Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Whoever says Moshe sinned is only making a mistake

Or, in Hebrew, כל האומר משה חטא אינו אלא טועה.

Moshe Rabbeinu did not sin. He merely failed as a leader.

Different commentators offer suggestions as to Moshe's sin, in the (second) incident in which he he hit the rock and brought forth water. And Shadal says about these efforts:
"Moshe Rabbenu only sinned one sin, but the commentators burdened upon him 13 sins and more, for each one invented of his own heart a new sin."
Even Shadal assumes that Moshe sinned. But that is not what the pasuk says. Rather, the pasuk in Bemidbar 20:12 states:

יב וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.12 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: 'Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'
Translate הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם as he'emantam, since you did not cause them to trust in Me. And this was the failure of leadership, that he did not imbue in the Israelites an attitude of trust in God.

At one wondrous point, the ideal, the people had trust in Hashem. Shemot 14:31:
לא  וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם, אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיַּאֲמִינוּ, בַּה, וּבְמֹשֶׁה, עַבְדּוֹ.  {ר}  {ש}31 And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses. {P}
However, quite early on, the people manifested a profound lack of trust. At the evil report of the spies, the people cried, and did not trust that Hashem could bring them into the land. Bemidbar 14:
יא  וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עַד-אָנָה יְנַאֲצֻנִי הָעָם הַזֶּה; וְעַד-אָנָה, לֹא-יַאֲמִינוּ בִי, בְּכֹל הָאֹתוֹת, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ.11 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'How long will this people despise Me? and how long will they not believe in Me, for all the signs which I have wrought among them?
The result of this was that that generation of Israelites could not enter the land. Only Calev and Yehoshua could enter. And quite possibly Moshe could not enter either.

The next 40 years in the wilderness was a change for Moshe to instill in them this trust in God. That is the point of his mussar shmuez in sefer Devarim.

The striking of the stone and bringing out water occurred twice in the midbar. (Unless you say, as in my conspiracy theory, that this is actually a single event occuring at the start of their sojourn in the wilderness. But for the sake of this, assume this is the second instance.) Once at the beginning, and once at the end. For it to even be a question at this stage that God could provide them with water shows a profound lack of trust in Hashem. The Israelites complain
ב  וְלֹא-הָיָה מַיִם, לָעֵדָה; וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ, עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן.2 And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
ג  וַיָּרֶב הָעָם, עִם-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֵאמֹר, וְלוּ גָוַעְנוּ בִּגְוַע אַחֵינוּ לִפְנֵי ה.3 And the people strove with Moses, and spoke, saying: 'Would that we had perished when our brethren perished before the LORD!
ד  וְלָמָה הֲבֵאתֶם אֶת-קְהַל ה, אֶל-הַמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה, לָמוּת שָׁם, אֲנַחְנוּ וּבְעִירֵנוּ.4 And why have ye brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, to die there, we and our cattle?
ה  וְלָמָה הֶעֱלִיתֻנוּ, מִמִּצְרַיִם, לְהָבִיא אֹתָנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הָרָע הַזֶּה:  לֹא מְקוֹם זֶרַע, וּתְאֵנָה וְגֶפֶן וְרִמּוֹן, וּמַיִם אַיִן, לִשְׁתּוֹת.5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.'
This is the generation about to enter the land! And they are repeating the very error of their fathers, and indeed using the same language as their fathers. Why have you brought us out of Egypt?!

Perhaps Moshe and Aharon could have taken other steps throughout the 40 year journey to instill a trust in Hashem, via words or actions. Specifically what, we have no idea. But apparently, they could have.

If so, Moshe has failed as a leader, and it is time for Yehoshua to lead. Perhaps Yehoshua can elicit this faith, and trust, in Hashem.


SF2K01 said...

Interesting thought, but what about the much more harsher language that is utilized by Bamidbar 27 or Devarim 32? Moshe is called a rebel against G-d's word and a betrayer of G-d by HaShem, which seems that for him, he performed an egregious sin with his failure. Even the intent of the pasuk in Bamidbar 20 seems to be implying that Moshe pushed away the Jews rather than bring them closer to G-d.

Then I would also ask with regards to the understanding from Tehilim (as brought in Dov Bear's post yesterday) that Moses essentially performed Lashron HaRa when he spoke to the people, which is a sin, and one he has committed before according to various meforshim.

It seems to me this incident was the final straw that undid Moses' leadership, but it was brought by a particular sin, not a Noahesque lack of initiative.

joshwaxman said...

great point about Bemidbar 27, and Devarim 32. they declare it a trespass actively committed in that place.

indeed, they would need to be contended with. strangely, i would still prefer to optimize the local peshat, rather than harmonizing with secondary references even elsewhere in Torah (!), or elsewhere in Tehillim. call it extreme be'iyun, if you like.

joshwaxman said...

Tehillim, in particular, is easy to call commentary, and we can differ with a commentator, as i note in a comment on DovBear's post.


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