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DID YOU SPEAK TO THE ROCK?

Friday, 22 June, 2018 - 12:13 pm

 

 

There was a teacher known for his constant preaching about the need to nurture children with warmth and love. One day he noticed some children playing in freshly laid concrete outside his newly renovated home, their little feet leaving lasting impressions. He became irritated and started chastising them.

A friend asked, "How can you, a person who devotes his entire life to teaching warmth to children, speak this way?"

To which the teacher replied:  "Please understand. I love children in the abstract, not the concrete."

At last, the moment had arrived. For 40 years the Jews had wandered together in a wilderness. Most of the older generation had already passed on. Even the beloved Miriam was no more. By now, the young nation of Israel was finally ready to enter the Promised Land, under the leadership of Moses. But an incident occurred in this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, which would transform the nation's destiny.

"The congregation had no water "so they assembled against Moses and Aaron. “Why have you brought the congregation to this dessert so that we and our livestock should die there?  Why have you taken us out of Egypt to bring us to this bad place; there is no water to drink…”

"G-d spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock, and give the congregation and their livestock to drink.'

"Moses took the staff 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, 'Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?'

"Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank.

"G-d said to Moses and Aaron, 'Since you did not have faith in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.'"

What compelled Moses to sin? If G-d instructed him to speak to the rock, why did he choose to strike it? But even odder, why was Moses punished so severely for this? Does it really make a difference whether you communicate with a rock verbally or by force? It seems that the miracle of a rock responding to a strike is not much smaller than a rock responding to speech!

The questions abound. What exactly was Moses' and Aaron's sin? G-d instructed them to produce water from a rock and quench the people’s thirst—which they did. Why were they being penalized?

Dozens of unsatisfactory answers have been given.

One amazing insight was given by the Chassidic masters. Moses was not punished. He was communicating a “vision” for Judaism that this new generation could not absorb. It became obvious that they needed a new leader to take them into the Promised Land.

Striking and talking to a rock represent two divergent models of influence. When I talk to you, I appreciate that you need to listen, but also that you may disagree with, argue with, or choose to disobey me.

“Hitting the rock” represents a different model. It means there is no alternative, no room for another way. I won’t talk to him; I will strike him until he complies. This is how it is. Period.

Now we can appreciate the subtle depth of our story. Moses struck the rock because to him, Judaism is based on one model, with no other way: absolute truth. For someone who spoke to G-d face to face, for the man who came closer than any other human to touching the Divine, there just was no alternative.

In Moses’ reality, to deny the Divine reality is like claiming that 2+2=yellow, or 3+3=pink. It is beyond absurd. This is not only erroneous but meaningless.

For Moses, G-d is reality and reality is G-d. Torah and Mitzvot are as real as sunrise and sunset—in fact, more real. If G-d said, let the rock give water, this is the only reality. There is no other way. We don’t speak to the rock; we strike the rock.

We are all “rocks” in our own way. With Moses, there was no alternative. Of course, the rock gives water. Of course, the rock surrenders its outer shell to its inner mushy core. Of course, the rock opens itself up to inner wisdom and inspiration, represented by water. This is life. This is a reality.

But it is not where the people were—or what their destiny would be. Gone was the generation that saw G-d face to face at Sinai. The majority of the nation consisted of children and grandchildren of the first generation who experienced Sinai. For them, Judaism was a “conversation;” it was a discussion. There were pros and cons. There were debates. The rock needed to be spoken to, but it may not listen. There were choices. There was autonomy.

Moses wanted to bequeath to his people that level of certainty and awareness that he himself had—that is why he struck the rock. He, the greatest shepherd of Israel, knew that G-d said: “speak to the rock.” But he also remembered that 40 years earlier, He said to Moses, “strike the rock.” Moses did not want to lower the bar. He did not want to surrender to mediocrity. He wanted to believe that the people were still capable of that level of Divine sensitivity and wholesomeness.

But this was not the case. Moses was too “real” for them, to sublime, too in touch with the truth of life. For Moses, there was none else. G-d was all—all the time, in all experiences. The new generation needed a different model. For them, it was a struggle.

Moses was not punished for hitting the rock. Rather, it was a natural consequence. By striking the rock, it became obvious that Moses could not lead the new generation into the Promised Land; they were not on that spiritual sublime level. They were living in a different world. “The face of Moses is the face of the sun, the face of Joshua is the face of the moon,” the Talmud states. For the sun, the light never dims. For the moon, there are moments we see the light, and other moments we see darkness.

Moses could not lower himself down to their state. It was simply not him. The next chapter of Jewish history would thus be led by Joshua, not Moses.

Judaism would never again look how it did during Moses’ time. We would not be able to hit the rock again, only talk to it.

And yet, Moses’ perspective remains intact forever. Even as we struggle to find G-d in our lives, to see our world as His spiritual garden, we know that there are the Moses’ for whom there are no questions, doubts, conflicts, or turning back. G-d plants a Moses in many generations, a true Rebbe whose soul precedes the concealment that eclipses the Divine presence in the world. These people give us all the gift of insight, to always be able to remember who we really are and what our purpose is.

In our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was such a Moses. In his presence, there was no concealment. The Divinity of every Jew, the G-dliness of every moment, the holiness of every moment, the truth of Torah and Mitzvot are reality itself.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 
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