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Parsha Chukas

06/21/2018 09:39:05 PM


The infamous sin of Moshe Rabeinu hitting the rock instead of speaking to it is perhaps the most esoteric story in the entire Torah, both in terms of the cryptic text used to describe it and the mysterious nature of the sin itself.  Ranging from the Rambam's ancient and elaborate explanation in his work "Shemone Perakim" to contemporary thinkers, every commentator is puzzled by demanding questions from even a cursory look at the topic.  What is the difference between speaking to the rock and hitting it; are they not both miraculous means of producing water?  Moreover, the young nation had previously suffered from a lack of water, as we read in Parshas Beshalach, and that analogous predicament warranted God to command Moshe to hit a rock and produce water!  Why was God so insistent on speaking to the rock now if the method of hitting the rock had worked once before?  How can we relate to the great severity attributed to Moshe' sin that banned him from entering into Eretz Yisrael?  God rebukes Moshe by saying "You didn't listen to me to sanctify my name in front of all of Israel"- how is speaking, as opposed to hitting, an issue of sanctification?

These questions, and more, are the source for a most creative and novel interpretation given by the Netziv to explain the episode.  The concept of speaking to a rock, an inanimate object incapable of hearing words, is not meant to literally denote directing words at the rock.  The Yalkut Shimoni comments that "speaking" is meant to describe words of Torah, Tefilllah, and Mussar.  As the Mishnayos in Ta'anis describe, times of drought call for a mass gathering of the Jews where they engage in Torah, Teffilah, and Mussar, and it is through this method of supplication that God provides the necessary rain.  This idea is inherent in the six days of creation, when the newly created vegetation would not sprout forth until Man was created to pray for the rain to come and water the plants.  "Rain" and "water" are representative of the most primitive needs of life and sustenance, and can include all ideas of prosperity and livelihood as well.  Although the world seems to run on its course of nature with our needs typically provided for, we Monotheistic believers advocate that God is the one providing for us, and the random or fluke droughts are what remind us of this and call for us to speak to God and ask him to provide for us.  The generation of Moshe Rabeinu was anomalous because they lived with the manifest miracles of God, where nothing seemed natural and everything was an open reflection of the omnipotence of God himself.  Most typical of this anomaly was the episode of Parahas Beshalach when they needed water, and Moshe just hit a rock and water flowed forth.  However, the events of Sefer Bamidbar were meant to be a transition from this miraculous way of life in the desert to a normal, natural, and standard way of life the Jews would live upon entering Eretz Yisrael.  This was the point of sending spies to Israel, why the Manna stopped, and why Moshe was no longer meant to hit rocks to produce water.  When drought hit, God commanded Moshe to use the opportunity as a paradigm for the future in how to act in time of need, and to teach the Jews that as a nation, they could unite and in complete solidarity "speak" to God to pray for their needs.  Parshas Beshalach was a private event between the "tzaddik" Moshe and God, a means of miracle, whereas the event now was intended to be a communal affair involving every member of the nation. 

Tragically, however, Moshe did not accord to God's plan, and instead of trusting in the amateur nation's ability to pray for water, he angrily rebuked them and reverted back to the method of open miracles in hitting the rock.  The plan of communal prayer in speaking by the rock would have been the epitome of "kiddush hashem," when a Jewish community can unite and feel God's palpable presence amongst them to pray and know that their prayers will be heard.  The sanctification of God's name takes place when Jews feel holier by their innate spiritual spark, when Jews transcend the natural course of events and find God in them.  By opting for an open miracle, Moshe squashed the sanctification of the Jewish nation and their confidence in speaking to God themselves in a most natural and candid of ways.  We all live with a certain undermining insecurity which originates from the rhetoric of the Dor Hamidbar- "Hayesh Hashem Bekirbeinu Im Ayin"- is God really amongst us, does his infinite glory truly descend to be a part of me, does my prayer really count, etc.  These subtle doubts were accentuated by Moshe's rebuke of the nation as a whole when he chose to perform an open miracle by himself.

Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780