Chukas: Learning the Lesson
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
וידבר ד' אל משה לאמר: קח את המטה והקהל את העדה אתה ואהרן אחיך ודברתם אל הסלע לעיניהם ונתן מימיו (במדבר י"ט:ז:ח)
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying; “Take the staff and gather together the assembly, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give forth its waters”.
Moshe and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock and [Moshe] said to them “Listen now, rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice; abundant water came forth and the assembly and their animals drank. (Bamidbar 20, 8-11)
Rashi, citing the Tanchuma, gives us an insight into Moshe’s frustration and what led him to hit the rock instead of speaking to it:
“They weren’t able to find the rock; for it hid among the other rocks. When Moshe tried speaking to the rock, he spoke to the wrong rock! As the tension increased, the Jewish People asked, why can’t you bring forth water from any rock? So Moshe rebuked them, explaining that he can’t just bring forth water from any rock. Only when Moshe finally prepared himself to hit the rock, did the rock present itself and allow itself to be hit.”
What deeper message is hidden in this story?
Rabbi Dessler explains: life is constantly offering us opportunities to learn and for us to gain experience; we just have to keep our eyes open and be prepared to learn those lessons. If we don’t believe the lesson is there, it will just be a lost opportunity.
Having the rock give forth its waters by merely speaking to it would have taught the people that we are ready to be true servants of Hashem, and to listen to Him lovingly, without coercion. Resorting to hitting, however, reflects that we are not there yet, and still need to be forced.
On some level, Moshe was not prepared to believe that the people had attained this maturity, and rather still needed to be coerced. As a result, he was unable to unlock this lesson through speaking to the rock, and indeed needed to resort to hitting. This is the meaning of the medrash that the rock ‘hid’ when Moshe tried to speak to it, and only presented itself when Moshe decided to hit it. Moshe was only able to present the lesson that he was ready to learn himself, and lost the opportunity to teach the lesson of ‘listening’.
May we merit going through life ‘with our eyes open’, learning life’s lessons and constantly deepening our insight in our service of Hashem!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!