Parashat Chukat

Without Blows

Think about this situation: A dry and desolate desert, an entire nation hysterical from dehydration, and one big, hard and dry rock. What everyone wants right now is only water, a lot of water, and enough water. How can they receive this water?


Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 6th of Tammuz, 5775


In this week’s Torah portion, after a forty year supernatural trek in the desert, accompanied by the clouds of glory and the manna and Miriam’s well; something changes.   The prophetess, Miriam, passes away, and along with her passing her well also disappears. In Miriam’s merit, her well provided the entire nation with water during their forty years in the desert.

Now the nation of Israel has nothing to drink.

Moshe and Aharon pray before Hashem and Hashem commands Moshe to take his staff: to gather the entire congregation around some rock and to talk to the rock in order to bring water forth from it, to provide the entire nation with water. Then the mistake occurs, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it. Even though the hitting caused water to come out of the rock, this incident also caused Moshe and Aharon to be punished with a severe punishment – they would not merit entering into the land of Israel.

One needs to understand, what is the significance of this story? What was Moshe’s critical mistake, the mistake that he and Aharon were punished for with such a severe punishment, that they would not be allowed to enter the land of Israel? What is the big difference between hitting a rock and talking to a rock?   In any case, a great and open miracle still happened when a dry rock brought forth water in the middle of the desert, so what’s the difference between using words or blows?

Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan (Torah 20): “This is the mistake that Moses made, Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes[1]’, he should take from his mighty leadership that he received from his good deeds and actions, and ‘gather together the assembly’. Because at the time when Moshe gathered the congregation, there were amongst them evildoers- and he needed a staff- strength in order to subjugate their evil; and after this he should ‘speak to the rock before their eyes’ ‘speaking is only with a pleasant manner[2]’… that is to say he should pour out his conversation and his prayers like a pauper, to the rock, which is the supreme heart…

But he did not do this, he did not remember Hashem’s goodness and righteousness during his prayer and he did not use his staff for the assembly, rather he used his staff during his prayer. And this is the aspect of: ‘Moses raised his hand[3]’ his hand is referring to his prayer…’and struck the rock with his staff twice[4]’- that is to say that he hit the supreme heart, just like someone taking something with strength and coercion, because the water came forth due to the strength of his good deeds. This is the meaning of hitting the rock twice: in one blow he took the explanation of the Torah with strength and coercion and did not plead for a free gift, and in the other blow he forced the moment, and therefore his time was shortened and he passed away before his time…”

Think about this situation- a dry and desolate desert, an entire nation, hysterical from dehydration, and a large, hard and dry rock. What everyone wants right now is only water, a lot of water, and enough water.

How can one receive this water?

So there are two ways: the first is the staff which represents a leadership of power and strength, and with it Moshe was commanded to assemble the congregation and the second is speech. Different from the staff, speech is something soft not aggressive, not controlling- requesting, begging, without exerting strength.

In order to extract water from the rock, Moshe is commanded to pray in the fashion of speech and not in the fashion of a staff. That is to say, with gentleness and placation, and not with aggression.

Aggressive prayer is a prayer where a person, so to speak, forces Hashem to answer him. It is like he is taking something with strength and coercion, and this is called ‘forcing the moment’ and about this our sages say, that anyone who ’forces the moment’–time gets back at them. The strength that you exert returns to you, and hits you back in return.

Rebbe Nachman explains that Moshe’s mistake at the incident of the hitting of the rock was due to the fact that he forced the moment. “ And from this we learn, a man should not force himself on anything rather to request with pleas; if Hashem gives to him- he gives, and if not- not…”

Read these words of our Rebbe, and think about all the desolate deserts in our life and of all the closed dry and jaded rocks, that are blocking our view and choking us like a bone in our throat.

Everything that we want is water. That the rock will burst open, please, the faster the better, and that the abundance will flow and wash and redeem!

And then people come and say- wait, be careful! Don’t force the moment! Don’t use strength! Wait with patience, request gently, don’t insist, don’t hit; speak!

This is difficult! How can one not force the moment? I want something so badly. I don’t just want. I need it desperately! I need money immediately or children or a spouse or work…I have to have it immediately! The redemption is delayed and the distress is stuck in my throat like a rock! I want to be done with this thing and to continue on to the next! This rock is blocking me. Can it move already? How much can one tolerate it? Move!

How can you tell me not to use strength? How can I pray so I won’t get hit back in return? How can I pray so that I will be drawn closer to the light and to the redemption?

Exactly, there is prayer and then there is prayer.

There is a prayer in which you insist upon something in particular, that it should happen already. In the meantime you hit your head on the rocks, until your head, or the rock, or both burst open.

In contrast, there is personal prayer, the present that Rebbe Nachman bestowed to us. The essence of personal prayer is, as our Rebbe stated: “If Hashem gives to him- he gives, and if not- not…” In personal prayer, you don’t come to ask specifically in a way that is desirable and understandable to you, with all of your human limitations. The entire purpose to of personal prayer, it to speak with Hashem like you would speak to and true and real friend.

Do you understand?

You do not come to Hashem like you are coming to somebody that did you wrong and owes you something, and however much you beg of him, he says ‘leave me alone, there is nothing to speak about’… Rather you approach personal prayer as if you are coming to a good friend.

If you are in financial distress and you run into a good and true friend, do you start to hassle him and say: “Give me money! Fast! I need money! Now!” Or are you pleasant with him and say: “Hi, how nice to run into you! I need to tell you what I am going through, for so long I have been stewing with this alone. Do you understand? I don’t have enough money and I don’t know what to do. It’s really difficult. I am choking. It’s difficult for me. It’s very difficult for me. There are so many necessities in this world and everything cost money. If only it was possible to live in this world without needing money. This hysterical race after money is very difficult! Do you know how weird it is, how money can simply disappear into thin air?! It is not yet even in your hands, and it has already been taken from between your fingers!”…

What a difference! What a relief!

When you merit coming to Hashem like this, you suddenly see how, slowly, everything happens.

It is a lot more than throwing rocks in all directions or splitting cracks in a wall; it is like climbing on top of the rock to a higher and more amazing place.

And from there touching new horizons.

[1] Bamidbar Chapter 20 Verse 8

[2] Gemara Shabbat, Page 63

[3] Bamidbar Chapter 20 Verse 11

[4] Bamidbar et al

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