Strike The Rock or Speak To It? | 13 Lessons In Leadership

leadership parsha self help Jun 18, 2021

What was the Sin of Moshe? 13 Reasons for the Sin of Moshe & Aharon Parsha Chukat

Rabbi Amichai Cohen

In Parshat Chukat, we read: “The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.      

The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.

The people quarreled with Moses, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the LORD! Why have you brought the LORD’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”                                            

Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces. The Presence of the LORD appeared to them,and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 

“You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”                                                                                         

Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”                                                     

And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”                  

Those are the Waters of Meribah—Waters of Disputation- meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the LORD—through which He affirmed His sanctity.”  (BaMidbar 20:1-13)

The Torah describes Moses committing his most consequential error: “HaShem told Moshe: Take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water.”

What did Moses do?  “Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”  And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod.”

The Divine response was very strongly negative: “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”

ืงื— ืืช ื”ืžื˜ื”ื•ื™ืงื“ืฉ ื‘ื, "take the staff… and He was sanctified through them." This paragraph has attracted many different interpretations, and most commentators have made a point of offering their comments. 

  1. Rashi explains that Moses's error was that whereas G'd had told him to speak to the rock he hit the rock instead. 
  2. Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra explains that Moses' error caused the rock not to yield water until Moses struck it for a second time, and that Moses had forgotten G'd's precise instructions when he struck the rock the first time due to the vociferous quarrelling by the congregation. 
  3. G'd's anger was caused by Moses hitting the rock a second time. Had Moses remained content to strike the rock once, G'd would have accepted this as a form of addressing a rock as one does not expect a rock to listen to words. 
  4. According to this view G'd's anger was caused by the fact that Moses and Aaron did not sing a song of praise after the water materialised. Such a miracle deserved that it should be acknowledged by not less than a song praising G'd and thanking Him. 
  5. According to this view Moses sinned by talking down to the Israelites and calling them "rebellious." A man of Moses' stature should not have called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by a name which belittled them. 
  6. Maimonides in his treatise ืฉืžื•ื ื” ืคืจืงื™ื feels that G'd objected to Moses having "lost his cool" when speaking to the Israelites. When the people observed that Moses was angry at them they concluded that G'd was angry at them also. 
  7. Rabbeynu Chananel and Nachmanides after him claim that what angered G'd was that Moses portrayed himself and Aaron as producing the water by saying ื ื•ืฆื™ื ืœื›ื ืžื™ื, instead of saying ื™ื•ืฆื™ื ืœื›ื ืžื™ื, "He will make water come forth for you." The formula used by Moses created the impression amongst the people that Moses and Aaron produced the water by means of their own devices and know-how. This is why G'd said to them: "because you have not believed Me to make them sanctify Me." 
  8. Rabbi Moshe Hacohen, quoted by Ibn Ezra also feeels that G'd's anger had to do with Moses' wording of the question: ื”ืžืŸ ื”ืกืœืข ื”ื–ื” ื ื•ืฆื™ื, "do you expect us to produce water from this rock?" Whereas we know that there are miracles which are produced by G'd's word and others by a combination of G'd's word and an action, Moses misled the people into thinking that G'd could not produce water from this particular rock. He proves his point by quoting Psalms 106,33: "because they rebelled against Him and he spoke rashly." 
  9. Rabbi Joseph Albo in his ืกืคืจ ื”ืขืงืจื™ื criticises Moses and Aaron for not having proceeded immediately to produce water for their people something he claims they were capable of; by allowing them to become frightened they undermined the people's faith in G'd. 
  10. The Baal Maaseh Hashem explains that there had been an argument between Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites demanded that Moses produce the water from a different place where they had dug a hole and that Moses was unwilling to speak to the rock which the Israelites had dug out. As a result Moses became angry and threw his staff, not in order to hit the rock but merely as an angry gesture. It so happened that the staff hit the rock G'd had intended to produce the water from. 
  11. We learn a fundamental in communication and in education. When we educate children or adults we must remember that we must communicate and not merely interact on the level of Pavlov dog type of interactions.
  12. The Ohr Hachayim says that was misunderstood Hashem's command to him. Hashem said raise the staff and speak to the rock. The staff which was previously used in all major above miracle events was used to strike. Why would Hashem ask him to pick up the staff and not strike? The mistake was, Hashem wanted the Israelites to learn that they can speak to Hashem and experience him in every aspect of their lives not only in the major miracles, rather in their day to day lives. After all they will be entering the land of Israel and will cease to see revealed miracles. They will now have to get used to seeing Hashem within nature and Hashem wanted an elevated consciousness- the level of speak- Dibur and not just striking- Asiya.
  13. “All the anger that comes from the leadership through the teaching of ethics, faith and philosophy and through actions, causes the great negative impact – that intolerance and extremism create in the world…                                              

    The root for all this is the sin of the waters of disputation. Moses’s angry scream “Listen you rebels!” led him to hit the rock rather than speaking in a gentle, conciliatory manner.

    As a result a strict severity was introduced into the guidance of faith and religious precision. This developed and grew until “a father and his son, a rabbi and his students-who are sitting and engaged in the learning of Torah- became enemies of each other.” (Tractate Kiddushin 30:b)…” (Notebook 3:9)

    Rav Kook is suggesting that angry religious fanaticism was seeded into Israel by Moses’s response to the complainers. We can currently see the negative effects of this extreme thinking and behavior.  He continues to explain that it is up to us to repair this long lasting problem.

    “This must be fixed. The highest holiness can [only] come to the world in a peaceful way, with guidance that is full of calmness, tranquility and honor…

    The Torah of Chesed/Kindness is the elevated Torah, the secret Torah that is revealed by Elijah to those of integrity. It is thus prepared for its mission to announce and make peace in the world- to calm the arguments;to bring close and not to distance.

    And this will re-open the mouth of Moses who will return to speak to the rock instead of hitting it. It is the work of the sages of the last generations to reveal and spread the Torah of Kindness widely…

    Through this the light of the Succat Shalom/The Canopy of Peace will spread over Israel, Jerusalem and the multitude of nations…

    The world has suffered greatly from this raging fire of holiness. In the end of days [we must] share an elevated spiritual power that is full of the gentleness of peace and quiet tranquility. “And you shall speak of peace to the nations.” (Zecharia 9:1)…

    This spark of the light of peace is spreading and it must continue to grow  along with the spark of the end revealed through the return to and rebuilding of Zion.” (Ibid)

    Rav Kook is teaching us that Moses’s angry talk and action seeded a destructive anger in future religious leadership. It led to the conclusion of Aaron’s and his leadership. Aaron died immediately afterwards and Moses was told that he would not enter Israel. 

    We see the dangerous results of this on-going religious anger and fanaticism in many situations in the Jewish and non-Jewish world. 

    For us to rectify this, Rav Kook teaches us that we must learn to spread the Torah of Kindness, not the Torah of Anger.                      

    “The highest holiness can only come to the world through peace and a guidance that is full of calmness, tranquility and honor…This spark of the light of peace must spread; it must continue to grow…” 


    May we merit to see this kind of leadership and this kind of world.
    Shabbat Shalom! 


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