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G-d said to Moses: "Take the stick, assemble the congregation… and speak to the rock… You will bring out water from the rock and supply the people and their cattle" (20:7-8).
But Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Thus he was informed by Higher Authority that he would not bring the Israelites into the Promised Land.
On a similar occasion when the Israelites faced a shortage of water, G-d actually told Moses to take the stick and hit the rock (Ex. 17:5-6). This time - some forty years later - G-d did not tell Moses to hit the rock, but speak to the rock.
In that case, why did he tell Moses to take the stick?
The Kli Yakar holds that the stick was not Moses', but Aaron's. This was significant. After the revolt of Korach, Aaron's stick blossomed flowers when the sticks representing the other tribes did not (17:23). Just as G-d could make flowers blossom out of a stick, so could He bring water from the rock.
Additionally, it may be suggested that the stick had other associations. Aaron's stick was used during the first three plagues: blood, frogs, and lice. In the earlier plagues of blood and frogs, the Egyptian magicians managed to duplicate the same phenomena (7:22, 8:3). Egyptian sorcerers duly turned water into blood, and "persuaded" the frogs to leave the rivers, canals, and ponds. But they had to admit defeat when they failed to turn dust in to lice: 'the magicians said to Pharaoh that it is the finger of G-d' (8:15).
But by then the lesson of the stick was clear. It was the magic wand which was part of the Egyptian culture. It represented the way of life that the Israelites should have put far behind them, with forty years of G-d's close supervision in the wilderness.
Thus taking the stick, but putting it aside and speaking to the rock was an act in itself. Take the stick, but speak to the rock. Use the power of prayer, and abandon the culture of Egypt… That was the message that G-d wanted Moses to convey to the people. Ask G-d without invoking the magic of their previous culture.
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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.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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