• Light of Torah

Why was Moses Excluded from the Promised Land?

In the Israelites’ wilderness journey, Moses and his two siblings, Aaron and Miriam, play a critical leadership role. The Book of Numbers records, in a tantalizingly brief and cryptic account, the troubling event which leads to Moses (and Aaron) being excluded from entering the Promised Land. Read this in Numbers 20:1-13.

After the death of Miriam, the water runs out and the people complain bitterly, hankering after their former life in Egypt. In response God commissions Moses to speak to a rock which will miraculously give forth water. Moses does this, but not without an outburst of his own anger and striking the rock twice:

Moses:“Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (20:10)

The miracle succeeds, but God has troubling news for Moses and Aaron:

God: “Because you did not trust me…you shall not bring this assembly into the land...” (20:12).

Exactly what was Moses’ offence at Meribah, and why did it deserve such a penalty? The Jewish sages [1] debated this question over the centuries. Ever so briefly, let's listen to some of these voices from Jewish Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Note the variety of their responses and creative insights. Then, bring in your own interpretative voice.

Rashi offers a straightforward explanation: Moses’ offence was that he struck the stone instead of speaking to it as God had asked.

According to Maimonides, it was Moses’ anger that