Parashat Hukat: Only Israel cannot strike back

God is teaching that in the case of the Egyptian taskmaster, it was legitimate to even slay the evil individual attacking innocent people.

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June 18, 2010 17:02
3 minute read.
Parashat Hukat: Only Israel cannot strike back

weekly parasha 88. (photo credit: )

“And Moses lifted up his hand and he struck the rock with his staff twice…” (Numbers 20:11)

From the moment Moses lashed out at the Egyptian who struck a Hebrew, he became the charismatic (but not undisputed) leader of the Hebrews. Conversely, when he struck the rock to provide water for the kvetching, thirsty Israelites, God declares “you shall not bring this congregation into the land I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

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But how can we compare the striking – and slaying – of a human being to the striking of a rock? And why does God punish Moses so severely for striking the rock instead of speaking to it?  And finally, why is striking the Egyptian rewarded and striking the rock punished?

Rabbenu Tzadok of Lublin maintains that the rock is not merely an inanimate object, but a symbol of the children of Israel, a stiff-necked people, hard as rock. Hence, when they demonstrate gross ingratitude toward God and Moses by refusing to conquer and settle Israel, by silently acquiescing to the rebellions against Moses, and by their continued complaining about their having been taken out of Egypt to die in the desert – Moses simply gives up on them. He calls them rebels (Num. 20:10), and strikes the rock when he really feels like lashing out against the nation. And once he gives up on them, he cannot lead them into the Land of Israel.

In effect, God is teaching that in the case of the Egyptian taskmaster, it was legitimate to strike – and even slay – the evil individual attacking innocent people. But as difficult as the complaints and rebellions of your nation may be, as long as they are not physically harming anyone else by their words or their lack of action, you dare not strike them – not even symbolically!

From this perspective, I understand two subsequent incidents in our portion. When the Hebrews ask Edom to let them pass through their land and Edom refuses, the Hebrews take another route (ibid. 20:14-21), but when Sihon denies a similar request and actually attacks the Israelites, they strike back and conquer the Land of Ammon.

Tragically, 4,000 years later, the international community has not yet learned this most fundamental biblical teaching: If your enemy speaks to you, you must respond with speech, but if he sets out to kill you, you must protect yourself and your citizenry, even if that requires taking his life. You will never enable the good to triumph by countenancing evil; evil must be transformed or destroyed.



Israel is locked in an armed struggle against Hamas – evil incarnate – aided and abetted by Syria, Iran and al-Qaida. After we completely left Gaza, at great personal pain and cost, Hamas responded by dispatching thousands of Kassam rockets to wreak havoc on Sderot and Ashkelon. Israel established an embargo only to prevent another arms build-up by Hamas, who have proven themselves to be experts in smuggling artillery.

When the six ships set sail with humanitarian aid to break the embargo, Israel repeatedly offered to accompany them to Ashdod port, ascertain their true cargo, and then – together with the activists  – transfer the aid to the Gazans. Our offer fell on deaf ears. When we were given no choice but to enter the boats – which we did peacefully with paint-ball guns – five of the ships were escorted to Ashdod without incident; the sixth, however, Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship, had carried 50 mercenaries out for murder and martyrdom, whom a video shows “preparing” for us with clubs, iron bars, knives and petrol bombs.

When Israeli commandos came down the ropes, they were attacked immediately, one naval officer was thrown overboard, and many others were pummeled with metal bars. All of this is verified by the ship’s own video footage. The hired mercenaries included a grandson and son-in-law of Sheikh Azzam, mentor of Osama bin Laden. But when the Israelis strike back at such a “welcoming party,” it is Israel that is condemned by the international community! Apparently, only Israel lacks the right to strike back when we are being attacked, even if our assailants are connected to enemies of the free world.

The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.


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