HASHEM spoke to Moshe saying, “Take the staff and gather the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters. You shall bring forth for them water from the rock and give drink to the assembly and to their animals.” Moshe took the staff from before HASHEM, as He had commanded him. Moshe and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock and he said to them, “Listen now O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice. Abundant water came forth and the assembly and their animals drank. HASHEM said to Moshe, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the Land that I will give them.” (Bamidbar 20:7-12)
Moshe finds himself between a rock and a hard place, literally. What is he to do? He has a thirsty crowd to contend with and as a result of the action he takes or the words he spoke or did not speak he and his brother Aaron are denied entry into the Land of Israel. It is hard to figure exactly what went so wrong. Why was Moshe told to take a stick and then talk to the rock? What was he to say to the rock? Why was he to speak to the rock “to the eyes” of the congregation? In the end the water came gushing out and the masses were mollified but Moshe was still blocked from the Holy Land. Could it really be that as he is apparently accused, Moshe did not believe in HASHEM? What does that mean?
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni reveals what it was that Moshe was to say to the rock. “Moshe was told to teach it a chapter (a perek) and it would give forth water. The Lekach Tov says that Moshe was told to say, “So says HASHEM: ‘Bring out your water!'” In any case Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it and he even hit it twice. What was lost?
HASHEM criticizes Moshe that he lacked belief in HASHEM. It certainly cannot mean that Moshe who achieved the highest degree of prophecy did not believe in HASHEM. In this incident, Moshe failed to make HASHEM more believable in “the eyes of the congregation”.
What is the point, what is the value of being stuck without water in the desert? It is a test? This becomes a teachable moment for the entire nation. Sure there is a practicality of expediently delivering water but with that drink of water there is a great chance to install an all time lesson. Where had Moshe failed? He hit the rock and miraculously the water was restored. The people broke out spontaneously into song and Moshe is heralded as cosmic plumber. Yes, they made a Kiddush but it was not as much of a Kiddush HASHEM as it might have been.
By deviating from the lesson plan outlined to him by HASHEM the intended lesson was lessened. Had Moshe spoken to the rock, Rashi explains, the people would have figured that if a rock which doesn’t speak or hear and doesn’t need a livelihood is obedient to the word of HASHEM, the how much more so should we be! What an impact that would have made on the hearts of the entire nation. By using the stick instead that crucial message lost.
By simply learning with a rock, a small portion of Torah, it can be made to drip with the milk of human kindness and quench the thirst of millions of starving souls. How much more so, with regard to a human who can hear and can speak and who is vulnerable to the gyrations of the marketplace, should he be sensitive to the word of HASHEM. Moshe Rabbeinu should not have to hit or shout to get his point across. A great teacher should rather speak softly and carry a big stick.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter ztl. was served a glass of water at a fancy French hotel. Afterwards he was given a bill for 50 francs. He queried about the extra high price to the waiter who explained, “Rabbiner, you are not paying only for the water! See the piano player over there tickling the ivories, and the artful tapestries are upon the walls. You’re paying for the ambiance! Reb Yisrael paid the bill and when he returned to his room he wrote a letter to his students in Russia explaining that now he knows why when we make a Brocho on water we say, “SheHaKol Neheyiah B’Devaro”-“that everything comes about through His speech”. We are not making a blessing on the water alone but rather on everything! DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.