Monday, June 25, 2007

Parshas Chukas

Good Shabbos and welcome to Parshas Chukas. This parsha records several famous teachings, including the "chok" or decree, of the red heifer, the death of Miriam HaNeviah, attacks on the Jews in the desert, as well the instance of Moshe striking the rock to bring forth water for the Jews who were complaining. Regarding this latter point, Hashem said simply to Moshe and Aaron: Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of Bnei Yisroel, therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land that I have given them' They are the mei merivah - the waters of dispute". In this shiur, I would like to delve into the sin of Moshe Rabbeinu and try to understand the nature of this transgression and what implications this has on our lives today. Shkoyach to Rav Ahron Rapps for his insights from the Maharal, and to the Ahavas Emes Institute and Rav Naftoli Weinberg for elucidating the Gemora in Avoda Zara.

There is a disagreement among numerous commentators on the exact nature of Moshe’s sin. I will briefly mention some that I saw in the Ba’al HaArtscroll Chumash, and in various Seforim HaKedoishim, and point us towards the direction of the one I find most interesting (which will reveal my bent for the Chassidish). Rashi says that Moshe sinned in striking the rock, rather than speaking to it, as he was told. Ibn Ezra says that Moshe hit the rock twice, not once. Rambam says that Moshe’s sin was in becoming angry at the people. Ramban and R’Chananel says that Moshe’s sin was that he implied that he and Aaron had the power to produce water, and it was a Chilul Hashem.

A bit more on the Rambam vs. Ramban here. Rambam and Ramban focus on Moshe and Aharon's sharp words of rebuke, which they administer on their own accord, without a divine command. However, whereas Rambam stresses the tone of this rebuke, Ramban sees its content as the basis of their sin. Abarbanel says that Moshe/Aaron were punished because they had sinned before and are only now getting punished (Golden Calf for Aaron and Moshe sending the spies in previous parsha). Rambam claims that Moshe's sharp censure - "listen you rebels..." - reflects an inappropriately angry tone that caused a "chillul Hashem" (a desecration of God's Name). [ See Rambam in "shmoneh perakim," quoted by Ramban in his pirush to 20:7 Ramban claims that by saying 'we' in their rhetorical question - "is it possible that we can take out water from this rock?" - Moshe and Aharon lead the people to believe that it was they (and not God) who produced the water from the rock. [See Ramban 20:7 in name of Rabbeinu Chananel.]

Moving along, it is worth looking to the Maharal in the Gur Aryeh to help explain the conjunction of Rashi and Rambam as well. The Gemara in AZ (5b) says that Moshe’s sin was when he told the people, "Shimu noh hamorim - Listen you rebels." Implying that they should have been happy at the manna as well- but we see what happened after that complaint- Hashem immediately sent a plague of venomous snakes to attack them. Rashi explains that they were punished middah k'neged middah. "Let the snake whose food all tastes the same, pay back the Jews who complained about the manna, which could be appreciated through a variety of tastes." )

Now, the Chidushei HaRim offers perhaps the most interesting one in my mind. He says that the key to their shortcomings lay in the word “L’ainaihem”- before their eyes- implying that Moshe had to speak to the rock in a way that the people would see something, rather than just know it. Sure, the water flowed, but Moshe failed to teach the people that Hashem wanted the Jews to have unquestioned knowledge that Hashem provides what people need. Since he failed to impart this vital lesson, the nation could not achieve greater spiritual heights- and this was Moshe’s sin. Now we must understand that as Rav Shach says in his Meirosh Amana, and is echoed in numerous Seforim, Moshe Rabbeinu was a devoted servant of Hashem Yisborach and had only the Divine Will in mind. No personal agenda ever played a role in his subservience to Hashem… so why did this happen?

I would like to suggest an approach that perhaps combines the opinions mentioned above. We know that we have a yetzer hora and yetzer tov- a good and a bad side. The trick is to harness both sides for the good. Every midah (character trait) can be used for good- for instance, jealousy, can be used badly as in, I want that house like he has, or it can be positive, ie, look how well he learns, look how well he davens, look that he just finished that masechta, I want to do that too. Perhaps we can recall the Gemara Brachos 64a that the pasuk of serving Hashem “b’chol levavcha”- with all your heart- refers to both your inclinations. Even an eved Hashem such as Moshe perhaps only wanted to fulfill the will of Hashem but failed to do the extra step of being Mekadesh Shem Shomayim while he did so- as the Chidushei HaRim says- he used his good but didn’t channel his negative towards avodas Hashem in this instance as well. It is incumbent upon us to channel all our energies towards a singular purpose and let us hope that as we enter the summer months with all its attendant temptations, we can keep this in the front of our mind and serve Hashem with all (both sides) of our hearts. Good Shabbos!

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