Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc
Volume XIII, No. 36
12 Tammuz 5759
June 26, 1999
Orach Chaim 128:13-15
Daf Yomi: Beitzah 31
Yerushalmi Chagigah 9
One of the key events in this week’s parashah is Moshe’s hitting the rock to draw forth water. Immediately afterward, Hashem decreed that Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael.
The commentators struggle mightily to understand the nature of Moshe’s sin and why Hashem responded as He did. (Eleven different explanations are offered inside this issue.) Why are there so many different explanations? Why doesn’t the Torah tell us more explicitly what Moshe’s failing was?
The commentary Esh Dat notes that just as Moshe’s sin is unknown, so his burial place is unknown. The midrash records that after Moshe’s death, Bnei Yisrael quarreled with each other. One said, “He was buried to the right,” while another said “To the left.” One said, “Up there,” but his friend retorted, “No, it was down there.” What does this teach us? That just as Moshe is a mystery to us in his death, so, too, his life is beyond our complete comprehension. In particular, any sin that he may have committed was too subtle to be recognized by us. (Quoted in Likutei Batar Likutei)
Then why even discuss this subject? Should even our greatest commentators be judging Moshe Rabbenu, the “Master of all Prophets”? R’ Yitzchak Meir Alter z”l (the first “Gerrer Rebbe”; died 1866) explains: If a story is included in the Torah, then clearly we are meant to study it. Each generation and each community is steered by G-d towards finding a lesson in the story which provides useful ethical teachings for that generation or community. All of the interpretations offered by the commentators may legitimately be found in the story of Moshe’s sin because each of them teaches a valuable ethical lesson. (Chiddushei HaRim).
Our parashah relates that after Miriam’s death, the fresh-water spring which had miraculously traveled with Bnei Yisrael disappeared. Bnei Yisrael complained to Moshe, who turned to Hashem. He said: “Take your staff and talk to the rock, and it will provide water.” Instead of doing this, Moshe yelled at Bnei Yisrael, and then hit the rock (twice). Immediately, Hashem informed Moshe that he would die in the desert.
What was Moshe’s sin? Below is a sampling of answers:
Rashi (to 20:12): Had Moshe spoken to the stone as he had been told to do, Bnei Yisrael would have said, “If an inanimate stone which has no needs obeys Hashem’s commands, how much more so must we obey Him?!” By not bringing about this kiddush Hashem/sanctification of G-d’s Name, Moshe caused a chillul Hashem/desecration of G-d’s Name.
Rambam (in Shemoneh Perakim, ch. 4): Bnei Yisrael believed that every word that Moshe spoke came from Hashem. Therefore, when Moshe yelled at them, they assumed that G-d was angry at them. This caused a chillul Hashem because there was no reason for Him to be angry at the moment.
Ramban (to 20:1, quoting Rabbenu Chananel): Moshe said (20:10), “Notzi”/”We will give you water,” instead of, “Yotzi”/”He [Hashem] will give you water.” This minimized the miracle and implied that Moshe would find water using his own wisdom.
Later commentaries note that Moshe’s death sentence is mentioned ten times in the Torah. This may be an allusion to his failure to use the letter “yud” (in yotzi” instead of “notzi”). The gematria of yud is ten.
Rabbenu Bachya (to 20:8, as explained by later commentaries): In an earlier incident (Shmot 17:6), Moshe brought forth water by hitting a rock once. By now hitting the rock twice, Moshe implied that Hashem had weakened.
Sforno (to 20:8): Moshe and Aharon made a conscious decision to lessen the miracle from a wholly supernatural one (in which a stone would turn to water when it was spoken to) to a more concealed miracle (in which water would appear to flow out of a rock naturally). They did this because they believed that Bnei Yisrael were unworthy of an open miracle and that their attempt to cause such a miracle would therefore fail. In fact, however, Bnei Yisrael needed to see an open miracle at just that moment to refute their belief that Hashem had taken them from Egypt to abandon them in the desert.
