The Torah's narrative takes a thirty eight year leap as it reports the
death of Moshe's older sister, Miriam, and the loss of the miraculous well
that accompanied the Jewish people through the wilderness in her merit. To
remedy the dearth of water, G-d instructed Moshe, "Take the staff and
gather together the assembly, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the
rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters; you will bring forth
for them water from the rock and give drink to the assembly and to their
animals." (Bamidbar/Numbers 20:8) Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma (9)
which notes that G-d's mention of the flocks teaches us of His concern not
only for the welfare of the Children of Israel but for their property as
What is the imperative for the Midrash to state that the animals were saved
specifically because they were the chattel of the Jews? Can it not be
explained that G-d maintained a concern for all His creations, thus He
wished to provide for the animals in their own right?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1) expounds that notwithstanding G-d's general
provision for all His creatures, He does not perform miracles exclusively
for the animal kingdom. These animals found themselves in the wilderness
because they were the property of these humans; if the people lost their
merit for miraculous water, the animals' innocence would not suffice for
supernatural intervention. Their renewed sustenance came only as
beneficiaries of the congregation's renewed merit.
But could it not be understood that the renewed merit of the Jewish people
was so great that they earned sustenance for themselves and their animals?
Why does the Midrash explain that the Jews merited for themselves and the
animals received exclusively because G-d maintained a special concern for
Rabbi Feinstein concludes that had that been the case G-d would not have
explicitly instructed Moshe to provide to the animals; rather there would
have been a later parenthetical mention that the animals were given. The
direct instruction indicates that the Jews did not merit this care for the
animals; rather, once G-d decided to save the Jewish nation, He, in turn,
saved their possessions.
As physical creatures in a physical world, it is too easy to forget that
G-d is attentive to all the physical minutiae of our lives, that He (and
only He) calculates and provides all our physical needs. We dream of how
much better life would be if only we could win that mega-lottery jackpot,
forgetting that G-d, in His unfathomable, infinite wisdom, very carefully
orchestrates our life's circumstances to provide each individual the
ultimate environment for personal growth and development. There is no way
for us to even begin to comprehend the Divine rationale for each of the
details in our lives.
Rabbi Avrohom Pam (2) related the story of a Jew who, in spite of having
lived his entire life in dire poverty, remained steadfast in his faith, and
prayed with intense concentration. Someone once overheard this man reciting
the morning blessing, "Blessed are You...who has provided me my every
need," with great joy. Asked the passerby, "Can you really say that your
every need has been provided for? You are among the poorest of the poor!"
The man replied, "Can one really know, on his own, what his particular
needs are? If G-d has made me poor, then obviously this condition is
necessary for me to fulfill my purpose in life. Poverty is what my soul
needs, and I have been granted this in full measure!"
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem in New York
City; the leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor of his time and one of the
principal leaders of Torah Jewry through much of the last century
(2) 1913-2001; for some six decades, as Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Torah
VoDaas in Brooklyn, New York, he was an anchor for thousands of students
deeply attached to him with strong bonds of love; he was known for his
outstanding diligence in Torah study, as well as for his work on his
character and his study of mussar.