The complaints of the Jews in the wilderness naturally classify into three categories:
- Complaints to return to Egypt: These complaints were improper and either Moses
in the name of God rebuked the nation or God punished the nation (e.g. Nu21-05:09);
- Disobeying God's orders: These complaints also let to rebuke or punishment.
A classical example is the disobeying of the order not to gather Manna on the Sabbath
- Requests for food/water: Since these complaints were proper, Moses should have
treated the people respectfully and given them the food without rebuke.
However Moses literally insulted the Jewish people for their proper request of food/water
Before explaining Rashi we recall (from other digests) that we have explained
the Hebrew concept of Kedushah, normally translated as holiness as
really meaning a formal atmoshphere.
We can now understand the Rashi on Nu20-12c: The biblical text states
God said to Moses and Aaron: Because you have not depended on me and (therefore)
not acted formally with the Jewish people, therefore you will not bring
the Jews to the chosen land.
An analogy will clarify: Suppose you were at an expensive banquet. You hadn't
eaten in a while. You start complaining for dinner. The appropriate response might
be formal on the part of the chefs: Kindly sit down sir and dinner will be immediately served.
On the other hand if you started violating property rights of the banquet hall
you would be admonished and threatened with dismissal.
I believe the analogy captures the essence of Rashi's comments. Kedushah
normally translated as holiness really refers to a formal atmosphere.
The Jewish request for food was proper and Moses should have retained the formal
atmosphere rather than insulting them and treating them as former slaves.
Rashi's literal formulation is as follows:
Although Rashi formulates his concept by symbolically comparing the Jewish personality
to a stone, the major thrust of Rashi is as we explained above: To preserve a formal atmosphere.
If we had more space we could show several other biblical passages and Rashis developing this theme
that God treated respectfully and formally the Jewish people in their requests for food/water.