Fearless Leadership: Nehemiah son of Hacaliah Learns from Moses and Aaron

Ateret Zvi 5783

Rabbi Nehemia Polen

The Mei Meribah incident—the water crisis that occurred near the end of the Israelites’ 40-year wilderness trek (Numbers 20:1-13)—is one of the most puzzling episodes in the Torah. Just after Miriam’s death, we are told that the people suffer a lack of water, prompting them to quarrel with Moses and Aaron. They complain that they were taken out of Egypt into a “wretched place” with no grain, figs, vines, pomegranates, or potable water. God addresses Moses, telling him and Aaron to gather the people and speak to the rock, which would then yield abundant water. Moses strikes the rock and water indeed flows copiously. But something has gone awry: God tells the two brothers that they “did not believe” in God, and that they would be relieved of their leadership role of bringing the people into the Promised Land.