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Parashat Chukat: Forgiveness?

What did Moses do wrong? What was so wrong with Moses’s actions that G-d could not forgive him or Aaron? In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, the Israelites are thirsty. They have reached the desert of Zin, so close to the Promised Land, Miriam dies, and with her loss they lose the ability to find water. So, the Israelites are dying of thirst, yelling at Moses and Aaron, complaining again that they should never have left Egypt, and assembling against Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron turn to G-d for help. G-d tells them, "Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink." Everyone then assembles in front of the rock and Moses says, "Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?" Then Moses strikes the rock and water gushes forth. Yay! Great they have water! But no, not everything is okay. G-d is angry. He is angry about the comment Moses made in front of the Israelites, “Can we draw water for you from this rock?” Because of this question G-d tells Moses and Aaron that they will no longer be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Because Moses questioned G-d he received the ultimate punishment. After all this time, all this sacrifice, Moses and Aaron would never enter the Land they led the Israelites to.

Did Moses and Aaron deserve this sentence? What makes this time different? Moses and Aaron have angered G-d before. For example, when Aaron helped the Israelites build the Golden Calf and Moses smashed the first set of tablets he received from G-d on Mount Sinai in anger. All was forgiven then. More than that G-d has forgiven the Israelites countless times for their behavior, for all their complaining, for all their lack of faith. However, this time, this time G-d would not forgive Moses his lack of faith. His question. What makes this time different? Lack of faith is the one thing that G-d has a hard time forgiving. The truth is none of the original group Israelites who left Egypt make it to the Promised Land all based on their lack of faith. What does this teach us? As human beings we question things, especially when we face challenges in our lives. In fact questioning is how we learn. There are many times that people question G-d. For many people out there it is not so easy to have faith. Perhaps G-d was just fed up. But, I don’t agree with G-d’s decision not to forgive Moses and Aaron, to keep them from entering the Promised Land. Judaism is all about forgiveness. Think about Yom Kippur. But, at this crucial moment between G-d, Moses, and Aaron there isn’t any. What is the lesson here?

Tonight at your Shabbat table think about forgiveness. Is there boundaries? Have you ever had a moment like G-d, Moses, and Aaron, when you felt you could not forgive anymore? What were the consequences? How do you feel now?

Shabbat Shalom!