By Rabbi David Milston

In the verses immediately following the sin of the spies, we assume our leaders were exempt from punishment. However, perhaps we are mistaken. We could actually conclude the opposite; it is not unreasonable to assume that when the Almighty decreed that the generation of the wilderness would die in the wilderness, He meant everyone, including Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. Indeed one could suggest that this is alluded to in the verse when only Calev and Yehoshua are clearly mentioned as the exceptions to the rule. (Bamidbar 14:30)

If this is true, we can understand why Miriam died at the beginning of Parashat Chukat. She was a member of that generation, and the 40 years were up. But then why are Moshe and Aharon still headed for Eretz Yisrael at this time?

Perhaps we could suggest the following, using the Abarbanel’s words as a medium:

Moshe and Aharon’s rights to enter Eretz Yisrael were twofold. Firstly, their initial right of entry was based on them being an integral part of Am Yisrael; but they were also destined to lead the people into Israel, i.e. they had additional entry visas by virtue of their leadership role. They lost their initial right to enter Israel as citizens after the spy scandal, and had they not had additional ‘leadership visas’ they would have been destined to remain in the desert with the masses. However, in contrast to Miriam, they were still entitled to enter the Homeland due to their role as leaders of Am Yisrael.

The Abarbanel understands Moshe and Aharon’s “failings” to have been in the realms of leadership:

When remembering the Golden Calf, we note that Aharon was the highest ranking leader present; he even had a hand in constructing the Golden Calf; even though he was only trying to stall until Moshe’s descent from Sinai. But all said and done, Aharon was left in charge and disaster prevailed.

Similarly, it was Moshe who sent the spies, which resulted in 40 years of wandering the midbar and the demise of an entire generation. Once again, Moshe had the right intentions, but he had nonetheless agreed to the reconnaissance trip into Israel. The name of Moshe Rabbeinu would be eternally attached to the sin of the spies.

So the Abarbanel suggests Moshe and Aharon lost their rights to lead after these events. The masses had erred under their leadership, and as captains of the ship they were expected to go down with their passengers. It would be unfair for Moshe and Aharon to remain untouched by the consequences of their misjudgments while the nation is denied entry into the Land.

However, Abarbanel elaborates further: To suggest Aharon was denied entry because of the Golden Calf, and Moshe because of the spies, may be inferring that Aharon was an idolater and that Moshe agreed with the dissenting spies, that would be grossly unfair as well as untrue. Hence they were not directly vindicated as a consequence of these disasters, but only punished when they committed a sin at Mei Meriva.

Even though each and every one of us is and always will be held accountable for our own actions, our leaders and educators must accept responsibility for events that occur during their mandate. Just as the generation of the midbar did not enter Eretz Yisrael, so their leaders were ultimately destined to remain with them till the bitter end.

Everyone wants to coach the winning side, but who is prepared to shoulder the blame of the losses, when euphoria is replaced by despair? As leaders of families, students, ideological causes and political movements, we need to realize that true leadership should have nothing to do with ego. On the contrary. Nothing matters but the cause. If we attain the cause we enjoy the success, but if it fails we must stand up and be the first to accept responsibility for our actions.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi David Milston is Director of the Overseas Program at Midreshet HaRova. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (