Why Did Moses Lose His Temper?

This week’s Torah reading contains a perplexing passage that has led to endless debate among commentators. The Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, complain to Moses and Aaron because there is no water. God tells Moses to command a rock to bring forth water. Denouncing the people as rebels, Moses strikes the rock twice, water gushes out, and the people quench their thirst. God then informs Moses and Aaron that “because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” But for what, exactly, are Moses and Aaron being punished? Marc Angel ventures his own explanation:

The Midrash connects the death of Miriam, [which occurs in the verse immediately before this episode], with the lack of water. As long as she was alive, her merit was so great that a well miraculously accompanied the people. Once she died, that well ceased to give water and the people therefore became thirsty. . . . She was a key leader of Israel and was gifted with prophecy.

Yet, when she died, the Torah tersely reports that she was buried. There is no mention of the Israelites mourning her death. (By contrast, after the deaths of Aaron and Moses, the Torah indicates a national 30-day mourning period.) Not only did the people not seem to appreciate the lifelong service of Miriam, they are not reported as having offered any words of consolation to her brothers, Moses and Aaron. The people didn’t seem to care much about Miriam’s passing, and did not seem to associate her virtue with the existence of the water well that had accompanied them in the wilderness. The people were thirsty; they were not concerned about the death of Miriam or the grief of Moses and Aaron.

When the Israelites complained, then, Moses and Aaron were deeply disappointed and pained. Not only should the people have had more faith in God, Who had been providing for them throughout their years in the wilderness; the people should have shown appreciation to Miriam! How could they be so callous? . . .

When Moses and Aaron assembled the people to bring forth water from the rock, they were not in a calm state of mind. . . . Moses . . . lashed out at the people, calling them rebels. He smote the rock rather than speaking to it. Moses let his anger get the best of him. Aaron, as Moses’ accomplice in this episode, apparently shared Moses’ feelings and concurred with his words and actions. So this was the great “sin” of Moses and Aaron: letting their personal grief and frustration overtake their reason and sense of responsibility to the people.

Read more at Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

More about: Aaron, Bible, Moses, Numbers, Religion & Holidays, Weekly parashah

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy