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Parshas Balak 5757 - '97

Outline # 43

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Moshe and the Stone

In Parsha Chukas, Hashem blamed Moshe for an obscure incident. The people complained that there was nothing to drink. Hashem told Moshe to bring his staff, gather the people together, and "speak" to the rock; water would be drawn from it.

Moshe seemed angry. "Listen you rebels," he began. "Shall we draw water from this rock?" He struck the stone, and water came forth. Hashem blamed Moshe for not sanctifying His name; Moshe was told he would not be allowed to enter the Land.

The commentators deal with this enigmatic section in various ways. Rashi explains that Moshe's mistake was in failing to obey the precise command: he was to "speak" to the stone, not strike it. Others say his error was his angry tone of voice.

Kedushas Levi combines these explanations in a meaningful way. There are two methods of reproof. One is the positive, sweet approach: drawing students close with praise, pointing to the lofty levels of the soul, indicating the tremendous potential of each individual. The other is the stern method, exposing hidden crimes, shaming with harsh rebuke.

The first approach allows each person the choice to serve Hashem. The second, however, is, in effect, forcing each person to serve.

When Moshe spoke harshly, he was coercing the people to serve. Therefore, it became necessary to strike the stone. It would have to be forced to obey, but could not submit on its own accord. If only Moshe had elevated the people, as Hashem had intended, everything would have been so much easier. He would not have had to strike at the stone.

These are indeed beautiful words. It seems to us that the Kedushas Levi understood the section much as the Maharal did.

The Intended Miracle

The Maharal explained that the miracle Moshe was to have produced was not the miracle of drawing water from a rock, but something far greater. Striking stone to produce a physical phenomenon is not unusual. Speaking to stone, and changing the properties of rock -- this is certainly miraculous. Yet, such is the lasting effect of Moshe's words. The words of Torah leave an indelible mark on the earth. The miracle that Hashem commanded Moshe to perform was even greater than changing rock; he was to change the hearts of the Jewish People. By speaking to the rock, Moshe could demonstrate the effect of Torah on the natural universe; the people's hearts would melt, and the Torah would have the intended effect on the nation of Israel.

Speaking to the Rock

The technological advances of modern society are only due to sophisticated communication. Man's incredible brain and deft hand, could not produce complex rocket systems or microprocessors, without the ability to communicate. Remember the story of the Tower of Bavel? Hashem did not want the ancient society of Bavel to succeed in building their tower, so He simply confounded their ability to communicate with each other.

Today, we can literally speak into computers, and any operation can take place. But what is happening to the heart of the person managing the computer? "If words of the Torah can change the rock, surely they must change my heart." We don't think this way. Perhaps it is because we don't see a connection between the science which produced quantum mechanics and the Torah. See Rav Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak, however. The Torah was revealed in two parts: The Ten Expressions of Creation, and the Ten Expressions of the Commandments. The first produced the laws of the material world; the second, the laws of the Torah. Science is actually the study of the Torah as it is revealed in nature. If so, then the words do change the rock...

The greatest miracle, however -- the intended one -- is the change in man's heart. Moshe's failure to produce this change of heart negated his position as the foremost authority of Israel.

Balak, King of Moav

Rashi tells that Balak determined that Moshe's secret weapon was his speech; he sought an appropriate enemy for Moshe -- one who also had eloquent speaking abilities. Balak was perceptive enough to win an impressive battle: tens of thousands of Jewish men died as a result of Balak's plotting. Now, Moshe has failed to affirm the correct usage of his abilities; Balak has successfully brought about havoc, death and destruction.

All is not lost, however. Moshe's impending death only strengthens his disciples' resolve. A grand-nephew of Moshe, Pinchus, takes spear in hand. With one swift act of law-enforcement, he is able to restore order to the community. As we have written at length, Pinchus' act was not a vigilante action: Rashi explains that Pinchus remembered the law that Moshe had taught as he came down from Mount Sinai. Pinchus was, in effect, the officer of the central governing body.

Pinchus' Spear or Moshe's Speech?

Various commentaries explain the importance of the point that Pinchus is not chosen to be the next leader. (See especially Akeidas Yitzchak and Chidushei Harim.) In the present context, we would be inclined to say that Pinchus -- having no other option -- absorbed the method of striking the rock. Perhaps It was necessary at that particular time. As the Kedushas Levi wrote, however, the leader must be the one who lifts the people, gently, voluntarily. The power of speech must accomplish the true miracle -- to cause a change of heart. Although Balak won the battle, Moshe wins the war... eventually, some time, soon.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
PC Kollel
1 Babbin Court
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: 914-425-3565
Fax: 914-425-4296

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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