Chukat means “decree.” After forty years of journeying through the desert, the Children of Israel arrived at the wilderness of Zin and stopped at a location called Kadesh. It was there that Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died and was buried. We are then told that the people had no water, and they assembled against Moses and Aaron.
Jewish tradition explains that in Miriam’s merit, there was a well of water, called “Miriam’s Well,” which miraculously provided water throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert. After her death, the water ceased, and the people began to complain bitterly.
God told Moses to take the staff and assemble the people together by a certain rock which Moses was to speak to so that it would bring forth water. Instead, he took the staff and struck the rock in anger. Why didn’t Moses do what God told him to do?
Moses was bereaved, overcome with emotions. His sister had just died, and he was in a state of grief. Miriam was the one who watched over him when he was in the Nile River, making sure he would be safe. Once her baby brother was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, she boldly offered to find a Jewish woman to nurse him, so that he could be nursed by his own mother. She was a protective sister. She was a fundamental and beloved part of Moses’ life.
Greatly grieved by his sister’s death, Moses became frustrated because of the (once again) complaining Israelites. Moses, who was normally patient, lost control, became short on patience, and hit the rock in anger.