The Veracity of Torah
Philosopher Immanuel Kant famously spoke of the “crooked timber of humankind.” By this, Kant meant to say that we mortals are akin to a warped piece of wood, or a trunk of a tree, that could never be completely and fully straightened out, and rendered perfectly and utterly symmetrical and harmonious.
We are all fallible, and we all inevitably fail ourselves and others numerous times throughout our lives.
In our parashah, it is Moses who errs and fails to properly execute the Divine command by hitting the rock for water to come out of it, rather than addressing it.
He is subsequently crushed, and he pays a heavy price – Moses’s lifelong dream of leading the people into the Promised Land will not take place.
Paradoxically, it is precisely Moses’s seminal failure here, which reflects the ontological authenticity and profundity of the Torah. Virtually all the leading figures of the Torah make mistakes and fail themselves, other people, or God, at some point in their lives. This is a big part of what makes the Torah “real” in the profoundest sense of the term
The Torah is “not in the heavens,” to quote from parashat Nitzvim. It is not some pie in the sky mythological work which depicts perfected individuals who never wrong others.
Yes, the heroes of the Torah are larger than life. They are veritable spiritual and existential giants. But they also make mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes, like we all do. That’s a big part of the greatness of the Torah, as it empowers us with great but realistic role models, which are also, just like us, human-all-too-human.
May we walk in their light and emulate their ways, and may we be gracious enough as to learn how to forgive ourselves, and be forgiven by others and from on High when we fail, just like Moses did, like King David did, like Joseph’s brothers did, just like we all do.