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Rediscovering the Exodus 10
Recently one of my readers requested that I write more on the Exodus series of articles and I promised her that I would. This particular article looks not at the beginning of Moses’ life but at its end. The penultimate finale that played like a game of chess between a man and God and during which the checkmate meant that Moses had to make the fatal decision which finally brought an end to the last vestige of his Egyptian heritage. Rabbinic scholars have referred to this moment as probably the saddest moment in Moses' life but I believe they have failed to recognize the enormity of the Prophet’s decision. For at that moment he set into motion a series of events that would affect the entirety of our history and the repercussions of our failure to understand and adhere to what Moses had done has repeatedly led to our punishments and attempted exterminations for the past three millennia.
As outlined in my previous articles, the high probability that Moses was Prince Thutmoses V, whose existence has been practically wiped clean from the annals of Egyptian Pharaonic history, meant that his entire upbringing was based on the religious doctrine for a royal intermediary to stand between God and the people. In fact one of the few pieces of Thutmoses V’s life that we still have preserved is his training in Heliopolis to be a High Priest in the services of Ra or Aten. Every other empire and state in existence had this same requirement of its royalty within its religious structure. Even today, if we were to examine Christianity, then they too have preserved this ancient custom, proclaiming Jeshua was King of the Jews and not only did he act as intermediary between the Nazoreans and God but is still believed to intercede on their behalf even now long after his death. This is the reason why they direct their prayers to this long dead Jewish man. Catholics, one might suggest have taken it even a step further by electing a Pontifex Maximus (King of the Church), or Pope as they call him, to act as a living intermediary for the exact same purpose. They are oblivious to the fact that they are not only preserving an ancient flawed religious custom but one that Moses perceived and condemned as a failed ideal that would only result in corruption and the eventual destruction of all he began.
Upon This Rock
Sadly, this warning from Moses was never heeded and even now Rabbinical scholars as well as Karaite academics have concluded that God's prohibition of Moses from entering the land of Israel stemmed from the episode in Numbers (Bamidbar) 20:2-13. In this chapter, the Israelites angrily demand that Moses supply them with water but this chapter must be read immediately after Chapter 16 in order to appreciate its full context and ignoring the interceding chapters 17 through 19 that appear to have been purposely interjected in order to form a discontinuity of the two aforementioned chapters. If read together as suggested, we realize that God is not upset by the fact that Moses strikes the rock twice with his rod, which brought forth the water instead of speaking with the rock. If one actually reads the chapter closely, it is evident that God instructed Moses to go get the rod exactly for that purpose; to strike the rock. However, what is interpreted as ‘to’ the rock, the word ‘ul’ can also mean ‘by’ the rock or ‘near’ the rock. God was simply instructed Moses to assemble the Children of Israel by the rock where he would demonstrate the power of their supreme Lord and bring forth water from this innocuous mound of rocks. Unfortunately it has been misinterpreted as an episode of disobedience on Moses part, striking the rock instead of speaking to it, but that was not the case. Even the punishment of Moses, where God forbids him to enter Israel is not exactly what is stated in the Torah. In fact, all it says is that he and Aaron will not lead these people that protested and challenged God into the promised land. It says nothing of the generation after and that they personally were condemned as well. When God does display anger and wrath against Moses stems from Chapter 16 and therefore once again I stress that these two chapters or events cannot be separated. Having just wiped out the conspirators led by Dathan and Korah, Moses failed to impress upon the people that their rebellious nature would no longer be tolerated by Yahweh. In fact each time Moses fails to stand up against the multitude, instead running to the tabernacle each time to lay the people’s complaint before God. And for that reason God states that Moses has failed to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people. They still refuse to believe God is the Almighty Lord that led them from the land of bondage in Egypt, continuing to bargain and strive against Him. Therefore, the condemnation in this chapter is not of Moses and Aaron but of that particular generation of the Children of Israel that still had remorse for leaving Egypt and preferred their old ways that were promulgated under the old priesthood under Korah.
The Hardest Decision of All
Even early rabbinic sages knew that there was more to this story than merely a punishment for striking a rock and they grappled with other possible reasons for what they considered an extremely harsh punishment of Moses and Aaron. Rabbis Hananael, Nachmanides, and the Bekhor Shor proclaimed that Moses' actual sin was one of pride when he declared, "Shall we get water for you out of this rock?" thereby implying that it was he and his brother, Aaron who were entirely responsible. Clearly this was not the case and even Moses makes no issue of the events at the rock as being responsible for his not entering the land across the Jordan. What Moses does refer to can be found in Deuteronomy Chapter 1:34-38, when Moses delivers his final summation to the people. He refers back to this episode when the spies returned after scouting Canaan and the people became disheartened, saying, "When the Lord heard your loud complaint, He was angry. He vowed: "Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, none except Caleb.... Because of you, the Lord was incensed with me too, and He said: You shall not enter it either. Joshua ... who attends you, he shall enter it". At this point Moses lays the entire blame for his not entering upon the people though he himself supported the spies and his entire mission was to lead the people to the Promised Land.
So if not a punishment, then why did Moses make certain that he never entered the land and chose to die in a place unknown to his people? These questions are the crux of the stories and the true magnitude of Moses’ foresightedness. And for the answers, we must wait until the next chapter in this story.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana