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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Chukas

Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock? (20:10)

The commentators struggle to understand Moshe and Aharon's sin. Undoubtedly, Hashem placed demands upon them commensurate with their lofty level of virtue and holiness. Other people cannot be evaluated by the same standards used to assess Moshe and Aharon. According to the Ramban, Moshe's anger caused his sin. The manner in which Moshe spoke to the people, "Listen, O rebels," was not the proper vernacular with which to address Klal Yisrael. Moshe should have demonstrated more patience in dealing with his people.

The overwhelming question with which we are faced is: Why did Moshe become angry? What could have provoked the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael to become so enraged? Indeed, we find in the Talmud that Hillel, the great Tanna, could not be provoked to anger. Chazal relate how two men attempted to infuriate Hillel, to no avail. Hillel was very humble. One who views himself as being "nothing" cannot get angry. Was there a greater anav, man of humility, than Moshe? He was the "anav m'kol adam," the most humble man who ever lived. Why did he become angry?

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, cites the Yalkut, which sheds light on this anomaly. Moshe and Aharon were walking towards the stone, while Bnei Yisrael followed behind them. When Moshe stopped at the stone, a group of leitzanim, scoffers/ridiculers said, "Do you know that Moshe was a shepherd for his father-in-law, Yisro? Shepherds are quite proficient in finding water in the desert. He is taking us to a place where he knows that water exists. Let us select the stone from which he should give us water." Suddenly, Moshe stopped, turned to the people and said, "From this stone your thirst will be quenched." When the "tummlers" heard this, they said to the people: "See, we were right; he only knows how to give water from one specific stone." When Moshe heard this, he turned to the people in anger and said, "I promise you that water will only flow from the specific stone of my choosing."

Let us analyze what happened. Bnei Yisrael had been in the desert for almost forty years. During this time, they had been receiving their water through the "services" of Miriam's well. Now that Miriam had passed away, the merit that sustained the well had also passed. What were they to drink? The people were literally dying of thirst. They knew that short of a miracle their prospects of locating water in the wilderness were nonexistent. Moshe and Aharon gathered together the people, creating the hope that they would soon have water. We are not discussing a bit of water to tide them over. They needed a sufficient amount of water to serve millions of men, women, and children not for just a day, but for a lengthy period of time. Now, if a small group of buffoons were looking to ridicule and undermine Moshe's mission on behalf of the nation, should that have infuriated him? He should have ignored them, treating them as the fools that they were!

Horav Sorotzkin explains that Moshe Rabbeinu knew only too well the tragic effect of leitzanus, mockery/joking. After all, how did Korach guilefully ensnare his "congregation" of talmidei chachamim, scholars, and heads of the Sanhedrin? He employed the power of leitzanus. He made fun of Moshe. He made a mockery of the Torah and the manner in which Moshe presented the laws. He blinded the people with his halachah "jokes." He portrayed Moshe as incompetent and inconsistent in enforcing his rules for the people.

Yes, Moshe knew very well what leitzanus could produce. It has the power of a plague. The people were not going to move from here unless he provided them with water from the stone of their choosing. This represents the results of joking. Moshe was not going to risk another Korach incident. If it meant acting in an angry manner, so be it. The only way to counteract the effect of leitzanus is through retzinus, seriousness. One must demonstrate determination and resolve, not permitting those who ridicule to undermine the cause of Torah. Yes, at times one must even exhibit anger, as Moshe Rabbeinu did.

And all the congregation saw that Aharon was dead. (20:29)
Chazal tell us that Aharon's death was "seen" by the people with the disappearance of the cloud that accompanied them throughout their stay in the wilderness. The protection that resulted from the cloud was in the merit of Aharon. With the death of Miriam, another source of sustenance was withdrawn. The well of Miriam, which provided Bnei Yisrael with water, was no longer functional. Moshe Rabbeinu's merit was the source of manna, the third pillar of sustenance. These three leaders of Klal Yisrael were proof that the maintenance of our people is not determined by physical power, but rather by moral and spiritual strength. These three individuals personified the qualities necessary to fulfill one's mission in life.

The Navi Micha, (6:8) talks about man's obligations in life. "What does Hashem ask of you? To act justly, loving doing kindness, and walking in quiet modesty with your G-d." Hashem requires three things--acting justly, upholding the principles of the law; loving to act with kindness, a negating of oneself for his fellow man; walking through life in a modest fashion, unpretentious, not looking to bring undue attention to oneself. This is the moral mission of a Jew. We must focus our attention on these attributes, seeking to cultivate these traits.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, insightfully suggests that our triumvirate leadership respectively characterized these three qualities. Mishpat, living one's life justly in accordance with the laws of the Torah, represented Moshe's mission in life. Aharon exemplified chesed, inclining one's whole character to perform kindness to others. Tznius, the fundamental character of the Jewish woman, reached its zenith in the character and activities of Miriam.

Horav Hirsch goes on to posit that the three physical gifts of which Klal Yisrael were beneficiaries paralleled the moral gifts that were reflected by their respective leaders' characters. Tznius, modesty, is the quiet, hidden "well" out of whose depth all sanctity of life springs forth. Chesed, kindness, is that giving, refreshing and protecting "cloud" which joins with the clear penetrating rays of pure justice to nurture the seeds of welfare and happiness to grow in the field of mankind. Mishpat, justice, is the very bread from Heaven, the manna, which is essential so that man will endure and that the national community will be sustained. Three leaders, three virtues, all meld together to form the qualities to sustain one nation--Am Yisrael.

And they wept for Aharon thirty days, all the House of Yisrael. (20:29)
Aharon's special relationship with all people earned him the love of everyone. When he passed away, every Jewish man, woman, and child grieved. The quintessent Ohaiv Shalom, he extended himself to promote harmony among his fellow man and between husband and wife. The vacuum caused by his death was acutely felt by everyone. We see that Moshe Rabbeinu, the Rabbon shel kol Yisrael, the teacher who devoted his life to educating Klal Yisrael, was not as universally mourned. As the Yalkut explains, Moshe's responsibility was to judge and admonish, a function that was not always accepted by everyone. Thus, the love that everyone had for him was, at times, minimized. How did Aharon go about his "outreach" to others? Chazal tell us that he would greet all Jews with a bright hello. Afterwards, if a person desired to sin, he felt ashamed, since he would not be able to face Aharon after having done wrong. Consequently, Aharon's good cheer for everyone effected a positive rise in the spiritual climate of Klal Yisrael. Indeed, every Jew felt close to Aharon, so he would be unable to do something that would make him feel bad.

This would imply that at all times we are to act in a positive and amicable manner towards all people, regardless of their religious persuasion. This idea is apparently incongruous with the middah of emes, truth. If one is a rasha, his evil really cannot be mitigated. After all, is that not what Moshe Rabbeinu did? He admonished and criticized when an individual did something wrong. He seemed to "tell it like it is." Whose approach was actually more acceptable--Aharon's or Moshe's?

Interestingly, in the Talmud Sanhedrin 6B Chazal present these variegated approaches and posit a significant lesson. We are taught that Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbi Yosi Ha'Glili said, "It is forbidden to arbitrate in a settlement, and he who arbitrates offends, and whoever praises such an arbitration contempts Hashem." He proves this statement by using Moshe as an example. Moshe presented the law as it was, literally as if it were to cut through a mountain. Nothing stood in the way of the law. Immediately after this statement, Chazal say that Aharon would act differently. He loved peace and pursued peace and would, therefore, attempt to effect a compromise between both parties, so that they would not need to go to court.

We note that while Chazal criticize the arbitrator and extol Moshe as the example of he who remains loyal to the truth, regardless of the consequences, they praise Aharon for his approach to peaceful conciliation. They seem to have high regard for Aharon's manner of doing things. Tosfos add that Aharon was able to seek and effect compromise only because he was not a judge. One who is a judge, such as Moshe, before whom the halachic dispute was presented, must adjudicate according to the law--without compromise. What is it to be--the way of Aharon or the way of Moshe?

Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, suggests that both Aharon and Moshe had the right approaches. What appears to be incongruous is -- in reality -- consistent. We must realize, however, that rendering a decision of truth is different from the manner in which one conveys the decision to people. The actual psak, decision, must adhere totally to the letter of the law. There is no room for compromise when it affects the truth. The truth of Torah is immutable, leaving no room for error. When the decision is communicated to people, it is essential that it is given over in such a positive manner that it encourages optimum acceptance. We must respect the feelings and sensitivities of people, what appeals to them, and conversely, what affects them adversely. Not everyone is inclined to accept the truth in its stark reality. For many it must be couched in sensitive and soothing terms.

This idea applies equally to the individual. One cannot address a person in the same manner when he is on the upswing as when he is in a depressed state. In order for a person to accept the truth when his mind is under strain, it is incumbent that it be presented in a sensitive and caring manner.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the lawgiver. He was the vehicle through which Klal Yisrael would learn the Torah in its entirety. He was to present daas Torah, the Torah's "thoughts," on every issue as fact, in black and white. There are no gray areas in halachah. Our Torah is Toras Emes, the Torah of truth, without embellishments, unalterable, uncompromising, and unbiased. Halachah is an absolute, for it comes from Hashem. Moshe was to give over the Torah in its pristine form.

It was Aharon's function to imbue into the hearts of the people the Torah which Moshe transmitted. In doing so, Aharon had to consider each individual Jew. How is he to be inspired? What will impress him? How can he be moved to accept the Torah into his heart and mind? Unequivocally, Aharon did not sway one iota from the truth as Moshe presented it--even in the pursuit of peace. Never can Torah be compromised. He, however, sought different ways to make the Torah and some of the difficult decisions that must be rendered -- more "palatable" to all people. The Torah did not change--Aharon's presentation reflected the need of every individual.


1. Where was the Parah Adumah slaughtered?

2. Which avodah of the Parah Adumah was permissible to be performed by one who was not a Kohen?

3. The Parah Adumah was to atone for which sin?

4. In whose merit did the Jews have water?

5. Who dressed Elazar in the vestments of the Kohen Gadol? P>6. How does the Torah refer to Amalek in this parsha?

7. Where is the well of Miriam hidden?


1. In the desert it was slaughtered outside of the three camps. In Yerushalayim, it was slaughtered on Har Ha'zeisim, which was outside the walls of the city.

2. Shechitah

3. Eigal ha'zahav--Golden Calf

4. Miriam. There was a well.

5. Moshe Rabeinu

6. Canaani

7. In Yam Kinneret.

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