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Parshas Chukas - Vol. 10, Issue 36
Compiled by Oizer Alport
After the death of Miriam, the well that supplied the Jewish people with water in the wilderness in her merit disappeared, and the Jews had nothing to drink. They began to complain to Moshe and Aharon, questioning why they brought them to die in the wilderness together with their animals. Moshe and Aharon went to the Mishkan to seek guidance from Hashem, and Hashem responded by instructing Moshe to speak to a rock, which would produce water for the thirsty Jewish people and their animals.
The Meshech Chochmah points out two subtle inconsistencies in the narrative of this episode. First, when Hashem commanded Moshe to bring forth the water, He told him that the water would be drunk by - the people and their animals, with the grammatical construct "es" separating between the two groups. However, when Moshe actually produced the water, the Torah records that it was consumed by the people and their animals, without the word "es" distinguishing between them. What is the reason for this change? Second, when Hashem instructed Moshe regarding the water, He made no mention of the quantity of water that would emerge, yet when Moshe actually brought out the water, the Torah records that an abundant amount of water emerged from the rock. What is the significance of this information?
The Meshech Chochmah explains both of these anomalies with one profound insight: While many people value and are impressed by quantity, those who are blessed with a refined sensitivity recognize that quality is far more important, and it is far superior to be satisfied with a small amount of something one truly needs than with a copious quantity of superficial distractions, just as every person in the wilderness was satiated by a small amount of Manna from Heaven each day.
Hashem intended for Moshe to impart this lesson to the people by initially bringing forth only a small amount of water from the rock and miraculously enabling it to satisfy their thirst, and then bringing forth a much larger quantity of water for their animals, which would serve to highlight the uniquely human perspective. This explains both why the Torah uses the word àú to divide between the water to be drunk by the people and that which would be consumed by their animals, and why no mention is made regarding the amount of water that Moshe would initially bring forth.
Unfortunately, when Moshe failed to follow Hashem's instructions to speak to the rock, a byproduct was that this important message was not conveyed. Because Moshe failed to sanctify Hashem's name, the people were not on a spiritual level on which they could be satisfied with a small amount of water, and the Torah therefore records that Hashem was compelled to provide them with a large supply of water. Because the people were just as interested in the quantity of water as the animals, the Torah does not distinguish between the drinking of the two groups.
If the Torah compares Moshe's generation to animals in their emphasis on quantity, one can only imagine how it would describe our generation, in which society is obsessed with having the largest and the most possessions and constantly outdoing one another. Nevertheless, it is never too late to internalize the lesson that Moshe was unsuccessful in conveying to his contemporaries, that quality trumps quantity.
In the prayer for rain recited by the chazzan during his repetition of the Mussaf prayers on Shemini Atzeres, each stanza invokes the water-related merits of one of our righteous forefathers. In the stanza referring to Moshe, we include a reference to the fact that at the time that the Jewish nation was thirsty for water, he struck the rock and caused water to come forth, and we pray that in the merit of his righteousness, Hashem should bless our water supply. Since Moshe was punished for his actions and was not allowed to enter the land of Israel as a result, why do we invoke an incident that is considered more of a sin than a merit?
In his responsa Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer (17:41), Rav Eliezer Waldenberg writes that the Gerrer Rebbe suggests that this difficulty is a proof to the Rambam's explanation (Shemoneh Perakim 4) of the nature of Moshe's sin in this episode. In contrast to Rashi, who explains that Moshe's error was that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as he was commanded, the Rambam maintains that Moshe's sin was that he lost his temper and angrily addressed the people as rebels (20:10). The Gerrer Rebbe posits that according to Rashi's opinion that the sin was hitting the rock, it would be inappropriate to mention this incident in our prayers, but according to the Rambam's explanation that Moshe did nothing wrong in hitting the rock to produce water and only sinned in how he spoke to the people, it would not be as problematic to mention this episode in our prayers for water.
