Parsha Chukas
Numbers 19:1 - 22:1

Leadership On The Rocks ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

Kal Yisroel was now between their thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth year in the Bamidbar. Two parshios ago, in Shlach, we were preparing to enter Eretz Canaan. Now, in Parshas Chukas, we're decades beyond. The majority of the six hundred thousand men who rebelled at the spies' report in Parshas Shlach are now dead. It is difficult to imagine so many deaths in just thirty-six years. The oldest men, not including Moshe, Aaron and the Levi'im, were no older than sixty-five. From among most of the tribes, the Zi Kay Nim, meaning elders, the men of age and wisdom (i.e , the white hair and the white beards) were gone.

It is with this prelude that we see Hashem speaking to Moshe regarding the most recent water problem. Many of the six hundred thousand strong, robust men who were told to assemble before Moshe and Aaron at the Rock were just innocent babies, infants or young children when Moshe struck the rock in Parshas Beshalach before the Zi Kay Nim.

This brings us to the question, why would Moshe, a humble and meek man, address Kal Yisroel in what appears to be an aggressive and harsh tone, "Listen you Rebels" ? It appears that everyone was grouped into this category. This is quite strange because this form of speech is uncommon to Moshe and uncommon to his nature. The words seem very stern even in contrast to when he spoke to Pharaoh. Hashem told Moshe and Aaron to assemble the nation and speak to the rock. They assembled the people, Moshe spoke to them and struck the rock. This was a serious mistake for a man who was the ambassador of G-d and whose words were thought to be a direct channel of Hashem word for word. Why would Moshe and Aaron do this? I don't know! But just the same there is a lesson to be learned here.

First, follow instructions.

Second, don't exceed your authority.

Third, don't degrade the dignity of your position.

Regarding the third, it is a shame to hear any Jew use profane language and verbally abuse another human being. Yet it is even a greater shame to hear a rabbi or a kohen who is a rabbi speaking like non Jews. Why? Jews are the light of the world. We are the dignitaries of Hashem. As dignitaries we have an established protocol, the Torah. It teachs us composure, self restraint and refinement. Being a Jew should be thought of alongside of the finest things in life, but it isn't. And it isn't because we aren't. We aren't the dignitaries Hashem intended us to be. We may teach the Torah, we may learn the Torah but we don't follow the Torah! In fact some of us incite acts of anti-semitism (G-d forbid) against our people because of our awful actions. That is why Moshe and Aaron were prohibited from entering and leading Kal Yisroel to Eretz Canaan.

Some of the rabbinic leadership doesn't get it! They can't say it! They can't face it! They look the other way when a great leader or even a not so great leader fails and fails and fails and continues to fail.

In the words of Rabbi Aaron Tendler commenting on Rambam regarding leadership and spiritual behavior from Parshas Korah, " The Rambam (Maimonides) in Hilchot De'ot (5:1) says that a true Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) should be evident in his personal and public behavior, no differently than he is evident through his scholarship. Why did the Rambam need to even state such an obvious expectation? Of course a Torah scholar is expected to behave in a manner that reflects greater adherence to legal nuances and social sensitivities! The fact is that religious (and certainly secular) scholarship alone does not generate ethical behavior or good manners. A proper, ethical personality and society can only evolve and be maintained when scholarship is coupled with religious observances and commitments. Scholars of all disciplines, including religion, have perpetrated some of the most horrendous atrocities in human history. Similarly, religious devotees lacking scholarship and understanding have proven equally dangerous. It is only when scholarship and religiosity are integrated that a g-dly personality can emerge. Therefore, the Rambam states that a Talmud Chacham should be an integrated personality and should be recognized through his personal behavior to the same degree that he is recognized through his scholarship."

This is not intended as a criticism of Moshe Rabbeinu. We all know from reading the Torah the many, many difficulties he faced as the great leader of Kal Yisroel. He did a splendid job. He responded perfectly in almost every crisis. He set such an excellent example that few even come close like Rabbi Akiva. Still there is a very, very important message in Moshe Rabbeinu's mistake. He was the channel which Hashem used to convey His word, the Torah. He was the selected dignitary of Hashem and his brother Aaron was the first Kohen Godal. Their acts could not be overlooked. They had to be punished!

Those who place their staffs in the ground around the Tent of meeting (so to speak) near Aaron the Kohen Godal MUST ACKNOWLEDGE AND LIVE the life, i.e., their behavior must be exemplary as religious leaders who interpret Torah, expound Torah and direct the lives of congregants or the young men in a Yeshiva, or the young women in a Bais Yaakov or the lives of the children in a Hebrew day school.

We need rabbium whose spiritual character and moral behavior emulates the dignity, composure, self-restraint and refinement required by the Torah!

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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