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The Rock – Parshas Chukas

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
July 1st, 2011
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פרשת חקת – The Rock

by Binyomin Radner

פרק כ’ פסוק י”ב – “ויאמר ה’ אל משה ואל אהרן יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את הקהל הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם

משה and אהרן are taken to task for failing to sanctify G-d in the midst of the Jewish nation and are therefore denied the privilege of leading them into the Promised Land.

The פסוק is rather cryptic both in its wording of the incident with the rock  at מי מריבה, and in what precisely the sin of משה and אהרן entailed. The commentators discuss this issue at length and the אור החיים alone explores no less than ten varying possible explanations as to what exactly transpired at מי מריבה.

רש”י explains that משה was commanded to speak to the rock and thereby release water for the Jewish people to drink. Yet משה deviated and struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it. This was because the rock did not react after being spoken to, as it was the wrong rock. משה figured that perhaps he should hit the rock first in order to achieve the desired effect as was the case with the rock in פרשת בשלח. If only משה had spoken to the rock as instructed, the people would have said, “If a rock which does not speak nor hear and does not need sustenance, yet still dutifully fulfills the command of G-d, we certainly should do likewise.” This potential response would have caused a קידוש ה’.

רמב”ן takes issue with the approach of רש”י on several fronts:

ה’ commanded משה to take the staff in his hand first and then to approach the rock. The implication is that he should, in fact, hit the rock. For if he was to merely speak to the rock to release water, what role would the staff play other than to be used to hit the rock?

Furthermore, the fact that sufficient water for an entire nation could be released from the rock is a tremendous miracle in and of itself. The act of striking the rock does not detract from the miraculous nature of water being produced from an inanimate object, let alone in such a large quantity so as to provide water for a nation of millions of people . Accordingly, the קידוש ה’ of such a supernatural event is the same regardless of the method of communication with the rock.

Additionally, the Pasuk in דברים פרק ל”ו פסוק נ”א  refers to the incident at מי מריבה with  ”אשר מעלתם בי”. Why should משה hitting the rock be called an act of מעילה (which is deriving personal benefit from הקדש?)

Thus, רמב”ן (as well as רבינו חננאל and the רא”ש) explain that the wrongdoing of משה and אהרן was not in the action of striking the rock, but in their choice of words,  ”המן הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים”. “From this rock will we produce water”?! They should have said “יוציא” “He” – that ה’ will produce the water. This incorrect wording could possibly have lent credence to the false notion that משה and אהרן were the ones who produced the water from the work, and not just ה’. That perhaps it was something of a team effort.  Hence, the קידוש ה’ was lacking. This is also why it was called מעילה since they derived personal benefit from an act of G-d by seemingly crediting themselves with the miracle instead of completely crediting G-d with it.

The רמב”ם in שמונה פרקים פרק ד’ offers yet another explanation that the sin of משה was that he acted with anger when he said to the Jewish nation “שמעו נא המורים” (Listen here rebels.) This caused a חילול ה’ since משה was the chosen emissary of G-d, and the people thought that G-d was angry with them as well, which was not the case.

In light of the attacks which the רמב”ן lodges at the approach of רש”י, perhaps we could have a better understanding of רש”י with the words of the כלי יקר:

The כלי יקר explains that the staff under discussion here that משה was to hold in his hand while speaking to the rock was actually the staff of אהרן. The staff of אהרן was dry wood which contained no moist nor water whatsoever, and yet  still  had sprouted flowers and almonds, which is impossible without water. This occurred because ה’ performed a miracle causing the staff to produce water which in turn produced the flowers and the almonds. Thus, משה was to display the staff to the Jewish people in order to demonstrate that just as ה’ can produce water from a staff, so can He produce water from a stone. Furthermore, whereas משה is commanded to speak to the rock the פסוק does not  inform us  at all of  what he is supposed to say to the rock. But on a closer look, the פסוק states “ודברתם אל הסלע ונתן מימיו”. The basic meaning is that “You should speak to the rock, and then it will give water.” However, the כלי יקר explains that these two words “ונתן מימיו” were the actual words that he was  to say to the rock. Meaning, he should say to the rock, “Just as the staff produced water by the command of G-d, so too should you (the rock) produce water by the command of G-d.”

This is alluded to by virtue of the fact that the גימטריא (numerical equivalent) of  סלע  (rock) = 170 which   is the same as that of עץ (staff). The rock was supposed  to learn from the staff to produce water by G-d’s command. משה however,then proceeded to strike the rock not with the staff of אהרן but with his own staff. This was a great sin due to the history of the staff’s involvement in many of the miracles. Some would scorn that the miracles were performed by the staff of משה with the powers of witchcraft contained inside that staff. Now that water was produced from the rock only after being struck by the same staff of משה  ,the misconception that the miracles were all performed with witchcraft of his staff was further intensified. This caused a חילול ה’ as it reopened the possibility for the scorners to credit the staff for all of the miracles instead of ה’ who really performed them.

The כלי יקר concludes that there is a deeper lesson  hinted to us as well. Earlier in פרשת בשלח, ה’ commanded משה to strike the rock to produce the water, and later on in פרשת חקת not to strike, but to speak to the rock to produce water. At the first time, the Jewish nation had just previously left Egypt and was yet young. Now in פרשת חקת the Jewish nation  was older, had experienced matan torah, and was more developed. This teaches us that when a child is young, corporal punishment can be effective and helpful in the child’s development. However, once the child matures into adolescence, only verbal rebuke is the proper חינוך.

Furthermore, the Jewish nation was to learn from this that they ought to  follow in the ways of ה’ without “corporal punishment”. Meaning, without all of the punishments that were given to them throughout their journey in the desert, they should be able to dutifully follow in the ways of  Hashem without coercion or threats, but out of free will. Since the rock was struck instead of spoken to, this message was prevented from being fully internalized by the Jewish people.

R’ Moshe Feinstein Zt’l in the Darash Moshe adds that there is another lesson hinted to us here as well:

Certainly there is no real difference between hitting the rock or talking to it. The miracle is the same just  like the  רמב”ן explained above. Hence, Moshe was commanded specifically  to speak to the rock even though rocks do not hear or understand. This is to teach us that Torah should be taught even to those who who do not at first  fully grasp it, and  eventually with the accurate  effort and toil, they too will reach the point where they are able to understand it .  R’ Moshe writes furthermore that one should not give up on teaching his children even if it seems at first like they do not understand. Rather, he should teach them repeatedly  until they do understand. Just as the stone did not understand but still fulfilled the command of G-d, so too and certainly to people who do not understand in the beginning but can eventually, with effort, reach the point where they can understand the words of Torah.


The author can be reached at benradner@gmail.com.


Categories: Chumash, Hashkafah, Inspiration, Parshas Chukas Tags:

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