Shaya Cohen -


Deliberate Ambiguity?

There are many proposed answers for why the incidence at Merivah disqualified Moshe from entering the land. If you review the sequence carefully, there are many possible answers:

The people complain: Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces.

They could have confronted the people, but they left the scene.“You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.” Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.  

Aren’t there many possibilities? Initially, couldn’t Moshe and Aharon have told the people to trust in Hashem – instead of fleeing from them?   Name-calling is not something Moshe had ever done before.

Isn’t it problematic to call the people “rebels”?   The most common answer is that Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it.   And I am sure there are other reasonable answers as well.  

But the text does not tell us that what Moshe did was wrong! G-d Himself is ambiguous!  

But G-d said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”   Here’s the question:

What if the ambiguity is deliberate?  

Here’s a possibility: kedusha, holiness, can take many forms. Some have argued that kedusha is defined by the mikdash, each item representing a different facet of how to be holy.

In simplest strokes:  

Menorah: Illumination of G-d’s presence

Altar: Elevating the physical into the spiritual

Table: Partnership in creation

Ark: Connection and intimacy  

Did Moshe’s actions reflect ALL of these?   He hit the rock instead of talking to it. He ran away from the people He criticized the people He failed to connect positively with G-d or the people.   Is it possible that the ambiguity is deliberate? That the text is vague because in sum, Moshe did not act to sanctify G-d? And that there never was supposed to be just one explanation?  

So instead of demanding only one answer when the text is ambiguous, perhaps the ambiguity is there to tell us that there are many facets of the answer?  

If this is reasonable, does it help explain other times the Torah is imprecise as to specifics?  

Comments are welcome!

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