Parashat Chukat

Without Blows

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 bring salvation!


Harav Israel Asulin

Wednesday, 30th of Sivan, 5776


After a forty year supernatural trek in the desert, 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.

Now the nation of Israel has nothing to drink.

Moshe and Aharon pray before Hashem for the thirsty nation, and Hashem commands Moshe to gather the entire congregation around some rock and to talk to the rock in order to bring water forth from it.  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 was Moshe and Aharon’s critical mistake, which caused such a severe punishment?  What is the big difference between hitting a rock and talking to a rock?   In any event 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 Moshe made, Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes[1]’… that is to say he should pour out his conversation and his prayers like a pauper, to the rock… But he did not do this…’and (he) struck the rock with his staff twice[2]’…just like someone taking something with strength and coercion…because someone who forces the moment, the moment gets back at him, and therefore 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.

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.

Prayer by the staff, which represents a leadership of strength and rule, 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’.  The strength that you exert returns to you, and hits you back in return, “ 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…”

However, prayer by way of speech is something soft, fancy, not aggressive- to request, to plead, without exerting strength.

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 bring salvation!

And then people come and say- wait, 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! How long do I need to suffer from it?  It should move already!!  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.  In personal prayer you don’t come and demand what you see as your goal.  You don’t approach it like you’re coming to someone who has to give you something that he has in his hand, and as much as you plead before him, he says to you ‘leave me alone there’s nothing to speak about’…  Rather you approach personal prayer as if you are coming to a true good friend.

If you are in financial distress and you run into a true good friend, do you start to hassle him and say: “Give me money! Fast! I need money! Now!”  Like that?!  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!  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 hitting the rock in anger or opposition or despair; it is like speaking, drinking until your thirst is quenched and climbing on top of the rock to a higher and more amazing place.

And from there to touch new horizons.

[1] Bamidbar Chapter 20 Verse 8

[2] Bamidbar et al

**This is the same article we posted last year but it has been edited.

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