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Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Moshe Strikes the Rock


This week, we began a new topic: Moshe, Aharon and the Rock.

To bring our new e-mailers up to speed, we have been trying to learn about various interesting events within the Torah from a dual perspective - from the perspective of Peshat (literal interpretation), and the perspective of Derash (analytic interpretation). For background information regarding these two approaches, please see the following web pages: and

You may find archives of past e-mails on the Ohave Shalom website, at:

Our main purpose, in looking at this topic, is to answer one central question: Why did Moshe strike the rock?
Along the way, we hope to answer several other, associated questions regarding the behavior of Moshe and Aharon, and HaShem's method of dealing with them.

To clarify our questions, and to get a feel for the general story, we began to look through two Torah portions.
The first is Shemos 17:1-7, which tells of an incident in which the Jews asked for water during their first year in the desert, at which time Moshe was told to strike a rock and bring forth water. The second is Bamidbar 20:1-13, which tells of the incident in the beginning of the Jews' 40th year in the desert, when the Jews asked for water, Moshe was told to speak to a rock to bring forth water, and Moshe struck the rock, instead.

We looked at the Torah's lines on a line-by-line basis; it may help to have a Chumash in front of you for this:

The First Rock - Shemos 17:1-7
VaYarev haAm Im Moshe - The nation battled with Moshe
The nation is encamped in Rephidim, and they don't have water. They begin to fight with Moshe - the term, "Riv," is a term which implies battle.
Note that they pick their fight with Moshe, specifically. HaShem is not mentioned, and neither is Aharon. It would appear that the problem is with Moshe, alone.

There are two problems with this:
A. The wording of the nation's complaint is: "Tenu Lanu Mayim veNishteh," "Give us water, and we will drink." "Tenu" is in the plural - who is the second party addressed here?
We came up with three possibilities:
1. The plural is a respectful form of address. This is problematic, given that they are "battling" with Moshe.
2. Aharon is the unspecified addressee.
3. HaShem is the unspecified addressee.
Why is the second addressee unspecified?

B. Moshe responds to the nation, "Mah Terivun Imadi, Mah Tenasun Es HaShem." "Why do you fight with me, why do you test Gd?"
Who said the people were testing Gd? Perhaps they were only questioning Moshe's ability to lead them!

VaYitzma Sham haAm - The nation was thirsty there
This line is interesting - it indicates that the nation fought with Moshe about water even before they were thirsty!

Od Me'at Uskaluni - In a little while, they will stone me
Moshe turns to Gd, and says that if HaShem will not intervene, the people will stone him.

Avor Lifnei haAm - Pass before the nation
HaShem responds to Moshe, "Pass before the nation." What is the purpose? The Midrash suggests that this was a rebuke of Moshe - "See if they will stone you, in fact." Moshe has accused the Jewish people of faults before, and been rebuked - see Shemos 4:1, and Rashi on Shemos 4:3, for example. HaShem makes a point of telling Moshe that he should not be so harsh with the nation.

UMatcha Asher Hikisa Bo Es haYe'or - Your staff with which you struck the Nile (turning it to blood)
Moshe is told to bring the staff which turned the Nile to blood - why does HaShem specify this miracle? There were other, more recent miracles performed with the staff. Why not mention that this staff had been employed in splitting the Yam Suf?

veHikisa vaTzur - Strike in the rock
Moshe is told not simply to hit the rock, but to hit "in" the rock.

Leimor HaYeish HaShem biKirbeinu - Saying, "Is HaShem in our midst?"
Moshe names the site, "Masah Umerivah," and in his title he accuses the nation of having tested both himself and Gd. Where did they test Gd in this story?

To re-list our questions, thusfar:
1. Why did Moshe accuse the nation (17:2, 17:7) of quarreling with HaShem, when they only attacked Moshe?
2. The nation addressed Moshe with the plural form - who was the second party?
3. Why did HaShem describe Moshe's staff as the staff which had been used in turning the Nile to blood?

To re-list some interesting points:
1. The nation complained even before they were thirsty
2. HaShem rebukes Moshe for slandering the nation
3. Moshe was told to strike "in" the rock

The Second Rock - Bamidbar 20:1-13
Note the association of the lack of water with Miriam's death. Our sages have taken this as an indication that the nation had provided with water, to this point, on Miriam's merit.

