7 Tammuz 5773 / June 14-15, 2013
In this week’s portion, Chukat, we find Moses and Aaron instructed to order a rock to produce water for their thirsty nation, and instead, the rock is struck, and both Moses and Aaron are punished by not being permitted to enter into the Promised Land (Aaron actually dies in this week’s portion – as does their sister Miriam).
The language is quite ambiguous in this section. The text says that God commanded them (together) to order the rock to produce water. But, it then says that “he struck the rock” – it doesn’t tell us whether the “he” is Aaron or Moses! If you recall, Aaron had historically been Moses’s mouthpiece (due to Moses having a speech impediment). Aaron also cast his own rod down before Pharaoh and it turned into a serpent (so we’ve seen Aaron’s staff in action before). So who did the ordering and the striking? Should both of them have been punished for the same single (seemingly minor) transgression?
We often only think about and bemoan the fact that Moses didn’t get to enter the Promised Land. But what about Aaron? He was with Moses at the start, voicing for Moses the first time they approached Pharaoh. He was the first High Priest of the Israelite nation. Granted, he helped them make a golden calf, but that incident is not given as the reason for his punishment. While it seems criminal that Moses eventually doesn’t get to enter the Promised Land, Aaron also had communicated with God and was a major leader of the nation. I have to ask: what about Aaron?
In the beginning of the Torah, in the story of Cain and Abel, we find one of the most fundamental questions of our tradition: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” While no answer is given at the time, if there was any doubt that our tradition’s answer is a resounding “yes,” we can look to this week’s collective punishment assigned to Moses and Aaron as the ultimate affirmation. These two brothers, leaders of the nation, ultimately would suffer the same fate of not being permitted to enter to Promised Land due to one of them (we don’t know which) not following instructions, and the other failing to prevent him from erring.
We have a collective responsibility to one another and the world.
Unfortunately for Aaron and Moses, their misfortune must be our recognition and gain.