In order to understand our prayers even according to Rashi's opinion, the Tzitz Eliezer cites the explanation given by the Lev Aryeh (Chullin 7b) for Moshe's actions. In Parshas Chukas, the Jewish people complained to Moshe about a lack of water, just as they did in Parshas Beshalach (Shemos 17:2-3). In both cases, Hashem commanded Moshe to respond to their protests by extracting water from a rock. However, there is one subtle difference between the two episodes. In Parshas Beshalach, Hashem told Moshe to strike the rock with his staff (17:5-6), whereas in Parshas Chukas, Hashem told him to speak to the rock in order to produce the water. What is the reason for this change?
Rashi writes (20:2) that the Torah juxtaposes the death of Miriam to the complaints of the people about a lack of water to drink as a way of teaching us that the well that provided them with water until now existed in the merit of Miriam, and now that she died, the well disappeared and the people had nothing to drink. The Lev Aryeh explains that as great as Miriam was, she was not on the spiritual level of Moshe. As a result, the initial miracle of bringing forth the water in her merit had to take place in a slightly more natural manner, in which Moshe was instructed to strike the rock with his staff. Once Miriam died, the well returned in the merit of Moshe (Taanis 9a), and on his lofty level, he was capable of producing the water in an even more miraculous fashion: by merely speaking to the rock, without needing to hit it. However, Moshe was concerned that if he did so, it would on some level reflect badly on Miriam in that she only had the merit for water to come forth by force, while he was able to do it through speech. In Moshe's humility and righteousness, in order to avoid appearing greater than his sister, he specifically elected to hit the rock, just as he was originally commanded to do in her merit.
The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that this interpretation perfectly explains the request that we make in our prayers. After telling Hashem of our need for rain, we beseech Him that even if we are not worthy of receiving it, He should leniently treat us with mercy and compassion, just as Moshe went above and beyond to hit the rock and protect his sister's reputation.
Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to travel through his land. He instructed the messengers to recount to the king their national history, including a mention of how much they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians until Hashem sent an angel to free them. Rashi explains that the angel refers to Moshe. How could the humble Moshe refer to himself as an angel?
The following story will help us appreciate the answer to this question. One of the leading Torah scholars in Vilna encountered an ignorant, uneducated farmer riding in a wagon which was being pulled by a horse and a cow in violation of the Torah prohibition (Devorim 22:10) against coupling two different species for any kind of work. The Rav warned the man that what he was doing was forbidden, but the farmer refused to listen. After several more attempts to convince the man of the severity of his actions fell on deaf ears, the Rav finally proclaimed, "Do you know who I am? I'm the greatest Rabbi in Vilna, and if you refuse to stop what you're doing, I will publicly excommunicate you!" Cognizant of the stature of the man whose opinion he had been ignoring and the dire consequences of continuing to do so, the farmer quickly unharnessed his horse and cow.
The Oznayim L'Torah explains that although the nature of a Torah scholar, and certainly one as great as Moshe, is to be humble and unassuming, he must also realize that there are times when circumstances require him to acknowledge his greatness. By disclosing his true identity and stature to the farmer, the Rav was able to intimidate him into compliance with a Torah commandment in a way which no other form of rebuke was able to accomplish. Similarly, when Moshe wanted to lead the Jewish people through the land of Edom on their way to the land of Israel, he hoped to instill fear and terror into the Edomites so that they would permit the Jews passage through their land. Moshe understood that the odds of his request being approved would increase greatly if he would not-so-subtly inform them that it was being made by no ordinary human, but by one as great as an angel.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah uses the phrase "this is the chok (decree) of the Torah" in conjunction with 2 mitzvos: the purification of the red heifer, and the laws of koshering utensils (31:21-24). What do they have in common, and why is this phrase used in connection with them? (Darash Moshe)
2) The Medrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 11:7) that wherever the word v'haya appears, it connotes joy. In describing the fiery serpents which attacked the Jewish people as punishment for their complaints, the Torah states (21:9) v'haya im nashach ha'nachas es ish - and if the serpent bit a man. Why did the Torah use the word åäéä in conjunction with the attack of the serpents, something which should have caused suffering and not joy? (Meshech Chochmah, Mishmeres Ariel)
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