VaYikahalu Al Moshe veAl Aharon - The people gathered "on" Moshe and Aharon.
Those who were with us when we studied the Golden Calf will recall that in that incident, the nation gathered "on" Aharon. Ibn Ezra commented there that whenever the nation gathers "on" someone, it is a sign of a developing problem.

VaYarev HaAm Im Moshe - The nation battled with Moshe
Mirroring the language from the first time around; and, again, just against Moshe - although in 20:2 they had gathered against both Moshe and Aharon!

BiGva Acheinu Lifnei HaShem - When our brothers died, before HaShem
These seem to be very frum people - they invoke Gd's Name in their complaint to Moshe. They do the same in 20:4, calling themselves, "Kehal HaShem," "The nation of Gd."

Haveisem - You brought us here
As we noted in the first incident, the nation addresses Moshe with the plural form. Who is the unnamed second party?

Moshe veAharon
Why does Aharon keep popping in and out of the story?

Mipnei haKahal - From before the nation
Moshe and Aharon are described as being on the run, forced to flee to the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting with HaShem

We paused here for this week. Next week, Gd-willing, we will continue to look at the Torah's two accounts, and we will start to look for answers to our questions.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

Hitting the Rock - Week Two


This week, we continued our discussion of Moshe, Aharon and the rock. We concluded our initial reading of the Torah's verses, and began to look at Ibn Ezra's understanding of the Torah's account.

The Verses
As we said last week, it would be helpful for the reader to have a Chumash before him during this part.

Bimidbar 20:8
Kach Es haMateh - Take the staff
Why did HaShem tell Moshe to bring his staff, if Moshe was not to use it?
haSela - the stone
It is interesting to note that the first time Moshe hit the rock, it was identified as a Tzur. This rock is identified as a Sela.

veEs Be'iram - And their animals
Last time, HaShem told Moshe that the people would drink, although they had requested water for themselves and their animals. This time, the people requested for themselves and for their animals, and HaShem granted both requests.

Kaasher Tzivahu - As HaShem had commanded him
Why are we told that Moshe took the staff, "As HaShem had commanded him?" Apparently, there is a message here - Moshe took the staff with the full intent of carrying out what HaShem had instructed him to do.

Shimu Na haMorim - Listen, Rebellious ones!
This is full of trouble. As we mentioned last week (Shemos 17:4-5), Moshe has been rebuked in the past for insulting the Jewish people, and accusing them of improper behavior. Now, Moshe turns to the nation and labels them "rebellious ones!"

HaMin haSela haZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim - Can it be, that from this rock we will draw out water for you?
Is Moshe trying for the theatrical here? Obviously, he is going to bring out the water from the stone. Is he trying to build suspense - or is there something more going on here? Note the emphasis on "HaZeh," "from this rock."

VaYarem Moshe Es Yado - And Moshe raised his arm
As Ben Tzion and Rahmat pointed out, the image of Moshe raising his arm is one which occurs several times in the Torah - this was the way he turned the Nile to blood, and this is the way he davened to HaShem in the war against Amalek.

Paamayim - Twice
Why did Moshe have to hit the rock twice? We suggested three possibilities:
A. Moshe was angry
B. Nothing came out at first
C. Too little came out at first - note that the verse says that after both blows, "Mayim Rabim - Large quantities of water" emerged.

ve'El Aharon - And to Aharon
Why was Aharon punished for this? We suggested a couple of possibilities:
A. For not stopping Moshe
B. Aharon frequently functioned as Moshe's interpreter. If Moshe's punishment had to do with his speech, perhaps Aharon was the one who said the actual words.

Lachein Lo Savi'u - Therefore, you shall not bring the nation…
Wasn't this a rather harsh punishment? We suggested that it is possible that this was not actually a punishment, at all. Perhaps:
A. It was done because Moshe and Aharon had shown themselves unworthy of continuing to lead. In other words, they were disqualified from leading, because of their actions here.
B. It was done in order to teach the people a lesson, regarding the actions of Moshe and Aharon

Ravu Benei Yisrael Es HaShem - The Jews battled HaShem
Note that here, as in the earlier story in Shemos, the Torah takes this as a battle between the Jews and HaShem, even though the nation actually invoked HaShem on their side in this story. Moshe, as far as the Torah is concerned, is simply a pawn in the battle.

VaYikadesh Bam - And He was sanctified in them
How did these events sanctify HaShem?

We asked many questions here; we then began to look for answers.

