Photo Credit: Jewish Press

When confronting the issue of Moses not entering the land of Israel, our sages offer various explanations. Some claim that, as the text of the Torah explicitly states, Moses was punished because instead of talking to the rock, he hit it. Rashi elaborates that had he spoken to the rock, it would have given forth its waters and Israel would have garnered a great lesson: If a rock listens to the commands of G-d, certainly we, as humans, should do so as well.

There are those commentators who state that the sin of Moses was not that he hit the rock but that he lost his temper and degraded the Jewish people by calling them “rebellious.” Other commentaries query why Aaron was punished for the same sin, since Aaron was not even explicitly mentioned in this incident at all.

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The Abarbanel offers a unique approach and states that both Aaron and Moses were punished for two separate misdeeds. Aaron was punished for his involvement in the golden calf debacle, and Moses was punished because of the incident of the spies and the resulting 40-year delay that the Jews had to endure before they entered the land of Israel. Since Moses had the final word on whether to send out the spies and he chose to send them out, he is responsible for the aftermath that occurred to the Jewish people.

The reason, the Abarbanel continues, that the Torah quoted the incident of hitting the rock rather than the true reason was not to embarrass either Aaron or Moses. This is also why Aaron died before Moses – because the golden calf episode occurred before the incident of the spies.

As I studied this story and related ones in the Torah, it occurred to me that Moses, at times, seems to have lost his faith in the Jewish people. At the end of the portion of Vayelech, Moses tells the Jewish people that he knows that they will rebel against G-d and ultimately will be severely punished. How can any nation possibly succeed if their leader has no confidence in them and predicts their failure? Moses our teacher was issuing a “No confidence” vote on his own people! Could you imagine a child coming into the classroom at the beginning of the year and the teacher looking him squarely in the eye and saying, “I know you’re going to fail my class!” The child doesn’t have a chance in a million to succeed. His teacher, who is supposed to be his advocate, has just declared him a total failure.

I believe that this might also have been a reason that G-d punished Moses and refused him entry into the land of Israel. A leader who has lost faith in his people cannot lead his people and conquer the land of Israel. If you don’t believe in the innate good of your people, then you cannot lead anymore.

Likewise, teachers and rebbeim must feel that their students are special and unique. They must be their advocates. They must believe that their students can achieve and succeed. Children have an uncanny ability to perceive when someone believes in them and when they do not. The most difficult students will attempt to achieve if they know that the teacher or principal believes they can succeed. They will seek their approval and will await any opportunity to please the principal and teacher and to prove their innate worth.

On a large scale, to lead a nation requires of the leader to believe in his constituents. Moshe, after 40 years of leading the Jewish people, might have lost some of his faith that the Jewish people could be successful. When that happens to a leader, then it is time for him to consider abdicating his leadership role. On a smaller scale, teachers who lose faith in their students should also consider whether their continuing as teachers is in the best interest of their students. But when they believe in their students, the latter will often live up to those expectations and achieve remarkable results.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.