Early in my career as a Jewish Educator, I was applying for a job at the camp that I grew up at and I felt that I deserved it. I had worked hard, shown my dedication, and grown as a person and as an educator over the early years of my career. I was waiting and waiting and waiting to hear back from my boss and mentor, and he kept me waiting for quite some time. Finally, he called me to tell me that I was not going to receive the job that I wanted and it was largely a product of group dynamics. He did not think that I was going to work well with some people and that those people were going to be negatively affected by me. He spoke about the potential for roles elsewhere and what I might do to repair some of the relationships in the leadership group. And then the phone call ended.
I was truly devastated by this phone call. It was one of my earliest professional disappointments. I called my mother for support--and usually this is her strong suit--but this time, she decided to add things to the list of traits that I needed to work on. I did not respond well to that rebuke. In retrospect, both my boss and my mother were right about their observations. My boss was also probably right about his decision. But it was the process that bothered me. Nothing in the process let me know that these decisions were partially for my own good and they were made because they cared for me. The product made sense, but I had a hard time dealing with the process.
In this week’s parsha, Hukkat, Moshe is punished and not allowed to enter into the Land. Rashi attributes this to Moshe’s decision to hit the rock to receive water rather than heeding to God’s word by speaking to the rock. Rambam holds that Moshe was punished for rebuking the people and calling them “rebels.” However, The more I have thought about this episode, the more I am intrigued by Rav Shach’s interpretation. He teaches that “Moses may have been justified in rebuking the people, but he erred in the sequence of events. First he should have given them water, showing both the power and providence of G-d. Only then, once they had drunk, should he have admonished them.” Rav Shach is talking about process.
These Israelites were not ready to hear Moshe and what he had to say. And Moshe was not able to pick up on this. He was unable to see that in the people’s desperate state, they could not handle such a deep message. And as a leader, one must understand where the people are and how much one can hear and process at any given moment.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that Moshe is amazing with respect to historical memory. He writes that “The remarkable fact about Moses and the rock is the way he observes precedent. Almost forty years earlier, in similar circumstances, G-d had told him to take his staff and strike the rock. Now too, G-d told him to take his staff. Evidently Moses inferred that he was being told to act this time as he had before, which is what he does. He strikes the rock. What he failed to understand was that time had changed in one essential detail. He was facing a new generation.” The Sfas Emes notes this too. The previous generation had seen God “eye to eye” at Sinai and had developed a stronger sense of trust and belief. He did not see that this was a different group with different needs. He needed to think about what they needed in order to hear him, not just that they needed to hear him.
This week let us think about those around us, what they need to hear and we can help them get ready to hear us.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.