Ibn Ezra's view
We began by summing up Ibn Ezra's position as three distinct points:
A. Moshe hit the rock out of rage at the nation. Moshe was distracted from his role as HaShem's servant. Moshe had to hit the rock twice, because in his rage he lost the ability to make it obey him.
B. HaShem punished Moshe so drastically because of failure to sanctify HaShem's Name, as the verse states explicitly.
C. Aharon was part of this with Moshe, and he was punished because he had been commanded with Moshe. Aharon was not punished for the things Moshe said and did, only for his inaction as far as the proper execution of the task.

We noted two comments by Ibn Ezra which are interesting here, although they don't directly affect our questions:
A. Bimidbar 20:2 - Ibn Ezra says that the purpose of including this story in the Torah is to explain why Moshe and Aharon wouldn't make it into Israel. It is here to tell about their death. First we heard about Miriam's death, now we hear about Moshe and Aharon's death.
B. Bimidbar 20:6 - Ibn Ezra comments that this rock was different from the rock which Moshe used in Shemos. The former rock was a spring, with water inside it. Moshe split it open, and water emerged. Here, though, there was no natural water in the rock. It was a different rock, altogether.

Gd-willing, next week we will begin to look at what Ibn Ezra saw that led him to his interpretation of this event.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


This week we began to look for the roots of Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the Hitting of the Rock, within the Torah's verses.

To repeat from last week, the Ibn Ezra stated three points:
A. Moshe hit the rock out of rage at the nation. Moshe was distracted from his role as HaShem's servant. Moshe had to hit the rock twice, because in his rage he lost the ability to make it obey him.
B. HaShem punished Moshe so drastically because of failure to sanctify HaShem's Name, as the verse states explicitly.
C. Aharon was part of this with Moshe, and he was punished because he had been commanded with Moshe. Aharon was not punished for the things Moshe said and did, only for his inaction as far as the proper execution of the task.

Moshe's Rage
Ibn Ezra builds the picture of an emotional Moshe from several points:

1. Bimidbar 20:6 - "VaYavo…Mipnei haKahal" "And Moshe and Aharon came to the tent of Meeting, from before the nation."
Ibn Ezra comments, "The image is one of Fleeing." In other words, Moshe and Aharon are on the run. This perception may be augmented with Ibn Ezra's comment on Shemos 32:1, when the nation gathered "Al Aharon - On Aharon," to ask that he provide a replacement for Moshe. Ibn Ezra commented there that when the Torah uses the term of gathering "Al (on)" something, there is a fight brewing.
2. Bimidbar 20:10 - Although Ibn Ezra does not go out of his way to point this out, Moshe's language in this verse clearly indicates outrage.

3. Bimidbar 20:8 - Paamayim - Moshe hit the rock twice. Why twice? Last week we suggested a few possible explanations. Ibn Ezra takes the view that Moshe hit the rock twice because it did not produce water the first time he struck it.
Ibn Ezra is then left to answer why the rock did not produce water the first time, and this is where the issue of Moshe's emotions enters. In order to understand why the rock would not produce water, we need to have a general understanding of how miracles "work."

There are three general schools of thought as to how miracles occur:
A. Every occurrence is, in fact, miraculous. At every instant, Gd decides that certain objects will attract or repel each other, that liquids will evaporate at specific temperatures, etc. No event is more miraculous than any other event - all are Divinely ordered, as they occur.

B. No occurrence is miraculous, ever. According to this view, every event was programmed into Creation, by HaShem, who knew exactly what would have to occur at every instant.
(We discussed the issue of Free Will in relation to this concept - is it possible that Moshe could have decided not to lead the Jewish people, and so no one would have been at the Sea to see it split? This discussion is too involved for the e-mail form of the class, though.)

C. HaShem established certain rules, by which the universe functions. Such laws as those of Thermodynamics, Electricity, etc, were set into place, as the rules by which HaShem's universe would function. At various times, HaShem sees a need to override those rules - when that happens, HaShem orders the universe to function differently.

