July 2019, Parshat Chukat

Dear Friends,

This Sunday, 14 July 2019, 11 Tammuz 5779, I invite all of you to join Mushka and I in celebrating our induction as the new senior Rabbi and Rebbetzin of the ARK Centre. Whilst our roles may be changing, this Sunday marks a continuation of our engagement in this wonderful community and Shule. We look forward to commemorating this milestone with you, the congregants and members of this Shule who make it great!

We also look forward to continuing our relationship with all of you and bringing some new ideas and programs to the community. In the two years we have worked here, we have only ever felt warmly embraced and welcomed and look forward to continuing to build our Kehillah. I’ll save the rest for Sunday and look forward to seeing you there.

In addition, this past week has been very exciting as I was officially accepted by White Ribbon Australia to become a White Ribbon ambassador. White Ribbon works to prevent men’s violence against women. They run programs across schools, workplaces and community centres, which provides education and information about domestic violence and men’s violence.

Being an ambassador of such an important organisation ensures that male leadership across communities takes an active stance against male violence and educates on ways to eradicate domestic violence.

Interestingly, this week’s Parsha, Chukat, reflects both of these themes, with stories of leadership failure and violence. Chukat is a famous portion in the Torah, mainly because Moshe finds out that despite his work as leader during the time in the desert, he will not be allowed to enter into the land of Israel.

The lead up to this is a fraught situation is the disappearance of the well of Miriam. This well provided water to the people during their 40 years of travels in the desert. After the death of Miriam, it suddenly disappears and the people become panicked at the lack of water and begin riling themselves up against Moshe and Aarons’s leadership.

Under pressure, Moshe speaks to G-d who instructs him that he should speak to a rock in the desert and ask for water. There are many Midrashim (commentaries) that discuss exactly why Moshe did not follow G-d’s instructions exactly, but ultimately, Moshe ends up striking the rock with his stick which results in water gushing out and the thirst of the people is quenched.

As a result, G-d informs Moshe and Aaron that they will not be entering the land of Israel. This is somewhat baffling, as this was certainly not the first time the people of Israel had not had water in the desert and the usual repetitive pattern of people complaining to Moshe, Moshe praying to G-d, a miracle was performed and water granted, was a recurring theme in the desert.

However, while this story was not the first time that there had been no water in the desert, (this was at least the third recorded time in the Torah!), this is the first time where G-d notes that the failure to follow instructions, had resulted in Moshe and Aaron lacking public faith in G-d, which is why they were given such a harsh punishment.

While Moshe and Aaron’s transgressions didn’t seem so severe to the average person, they themselves were not at all average and the standard that was expected of them in their leadership roles reflected this. As sad as it was that they did not get to enter into the land, the bigger message is how the failure to heed instructions and lead at a time of crisis lead to the situation in the first place!

And this is the crux of the message that I have taken away from this Parsha. Leadership is a privilege, not a right. Listening to people and their needs is imperative. Following one’s instructions as a leader is paramount. Failure to do any of those things can result in the antithesis of good leadership, namely chaos and calamity.

So, as we enter the Shabbat of the week before Mushka and I are inducted, we pledge to continue to listen to our congregants and try to be the best leaders possible while reflecting the needs and desires of our community.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi