Skip to main content

Hukkat, Soccer, You and We

The hero of the Torah, Moses, is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. The reason for this is because of what happens in this week’s portion.

The people were once again complaining. This time they were screaming for water. Moses is instructed to order a rock to provide water. Instead Moses hits the rock in anger and shouts at the people, “Listen you rebels!” (Numbers 20) Because Moses did not follow God’s instructions, hitting the rock and screaming at the people he was punished and told that he would only see the dream from afar, that he would not be allowed to lead the people into the land of Israel.

It seems a rather harsh punishment for a man who devoted so many years to leading a rather difficult people through even more difficult circumstances. Then again we can discern a lesson from this: one moment of anger can undo a lifetime of work. On the other hand Moses’ sin might not so much have been about his anger but as some commentators suggest the fact that he separated himself from the community he led. He screamed “you” instead of shouting “we.”

Anger is not always inappropriate. There are many injustices that are deserving of our indignation. Sometimes we can only right wrongs when we sing as one and say, “We shall…” Perhaps Moses was right to get angry but wrong to see himself apart from the community. So much more can be accomplished, and overcome, and even righted when we are joined together as one.

Like many I have been reveling in soccer these past days. (Go USA!) Futbol is a wonderful sport to watch at the World Cup level. Most games are low scoring by our American standards. For a goal to be scored most of a team’s players are usually involved moving the ball up the field (nay, pitch) and then into the net. It is a beautiful thing to see a team of eleven working in concert with another. That is soccer at its best.

This is the reason why the referee can issue a red card if a player hits his own teammate. Such an act happened in a recent Cameroon game. The referee did not see it so there was no penalty, but the sportscasters noted it and replayed it for all to witness. For all of FIFA’s scandals (may the 2022 games be moved from Qatar to the US!) it makes a remarkable statement about the value of teamwork by delineating a penalty for acting so egregiously against one’s own team.

Very little can be accomplished when there is dissension and disunity. Much can be achieved when we restrain our own egos (even the greatest and most skilled soccer players sometimes only pass the ball to the goal scorer; take that LeBron!) and say together, “we.” Leadership must always be about saying what we can do, rather than here is what you must do.

It seems to me that the tone of so many of today’s leaders is more about what the other guy is doing wrong rather than what we can, and must, accomplish together. Too often I hear Moses’ words in the mouths of our leaders, “Listen you rebels…listen you rebels…” We need more to say, “we” and far less to say, “you.”

In the moment that Moses said “you” and not “we” he actually became the rebel and was denied his lifelong dream.