Consequences of Not Listening

July 8, 2022

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read of the infamous story of Moses striking the rock when he was supposed to only speak to it to generate the water flow. After which Moses is informed by Gd that he will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land.

If we stop for a moment to consider the consequence of this action, to reflect upon to whom the punishment is given, and to ponder the actual action itself, the only rational conclusion is that there must be something more to what actually took place. Really, after all that Moses has done, striking a rock is the behavior that punishes Moses with the consequence of all consequences?

What makes this scene even more problematic is that this is not the first time Moses is faced with the challenge of drawing water from a rock. In Exodus 17:6 Gd tells Moses at the rock of Horeb, “Strike the rock and water will flow from it and the people will drink.” Yet, in this week’s Torah portion Gd tells Moses to, “…take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water.” (Numbers 20:8)

Our sages and biblical scholars are torn over this dilemma. Yes, Moses does not follow Gd’s command verbatim, but Moses is human, the people are complaining, and Moses was told at a different location to strike the rock. Something’s amiss.

There is a school of thought that suggests that similar actions should carry different consequences based on the maturity and role of the individual committing the crime. For instance, a child who misleads others for their own benefit may genuinely not be aware of their actions or the gravity of the offense, especially in the context of our legal system. Yet, this same action, committed by an adult, especially a public figure, well, let’s just say that the crime might be considered worthy of greater consequence.

It is this perspective that scholars have used to rationalize the gravity of the consequence in this week’s readings. Moses “should know better” at this point of his leadership. Moses is the role model for the people. Not that Moses is perfect, but at this point in his life there is a level of expectation associated with his experience. As a novice leader Moses didn’t have the skills or understanding needed to build his credibility so Gd told him to strike the rock. However, this time around Moses needed to show the people that he could achieve the same result with words instead of actions. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, Moses was to “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

The lesson from this week’s Torah portion is that dialogue, both the listening and the speaking can affect great change… and even bring water from a rock if necessary. Yes, it is true that maybe an action can achieve the same result, but a conversation is still the most idyllic option. 

This week may we break through the rock formed by a broken friendship. May we find the time to listen to a loved one’s needs. And to paraphrase Groucho Marx, may we “Bless the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” Because through these conversations we will be…


Shabbat shalom,