Old Habits Die Hard
Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 11, 2006
“Moses and Aaron moved away from the assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they fell on their faces. [Then] the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink.” Moses took the staff from before the Lord as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.” (translation from Chabad.org)
Why did Moshe use his Staff and not his Voice? One reason I can see is that old habits die hard. For almost 40 years had Moshe been striking rocks for water so the people could drink – and now G-d decides to change the MO – it really isn’t fair to Moshe, but there it is – “Do it Differently”. Tough luck Moshe, that you, like the rest of us, are human and follow what you KNOW to be effective, rather than follow directives…for most of us it’s about throwing away “extra” screws or forgetting the salt when assembling IKEA furniture or making Chopped Liver – it can be fixed, no real damage done – but for Moshe it meant the end of a Dream. Old Habits Die Hard.
Another angle on this story focuses on the entirety of the Freedom March that starts in Shemot and ends in Devarim – on that of Generations. The Generation that left Egypt to become Free is at this stage dying off, one by one – Miriam is gone, Aharon is about to go, and it’s time for Moshe to turn his staff over to Joshua. It’s a matter of a Shift, from Action to Words. Each step of the way, the old Generation had trusted the tangible signs brought by Moshe’s Actions – but now, as the new Generation takes over, new methods to impart faith and loyalty are required.
Why? Because, the old Generation stood for that which is Revealed – The Torah Covenant on Sinai – the new Generation stands for that which is Carried – The Torah Itself.
For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:14.)
For that shift to take place visually, Moshe needs to do it the old way, despite the directives from G-D. That which worked in the Desert will not work in the Land – perhaps Moshe recognizes this need for a shift, and deliberately disobeys G-D, to so-to-speak, get rid of himself, for surely he knows that direct disobedience will result in punishment, in that case, what Moshe does is a very brave thing – like Avraham before him, he risks angering G-D to rescue his People
And Abraham approached and said, “Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You even destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst? Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?” And the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous men within the city, I will forgive the entire place for their sake.” And Abraham answered and said, “Behold now I have commenced to speak to the Lord, although I am dust and ashes. Perhaps the fifty righteous men will be missing five. Will You destroy the entire city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy if I find there forty-five.” And he continued further to speak to Him, and he said, “Perhaps forty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”
And he said, “Please, let the Lord’s wrath not be kindled, and I will speak. Perhaps thirty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” And he said, “Behold now I have desired to speak to the Lord, perhaps twenty will be found there.” And He said, “I will not destroy for the sake of the twenty.” And he said, “Please, let the Lord’s wrath not be kindled, and I will speak yet this time, perhaps ten will be found there.” And He said, “I will not destroy for the sake of the ten.” And the Lord departed when He finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.(Bereshit/Genesis 18:23-33).
Moshe is Playing Chess with G-D and he wins – one would think that G-D ought to have learned from Avraham – “never argue with dedication…”