Chukat has several difficult concepts which defy all the traditional commentaries and explanations. In spite of the attempts by so many of our luminaries to explain the Para Aduma, it still remains illusive and puzzling to us. Another difficult inclusion in this week’s portion is that of the second murmuring at Meribah. The first murmuring was at Mount Horeb as reported in Exodus 17:1-7 and in both instances water is miraculously and benevolently provided from a rock.
In the first incident Moses is commanded to strike the rock in order to receive the water. In the second instance, in this week’s portion, Moses is commanded to speak to the rock. Rather than do as commanded, Moses strikes the rock twice and water once again graces and nourishes the Hebrews. As a punishment for not following Gods command meticulously, Moses is punished. As a result of the sin of not performing exactly as instructed he won’t lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land.
More important than the actual sin of Moses is the punishment meted out by God. Central to this puzzling event is the question as to whether the punishment was appropriate for the crime. Culling through a myriad of commentaries, and without referencing them here none satisfy me, nor are any of them really convincing.
What does come to mind however tangentially is the story of Job. One of the lessons of Job is that there really is no rhyme or reason to the workings of God. There are people that are intrinsically good, committed to living ethical and moral lives, religious to a fault, but yet suffer disease and poverty, living in anguish, while others who are ostensibly bad, live good, comfortable and healthy lives. How can this be? There really is no answer. We may comfort ourselves by using the olam hazeh vs. olam habah card, but that still doesn’t explain the suffering experienced by a good person, or an innocent child.
While the things that happen to us may not be in our control how we react to our misfortune is. Do we react with honor and dignity or do we accept our fate with bitterness and anger. Moses is an exemplary figure who was dealt a harsh punishment that perhaps didn’t fit the crime. But his dignity and magnanimous manner in which he accepted his fate is something we can all learn from.