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 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.
Most commentators agree somehow Moses and Aaron failed in their leadership: they did not follow instructions, or they failed to set a good example by acting out of anger at the people, or they became confused because another time they did actually strike a rock for water.
A lesson to take from this incident is the high standard to which a leader will be held. Moses and Aaron knew that the people associated them with God’s commandments, and they had a duty to follow the commandments carefully. Leaders who have been chosen by the people – whether a governor, a mayor or a patrol leader – must set a good example, carefully follow the law, and not get distracted by their personal feelings.