Torah from around the world #121


Rabbi Benjie Gruber


Kibbutz Yahel

, Arava Region – Israel

Parashat Chukat

is the the


of the 40th year. The events described in it occurred during the last year in the desert for the people of Israel. In fact, at the end of the


we read of the end of the journey and the final camping: ”

And the children of Israel journeyed, and pitched in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho

” (Numbers 22:1). At this [exact?] spot according to tradition the whole book of Deuteronomy is to be told, and then they enter the land of Israel as is told in the book of Joshua. Our


is the


of the end of the journey from Mount Sinai to Arvot Moav (plains of Moab). We know the people of Israel and we know it has been almost 40 years in the desert. We are now dealing with the second generation of the people of Israel. They now wish to enter the land and may not be able to withstand another crisis.

At first, when the Children of Israel had just left Egypt, the complaints were phrased as: “

And they said one to another: ‘Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt

.’” (Numbers 14:4). At that point the people continue to tell themselves and Moses that life in Egypt was better than life in the desert. Now, after 40 years, the People of Israel do not miss Egypt. They wish to leave the desert – not in order to return to Egypt but rather to make their way to the Promised Land and live a normal life. Unlike the generation before them in the desert, these people are willing to go to war and conquer the land. They have seen enough desert. Here the test is indeed to resist the urge to fight nations that are considered relatives (Deuteronomy 2). Now is the time to be careful of being impatient. After 40 years in the desert, after 60 something years of a state, after over 100 years of Zionism and 2000 years of prayers we must not be impatient. Yet, in our parsha we read, “

And they journeyed from Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom; and the soul of the

people became impatient because of the way

.” (Numbers 21:4)

In Israel today too many have lost patience. Many wish to arrive at the end of the journey. That in itself may be a problem since the journey is yet to end, but, in addition, unlike in the desert – where it was clear that the end of the journey is entering the land – here it is more complex. How do we define the journey and a happy end to it?

This is exactly where leadership is needed to restrain the people. The problem is that the leadership too can become impatient. Before the people forget their patience Moses and Aaron make a mistake in what is called “The Waters of


.” The commentators work hard at trying to figure out what the sin was. I wish to suggest that here, too, the issue is patience. Moses hits the rock when he was told to speak to it. And not once, but twice! Moses is not patient enough and hits when told to speak, and according to our parsha for this act he will not enter the land of Israel. Israel is a land that demands patience – If you do not have it, you cannot live in it. We must talk and not hit, wait and not run.

I am an Israeli Reform Rabbi who works in the Arava region in the south of Israel and I live on Kibbutz Yahel which is part of the Israeli Reform Movement. Many exciting things are happening in Israel today, especially in the Reform Movement. There are now 36 Reform congregations and an education program that provides Israelis with a liberal Jewish philosophy from preschool all the way to post graduate work. Our Movement is bringing a fresh approach to religion. I try to engage secular Israelis with a modern view of Judaism. It is a long complex process.

As a Progressive Israeli Jew working mostly with Israelis who define themselves as not connected to tradition I try to understand what journey they went through and to understand if they are ready to embark on a new one. I pray that we have the patience for it, for this land, for these amazing people and that they, too, have patience with what we are here to offer.

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