R’ Yosef Albo (in Sefer Ha’ikarim): Moshe should not have waited for Hashem’s instructions. He should have felt pity for them and ordered water to appear. “A tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills.”
R’ Yitzchak Abarbanel: Moshe’s death had been decreed earlier because he had caused the spies to err through his instructions. Aharon’s death was decreed because of his part in the Golden Calf. A leader who does not protect his people will be found lacking and unfit to lead. For some reason, however, Hashem waited until our parashah to announce His decrees.
Maharal (in Gur Aryeh): All of Moshe’s actions during this incident showed a slip in the level of his own emunah/faith. For example, he hit the stone twice (not once) and he yelled at Bnei Yisrael. One whose faith is perfect never loses his temper because he knows that all of his troubles are from G-d. A person with faith is always happy.
Me’am Lo’ez: By losing his temper, Moshe slighted the honor of G-d’s people, and therefore, of G-d himself.
Sefat Emet (R’ Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter z”l, the “Gerrer Rebbe”): Moshe’s death was not a punishment per se. Rather, the actions of hitting the stone and talking to it represent two different kinds of leadership. [On various occasions, the Rebbe offered different descriptions of the two types of leadership – see Sefat Emet: Years 5647, 5650, 5654.] Moshe’s actions showed that he could not provide the kind of leadership that the new generation needed. Because of this “generation gap,” Moshe had to be replaced.
R’ S.R. Hirsch (The Pentateuch, p.371): Moshe’s loss of his temper showed that he had lost hope in Bnei Yisrael’s ability to fulfill their destiny as a people. He wondered if all that he had toiled for was in vain. For this, he died.
R’ Hirsch adds: “[T]he impressive fact remains that, on account of such a small, easily to be understood, momentary weakness in their emunah, the leaders had to suffer the same fate that was meted out to the generation of the wilderness for their continuous lack of emunah. The grave of the great leader at the very border of the Promised Land to which he had at last brought his people, next to the graves of those who died in the wilderness, now bears everlasting witness to the impartial justice of the Divine rule, in the scales of which the slightest errors of the great saintly men weigh equally to the worst sins of ordinary mortals.”
This week’s letter was written by Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg z”l (1878-1966), pre-war rector of Berlin’s Hildesheimer Seminary and post-war rosh yeshiva in Montreux, Switzerland. R’ Weinberg was one of the leading halachic authorities of the post-Holocaust period, as alluded to in the title of his collected responsa, Seridei Esh/”Remnants of the Fire.”
This letter follows up on one of R’ Weinberg’s more famous halachic responsa. In that earlier letter (printed in Seridei Esh Vol. II No. 8), R’ Weinberg discussed the propriety of Shabbat youth groups in which teenaged boys and girls sang zemirot together. He wrote that although it was not the halachic ideal, there were special circumstances where such activities could be permitted.
B”H, Tuesday of Vayishlach, 9 Kislev 5517 , Montreux
My honorable friend, our teacher, Rabbi ____ shlita, editor of [the journal] Hamaor:
I received your letter in its time and I immediately wrote to Rabbi Dr. Jung, may his light shine, and passed on to him the arguments of your honor’s Torah, but without the words that might have insulted him. In my opinion, one must take care not to be an instigator of fights among the Orthodox, even when there are differences of opinion [among us], for we are the minority in the war against heresy and against those who throw off the yoke of Torah and mitzvot. We are forbidden to weaken ourselves and lessen our own honor through quarrelsome words and insults.
Regarding that which you wrote against me in your long responsum [in the journal Hamaor], I do not have even the hint of a complaint against you. Such is the way of the Torah [for scholars to disagree], and I do not consider myself to be the final arbiter whom one cannot question. In truth, though, I found nothing in your words that could persuade me to retract my instructions to the French community. However, I do not want to debate with you; to the contrary, I am pleased that there are those who are more stringent. May they be blessed, and hopefully they will succeed in retaining that stringency and observing tzniut/modesty in Yisrael in purity. . .
Your friend who admires you,
Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg
Sponsored by The Stern and Edeson families in honor of the 37th wedding anniversary of Esther and Jacob S. Edeson
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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