Timeless Lessons For Tumultuous Times

Twenty-five years ago I became a Bat Mitzvah (confession, I was older than 13). The parasha I studied and chanted was Hukkat, in BaMidbar/Numbers.

As we read Hukkat this Shabbat, I can’t help but ponder its relevance in this tumultuous time.

The third aliyah begins with the people complaining they have no water. Moses and Aaron are instructed by God to bring the community together, and to “speak to the rock so that it gives its water, thus you are to bring out water for them from the rock” (Num. 20:8). Once he has gathered the people together, Moses admonishes them: “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” He then hits the rock twice with his staff. Water comes out of the rock, and everyone’s thirst is slaked. But then we read: “Adonai said to Moses and Aaron: Because you did not have trust in Me to sanctify me in the sight of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this community into the land that I am giving them.” (Num. 20:10-12)

Over the centuries, commentators have debated what exactly it is that Moses and Aaron did to warrant a punishment so harsh, as not being allowed to enter the Land of Israel, the Promised Land. Was it their anger at the people? Hitting, instead of speaking to the rock?

My Bat Mitzvah D’var Torah posited that Moses was punished for losing his temper. As a leader it is a deeply flawed to lose one’s temper in front of those you lead. It is especially wrong to lose your temper towards the people you lead. On occasion, everyone can lose their temper and show anger, but as a leader, you lose credibility and respect when anger takes over.

This week I have thought a lot about anger. I’m angry with killers of police. I’m angry with police who are killers. I’m angry at a justice system that doesn’t treat all people the same. I’m angry that I don’t know what to do to make a difference. I’m angry with friends who aren’t even trying to be allies or understand our black brothers and sisters. I’m so angry I feel like hitting a rock with a great big stick, in fact I feel like hitting it more than once.

In the midst of my anger, I took time to admire the leadership displayed by both Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief David Brown of Dallas. These two leaders – one white, one black – worked together to restore order and support in their heart-broken city. As President Barack Obama said: “They worked together to unify a city with strength and grace and wisdom.” These two men didn’t hit the rock; they spoke to the rock.

Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown give me hope. Can more of us come together to listen? Can more of us come together to truly see we are each created btzelem elohim, in the image of God? Once we start truly seeing and hearing each other, once we start working together with strength, grace, and wisdom, only then will we all be able to enter the Promised Land.

Shabbat Shalom.