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Parshas Matos - Masei 5760

Outline Vol. 4, # 4

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein


Moshe became angry three times, and each time he made an error. (Sifre, Matos 5.) Anyone who becomes angry makes a mistake as a result (Sefer Chasidim).

In Parsha Chukas, Moshe was punished because of the way a miracle occurred. He was told to speak to a rock, and cause water to flow from it. He angrily struck the rock, and called the people "rebels" for demanding water. Due to this incident, he was told that he would not be permitted to enter the promised land.

There are different explanations regarding Moshe's error. Rambam and others explain that Moshe's crime was his display of anger.

Ramban (Nachmanides) questioned this explanation. The verses which describe Hashem's reaction don't mention anger. Instead, the verses mention that Moshe failed to strengthen the people's faith.

Maharal answered simply: One who becomes angry is not showing faith. A truly faithful person is cheerful.

The Chazon Ish, in Emunah Ubitachon, writes: "One who gets angry at someone, lacks faith. Whatever happens to him has been decreed, and is not really dependent on the other person."

Rokeach is quoted in Yoseif L'chok: "The humble person rules his action and spirit; when he is slighted and is able to take revenge, because of his humility he bears it quietly... If difficulty occurs, he affirms, accepts the judgement upon himself. He holds back his mouth from speaking, his mind from thinking..."

Striking the Rock

Rashi is of the opinion that Moshe was to tell the rock to give forth water, rather than strike it. Again, Ramban (Nachmanides) questioned: Since water coming out of a rock is a miraculous phenomenon, what difference did it make whether Moshe commanded the rock, or struck it with a stick?

Sefer Ha'ikarim answered. True, causing water to flow from rock either by striking out or ordering the rock, would be miraculous. Since it would anyway be a miracle, why should Moshe not have done exactly as he was told?

Instead, Moshe asked angrily, "Are we to get water out of this rock?" and struck out at it, making it appear as if he were in doubt. One who doubts whether miracles occur for the Tzadik (righteous person) or Navi (prophet) is considered as if he doubts the power of Heaven. Rather, he should have realized on his own, and performed the miracle simply.

Indeed, continues the Sefer Ikarim, it was only because of the modesty of Moshe that he did not consider himself worthy of such a miracle. However, his modesty was misplaced at this point, since his actions brought about a lessening in the people's faith, causing them to have doubts about miracles.

The Test

The Panim Yafos explains differently: Whether the miracle would occur through the force of the stick or through words alone, depended on the level of faith of the people. If they were on a high level of faith, Moshe would only use words; if they were on a low level, he would have to strike with force. Moshe, therefore, planned on testing the people. This was his intention when he asked, "Are we to get water out of this rock?" If they had answered affirmatively, he would have merely used words.

If so, what error did Moshe make? After all, he tested them, and they did not pass the test. Since they did not show a high level of faith, the miracle could not have come about through words alone! What then, was Moshe's mistake?

Answered the Panim Yafos: The people were, indeed, on a high level of faith. Because Moshe reacted so angrily, the people did not answer him out of fear and shame. Moshe took their silence to mean that they did not have much faith, but he misunderstood their silence.

Giving Reproof

Kedushas Levi showed how the story demonstrated different types of reproof. The difference between performing miracles by speaking or by striking is dramatic. If one teaches with uplifting words, building upon the greatness of the individual and the people, every part of creation will naturally want to fulfill the will of the Creator. If, however, the teacher scorns and shames, everything will appear coerced. Gentle praise will foster willingness, scorn and anger brings about fear and coercion. With patience, we can see that rocks, and all of creation, do act in miraculous ways. However, if we coerce inanimate nature angrily, the people in our sphere of influence will feel their choices being limited.

The Children of Gud (Gad) and Reuven

In our second parsha of this week, the tribes of Reuven and Gud (Gad) requested to settle on the other side of the Jordan River. Moshe was concerned lest these tribes relinquish the duty to help their brothers conquer the mainland.

Reuven and Gud convinced Moshe that they would indeed fight alongside the rest. Nonetheless, Sefer Chasidim maintains that -- because of Moshe's anger -- a descendent of Moshe's would eventually make tragic mistakes.

Before a Talmid Chocham shows anger, he should measure his behavior carefully, so that his mind remains composed. Learn this from Moshe; in his anger at the Children of Gud and Reuven, he called them transgressors. (Bamidbar 32:14) Due to this, his grandson became involved with Pesel Michah (an idolatrous image, see Shoftim 18:30). [Sefer Chasidim]

Sefer Chasidim goes on with many examples, showing how excessive anger generates a dearth of communication. Out of fear of recrimination and feelings of rejection, family members slowly depart from accepted norms.

How important it is to build self-confidence with praise and gentle, uplifting words...

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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