When the Children of Israel were walking through the desert on their way to the Jewish holy land, they complained to Moses that they lacked good food and drink (Numbers 20:1-13). God commanded Moses to take his staff and to go with his brother Aaron to gather the people and speak to a rock to produce water. Moses grabbed his staff and instead of speaking to the rock, he hit it with his staff which shot forth water. Despite producing the desired result of delivering water, Moses and Aaron were punished with not being able to enter the Jewish promised land. The site became known as Mei Merivah, Bitter Waters.
On its face, the difference in Moses’ action seems minor, hitting versus speaking to the rock. The end result was that water came out and the Jews were happy. It begs the question why God punished Moses and Aaron so severely.
When God commanded Moses to take the staff when he stood before the Jewish people, it was to show that he was acting as an agent of God. The staff was a symbol of Moses acting on God’s behalf. However, Moses used the staff as a tool with which to strike the rock. The Jews witnessed Moses producing the water with his strike of the implement upon the rock, rather than internalizing that God had produced the water. Yes, the Jews got what they wanted but they attributed the benefit solely from the hands of Moses and Aaron rather than acknowledging the actual source of the blessing.
Mistaking a symbol as a tool goes on in Israel today as well.
Jerusalem Day is a wonderful celebration which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem which had been divided when the Jordanian army invaded and illegally annexed half of the city. For 19 years (1949-1967), the Arabs forbade Jews from living, visiting or praying in the Old City and at the Jewish Temple Mount and Western Wall. The anti-Semitic edicts changed in June 1967 after Jordan attacked Israel again but this time lost, a true cause for celebration by human rights activists everywhere.
During the Jerusalem Day festivities, some Israeli nationalists have a Flag Parade where they march through the streets of Jerusalem, including the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, waiving Israeli flags as they demonstrate that the area is under Israeli sovereignty. The group often taunts the Palestinian and Israeli Arabs as they sing the Israeli national anthem and practice their Arab curse words.
Like their ancestors of 3,300 years ago, the Children of Israel got what they want but sometimes miss the important message: the Israeli flag and national anthem are symbols of Jewish sovereignty once again in their holy land. To use them as tools to provoke Arabs undermines the blessing.
The reunification of Judaism’s holiest city should be marked on holidays and every day with Jews walking, praying, learning and living in every corner of Jerusalem. Proudly wearing Jewish symbols and speaking holy words will enable all of the Children of Israel – including Moses and Aaron – to be present in Judaism’s eternal capital.
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