One of the challenges of having four children is figuring out how to be consistent among the four. Sometimes, that’s easy. If Gabi had to wait until she was seven to get her ears pierced, then Jessica and Ilana have to wait until seven as well.
Sometimes, though, it’s less clear. Does one respond the same way to a 12-year-old walking through the house with muddy cleats as one does for a 7-year-old committing the same “crime”? As a general principle, I agree that the same misbehavior ought to garner the same “punishment.” On the other hand, I also have different behavioral expectations for my different children based on their age and stage of development. I am certain that I am not the first to wrestle with this sort of issue.
In this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, we read about the famous incident of Moshe striking the rock. He was commanded by God to ask the rock for water. Instead, he hit it with his staff. As a result, the rock spewed forth water, but Moshe was prohibited from entering into the land of Israel. It seems like the punishment does not exactly fit the crime. So, the rabbis ask, “What exactly WAS Moshe’s crime?”
According to Maimonides (13th Century Spain and Egypt), Moshe got angry and insulted the people. Instead, he should have shown patience and worked with them.
According to Nachmanides (13th Century Spain), Moshe thought that he was too much like God when he said, “Shall WE bring forth water for you? (Num. 20:10).” He should have given God all of the credit.
According to Joseph Albo (15th Century Spain), Moshe exhibited a lack of faith because he did not believe that God’s commandment to talk to the rock would suffice.
According to Rashi (11th Century France), Moshe failed to reinforce the people’s faith. The miracle would have been even greater if he had followed God’s instructions. He ‘cheapened’ the miracle by striking the rock.
As you can see, the rabbis tried to find a way to match the gravity of the sin with the severity of the consequences. After all, they knew that Aaron built the Golden Calf and went unpunished. Miriam spoke ill of her brother and suffered leprosy for seven days. Moshe tapped a rock and was denied entry into the land of Israel.
While we are not privy to the nature of the relationship between God and Moshe, we can imagine that it was different than God’s relationship with any other human being. Thus, God’s expectations were different for Moshe.
For the rest of us, who are not Moshe, we can rest easy knowing that God will be a little more forgiving of our missteps. After all, we’re the younger siblings.