Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Aharon will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the Land I have given to Bnei Yisrael, because you defied My word at the waters of strife. (20:24)

Hashem informed Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen that Aharon's time to leave this world had arrived, as Aharon was not entering Eretz Yisrael. This comes across as an ambiguous statement. Was it Aharon's time, or not? If his allotted time on this world had not been up, would Hashem have taken him simply because he was not to enter the land? Chazal teach us that Hashem completes the days of the righteous. Thus, if someone's time has come, Hashem welcomes him home to his eternal rest. Why does the Torah add that, since Aharon was not entering Eretz Yisrael, his time had come? This question is asked by the Sefas Emes, who explains that man's time is reached when he has completed his mission in life. He has performed his service, observed the mitzvos; he has basically "done his job." Therefore, when Moshe and Aharon asked to be allowed entry into the Holy Land, it was because they wanted to complete their lives by performing the mitzvos which can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, if Aharon would have been allowed to go to Eretz Yisrael, his life would have not yet been over, since he would still have had mitzvos to carry out. Regrettably, this was not meant to be. He had already completed his earthly mission, and Eretz Yisrael was not part of it.

Horav Nosson Ordman, zl, applies the Sefas Emes to explain a Midrash in Sefer Devarim. The Midrash states that when it was getting close to the time for Moshe Rabbeinu to leave this world, Hashem said to him, "Behold! Your days are drawing near to die" (Devarim 31:14). Moshe reacted to Hashem's declaration: "Ribono Shel Olam, after all of the toil that I exerted (to leading the nation), You tell me that my life is coming to an end. Lo amus ki echyeh, vaasaper maase Kah, "I will not die, but I will live and relate the deeds of G-d" (Tehillim 118:17).

Hashem replied, "It is impossible (to remain alive), because this is (what happens to) all men." This Midrash begs elucidation. Clearly, Moshe was aware that all mortals die. Did he need to hear this from Hashem? Perhaps he wanted to be the exception to the rule. If so, what was Hashem's response?

Rav Ordman explains that when a man is born, he is assigned a specific mission in life. He is to become proficient in Torah knowledge, perfect his ethical and moral character and elevate his yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. Indeed, man's goal is to refine himself so that he imitates Hashem, Ma Hu, af atah, "As He (acts), so should you." Understandably, once mortal man has achieved his raison d'?tre once he has completed his mission, there is no purpose for him to continue on as a mortal. He is called back home.

This is the dialogue that ensued between Moshe and Hashem. The Almighty informed Moshe that the completion of his mission was near. He had effectively carried out his purpose in this world. Moshe countered that he was not yet finished. He still wanted to live, so that he could relate maase Ka, the deeds of G-d. Hashem replied that Moshe's function as a mortal had been achieved. Hashem had sent him for a purpose, and that purpose had come to a successful conclusion.

We are all sent here for a specific mission. Fortunate is he who recognizes this and does everything within his power to achieve that goal. Consistent with that mission is the time allotted for its achievement. We hope that our designated time is sufficient to complete our mission. Obviously, Hashem considers it to be ample. It is up to us to make the most of this allotment because, regrettably, He doesn't give extensions.

Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael. (20:12)

Rashi explains: "Had you spoken to the rock and it would have brought forth water, I would have been sanctified before the eyes of the assembly. They would have said, 'Now, if this rock, which neither speaks nor hears and does not need subsistence, fulfills the word of Hashem, how much more so should we fulfill His word?'" Rashi seems to imply that had Moshe Rabbeinu only spoken to the rock there would not be any kal v'chomer. Why? The same idea can be expressed if the stone had been struck. Now, if a stone which is struck produces water, the Jewish nation, who have been struck repeatedly, should surely conform to Hashem's word. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, distinguishes between these cases. First is when "Reuven" tells "Shimon" to do something, and Shimon complies. This is considered Shimon's action - even though Reuven had instructed him to act. Second, when Reuven strikes Shimon and Shimon is forced to comply, it is viewed as Reuven's act - not Shimon's.

Rav Pincus substantiates this idea with a halachah concerning kinyanim, acts of acquisition. The halachah states that an eved Canaani, gentile slave, is acquired through the kinyan of meshichah, pulling him. This is only if he takes hold of the slave and bodily moves him. If, however, he were to call him by name, saying, "Come here," and the slave comes, it is not considered a kinyan. The slave will have acted of his own volition, and such an act is not considered an act performed by the owner.

Hashem Yisborach directs and controls teva, nature. Every act of nature - whether it is natural or supernatural - is actually an act of Hashem. Thus, if Moshe speaks to the stone, and the stone, in turn, gives forth water, it is an act of Hashem. Now that Moshe instead struck the stone, the water which poured forth was considered to be an act of Moshe.

Clearly, if the purpose of the water pouring forth from the stone was supposed to be an act of Moshe, it would make sense that Moshe strike the stone. This is what happened earlier, when Hashem instructed Moshe to strike the stone. This time, however, Hashem wanted Moshe to speak to the stone, so that the water pouring forth from the stone would be viewed as a natural act. When Moshe took it upon himself to strike the stone, he was altering the result. It was not natural water; it was miraculous water. This diminished the Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of Hashem's Name, in the world.

Why did Hashem change the game plan? The first time, He told Moshe to strike the stone. Now Hashem's instructions were to speak to the stone. What changed? Rav Pincus explains that the Korach debacle created a chasm in Klal Yisrael's faith in the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. They were no longer certain that Moshe's actions were Hashem's actions. Moshe seemed no different than an inanimate stone performing Hashem's bidding. Originally, Moshe struck the stone, because even though he was actually doing the action, the people viewed his action as Hashem's action. After Korach's dispute, Klal Yisrael was no longer on the elevated spiritual status as before. Their level of conviction had waned. Even though Korach died under circumstances that were clearly an indication of Heavenly intervention, Moshe was still blamed for "killing the people of Hashem." Suddenly, they required a stronger, clearer manifestation of Hashem's involvement in human activity. Moshe's actions were not sufficient. It had to be clear that Hashem was "running the show," that He was performing the miracle. Thus, Moshe was instructed to speak to the stone.

The difference between striking and talking to the stone was evident from the perspective of Klal Yisrael. They needed a more concrete sign that Hashem was behind the water flowing from the rock. Incidentally, we derive a lesson from here concerning the far-reaching effect of every breach in the relationship of Klal Yisrael with Hashem. One would think that the Korach incident was over. He was gone; his supporters were gone, but it was not over. The tenor of Klal Yisrael's relationship with Hashem had been altered. The strong conviction, the impenetrable bond, had been weakened. Korach's impact was devastating. This is true of every breach in our commitment, every snag in our service. Teshuvah means return. When one does teshuvah, he must find a way of returning to the pre-sin situation. This is effected by correcting and repairing the damage resulting from his sinful behavior.

In an alternative explanation, Rav Pincus mentions another milestone which occurred between the two commands to bring forth water from the rock: Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. When we received the Torah at Har Sinai, our relationship vis-?-vis Hashem changed. At first, we were categorized as Hashem's firstborn, His child. When a child acts inappropriately he is disciplined. Thus, Hashem originally instructed Moshe to strike the stone. The second encounter with the stone occurred following the Revelation at Har Sinai, when Klal Yisrael bonded with Hashem as a husband bonds with his wife. A husband will ask his wife to do something for him. He will ask nicely; he might even "push it a little," apply some pressure, but he would never strike at her! Such action leads to a quick end to the relationship.

The conversation between Hashem and Moshe went something like this: Hashem said, "I wanted to teach the Jewish People that My relationship with them was now one of speech. I speak to them, and they listen." No other "motivation" is necessary. When a Jew is instructed to put on Tefillin, he immediately puts on Tefillin. His love is so great that nothing stands in the way: A Jew should not need a stronger form of "encouragement." Apparently, the seas of blood and tears that we have shed throughout the millennia have been the result of our inability to listen to Hashem's gentle voice.

A relationship predicated on love is wholly different from one based on physical chastisement. Rav Pincus paints the following picture. A Jew arrives late to shul, and must now complete his davening in much less time than if he had arrived at the appropriate time. Quickly, he puts on his Tefillin and begins to daven at breakneck speed. As the Chazan is nearing the finish line, he is already starting the motor of his car. After all, he is late; he must go to work, and he has not yet eaten his usual large breakfast. Now, while there is nowhere in the Shulchan Aruch that states that such activity is forbidden, anyone who cares about someone would never treat a loved one in such a manner. Hashem should not be different. Such behavior manifests the antithesis of love.

Rav Pincus relates that he once heard someone make a brachah with such speed that he swallowed most of the words. The blessing was, at best, unintelligible. The Rosh Yeshivah told the person, "You did not recite a brachah." "So what is the problem?" the fellow countered. "I ate without a brachah. It is not the end of the world." Rav Pincus replied, "You 'insulted' Hashem. Simply put, you spit in His face. That is what your non-brachah did. It was personal!"

We forget that Hashem is close to us, and He has provided us with every opportunity to enable us to live well and to thank Him for it. If we do so, if we take the time to enunciate the entire brachah in such a way that we demonstrate that we mean it, Hashem"kisses"us. If we do not, we are rejecting His love and adding insult to the rejection. We then have to expect a more "corporeal" response from Hashem. This might shed some light on some of the Heavenly responses we have been experiencing lately.

