Was God Unfair? Quick Comment: Parashat Hukat (Numbers 19-22:1)

In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites complain because they have no water. God tells Moses to address a certain rock, and water will come forth. But Moses loses his temper and bangs his staff three times against the rock, and water comes gushing forth. (Numbers 20: 10-11)

God is furious! Moses has made it appear that he, not God, had caused the rock to yield water.

But God’s sentence seems unduly harsh.

“Because you did not show enough faith in me to affirm my holiness in the eyes of the Children of Israel, you shall not lead the community into the land I am giving them” (Numbers 20:12).

How could God be so cruel? Even if we agree that, the offense was serious, the punishment seems too severe.

Ultimately, ranting against God’s excess misses the point.

Moses’ time had passed. He was too old to lead the military campaign necessary for the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.

Such a campaign required a young, vigorous leader whose voice the people would obey without hesitation. Joshua was that man, and if Moses were still around when Joshua said, “Charge!” some would look to Moses to see if “Charge!” was what he really wanted them to do.

What does the story teach us?

Each of us has limited opportunities to lead and to influence. When our time is up, we like Moses, must step aside for new leadership.

Too many people lament what they should have done when they had the chance. Time is finite, and so like Moses, we must do what we can, when we can. Hopefully, we will recognize when it is time to relinquish the reigns.