TORAH FOR THE TIMES 

Chukat- Friday, June 26, 2015 - 9 Tammuz, 5775

 

Torah Reading: Chukat (Numbers 19:1 - 22:1) 
Haftorah: Judges 11: 1-33  

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 5   
To learn more about Pirkei Avot click 
here

 

                                        Chukat
                                                    SOFT SPEAKING

 

For forty years in the desert, the Jewish people received their drinking water miraculously from a rock. Our Parshah tells us that when Miriam, Moses' sister, passed away, the rock disappeared. After the Jews (understandably) complained of the lack of water, G‑d instructed Moses to speak to the rock in order for it to resume supplying water. Instead of speaking, Moses struck the rock but it began to give water, nonetheless. Even though G‑d had once before instructed Moses to hit the rock as a means of receiving its water, (see. Exodus 17:6), this was not G‑d's command in this instance. For not having entirely listened G‑d's directives, Moses was rebuked and was told that he is not allowed to enter into the Promised Land.

Understanding Moses' sin in this affair is a matter of dispute. Rashi tells us that the sin committed by Moses was not following G‑d's orders exactly. He should have spoken to the rock instead of hitting it. Maimonides argues that the real sin stems from Moses' becoming angry with the Jews just before striking the rock (our Parshah 20:10). His anger was unwarranted and led to his censure by G‑d.

Having attempted to identify Moses’ sin, we still need to adequately explain the severity of the punishment. Does striking a rock or becoming angry at the Jewish people warrant being forbidden from ever entering the Land of Israel?!

 Let us first try to understand why G‑d commanded Moses to speak to the rock in order to get it to gush forth with water, even though He had, at an earlier time (see above), told Moses to strike the rock. Why the change?

A rock is traditionally a metaphor for an insensitive heart. A rock is lifeless, cold, and heavy - hence the expression "a heart of stone." Water, conversely, is refreshing and invigorating and the source of all life. Water is thus the symbol for Torah, which is likewise life sustaining. 

When the Jews first had a problem with their water supply it was - as is true with all matters which confront us in life - a manifestation of a deeper spiritual issue. The lack of water reflected a lack of spiritual life and involvement. G‑d thus showed Moses that even a rock can produce water, meaning that no matter how hardened or desensitized a person may have become, one can always find water - spiritual life - within. Sadly, accessing that water might not always be so easy. There might be a need to "strike the rock," to chip away at the tough exterior in order to uncover the spiritual potential which lies beneath the surface. 

This was the message in Exodus: Moses' striking of the rock at that point was illustrative of the lowly state in which the Jews found themselves. Their spiritual wheels could not begin to turn without "breaking" their hardness.

Forty years later, when a similar "water shortage" took place, Moses again took it as an indication that something was not right with the Jews' spiritual well-being. Could it possibly be that, after forty years of G‑dly development, their rock hardened hearts were not letting the refreshing waters of their soul emerge? Clearly, Moses thought, there was a need to "strike at their rock," to break their coldness. Thus Moses became angry with them. Not that he lost control of his emotions or became frustrated - G‑d forbid. Moses' anger was a calculated technique to break the Jews' recalcitrance. Moses calculated that his anger would be a way of breaking their shell and of putting them back on a path to spiritual growth.

Thus Rashi, who says Moses sinned in striking the rock, and Maimonides, who relates his sin to his becoming angry, really don't differ with each other. The intent behind both the striking of the rock and of Moses' anger was one and the same: to forcefully "break" the Jews' insensitivity and coldness to that which is sublime and holy.

 As good intentioned as Moses was, he was mistaken. This was not the same generation as had come out of Egypt, these were their children. The Jews who were ready to enter into Israel after forty years in the wilderness did not experience the Sinai revelation or the miracles in Egypt. If their parents were cold or indifferent to holiness after witnessing first hand all of the great miracles G‑d had done - it could only have come from a rebellious spirit or a resistance to holiness. But, if there was a hardness in the hearts of this, the second generation - it could easily be traced to a simple lack of awareness. They did not possess a hardened heart that needed to be "broken" with harshness. To extract the pure waters of G‑dliness from their hearts, they merely needed to be spoken to, to be educated. They needed to be shown how lofty their potential was - something that they might have been totally (and innocently!) unaware of.

So Moses, who regarded the new generation as being spiritually on par with their parents, exhibited a connection to the earlier generation. G‑d therefore removed him from leading this new generation - not as a punishment per se, but simply because his soul did not relate fully to their unique needs.

 The message for us is obvious. When we approach a Jew who seems to be hardened or disinterested, our approach must be one of warmth - not harshness or disdain. Without a doubt, a warm word and open conversation about Torah will open up wells of warmth and enthusiasm in people who until now had no visible connection with their Jewish heritage. This form of Ahavat Yisrael, of truly showing care and concern for the spiritual well-being of our fellow Jews, will certainly herald in the times of Moshiach when "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed."

 
 
                                            MOSHIACH MATTERS

"Noach opened the window of the ark..." Even while it is still the time of exile - a state of flooding prior to the redemption - a Jew might conclude that perhaps the end of the flood has come. At this point, he must leave the ark and head out into a "new world," a Redemption world. He must do all he can to clarify the matter, including sending out messengers. A Jew must not sit by idly and wait until G‑d commands him to leave exile and enter the Redemption. He must do everything he can to hasten the Redemption. Although leaving the exile and entering the Rredemption can only be according to G‑d's directive, nevertheless, when G‑d sees Jews yearning for the redemption to come immediately, this itself quickens the commandment to be issued forth from G‑d to "leave the ark," to leave the exile for the Redemption.