This week’s action-packed portion begins with the paradox of the Red Heifer, a mitzvah we are asked to perform though unable to understand its purpose and reason. The narrative jumps to the death of the prophetess Miriam. The Jewish people are then left without water, since the miraculous well which had accompanied them in the desert existed only in her merit. G-d commands Moses and Aaron to speak to a particular rock so it will miraculously produce water; Moses strikes it with his staff instead, and G-d tells the two leaders they will not enter the Promised Land.
What did Moses do wrong? One classic approach suggests that Moses’ sin was that he became angry (he said to the Jewish people, ‘Listen now, you rebels’). Although the best among us can occasionally lose our temper, teachers and parents carry a special responsibility to be good role models for their students and children. Little pitchers have big ears! Later in the portion, the king of Edom refuses to let the Jewish people pass through his borders, causing them to take a longer route. Aaron dies and is buried on Mount Hor. The Children of Israel sing a song of praise about the well of Miriam. The portion concludes with the battles and victories over Sichon, the king of Emori, and Og, the king of Bashan.