Chukat: Speak Softly, Big Stick

The age of open miracles was coming to a close.

Rabbi S. Weiss,

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7

Why? That is the operative emotion we experience as we read parshat Chukat, particularly as we struggle to come to grips with the mystery of Death. For the subject of death permeates our sedra: the tumah (impurity) that results upon coming into contact with the dead; the death of Miriam, then of Aharon, and then of a large segment of the population who complain about their situation; and finally, the demise of Moshe's career, as he is told he will not accompany Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.

This last episode - when Moshe strikes the rock instead of speaking to it and is punished for his act - is shocking and bewildering. Did Moshe really deserve such a severe penalty for what seems like such a minor mistake? And
I suggest that these same wonders exist in Israel today.
was not Moshe previously told to take his staff and strike the rock in order to produce water? So why was that very same act now considered a crime?

Many commentators find fault with Moshe's behavior: he lost his temper and called the people "rebels"; he struck the rock not once, but twice, etc. But the Alshich sees this incident from another angle, focusing not on a change in Moshe, but rather in Bnei Yisrael.

In the desert, he says, the Jews were still trying to overcome their slave mentality. They had such low self-esteem that they needed a constant flow of miracles to convince them that HaShem would take care of their every need and protect them. Just telling them that G-d was with them would not suffice; they had to actually be shown.

And so, in the early stage, Moshe had to visibly strike the rock. But now, as their desert odyssey comes to an end and they leave the "bubble" of the desert for "real" life, the hope was that Bnei Yisrael had significantly matured and could be reasoned with. The age of open, outright miracles - identified with Moshe and Aharon, who brought those miracles - was coming to a close. A new age of hidden miracles was about to begin, and it was to have been signified by Moshe speaking to the rock. Alas, that did not happen.

There were three primary miracles in the desert: the pillars of cloud and fire that shielded the nation; Miriam's well of water that quenched our thirst; and the manna that fell from Heaven and sustained us. I suggest that these same wonders exist in Israel today. The protective pillars are our holy soldiers of the IDF - they guard and defend us, fending off our many foes despite incredible odds. The well of water is the Torah; we are blessed in modern Israel with more people learning Torah than at any other time in our history. And the manna is the amazing bounty and vibrant economy in Israel, where we enjoy a standard of living that rivals that bestowed upon kings and queens.

But one has to able to see these subtle, hidden miracles in order to appreciate them. That is what HaShem wanted Moshe to explain to the people. Whether He carries a big stick or speaks softly, G-d is surely watching over us and providing our every need.