Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Nahmanides posits five arguments against the interpretation of Maimonides. What are they? (in reference to the sin of Moshe)
In his commentary on "Ethics of the Fathers" (Pirkei Avot) chapter 4, Maimonides makes reference to the sin of Moshe (and Aharon) explaining it as a resorting to anger in addressing the people who had demanded water. Maimonides deduces this fact from the text wherein Moshe addresses the people with the words "Hear ye now ye rebels..." (20-10). Maimonides adds that as a result of this expressed anger the people were led to believe that God was angry with them in their seeking water.
Nahmanides' five arguments against the position of Maimonides are as follows:
1. The Torah states in reference to the sin - "you rebelled against me..." i.e. that they violated God's command. "...Because you didn't believe in me..." i.e. that they didn't profess belief in God before the people; All this is not related to a display of temper.
2. If a display of anger is a sinful act, why wasn't Moshe singled out for punishment when he became angry (Numbers 31-14) with the commanders of the army after the victory over the Midianites?
3. The words "Hear ye, ye rebels" are words of rebuke, not a reference to angry protest. Proof is cited from Deuteronomy (9-24) where a similar expression is used.
4. It is an accepted fact that Aharon never expressed himself in anger. (Even though the Torah text has Moshe speaking, Maimonides sees the text as also reflecting the reaction of Aharon as well. Note the plural "...we will bring forth water... (20-10).) Thus how can there be an accusation leveled about a display of anger?
5. In truth, God was angry with the people because of their outburst "And why did you bring us out of Egypt to this terrible place...." Nahmanides cites Psalms (106-32)
to prove that God indeed became angry with the people over this incident. Maimonides contended that God had not expressed anger with the people during this event.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem