I, as I am sure many of you, am not always good at dealing with change. While we know that often change leads to growth and improvement, it is often easier to want things to stay the same. When things stay the same we can enjoy the comfort of our daily routines, we can let our long-held assumptions guide us, and we do not need to worry about challenges to what we perceive as “right.” Yet we know that, indeed, all things must change, and the more we are resistant to change, the more we run the risk of sabotaging our future.
We are, in fact, warned about the dangers of resting on our laurels in this week's Torah portion, Chukat. After the death of Miriam, the Israelites in the wilderness find themselves without water to drink. They complained to Moses who, in turn, asked for God’s assistance. Much like a similar episode from the book of Exodus earlier in the Torah, God tells Moses that water will flow forth from a rock. In that first occasion God told Moses that he had to strike the rock in order to draw water forth from the rock. On this occasion, however, God instructs to Moses to speak to the rock in order to get the water flowing. Yet, despite this change in instruction, Moses defaults to what he knew from the previous episode; he again strikes the rock and the water flows. While we might assume since the water still flowed that all is well and good, God takes particular exception to Moses’ (and Aaron’s) stubbornness. The inclination to do things the way they had been done, while yielding the same grand result, also led to a life-altering punishment for both Moses and his brother Aaron. Aaron died as a result of this occasion of striking the rock. Moses—the greatest leader of the Jewish people, the one who led them out from Egypt and was meant to lead them into the Promised Land—was punished by being forbidden to enter the Land of Israel; he could only look upon the land from afar.
Learning from Moses’ mistake, we must always be open to change and cognizant of the short-term and long-term effects our willingness to changes can have. While resistance to progress can often yield a small victory in the short-term, the winds of change are always blowing and those who strive to conserve a particular orthodoxy will face the ramifications of their stubbornness later on.
This week we have seen disappointing news come out of Israel as we learned both that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government would be walking away from the compromise about creating a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall and that the government was considering a bill that would reject all non-Orthodox conversions. Jewish Religious life is changing in Israel and progressive expressions of Judaism are growing ever more popular. Israel’s future is indeed one of Jewish Pluralism, with all streams having an equal voice and legal authenticity. Leaders who try to appease those who strive for the status quo should be weary about losing out in the long-term.
May we take time this Shabbat to allow ourselves to be open to change. May we learn to embrace the joys and possibilities that come with progress. And may we help to foster this sense of growth in our communities and families.