Tag archive for "Moses"

General, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: The miracle we really need

No Comments 22 June 2017

In his Dvar Torah to Parashat Korach, Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom warns us of the immorality of collective punishment, and reminds us of our responsibility to pursue peace in a time when war and terrible suffering seem to be lurking just around the corner.  Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: A mindset of war

No Comments 07 June 2017

In his dvar Torah to Parashat BeHaalotekha, Rabbi Michael Graetz illustrates the differences between a leader striving to educate versus a leader who seeks only the use of force. What sort of actions may we see in a society where the only mindset is one of force and war?

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Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: Is it still possible to believe in positive leadership?

No Comments 17 January 2017

In her Dvar Torah to Parashat Shemot, rabbinical student Yael Vurgan explores the qualities of a good leader.  Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: In spite of our leaders

No Comments 09 August 2016


It is our responsibility as Jews to act as a positive moral influence on the world. But what to do when our leaders are unable to carry out this imperative?
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Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Mei Meriva-The Importance of Water In A Desert

No Comments 06 July 2016

PLEASE NOTE: Until August, the Torah reading in the Land of Israel will be different than the Torah reading outside of the Land of Israel. This Shabbat we in Israel read Hukkat while abroad Korach which was read last week in Israel, is read. You can find last week’s Dvar Torah on Korach here.

Rabbinic sources call water a blessing, the United Nations recognises it as a human right, and Isaac seeks to distribute it equally among peoples. In his commentary to Parashat Hukkat, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann shows us what Israel today must learn about the importance of fairly managing our most precious natural resource.  

By Nicolas Poussin - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain

By Nicolas Poussin -Moses striking water from the rock. Public Domain

By Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

Parashat Hukkat which opens with the strange commandment of the red heifer that is used to purify those contaminated by contact with death, goes on to tell the story of “Mei Meriva” (The waters of contention) where Moses strikes a rock twice angrily and provides the thirsty people with water. He is punished for his angry disobedience and is fated not to enter the land (Numbers, 20 1-6). But that is not the end of his troubles with the rebellious people. Their angry criticism of him and Aharon at having brought them  “to die in the desert” and their wish “to return to Egypt” is repeated a number of times in the narrative. It is one of the main narrative themes of this book of the Torah. The long trek through the desert is wearing them down and they are losing patience.

The word ”water” figures prominently in the weekly Torah reading appearing some eleven times in the opening description of purification associated with the red heifer, and then nine more times in the subsequent narrative as the people continue to complain time after time of the lack of drinking water in the desert. Twenty times mentioned in one parasha seems to be telling us something.

This has been a hot summer here in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. There have been water shortages and water supply to villages in the “West Bank” or “Judea and Samaria” (according to your narrative) has been rationed yet again as it has been in past years. The water deprivation of the Palestinian population is a consequence of 49 years of structural discrimination.  It is, one might say, a man-made desert. This alone would explain Palestinian non acceptance of, and rebellion against, Israeli rule, just as wandering in a waterless desert following Moshe and Aharon for forty years would explain the people’s rebelliousness and bitterness in this week’s Torah narrative. Moshe’s lack of sympathy for the people’s thirst led to his punishment just as our lack of sympathy for the basic human needs of Palestinians leads us to isolation in the world community, and increased rage from those millions whose lives we effect.

Here is an Israeli description of one case of such discrimination on which we too have reported in the past.

And for a more comprehensive description of this ongoing injustice see this link.

My personal experience in the field over the years has been one of witnessing discrimination and inequitable distribution of water resources, highlighted by repeated acts of destruction of water infrastructure in Area C, the prevention of local water development for Palestinian villages, and their increasing dependence on water purchased from Israeli sources.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized that water and sanitation should be a human right. Water as a human right is as much about the quality, making sure that the water is clean and you do not get sick from drinking it, as it is about access.

In the earlier Torah story of “The Bitter Waters” (“Hamayim Hamerorim“) there was water but it was not drinkable. Moses solved that problem miraculously. In Gaza today there is an extreme water crisis and in many villages in Israel and the Palestinian territories which not connected to the Israeli water system there is water which is not drinkable, as it has been polluted due to inadequate sewage (sometimes from Israeli industry, particularly from Jewish settlements, but also from Palestinian industry).

Water_supply_in_West_Bank_and_Gaza_February_2014_5water_photoblog

Photo: Village of a-Duqaiqah, South Hebron Hills, not hooked up to water grid; By Nasser Nawaj’ah, B’Tselem

Unfortunately, Israel has actively prevented the improvement of this situation in Area C because of political and ideological concerns, often under the claim to be engaged in issues of security. We have the technological know-how and material resources to solve these problems at least in those areas under our direct and indirect control, if not in those where Hamas rules. We have a common interest to deal with this, if we can find a way to cooperate with the Palestinians and transcend exclusivist nationalist narratives for the sake of life. “You shall choose Life” the Torah tells us.

Rabbinic sources tell us repeatedly of the great value of water – rain is a blessing, drought a punishment. It is expressed ritually by religious Jews all over the world in their daily repetition of the Sh’ma prayer, instituted by the sages in ancient times, reminding them of their dependence on Divine Benevolence.

For instance:

Rav Yehudah, one of the Talmudic scholars, expressed the importance of rain when he said: “A day of rain is as great as the day the Torah was given.” Rabbah exceeded him by saying: “More than the day the Torah was given,” while Rav Hunah said: “The day of rain is greater than the day of the rising of the Dead, because the rising up of the dead is for the righteous, while the rainy day is for the righteous and the sinners” (Bavli Taanit 7:7).

We can learn from the behavior of our ancestor Isaac in Genesis who acted for peace in avoiding conflict over water. He was able to share water resources in the land with the Philistines.

Making running drinkable water available in an equitable way to all who live here between the river and the sea might look like the equivalent of the miracle described in this week’s Mei Merivah story but doing so is the right, moral thing to do, and I believe, in our long-term interest. We are, after all, a land of miracles!

Shabbat shalom!

YehielRabbi Yehiel Grenimann is a the director of organisational development at Rabbis for Human Rights.

Read previous Torah commentaries

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Why didn’t Betzalel build the Tabernacle according to Moses’ instructions?

1 Comment 08 March 2016

In Parashat Pekudei, Rabbi Michael Graetz points out that any person who uses his or her own wisdom, insight or knowledge in order to change Jewish tradition is to be praised as truly carrying out the intention of God.   It is therefore all of our responsibility to ensure that human rights are honoured in our actions as Jews, as such is indeed Divinely mandated. Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Slowly, slowly we will move towards redemption

No Comments 27 February 2016

In this week’s Dvar Torah by Rabbi Marc Rosenstein on Parashat Ki Tissa, he reminds us that in order to truly respect human rights, we must first acknowledge the reality of human nature, in all its beautiful imperfections and flaws. 

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General, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: Renewing our approach

1 Comment 09 February 2016

In Rabbi Peretz Rodman’s dvar Torah for Parashat Terumah, he reminds us of the importance of continuing to renew our understandings and sensitivities, so that we can continue to strive to live in the best world possible. Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Parasha: Finding the majestic holiness

No Comments 19 January 2016

This week’s parasha, Rabbi Miri Gold points out, is full of blessings and miracles. But it ends on a dark note, a reminder that in our own time, there is still the need for miracles, and it is our responsibility to seek them out for the good of all humankind. Continue Reading

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly Torah portion: The Strength to stand up to authority

1 Comment 28 December 2015

What is our responsibility – as Jews and as humans- during times when all around us life is being devalued, and human rights neglected? In this week’s dvar Torah, Rabbi Gail Diamond shows us the bravery of the women in Parashat Shemot, whom we should all strive to emulate.  Continue Reading

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