Naomi Graetz

When God Almighty tells me it’s time to leave: Parshat Hukat

Where should I begin? I was working off some excess energy by jousting with my fellow princes, when I heard screaming in the language my nursemaid used to sing. I went out to investigate, and saw that the fight was uneven. I saw one of our guards striking one of the slaves. The guard told me to mind my own business, but I made it my business. I still had the jousting stick in my hand and struck the guard, who dropped dead at my feet. After looking around, and seeing no one, I buried him in the sand. But word got around and I had to flee.

I met my wife, also as a result of a fight, this time with some shepherds, and she was so impressed that she invited me to her home. My future father-in-law suggested that I use up my excess energy by taking his sheep out for long walks in the wilderness. One day, God found me there and convinced me that I was the right person to save all those slaves in my homeland.

I thought He was out of His mind to choose me. I had no qualifications whatsoever, except perhaps a quick temper – which I guess could be handy in an emergency. I ended up going back to my homeland to save His people, the slaves. The people weren’t too happy to see me. To convince them, and the owner of all those slaves to let them go, that I was worthy of leading them, I performed miracles with the help of my brother and our magic rod. After a few false starts – too, too many terrible plagues on God’s behalf – we left my homeland to go out into the desert to worship God. Even though we lied to the slave owner and said we would be back, the newly freed people had no intention of returning. At least that was what I thought.

But whenever there were setbacks, the people complained that things were better back then, in their homeland, and even though they were slaves, there, they never ran out of food or water. They were always complaining about the food and water shortages. It got to be too much for me, and I found that I was losing it – the problems I used to have with controlling my temper were returning with a vengeance. God would speak to me every now and then and advise me to cool off and not take it too seriously – His attempt at anger management – and He would then threaten the people and punish them, to show them that He was on my side. That would get them to behave for a while.

Every week there would be a new crisis: first, no food; then the food they got was boring; then my sister and brother ganged up on me. My father-in-law came and gave me sound  advice about how to manage my time, but then he left me to my own devices. People were rebelling left and right and it got so that I was ready to quit. Right after my sister died, we had a serious water shortage and the people started screaming at me. “Do something – why did you bring us here to die? We were better off in our homeland, where we had watermelons and all sorts of goodies.” Watermelons? Were they out of their minds – there was no such thing.

I got up and started screaming at them in return. God told me to cool it, but I had had it with these people and maybe even with this God who told me to watch my step. God told me to speak to a rock and then enough water would come out for the entire people. That was ridiculous. In the past he had told me to use my rod to hit rocks, and it worked and water came out. Also, I really needed to hit someone at this point, so rather than kill another Egyptian – where were real enemies, when I needed to express my anger? – I hit the rock, not once but twice, and water gushed out. I yelled at the people, calling them names, accusing them of rebelling. My display of impatience apparently angered God who told me that because I didn’t believe in Him, He was not going to let me enter the so-called promised land – and that someone else would take over from me. That would be my punishment.

In truth, I was so wound up at the time, that I didn’t think it would be so bad to end my career as a leader right then. Why wait until we got to the promised land. To be honest, like my new compatriots, I was ready to return to my homeland. Life was easier for me too in the good old days, when I roamed the palace and didn’t have to deal with these people’s problems.

Why do I tell you all this? Recently, it has come to my attention that there are some leaders in the world who would like to stay in power forever. Based on my own experience – I would die at age 120 – it’s not a good idea. If you think about it, 40 years is a bit too long a time for one leader to run a nation. I was 80 years old at the time God chose me and God’s decision was correct. He chose another to replace me. I realized I had a good run. I didn’t fight it. I was tired and it was good to stop pretending. Retirement was the best thing that could happen to me. Now I sit back and criticize the new leader, under the guise of advising him. Sure, I miss the honor of being a leader, but now I get to sleep late and can finish my memoir, the magnum opus about all the “things” that took place in my life. Nothing like telling history from your own point of view.  I conclude with this message: My dear friends in the future promised land and abroad, it is time to step down. I have no doubt that even God almighty agrees with me.


your friend and life-long inspiration,

author of Deuteronomy,

Moses, aka Moshe Rabbenu, the Redactor

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible and Modern Midrash from a feminist perspective on zoom. She began her weekly blog for TOI in June 2022. Her book on Wifebeating has been translated into Hebrew and is forthcoming with Carmel Press in 2025.
Related Topics
Related Posts