Following the section of the Torah describing the laws of the Parah Aduma, Bnai Yisrael unfortunately had an opportunity to put this Chok into practice. The first Pasuk of the twentieth Perek of Sefer Bemidbar Sinai states quite succinctly that Miriam died there and she was buried there. What does the Torah record next? Surprisingly, it makes no mention of any mourning for Miriam; rather, Bnai Yisrael come complaining to Moshe that they no longer have water to drink because the rock that was serving as a well for the nation had dried up when Miriam passed away. In doing so, Bnai Yisrael not only missed their chance to mourn for Miriam, they inadvertently caused Moshe and Aharon to be mourned for as well.
Bnai Yisrael’s complaints were so fierce that Moshe and Aharon had to escape them to the Ohel Moed (20:6). There they asked Hashem what to do, and they were told to gather the nation in front of Miriam’s rock, at which time Moshe would speak to it and water would once again flow from it and supply Bnai Yisrael. The Erev Rav, however, did not make it so easy for Moshe to do this. Several commentators say that the Erev Rav challenged Moshe to bring forth the water from a different rock, if he was indeed a messenger of miracles. Moshe was unsure of what to do with these rebels since the Shechina had left because of them. He was not prepared to deal with dissidents at a time when a miracle was about to be performed for them and was unsure if he should follow Hashem’s will or the request of the people, so he quickly became enraged. He berated the non-believers and called out to Bnai Yisrael to watch as Hashem’s power was about to bring forth water.
The time had now come for Moshe to speak to the rock, but the rock did not respond. Ramban blames this on Moshe’s anger, that he could not have had the proper intents in mind when speaking to the rock, so it did not do as he told it. So, as we all know, Moshe resorted to the original method of bringing forth water from rocks and smote it with his staff. This was the action that, although it brought forth ample water for Bnai Yisrael, was the cause of death for Moshe and Aharon for their not having had pure faith in Hashem’s words. Thus we see that Bnai Yisrael’s complaints were a source of death for their leaders.
As summer camp season is coming into full swing this week, there are sure to be plenty of episodes of campers flocking to their counselors to protest an administrative action that has been taken against them. Although none of these incidents will result in a death, God forbid, they do put counselors in the awkward position of having to uphold the request of the administration while keeping their campers calm and respecting of their leaders. It should be learned from Moshe’s mis-action that the correct response is not to get angry with the children, but to find other ways to solve these issues: first by talking it over, but never by hitting.