These past two weeks have seen too much violence. I write under the shadow of painful images. What light can our Torah reading this Shabbat, Hukkat, shed?
At the center of our Torah reading is the punishment of Moses and Aaron for the failure to “honor God in the midst of the people” (Deuteronomy 20:12). What was their sin in drawing forth water (lots of it) from a rock? There are at least three wrongs that Moses committed: Failed to follow God’s directive to speak to the rock and instead hit the rock twice; called the Israelites “rebels,” thereby separating himself from the people; and said, “shall we bring forth water for you,” failing to give God the full credit for such a miracle. Okay, so Moses acted improperly, but why does his brother, Aaron, also get punished with death before entry into the Promised Land?
Moses and Aaron are partners in leadership. God’s command to gather the people and to speak to the rock was given to them as a team. Aaron’s failure to challenge his brother’s words and action becomes Aaron’s sin too. Silence can be misconstrued as acceptance and silence in the face of wrongdoing is wrong. To return to the violence of police overreacting and terrorists intentionally taking life, I am left speechless. And yet, words are needed. We are called to reach out to each other with care and the determination to prevent violence. How? I am unsure, but know that our conversations with each other need to evidence mutual respect and the desire to protect each other from wanton violence. In a democracy, we are all partners. Our challenge is to forge with words and deeds a just and safe society.