Monday, June 18, 2007

Religious Intolerance in the Desert


This Dvar Torah for the parsha Chukaht is adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. IV, p. 500. The parsha can be found here.
Near the end of their journey in the desert, the Israelites arrived at Kadesh. But there was no water to drink, and the people complained bitterly. God commanded Moses to take his staff before the entire people and speak to the cliff-rock, to provide water for the nation. Moses took the staff and assembled the people. But he shouted,
"Listen now, you rebels! Shall we produce water for you from this cliff?" [Num. 20:10]
Moses then struck the cliff twice with the staff, and a huge amount of water gushed out.
There are many explanations as to what exactly was Moses' sin, for which God did not allow him to enter into the Land of Israel. Perhaps it was his uncontrolled anger (Maimonides); or for disobeying God by hitting the rock (Rashi); or because he initially fled from the people (Ibn Ezra); or for saying, "Shall we produce" and not, "Shall God produce" (Rabbeinu Chananel).
Let us consider Maimonides' explanation. Clearly, Moses was judged strictly, in accordance to his unique spiritual level. Yet, was his fit of anger truly so terrible that it constituted a desecration of God's Name? Did Moses deserve to die outside of the Land of Israel merely for losing his temper?
According to Rav Kook, all religious rage, all intolerance for moral failings, is rooted in this display of anger by Moses. Instead of words of reconciliation, he shouted, "Listen now, you rebels!" Instead of speaking to the heart, he hit the rock. While righteous indignation stems from sincere and pure intentions, the highest goals of holiness will only be achieved through calm spirits and mutual respect.
In our generation, the instruction of Torah and its details involves a pedantic form of debate. Father and son, teacher and student, struggle and battle over Torah study. In the end, their mutual love returns; but the residual feelings of enmity are never completely erased.
The restoration of the peaceful ways of Torah will come through the prophet Elijah, who "shall turn the heart of fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." [Malachi 3:24]


The painting NUMBERS above is from Chaim Parchi a composer, choreographer, artist, teacher and performer. It is part of his series on the Five Books of Moses.

1 comment:

Kathi said...

wow good commentary on this portion Toby. pretty intense but so true. Thank you again for sharing these words.