This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
חֻקַּת ~ Chukas
“Keep Calm and Rock On”
In one of the most challenging narratives in the entire Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu infamously loses his rights to enter the Promised Land after somehow violating the decree of Hashem when he hit the rock with his staff to retrieve water for the B’nei Yisrael at Mei Merivah (Waters of Strife) [B’Midbar 20]. Though the simple understanding of his transgression was that he hit the rock rather than speaking to the rock as he was commanded and therefore neglected to sanctify G-d’s Name among the people, the scene is largely vague. As such, it has been the challenge of most commentators to understand by what right Moshe was subject to such harsh retribution considering the ambiguity of his apparently sinful action. In simpler terms, “What was so bad?”
That issue is the one that gets most of the attention in this scene. However, there is more ambiguity in this story that ought to be addressed. For example, before actually striking the rock with his staff, Moshe makes a very strange remark in response to the people’s complaint for water, scolding them saying, “Shim’u Na HaMorim HaMin HaSela HaZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim?!”-“Listen now, rebels! From this rock shall we [actually] bring forth to you water?!” What exactly is Moshe trying to convey with these words? What is the simple explanation of this comment? Was he right to make this comment or wrong?
As far as the comment’s simple meaning, it seems as though Moshe is upset with them, labeling them as rebels, and is then asking some sarcastic or rhetorical question. What is he asking them? If, “from this rock, we can bring forth water.” But what does that mean? What exactly is he rhetorically asking them?
We’ll come back to that question soon, but for now, the Ba’al HaTurim makes an interesting comment on one of the words in Moshe’s remark. Moshe challenges the B’nei Yisrael saying, “HaMin HaSela…”-“Is it from this rock…”—“that we shall draw water?” So, the word “HaMin” (“If it from…?”) appears in only one other place in the entire Torah (and the Ba’al HaTurim also mentions an additional time in Navi [Melachim Beis 6:27], however we’re going to focus on the former). Explains the Ba’al HaTurim, the first time that this word appears in the Torah is in reference to the sin of Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden when he ate from the Eitz HaDa’as Tov VaRa (Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).
There, in a similarly rhetorical way (at least according to one simple reading), Hashem chastises Adam asking him [Bereishis 3:11], “…HaMin HaEitz Asher Tzivisicha L’Vilti Achal Mimenu Achalta?”-“…was it from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from that you ate?” What’s the relationship between these two verses?
The Ba’al HaTurim’s connection between them is quite simple. Both comments are being made amidst the annulling, or the violation of a command of G-d. Presumably, the Ba’al HaTurim is referring to how in Bereishis, Adam violated Hashem’s command not to eat from the tree, while in our Sidrah, Moshe violated Hashem’s command by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. We might also add that in both scenes, the questioner is asking about sustenance and the source from which the sustenance was being retrieved; in Bereishis, Hashem was asking about the fruit from the tree, and in our Sidrah, Moshe was asking about water from the rock.
The above is certainly interesting, and indeed, the surface connection between the two scenes is there, yet, there is an obvious difference between the two contexts. In Bereishis, the one asking the question is none other than Hashem, the One against Whom the sin was committed, while here, the one asking the question is actually the one who is about to commit the sin, Moshe Rabbeinu. While in Bereishis, Hashem is the using the word “HaMin” to chastise the sinner, in our Sidrah, it is ultimately the sinner himself uses the word “HaMin” to chastise others.
So, how are we supposed to understand the relationship between these two scenes in light of this inconsistency? Is the Ba’al HaTurim just being cute? It seems that the connection is only a superficial connection at best. “HaMin” happened to occur two different times in the context of a sin and some kind of rebuke, but one time happened to be from the words of the chastiser and the other time was from that of the sinner. What that seems to tell us is that the word “HaMin,” in our context is really inconsequential, because the rebuke in our Sidrah which happens to use the word “HaMin” actually has nothing to do with Moshe’s actual sin. It was just something Moshe happened to have said in the same scene just before he sinned. It’s otherwise really irrelevant…unless, of course, there is something more fundamental in this word “HaMin.” But, what could that be? What does the word “HaMin” have to do with Moshe’s sin which occurred moments afterwards?
To answer this question, we have to come back to the other question we referenced, what exactly Moshe was telling the B’nei Yisrael just moments before he struck the rock. “Shim’u Na HaMorim HaMin HaSela HaZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim?!”-“Listen now, rebels! From this rock shall we [actually] bring forth to you water?!”
What is Moshe asking them? Is he being sarcastic as to whether or not they could actually retrieve water from the rock? Maybe, but that seems unlikely because that is in fact what Hashem told him to do, and that is, in fact, what he ultimately does. For this reason, Rashi has explained [citing Tanchuma 9] that the people were urging Moshe to retrieve water from a different rock, separate from the one that Hashem had commanded. However, according to the simple reading, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that Moshe, in asking this question, intended to chastise the bickering B’nei Yisrael as if to say, “You challenge us—me and Aharon—accusing us of leading you into the desert as if we are the answers to your problems. You challenge us to give you water and actually think that we have the power to retrieve it from a mere rock. Since you ignore Hashem Who is your real Provider, you are rebels.”
