Jewish Life in Your Life

Search and the other Reform websites:

What is the Promised Land?

  • What is the Promised Land?

    Chukat, Numbers 19:1−22:1
D'var Torah By: 

One of the best known and most perplexing passages in the Torah occurs in Parashat Chukat. In Numbers 20:12, Adonai informs Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the Promised Land because they did not place enough trust in Adonai.

For Moses not to enter the Promised Land after forty years of seemingly successful leadership in the wilderness was a severe punishment. Imagine how he must have felt! The rabbis of our tradition stayed up late trying to figure out what transgression Moses had committed to deserve such a fate.

A close reading of chapter 20 reveals that God had instructed Moses and his brother to take a rod, assemble the community, and order a rock to yield its water. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock, and he did so twice. He also called the Israelites "rebels" and did the entire job himself without including Aaron, as God had commanded.

We could stop right here, list Moses' many shortcomings (impatience, anger, self-centeredness, lack of faith), and conclude that he did indeed fail to reach his goal.

But that would be a mistake because the deeper truths in this story can help us in our own lives. While Moses was a great leader, he was an imperfect human being, like you and me. He made many of the same mistakes we make.

This was a new generation of Israelites he was trying to lead. He must have felt as if his entire forty years of struggle were a waste. Even God agreed that they needed a new leader to enter Canaan. It was easy for Moses to feel that he had failed.

But the truth is that he was not a failure but a success. If we measure success by whether we leave the world better than we found it, he scored extremely high. If we measure success by how much we have done to strengthen the Jewish people, he was a success without a peer.

The Cunard Steamship Line used to have a motto: "Getting there is half the fun." How we travel the journey of life is more important than the specific destination we reach. In our personal lives, our Promised Land should be neither acquiring a certain amount of financial wealth, nor having the most friends, nor a guarantee that we will enjoy good health.

Moses really did reach the Promised Land. Perhaps he did not actually enter Canaan, but he brought his people right to the edge, and despite his shortcomings, he led a remarkable life.

So it is with us-even if we experience personal loss or disappointment. If we live ethical lives, if we spend enough time with those we love, if we direct our talents and resources to those who need us, if we sanctify our days with Jewish tradition, we, too, can say that we have arrived at our Promised Land.

Finding the Eternal in Our Journey
Davar Acher By: 
Lisa Lieberman Barzilai

In this week's parashah, Moses and Aaron are told they will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. Rabbi Charles Kroloff points out the need to consider whether or not Moses is a successful leader of the Israelites. Perhaps, as Rabbi Kroloff suggests, the essential point of the story is that it is the journey we take in life that is important, not the end result. If you think about the journey as the goal, Moses has achieved much. With the assistance of Aaron, Miriam, and others-and with God-he is able to help transform the group that left Egypt into a community with a covenantal relationship with Adonai.

However, one might also consider the reason for God's consternation that resulted in neither Moses' nor Aaron's entry into the Land of Israel. It has been suggested that their fate was sealed because they did not acknowledge God's role in the miracle of the water flowing from the rock at Meribah. Aaron Wildavsky, a modern commentator, writes, "At Meribah, Moses substitutes force for faith.... If Moses' greatest leadership quality is his ability to identify with the people, then the lack of faith at Meribah is a double one. Moses not only distances himself from God by doubting the adequacy of God's work but also distances himself from the people by assuming power that was God's ... Spiritually, he [Moses] has gone back to slavery, as if to replace Pharaoh." Moses' greatest mistake, the reason he is not allowed into the Promised Land, is his overestimation of his own worth and power.

Are we so different? How often do we reach a milestone in our lives and forget to thank those who have helped us reach our goal? Do we always remember that it is not really possible to accomplish a great task without some assistance from others?

Many of us face an even greater challenge. We must learn to acknowledge God's presence in our lives. How many of us can boast of a special relationship with the Eternal? When was the last time we stopped to yearn for a connection with the Divine? Perhaps, if we can teach ourselves to recognize God in our own individual beliefs, we can learn to appreciate and enjoy our journey even more. Perhaps it may be said that through our relationships with others, we can find the Divine.

Rabbi Kroloff is wise to remind us to learn to enjoy the journey as we walk our individual path. Yet, we must remember to acknowledge those who have supported us-spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend, or God-through success and failure.

Reference Materials: 

Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,145-1,164; Revised Edition, pp. 1,022-1,042
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 915–936

When do we read Chukat

2021, June 19
9 Tammuz, 5781
2022, July 9
10 Tammuz, 5782
2024, July 13
7 Tammuz, 5784
Sign up for the Ten Minutes of Torah Emails