By Talia Rotter
This week’s parsha, Ha’azinu, starts off by recounting the good things that G-d has done for B’nai Yisrael. G-d chose us as his people, cared for us in the wilderness, protected us, and defeated mighty nations on our behalf. It criticizes B’nai Yisrael for following other gods. G-d says that if they continue to practice idolatry, he will deliver famine and plague to the people, and promises them death. The same day G-d speaks to Moses and instructs him to climb Mount Nebo in the land of moab facing Jericho, and look out at the land of israel. G-d tells Moses that he will die on mount nebo because he didn’t follow G-d’s instructions in the Wilderness of Zin. There, Moshe hit the rock instead of raising his staff to make water appear, and G-d says not listening to his instructions broke the holiness of bnei yisrael. Then Moshe dies on Mount Nebo, looking at the land he worked so hard to get to, not allowed to enter.
Moshe wanted so badly to see Eretz Yisrael, but his sin of hitting the rock was somehow unforgivable. Even after all Moshe had done, being a leader for bnei yisrael, helping them out of egypt, and being merciful to them, even when they practiced idolatry, still, G-d didn’t let him go into the promised land, and he had to die looking at it from afar. Why was simply hitting a rock such a bad, consequential thing to do?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that this is about leadership. Each era has its new leaders, and they were all different from one another, not just by personality, but by their type of leadership. Each generation needs a type of leadership that is appropriate to the current times. Although there are some things that a leader needs throughout time and in every generation, such as integrity, open mindedness, and courage, there are other things that change about a leader from generation to generation, because a leader should be able to relate to every individual of their time.
Moshe comes from the generation of those who were slaves in Egypt, and when G-d commanded Moshe to hit a rock to make water the first time, almost forty years prior, it was because in the generation of slaves, the way leaders got things done was by physical force and harsh words. Because Moshe was from a different era of leadership, he didn’t understand that the leadership of the next generation. The next generation, born in the wilderness, was different. The type of leadership they needed was persuasion, not force and power. Talking to the rock, and teaching Bnei Israel how to get water, would have been a better fit, for them.
It is possible that Moshe not being allowed to enter Israel wasn’t meant to be a punishment, he just wasn’t the right leader for the new generation, and the rock incident is an example of why.
Another related concept is that the song in Haazinu never mentions the escape from Egypt: It starts off by talking about how G-d found the people in the wilderness. An explanation for this follows the same theme that rabbi sacks introduced, of different needs in every generation. In my bat mitzvah parsha, Beshalach, Shirat Hayam dramatically narrates the escape from Egypt. Shirat Hayam was the song of the generation who were slaves, because it is resonates for those who left Mitzrayim, and it relates to that generation. In this parsha, Haazinu, the song doesn’t mention the escape from Egypt, because the current generation was born in the wilderness, so the escape from Egypt doesn’t resonate with them as directly.. Because this is a song from G-d talking to the people, it starts off narrating what they know, which is that G-d helped them in the wilderness. This concept of every generation needing to be addressed in a way that they can relate to still applies today. Just like I might enjoy different types of music than my parents, and use different slang from them, the generation born in the wilderness and the generation born in Mitzrayim need to be spoken to and ruled differently.
The story of Moshe and the rock, along with the different themes in Shirat Hayam and the song in Haazinu, are trying to teach us that every generation is unique, so leadership and understanding has to be appropriate and applicable to the current time.
G’mar chatima tova, and shabbat shalom