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When the Israelites complained to Moses for lack of water at the desert settlement of Refidim, G-d told Moses:
Take your sticků You shall hit the rock. Out will come the water and the people will drink (16:5-6).
However, when the Israelites were without water after Miriam's death some forty years later, G-d told Moses
Take the sticků You shall speak to the rock, and it will give its waters. (But) Moses hit the rock twice, and out came a lot of water, and the people and their cattle drank (Num. 20:7,11).
On both occasions the Israelites faced shortages of water in the desert. On both occasions they blamed Moses. In both cases, G-d told Moses to take the stick. The first time - soon after leaving Egypt, He commanded Moses to produce water by hitting the rock. The second time - on their final march to the Promised Land some forty years later - Moses was told to bring out the water through speaking to the rock, not by striking it. What can be learnt by G-d changing his instructions to Moses the second time round - even though he told him to 'take the stick'?
The stick is a symbol of authority - a sign of leadership, a symbol of who is in charge.
On the first occasion - in this Parasha - Moses was a relative newcomer, despite the Israelites' 'trusting in G-d and in Moses His Servant' (14:31). The Israelites had turned their thirst for water into a personal attack on Moses: 'Why did you take us out of Egypt to kill me, my children, and my cattle with thirst?' (17:3). Moses' authority was at stake. Therefore he was commanded to take that symbol of authority: 'the stick with which he struck the Nile' and strike the rock. The people would learn the lesson that if the inanimate obeys Moses through miracle, how much more should they.
This is rather like a class of fourteen year olds with a new teacher. During the first weeks of the first semester, he or she has to enforce the terms and borderlines forming the framework of the educational experiences. That being an issue in the first couple of months is par for the course. But discipline and order should be well established towards of the year, and the framework by then should be within a positive and ever deepening professional educational relationship.
Similarly, by the second generation some forty years later, Moses' leadership (symbolized by the stick) was well established. That is illustrated by then not arising a movement under the heading of 'let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt' (as per Num. 14:4). Once a person's authority is well established and long accepted, it does not need to be reinforced by external means. It was not fear that had to be taught, but love - an ever-deepening relationship with G-d. That the issue was not fear, but love, was to be demonstrated by taking the stick and then relinquishing it. As implied from Rashi (based on Midrashic sources), the objective was to show the Israelites that just as inanimate objects who owed G-d no thanks obeyed the Word of G-d, how much more should they obey the Word of G-d. Moses however, did not carry out that instruction, for reasons debated by the commentators, and suffered the consequences.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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