The Jewish people are unique among the peoples of the world: their nationhood was forged not at the point at which they gained their own land, or developed a common language or culture, but on the day on which they pledged to uphold the Torah.
R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches, the idea that each day is a “new day” doesn’t agree with a genuine Jewish sensibility. We do not “start over” each day. We do not “turn over a new leaf”. Rather each ensuing day is fundamentally dependent on the one preceding.
Everything about our lives is nestled in our tradition, mesorah. Our traditions reach back to Sinai, handed from rebbi to talmid, one generation to the next. It is the mesorah itself that validates what we do as Jews, that tells us what is real Judaism and not merely a diversion, fad or, God forbid, worse. We can only move on to our next day if we see it and experience it as a continuation of the day before.
Now, the whole enterprise of Torah commentary is founded on asking questions about the Biblical text. But there are certain questions that are legendary in the genre, questions that have plagued scholars for centuries. This week we run into one of the classics: “What did Moses do that was so wrong?”
The story goes like this. The people are - once again - complaining. They are hungry, and thirsty, and wishing they’d never left Egypt. In fact, they actually say they wish they’d rather have died back there.
So Moses and Aaron nervously take the matter to God, who instructs them to raise their staff to convene the people, and then order a rock to produce water, which it will then miraculously do.
But when everyone had gathered together, Moses suddenly loses his temper and says, “Listen you rebels, shall we get water for you from this rock?!” and then strikes the rock with the staff, twice. And it works! Water starts flowing out of the rock, enough for all the people and their animals to drink.
But there seems to be a big problem. Because now God is angry, and proceeds to deliver Moses and Aaron a devastating punishment:
To really observe the Sabbath in our day and age! To cease for a whole day from all business, from all work, amidst the frenzied hurry-scurry of our age! To close the stock exchanges, the stores, the factories-how
would it be possible? The pulse of life would stop beating and the world perish! The world perish? To the contrary; it would be saved.