Parashat Hukkat: Why Me?…Why NOT Me?
Readers of Torah know that the reason Moshe cannot enter the Promised Land is that he disobeyed God’s directions, hitting a rock twice instead of speaking to it to gain water for the thirsty, complaining Israelites. We probably also know that the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. This servant of God has been intimate with God. He has been a conduit for supernatural miracles, led the people selflessly, argued on their behalf and brought down to them God’s word. After forty years of service to God, he is denied entry to the long promised reward of the Land because of one error in direction following? The story of Moshe’s hitting the rock and being denied entry to the Promised Land stands at the center of this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat.
Although Moshe himself never asks Why me, our commentators through the generations have offered answers to just that question. They say that Moshe diminished God’s greatness by hitting the rock twice instead of once. He claimed power for himself instead of for God; he lost his temper; he humiliated the Israelites by calling them rebels. All of the commentaries that offer answers to why Moshe received such a harsh consequence are responding to the story with the question, Why me.
Why me is a question we ask ourselves when we get bad news, are experiencing a hard time, or have lost someone dear to us. We tell ourselves, “But I am a good person. Why me?”.
There is, however, another way to consider Moshe’s story here in Hukkat, and therefore another way to consider our own difficult times. Instead of asking Why me regarding Moshe’s harsh consequence, we can look at the narrative and ask Why NOT me.
When we ask Why NOT me in the context of Hukkat, we remember that Moshe is not the only one being denied entry to the land. His own brother Aaron and sister Miriam die in this parasha, never to enter the land despite their service to God and to the people in the desert. An entire generation of former slaves will die in the desert, denied access to the land that was promised to them on the Exodus from Egypt. Instead of asking only why Moshe cannot enter the land, we ask why all of these people are denied entry to the land.
Asking Why me puts us into a place of being a victim. We get stuck in Why me. There is no answer to the question except that life is terribly unfair and we don’t deserve our situation. Asking Why NOT me opens us to a recognition of the precious nature of life. Why NOT me reminds us to be grateful for the good that is ours even in the most difficult times. Why NOT me teaches us that we are one of God’s creations together with all of the people around us. When we ask Why NOT me we remember to have faith that God knows us and remembers us. When we ask Why NOT me our hope is restored.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill