Was it an Accident?

Once there was a man with a stick and a rock, some pretty awesome super-powers, and hundreds of thousands of whiny doubters at his back. Let’s call him Moses.

Moses and this multitude were in the desert. It’s not a place known for it’s abundance of water. These people were thirsty. And complaining about it. So Moses asked God (the source of his super-powers) how he could help this thirsty bunch.

God told Moses to take a stick and tap a rock. Moses did, and water started to run from the rock. Well, walk is more like it, if water could walk. So Moses hit the rock to make the water come out faster.

Hold that thought.

All these people were in the desert because they were on the way to the Land of Israel, where they were going to live next. Before getting there, God told Moses to designate some cities as sanctuaries where someone who accidentally killed a person could go and live.

So, it’s like this. If a person had no malice toward another person, but killed that person clearly by accident, they could be in danger staying where they were. So instead, they had a safe place to go.

I mention this to contrast what happened after Moses hit the rock. But before I tell you the end of the story, I just want to ask:


If you’re reading this, you’re human (I assume), so you’ve probably done both. Sometimes when we have a hard time bringing in the self-control, it feels like the choice we make at the time is an accident. But… it’s not really the same thing.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read that the consequences of these actions are not equal. In the case of accidentally killing a human being, the person who did this gets a safe place to live. Sometimes accidents happen. Even tragic ones.

But hitting a rock with a stick, now that’s another story. That wasn’t an accident, it was an on purpose – even if it was in the heat of the moment or later regretted. It was unchecked rage or frustration or some other emotion that was genuine and probably warranted, but not a good idea to act upon.

So while the accidental murderer gets a new start, Moses got a new ending. Because of hitting the rock when he was supposed to just tap it, he was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel – only to see it from a distance.

In a way that feels harsh and out of balance. Hitting a rock with a stick verses killing a person, and somehow the stick thing is the bigger crime. But when you look at it as losing control verses doing something accidentally, do the consequences seem more consistent?

About the Author
Esther Goldenberg is the author of several books, including the forthcoming three novels of biblical fiction: The Scrolls of Deborah, Seventeen Spoons, and The Song of the Bluebird. When she’s not going for early morning walks in her beautiful neighborhood in northern Israel, or taking drumming classes, she can be found bombarding her son and daughter with questions about their thoughts on ancient Egypt. To get previews of the books or to be notified when they're are available, sign up at
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