The Jewish people in the desert seemed to be complaining over and over and it continued in today’s Parsha. This Parsha would not be considered as one of Moshe's easiest ones. Through this entire portion Moshe suffers through a series of disappointments and tragedies. First, his sister Miriam dies. Then the miraculous well ceases to flow from the rock that traveled with the Jewish nation. The people complain. Moshe is told to talk to the rock and it will produce water. However, something goes wrong. There is a dispute among the commentators as to what goes wrong. Rashi comments that Moshe hit the rock as opposed to talking to it. Others say that Moshe became angry, interrupted his holy thought process or inadvertently took credit himself for producing the water from the rock rather than mentioning G-d. Whatever it was, Moshe was reprimanded by G-d for altering His command and lost the opportunity to enter the land of Israel. He and Aharon would both die in the desert.
That is not the last of Moshe’s troubles in this Parsha. Moshe sends messengers to the king of Edom, imploring him to allow the Jewish people - cousins of the people of Edom - to travel a shortcut through the land of Edom. They agree to purchase supplies from the citizens of Edom and only take the main roads.
How does Edom respond? He responds with an emphatic “no” and a threat of war. Moshe acquiesces and takes the long route toward the Land of Israel. Now comes the next blow to Moshe - the death of Aharon – his only brother. Moshe is left alone, with neither Miriam nor Aharon to support him.
Immediately after Aharon's death, the Jews are attacked by the King of Arad in the south, whom the Talmud deduces as the evil Amalek. The Jews win the battle, but they are still not satisfied. They verbally attack G-d and Moshe, complaining about the lack of food and drink in the desert and the daily diet of Manna. So, G-d sent fiery snakes to attack the people. Moshe, despite the trials and tribulation he has endured, has only one thing on his mind. He davens to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people, begging G-d to stop the snakes. G-d tells Moshe to make a snake and put it on a stick. Whoever was bitten shall gaze at the snake and be cured. So, it is. Moshe makes a copper snake. Those who were bitten look at the copper snake and are healed.
The Talmud raises a question, “Does the snake cause death or life”? The Talmud responds that when Moshe held up the copper snake, he was instructing the people to direct their thoughts towards G-d and G-d will cure them.
At the end of the Parsha, the Jews are attacked by powerful enemies - Sichon and Og. With the help of G-d, they defeat Sichon and Og.
For Moshe, this parsha is one trouble after another – and not minor troubles. Many people would have just given up. Moshe could have also given up. But Moshe had strength, courage, and love of the Jewish people. No setback was going to stop him – no matter the enormity or severity.
The Jewish people have carried this idea with them wherever they have gone. The Jewish people could have given up long ago and nobody would have been able to blame them. In fact, the world probably would have been much happier although they would then have to find another nation on whom to apply double-standards. We have suffered through pogroms, massacres, defections and more.
The State of Israel has existed under threatening circumstances since its inception. Yet, they don’t give up – the Jewish people don’t give up. We are still here to talk about it.
Moshe’s resilience from so many troubles teaches us a lesson. It is easy to run from your fears and horrors. But, if you confront the obstacle with fire in your eyes and sincerity in your heart, then you have nothing to fear. For with the right frame of mind, the very obstacle that took control of you is not only harmless, it becomes a source of strength.
When difficult situations arise, there are two paths one can take. One can give up. But, that goes against the Torah and all Jewish history.
The 2nd path is to follow the lead of Moshe – patience . . . patience . . . patience. It took the Jewish people more than 400 years in Israel before they built the Bais Hamikdash. Then, King Solomon stood up and built it. It took the Jewish people almost 1900 years to return to the Land of Israel. Then, the Jewish people stood up, rose to the task and built up the Land of Israel. We are no different. We all face challenges. We can also step up, deal with our challenges and rise to the occasion. That entails remaining focused on the positive and having patience.
King David said, “Look at the good of Jerusalem.” Why was it necessary for King David to make such a statement? Because it easy to see negative in Jerusalem, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. The challenge and proper approach is to see it all from a positive viewpoint. There is endless good that G-d gives us.
Just as Moshe had patience with the Jewish people, we also must have patience – with family, friends and shul. Charles Krauthammer wrote about a baseball player whose career took a quick downhill turn, “the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.” In the words of King Solomon, “A righteous person falls seven times and rises.” Krauthammer himself stepped up and overcame major obstacles in the way of his career.
We – the Jewish people as a whole and as individuals - can also step up and overcome the obstacles that are preventing further progress. It takes effort, but it can be accomplished through patience and with a positive frame of mind.