Torah Weekly

For the week ending 26 June 2004 / 7 Tammuz 5764

Parshat Chukat

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The laws of the para aduma the red heifer are detailed. These laws are for the ritual purification of one who comes into contact with death. After nearly 40 years in the desert, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. The people complain about the loss of their water supply that until now has been provided miraculously in the merit of Miriam's righteousness. Aharon and Moshe pray for the people's welfare. G-d commands them to gather the nation at Merivah and speak to a designated rock so that water will flow forth. Distressed by the people's lack of faith, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it. He thus fails to produce the intended public demonstration of G-d's mastery over the world, which would have resulted had the rock produced water merely at Moshe's word. Therefore, G-d tells Moshe and Aharon that they will not bring the people into the Land. Bnei Yisrael resume their travels, but because the King of Edom, a descendant of Esav, denies them passage through his country, they do not travel the most direct route to Eretz Yisrael. When they reach Mount Hor, Aharon dies and his son Elazar is invested with his priestly garments and responsibilities. Aharon was beloved by all, and the entire nation mourns him 30 days. Sichon the Amorite attacks Bnei Yisrael when they ask to pass through his land. As a result, Bnei Yisrael conquer the lands that Sichon had previously seized from the Amonites on the east bank of the Jordan River.


Dont Mock The Rock!

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

In this weeks Torah portion, G-d tells Moshe to speak to a rock and it would give forth water. Moshe instead hits the rock twice.

This is very difficult to understand. Why did Moshe, G-ds most faithful follower, not do as he was instructed? G-ds communication with Moshe was on a higher, clearer level than any other prophet before or since; so its impossible to say that Moshe just went ahead and without reading the Makers instructions hit the rock instead of speaking to it.

When Miriam was alive, the Jewish People received water from the Well of Miriam as they traveled through the desert. This was a miraculous water-giving rock that traveled through the desert with the Jewish People and always rested opposite the entrance to the Tabernacle. Each of the princes of the Twelve Tribes would scratch a line with his staff from the well to his Tribe, and these scratches would turn into a river of such size that a woman who wished to visit her friend in a neighboring Tribe would need a boat if she didnt want to get her feet wet.

The water encircled a large part of the camp. Trees, grass, vines, figs, and pomegranates would suddenly grow at its edge. The vines produced seven differently flavored grapes. In this water and fruit, the Jewish People could savor the taste of the World to Come.

All this vanished with Miriams passing.

The people complained bitterly at the lack of water. G-d had mercy on them and instructed Moshe to find the rock that was the Well of Miriam and command it to give forth water. G-d told Moshe to assemble all the righteous at the rock to witness a miracle that would sanctify the Name of G-d. Moshe was to learn a Torah passage or teach the people a Torah law and then command the rock to give forth water. The merit of the communal Torah learning would cause the rock to produce water once again.

G-d had warned Moshe to bring only the righteous to the rock, but Moshe, wanting everyone to witness the Greatness of G-ds miracles, assembled everyone including the mixed multitude of Egyptians who had strung along with the Jews after witnessing what had happened in Egypt. It was this same mixed multitude, the eruv rav, that had prompted the sin of the golden calf. These unsavory characters started to mock Moshe and say that if Moshe was only going to be able to bring forth water from one particular rock, it wasnt going to be a real miracle because Moshe, being a shepherd, knew that certain minerals could produce water. They demanded that the rock should be a rock of their choosing. As so often happens, the voice of disbelief is contagious and eventually the head of each Tribe picked up a rock and demanded that Moshe produce water from that rock, and that rock only.

There is a mystical concept that the Divine Presence would speak from the throat of Moshe. However, when Moshe became angry with the people, the Divine Presence left him, for prophecy forsakes a prophet who becomes angry.

Moshe sensed that the Divine Presence no longer rested on him and he did not want to risk desecrating the Divine Name instead of sanctifying it in with an unsuccessful miracle.

Thus he hit the rock.

Even thought Moshe acted out of good intentions, seeing as he had changed G-ds word, he was punished greatly so that no subsequent prophet might assume that if Moshe, the most trusted of G-ds household could change what G-d had told him, so could he.

  • Sources: Kometz HaMincha in Iturei Torah, The Midrash

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