I study today in memory of my friend and teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Sholom, San Antonio, Texas, for 50 years. He passed away today. A seventh generation rabbi, he was a Torah scholar and community leader. He will be greatly missed.
In parasha Chukas this week, we learn a great lesson through the failure of Israel’s greatest leader.
Miriam has passed away, and the well of water that accompanied the people in her merit is no more. The people begin to complain about the lack of food and water.
God tells Moses to take his staff – the one he used to perform miracles such as striking the Nile to turn it to blood and striking a rock at Horeb to bring forth water for the Israelites – and to take Aaron and speak to a rock for water for the people.
Moses gathers the grumbling people and says “Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” Instead of speaking to the rock, he strikes it twice with his staff. The rock yields abundant water and the Israelites and their animals all drink.
God tells Moses and Aaron that because they “did not believe Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel,” they will not lead the people into the Land of Israel.
There is much discussion about exactly what mistake Moses and Aaron made to cause them such a fate – to lead the Israelites from slavery to freedom for 40 years but not to merit to enter the Land.
Rabbi Scheinberg taught that this incident teaches the high standard to which a leader will be held. The leader of God’s people must be held to a very high standard, and if the leader does not meet that standard, it is appropriate the consequence is greater than would be given to a person who has not been entrusted with such responsibility.
The lesson for those of us who are followers is to understand this burden of great leaders, and follow them in a way that will not cause them to fail in their leadership.