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Repeat Performance

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

The transition from the story of the generation that left Egypt and the generation that is to enter Israel takes place in Parshat Chukat.  The Torah does not explicitly refer to this transition, but alludes to the 38 years in the desert where the entire older generation was dying by teaching the laws of parah adumah, the ritual laws governing purification from tumat met.  The first episode recorded about the new generation is that of mei merivah, the people complaining about the lack of water and Moshe's response of hitting the rock rather than speaking to it, as G-d commanded, which resulted in Moshe's punishment of not being allowed to enter the land.  This argument is strikingly reminiscent to the complaints of the generation that left Egypt.  Is this new generation simply going to keep repeating the mistakes of the previous one?  Have no lessons been learned?

Rav Yair Kahn quotes the midrash which says that the difference between the generation that left Egypt and that which entered the land of Israel is the difference between darkness and light.  What then was the redeeming factor of the second complaint about the lack of water and that of the first generation?  If we look at the complaint of yotzei Mizrayim, we see that it was backward-facing.  They said (Shemot 17:3), "Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"  Later, in the episode of Kivrot Ha'taava, they strangely look back longingly on their time in Egypt, a time where they had no responsibility for themselves, simply slaves to a master.  The complaints of the new generation are slightly different, though, and this difference is as significant as night and day.  In their complaint about thirst, they don't first complain about lack of water.  They first complain about the lack of figs, grapes and pomegranates.  Is this really what they missed all these years?  These three fruits are the very ones that the meraglim brought back from the Promised Land.  And herein lays the clue to the difference between the two generations.  The first generation was fearful of a new, foreign life.  This generation, however, is restless and impatient.  They are tired of life in the desert and are anticipating finally entering their land.  Their complaint comes from the positive desire to fulfill their destiny.

Perhaps this understanding can give us some insight into why Moshe was punished so severely for a seemingly slight adjustment to G-d's command.  Moshe responded exactly the way Hashem told him to – 40 years prior.  In that incident, Hashem did in fact tell him to hit the rock in order to release the water.  It seems that Moshe did not notice the difference in the source of the complaint, and was so angered because he thought it was going to be the same thing all over again – one complaint after another, which was so inappropriate after Hashem had lovingly taken care of all of their needs for the past 40 years.  Moshe failed to adjust his sights and look at this new generation differently, to understand their unique needs and concerns.  And therefore, Moshe could no longer be the appropriate leader to bring this generation into the land.

I imagine that many of you reading this are also restless and impatient to make it to the Promised Land.

With prayers for kibbutz galuyot and safety and security for Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom





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