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

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Vol. 20   No. 38

This issue is sponsored jointly
l'iluy Nishmas
Miriam Chana bas Yitzchok z"l

Parshas Chukas

Striking the Rock
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)

"Take the staff and assemble the people, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock, and give water to the assembly and their cattle And Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation to (the area) in front of the rock Then Moshe raised his hand and he struck the rock with his staff, twice " (20:8, 10 & 11).

The Ramban disagrees with Rashi's explanation of Moshe's sin, that Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it. See Parshah Pearls on this Pasuk, where we discuss one of the problems the Ramban has with Rashi. The Ramban also queries Rashi's explanation, inasmuch as what difference does it make whether one produces water from a rock by speaking to it or by striking it? The miracle is surely no less by the one than it is by the other!

The question is unclear, as striking is a physical act, which, in the physical world, is more effective than mere speech, That being the case, it would seem obvious that achieving results by means of speech is a greater miracle than achieving results by striking. Moreover, the K'li Yakar explains, how much greater would the Kidush Hashem have been had Yisrael witnessed the rock obeying Moshe's verbal commands than it did by obeying him only after being struck.


The K'li Yakar also points out that the Pasuk first refers to 'Yisrael" (presumably, he means 'Eidah') and then switches over to 'Kahal'. What G-d was telling Moshe here was, that had all the people been the children of Avraham, about whom the Torah writes "And Avraham believed in Hashem", He would have remained silent. They too, believed in G-d, and didn't need great miracles to convince them of His Omnipotence.

And it was only because among them was a congregation of converts (the Eirev Rav), whose Emunah was weak, that G-d was taking him to task. The Eirev Rav needed powerful miracles to boost its faith. Consequently, to minimize a miracle before their eyes was an unforgiveable sin.

When the people came to Eretz Yisrael they would need a leader who could handle each segment of the community according to its needs and according to its level. And since Moshe had failed in that task, he would be relieved of the task of bringing Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael, and be replaced by somebody who could. Hence Yehoshua, a man who had that ability (as Rashi explains in Pinchas [27:18]), was chosen to replace him. There as well, notes the author, the Torah writes " before the eyes of Yisrael be strong and courageous, for you will bring this people to the land " (Vayeilech 31:7) - beginning with "Yisrael" and ending with "people", a reminder that he was dealing with divergent streams that comprised the nation, each of which would need his personal attention.


The author cites the Yalkut, which comments on the fact that here Moshe is commanded to speak to the rock, whereas in Parshas Beshalach, G-d specifically ordered him to strike it. And it compares this to a child, who needs to be hit when he misbehaves (as Sh'lomoh ha'Melech wrote in Tehilim "Spare the rod and spoil the child!"). Once he grows up however, a strong rebuke will suffice to bring him back to his senses. The lesson, the K'li Yakar explains, is obvious. When Yisrael came out of Egypt, words would not have sufficed when they sinned. Years later, when Yisrael had grown up, words would indeed have been sufficient to place them on the right path whenever they sinned, and that is why G-d instructed Moshe to speak to the rock. But Moshe opted to strike it, and the lesson was lost. Incidentally, the other commentaries maintain that when G-d ordered Moshe to speak to the rock, He meant to speak to it in its language (i.e. to strike it), as he had the first time at Choreiv. This Medrash supports Rashi's explanation.


The K'li Yakar continues that by striking the rock twice, Moshe further detracted from the miracle of obtaining water from a rock. Because if, when seeing the rock produce water after being struck once, Yisrael would have learned to be chastised after one stroke, they now learned to mend their ways only after being chastised a few times. Indeed, the Pasuk writes in Mishlei (17:10) "One scolding is worth more than a hundred strokes!" (According to the Ib'n Ezra, Moshe's sin lay in striking the rock twice, even though striking it once would have sufficed.)

It now transpires that due to Moshe's error, instead of learning to be chastised with one verbal warning, Yisrael learned to give in only after they had suffered Divine punishment, and even then, several strokes would often be required before Yisrael would get the message. This was a tremendous Chillul Hashem, for which Moshe suffered a terrible price.

Indeed, the K'li Yakar explains, the sin of Moshe's apparent denial of G-d's ability to produce meat (See Beha'aloscha 11:22) may well have been worse than the current sin per se. However, because the sin here was performed in public, it called for a heavier punishment (as Rashi explains there).

* * *

Parshah Pearls

Reading the Torah

" and he shall place on it spring water into a receptacle" (mayim chayim el keli [19:17]).

Although this Pasuk is talking about the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos finds a hint here for the Din that a Kohen, Levi and Yisrael are called up to the Torah. Bear in mind that the Parshah begins with the words "This is the statute of the Torah!"

He learns it from the words "mayim chayim el keli" in the following manner - "Torah is both compared to water, as is well-known, and is called "Etz Chayim". And the acronym of the word "Keli" is Kohen Levi Yisrael.

In fact, Chazal say that Moshe introduced the Din of three people Leining ha'Torah - Kohen, Levi and Yisrael.


Speaking = Striking

"Take the stick speak to the rock before their eyes and it will give its water " (20:8).

As is well-known, Rashi explains Moshe and Aharon's sin was striking the rock instead of speaking to it, thereby detracting from the miracle, and minimizing the ensuing Kidush Hashem.

Many commentaries, prominently the Ramban, disagree with Rashi, however, suggesting a variety of alternative interpretations of the sin.

One of the questions the Ramban asks on Rashi is, if G-d wanted him to speak to the rock, why did He instruct him to take the staff?

The question arises that if, as the Ramban and the commentaries explains, Moshe was indeed meant to strike the rock (as he did the first time in Parshas Beshalach [17:6]), why did G-d tell him to speak to it?

To answer this question, the Rosh, citing R. Dan Ashkenazi, explains that the word "ve'dibartem el ha'sela" can actually be translated as "and strike the rock!" And to prove his point he cites a Pasuk in Divrei ha'Yamim 2, 22:10, where "va'tedaber" means 'and you shall strike'.

Interestingly, he adds that by the same token, the opposite is also true. Hence, the Pasuk in Yehashah "ve'hkoh Eretz be'sheivet piv", the Rosh translates as "And he will speak to the land ".


Incidentally, the question concerning the staff, R. Bachye explains that G-d instructed Moshe to take the staff, not in order to strike the rock, but because we find that whenever Moshe performed a wonder, he held the staff in his hand, as the Torah writes in Sh'mos (4:17) "And this staff you shall take in your hand, with which you will perform the wonders".

* * *


"It is not a place of seeds, fig-trees or vines" (20:5).

In Parshas Eikev, the Torah refers to 'a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig-trees and pomegranates ", and in Melachim " each man beneath his vine, each man beneath his fig-tree". Everywhere in the Torah, The Ba'al ha'Turim points out, the Pasuk puts the vine before the fig-tree. Why then here, does it give the fig-tree precedence?

To answer the question, he explains that this Parshah is juxtaposed to that of the Parah Adumah, which was burned using the wood of a fig-tree. And the Torah here is acknowledging that by placing the fig-tree first.


"And Edom said to him 'You will not pass through my land, lest I go out to meet you with the sword!"

It is the likes of this that David ha'Melech is referring to when he writes in Tehilim (120:6) 'I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!' "


"Let me pass through your land " (21:22).

The Ba'al ha'Turim notes that Moshe did not add the word 'na' (please), as he did when he made the same request of Edom. This, he explains, is because he was not interested in appeasing Sichon in the way that he appeased Edom (who was after all Yisrael's brother). All he wanted was to open with words of peace, as Rashi explains.

And that explains, the Ba'al ha'Turim adds, why Sichon did not bother to respond to Moshe's request. He immediately mobilized his troops and attacked Yisrael.

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