Speaking to the ‘Rock’
A few questions on the Parsha of מי מריבה, (Chukas: 20):
1.When the Yidden complained that they didn’t have water, they said things like “Halevai we would have died with our brothers… and why did you take us out of Mitzrayim to die, etc…”. This is the same way of speaking that caused them to get in trouble so many times before (and after). So why is it that this time Hashem didn’t get angry at them for speaking this way, but simply told Moshe and Aharon to gather them and speak to the rock to give water?
2.What was the sin of Moshe Rabeinu at מי מריבה? Some say the fact that he got angry at the Yidden was the sin, others say that the sin was hitting the rock instead of talking to it. But the Pasuk says “Because you did not trust/believe in me to be mekadesh me in the eyes of the Yidden”. How does “believing in me” tie in to getting angry or hitting the rock?
3.Could it be that Moshe didn’t believe that speaking to the rock would be enough if that’s what Hashem said to do? Is hitting a rock any more 'natural' than speaking to it, as far as making water come out? Could Moshe Rabbeinu possibly have actually had a lack of Emunah? How can we explain that?
4.Why was Aharon punished as well? He didn’t hit the rock. It says that Moshe did that.
To answer these questions, I would like to try and offer an original explanation as to what the ‘sin’ of Moshe was.
When a person speaks out against Hashem or has complaints on Tzadikim, it is not always considered a sin by Hashem if the cry is coming from a place of real pain and/or legitimate physical needs that aren’t being met.
The Gemara in Bobo Basra 16b, Rava says - from here we learn that "Ain Odom Nitpas b'Shaas Tzaaro". Rashi explains, "a person is not held responsible for that which he speaks harshly [against Hashem] as a result of his being subjected to pain and torment. The expression of what otherwise would be considered as blasphemous, if it is expressed out of the pain of suffering, it is completely disregarded by Hashem as if it just didn't happen.
The Yidden may have spoken in the same way that got them in trouble by the Meraglim and by the נחשים השרפים, but in those cases they spoke out of lack of faith. In this case though, they spoke that way out of real pain and a real need for life-giving water, which was taken away from them after Miriam passed away. Perhaps that is why Hashem did not get angry at them for speaking this way, and simply told Moshe to gather them and give them water in a miraculous way.
A stone is a parable to the Yetzer Hara, which causes us to question Hashem. The Yidden’s hearts were like stones, but Hashem understood their needs and told Moshe to SPEAK with the Yidden kindly, for He saw into their hearts that their talk was coming from a place of pain. But perhaps Moshe felt that the way the Yidden had spoken warranted rebuke. Hitting the ‘stone’ instead of speaking to it, is a physical manifestation of rebuke. Moshe hit the stone instead of speaking nicely to it. Perhaps Moshe wanted to protect the Yidden by rebuking them, as we know the rule “When there is judgement below, there is no judgement above”. Perhaps by rebuking them, Moshe hoped to save them from the divine wrath that he was sure would follow. But Hashem considered this a sin on Moshe’s part, saying that "you didn’t trust me”. Moshe should have seen that Hashem did not get upset at the Yidden when He told him to gather them and give them water. When a person speaks out of legitimate pain, anything said that could make them feel guilty of their emotions may fall under Onoas Dvorim (The Torah prohibition of verbally antagonizing another, as per the last Mishna in the 4th Perek of Bovo Metziah.)
When a Jewish leader rebukes unnecessarily, it causes a chilul Kavod Shamayim, because the Yidden feel in their hearts that they don’t deserve to be rebuked.
Perhaps this explains how someone as great as Moshe could have failed in this test. It is an extremely subtle distinction to be able to understand when the same words spoken by the people are coming from real pain or simply from a lack of trust. But Hashem expects a leader to understand this distinction and speak differently to a people who are in pain.
This explanation ties together both p’shatim in Moshe’s sin, whether it was getting angry at the Yidden or hitting the rock, because both are מרמז on the same idea. It also explains what the “lack of trust” was. It wasn’t a lack of belief, but rather that Moshe should have taken the cue from Hashem’s own response to the Yidden’s request and seen that Hashem did NOT get angry at them for speaking this way.
And perhaps this explains also why Aharon was punished as well. For the Pasuk says that both Moshe and Aharon gathered the Yidden and then it says: “And he said to them, listen here you rebellious ones…” The Pasuk doesn’t say who said these words, but it seems as though they spoke as one person. They were both together in the rebuke. Perhaps Aharon, the man of kindness, was expected to calm Moshe down and say to him that the Yidden only spoke this way out of pain…
The above Gemara and discussion is the basis of the aphorism of the Berditchever Rebbi, "You can be for God, or you can be against God; you just can't be without God!"
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski Responds:
Very nice. Thank you
The gemara refers to the yetzer hara, "Im even hu, nimuach"