Ibn Ezra seems to take the third approach; a miracle happens when an instruction is issued to Creation, to act differently from the way it had to that point. According to Ibn Ezra, Gd is not the only one who can order such an event to occur. An emissary of Gd can do the same - and this is the role which Moshe would play. The Avi Ezer, a commentary to Ibn Ezra, compares Moshe's role to that of a member of the King's court issuing a command in the name of the King. Thus, Moshe tells the Sea that HaShem wants it to split - and it splits.
This is the way in which Ibn Ezra explains Shemos 6:3, when HaShem told Moshe, "I did not make My Name known to Avrahm, Yitzchak and Yaakov." Of course, all three of them used HaShem's Name. According to Ibn Ezra, HaShem is saying that they did not come so close to HaShem, as to bond with HaShem, to be identified with HaShem, in the manner in which Moshe would identify with HaShem.
In order to create a miracle, a person must learn about HaShem, and approach so close to HaShem that his own actions are no longer independent. Such a person performs an action because HaShem wants that action to occur, or desists from some course of action because HaShem does not want that course followed.
Moshe reached this level, and so he was capable of performing miracles - when Moshe addressed the Sea and told it to split, the Sea heard it as though HaShem had told it to split. Moshe was that member of the king's court.
When Moshe became emotional, though, and hit the rock out of rage and frustration - then he was no longer acting as HaShem's emissary. He was striking the rock as Moshe - and Moshe, as Moshe, could never make water come out of stone.

Ibn Ezra also cited two other views as to why Moshe hit the rock.
1. Hitting the rock was all right, and HaShem's instruction to Moshe to "speak to the rock" was not meant literally. According to this view, Moshe was punished for other reasons, as we will see, Gd-willing, next week.
2. The Jews asked Moshe to produce water from a specific rock, and it was the wrong rock. Moshe was afraid that if he tried for a different rock, that would lessen the miracle in people's eyes, and so he tried a sweeping strike rather than speak to that other rock.

The Punishment
We then approached Ibn Ezra's second point - that Moshe and Aharon were punished so drastically because they failed to sanctify HaShem's Name.
I think I will include this in next week's e-mail, because we began this topic today, but didn't finish it.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

Hitting the Rock - Week Four


This week we concluded our look at the Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the story of the Striking of the Rock.

Why the Death Penalty
First, we looked at Ibn Ezra's explanation for why HaShem gave Moshe and Aharon the death penalty for striking the rock. Ibn Ezra, like many others, does not believe that the crime is in the actual, physical hitting of the rock. Why not? Let's look at the verses, themselves.
The key point here is that the Torah omits one very important detail in discussing the crime and its punishment. The Torah records the sin and punishment four times:

Bimidbar 20:12 - "Because you did not trust Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Jewish people."
Bimidbar 20:24 - "Because you rebelled against My word, at the waters of Merivah."
Bimidbar 27:14 - "When you rebelled against My word in the Tzin Desert, when the people quarreled, to sanctify Me with water before their eyes…"
Devarim 32:51 - "Because you trespassed against Me in the midst of the Jewish people…because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the Jewish people."

The Torah never says that Moshe and Aharon are to be punished for hitting the rock. Repeated mention is made of a rebellion against HaShem's word, and an absence of sanctification. This leaves the event wide open for interpretation.

Ibn Ezra cites several approaches to the crime, before bringing his own:
a. Moshe was punished for addressing the nation as "Rebels." See our discussion of this in Week Two. Moshe had been reprimanded twice before for addressing the Jewish people in a disrespectful manner. Here, HaShem said "Enough."
b. Moshe had never been told to give a speech before bringing water from the rock. (Arthur pointed out today that this might have been considered a type of false prophecy, as the people would have assumed that Moshe was communicating the words which HaShem had given him to say. This idea is interesting, if debatable.)
c. Moshe was punished for not singing praise to HaShem when the water came from the rock. This is reminiscent of a Gemara in Sanhedrin which relates that King Chizkiyah could have become Mashiach after the defeat of Sancherev, but that the moment was lost when he didn't sing praise to HaShem.
d. Moshe was punished because his introduction, "Can we really bring water from this rock," made it appear for a moment that they could not bring water from the rock.
e. Moshe was punished for striking the rock twice.

It is interesting to note that all of the above-cited answers believe that there was no sin in striking the rock. They might point to the fact that HaShem told Moshe to bring his staff, as proof. Why assume that HaShem only wanted Moshe to speak to the rock? It is true that HaShem said, "veDibartem El haSela," "And you shall speak to the rock," but only after saying, "Bring your staff." There is room for interpretation, and this is what our sages found.