That, R’ Hirsch explains, was Moshe’s message. The question is what that message has to do with Moshe’s sin. Moshe’s sin occurred after these words of rebuke. Moreover, these words were actually not only reasonable, but they were perfectly warranted for the situation. R’ Hirsch basically goes on to explain that Moshe certainly did not sin when he was chastising the people (though not all commentators agree to this point), but Moshe told the B’nei Yisrael exactly what they deserved and needed to hear as that point!
So, what then, does this statement of rebuke have to do with Moshe’s sin? It is really the fault of the people that this rebuke is underscoring.
The answer to this question, perhaps, is that although, in the plain reading, the rebuke of “HaMin HaSela…” was directed at the B’nei Yisrael, the message of the same rebuke is implicitly directed at Moshe for his sin as well. In other words, the message that Moshe was now screaming to the B’nei Yisrael was one that he himself needed to better internalize, that Moshe needed to calm down and remember Who is Provider was.
In this scene, the people come to Moshe whining and complaining, apparently forgetting that G-d is among them, ready to provide their needs for them, so long as they calm down, perhaps pray, and stop “rebelling” against their leaders as if they’re the providers. This is all true, and this is all what Moshe implies in his verbal rebuke to them!
But, what about Moshe himself? We know that Moshe, on his exalted level, ignored the Will of G-d, when he hit the rock. Perhaps in his own humanity, Moshe got caught up in the heat of the people’s complaining and perhaps his own wrath and frustration, and he hit the rock. At this point, explains R’ Hirsch, Moshe had taken things too far. And how could that happen unless Moshe himself, for even a moment’s time, forgot his cause and that Hashem was his constant Provider?
Indeed, Adam as well, essentially sinned in this way when he ignored the one command that Hashem gave him—Hashem, the One Who provided him virtually all the trees in the Garden of Eden.
In this very vein, Hashem declared that Moshe had neglected to sanctify His Name [20:12], for, as Rashi explains famously, had Moshe merely spoken to rock, the nation would’ve learned that if he inanimate rock could fulfill the Will of G-d without a fight, then they certainly should as well. Because Moshe hit the rock, they could not learn this lesson, but not just because practically speaking, Moshe didn’t speak to the rock, but because the messenger himself, Moshe Rabbeinu, violated the Will of G-d in his anger, not much differently than the people he rebuked did! He apparently did not carry out the Will of G-d and it was because he himself did not keep calm. This violation of G-d’s command would very much prevent the lesson from being taught, and G-d’s Name from being sanctified, thus Hashem had to make an example out of Moshe and have His Name awed and sanctified the hard way, through punishing Moshe for violating His word.
Thus, we could suggest that there really is no inconsistency between the two contexts in which the word “HaMin” appears in the Torah. The rebuke imbedded in the word “HaMin” is not just Moshe’s words to the B’nei Yisrael, but it is actually the story’s implied rebuke to Moshe himself, that just like the B’nei Yisrael, Moshe should have taken his own words more seriously and remembered not to get worked up, but to keep calm and trust in the Provider. Because, had he done so, he would not have violated Hashem’s command. He would not have hit the rock. The apparent hypocrisy that we observe in hindsight, from Moshe’s words, is somewhat of a sin in its own right, again, on Moshe’s own exalted level.
For us even more than for Moshe Rabbeinu, the message is crucial. Moshe’s slipup just shows us how difficult it is, but we really do have to learn to calm down, especially when we’re about to scream “Calm down!” to somebody else. How often do we forget that Hashem is with us and just lose it? Perhaps the better question is how rarely we actually remember Hashem, remain calm, and trust that everything will be okay as long as we just do as He says. If we learn anything from our story, it is that getting worked up does not pay. And unfortunately, like Moshe Rabbeinu, most of us more regularly learn and experience that the hard way. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could learn in the ideal way, the way that Moshe Rabbeinu was supposed to teach us by calmly speaking to the rock? Perhaps the first few times, it’ll be difficult to catch ourselves, and certainly, we cannot expect to be that much greater than Moshe Rabbeinu in the same situation, but if we’re thinking ahead of time and anticipate the challenging situation before it arrives, and if we mediate on the idea of keeping calm and trusting in Hashem always, we can use our words properly and calmly, and thereby sanctify Hashem’s Name.
May we all be Zocheh to always remain calm, speak our minds in an effective and not angry way, stay focused on G-d’s Will, always be the cause of only Kiddush Hashem in the world, and we should experience the ultimate Kiddush Hashem in the form of our Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