Friday, June 18, 2021/8 Tammuz, 5781
Parashat Hukat Numbers 19:1−22:1
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Chukat, always reminds me of this famous old joke, but even more so, as we have been once again witnessing the escalations of tensions in Israel, between the Israelis and Palestinians over the past month. Indeed, in this portion, Moses is dealing with the rising frustrations of the Israelites, after Miriam’s well dries up, upon her death. In his own grief and anguish, after God tells him to speak to the rock, and ask it for water, Moses refers to the people as “rebels” and strikes the rock with his staff twice. God becomes furious, not with the people, but with Moses. As his punishment, Moses will not lead the people into the promised land.
Was Moses’ crime so egregious? Does the punishment fit the crime? As Jewish leaders, we are all held to a higher level. When we speak, it is often interpreted as the voice of the Jewish people. It is this lesson that we learn from this portion. We must always take care in what we say and do, as it may reflect upon all Jews. Perhaps this is the reason why the world and we often hold the actions of Israel to a different standard than we do others. We have every right to be frustrated with the actions of the Israeli government, but as we will learn later, as God honors Moses, beyond any other, we may never sway our love and support of her. Moses may not be able to lead us into the promised land, but God never forsakes him. Likewise, while we might feel like striking the rock, due to our frustrations with Israel’s actions, we must follow God’s example, and talk, instead. Our words have such power, both in love and frustration, so we must choose them well. Likewise, we pray that Israel will begin talking to the Palestinians, so that we may indeed see peace in the future. Just as all Jews don’t always agree with Israeli actions, we must remember not to hold all Palestinians responsible for the actions of the terrorists in their midst. Ultimately all of us just want to drink from the waters of life and peace, and just like Moses, we must talk with each other to bring about that day.
I want to close with a blessing, that Marla Shwarts shared, from Rabbi Sheryl Lewart, referring to another quote from this week’s portion, “You who are impure shall purify yourself and be pure.” (Num. 19:12)
When you make a mistake
Familiar and often repeated
Try and understand its cause.
When you disappoint yourself
Hold yourself with compassion.
Offer your hard-won insights
On the fires of truth
To cleanse and purify your soul.
May you gain awareness
Of the losses your fear
That keep you feeling like and outsider.
Know that mistakes and errors of judgment
Can be transformed,
As the Israelites did in the wilderness
So that you can do the difficult work of acceptance.
Ask yourself what will release your guilt and shame,
What will fill the emptiness inside you?
Use the words “I’m sorry” and “I made a mistake”
As your invitation to humility and your opportunity
To grow from your experience.
May we all be able to admit our mistakes, talk to those we have wronged, and bathe in the healing waters that will flow forth.
Cantor Ilan Davidson