Parashat Hashavua – The Weekly Portion – Chukat

JCT student Tzvi Silver on this week’s parasha.


Tzvi Silver, a student in his second year of studies towards a degree in Electronics Engineering at JCT’s Lev Campus, on this week’s parasha

Our sidrah, after enlightening us to one of the most confusing mitzvot in the entire Oral and Written Torah (פרה אדומה), recounts the tragedies that befell Moshe’s immediate family. In Parshat Chukat, Moshe’s siblings Aharon and Miriam pass away, and each death takes its toll on the Jewish People. However, the news of the end of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership as the consequence of a mistake at Mei Meriva, and his being banned from entering into the Land of Israel, is the most tragic of all.

A close reading of the section of מי מריבה doesn’t show Moshe making any major mistakes in relaying and executing G-d’s words. G-d tells Moshe to speak to the rock and He even goes as far as saying “והוצאת להם מים מן הסלע והשקית את העדה- And you shall bring forth water from the rock and give drink to the nation” (במדבר כ:ח). However, when Moshe hits the rock and brings forth water to give the nation to drink, just as asked, Hashem is not pleased:

 וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.

And G-d said to Moshe and Aharon: Since you didn’t believe in Me, to sanctify Myself before the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore, you shall not bring this nation into the land that I will give them.(שם כ:יב)

Wow. This seems like a little bit of a harsh punishment for G-d’s faithful servants who seemed to have deviated only minimally (if that) from G-d’s script, hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Why are they punished so harshly for this mistake? Furthermore, how on earth did Moshe’s hitting the rock instead of speaking to it constitute “יען לא האמנתם בי”?

Rashi answers our questions by taking a p’shat approach, a rarity in his commentary on Torah. He teaches that based on our passuk, G-d is not pleased with Moshe and Aharon because their actions demonstrated a lack of faith in G-d fulfilling His promise to let water flow from the rock. This isn’t such a difficult situation to imagine: Moshe and Aharon are yet again facing a crowd of scared Jews who feel like they are in danger and are heading towards more. In the past, such situations have been resolved through strong and miraculous counterattacks (the earth swallowing up Korach, a plague killing the Spies, etc). However, here, the response seems somewhat less exciting. Imagine what could happen; Moshe and Aharon would gather the people in front of a rock, and then ask the rock nicely for water. But, what if this failed? What if it was the wrong rock? They would be overrun by the rioting nation before they had a chance to cry out “Hashem.” In order to prevent this potential problem, Moshe and Aharon took more direct action- they hit the rock with the staff, showing a lack of faith in the process. It is for this reason that their error was so serious and they did not merit to enter Eretz Yisrael.

Rashi’s answer leads to another question. Now that we understand why Moshe and Aharon were considered lacking in faith, we must ask why they were punished by being barred from entering the Holy Land? What is the connection between a lack of faith and entering Eretz Yisrael?

As anyone with minimal expertise in Tanach or Modern Jewish History knows, Eretz Yisrael is the world capital of G-d’s doing the impossible, His constant fulfillment of “להקדישיני לעיני בני ישראל” (and the rest of the world). In the times of Moshe’s successor Yehoshua, Yericho’s city wall disappeared in a burst of shofar blasts, and the land was conquered from the seven nations against all odds. Jumping forward to more recent times, the land of Israel was won back in a defensive war that turned the Arabs’ planned Judenrein Palestine into their eternal Nakba. Six defensive wars later, the Jewish state is still safe and going strong, and the British territory that was defended by small militias has now grown up to a fully fledged country with the most advanced military in the Middle East. In the past sixty seven years, we have truly fought against the odds, but our faith in G-d’s ability to sanctify Himself before us and before the nations has kept us on top.

However, not all of our Jewish brothers share this faith. Rav Teichtel, a חוזר בתושבה from the Anti-Zionist world before meeting his tragic end in Nazi Europe, speaks many times of the Religious world’s attitude towards Secular Zionism. In his time, they questioned how a non-religious movement could ever lead to the גאולה, and they even shunned leaders like Theodor Herzl from receiving any support from the religious world. Jumping to our times, even after the יד השם has been clearly revealed in Israel’s short but exciting history, the question has quite possibly grown even stronger. Many of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews living in the Diaspora still possess this doubt- despite positions by distinguished gedolim, they cannot imagine how a secular state will ever yield the long-anticipated redemption. We’ve previously discussed how silly this view is in the context of G-d’s ability to do anything. Now, in light of Rashi’s answer above, this incorrect view takes on a new dimension. These misled Jews’ views demonstrate that they are making the same mistake as Moshe and Aharon- they don’t have faith in G-d’s ability to sanctify Himself in front of the nations, whether through speaking to a rock, or through an unlikely secular state. They cannot comprehend what many less religious people have, that the state of Israel is an eternal source of קידוש השם, and has done nothing but sanctify His name (through showing the miracles He does for His chosen nation), and therefore, they risk missing out on an opportunity that Moshe and Aharon never had a chance to experience- the chance to see redemption and return to Eretz Yisrael.

With this in mind, we can now understand why Moshe and Aharon were barred from entering the Holy Land. Eretz Yisrael is a land of faith in the G-d’s ability to do the impossible- those who lack this faith have no place to live there, and do not deserve the great honor of calling the Promised Land their home. Moshe and Aharon, who were on such a high level, lost this opportunity after such a minute mistake, because of this lack of faith. In our times, where we are not on nearly such a high level, the non-believers do not receive such harsh decrees. Even the biggest כופר still has a chance to do תשובה, by returning home and showing his faith in G-d’s ability to do the impending impossible- bringing the גאולה through a secular state.

With Hashem’s help, we will see all of our Jewish brothers, no matter how misled, embracing their faith in G-d’s ability to the impossible, so that we can merit the קיבוץ גליות, very speedily in our days. Shabbat Shalom.