Why Couldn't Moses Enter The Land? I
Why Couldn't Moses Enter The Land?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Why Couldn't Moses Enter The Land? Part I
Hi everybody! This is Rabbi David Fohrman and I want to greet you here from Israel where it's a beautiful evening here in Nof Ayalon, about equal distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Through the wonders of modern technology, I will speak to you from here and really all parts of the world. I want to welcome you all who really are from all parts of the world. I hope you got to know each other a bit and meet through these series of classes. This first of our weekly online classes, the first series here is going to be called, 'Why Couldn't Moses Enter the Land?' It will take us about six or seven weeks , although in truth, these classes are recorded live, so I can't promise it will take us precisely six or seven weeks, , if the conversations get interesting on the discussion board, then maybe it will take eight; we'll see how it goes.But I want to take a moment here to introduce you to the format of the classes and to how they will be working. The backbone of each class, of each weekly class is going to be a weekly lecture which I will deliver in usually forty-five to fifty minutes and you will be able to hear that through your computers. Those will be posted about 6 p.m. or so Eastern Standard Time every Sunday. And you have a number of different ways you can listen to that, you can listen to that straight on your computer, you can stream it, you can also download it, which means that you can bring it on to your computer's hard drive and listen to it whenever you like, or you can burn a CD with it and put it on your iPod or other MP3 device; so there are a lot of ways you can access it. And once the lecture are posted, you will have access to it whenever you like later on. Although technically you can listen to the lectures months or years later, I do encourage you to try to keep up with the weekly lecture and that way you will be able to participate with everybody else on the discussion board, you will kind of be current with where everybody else is holding.
In addition to the lectures, there are a couple supporting elements of the class, those would be Power Point, slide shows, lecture outlines and lecture notes. Generally speaking in the PowerPoint and the slide shows, what I do is take a particular area of the lecture and try to elaborate a little bit more graphically. Sometimes those would be more complex areas that I think would help if you sort of saw it laid out, sometimes it's just an area that I think can bear with some graphical illustration , but those are the PowerPoints; you are free to use them, you are free to ignore them if you like. There is also source notes that I hope will contain most of the major sources that I will be quoting. I hope to post a Hebrew version as well. So for you Hebrew speakers out there, you can just download Hebrew, for the English speakers, you can download the English. Lecture outlines are going to be pretty brief, they are not going to be able to replace the lecture themselves; you won't be able to figure out what's going on if you haven't heard the talk but you will be able to follow along and I think it will give you a quick thirty second review later on in the week in case you want to look it over. So those are really the supporting elements of the class.
In addition to the lectures and those supporting elements, there is also a discussion board which I really encourage you to get on and interact with and basically those are a forum where we can all talk to each other. You can do it anytime of the day or night you like, 2 a.m. in the morning when you're in your pajamas and you think you have something to say, you can log on to the discussion board, see what everyone else is saying and I encourage you to respond to each other, gently of course, and with cordiality even if people disagree with you. But I do want to encourage you to make use of the discussion boards and sort of talk to each other and with me, I will be checking in on those discussion boards as well once or twice per week, I will be posting my responses to the general direction of the discussion, I don't think I can respond to every individual person, but I respond to where I think things are going on the discussion board. Sometimes I will respond in writing, sometimes I will respond by posting voice message, which are three to five minutes in length that you should be able to listen to by clicking on them. So that's basically the outline of the course. But I do hope to keep it kind of interactive. The lectures in some way will be influenced by the discussions that goes on in the discussion board and in that way I think we can keep the flow of things dynamic. It's really a way that we can continue to interact with each other and have a group discussion about this almost. Again, really through the wonders of internet technology and I am really pleased to be able to make use of it, this kind of technology, for such an exciting project.
So without any further ado, why don't we jump in and begin talking about this topic, 'Why Couldn't Moses enter the land?' This is a topic that I've actually been working on for a while. For those who follow my work, a while back I released a set of tapes called 'Miriam and the Mysterious Waters of Mei Merivah' where I took a stab at this issue. And over the years, I have come to see where the issue is much larger than that and I guess that's one of the hazards of doing this kind of work which is that it is always dangerous to put something on tape because the issues grow and grow and do get larger and I guess there is no real definitive point where you get to where you have it all resolved.
So what we are going to do in this series is to some extent in a couple of these lectures, I am going to revisit points which I made in that series, 'Miriam and the mysterious Waters of Mei Merivah but I am also going to go beyond that to look at number of other really whole panoply of stories throughout the Bible and to try to take a very broad view of this issue of 'Why couldn't Moses enter the land' and we're going to be looking at stories in Numbers, we're going to be looking at stories in Deuteronomy, we're going to be looking at stories of the spies, story of Jethro in Judges, looking at the story of Moses hitting the rock, really a whole number of stories, Korach's rebellion, which I think are all tied into this issue either one way or another, and we'll try to see if we can really get some comprehensive picture of this by putting all the different puzzle pieces together over the course of these lecture.
So let's begin our look at this question, if I can, by just pulling back the zoom lens and just asking the question from a basic emotional level. Everybody has got their views, I think, of what the emotionally poignant parts in the Torah are, and for me, I think one of them has always been the very end of the Torah where God tells Moses to go up to Mount Har Nevo and he's going to die there, and he looks out on the land, east, west, north, south, and he sees the whole thing but he is never going to go in. And it seems like such a terrible, tragic thing. When you think of Moses, you think of him as arguable God's favorite person in the entire world and you think, "What did he do to deserve this, that at the end of his life, the only thing that he really wanted in life was taken away from him. How do we understand that?" You can imagine, "what did he do?"