Ibn Ezra suggests a different tack, based on his interpretation of what made Moshe hit the rock.
Last week, we explained that Ibn Ezra said Moshe hit the rock out of rage and frustration. The rock was unresponsive because Moshe was acting on his own, instead of as HaShem's emissary. Moshe then got control of himself, and hit the rock a second time as HaShem's emissary, and water emerged.
According to Ibn Ezra, the lack of "sanctification of HaShem" occurs when Moshe, someone who is close to HaShem, acts on his own, for himself, instead of for HaShem. This is similar to Vayikra 10:3, regarding Nadav and Avihu and the incense they brought on their own. They did this on their own initiative, and it was taken as an act which was for themselves - and so HaShem killed them. HaShem said then, "biKerovai Ekadesh," "I am sanctified with those who are close to me." When they act for me, I am sanctified. When they act on their own, they are no longer close to me.

Manocher pointed out that there are other times when Moshe acts on his own. Shabbos 88 actually points out three times when Moshe acted on his own, and HaShem agreed with his decision:
1. Moshe added a day before the giving of the Torah, for the people to prepare.
2. Moshe broke the tablets, so that the people would not be punished for their idolatry as they would have been, had the tablets with the warning against idolatry been presented to them.
3. Moshe separated from his wife, Tzipporah, when he realized that HaShem could speak to him at any time, and so he couldn't conduct a normal family life.
It appears to me that the difference between those three events and the hitting of the rock is that in those cases Moshe took his knowledge of HaShem and of Torah, and applied to a circumstance to draw a conclusion. He wasn't acting for himself - he was acting for HaShem's interests, on his own initiative. This is different from hitting the rock out of rage - here, Moshe hit the rock out of his own, personal emotions, when he was supposed to be functioning as HaShem's emissary.

What About Aharon?
We then turned to Ibn Ezra's last point - the question of Aharon's fate. What was Aharon's role in this story?

Ibn Ezra made a comment in the story when the Jews first asked for water, which applies here, too. In Shemos 17:2, we are told that the people battled with Moshe, and they said, "Give us water." The verb, "Give," is stated in the Pasuk as "Tenu," which is plural. They addressed someone else along with Moshe. Ibn Ezra comments there, "They were speaking to Moshe and Aharon. Aharon did not have to be named, because whenever Moshe spoke, it was through Aharon."

In other words, Aharon is the partner whose role is understood, even if it is not mentioned. Further, Moshe never spoke on his own - it was always through Aharon.

Ibn Ezra makes a similar comment in our story. In Bimidbar 20:4, the people say to Moshe, "Why did you bring the nation of HaShem to this desert…" Again, "bring" is pluralized, "Haveisem." Ibn Ezra comments, "They were speaking to Moshe and Aharon. When the Torah said, "The nation quarreled with Moshe," it was understood that they were quarreling with Aharon, too, but they fought principally with Moshe.

Aharon is along with Moshe, and Moshe's speech is Aharon's speech. Therefore, if Moshe acts, Aharon is a part of that. He is responsible to get the job done properly, even as Moshe is.

To summarize what leads Ibn Ezra to his conclusions, then:

1. Ibn Ezra looks at the text and sees that Moshe was angry - he notes the language of "Rebels" which Moshe employs in addressing the people. He combines that with the need to hit the rock twice.
2. Ibn Ezra then does something which must be understood properly, in order to have a true understanding of how "Peshat" works: Ibn Ezra incorporates an external idea, which does not come from our text at all. Specifically, Ibn Ezra draws on his understanding of the way miracles are carried out by a human agent. Without this idea, the Torah's text is incomprehensible, for all the clues we have. "Peshat" must be augmented by a knowledge of general Torah principles, in order for it to be able to explain anything. A dictionary does not suffice.
3. Armed with his explanation of the way miracles work, Ibn Ezra explains Moshe's rage, and then his explanation of the punishment follows from there. Ibn Ezra also takes advantage of the textual similarity to the story of Nadav and Avihu.
4. Ibn Ezra explains Aharon's role based on the text's use of the plural form, indicating the Aharon is with Moshe every step of the way.

Gd-willing, next week we will begin a look at Rashi's understanding of this event.
Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Hitting the Rock - Week Five


This week we began to deal with Rashi's Midrash-oriented understanding of the Striking of the Rock.

Rashi's account consists of three major points:

A. Moshe hit the rock due to the following events: Moshe lost the appropriate rock. The people said, "Choose any rock!" Moshe spoke to the wrong rock, and then hit the rock, as he had the first time the Jews asked for water. Moshe had to hit it twice, to produce significant water.

B. HaShem punished Moshe so drastically because of failure to sanctify HaShem's Name.
1. Speaking would have caused sanctification of HaShem's Name, as people would have seen a rock listen to HaShem and this would have been a lesson for them.
2. Rashi also says, elsewhere, that Moshe died for saying, "Shimu Na haMorim," "Listen up, you rebellious people.

