Parshas Va'eschanan
Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11

Whitewashing The Sins of Rabbium ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Ms. Kathryne Lynn Wright, may she rest in peace.

Our parsha begins with Moshe stating, "I pleaded to Hashem at that time, saying: 'Hashem, G-d, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your powerful hand, that there is no power in heaven or on earth that can perform Your deeds and Your acts of power. Please allow me to cross over and see the good land that is across the Yarden, this good mountain and the Lebanon.' Hashem grew angry at me through your fault and did not heed me; Hashem said to me, 'Enough for you! Do not go on speaking to Me any more about this matter...'" Deuteronomy 3:23-26

Rashi says that "the word Chee Noon everywhere signifies an undeserved gift. {Chee Noon is from the same root as Chee Nawm, [meaning] 'for nothing.' Gur Aryeh} Although the righteous {like Moshe} might claim {reward} based on their good deeds, they ask the Alm-ighty only for an undeserved gift."

This is based upon Hashem's graciousness, stating: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." Moshe uses the word Vaw Ehs Chah Nahn meaning I pleaded. In other words Moshe pleaded to Hashem's graciousness... but was denied!

One must ask why?

Moshe approached Hashem on his own behalf ONLY after the battle with Sichon and Og {Numbers 21:21-35}. Aharon his brother had died on Har Hor. Elozor was now the Kohen Godal. According to Rashi, Moshe thought the decree had been canceled against him, maybe because he had not died with Aharon or because of the victories over Sichon and Og. IT WAS NOT!

Why did Moshe wait until after Aharon had died to approach Hashem? Why not try to spare your brother also? Yet we read of no appeal for either Aharon or Miriam. This is unlike the character of Moshe... When Miriam contacted tzoras {Numbers 12:1-16} Moshe cried out in her behalf. Why not at her death? Why not in advance of Aharon's death?

Moshe knew that Hashem had excluded both Aharon and him from entering and leading B'nei Yisroel into Eretz Canaan. The judgment was passed. {See Numbers 20:12} He and his brother were so to speak joined at the hip on the error of not sanctifying Hashem's Name and in the penalty resulting from their failure. That being the situation, why didn't Moshe cry out for undeserved favor for Aharon, since both were at fault and were excluded from entering Eretz Canaan?

Next, one must ask why does Moshe say, "Hashem grew angry at me through your fault and did not heed me"..? If what Moshe said were true then in essence Moshe was stating that Hashem was NOT just or that Moshe had the power to change the problem and didn't. The fact is that when Moshe and Aharon failed to follow Hashem's instructions Hashem placed the blame at their door. Hashem said, "Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of B'nei Yisroel; therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land that I have given them." {Numbers 20:12}

Hashem said nothing about B'nei Yisroel's fault here.

So at the latter end of Moshe's life we have several problems. First he waited until after Aharon had died to petition Hashem about reversing His decision. Second he did NOT accept ownership for his actions . Third he implied that Hashem had judged him unfairly because he was being prohibited from entering Eretz Canaan due to the fault of B'nei Yisroel's mistake. Fourth he was passing the blame.

These failures sealed his fate as the leader of B'nei Yisroel. This type of attitude was wrong for a man in his position. He could not lead any longer. Again one must question, where is Moshe's admittance of sin? Where is acceptance / ownership of wrongdoing?

Now, holy reader, from this incident Jewish leadership should take notice that Hashem would NOT accept such behavior! Hashem refused to look the other way! Hashem refused to provide Moshe with undeserved grace in this matter! Hashem refused to reverse His judgment in this matter! WHY? Because the failure of His beloved Moshe was VERY GREAT! An example MUST be established for leadership that was to follow!

Yet many leaders on much lower levels fail to accept Hashem's decree that leadership - especially rabbinic leadership - MUST admit their failings and take ownership for their SINS! Areas of the rabbinate have developed into a fraternity of 'see no wrong, do no wrong, admit no wrong, impossible to be wrong' attitude! THAT DOES NOT FLY WITH HASHEM!

Rabbinate like this CANNOT lead us to the position of holiness that G-d requires. They are poor examples that inflict pain and use poor judgment.
The image of the rabbinate is tarnished with their failing to be accountable for their improper actions when dealing with their own and failing to take action when their own sin!

This MUST stop!

B'nei Yisroel must cry out to Hashem for righteous leadership. B'nei Yisroel must cry out for rabbinic leadership that will hold themselves accountable with the same strictness that they hold their students and communities accountable!

Now Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin states in defense of Moshe's actions that Moshe used the word Li Mah Ahn Chem meaning "for your sake" as opposed to Bee Mah Ahn Chem meaning "because of you.' Rabbi Sorotzkin states that, Bee Mah Ahn Chem "would have implied "because of your sins" instead of Li Mah Ahn Chem, {which he defines} "for your sake, for your good."

Holy reader, there are several problems with such an interpretation:
First, there is nothing good or proper about Moshe and Aharon defying Hashem's commands to sanctify His name to B'nei Yisroel. We cannot justify sin of any kind!! It was wrong! We may be able to understand their actions but we should not justify sin!

Second, Hashem said, "Because you did not believe in me to sanctify My name..." This indicates that Moshe and Aharon had a different belief. They looked at the situation. Problems began to develop. Things were not happening as they had expected. As a result Moshe reprimanded the leaders of B'nei Yisroel and struck the rock instead of doing what Hashem commanded. All they had to do was follow Hashem's command and let Hashem deal with the results but instead they had to do what so many rabbium do... reinterpret what Hashem said...

Rabbi Elie Munk supports the concept that the intention of the word Li Mah Ahn Chem represents that "Moshe exists as a living embryo adopted by Hashem and ready to be symbolically reborn in each generation." He defines Li Mah Ahn Chem to mean "for you, for your defense." In other words, the result of Moshe's sinful anger and disobedience to Hashem's command according to Rabbi Munk is "for you, for your defense."

Again, holy reader, this is the type of rabbinical spin that B'nei Yisroel faces when challenging the wrongdoing of a great leader. What is wrong with us? Why can't we just face the fact that our leadership does make mistakes? Why is it necessary to whitewash the sins of our leaders with such explanations?

Hashem held Moshe, His dearest, accountable as well as his brother Aharon the Kohen Godal and their sister Miriam. We must follow in the path Hashem has defined and stop whitewashing the sins of the rabbium and our leadership!

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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