"Take the staff… and speak to the rock before their eyes and it shall give its waters… and he (Moshe) said to them, "Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock? Then (Moshe) struck the rock… abundant water came out and Hashem said… because you did not believe in Me to Sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael. (20:8, 10, 11, 12)

The commentators all focus on precisely defining the sin committed by Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. While a number of answers are suggested, one idea is certain: this sin is considered an infraction only in a relative sense. Moshe and Aharon had achieved the zenith of spirituality. On their elevated perch, extreme care had to be taken. Therefore, the slightest taint could mar a perfect record. Veritably, the Torah records their sin with the statement, "Because you did not believe in Me." That seems a pretty weighty accusation. The question which confronts us is in what way did they not believe, and how was this lack of belief significant? Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, addresses this question, beginning his response by examining the meaning of faith.

Rav Bergman cites the following passage in the Talmud Taanis 25a: "Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa had a certain neighbor who built a house, but the roof beams did not reach from wall to wall. The woman (neighbor) came before him and said, 'I have built my house, but the roof beams do not reach.' He asked her, 'What is your name?' She replied, 'Ikko.' He said, 'Ikko, may your roof beams lengthen until they reach.' It is taught that the beams reached out until they projected one cubit from each side of the house."

Why did Rav Chanina question the woman concerning her name? Indeed, why did he specifically mention her name in his prayer? The answer to these questions can be found alongside the answer to another question. Why did this woman come to the sage rather than go to a master builder? Her problem was one of construction - not prayer. Most people would have done just that. Ikko, however, was a woman of very strong conviction. She was acutely aware that success in any endeavor is not based on expertise, but on Heavenly intervention. The address for seeking Heavenly aid is the righteous sage, who is beloved by Hashem and whose prayer is listened to by the Almighty. Something was wrong with her house. This called for a visit to the tzaddik - not the carpenter. The tzaddik's prayer can create a miraculous transformation. His prayer can make beams that are too short to reach the roof.

Did Ikko know the power of her convictions? Did she realize how incredible her faith was? Perhaps not, but Rabbi Chanina certainly did know what kind of special person stood before him. He also knew something else: A tzaddik's prayer can have efficacy only when the person for whom he prays has unequivocal faith in the tzaddik's ability to intercede with Hashem. The supplicant must believe in the tzaddik's power of prayer. Rav Chanina saw before him a woman whose faith was indomitable, whose conviction was stellar. For her, miracles would occur. This is why he asked her name and used it in prayer. That name made a difference, because her identity gave him license to entreat Hashem for a miracle. Her faith warranted miracles.

A similar incident occurred concerning the righteous woman who was saved by the miracle which the Navi Elisha catalyzed for her. The story is well-known. A woman cried out to Elisha that her husband had died, and now the creditor was coming to 'collect" her two children as servants to repay the loan. Elisha asked if she had anything at home. She responded that she had a drop of oil. He instructed her to borrow vessels and fill them with the oil. She continued to fill the vessels with the oil that was self-reproducing miraculously, until she ran out of vessels.

The oil continued to flow even after she no longer had sufficient vessels. It was only after her son informed her that there were no more vessels that it stopped flowing. This was because the woman had absolute faith in the Navi's words. As long as she thought that there were vessels to be filled, the oil kept coming, because she thought that the miracle would continue. When she was certain that there were no more vessels, she understood that there was not going to be any more oil. The oil flowed in the merit of her faith.

We now understand the power of faith, and what it means to believe in a tzaddik. With this we can tackle the root of Moshe's sin concerning the rock. When Hashem instructed Moshe and Aharon to gather the people and speak to the stone in their presence, this was intended to teach them an important lesson. Earlier, when the people had quarreled with Moshe, Hashem had told Moshe to strike the rock. Apparently, the people were being elevated one step higher, one step closer, in their spiritual education. They would now know that speaking to the rock carries the same efficacy as striking it. Their belief in Hashem's limitless power - and in the tzaddik's ability to call upon this reservoir - was sufficient to make any miracle possible.

Thus, when Moshe spoke to the people in a "challenging" voice, referring to them as "rebels," he was actually issuing an ultimatum to them: "Do you believe in Hashem's ability to rule over the world and in Moshe, as Hashem's prophet, to summon this power to their relief?" Only after he heard their affirmative response would he have the ability to work the miracle for them. He needed them to believe both in Hashem and in him.

When the people remained mute, answering nothing, Moshe understood the message of their silence: Regrettably, they lacked the conviction. They had not yet achieved the pinnacle of belief that a tzaddik can call forth and bring water from a stone just by speaking to it. Since they lacked the faith necessary to create a greater miracle, they would have to suffice with a lesser miracle, of having water come from the rock after Moshe struck it. After all, this had worked the first time. They were just not prepared for the next level.

This is where Moshe erred. It was true that Klal Yisrael lacked the necessary conviction in Moshe and his spiritual powers - so he could not bring about the miracle of water springing forth from the rock through their merit. What about Moshe's personal belief in Hashem? Had he listened to Hashem and spoken to the rock, had he had perfect faith in Hashem, then that would have been sufficient. The water would have come forth from the rock. Had the people seen the water flowing from the rock, they would have realized that Moshe's faith in Hashem was total, and it was this faith that had catalyzed the miracle. He did not, however, speak to the rock. That error precluded what could have been a tremendous Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name. When the people see and sense the faith of their leadership it elevates their own faith, increasing kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. This is what Hashem said to them, "Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael." Your actions could have increased My glory, such that the people would have realized your level of conviction. You did not, and that is an unpardonable sin.

Sometimes, we do not recognize our own abilities. Perhaps it is because we are afraid of failure, or it might be fear of success. In any event, we refrain from moving forward. If Hashem issues a command, if we sense a Heavenly message encouraging us to take the plunge, to do it, then we must. Hashem knows best.

And our soul is disgusted with the unsubstantial food. (21:5)

Klal Yisrael claimed that the manna was a food suitable for a life of spirituality. A Heavenly food such as this, however, was not appropriate to nourish Klal Yisrael for the heavy work they would have to do in the future. Additionally, the Midrash says that they complained about the metabolic makeup of the manna. Whoever heard of eating and eating and not producing any waste? That was the manna which miraculously became absorbed in their organs. The Midrash concludes with Hashem's reaction to their complaints, "Concerning the good which I gave them, they complain. I equaled them with the angels who also do not produce waste material. Yet, they found reason to complain about this." Really, what bothered the Jewish people concerning their being served Heavenly food? Just because they were ingesting food similar to that which sustains angels, is that a reason to complain? Indeed, in a number of places, Chazal refer to the Jewish People as ingrates, kafui tovah. What does kafui tovah mean? The word that seems to be more appropriate is kofer tovah, denies (the) good.

There are those commentators who suggest that kafui is derived from kofeh, cover, as in kofeh alav es ha'keli, "he covers it with a vessel." Thus, the kafui tov is one who conceals the good that he has received, glosses over the benefits which have helped him. If so, it should be read as kofeh tovah. What is the meaning of kafui tovah?

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains this pragmatically, defining kafui tovah as the good which is compelled on him. He is forced to do something as a result of the benefit he has received. He senses that now he must reciprocate! He owes; he is in someone's debt. He feels subdued by the favor he secured. This is what bothers him. One who feels that, since he was helped by someone he is now obligated to him, is a very "afflicted" person.

Klal Yisrael sensed that since Hashem blessed them with Heavenly bread, they were in His debt. They must now act in a manner appropriate for one who is sustained by such a Heavenly gift. They did not like being under such a yoke. Some of us want our cake - enjoy eating it, but hate paying for the pleasure. That is kafui tov.

Va'ani Tefillah

Atah Hu Hashem HaElokim Asher becharta b'Avram. It is You, Hashem, the G-d, who selected Avram.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests a practical explanation for this passage. Hashem created an entire universe and filled it with billions of creations. Yet, He selected one human being, a three-year-old boy, who, at first, had followed in his father's footsteps, serving idols. He then discovered through his own rationale that all of the celestial creations are themselves servants of a Creator, a Supreme Being, Who had made it all. This young Avram deduced that there was only one Deity: Hashem. He rediscovered what, over time, an entire world of mortals forgot, because of their erroneous worship of the Heavenly bodies.

Thus, Hashem, the Creator of this vast universe - Whom, as is mentioned in the earlier verses, is worshipped by myriads of creatures - puts it all aside and focuses upon little Avram. This little child has been chosen to reeducate a world gone stark mad with paganism. What we learn from here is that the entire creation, with its billons of creatures, was worth it to produce one little Avram.

The significance of the individual cannot be sufficiently underscored. We are always focusing on the community, the general population, the greatest mass of people that we can reach. We do this at the expense of the individual. We forget the value of each person - each contribution. One person can change a world. One person can make the difference. Hashem saw this. So should we.

Sponsored in memory of
our dear Mother and Grandmother
GIZI WEISS - Gittel bas Yisrael a"h
Morry & Judy Weiss, Erwin & Myra Weiss
and Grandchildren
Gary & Hildee Weiss, Jeff & Karen Weiss,
Zev & Rachel Weiss, Elie & Sara Weiss, and Brian

"Love and memories are gifts from G-d that death cannot destroy"

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first fourteen years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel