Forrest Yesnes, NFTY President
The Hebrew month of Elul leads up to the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Throughout this month, Jews everywhere spend time reflecting on their past year and preparing to ask for forgiveness and make teshuvah for their transgressions. In his D’var Torah from the first week of Kutz Camp this summer, NFTY’s 62nd President, Forrest Yesnes, reflects on the power of controlling your temper and handling frustrating situations with grace.
The Israelite community is out of water! This would be deadly for any wandering group of people, let alone one that travels in the desert. They complain to Moses and Aaron. “Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us here to die in this desolate desert?!”
Moses and his brother don’t know how to quench the thirst of their followers, so Moses does what he does best… he calls up the big Guy. God tells him to gather the people in front of a rock and, from that rock, water will flow.
Moses is taken aback by their ungrateful attitudes. Here he had done everything in his power to make sure that they were going to end up a safe and happy people, and now they were claiming that they’d rather return to being slaves in the land of Pharaoh than move on to a land that is supposed to be flowing with milk and honey?! Ridiculous! He does as God says, he brings them to face the rock… and he strikes the rock, and he strikes the rock again!! Water flows from the rock; both man and beast are thirsty no more! Everything is perfect, right?!
Wrong. God did not instruct Moses to strike the rock, and… hitting it a second time probably wasn’t a wise choice after already having defied God in the first place… Soon, God tells Moses that he is no longer allowed to enter the Promised Land.
This one little choice that Moses makes costs him his ticket to cross the border into Israel.
Moses was so impatient because the Israelites were literally on top of him yelling and arguing. Interesting. We have this notion that Moses was affected by the whole community, and that, because of his frustration, he made a rash decision and it ended up being blown way out of proportion.
We’ve all found ourselves in this place. Something is bothering us and we complain and others complain until something snaps and the situation becomes bigger than it needs to be. I challenge all of us, our own “Israelite community,” to consider how we have handled our own frustrations this past year. Have we addressed them with grace and compassion — or have we let our emotions cause us to lash out wrongly at our friends? It’s likely that we’ve all been in the second scenario a few times in the past year. Luckily, we are not in Moses’s shoes and mistakes don’t need to be permanent. The month of Elul guides us to follow the Jewish tradition of reflecting, apologizing to those we may have lashed out at, and planning to “do it better” next time. What will you do this coming year to face your frustrations in a productive manner without making the mistake Moses did that kept him from entering the Promised Land?
About the Author
Forrest Yesnes is the NFTY President for the 2011-2012 year. He was the regional Religious and Cultural Vice President of NFTY-Northern in 2009 and the regional president last year. He is a freshman at the University of Minnesota where he plans on majoring in Youth Studies and minoring in Jewish Studies. He attended the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York in the summer of 2010 as a part of the Regional Board Leadership track and co-taught the major this past summer.