C. Aharon's role: Rashi doesn't address this here. Elsewhere in the Torah, though, Rashi indicates that Aharon's death was troubling for Moshe, and that there was an element of apparent injustice involved.

We noted a couple of other interesting comments which Rashi makes:

A. Rashi seems to indicate that this story was included here in order to teach about leadership and education. Moshe was punished for failing to teach the Jewish people a lesson, as noted in Point B above.

B. As Rabbi Kaplan asked today, it is odd that Moshe was told in Year 1 to hit the rock, and now he was told to speak to the rock. I suggested that the people of Year 1 were not ready for the Year 40 lesson. They were slaves, and they were used to intimidation. The people would not see a rock respond to speech, and understand that they should respond to an instruction without any attached threat.
Rashi (Shemos 17:5) says something which may indicate another answer. Rashi points out that HaShem specified to Moshe to take the staff, "with which you struck the river," in turning the river to blood. Rashi says that in the first incident, HaShem wanted to show the people that the same staff which punished, turning water to blood, could also provide succor, bringing water from a stone.

We then looked at Rashi's basis for his first point:

Why Moshe Hit the Rock
Rashi begins with one essential assumption - Moshe did not set out to violate his instructions from HaShem.
This might be backed up by Bimidbar 20:9, in which we are told that Moshe took his staff, "As he had been commanded." Perhaps this verse is meant to inform us that Moshe had no intention of using his staff improperly, at this stage.

Rashi builds the Derash account of events on three textual points:

1. Bimidbar 20:10 - "Shimu Na haMorim" "Listen, you rebellious people." Rashi comments that the word, "Morim," has its origin in the term "leHorot," "to teach," as is familiar to many people in the term "Moreh (masculine teacher)," or "Morah (feminine teacher)."
According to Rashi, Moshe was not only telling the people that their behavior was rebellious. Moshe was rebuking them for attempting to teach him something. What were they trying to teach him?

2. Bimidbar 20:10 - "HaMin haSela haZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim" "Will we bring water for you from This rock?" According to Rashi, this is not a dramatic introduction to Moshe's miracle. Rather, this was part of a conversation with the people, and the operative term was "This."
The people had shown Moshe a specific rock from which to take water, and Moshe said, Could we bring from This rock?!
Why would the people need to show Moshe a rock? Rashi concludes that Moshe must have lost track of which rock he was supposed to use.

3. Bimidbar 20:11 - "Vayach…Paamayim" "And he struck…twice." Moshe had to hit the rock twice, because on the first try the rock would not produce the necessary water. This was because Moshe was supposed to speak to the rock.

We then began to look at Rashi's second point:

Why Moshe Was Punished So Harshly
Rashi, like Ibn Ezra, picks up on the Torah's use of the phrase (Bimidbar 20:13), "VaYikadesh Bam," "And HaShem was sanctified with/among them." Rashi connects this with Vayikra 10:3. After Nadav and Avihu died for bringing unauthorized incense in the Temple, HaShem explained, "biKerovai Ekadesh," "I am sanctified with those who are near to Me."
Rashi explains that when HaShem carries out justice on those who are near to Him, others will honor Him more.
Rashi says that this was the principle which HaShem employed in punishing Moshe, too. When HaShem says to Moshe (Bimidbar 20:12), "Since you did not trust Me, to sanctify Me," Rashi comments, "I would have been sanctified had the people seen a rock respond to a spoken instruction. The people would have applied this lesson to their own behavior." Moshe is punished for failing to teach this lesson to the people.
Rashi reiterates this in Devarim 32:51. With Moshe about to die, HaShem says, "This is because you trespassed against Me…because you did not sanctify Me in the eyes of the Jews." Rashi comments that this refers to Moshe's failure to teach the Jews this lesson regarding obedience. Rashi adds that Moshe did not "trespass," but that his actions would cause the nation to trespass.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will see more of Rashi's explanation of the punishment of Moshe, as well as his explanation of Aharon's punishment. We might finish this topic next week.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner



This week, contrary to our expectations, we did not finish the topic of the Striking of the Rock. We spent more time in discussion, which will be summarized in this e-mail as best I can encapsulate it.

Most of the class was spent in discussion of the question of what Moshe's crime was.

Last week, we explained that Rashi seems to say that Moshe was punished for failing to teach the Jews an important lesson, in talking to the rock. Specifically, the Jews were to learn that even an inanimate object listens when spoken to. By hitting the rock, Moshe lost the chance to teach that lesson.

This week, we saw that Rashi elsewhere (for example, Bamidbar 11:22 and Devarim 33:8) says that Moshe was actually punished for referring to the Jews as "Rebels."

Which was Moshe's "real" crime?

Along the way to answering this (we haven't yet answered it), we got sidetracked on to a different issue: When we learned Ibn Ezra's view of the Striking of the Rock, we saw that Ibn Ezra raised a number of possible explanations for Moshe's sin, and rejected the explanations on various grounds. Ibn Ezra raised the possibility that Moshe was punished for calling the people "Rebels," and Ibn Ezra rejected that possibility. His reason for rejecting it was that Moshe would refer to the Jews as rebels again, in Devarim 9:7, 9:24, and 31:27. If Moshe was punished here for doing this, why did he repeat the crime later?

We suggested a few different approaches which might address this problem (I apologize if I leave out any of the ideas suggested today; the hour is late.):

1. When Moshe rebuked the people by the Rock, he was responding in the heat of the moment, in anger, in a sweeping statement. His statements in the speech in Devarim were calculated to serve as constructive criticism.

2. Here, Moshe had a script which HaShem had given him, and this was not in the script.

3. A rebuke given during the relationship might tune people out, and so the time of the Rock was the wrong time for such a harsh statement. Moshe was at the end of his life in the book of Devarim, and a rebuke delivered at the end has the advantage of being the last thing people hear.

4. This is difficult to say, but perhaps Moshe did, in fact, repeat the mistake. As we have mentioned in past weeks, this was not the first time that Moshe used harsh language regarding the Jewish people. At least twice before (Shemos 4:1, Shemos 17:5 - see Rashi on both) Moshe was rebuked by HaShem for insulting the Jewish people. That makes this the third time, already, in which he does this. It is possible, although difficult, to suggest that Moshe did, in fact, repeat this again in Devarim.

We spent some time on another question, as well: Why were the Jews made to wait until they were starving of thirst before they asked for water?

We pointed out that if one looks at the verses from the first time the Jews ask for water (Shemos 17:1-3), we see that the Jews experienced two stages of thirst - lack of water, and then actual thirst. The second time around, the Jews start to call out even before they reach the stage of actual thirst - the Torah (Bimidbar 20:1-2) only says they lacked water.

It is possible that the Jews were supposed to learn the lesson of prayer, and that this was an event where they showed they were not yet ready.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


The Striking of the Rock - The Conclusion


This week, we concluded the topic of "The Striking of the Rock."

Aharon's Punishment
We began by looking at this question: "Why was Aharon punished for Moshe's Striking of the Rock?"

Rashi listed two reasons for Moshe's punishment:
A. By Moshe's hitting of the rock, the Jewish people lost the chance to see that even a rock would listen to a spoken order from Gd
B. Moshe called the Jews "Rebels."
Which of these could apply to Aharon?

Interestingly, Rashi says nothing in this story about Aharon's role. The only hint we get, as far as Rashi's opinion, comes in a comment on the blessing which Moshe gave to the tribe of Levi (Devarim 33:8).

The verse reads, "Asher Nisiso biMasah, Terivehu Al Mei Merivah." "You tested him at Masah, you struggled with him at Merivah." Masah was the first time the Jews asked for water, and Merivah was the second.

There are numerous interpretations as to who "You" and "him" are. Rashi initially refers to Onkelos's Aramaic commentary. According to Onkelos:
"'You' is a reference to HaShem, and 'him' is a reference to the general tribe of Levi."
Rashi then mentions another possibility:
"You [the tribe of Levi] came with a claim against him [HaShem]. If Moshe said, '"Listen, you rebels,' what did Aharon and Miriam do?"

This comment from Rashi raises two points:
1. It appears that Rashi is recognizing a certain apparent injustice to Aharon.
2. Rashi seems to be involving Miriam's death in this - but Miriam died before the story of Merivah ever occurred!

Both of these points are troubling. I might suggest one explanation, which could handle both issues - Rashi is discussing the death of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, outside of the framework of Merivah. Moshe's death is justified, as far as Rashi is concerned, by his insult to the Jewish people. Aharon and Miriam have their own sins, which Rashi does not mention here because he is making the point that we know of nothing on their records which justifies their death.
The problem with this, of course, is that it is odd for Rashi to make a statement outside of the framework of Merivah, on a verse which explicitly mentions Merivah.

Moshe's Mistake
We then tackled some old business. Rashi mentions two sins for Moshe:
A. By hitting, Moshe lost the chance for the Jewish people to see that even a rock would listen to a spoken order from Gd
B. Moshe called the Jews "Rebels."
As Rabbi Kaplan asked this week, which is it?
I would like to suggest one possible answer:

Moshe made two mistakes. Looking at the Torah itself (such as Devarim 32:51), Moshe's sin is described in two different ways:
1. Trespassing, and
2. Failing to sanctify HaShem's Name.
The Trespassing part utlizes the term, "Meilah," which usually refers to the taking of sanctified property for one's own ends. Moshe got angry, expressing his own rage, calling the Jews Morim. Moshe took his role as HaShem's servant, and expressed his own self while wearing that mantle.
The lack of sanctification came in failing to teach the Jewish people the proper lesson.
At bottom, Moshe is in trouble for expressing rage, and this rage came out in two parts - hitting the rock, and insulting the nation.

The Difference between Ibn Ezra and Rashi
To sum up our seven-week dual analysis, then:

A. Both Rashi and Ibn Ezra pick up on "Shimu Na haMorim - Listen, Rebels" and "Paamayim - Moshe hit the rock twice." Both need to make a leap in order to come up with some version of events. Rashi does this with his account of how things happened, Ibn Ezra does it with his.
Ibn Ezra's involves less of a leap, it would appear, but Rashi's explanation has the plus of explaining Moshe's introduction, "HaMin haSela haZeh," which Ibn Ezra ignored.

B. Both Rashi and Ibn Ezra turn to the issue of sanctifying Gd to explain Moshe's punishment. The difference is only that Ibn Ezra does not believe that hitting, itself, was Moshe's problem. It was the anger which was at the root of Moshe's striking of the rock. Rashi blames the manifestation of the rage, where Ibn Ezra blames the rage, or so it would appear.

C. As far as Aharon's role, Rashi doesn't truly explain it. Ibn Ezra doesn't do it here, either - we deduced Ibn Ezra's position from comments he made elsewhere. Rashi would likely say something similar to what we read in Ibn Ezra. Rashi adds the point by "Terivehu Al Mei Merivah," whereas Ibn Ezra interprets that verse as "You fought with them, for their error."

Moshe's Punishment
Lastly, we tried to provide a couple of alternate explanations of Moshe's Death Sentence.

Last week, Marvin Stark made an important point - This was not so much a death sentence, as it was a statement that Moshe could not enter the land.
We see this played out in Rashi's point (Bimidbar 31:3) that Moshe did not delay in fulfilling Gd's command to go to war against Midian, even though he knew that this would be the last task for the Jewish people before entering Israel. The implication is that Moshe could have stalled in the desert, and he would have died just before the Jews entered Israel, whenever that turned out.
Within this concept, that Moshe's punishment was not so much a death sentence as a statement that he could not lead the Jews into Israel, I would like to suggest that HaShem felt the people who would enter Israel had to see Moshe punished for striking the rock. Why? Because the people would be passing from Midbar, desert, into Israel.
In Israel, the land itself is treated with sanctity. We leave the land every seventh year. Portions of land are divided among the tribes with ritual significance. There are Mitzvos involving the tithing of produce, involving which produce one may plant and in which areas, and in leaving aside the first few years of fruit from trees. The land is filled with Mitzvos.
The people must see that one does not strike the land. The land of the desert may be struck, but the land of Israel must not be. Thus, HaShem says to Moshe that he will not lead the Jews into Israel.

Alternatively, we have the thought of one of our e-mail participants, Ben Kimia. He pointed out that speech and physical action represent two altogether different types of action. Physical action is mundane. Speech, on the other hand, is a spiritual force, and a Creative force. HaShem created the universe with ten "statements," according to the Mishnah in the 5th Chapter of Avos. HaShem told Moshe to speak, to act on this spiritual level in drawing water from the stone. When Moshe acted on a physical level, he was taking the opposite approach, and he was punished for this.

This concludes our all-too-brief, seven-week look at the Striking of the Rock. We will not have a Chumash Class on Rosh haShanah, so our next e-mail is scheduled for two weeks hence, when we will begin the topic of Yaakov and the Angel, Gd-willing.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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