So if you read the story of Numbers, which is the first story which we are going to look at, and I will give you the address in just a second, but if you read the story in Numbers of Moses hitting the rock, God tells him that the people want water and you're supposed to speak to the rock and instead Moses hits the rock and it seems to be that he's sinned. And after that God says, "Because you failed to sanctify my name, you can't go into the land." You can imagine at that moment that there was some kind of heavenly tribunal and you could've been one of the Angels sitting on that tribunal and the question was put, "Here, Moses has done this great crime, he's hit a rock rather than speak to it; what shall we do to him?" So you can imagine, "well, before we figure out what we're going to do with him, we're going to take a close look at Moses life; we'll make a quick credit/debit analysis. What are the credits? What are the good things that Moses has done in life?" Well he's taken the Jewish people out of Egypt, he's done the Ten Plague, he's taught them the entire Torah, he's lead them faithfully through the desert for forty years, he's put up with all of their meshugasim, all their travails, and he's sacrificed his life for them with the Golden Calf, God has wanted to wipe them out and Moses heroic intercedes and says, "If you wipe them out God, you can forget about starting over with me", mecheni na misifrecha asher katavta – "you can either forgive them or you can erase me from the book that you've written", you know, Moses takes this heroic stand with the people, and the question is, here is the good thing that Moses has done in his life, they are really not trivial. And now you say, "What are the bad things he has done in his life?" "Well, he hit a rock." Okay, good things - taught the Jews the entire Torah, took them through the slavery in Egypt and interceding at the Golden Calf, lead them through the desert for forty years, and the bad thing is that he hit a rock, what are you going to do?
So imagine there is one angel in the back of the room who says, "Well, let's really hit him where it hurts. What's the one thing that he really wants in life?" "He really wants to go into the land." "Alright, take that away from him." It seems preposterous! If this is how God deals almost with his favorite person, it just seems so harsh. How do we understand that? Is it just that the more a favorite person you get to be with God, the more strict God is with you? It just doesn't seem like much of an incentive I guess to be so good; I don't know it's just that it's very hard to understand; how do we understand that? So that's the emotional question I would ask. I can't say it's a textual question, it's a problem; it's an emotional problem, how do we deal with this?
The story I told you once, long ago, when I taught a story in a bookstore, there was a woman who called right before the talk and the employees from the store ushered me to the back of the room and said you have a phone call and I took the phone call and this woman said, "I saw this talk advertised, 'Why Couldn't Moses Enter the Land', and I knew that I had to come because I used to be an observant Jew living in Brooklyn and I left religion after being a kid because I never got answers to my questions, and one of my questions was, "How could Moses not enter the land?" And after all these years I finally saw a talk that dealt with this and I knew I had to come, but I broke my ankle and I can't come. Do you have a tape recorder?" I didn't have a tape recorder. So I can say to the woman wherever she is, if she is listening or hears about this, you are welcomed to join in and we can talk about it. But it is a very painful question. So we are going to deal with it. Again, as I mentioned to you before, I think there is a number of stories to touch on this. The two most obvious stories to touch on this are the stories of Moses hitting the rock in Numbers and a little bit less obviously, the story at the beginning of Deuteronomy. And I want to outline to you very basically what those two stories are about and some of the problems we face in reconciling those two stories.
So very briefly, story number one; the story of Moses and the rock in Numbers. If you want to follow along, this is in Numbers 20 vs 1-14. You have it on your source sheets, you can go into the source sheet sections of this class and download it. The source sheet is either in Hebrew or English and you can follow along. It's a very short story, and basically what happened is that the people in the desert, it's the 40th year of the Jews in the desert and they are on the verge of entering the land of Israel and they are in a water crisis; they are in the desert and they need water. So they come and they complained to Moses, "We need water." And God tells him that there is this rock and you are supposed to speak to this rock and the rock will give its water. And inexplicable for some reason, Moses doesn't do it; he takes the staff and he hits the rock. And God says because of that you can't enter the land. That in a nutshell is story number one. It's a lot more detailed than that, in a few minutes, we'll take a look at the story more in depth, but that's the story in a nutshell. Now let's cut to Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy is one long speech really, where Moses gives his sort of good bye speech to the Jews and he gives them a sort of long overview of what they need to know to enter the land, and the beginning of that speech in chapter one, is a very quick overview of the history of the Jews, and inside that speech in Deuteronomy chapter one, Moses refers to this issue of him not being allowed to go into the land; he gives his take on why it is he can't go into the land. If you read his take, it's kind of striking and very strange. Here are the relevant verses, Deuteronomy chapter 1 vs 37, and you can follow along here in your source sheets also, this is selection number two on your source sheets. Here is what Moses says.
Gam bi hitanaf Hashem biglalchem lemor gam atah lo tavo sham. If you just read the verse straight, Moses says, "God also got angry with me on your account", he says to the Jews, gam atah – "you too shouldn't go into the land." Now just listen to these words, "And God also got angry at me because of you, on your account, saying you can't go into the land too."
Imagine you just finished reading the book of Numbers and you read the story of Moses and the rock , you've been bothered by that story, but whatever it is it is, Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it, then all of a sudden he can't go into the land. Then all of a sudden you fast forward to Deuteronomy and you are reading this verse and Moses says, "And God got angry at me because of you and says, 'you can't go into the land'." Now what's the problem with that verse? Something just doesn't seem to sit right about that verse and that is, what does Moses mean that "God got angry at him because of the people"? What does that mean? It sounds vaguely like sour grapes. If Moses is saying that he hit the rock and that in hitting the rock God got angry at him because of the people, you say, look, Moses had a choice as to whether to hit the rock or not; the people didn't force him to hit the rock. It's true that the people got him angry. That's really how Rashi understands it. If you look at Rashi in Deuteronomy, Rashi says, "Moses means that the people got him angry, and because the people got him angry and upset, and he hit the rock, so it's really their fault." But the difficulty is, it doesn't seem so characteristic of Moses to talk like this, it just sounds like sour grapes; it's not the people's fault, it's true the people shouldn't have been complaining, but it really was Moses' choice to hit the rock or not. It sounds very un-Moses like as it were, to shift responsibility away from himself in that way and say, "And God got angry at me because of you." So you might say well, maybe he just said it quickly or maybe he doesn't mean it or whatever, but the fact is he repeats it.
If you go further and go to selection number two on your source sheets, the one I just read for you from the beginning of Deuteronomy, if you go in section number three, you will see in the beginning of Parshat Va'etchanan a little bit later in Deuteronomy chapter three, you will find that Moses repeats the exact same perspective. Listen to these words, va'etchanan el-Hashem baet hahi lemor – "I pleaded", Moses says, "With God at that point saying", Hashem Elokim atah hachilot leharot et-avdecha et-gadlecha et-yadecha hachazakah – "you've just began to show me your greatness, please allow me to go into the land, I just want to be able to walk in." Vayitaber Hashem bi – "And God became angry at me," lemaanchem – "because of you", v'lo shama elai – "you didn't listen to me", vayomer Hashem elai – "God said to me" rav-lach – "that's enough for you" al-tosef daber elai od badavar hazeh – "don't speak to me about this thing anymore." So again, Moses seems to have this perspective, he really does have this perspective; he thinks that it was because of the people. So first of all, how does that square with Numbers? It doesn't seem like it was because of the people, and then second of all, it just doesn't seem fair. Why would God got angry at him not because of him, but because of the people?
Now, the truth is, if you look at the context of these verses, the context of these verses begin to give you a clue of a different story sort of unfolding. Go back to section two in your source notes, just go back to that first section of Deuteronomy for a second, in Deuteronomy chapter one, let's just look at the verse in context when Moses says, "God got angry at me because of you". What's the larger context there?
So if you go back a couple verses, you will see we're talking about something here. What are we talking about? We're talking about the stories of the spies. And the story of the spies is of course that famous story where if there is one reason why the Jews are wondering around the desert for forty years instead of going quickly into the land, is because of the spies. The Jews sent these spies to spy on the land and they came back and a whole disaster ensue. They became fearful that God wouldn't help them conquer the land and they wanted to go back to Egypt and they had enough of the whole thing and God became very upset with this and swore that none of the generation that lived and complained in the time of the spies, would go to the land. Rather, their children, the generation they feared would be lost in war and would be killed, those children are the ones who would enter the land and would take forty years a year for a day, every day that the spies were out on their mission, would be another year, forty year it would take for the corpses of the generation of the spies to fall in the desert and then they would go into the land.
Now at the end of that story, after they said that God swore, im-yireh ish baanashim haeleh – " If any of these people from this generation see the land, God swears it's not going to happen except for the two good spies, Caleb and by implication Joshua". At that point, the very next verse is gam-bi hitanaf Hashem biglalchem, I am reading from chapter 1 vs. 37, "And also God got angry at me because of you." By the way, you see the 'also' there? "God also became angry at me because of you." What's the 'also'? The also is in reference to what we were just talking about. We were talking about the spies, where the entire nation was not allowed into the land and Moses says, "Not only was the entire nation not allowed into the land, but I also was not allowed into the land; God also became angry at me." Why? "Not for anything I did really, because I was anti-spies. I didn't condone the behaviors of the spies, but God became angry at me because of you."
Okay. So textually, it seems to fit a little bit better. Moses maybe is not talking about, I mean, there is another alternative possibility here, maybe Moses is not talking about hitting the rock, he is talking about the spies. And so we see it's because of the spies why he can't go into the land. Now we have two basic problems. Number one, first of all doesn't seem very fair. If Moses wasn't guilty of the spy, if he was protesting, he apparently was, why should he be punished for that? Why isn't he as good as Joshua and Caleb, the good spies were allowed into the land, question number one. Question number two is how do we resolve this contradiction? It seems that Deuteronomy and Numbers are completely contradictory. If you read Deuteronomy, you think that the reason why Moses can't go to the land is because of the spies. Somehow God got angry at him because of the people. But if you go back and read Numbers, you hear an entirely different story. It sounds like it's because Moses hits the rock and because he hit the rock, God became angry at him saying he didn't have faith in Him and it just seems to be entirely two different narrative. How do you square them?
Some might respond by saying you don't square them, and this is not a view that I propound as an Orthodox Jew, but there are those out there, Bible critics for example, that say the Book of Numbers contradicts the Book of Deuteronomy, these are two entirely separate accounts; there is one author here, there is one author there, and this proves perhaps that there is no unity in the Torah, and the Torah is just a haphazard conglomeration of different things. I certainly don't believe that but I think it's really just a different perspective. If you start with the preconceived notion that the Torah was composed by many different authors and it is haphazard, then yes, you can see haphazardness wherever you want to see it. But if you think about the Bible, this great classic of religion, it's a very small document; it tells stories very briefly. It's what we call in Literature a minimalist document, it tells stories very briefly, and if you think about a minimalist document, a text that devotes all of eleven verses to the story of the Tower of Babel, if you were the Encyclopedia Britannica, how long would it take you to tell the story of the Tower of Babel? It would take you fifty pages. Nine verses for the Tower of Babel, twenty-one verses for Adam and Eve, nine verses for Cain and Abel, how are you going to pack any meaning into these stories? There must be ways in which the Torah compacts meanings, there must be sort of these techniques by which the Torah puts meanings into its stories, if it does have meaning at all.
I think one of those ways is by setting up glaring issues that a reader needs to struggle with and in finding the meaning to those issues, the reader begin to descend some of the deeper meanings that the text is trying to get out to them, and the glaring contradiction is just a window into a deeper meaning. Give you an example of this, is a beautiful essay by Rabbi Soloveitchik called, I believe it's the 'Lonely Man of Faith', where he deals with the two creation stories, what he calls 'Adam 1' and 'Adam 2', where the Torah gives apparently two different accounts of creation. Of course, Bible critics will say that there is this author, and there is that author. The other view of it is, no, there is not two authors, there are two perspectives on Adam, that Adam himself is sort of internally contradictory, there are two sides of Adam, and when you explain the story from different perspectives, you begin to see different sides of Adam emerging and the technique, the literary technique which the Bible uses for it is to tell two different stories of the emergence of Adam.
I think for example, one of the fundamental question you have to ask whenever you read any book is what kind of book is this that you're reading. If you're reading a chemistry book and you think you're reading a poetry book, you're going to misunderstand the chemistry book. If you're reading a math book, and you think you're reading a literature book, you're going to think that there is no grace or style in the math book. You have to understand the kind of story it is that you're telling. And Mortimer Adler makes this point, and a very nice point in this book he has called, 'How to Read a Book', he says there are most books that aren't worth reading, but there are few books, about one hundred and so that are, and he gives you rules for how to read a book. And one of the rules that he gives you is you have to understand the kind of book that you are reading and you have to understand that genre. I think that's a challenging question to ask, "What kind of book is the Bible?" Is it a history book? Well, it has a lot of history in it but doesn't seem primarily to be a history book, it's not just a history book. Is it a book that teaches morality? There is a lot of morality in there. Is it a law book? There's lot of laws in there. Is it a philosophy book? There is philosophy in there, but there is a lot of other stuff besides philosophy. Then what kind of book is it?
Well I think that ultimately the book is about how God wants us to live our lives and there are a lot of different things you need to know to know how God wants us to live our lives. You need know some law, you need to know some philosophy, you need to know some history but it's all told from the perspective of how God wants us to live our lives; so it is history told from that perspective. So it's not just the dry facts of the recounts of history but the history is molded in such a way that this is what you need to know in order to live your life. The dinosaurs aren't in the Bible, so why are the dinosaur not in the Bible? Well, maybe we all need to know about that in order to know how to live our lives. There is a saying that the sages have that there is no chronological order in the Torah, which seems like a very bizarre statement. What the sages' means is that, you can't take for granted that just because two events are put one after the other that those events necessarily happened in chronological order. Why? What kind of crazy history book is this, telling me that things are not in chronological order all the time? The answer is, if you are telling history from the perspective of what you need to know in order to live your life, sometimes there are some lesson that need to be taught that can better be taught by putting two events together that happens years apart but shed light on each other and when one story sheds light on another story, there is more to learn by putting those stories than by separating them, so the stories are put together.
So if someone asks, what kind of book is the Bible? The Bible I think, if it is a book as to how it is that we are supposed to live our lives, and it is a minimalists text, the Torah will use devices to be able to get at those meanings. And one of those devices I think are intentional problems or difficulties that are supposed to strike the reader and have a struggle in understanding how they fit in. I think perhaps that is what is going on here with Deuteronomy and with Numbers. There is this striking difference, it's not that there are two different authors and it's not a unified text, it is a unified text, the challenge is for us to find the unity; how does Numbers live together with Deuteronomy? If they seem to tell two different tales, are they really two different tales, or are they two sides of the same coin? So this is something that we want to explore as we go further in this series. But these two basic texts that we are going to be looking at, the story of mei merivah, the story of the water and strife, the story of the hitting of the rock on the one hand and the story of Moses and the spies and the speech in Deuteronomy chapter one on the other hand. These are the two basic stories we will be looking at. We will be looking at a lot of other ones and we're going to flesh out these stories too.
Okay. So what I would like to do with you is to take a look first at the story of Moses and the rock. What we are going to do right now, is to read through this text carefully. What we are going to do right now, if you want, is to just put this on pause and just take a look through your texts. Again, you can go to your source sheets or the Bible itself, Numbers chapter 20 vs 1-14 or so, selection number one in your source sheet, and you might just want to read through this yourself and just ask yourself, if you are reading this text for the very first time, if you never had any experience with this text before, what would be the problems you would have? What are the problems that strike you? What are the difficulties here? Problem number one of course, is what did Moses do that was so terrible that made him not enter the land? What's the big deal about hitting a rock? Besides that, there are a number of other problems in the text and if you look at it carefully, you should become aware of them. So I am going to challenge you to do that. I am going to read through it and touch on some of the problems, but I don't think we are going to get through all of it tonight and what so I want to challenge you to continue to think about this over the course of the week and to really chew on this, what are the difficulties here in this text, and if you want, you can bring this up on the discussion board and we'll talk about it next week. So let's read through this and see what it is that we come up with and let's just kind of dive in here.
The story begins vayavo benei-Yisrael col-haedah midbar-tzin – "The Jewish people came, the entire congregation to the Wilderness of Zin in the first of the month, in the first month" vayeshev ha'am beKadesh – "and the people settled in Kadesh, vatamat sham Miryam vatikaver sham – "And Miriam died there and she was buried there." V'lo hayah mayim laedah –"and there was no water for the congregation", vayikahalu al-Mosheh v'al-Aharon – "and they gathered against Moses and against Aaron." Vayarev haam im-Mosheh – "They battled against Moses, they argued with him because Moses, vayomer, and they said lu gavanu bigeva acheinu lifnei Hashem – "If only we had died along with our brother and before Hashem, before God", that's a little strange what it is that they are talking about there, we'll get back to that. V'lamah havetem et-kahal Hashem – "Why did you bring the congregation of God to this desert?" lamut sham anachnu uvirenu –"that we were going to dies here or sell our cattles," lamah he'elitunu miMitzrayim –" why did you bring us out of Egypt anyway," lehavi otanu el-hamakom hara hazeh – " and bring us to this lousy place where there is no fertile ground, there is no figs, there is no pomegranates, there is no vineyard, there is not even any water to drink" vayavo Mosheh v'Aharon mipnei hakahal el-petach ohel moed vayiplu al-penihem – " And Moses and Aaron retreated from the face of the congregation to door of the tent" vayiplu al-penihem –" and they fell on their faces." Vayera chevod Hashem aleihem – "and then the glory of God appeared before them."
Let's just stop right there for a second. This is the very beginning of the story that sets up problem with this terrible water crisis here. One question at the very good beginning, every good paragraph has a topic sentence, what's the topic sentence for this paragraph? What's the beginning of this paragraph? By the way, when I speak about paragraph, the Torah really does have paragraphs, even though we don't think of the Torah as having paragraphs, if you look at an actual Torah scroll, you're going to see all kinds of paragraphs. There are times where the previous line ends in the middle of the line and when that happens, the statement is considered to be a new paragraph; a new idea. So really in fact, chapter 20 vs 1 really is a new paragraph. By the way, the chapters are not a part of Jewish traditions that goes back a long way, they actually were introduced by gentiles at some very later stage in history. But a much more ancient way of seeing the topics of the Torah are really through these paragraphs that are written in the Torah scrolls.
A new paragraph begins, as it happens in chapter 20 vs 1 with the words, "And the Jewish people came to the land of Zin and they settled in Kadesh and Miriam died there and she was buried there." And then the very next words are "there wasn't any water for the congregation and they gathered against Moses and against Aaron." I think it's a little strange because this is a very strange topic sentence. One of the first things my teacher told me about topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph, it is supposed to have something to do with the rest of the paragraph, and we never hear Miriam again, she seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the paragraph. Not only that, nobody mourns her passing, it's completely disconnected from the rest of the paragraph. Which is very strange because when Moses died and Aaron died, the rest of the triad of the leaders of the Jewish people as it were, and his family, Moses, Aaron and Miriam were brothers and sisters, when Moses and Aaron died, everybody mourns; how come nobody mourns when Miriam dies? Well, she doesn't count because she is a woman or something? Miriam was important. How come nobody mourns her? It's very strange that nobody mourns her and it's very strange that he death is put here in the middle of nowhere and just seems to drop out on the field, it was never picked up again in the text. So that I think is one problem, how does Miriam's death relates to this whole story? Let's continue.
Okay, so what happens next here? Vaydaber Hashem el-Mosheh lemor – "God commands Moses", there is this terrible water crisis and he needs to find something to do, so God says, here is the plan, kach et-hamateh – "take the staff," v'hakhel et-haedah atah v'Aharon achicha –"gather the congregation together, you and Aaron," v'dibartem el-hasela leineihem –" I want you to speak to the rock before their eyes" v'natan memav – " it will give of its waters" v'hotzeta lahem mayim min-hasela – " and you will draw water out from the rock" v'hishkita et-haedah v'et-biram – " and you will give the congregation to drink and their cattle." Vayikach Mosheh et-hamateh milifei Hashem ka'asher tzivahu – "And Moses took the staff from before God as he was commanded" vayakhilu Mosheh v'Aharon et-hakahal el-penei hasala - " Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock and they said" shimu-na hamorim – "listen you rebellious ones" hamin-hasela hazeh notzi lachem mayim – " you really think we are going to get water out of this rock for you?" Vayarem Mosheh et-yado vayach et-hasela bematehu pa'amayim –" Moses picks up his hand, hits the rock twice and a lot of water comes out, he gives the people to drink, and God's response," vayomer Hashem el-Mosheh v'el-Aharon – " And God says to Moses and Aaron" ya'an lo-he'emantem bi lehakdisheni –" because he didn't have enough faith in me to sanctify God's name before the children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I've sworn to them. These are the water of strife for the Jewish people strove with God and God will sanctify through them." Very strange story on many levels. What are the problems here? So there are a number of problems and just very briefly, I want to touch on a couple here.
Listen to the beginning of his response. God says to Moses, "Take the staff and gather everyone together and speak to the rock." Is there something strange about this? What's the idea basically? Speak to the rock? Okay, so what's extraneous in this sentence? What exact does "take the staff" has to do with anything? He is not supposed to use the staff. If he is not supposed to use the staff, why bother taking it? Why not just say, if you are supposed to speak to the rock, "gather everybody together and speak to the rock"? What does a staff have to do with that? Why take a staff? It's very strange in that the text seems to go out of its way, in what seems to be an entirely superfluous verse to then say, vayikach Mosheh et-hamateh milifei Hashem ka'asher tzivahu, this is verse nine –" God then took the staff from before God exactly as he was commanded", I mean, the verse goes out of its way, "yes, and he took the staff, just as he was commanded!" But why was that so important? Why was he even commanded to take the staff? Was it like some game? Like 'take the staff and don't use it'. Was he tempting Moses? Why bother taking the staff if you're not going to use it? So that's one question, what's the role of the staff in the story?
The other thing by the way, kach et-hamateh – "Take the staff", is something strange about those words? "Take the staff". How else would you say that? "Take your staff"? Well Moses does have a staff, he's been walking around with one. He has a staff that he struck the Nile with the plague of blood, that he used with all the plagues in Egypt; he's got a staff that he is carrying around and in the past the Torah has referred to it as "your staff", why not just say, "take your staff"? What does it mean, "Take the staff"? I guess that seems like a subtle point, like a no big deal but what do you mean, "Take the staff"? And then later on, where is he taking it from? The verse goes out of its way to say, "And he took the staff from before God". What does that mean, "from before God"? I mean, Moses has the staff in his tent and home, so he took the staff from his house, what do you mean, "He took the staff from before God"? What, God is in Moses' tent? He took the staff from wherever it is he took the staff. Who cares where he took the staff from? What exactly is going on here? Something a little strange about the staff maybe. How is it we understand the staff? And by the way, this issue I mentioned to you of the staff as opposed to his staff, that the bible specifically didn't specifically say that it is his staff. Fascinatingly, at the end of the story, it does! Listen. What did he do?
Vayarem Mosheh et-yado, I am reading now from chapter 20 vs. 11, Moses lifts up his hand finally at the end of the story, and he hits the rock bematehu, with what? Not "the staff", with "his staff". What's going on here? It starts out "the staff", specifically not "his staff", he is not taking it from his house, he is taking it from before God, and it ends up "his staff"? Did the staff change? Are there two different staffs? I mean it sounds like "who cares? The staff is ancillary. It doesn't seem to be a part of the issue at all." But the staff seems kind of strange. What's going on here exactly? Okay, we'll get back to the staff issue in a couple minutes but one other problem which I will just raise here a little bit later in the text. What's God's response here? It's a little strange. Vayomer Hashem el-Mosheh – "God then says to Moses," this whole story is done, just when you think there was a happy ending, everyone has got their water, what's the big deal? He hit the rock, he didn't hit the rock, ya'an lo-he'emantem bi lehakdisheni – "because you didn't have enough faith in me to sanctify my name before the Jewish people, therefore you shall not bring the people into the land."
Now, imagine you hadn't read that verse, imagine you were thinking about that and you were thinking, okay, if you were God, what would you say Moses did wrong here? Now what's wrong with hitting a rock when you were supposed to speak to it? So you sit back and you muse and imagine you hadn't read what the Torah has said about this, and you were thinking, "What's wrong with hitting a rock instead of speaking to it?" What exactly is Moses guilty of? I would say, "Well, he is guilty of not following directions. Maybe the moral of the story is when God says jump, you jump. When God tells you to do something, you have to listen to exactly what God says. God says "speak to rocks", that means you have to speak to rocks, you don't hit rocks when God says speak to rocks. And the lesson from here is you have to be careful about following exactly what God wants from you." If God had said that, it would have been kind of difficult or a kind of harsh, but I would understand; that's what Moses is guilty of, he is didn't follow direction. I wonder what God actually says? He doesn't say that you are guilty of not following direction, what he actually says is, "You didn't have enough faith in me to sanctify my name." What does that mean? Moses didn't have enough faith in God? Here there were 2.1 million people waiting for water, and Moses hit a rock and got water out from the rock, you call that a lack of faith?
The example I like to give in this is, imagine I was standing before you and I said, "You know, really, I am a prophet and I am a very powerful prophet and I am going to prove I am a great prophet. You see this lectern that I am speaking from? Well it's not just any ordinary lectern. It's a magical lectern because I am a magical prophet and here is what I am going to do. I am sitting here in Nof Ayalon in central Israel at a ridge overlooking the Ayalon valley and we have here the city of Modiin with close to fifty thousand people in it and the surrounding area of Gush Dan going up to Tel Aviv and the hills, we're in the Shvelah, in the lower hills outside of Jerusalem and from here, it's downhill all the way to Tel Aviv. Now what I am going to do is, I am going to speak to the lectern, and I am going to cause Diet 7Up to flow from the lectern, so much Diet 7Up that the entire population of Gush Dan and the entire hugely populated area around Tel Aviv is going to be able to drink from the tidal wave of 7Up which is going to emerge from this lectern. So you are sitting here in this room, do you believe me? Very few of you believe me. How do I know? Because none of you got up to leave the room, if you were worried that tidal wave is coming, you would be running for your life but everybody is still here. Now what do you think the chances are that what I am saying is going to come through? The chances are vanishingly close to zero; very unlikely.
Okay. What if I said, alright, I understand that you are skeptical, but let's change this a little bit, I am not going to speak to the lectern and get the Diet 7Up to flow that would be too difficult, instead, I am going to hit the lectern with my pencil twice and as a result of hitting the lectern with my pencil, the 7Up is going to flow, we're going to have tidal waves of 7Up; now do you believe me? Well, everybody is still here in the room, nobody ran away. How come? Now I am going to hit it! The answer is, you think it's the same odds, you say it's still vanishing close to zero, no difference.
Now, what would happen if in fact I hit the lectern with my pencil and the 7Up flowed? There is a huge tidal wave of 7Up flowing all the way down the hill, all the way down to Tel Aviv and all the people in Tel Aviv have all the diet 7Up they could want, would you be impressed? You would be impressed. Would the headline in the newspaper say "Fohrman prophet guilty of lack of faith"? "Huh! Fohrman, if he really knew what he was doing, he could have spoken to the lectern and got the 7Up to flow. No! He had to hit the lectern with his pencil twice. Big deal!" No one would have said that, they would have been very impressed with this miracle, it would have been a great act of faith. So how could he possibly accused Moses of not having faith? And by the way, if he did want to accuse Moses of not having faith, there are other places where he could accused him of not having faith, there are other explicit examples in the Bible where God talked about Moses not having faith and he didn't get him for that and to some extent, the medieval commentators struggled with this, Rashi and Rambam and others. But just to give you the problem.
There is an episode in Numbers called Kivrot HaTa'avah – "and the graves of those who lusted after meat" that story of Kivrot HaTa'avah basically what happens is the people want meat and Moses said to God, "Where am I going to get meat for them?" And God said, "Don't worry. There will be so much meat, they won't be able to stop eating meat, they are going to be eating meat for breakfast, meat for lunch, meat for dinner, not for one day, for a week, but for thirty days every single day, meat, meat, meat." Moses says, "God, that's very nice but where are you going to get all this meat from? Im et-kol dagei hayam yaasafu – If you gather together all the fish in the sea, you wouldn't have enough meat. Where is all this going to come from?" What is God's response? God said, hayad Hashem tiktzar – "What? You think I can't do?" Atah tireh hayikrecha devari im-lo – "You'll see whether I can do it or not." And indeed, God makes a miracle, and the meat comes. Now, God did not say to Moses, "because you didn't have enough faith in me, you can't go into the land" at that point. It's understood, sometimes the mortal, he forgets that he is talking to the master of the universes for a second, it's understandable. God does not punish Moses for that. So what is this lack of faith here? It's a very strange thing. It seems like a qualitatively different type of lack of faith. It's not the same kind of lack of faith, it's a very different kind of lack of faith. So that's one question I want you to think about, 'what exactly is the nature of this lack of faith, instead of speaking to the rock, striking the rock, what exactly is the difference?' There are a number of other questions. I want to leave this as a challenge so you can talk about it on the discussion board, what are the other problems in this story?
But before you go, I want to mention something which I only recently became aware of, which I think is very fascinating, and that is a fascinating series of parallels. I mentioned to you before about the Bible being a minimalist document and having these methods by which to encode meaning in its text, that you sort of unpack it almost like a zip file on a computer and one of the methods that I think the Bible uses to encode meaning in its text is that it will occasionally intentionally quote from an earlier story. There will be stories where you read through the story and you think it reminds me of an earlier story and if you look carefully you will see that words after words, phrase after phrase quoted from that earlier story and at face value, it's very strange, very difficult to see how the stories relate to each other because they are so very different from one another. I give you lots of example of this, but I will suffice by giving you no example, except the one which I am talking about now, which is that, as you read the beginning of the story here of Moses and the rock, the very beginning of it, from chapter 20 vs 1-6, you will find a fascinating thing, which is if you keep your eyes open, you will find a series of parallels which will take you back to another story, a story that happened forty years before; forty years earlier. Although it happened forty years earlier, it only happened seven tens of verses earlier in the Torah. Remember there is a dividing line, we know very little about what took place in the intervening thirty nine years in the desert; we know a lot about what happened in the first year, we know a lot about what happened in the last year, but we don't know a lot about what happened in the middle. And really, the story of Miriam's death is the very first story that we hear about the Jews in the fortieth year. One of the last story we hear about the Jews at the beginning of their sojourn into the desert, is the story of Korach, the rebellion of Korach, and interestingly, it's one of the very last story which we've heard about in Numbers right before this one. What happened in the rebellion of Korach?
So, Korach was a Levite and he felt that it wasn't fair that Moses lead the people and who says God really wants him to lead the people and who says people really need a leader anyway, and he gathers himself a rebellion and he says, "we're not submitting to the authority of Moses anymore, we're not submitting to the authority of Aaron, time to do things differently", and there is a long painful series of trail where time and again, God shows that he wants Moses and Aaron to lead the people.
First, the earth swallows up Korach and his followers but even then, the remnants of the rebellion was still around and God again demonstrates the veracity of Aaron's leadership with a test by which he has everyone brings staffs before God and then the staff of Aaron miraculously sprouts into an almond tree and God says take the staff and keep it lifnei ha'edut, before God, before the Ark of the Covenant and it will a testimony to anybody in the future who is rebellious in that kind of way. So there is the story of the rebellion of Korach, fascinating. As you read through the story of Moses here and hitting the rock, the beginning of the story, one after the other, you are hit, over and over again with these memories of Korach. What does it mean? What is the Bible trying to tell us by setting up this duality here, these connections between these stories? I created a PowerPoint on this to give you some more details than I have time to get into right now, but I will just touch on a couple of these now, and you can download the slide shows and see the others. Listen carefully.
Vayavou benei-Yisrael kol-haedah midbar, I am reading again from chapter 20 vs 1 – " They all come to the Wilderness of Zin, they come to Kadesh, Miriam dies," now listen, there is no water in the desert, vayikahalu al-Mosheh v'al-Aharon - "and they gathered against Moses and Aaron." But they don't just gather, there is a very specific name for gathering, vayikahalu, literally, "and they congregate", and the people congregated against Moses and Aaron. It turns out that that's actually a quote, it's a quote from the Korach story, when Korach gathered, or congregated, the entire congregation against Moses and Aaron. So you may say, "okay, big deal. Same words this probably happen a lot", you know what; they don't happen a lot. There is only two instances of the words "congregate against", in the entire Bible, thousands of pages in the Bible and it only appears twice, these words, vayikahalu al, "and they gathered against", these are the two appearances, one in the story of Korach, and one in the story over here. And again, it's the same things, "and they gathered against Moses and Aaron", "and they gathered against Moses and Aaron", almost like a replay of Korach somehow. Vayarev ha'am im Mosheh – "And the people struggled with Moses and they said," lu gavanu bigva acheinu lifnei Hashem – "if only we had died with our brother and before God." Remember when we said that was a little strange, "if only we had died", what do you mean "before"? Who are the brothers that died before God? That's a very ambiguous statement.
Well guess what? The last story happened forty years ago, but it's in the last major story we talked about, the story of Korach when in fact everyone died before the presence of the Lord, the land opened up and swallowed Korach and his followers. And in case you didn't get the point, lu gavanu bigva acheinu, it's an unusual language for death, gavanu – "If only we had died along with our brothers" and they are seeing the followers of Korach as their brothers and the language, lu gavanu – "If only we had died". Interestingly enough, if you go back to the Korach story, you'll find, if you look in the source sheet you will see this, you'll find that the language, gavanu, "if only we had died", that word also appears only twice in the Torah, one of the earlier times that it appears is with Korach. Hein gavanu kulanu avadnu, the verse said, "The people after the destruction of Korach all cried and said, 'We're all going to die! We're all going to be lost! We're all going to be lost!' the only two appearances of the word gavanu was there in Korach, and again here.
Continuing on in the story, Moses says lamah hevetem et-kehal Hashem el-hamidbar hazeh – "The people complained, why did you bring the congregation of God to this terrible desert?" "Congregation of God". What a strange thing. Why not say, "how come you brought us"? "How come you brought the congregation of God to this desert"? Well, that's also a quote from Korach. The language kehal Hashem – "congregation of God", originates from the story of Korach, where Korach complained that Moses had no right to put himself above everybody else in the kehal Hashem, in the congregation of God. Kol ha'eida kulam kedoshim – "We are all holy in the congregation of God". The people are again it seems, almost intentionally quoting from Korach and this language of kehal Hashem – "the congregation of God". Notice by the way, the verbs in the story Vayikahalu al-Mosheh – "And they congregated against Moses". The verb form of the "congregation of God," the noun. Anyway, they continued. "How come you brought the congregation of God to this desert for us to die here, us and our cattle?" Lamah he'elitunu miMitzrayim – "How come you brought us out of Egypt to bring us to this bad place? It's not fertile ground, no figs, no grapes, no grains, there is not even any water here." What does this remind you of? Go back to the story of Korach, read the story of Korach. Go back to the source sheet, look at that story, if you look at that story, you will find an almost identical complaint by the chief followers of Korach, Dathan and Abiram, and they talk about the same language, "what did you bring us out of this great land of Egypt for to bring us to this lousy place and there is nothing here." Again, seems to be quoted from that. By the way, if you missed the point, the language, he'elitunu – "How come you brought us out", the only prior appearance of that verb is again in the story of Dathan and Abiram and again in the story of Korach in that connection. And we continue. Look at the reaction of Moses and Aaron.
Vayavo Mosheh v'Aharon mifnei hakahal el-oetach ohel moed – "Moses and Aaron retreat from the conversation to the doorway of the tent of meeting" vayiplu al-peneihem – "and they fall their faces" vayera chevod-Hashem aleihem – "and the glory of God appears before them." So there is three reactions:
1.They retreat from the congregation who seems to be attacking them;
2.They fall on their faces; and
3.The glory of God appeared before them.
If you look in the story of Korach, there is the exact same three reaction, the retreating from the congregation, the falling on their face, and the glory of God revealing himself unto them, although interestingly, they are different combinations. What exactly does the Torah means by this? Why create these parallels? The one fascinating thing I think, the light that the parallel shed upon the question of the staff.
We talked about the mystery of the staff, 'is it one staff, two staff, his staff, the staff before God', what's going on? If you remember the Korach story, there was a staff, Aaron had a staff, and Aaron staff sprouted into an almond tree as a way of indicating that God favored Aaron to lead the Jewish people. And Moses has been commanded to take that staff, le'ot bivnei-meri, to take that staff and to place it before God, before the Ark of the Covenant in order to show any future rebels that they should not rebel. There was a staff before God, not Moses' staff, but Aaron's staff, now listen, vayidaber Hashem el-Mosheh lemor, back to the story of Moses and the rock, kach et-hamateh – "take the staff", not "take a staff", "the staff! You know what staff I'm talking about." "Which staff?" "Not your staff, take the staff! You know what staff I am talking about!" It's all about Korach all over again. "Take that staff, and you gather the congregation, you congregate the congregation, you and Aaron your brother. Don't let them congregate against you, you congregate against them," v'dibartem el-hasela – "holding that staff, speak to the rock" and then fascinatingly what happens at the end? Moses picks up his hand and he hits the rock, bematehu – "with his staff". One second. The verse before said, vayikach Mosheh et-hamateh milifnei Hashem ka'asher tzivahu -- "Moses took the staff from before God", which staff was before God? It's the staff of Aaron. That's the staff which was before the Ark of the Covenant, he took that staff from before God, that's what the verse is saying; the story of Moses and the rock? Sounds like Aaron's staff but then, what happened? He hit the rock with his staff, it says, "with his staff". In a subtle kind of way, there seems to be a lot of staff confusion going on here. The story of Korach seems to be giving us an insight, seems to be suggesting it was Aaron's staff and I think that gives us an insight as to what the meaning of that staff was. Did Moses switch staff? How do we understand this? It's just very strange.
Okay. My time is up. So I am leaving you with these questions:
1.What's the deal with the staffs here?
2.How do we understand the staff confusion; the mystery of the two staff?
3.Also, we just began to touch on the problems in these text. What are some of the other problems in these text? Read through the text, what are the issues that you struggle with? What are the difficulties that we need to figure out as we go through this text? I think there are a few other questions also in the story of Moses and the rock.
So think about that, get on the discussion board, I'd love to talk with you. I will check in I think on Tuesday and I'll check in again I think on Thursday. I very much look forward to hearing what you have to say, I'm very excited about this venture together and I hope we have a good time and proceed to enlighten each other in our studies. I look forward to seeing you next week This is David Fohrman signing off from the hills of Nof Ayalon.
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