We invest heavily in our link to the past – to our forebears, and to the events in their lives. That is a very good thing. Except when it isn’t. Had Moshe understood the exact prescription for connecting to what came before, he would not have struck the rock.
Want to get someone to act according to a higher consciousness than they usually do? Generally, you have two options. You can speak convincingly, so that they come to internalize the value that you promote. All of the resistance to a higher truth melts away when you demonstrate to them the majesty and splendor contained in their own souls. Alternatively, you can speak reprovingly, from a position of authority. If you choose the latter, your audience accepts the reproach sufficiently to refrain from some dastardly deed – but their spiritual consciousness remains where it was before.
Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the rock. Moshe, however, struck it. Hashem faulted him for failing to “believe in Me, to sanctify Me.” We struggle to understand why Moshe’s small error should be held against him as a deficiency in belief, of all things. The explanation lies in the two approaches we described above.
Hashem wanted Moshe to speak to the rock – to employ the first of the two approaches we described above – in order to instruct him about the nature of the Jewish soul. He wanted to make it clear that this soul is always, always capable of rising to that higher plane. There are those who stumble and fall, to be sure. But even they fail to permanently damage the core of that soul. Their sin remains in the past, while growth and change is part of a future that can free itself from the past. Klal Yisrael exists for that future.
Speaking to the rock would demonstrate that Klal Yisrael, can always respond to appeals for elevated change, just as the rock did. Klal Yisrael lives in the future and its guarantee of attaining the highest levels, far more than it is rooted in the past. Moshe certainly accepted this, but did not think that the Bnei Yisrael standing before him had yet attained such a level. G-d regarded this as a form of disbelief, because any failure to fully appreciate that the kedushah of Klal Yisrael derives from their future rather than the past is a form of disbelief. It is disbelief in the possibility of demonstrating His kedushah through them.
We see the primacy of the future rather than the past in other places. Chazal tell us that Avraham was saved in the merit of who would descend from him. In other words, what the future would bring was of greater consequence than the sterling accomplishments of Avraham’s past.
Similarly, Chazal’s treatment of parah adumah, the red heifer. “Let the mother come and clean up after her son.” The atonement for the past hinges on the future yet to be. This, too, is reflected in the teaching that Moshe’s parah adumah remains for all times. In Moshe’s activities, the future was constantly represented.
We can take things a bit deeper by appreciating the teaching of the Gra. Tikunei Zohar states that had Moshe not hit the rock, our Tanaim and Amoraim would not have had to toil with questions, answers, disputes, and halachic determination. The Gra explains that the waters of Torah would have flowed easily and clearly from their Source, as a spring exits from below to the surface through a rock. Moshe believed that the Bnei Yisrael had not yet arrived at a point in their development that they could live on such a lofty plane. They still needed refinement, he thought, which so often comes from living with difficulty, challenge, and tribulation. He believed that hitting the rock should precede speaking to it. First, the Bnei Yisrael would need the slow growth that comes through dealing with yesurin – with pain and difficulty – coupled with the refinement of Hashem’s love. Moshe’s intention was that his hitting of the rock, which represented the need for slow refinement through dealing with difficulty, would be followed by speaking to it. The latter would represent the natural flow of the waters of Torah she-b’al-peh through their lips in an elevated state.
His estimation of them was, however, an under-estimation of their worth. By hitting the rock, he paved the way for the acquisition of the Land through difficulty and overcoming adversity. He also sealed his own fate. By nature, Moshe was meant to lead an effortless entry into the Land. When his hitting of the rock necessitated acquiring it the hard way, he precluded his own role. He could no longer enter the Land.
- Based on Mei Marom, Bamidbar Maamarim 37, 40 ↑
- Bamidbar 20:12 ↑
- Specifically, Yaakov. See Bereishis Rabbah 63:2 ↑
- Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8 ↑
- Tikkun 1 ↑