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
1 Babbin Court
Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi
Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis,