In this week’s Parshah, Chukkat, Moses is going through a really hard time. The people settle in the wilderness in Kadesh. While they are in Kadesh, Miriam dies. From the time of Moses’ birth, when Miriam stood and watched Pharoah’s daughter take her baby brother out of his basket of bulrushes in the river, he could always count upon his sister, and now she is no more.
One might expect that the people would rally around Moses and try to comfort him. However the Israelites have no water, and they treat him to yet another chorus of their whining about how good life was in Egypt and how miserable they are in the wilderness. God tells Moses and Aaron to talk to the rock and get water from it. Instead, Moses strikes the rock, saying, “Listen now, you rebels, shall we get water for you from this rock?”
For this act, God tells Moses that he will not be able to enter the promised land. Some commentators say that it is for the sin of disobedience in not following God’s command. Others believe that it is the word “we”; that Moses is implying that it is he and Aaron, not God, who is providing the water. Still others believe that, as the leader of the people, he should not have shown his anger in public, and God realized that it was time to pass on the leadership to another. My own theory is that he is in deep grief for his beloved sister, and not acting as he usually does.
Modern Jewish mourning customs make provisions for the loved ones of the departed. They are visited, fed and cared for by the community. It’s a shame that they weren’t yet in place when Moses needed comforting. - Rabbi Leslie Bergson