The failure of Moses to lead the Jewish people into the promised land constitutes a central tragedy of the second half of the book of Numbers and the book of Deuteronomy. The ambiguous circumstances surrounding both his loss of the reins of leadership and his disqualification from entry into the land add to the reader’s sense of frustration and wonder. Truly, the standard accounts of Numbers 20, the story of Mei Meriva (the Waters of Strife), raise more difficult questions than satisfying answers. Foremost among them: What exactly was Moses’ sin and why was he punished so severely?
This was originally published in Tradition 27:3 in 1993. To read the full article, click here.