9 Tammuz 5781 / June 19th, 2021
By: R. Mordechai ben Shaul
This Week’s Readings:
Torah: Numbers 19:1-22:1
Haftarah: Judges 11:1-33
Brit Chadashah: James 1:1-6
Our Torah portion starts off with a discussion about the red heifer which is a mysterious set of commands… that we won’t dive into in this drash. Rather we will start in chapter 20. The narrative resumes with the waning days of the wandering in the wilderness. Traditionally, the entire first generation who came out of Egypt has died with the exception of Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua. These are all the newcomers who are complaining – and they are complaining intensely! They are scared of dying of thirst, which is very reasonable since the route that G-d has chosen for them is barren and they now have no source of water. Their concern is very reasonable; in fact, G-d has great patience with them: we don’t see a single instance of G-d expressing anger towards the people like last week. He recognizes their fear even when they are being rude. Moses, on the other hand, was clearly struggling. He just had to bury his sister, he has to be feeling somewhat old at this point and lonely given that it’s just him and Aaron holding up the old generation, it’s be 38 years in the desert, and now it seems that the children of the Israelites who came from Egypt are acting up! What if G-d makes him walk around for another 40 years!? Also, notice how Moses loses his cool with the people: “Listen, you rebels!” isn’t quite the patient Moses that we are used to. So, Moses and Aaron fail to speak to the rock, but rather strike the rock.
There is an interesting midrash here that I feel compelled to share. First, note that G-d told Moses to grab the staff. Why? What did Moses need the staff for if G-d told him to speak to the rock? Rashi and Beer Mayim Chaim  propose that Moses may have been somewhat confused on the command. There was a specific rock that Moses had been instructed to speak to, but it’s possible that he was unable to find it. So, Moses spoke to one rock and nothing happened. He thought: “maybe I will strike one” – kind of like what he had done in Exodus. Besides, G-d had told him to grab the staff, right? Yet, after he struck the rock one time, only a trickle of water came out because this was not how the miracle was supposed to occur! Thus, Moses strikes a second time and vroom! Lots of water gushes out. But he had done wrong. How so? He should have just kept speaking to the various rocks until he found the one G-d had asked him to speak to (or he could have asked G-d to point him to the right rock). Instead, his anger and possibly lack of patience caused him to make a poor decision. In fact, G-d attributes Moses’s mistake to Moses’s “lack of faith.”
Part of the Torah portion is revisited in our Haftarah portion. The king of Ammon claims that the people of Israel had stolen land from him (back in Leviticus). However, Jepthah is able to remind the king of Ammon exactly what had happened. They had fought a defensive war against Sihon and won, resulting in a victory over the lands in dispute. Had Sihon not attacked Israel, perhaps Israel would not have taken those lands. Yet, the king of Ammon ignores Jepthah, so Jepthah leads Israel in victory (not before making his own poor judgment – we’ll get there). The king of Ammon demonstrated a lack of wisdom, and it cost him and his army. So, too, Jepthah with his brash vow ends up losing his only child – his daughter. This again, demonstrates a lack of patience and a lack of wisdom.
Our Brit Chadashah reminds us how we get wisdom. We keep our faith and then we ask for wisdom! And then we move forward doing the next thing that we know G-d wants us to do. This can get very hard when we are completely overwhelmed: Moses made his grave mistake under serious duress and Jepthah was definitely overwhelmed being asked to lead Israel given his personal background (read the beginning of Judges 11 to know more). But according to James 1, G-d allows these trials in our lives to test our faith and produce more endurance. In those trials, we must hold our faith and lean on G-d for wisdom.