The Leader

This is the ninth and final part in The Stutterer, a fiction series by the author. You can fine all nine parts here.

Off in the distance lies the Promised Land. The people of Israel are tired and thirsty and have again asked Moses for help. So Moses asks God for water, and God tells him to tap the rock at his feet. He raises his simple wooden staff above the rock, but before he can bring it down a flood of memories strikes Moses. Water has once again saved his life. As a baby it was the river from where he was drawn. As a fugitive, on the run in the desert, his legs gave out at the base of a well. Furthermore, there was the pounding rain that called him to the burning bush, which called him back to Egypt, where a river turned to blood, and from where he led an entire people out of slavery.
Then, with every able-bodied Egyptian bearing down on them, Moses led the Israelites across a sea too large to cross. He had put his faith in God and waited. But the people didn’t believe. They started diving into the river, trying to swim to the other side. The number of divers only increased as the tremors of men on the march grew stronger. When the Army was closing in and the faces of the Egyptians were clear, the Israelites grew scared. Yet Moses still waited. And when the Egyptians were so close that Moses could see the victorious smirk on Rameses’ face, the bloodthirsty curl of his right upper lip, the Israelites lost hope. Yet Moses still waited. Then a great pillar of fire rose up from the earth and Moses knew his patience had been rewarded.
He took his staff and thrust it out towards the sea, towards the lonely swimmers looking back, treading water. The sea started to bubble and burst, and it parted like windblown hair, leaving a dry walkway in the center for the Israelites to cross. Eventually the pillar of fire disappeared and the Egyptians gave chase, but it was too late. When Moses’s people had all gathered on the opposite beach, the sea tumbled into itself, trapping the entire Egyptian Army underwater.
The people were free. They sang to the heavens, thanking God and Moses for their freedom. But as soon as they grew hungry they forgot God’s benevolence. They complained to Moses about starvation—as if God would free them from 400 years of bondage only to let them starve. Then they lost all faith at Sinai. Moses spent weeks patiently recording the rules and laws that they were to live by in the desert, yet when he descended from the mountain he was blinded by the reflection of the sun gleaming off the great golden ass of a cow. In their stunted memories they assumed that God had once again forgotten them, so they had created a new god whom they could worship—similar to the gods of the Egyptians. The Egyptians!
Now, as Moses stares at the rock beneath him he can only smile, like a tough-guy father who has tried everything to stop his son from dancing. They didn’t trust him to lead them across the sea, yet they praised him like they believed all along. They didn’t trust him to lead them out of Egypt, yet they were free.
Those that had remembered him from his youth spat on his feet and refused to follow a ‘Palace Dweller.’ Those that didn’t remember him heard him speak, and they mistook his stutter and quiet demeanor for weakness. They yelled at him for soiling their water, for overrunning their homes with frogs, and for casting their city into darkness. Yet they thanked him and hugged him and wept at his feet on the other side of that sea.
Moses trusts God; he trusts that when he touches this rock the water will flow, feeding his people. But once they’ve had their fill they’ll forget all over again everything Moses has done for them. Miriam they write songs about. And Aaron has that reassuring voice. When the people need to be comforted they turn to Moses’s siblings, because Moses is too brusque to be like a mother, and too quiet to be an orator. Everything Moses has, he has because of God. Moses led the people across the sea, but only because God parted the waters. Moses freed the Israelites from Egypt, but only because God sent ten plagues throughout the land. Well, Moses is tired of being God’s instrument; he doesn’t want to be God’s staff.
So he’ll touch the rock, but they’re going to know it’s him. They’re going to know that without him there would be no water. Without him they would be lost. Without him they wouldn’t be free. He grips the staff until his knuckles turn white and raises it above his head. He whacks the rock so hard that his staff splinters into pieces. Water flows out and the people drink. Yet because Moses struck the rock when he was supposed to tap it, God tells him he cannot enter the Promised Land.
Moses stares blankly into the distance. Slowly he stiffens up, nods his head, and starts walking towards the mountain at whose base the Israelites are camped. He climbs the mountain, looks out at the horizon, past the river and trees, past the myriad wells and oases, past the tents and tabernacles of his people—the ones he led through fire and blood and famine and strife—until his eyes come to rest on the land that God promised them, the land flowing with milk and honey that they get to call their own. It won’t be perfect, because nothing ever is; and they’ll have to fight to keep it, because milk and honey taste sweet to everyone; but it’ll be home, which at least is something. Moses looks out over the land and smiles. This is good, he thinks. And with that he closes his eyes and slowly floats away.
(Photo: Alexis Rosenblatt)