After 40 years in the wilderness, near the borders of the Promised Land and, after a whole series of laws have been given to guide us, we are instructed by a “chuk”, an inexplicable commandment; the law of the Red Heifer to separate the pure from the impure. The Sedra begins with stating
זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔
This is the statute of the Torah
Explaining the inexplicable is a challenge. Do we expose ourselves to ridicule from outside for being irrational or understand that faith exposes us to the notion that we cannot know everything: we are mortal.
There follows a description of events which encompass our own human fragility and experience. Miriam, his sister, will die, Aaron, his brother, will die and Moses himself will be denied entry to the Land. The people continue to complain about the lack of water (Midrash speaks about Miriam’s well which accompanied us until her death) and we call for a return to Egypt. Somehow, God keeps faith with us.
The question that is often raised is, why did Moses strike the rock? The rod of Moses has been used before. It was used to initiate miracles before Pharaoh, and to divide the Sea. This time he was asked to speak to the rock.
There is a time to talk and a time to strike out. At a time when disputes rage and personal loss is being experienced it is often emotion rather than reason that drives us. It becomes hard to remember that faith and trust can be a guide. We read
הֵ֚מָּה מֵ֣י מְרִיבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־רָב֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־יְהֹוָ֑ה וַיִּקָּדֵ֖שׁ בָּֽם
These are the waters of dispute [Mei Meribah] where the children of Israel contended with the Lord, and He was sanctified through them
Disputes represent a time when we are uncertain and lack faith.
Centuries later the Chinese philosopher Meng Tse would write
Never give way to anger otherwise in one day you could burn up the wood that you collected in many bitter weeks
At a time when turbulence is all around us it is reason and trust that represent the rod with which we support ourselves rather than disputes which cause strife.