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   by Jacob Solomon

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his Parasha includes the event where Moses is debarred entry to the Promised Land by Higher Authority. When the supplies of water were down to zero and the Israelite complaints reached crescendo, G-d told Moses and Aaron to take the stick and publicly tell the rock to release water. Moses, however, struck the rock twice and plenty of water emerged. Thereon:

G-d said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not promote belief in Me by sanctifying Me in the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the Land that I have given them" (20:12).

The commentators differ over the specifics of the error of Moses and Aaron.

Rashi holds that the sin was striking the rock rather than speaking to it as commanded.

The Rambam (in Shemona Perakim) focuses on the anger implied in Moses' rebuke to the Israelites "Listen you rebels!" (20:10) before striking the rock. He points out that the text does not state that G-d was angry about the Israelites' vociferous demand for water.

The Sforno's approach is that Moses' striking the rock instead of speaking to it frustrated the lesson that G-d wished to teach to the Israelites, as is now explained.

This lesson had two objectives. Firstly, to demonstrate that G-d was with His People. Secondly, to highlight that Moses and Aaron were His legitimate messengers. The people inappropriately framed their fears of lack of water, but G-d always wants people to repent, and He gives the opportunities: "He does not desire the death of the wicked, but they should turn away from evil and return to Him" (Ezekiel 18:32). Enabling the Israelites to repent was the underlying purpose of those two objectives.

The Sforno explains that there are three types of miracles. At the first level the miracle is entirely hidden, such as when prayer promotes recovery from sickness. He gives the example of Abraham's successful prayer for Abimelech (Gen. 20:17). The second level is when the miracle is partially revealed, such as Moses striking the rock to release water in the vicinity, as he was commanded in Refidim (Ex. 17:6). But the third, and highest level is one that completely transcends nature. Moses' role was to use the power of speech, and the rock itself would turn into water.

Thus the reason that Moses was told to "take the stick" was to highlight his position of being a messenger of G-d as the stick was involved in many previous miracles. But taking the stick did not mean using the stick. Indeed, his work was to abandon the stick and speak directly to the rock, to take the miracle from the second level to the third, highest level.

Moses, explains the Sforno, did not believe that the Israelites were worthy of that highest miracle after their outburst. That highest miracle would be that G-d would actually turn the rock itself into water. Instead, he struck the rock as he had done earlier in Refidim, bringing the miracle down to the second level.

As the water gushed out, Moses had demonstrated that he was G-d's authentic messenger. But so far, and no more. Had he spoken to the rock, the rock itself would have turned to water. That miracle would have demonstrated that Moses' Authentic Sender - the Almighty - was with His people. And Moses' Authentic Sender wanted the Israelites to witness that miracle, in order to bring them close to Him and give them an opportunity to repent.

Perhaps one message for today is that many people see the Hand of G-d in recent and more distant events in their own lives. Having such experiences at first hand, they have a duty to recount them and inspire others whenever possible.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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