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Parsha_Push Chukat

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

here’s a saying attributed to Albert Einstein (although it’s not clear if he actually said it) that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This statement might be true in certain cases, but in matters requiring persistence – exercise, character development, education, and more – it seems incorrect. In these cases, the repetitive, Sisyphean effort is precisely what’s supposed to change reality in the end.

However, even repetitive effort without noticing progress is problematic. Parents need to consistently enforce boundaries, not cut corners, to achieve results. But if they insist on the same boundaries and methods at age three and thirteen, they’re probably making a big mistake.

Among other things, this is a possible explanation for the sin of Moses and Aaron. Time and again, they were required to stand before the people and say, ‘This is not how to complain, this is not how to behave.’ They tried to show the people repeatedly that proper prayer is better than complaining, and in their eyes, the people failed to understand. So they take the staff (which God also said to take) and again they strike (the rock) to bring forth water and prove that God miraculously cares for His people.

But we need to notice that the staff is no longer the same staff, and apparently, the people are no longer the same people. The staff that Moses is commanded to take, he takes “from before the Lord.” Apparently, it’s the same staff, with flowers and almonds, that proved the choice of the Levites and Aaron (and that therefore Moses is only fulfilling God’s mission). Consequently, even if it’s the staff that turned into a snake and a serpent, and turned the Nile to blood, and brought water from the rock forty years ago, it’s not really the same staff. It too has matured and developed, and see how beautiful it has become.

And just as the staff has been reshaped, so too we need to see that the people are not the same people. The complaints are similar, but different. The complaint about water is a genuine complaint, and indeed raises a sense of déjà vu, but the people no longer dream of returning to Egypt but rather of entering a place of seed and fig. They are not the same people, and they need different methods – less setting of physical boundaries, and more soft and respectful speech. After all, they too have matured and developed, and see how beautiful they have become.

In the story of Korach, it wasn’t enough to kill the opponents, and it was necessary to convince the confused people through the blossoming of the staff. So too in our portion, Moses and Aaron needed to teach the people, but in a more gentle way, according to their developmental state. In doing so, they would have sanctified God’s name and shown that God also adapts His leadership to the people’s condition. To our great sorrow, and to the sorrow of Moses and Aaron, those who don’t progress are forced to stay behind. We might have chosen differently, but it seems that in the end, what we chose was for the good of the people.

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

was in the first cohort of the Matan Kitvuni Fellowship program and her book is in the publication process. She has a B.A. in Bible from Hebrew University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Adina studied in Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Havruta and the Advanced Talmud Institute in Matan. She currently teaches Bible and Talmud at Matan, and at Efrata and Orot colleges. Adina lives in Adam (Geva Binyamin) with her family.