Moses elicits the leader within
The people complained that they were thirsty. G-d commanded Moses to “speak to the rock” to produce water. Instead of speaking to the rock, he hit it, violating the commandment. The consequence of this, our sages say, would have an impact on all of Jewish history.
The result is that Moses is decreed not to enter the promised land. Of particular significance is that Moses is absent from the entry into Israel, the unique phenomenon that Moses’ reign wrought would now be lacking.
To explain: throughout Moses’ leadership, the children of Israel had a supernatural existence. The exodus; splitting of the sea; Sinai revelation; manna sustenance — all eclipsed the laws of nature. Moses inspired divine transcendence in a revealed, open manner. Had Moses entered Israel, the process of overwhelming all obstacles before the nation would have continued through to its conclusion, including, our sages say, the ushering in of the Messianic era at that time.
But with Moses being prevented entry and Joshua taking the helm, that miraculous accompaniment diminished. From then on and throughout all subsequent generations, the process of confronting the world has been primarily to engage it through natural means and slow incremental gains to overcome the forces that obstruct G-dliness. All this is the product of the fatal choice Moses made that day to hit the rock.
The obvious question is why did Moses do it? The possibility of unwitting error or loss of control is hardly an option for an individual described as “a man of G-d”, a complete tzaddik, who has mastered his human temperament.
Our sages offer a fascinating answer.
If Moses was the sole catalyst for the achievement and success of the Jewish people, an essential and necessary ingredient in the Jewish historical mission would be missing.
Three and half thousand years on, we’re able to look back and see the pattern of a people challenged and tested and yet, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, repeatedly displaying the ability to rise and succeed – tenaciously holding onto and keeping up their faith and religion.
In Moses’ seeming error, a new chapter began. It was the dawn of a process that would bring to realisation the irrepressible spirit of the Jewish people collectively and individually – that they are forged in the miraculous that nature cannot extinguish or suppress.
The implication of this explanation is startling. Moses hits the rock with full volition, knowing he’s signing his own fate. His motivation is that of every true nasi leader: wanting the ultimate good for am Yisrael. For the people to realise that the miracle isn’t outside of them but in them, that as they’re challenged and their greatness shines, they realise the leader within.