Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Moses and Aaron, Burnt Out Leaders

Parshat Shavua, Torah Portion of the Week, Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1.) That was last week in Israel and half of this week's in Chutz L'Aretz, the Diaspora.

At last week's Chukat's Women's Class in my neighborhood, the rabbi, Ya'akov Cohen, asked us why Moshe was denied entrance to the Land of Israel.

Chapter 20

ט וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּטֶּה, מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר, צִוָּהוּ.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as He commanded him.
י וַיַּקְהִלוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, אֶת-הַקָּהָל--אֶל-פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא הַמֹּרִים--הֲמִן-הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה, נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: 'Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?'
יא וַיָּרֶם מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יָדוֹ, וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ--פַּעֲמָיִם; וַיֵּצְאוּ מַיִם רַבִּים, וַתֵּשְׁתְּ הָעֵדָה וּבְעִירָם. {ס}
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. {S}
יב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.
12 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: 'Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'

Maybe I'm just haunted by my own ignominious end to my EFL teaching career, but all I could picture in my mind was when Moses needed help to hold his hands high during a crucial battle and his silence when Joshua and Caleb debated the other ten spies. Call it burn out!

We all know that Moshe was a very reluctant leader. He fled his people afraid of his power. G-d had to force him to return and bribe him with the promised assistance of his brother Aaron.

Parents, teachers and all others in authority know that if we speak to our charges in anger we will lose them, and their behavior will be worse. Look at the highlighted words I quoted, "you rebels." It was clear that Moshe was at the very end of his energy. There never was much charisma. Charismatic leaders project a faith and confidence. That's the faith that G-d proclaimed was missing from Moses.

"...ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel..."

Moses didn't state to the people that G-d was providing the water. He didn't use the event to promote faith in G-d. A tired and bitter Moshe and a weakened Aaron would have been counter-productive and dangerous to Joshua's leadership in conquering the Promised Land.

It was necessary to G-d to provide Joshua with the best conditions possible, and that's what He did.


Anonymous said...

Rav Moti Elon, in his sefer Tecehelet Mordechai, has a wonderful explanation of Mei Meriva.

It is based on what Rav Sorotzkin says in shorthand on the Parsha.

But you'll have to read about 30 pages to get through the entire read.

The main thing, says Rav Elon, is to keep your on the shifting between the words "Eidah" and "Kahal".

Then he ties all the main commentaries together using that single string.

Batya said...

Thanks Shy, sounds vaccinating. 30 pages are too many for me to get through. How does he explain that term Moshe uses for the people?

Anonymous said...

Rav Elon doesn't change the standard definition of HaMorim - the rebels.

He points out that Hashem told Moshe to gather the Eidah and Moshe brought them together only as a Kahal.

The word Eidah implies those banded together have a common goal of witnessing Hashem's rulership and proclaiming it as witnesses - Eidim.

Kahal is merely a congregation of individuals with similar needs and wants.

Rav Elon's read doesn't argue against the concept of burn-out nor of the anger Moshe behaved upon. Moshe lost it. That this people was still to be Adat Hashem, and they needed that encouragement just then, in the 40th year, about to enter Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe failed in his mission at the worst time possible. History has never been the same because of that.

Batya said...

Shy, Moshe was similar to King Saul but not as bad. Neither looked for the role. Moshe had more natural leadership than Shaul, but it was too much an effort. His father-in-law had to give him advice on how to structure the "government." At least G-d spoke directly to Moshe, no middle-man.