Parashat Hukkat

Responding to Thirst

Moses' frustration and fatigue were no excuse for his refusal to accept the people's cry for help.

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Recognizing Thirst

In our own time, we are surrounded, often bombarded, by the needs of others. As we read about the Israelites' thirst in the desert, the incredible number of people in our world who are thirsty stand facing us.

According to a study presented at the Harvard School of Public Health, more than one billion people worldwide lack safe water sources. 2.6 billion (40 percent of the world's population) have no basic sanitation. Nearly two million people (90 percent of them under the age of five) die from dehydration and associated malnutrition or microbial diseases each year. And these statistics touch on only one aspect of human need. 

Yet we who turn on our taps each day have struggles of our own to negotiate. Like Moses in this parashah, we may have undergone our own pain and loss, we may have journeyed too far without enough resources or support, or we may be overwhelmed by the neediness of those who face us. For these reasons and many others, we do not always give. We do not always feel that we can give. Like Moses, we have had occasion to hear others' grievances and identified them as affronts against us, as greed, or perhaps we have turned away unwilling or unable to face their needs with an open hand.

Our own needs and thirsts should not be denied. Still, our responsibility to make God holy in the eyes of others (and in our own eyes as well) makes it incumbent upon us not to deny the thirsts of those who turn to us for help. It is upon us to see and correctly identify the rightful claims that others bring. Perhaps through this we learn that we can indeed bring God's holiness to all people. On our narrow path through this world we are bound to err, but we must keep trying to walk that road through the wilderness by recognizing the full humanity of those who journey with us.

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Jordana Schuster is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is a graduate of Williams College and has studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and at Harvard Divinity School, from which she holds a Master of Theological Studies.