A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
July 3-4, 10 Tammuz, 5758
In this week's portion God tells Moshe (Moses) he would not lead the Jews into Israel.
God makes this decision after Moshe brings forth water from the rock. (Numbers
What precisely did Moshe do wrong to elicit such a harsh
Rashi insists that while God told Moshe to speak to the rock, (sentence 8) Moshe instead
hit it. (Sentence 11)
Others disagree, insisting that God never said to speak to the rock but rather speak about
the rock. In fact Ibn Ezra suggests that Moshe had the right to hit the rock once
but not twice, as the text records. (Sentence 11)
Rambam and Ramban, however, see Moshe's mistake in the words he utters just prior to
striking the rock. For Rambam, Moshe's misstatement was his reference to the people
as rebels ( ha-morim). (sentence 10) Such displays of anger, rather than
bringing out the best in others, often brings out the worst.
For Rambam, Moshe's error was his declaration that he and Aaron would bring forth the
water ( notzi). (sentence 10) This statement left the impression that the miracle of
water coming from the rock came from Moshe and Aaron
alone--not from God. This was a serious mistake, especially bearing in mind that the
Jews often confused Moshe with God. In other faith communities, leaders become God
(i.e. Jesus, Mohammed); not so in Judaism.
As great as Moshe was he was human. Unintentionally, Moshe's declaration sent a
mixed message to the Jewish nation.
Another thought comes to mind. When Moshe hits the rock, the Torah tells us,
"va-yakh et ha-selah," (and he hit the rock). (sentence 11) The only
other time in the Torah that a similar phrase appears is when Moshe kills the
Egyptian for smiting the Jew. There the Torah states "va-yakh et
ha-Mitzri," (and he smote the Egyptian). (Exodus 2:12) Indeed, some
suggest that Moshe
overreacted by killing the Egyptian--he, raised in the palace of the Egyptian king, surely
could have stopped him with less force. For taking his life unnecessarily he should
have been ruled out immediately as a prospective
leader of the Jewish people. God however, gives Moshe a reprieve. Only when
Moshe hits the rock and again uses too much force is the reprieve obviated.
In and of itself, hitting the rock was a negligible miscue. However, it is viewed as
a cumulative wrong when linked to Moshe's killing of the Egyptian.
The message: Leaders must be very careful with the power invested in them.
Even in this final leg of the trek through the desert, when entering the land of Israel
was so close, Moshe was denied the ability to see his dream realized. He is
disqualified, to dramatically teach him and everyone, that
God can use his power as He wishes--others, even Moshe, the prophet of prophets, cannot.
of Torah Index
VISIT THE HIR'S WEB BAYIT
© 5758/1998. All rights
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute
Comments to Webmaster