When I began my college career, I was a student of history. It had been my favorite subject at school so there was no question that it would be the subject for my college studies. But very soon in that first year, I began to realize that history at college was not the same as history at school. Despite this, it took me another full year until the end of the second year to work up the courage to say to my history teacher that I wanted to transfer to theology, where I eventually completed my studies and was much more engaged and happy.
Change is difficult. And, while we might realize that a change is necessary, it can still be hard to act upon that situation. In this week’s Torah portion, as we emerge from the stories of the spies and the decree that that generation will not live to see the Promised Land, we get the story of the Waters of Meribah.
The people complained to Moses and Aaron that there is no clean water and so Moses and Aaron go to God. God speaks to Moses, saying, “you and your brother Aaron, take the rod and assemble the community and before their very eyes, order the rock to yield its water. This way you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”
When Moses gets to the rock together with Aaron with the assembled congregation, he is clearly angered by the people and says “Listen you rebels…” and then Moses raises his hand and strikes the rock twice with the rod and out comes the water. While the people get the water that they need, God then says to Moses and Aaron, “because you did not trust me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”
We must remember that God was the one who instructed Moses to take the rod with him, placing that rod in Moses hand, and therefore was it not inevitable that Moses would use it in some way. And, yet, it’s because of this action that God decrees that Moses and Aaron shall not enter into the Promised Land.
We might think that the punishment was a little bit extreme, but we might also wonder, if God realized that perhaps the time for a change had come and that this was some kind of test of Moses. How would he react with a rod in his hand, the people before him and the task of speaking to the rock. In that instant, rather than talking to the rock, the anger, the frustration got the better of him. And, so he struck the rock twice, instead of talking to it.
While, this, in and of itself, might not have seemed like such a sin, or a crime worthy of the punishment of not entering into the Promised Land, it may have been the sign that God was waiting for to know that the time for a change had come. God might have suspected this as a result of the incident with the spies. But now with this pretext, God allowed and set up the situation whereby change could happen. And, to his credit, Moses just continues with the journey, sending messages to the King of Edom. Perhaps he too knew that the time for a change had come.
And, while it is never easy to change, sometimes it is necessary.