This week's Torah portion, Hukkat, tells the story of why Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
A recap. After arriving in the wilderness of Zin the people again complain against Moses. They scream, "If only we had perished when our brothers [led by Korah] perished at the instance of the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord's congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even enough water to drink!"
Moses becomes distraught with the people's incessant complaining. Freedom is no longer enough for them. They want pomegranates as well! Moses consults with God and is instructed to command a rock to bring forth water in front of all the people. Moses assembles the people and says, "Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?" Moses raises his staff and strikes the rock two times and out comes water. But God exclaims, "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." (Numbers 20)
The commentators debate with each other, trying to answer what was Moses' great sin, a sin apparently so terrible that Moses is punished with not being allowed to fulfill the promise of entering the land. Some suggest it was that he hit the rock. Others, that he hit the rock twice or that he did not give proper credit to God for the miracle. Still others say that it was his angry tone. Apparently even the great Moses has an Achilles' heal. It is his anger. Like other great literary and historical giants Moses is a tragic hero because of this fatal flaw. This is one way to read the story. Moses lost his temper. Moses was not patient when he most needed to be. He is punished for his anger.
Another way to read the story is to see Moses as representing unfulfilled promises. If we are to see ourselves in the Torah and to see our lives mirrored in its heroes, then the question is not what did Moses do that was so terrible and deserving of punishment, but instead how do we learn from Moses how to face unfulfilled promises.
Throughout our lives others will make promises to us. Some will be fulfilled. Others will not. How will we face these? Will we become angry? Not everything we hope for, or wish for, or plan for will come to fruition. People will disappoint us. We will disappoint ourselves. Even God will disappoint us. Will we blame others? Will we lash out in anger? Will we lose faith? Life will present us with disappointments. The only question is how will we face them.
In a later Torah portion, Va-ethanan, Moses begs God to allow him to enter the Promised Land. God refuses. Moses pleads, "O Lord God, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness and Your mighty hand, You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal. Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan..." (Deuteronomy 3) We can sense Moses' pain. He begs God to allow him to touch the land. God only allows him to see the land from afar. But the promise remains unfulfilled.
We are left to wonder. After all that Moses endured and did for God and the people, his last wish remains unrealized. How much more so the situations in our own lives. If Moses does not have every wish realized, then who are we to expect every promise to attain fulfillment? We are left with incomplete answers. And so how do we respond? Perhaps the only answer is the recognition and acceptance that we cannot fulfill every promise. Every dream is not achieved.
Still we cannot let go of hope. Promises and dreams are not always realized with our own hands and in our own lifetimes. Sometimes our promises are for others to fulfill. Like Moses, our hopes and dreams are not always wrapped up in our own lives, but in future generations.
We rest our promises on those who follow us.