The main portion of this week's parsha deals with Moshe and Aaron's death.
With Miriam gone, the Well of Miriam had ceased to flow. Because of that, Bnai Israel went to Moshe to complain about their thirst. Although Moshe and Aaron were sitting shiva- seven day mourning period- for Miriam, Moshe and Aaron fell to the ground in prayer. Hashem immediately came to answer Moshe and Aaron’s prayers and commanded Moshe to find the Well of Miriam and command it to give forth water. Hashem wanted Moshe to congregate in front of the tzaddikim and teach them a passage of Torah while they were witnessing this miracle. From this we can see the merit that is brought forth from communal studying of Torah. Moreover, Moshe wanted the entire nation to see Hashem’s miracle, so to, he assembled everybody to the rock to witness the miracle. The air ravs- new Egyptian converts- started to scoff about what Moshe was doing, they wanted to see if Moshe would perform a real miracle or if he was doing ‘magic tricks,’ because as a shepherd he knew which rocks held the most moisture.
The air ravs instigated and said, “Unless you give us water from our choice, we don’t want any at all!” Moshe was completely distressed at this point. His mission was to bring the nation to the rock and teach them Torah to show them that the power of their learning would create a miracle, instead he faced a crowd of scoffers who were questioning the validity of this miracle altogether.
Because of this madness and mockery by the air ravs, Moshe sensed the shechina- Hashem’s presence- was gone; therefore, no miracle would occur. Moreover, the atmosphere was not appropriate for Torah learning. The people were rebelling against their rebbe, how was he supposed to teach them? Moreover, which rock was he to choose? He did not want to transgress Hashem’s commandment and chose another rock.
Furthermore, Moshe decided to reprimand the people for going against their rebbe. He said sternly, “hear now you rebels, you fools! You think your understanding is greater than your rebbes’?” From the beginning of Moshe’s leadership career, Hashem had told him never to get angry with the Jews. No matter how much they provoked him, he was never to give into his anger and rebuke the people. Because of the anger he displayed, Hashem punished him with death. Moshe continued to carry out Hashem’s command to bring forth water. When Moshe commanded the rock to produce water, nothing happened, so Moshe hit the rock and blood protruded instead of water.
Some commentators state that because Moshe didn’t address the people kindly, he was sentenced to death to atone for his sin (Aaron was punished for sitting silently). What was the sense of these harsh punishments? Because Moshe addressed the people as ‘rebels and fools,’ such a subtle remark, Hashem punishes him with death? And Aaron is punished with death for sitting silently? What is going on here?! It is beyond our comprehension as to why both Moshe and Aaron are sentenced to death, many commentators try to understand this; however, there is no way to understand the true essence behind it. Rather, what we can learn is that since these men were so holy, they were punished more harshly, even for their tiny misdemeanors. The closer someone is to Hashem, the less he is spared for blame because Hashem has higher expectations of such a person. These two tzaddikim devoted every breath of air to Hashem, so to, their punishment was proportionate to their closeness to Hashem. Additionally, we cannot ever judge Moshe and Aaron for what happened, such righteous men are on a level far beyond our understanding. Even though Moshe and Aaron sinned, they were still beloved in Hashem’s eyes.
Many of us commit acts that are much more worse than using harsh words, and we are not punished as harshly, for the obvious reason, we are not tzaddikim. This should push us to set the standard higher for ourselves and our behavior. We should only hope that one day we can attain even a grain of righteousness comparable to that of Moshe and Aaron so that Hashem can look at our behavior and have higher expectations of us.