Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 14   No. 36

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Yisrael ben Neta Nosson z"l
by his children Sandie and Alan Freishtat and Grandchildren n.y.

Parshas Chukas

What was Moshe's Sin?
(Part 1)

(Adapted from the Or ha'Chayim)

The Torah does not spell out the sin for which Moshe and Aharon paid so dearly, in spite of the fact that the transgression was clearly performed unintentionally, a pure misunderstanding on their part. To be sure, G-d is strict with his Chasidim to the point of a hairsbreadth, yet the immensity of the punishment goes to demonstrate just how great these two giants must have been in His eyes.

Rashi (20:10) attributes G-d's harsh reaction to the sin, despite the fact that He dealt far more leniently with graver sins of Moshe, to the fact that it was performed in public, thereby creating a Chilul Hashem.


The Or ha'Chayim lists ten of the commentaries' interpretations of Moshe and Aharon's sin, all of which he rejects as being the absolute sin, as we shall now see. He subsequently suggests his own version of the sin, in which he incorporates some of those very suggestions:

1. because Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the rock, but Moshe opted to strike it (Rashi).

2. because, distracted by the people's quarrelsomeness, Moshe struck the rock with the wrong intention, thereby causing the rock to fail to give its water until he struck it a second time (Ibn Ezra).

3. ... because Moshe and Aharon decided to strike the rock twice (Ibid.)

4. because they failed to sing Shirah after the well produced water (like Yisrael did later, when they sang "Ali Be'er " - after Moshe's punishment had already been decreed [Ibid]).

5. because they called K'lal Yisrael 'rebels', and it is not befitting for someone of their stature to belittle the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov in this way (Ibid. & Ramban quoting Rambam).

6. because they became angry with the people, creating the impression that Hashem was angry with them too, when He had given no indication that He was (Rambam).

7. because they said "Shall we produce water on your behalf?", giving the impression that it was they (Moshe and Aharon) who produced water from the rock, rather than Hashem. What they ought to have said was 'Shall He produce water ?' (Rabeinu Chananel and Ramban).

8. because they said "Shall we produce water from this rock?", conveying the impression that Hashem was unable to do so (though what he really meant was He did not wish to do so (not that He was unable to [R. Moshe ha'Kohen, cited in the Ibn Ezra]), and he proves his point from the Pasuk in Tehilim (106) "because they rebelled against His spirit (with reference to K'lal Yisrael) and he pronounced (sinned) with his lips".

9. because they waited for instructions from G-d to strike the rock, instead of showing their faith and taking the initiative (Seifer ha'Ikrim).

10. because Yisrael actually dug their own channel from another rock to the Camp, and they wanted Moshe to produce water from that rock. Moshe and Aharon however, refused to co-operate with them. Instead in his anger, Moshe threw down his staff, which struck the rock, causing water to emerge (The Ma'aseh Hashem).

(11. The I'bn Ezra also cites others who explain that Moshe sinned by not producing water from the rock that K'lal Yisrael chose, insisting on striking the rock that G-d had designated.)


As already mentioned, the Or ha'Chayim rejects all ten explanations, six based on the objections of the Ramban and the I'bn Ezra, the remaining four of his own volition.

The Ramban rejects explanations 1, 2, and 6 (respectively), on the grounds that a. Moshe's instructions to take his (or Aharon's stick), implied that he was meant to strike the rock and not to speak to it; b. If Moshe erred merely because he was distracted by the people's quarrelsomeness, the Torah would not have referred to this as a lack of faith in G-d; c. If Moshe and Aharon's sin was anger, then why does the Torah talk about their not having had faith in G-d and about rebelling against Him? Moreover, Aharon's Midah was peace, and anger was something that Aharon never in his whole life, experienced. In any event, it is impossible for G-d not to have been angry at Yisrael for having rebelled against His loyal servant Moshe.

The I'bn Ezra objects further to explanations 8 & 11 (respectively), on the grounds that a. if Moshe sinned verbally, why was Aharon punished, and besides the Torah says nothing about Moshe having said anything offensive (an argument that seems to refute some of the remaining explanations, too); b. If Moshe and Aharon sinned by not bending to the people's request, why does the Torah describe them as having rebelled against G-d's command?


The Or ha'Chayim himself refutes explanations 7, 9 & 10 (respectively), in that a. seeing as Moshe was known as the faithful Sheli'ach of Hashem, why should it be necessary to specifically mention that what they were doing was at His behest, when everybody knew that everything that Moshe did was at G-d's command? And besides, since they were the ones who were actually striking the rock, it was perfectly appropriate to use the expression "we"; b. Now that G-d had chosen to test the people by removing the well, it would have been highly inappropriate on the part of Moshe and Aharon to provide the people with water without an indication from G-d that He had rescinded the decree; c. And as for the Ma'aseh Hashem's explanation, the Or ha'Chayim comments, with due respect, it is simply unacceptable.

I.Y.H, we will present the Or ha'Chayim's own explanation in next week's edition.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

The Torah is a Chok

"This is the statute of the Torah " (19:2).

Surely what the Torah ought to have said, the commentaries ask, is 'This is the statute of the Cow'?

To answer the question, the Chanukas ha'Torah quoting Chazal, cites Shlomoh ha'Melech, who, after seeing that he could not fathom the reasoning behind the Parah Adumah, declared 'I thought that I was wise, but it (the Torah) is distant from me'. What he meant to say was that once he realized that the Mitzvah of Parah Adumah was beyond his comprehension, it occurred to him that the other Mitzvos, which he thought he had mastered, were more profound than they seem, and that he did not really understand them either.

Indeed, we know for a fact that there are many levels of understanding of Torah, beginning with 'Pardes' (P'shat Remez, D'rush and Sod), and Mitzvos that we readily comprehend at one level, are perhaps inaccessible to us at another level. And that is what the Torah is hinting here, says the Chanukas ha'Torah; we begin with the knowledge that the Parah Adumah is a Chok, but end up with the realization that the entire Torah is a Chok, the supreme manifestation of Divine wisdom.


Quarrels & Water

"And the congregation had no water, and they assembled against Moshe and Aharon. And the people quarreled with Moshe " (20:2&3).

In none of the instances where Yisrael grumbled, the K'li Yakar observes, does the Torah use a Lashon of 'quarreling', other than in connection with water (such as here and by Masah u'Merivah, Sh'mos 17:7). As a matter of fact he points out, already in Bereishis (chapter 26) in connection with the dispute between the shepherds of Yitzchak and the shepherds of G'ror (in P'lishtim) over the wells of water, the Torah actually uses the word 'quarreled' a number of times.

And he ascribes this to the fact that Machlokes (dispute) began with the creation of water, for so Chazal have said: Why does the Torah not mention "ki Tov" on the second day? Because Machlokes was created on that day, as the Medrash extrapolates from the Pasuk "and it shall divide between water and water" (i.e. that is when the power of dispute was created).

And here, they quarreled over water with Moshe, who was drawn from the water, and who had been granted jurisdiction over water at the Yam-Suf and by the Rock.


The People's Needs Take Precedence

"Take the stick and speak to the rock " (20:5).

'My children are dying of thirst,' Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe,' and you are sitting and mourning for the old woman!' (Yalkut)

To explain the Yalkut, the Ma'ayanah shel Torah first cites another Yalkut, which explains that 'speaking to the rock' entailed learning a chapter of Torah in front of it, an act that would demonstrate to Yisrael how Torah is the source of all B'rachah.

Now Moshe was sitting Shiv'ah for Miriam, who had just died. And since an Aveil is forbidden to learn Torah, he did not immediately carry out the command.

And that is what the opening Yalkut now means. If the entire community have no water, surely their needs override Moshe's personal Din of Aveilus. Under such circumstances, even an Aveil is permitted to learn Torah (M'lo ha'Omer).


In light of the above dialogue however, it becomes more difficult than ever to understand how Moshe could have then gone on to strike the rock.


It's the Letters that Count

"And he struck the rock twice, and a lot of water came out" (20:11).

If one takes the letters of the word 'Sela' (rock), and writes them out in full - 'Samech' 'Lamed' and 'Ayin', the middle letters will spell 'Mayim' (water). That is what G-d meant when He told Moshe that the rock (Sela) would give its water (it would give the water that was contained in the middle of the word).

