A worshiper holds up a Torah scroll 370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
In the parsha which we will read on Shabbat, we will read one of the most
difficult stories found in the Torah. It is important to remember: Every story
told in the Torah comes to teach us a certain lesson and help us advance our
lives in different areas. If it did not include such a message, the story would
not appear in the Torah. The story before us has had many varied explanations
written and said about it over the years. We will try to look at the message
hidden in this story which is relevant to our lives.
The story is about
Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohen. During the 40 years when Am Yisrael was in
the desert, from its exodus from Egypt until its entrance to Eretz Yisrael,
Moshe served in the role of leader, guide and judge while the entire nation
attended to his every word. Toward the end of the time in the desert, Am Yisrael
goes into deep despair when the water that sprung from the well for decades
stopped flowing with the death of Miriam in whose merit the nation had enjoyed
the well water.
The thirsty and concerned nation gathers and demands of
its leaders – Moshe and Aharon – to give it water.
”... speak you unto
the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and you shall bring
forth to them water out of the rock’ (Numbers 20:8) Instead of fulfilling the
word of G-d literally and speaking to the rock, Moshe picks up his rod and hits
the rock twice. And indeed, water suitable for drinking flowed from the rock!
Gd’s response to Moshe’s deed is extremely severe. Moshe and Aharon will not
enter Eretz Yisrael with the nation they have been leading for the past 40
years, but will die in the desert.
This reaction seems to our narrow
vision to be completely disproportionate.
Truthfully, Moshe erred and did
not precisely fulfill G-d’s words, but let us not forget who Moshe Rabbeinu is –
the greatest leader of all time. He was the one who stood courageously in front
of Pharaoh in Egypt, led the nation to freedom, split the Red Sea in two, and
brought down the Ten Commandments for the nation from Mount Sinai. And now,
because of one small mistake, G-d decides to prevent him from attaining his
great dream of entering Eretz Yisrael? This story comes to teach us an amazing
To understand it, we must remember a similar story which occurred
at the beginning of Am Yisrael’s time in the desert. Then also, the nation
reached a state of despair as a result of a lack of water. But then, G-d did not
instruct Moshe to speak to the rock, as He did in our parsha, but rather He
commanded him to hit the rock with his rod (see Exodus 17:6).
What is the
reason for the difference between these two stories? Why did G-d then command to
hit the rock, but here He instructed to speak to it? Forty years had passed
since that first hitting of the rock, which occurred only a short time after the
nation’s exodus from Egypt. The nation had just begun recuperating from its long
period of slavery in Egypt. But the story in our parsha occurs 40 years later.
During these years, the nation recovered, became stronger and more mature. Now
the language the nation knows is not that of hitting, but of speaking.
course, Moshe Rabbeinu – the greatest prophet of all time – does not need
approval from us, but perhaps it can be explained that that was his
This tragic mistake led to his leadership of the nation in Eretz
Yisrael being revoked, because Moshe did not recognize the deep change that took
place, and therefore could not continue to lead the nation.
does not hide nor deny Moshe’s mistake, but tells it to us so that we learn from
it to adjust to change; to understand that the person of yesterday is not the
person of today; and the person of today will not be the same tomorrow. We are
to learn the most basic tenet in educating our children, which was later phrased
so eloquently by Shlomo Hamelech: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and
even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) The writer is
rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.