But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” — Numbers 20:12
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement” or “law,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
A teacher once gave her students the following writing assignment. The topic: What would you do if you knew that you would not fail?
The students wrote paragraphs, even pages, filled with their dreams and aspirations, their wishes and unspoken goals. One wanted to cure cancer, another dreamt of bringing peace to the world. Now, of course, life doesn’t come with such guarantees, and just about everyone fails at one time or another. But there is one guarantee that is certain: If we try, we might not succeed; but if we don’t even try, we definitely won’t!
How many dreams are never pursued because of our fear of failure? How many cures has the world missed out on because someone was afraid to apply to medical school or was discouraged by a bad grade? So much human potential is wasted not because we failed, but because we were afraid to try again. This week’s Torah portion reminds us that everyone fails sometimes – and that’s ok. So long as we get up and continue on.
In this week’s Torah reading, Moses made a mistake. He was supposed to talk to the rock that would produce water, but instead, he hit it. God explained his failure this way: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites . . .” Through this act, Moses demonstrated a lack of faith and suffered the consequences: “you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
The Jewish sages often point to this episode as an example of how heroes in the Hebrew Bible were not some other-worldly, perfect human beings. Rather, they were flesh and blood, human and fallible, just like you and me. It’s encouraging to realize that even the greatest people of all time messed up at one point or another. Moses may have failed, but he certainly was no failure. We don’t have to be perfect to be great – we just need to keep trying.
King Solomon tells us in Proverbs 24:16, “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” The wicked, however, fall only once. What’s the difference between the righteous and the wicked? Both fall down, but the righteous person gets up. A righteous person will never give up. He keeps trying.
Friends, whether we are trying to reach a lofty goal, or just trying to become a better person, we must remember this wise advice: We don’t become failures when we fail. We only become failures when we stop trying. So next time you fall, get right back up and carry on.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President