This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Chukat (5764)
This week's Torah portion contains one of the best known Bible stories: How Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it and got punished by not being able to enter Israel.
It happened like this. The Jews had been wandering in the desert for almost forty years. All this time their water had been miraculously supplied by a rock that G-d told Moses to strike with his staff. Now Miriam (Moses' sister in whose merit the water flowed) died, the water stopped flowing and the Jews began suffering from thirst. G-d told Moses to speak to the rock to resume the flow; Moses unsuccessfully tried speaking with no results and finally struck the rock as he did the first time and it began to produce water. G-d got angry and forbade him to enter the Promised Land.
At first glance this story makes no sense. Why such a severe punishment for such a minor misdemeanor?
Not only that, but all this occurred after Moses had faithfully led this difficult nation of millions of complainers without making one mistake for some forty years non-stop. They were just about to enter Israel and now this?! Couldn't G-d just overlook this single offence?
What does this come to teach us?
To answer this here is a story.
Once, in the very first days of the Lubavitch Rebbe's leadership, (according to one version of the story it happened just months before the previous Rebbe's passing) a young man entered the Rebbe's office and begged for a blessing that he be exempt from military service in the Korean War.
The Rebbe gave him a general blessing for success and he left the room, but he had doubts. He had taken so much trouble to get in to the Rebbe and he expected more. It seemed to him that the Rebbe just wanted to get rid of him.
Now he was desperate. He spoke it over with a friend and the latter confirmed his doubts. "If you are already going in to the Rebbe get something more concrete!"
Somehow the young man got to enter again and repeated his request.
The Rebbe looked at him and asked, "Have you ever had trouble with your back?" "Ahh! Yes yes!" the fellow answered as he reached for his briefcase, "I even have the papers."
"What about your blood pressure?" the Rebbe continued. "Sure!" he replied, "It's a bit high. I have a doctor's report for that also!"
"Then what about your eyes? Ever had problems?" "Sure", said the young man… here, just look at these glasses!"
"No" the young man answered, "I have papers proving that I've had troubles with almost everything else, but not my teeth. In fact I've never even had a filling!
"Very well then," continued the Rebbe, "Tomorrow tell them that you have troubles with your teeth".
"But… but" Stammered the poor confused fellow, but he realized that the Rebbe was finished talking to him.
The next day he found himself mechanically going from station to station with hundreds of other half-dressed, young male Americans in the high ceilinged, ominously cold draft center.
He just couldn't bring himself to claim problems with his teeth. They would see through it in a second!
But to his dismay all his papers and tricks had failed. For some reason the doctors disregarded it all and finally he found himself standing at the last stop before a seated, fully uniformed, bull-necked officer who mechanically read his papers and reached for his rubber stamp to seal the young man's fate.
Suddenly he shouted "MY TEETH!"
"What?" Said the officer, looking at him with piercing steely eyes, "Your teeth is it? Why did you wait till now? Go to the dentist, he'll see through your tricks in a second! You'll be back here soon and I'll see to it that you end up sitting in jail for this nonsense!!"
Our hero was soon standing in the dentist's room alone trembling with fear like a fish out of water.
"Ah ha!" Exclaimed the dentist as he casually closed his office door with his foot. "Goldberg eh?" He hissed through his teeth.
"I know you 'Goldbergs'." He said as his eyes narrowed in hatred. "You'll want free dental care and you'll always say you can't work or do anything because of your teeth! The U.S. army doesn't need parasites like you!" In a fury he grabbed his 'Diqualified' stamp and brought it thundering down on Goldberg's draft papers. "Now GET OUT!"
"Oy! A MIRACLE!" Goldberg whispered to himself as he walked as rapidly as possible toward the exit trying not to look like some weird dervish.
He took the first cab he could to the Rebbe's headquarters and requested permission from the secretaries to urgently thank the Rebbe personally.
But they refused saying that if every person that the Rebbe helped got in to say thank you it would take twice as much of the Rebbe's time. "Just write a note of thanks and we'll take it in at the first opportunity."
When the note was brought before the Rebbe he looked up at the secretary that brought it and smiled. "My Father-in-law (the previous Rebbe) was always careful to do miracles that could be explained in natural terms so that the one that was saved would come on his own to realize the Goodness of HaShem.
"But I saw that this young man was so closed minded that he would NEVER connect it to G-d unless I did a miracle that was impossible to explain naturally."
This explains why Moses wasn't allowed to enter Israel.
The people entering Israel weren't like those who came out of Egypt.
The generation that left Egypt had seen open miracles. They even heard G-d and 'saw' Him 'face to face' at Mount Sinai. But all this was G-d's doing… they did virtually nothing on their own and therefore they weren't really convinced.
The generation coming into Israel, however, was different. Less pampered, they, unlike their predecessors, had no reservations about entering the formidable land of Canaan and beginning the purpose of the Jewish people; the work of transforming the world into a dwelling for G-d.
But it ALL depends on the leader. The Jewish people without a leader are like sheep without a shepherd.
This is what G-d was hinting at by asking Moses to bring water from the rock. The rock, like the Jewish people, is hard…. but full of potential. The Jews have the potential to make fertile and to satisfy the spiritual thirst of the entire world through the Torah (which is likened to water).
But rocks (and the Jews) can change.
That is why the word for the rock that produced the water is different here than it was the first time Moses struck it (Exodus 17:6). There it is called "Tzur" which indicates unyielding hardness.
But here it is called "Sela", indicating that this generation would be much more workable, but required much more patience and explanation; to speak to the 'Sela' and not strike it.
Like the man in our story who had to be blessed in a way that he had no doubts…. But once he was convinced he remained convinced.
But Moses, by his action of striking the rock, showed that he was not able to descend that low.
He was fit for a generation that had to be constantly and urgently shown massive miracles.
This is the reason that the Rebbes of Chabad have produced so many hundreds of volumes of books.
Especially the last Rebbe who has twenty five volumes of just personal letters! (Which is a small portion of what he actually wrote) added to tens of volumes of speeches and Chassidic-kabalistic discourses.
It is all in order to 'Speak to the Sela'; To convince the Jewish people to open their hidden resources and use the Torah to change the world into the garden of Eden that it is meant to be.
This is the work of Moshiach that we are all longing for. As Maimonides writes in the end of his masterwork 'Yad HaChazaka'. Moshiach will bring world peace and prosperity filling the world with the revelation of the Creator like the ocean is filled with…. WATER.
It all depends on us to follow the directives of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (found in the last chapter of the "Moshiach" essay at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah)
And in the blink of an eye all mankind will be dancing with Moshiach NOW!!!
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