be found at the outset of the crisis. Just preceding the events of the water from the stone we read the following account of the death of Miriam, the sister of Moshe:

"and Miriam died there and was buried there" (Numbers 20:1).

That was it.

The Torah does not even offer a minor description of the ensuing burial and mourning but immediately informs us the following information;” and there was no water for the people."  (ibid :2)

Our sages have taught that the children of Israel were afforded three gifts that were given to them in the merit of their leaders. These three special gifts were given to the Jewish people in the wilderness. The Divine clouds of Glory that surrounded and protected the people were given because of Aaron. The manna from Heaven was given because of Moshe and the “waters of the well” were gifted due to Miriam.

Miriam merited that gift because she stood by the waters of the Nile watching over her baby brother in the basket. That source of waters ended when Miriam died.” and there was no water for the people."(ibid:2)

Moshe has just lost his sister who was instrumental in saving his life. The people who have just lost the woman called the prophetess who was spiritually responsible for the very water they drank . Yet they do not even stop to mourn or to weep over her loss.

 Instead they begin to complain.

That could have been the issue that pushed Moshe into a state of uncontrollable anger. Moshe who entered before the throne of Glory and who witnessed much that mortal men can only dream of was ,after all,  still a man. A mortal that still can stumble in anger. That was not his weakness but in fact his strength.

According to  Torah understanding, the greatness of an individual is measured by what he or she can achieve in the spiritual realm despite the limitations of his or her human and physical reality. It is a very human Moshe that on the one hand needed to break all constraints to shake the very heavens and on the other contend with deep loss.

The older sibling who protected him and kept alive the Divine vision for his family and people died. Consequently Moshe was thrust into a period of pain and mourning. Anger came following.

Anger , regrettably , is a cruel and merciless dictator. It conquers the soul and can even warps it. As it is says in (Ecclesiastes 12:10), "Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh."

We have been taught that “anyone who is angry , if he is a wise man his wisdom will leave him. If he is a prophet, his prophecy will leave him" (tractate Pesachim 66b)” He hit the stone rather than spoke to it because he lost the ability to hear and speak prophetically.

Our sages teach; “anyone who is angry, if he is a wise man his wisdom will leave him. If he is a prophet, his prophecy will leave him." ( Masechet Pesachim 66b) .

It was therefore his outburst that brought about the opposite of sanctification. Moshe did not choose to hit the stone instead of speaking to it as he was commanded. He simply lost the ability to speak for G-d when he turned in anger towards the people.

The children of Israel were about to enter the land of Promise. Yet this promise would be realized under the harsh glare of physical endeavors and experience. Hashem was slowly removing the obvious spiritual parameters of their existence in order to prepare them for their entry into the land. This would be a land where those parameters would have be found within their souls and experienced through their faith.

The people now needed a leader who had come to terms with such a flawed world. They needed a leader who could continue to contend with the vagaries and failures of human nature. They needed a leader who would understand them and help them cope with their new reality .For it was to be a reality fraught with disappointments and yet rich with incredible potential.

Anger then was not the cause for the change but rather it was a symptom. Moshe's anger was real and understandable. Moshe had carried them through the wilderness in his arms. He had been patient and kind, yet now he would now have to give them up into other hands. The people needed a different type of leadership in the land of Israel.


LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Esther

  



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