And that explains why Moshe and Aharon struck the rock twice, says the Be'er Mayim Chayim; once to remove the first letters of the word spelt out full ('Samech', 'Lamed' & 'Ayin') and once to remove to the last ones ('Chaf', 'Chaf' & 'Nun'), leaving the middle letters ('Mem', 'Mem' &'Yud').


Then They Would have been Cana'anim

"And the Cana'ani King of Arad, who dwelt in the south, heard that Yisrael had arrived " (21:1).

This is Amalek, says Rashi, who changed their own language to speak that of the Cana'anim, so that Yisrael would pray to Hashem to deliver the Cana'anim into their hands, and they weren't Cana'anim (so their prayers would go unanswered). But Yisrael saw these people who were dressed like Amalekim, but whose language was that of the Cana'anim, so they decided to Daven S'tam, asking Hashem to deliver 'this nation' into their hands.

The question arises why the Amalekim did not also change their clothes, like they changed their language?

Had they done so, explains R. Yitzchak from Verke, then they would have changed their identity; they would have truly become Cana'anim. Yisrael's prayers would have been answered, and they would have achieved nothing by disguising themselves.


And so it is he says, with a Jew who wears non-Jewish clothes and speaks a non-Jewish language. He too, adopts the nationality of the people whose clothes he is wearing and whose language he is speaking.


I once heard it said that if a Jewish man wears Tzitzis, he can no longer said to be wearing non-Jewish clothes. By the same logic, a Jewish woman who covers her hair cannot be said to be wearing non-Jewish clothes either. And if we carry the same logic a little further, a ben Torah who speaks English, let's say, but who laces his speech with Jewish phrases, as most B'nei Torah tend to do, is not speaking a non-Jewish language either.


Only One Captive

" and they fought with Yisrael and they took a captive" (Ibid).

The Or ha'Chayim is surprised at Yisrael's lack of reaction to the fact that the 'Cana'anim' had taken a captive. They prayed to Hashem, but they did not appear unduly perturbed at the fact that, already at that early stage, the Cana'anim had gained the upper hand. And he bases his problem on a similar incident, when, following the battle against Ai, the enemy killed 'one mighty warrior', and Yehoshua and the elders reacted by renting their garments and falling on their faces in supplication before Hashem.


Firstly, he answers, these were not Cana'anim but Amalekim (as Rashi explains), a different nation with different merits, so that a minor defeat at their hands would have had no bearing with the battle against the Cana'anim on which they were about to embark. Secondly, he says, their concern once they had crossed the Yarden and the conquest of Cana'an had begun, was based on the fact that the merits of the seven nations had come to an end, in which case, their defeat was imminent. Not so here, when, seeing as those same nations still had some merits before the Heavenly Court, a minor victory on their part was not so serious.


Frankly, I have difficulty in coming to terms with the Or ha'Chayim's question, since, for a number of reasons, the two episodes have virtually nothing in common. To begin with, the Pasuk in Yehoshua, specifically refers, not just to the death of 'one man', but the defeat of the army (something that is not mentioned here). And besides, it was not the capture of 'one man' to which the Pasuk refers there, but the death of thirty-six men. True, Chazal establish that with reference to Ya'ir ben Menasheh, who was equal to the majority of the Sanhedrin, but no such thing is said here. On the contrary, in an obvious effort to play down the issue, Chazal say that it was no more than a captive whom Amalek captured. It is hardly surprising therefore, that Moshe and the elders did not see fit to rent their garments and to fall on their faces here like Yehoshua and the elders did there.

* * *


"This is the law of the Torah, that G-d commanded to say: Say to B'nei Yisrael and they shall bring to you from the Terumas ha'Lishkah (one of Hekdesh's funds) a two year old red female heffer, that has no blemish and no wart with white hairs, which has not had relations with a male and has not been tired out by work, and has neither had a bridle, a strap or a goad fitted to it, nor a wooden prick, a thorn or anything that can be used for ploughing" (19:2).


"And you shall give it to Elazar the deputy Kohen Gadol, and he shall take it on its own to outside the camp and surround it with piles of fig-tree wood. Another Kohen shall then Shecht it by its two Simanim (the wind-pipe and the esophagus) just like one Shechts other cattle, and examine it for the eighteen Tereifos" (19:3).


"And, wearing the Bigdei Kehunah, Elazar shall take some of the blood with the forefinger of his right hand (and not in a bowl), and he shall sprinkle towards the arrangement of fig-tree wood ? in the direction of the Ohel Mo'ed, some of the blood with one dipping, seven times" (19:4).


"And another Kohen shall take a piece of cedar-wood, a hyssop-twig and a very bright-red thread, and throw them into the burning cow, in order to increase the ashes" (19:6).


"And a Tahor Kohen shall gather the ashes of the cow in an earthenware jar with its lid sealed tightly shut, and he shall divide the ashes into three sections; one section to be placed in the Cheil, one on Har ha'Mishchah and the third is distributed to the groups of Levi'im; and it shall serve as purification water for B'nei Yisrael, and it brings a pardon for the sin of the Golden Calf" (19:9).


"Whoever 'comes close' to a dead person, even if it (the corpse) is a baby of thirty days or to its blood, shall be Tamei for seven days" (19:11).


"This is the law of the Torah, a man who dies underneath a cover that is spread, whoever enters the dwelling by way of the entrance and not from the side; when its door is open, whatever is in the room, even the floor, its stones, its wood and its vessels shall be Tamei for seven days" (19:14).

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 416:
Not to Covet Anything that One's Fellow-Jew Owns

We are prohibited from fixing in our minds the desire to obtain what one of our Jewish brothers owns (because someone who allows the desire of a certain object to linger, will eventually be led to plan strategies to obtain it from the owner, by either buying it from him, bartering it, or even by force should no other method succeed), despite the fact that the owner has no interest in parting with it. And it is in this connection that the Torah writes in Va'eschanan (5:18) "Do not covet the house of your friend " . The Rambam writes that the La'av of not coveting (in Yisro) and of not desiring (in Va'eschanan) are not two La'avin covering the same topic. They are in fact, two independent La'avin; the former is a La'av prohibiting taking any action whatsoever to obtain the article from the owner, irrespective of whether he pays for it or not, in the event that he (the owner) does not wish to part with it. Whilst the latter forbids us even to merely desire the article in question; because, as we explained, this will cause him to plead with the owner and to put pressure on him to sell it or to exchange it for another article, come what may. And despite the fact that one of these sins leads to the other, the difference between them is clear-cut and they are considered two separate La'avin, as we explained.

How is it possible, one may ask, to refrain from desiring a storehouse full of good things that one's friend owns, whilst he has nothing? And how can the Torah place on a person a prohibition which is beyond his scope to keep?

The answer is that the question is built on a false premise. Indeed, it is one that only evil fools and sinners deign to ask. The truth of the matter is that a person has the ability to control his actions, his thoughts and his desires, to refrain from doing or thinking anything that he decides he does not want to. His heart is his to bend in any direction that he chooses. And Hashem, before whom all hidden things are revealed, and who searches one's innermost thoughts, sees one's kidneys and one's heart. Not one of man's thoughts, small or big, good or bad, is concealed from Him. He sees everything! He avenges those who transgress His will in their hearts, and He rewards those who love Him and who turn their thoughts towards His service, up to two thousand generations. For there is nothing that can compare with a good and pure thought, since it is the beginning of all good deeds and their ultimate purpose. And that, it would seem, is what Chazal are referring to when, in Pirkei Avos (2:9) they praise someone who has a 'good heart'.

A proof that the two above-mentioned sins are considered two La'avin lies in the Mechilta, which specifically counts them as such. The Mechilta also extrapolates from the double expression that someone who desires will eventually covet (and take action to obtain the object of his desire) and a person who covets will eventually come to steal, as the Pasuk writes in Michah (2:20) "And they covet fields and steal".

The reason for this Mitzvah is well-known, for distancing oneself from theft is to everybody's benefit, and common-sense attests faithfully to it. There are not many Dinim attached to it, because it is explained adequately (if briefly) in the Pasuk.


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