CHUKAS (Numbers, 19:1-22:1) — “Stone Drunk”

The well had gone dry.  The great prophetess, Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, had died.  G-d takes care of the righteous and those around them.  G-d had provided a miraculous well that followed the Israelites through the desert. This well was a reward to Miriam for waiting by the water (the Nile River) so many years before, making sure that her baby brother Moses was all right.  When Miriam died, the well died with her.

The People were thirsty.  They complained to Moses, and G-d provided the solution.  Moses was told to speak to a rock, which would then provide water. Back in Exodus, 17:6, Moses had been given a similar mission.  He had been told to HIT a rock to bring out water.  This time, G-d was telling him to SPEAK to the rock.  Moses made what would prove to be a fatal mistake:

Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.” (Numbers, 20:11)

G-d was furious:  “‘Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.‘”  go to great lengths to understand what exactly was the nature of Moses’ sin.  After all, the people witnessed a great miracle.  A rock was struck, and water flowed from it.  The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years!  How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part?

The Chasam Sofer writes that Moses lost an opportunity to teach an important lesson. Bringing out water with a stick shows the power of a stick.  Bringing out water with one’s words would have demonstrated the power of words.

A person can do powerful things with words. The right words can accomplish great things. The wrong words can be devastating.

People tend to minimize the sin of gossip.  “After all,” they reason, “I didn’t DO anything; I just made a comment.  It’s not as if I HIT someone!”

Actually, in some ways it is worse. If I hit someone and cause a wound, I can see evidence of my sin and try to make amends.  When I slander or insult someone, I view it as a victimless crime.  (“Sticks and stones…”) I don’t see the damage I have done. I fool myself into thinking that a statement that is not accompanied by a physical act is not a big deal.

G-d wanted to Moses to demonstrate the power of speech, positive and negative.  40 years previously, Moses had brought water from a rock with his stick.  Now it was time to bring water simply through his words.  Moses missed this opportunity.

The Chasam Sofer explains that this error had devastating ramifications.  The Talmud says that if Moses had entered the Land of Israel, the people would never have worshipped idols.  As a result, the destruction of the Temple would not have occurred.

However, explains, the Chasam Sofer, this would not have prevented all of our problems.  The Talmud tells us that the second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred. Such hatred is caused and supported by gossip and tale bearing.  Had Moses showed the People of Israel the power of the tongue, for good as well as evil, the second Temple destruction could have been avoided as well.

Moses, for all his greatness and holiness, in one sense contributed to the destruction of both Temples, and the resultant exile of our People.

One can, with improper speech, cause a floodgate of pain and anguish.  And once we say something, we can’t call back the floodwaters we have caused.

Water flowed like tears from that rock.  The message Moses WAS SUPPOSED to teach us is that you don’t have to hit someone to make them cry.

Have a great Shabbos

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Chukas and Balak are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths. For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – CHUKAS

“A Sad Shabbos in New York State” (2011)

… While some societies have not condemned these activities the way the Torah does, it was always recognized that the institution of marriage was about a man and a woman. A man doesn’t marry his car. A man doesn’t marry his pet iguana. And a man doesn’t marry a man…

Last Shabbos, we read the story of Korach. Korach didn’t like the way the Commandments were working out…

Last Friday night … the State of New York decided to emulate Korach…

How did this tragedy/travesty in New York happen? It’s really rather simple…

Read more.

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“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010)

… Ezekiel cites the special relationship between G-d and Israel…

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean “You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ‘MAN.’

What does the Talmud mean by, “You are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ’MAN’”? Certainly it can’t mean to humiliate Gentiles and to consider them less than human! The Talmud is replete with references to the fact that all of humanity was created in G-d’s Image. We share the planet with our fellow Children of G-d.

So what does it mean?…

Read more .

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“Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads” (2005)

G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole. Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.” Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live

The symbolism is beautiful. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues. Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes. After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths. They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly. Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake.

Great! Just one question. What’s the deal with the copper?…

Read more.

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“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004)

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel) … Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths. The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron.

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses. The men wept over the loss of their respected judge. The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker…

Moses and Aaron had different jobs… the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses.

Whose approach was better? Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?…

Read more.

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“Stone Drunk” (2002)

… The People were thirsty. … Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.”

G-d was furious: “Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.”

… the people witnessed a great miracle. A rock was struck, and water flowed from it. The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years! How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part? …

Read more.

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“The Bigger They Are…” (2001)

Og … organized an army against Israel, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor. … Moses needed some encouragement:

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him…”

G-d doesn’t waste words. He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og. … Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before…

What a Mitzvah!! Og tells Abraham to go save Lot so he can be killed and Og can marry his widow! With friends like Og, who needs enemies?! How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – BALAK

“Rocky Road” (2010)

…What’s with this guy?! He’s a sorcerer, the great Midianite prophet! He is “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One.” (Verse 16) How is it so hard for him to see that G-d doesn’t want him to do this?

… it all started with a question. G-d had asked Balaam, “Who are these people?”

“Aha!” thought Balaam. “G-d doesn’t know everything! He needs to ask me who these people are! If I play my cards right, I’ll be able to pull the wool over His eyes and curse His beloved Nation.”…

Read more.

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“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007)

…Balak, the Moabite king, hired Balaam to curse Israel. Now why, you may ask, would an anti-Semite like Balak need to hire someone to curse Jews? Plenty of people would be happy to do it for free!

Cursing, you see, is a great talent. Some people do it better than others. Balaam was a pro…

Read more.

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“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003)

… There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites. They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.”

… “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it. All you have to do is…

Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? …

Read more.

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“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?” (2000)

… Balaam still didn’t get it. Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace.

What was going on in Balaam’s head? How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake? How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission? How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?!

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on June 19, 2002 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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