Chukat:(Israel) Take the staff in your hand so as not to use it!

If Hashem’s Intention was that Moshe should ‘only’ speak to the rock, why was he commanded to take the staff?

Danny Ginsbourg, | updated: 12:00

Judaism Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg

We read in our parsha: (20:12)’Hashem said to Moshe and to Ahron: Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given them’.

The ‘plain’ reason appears in the preceding psukim (20:6-11), that Moshe had been commanded to take the staff, and to speak to the rock, in the presence of the people,(20:6) ‘and it shall give its waters’; but, instead of speaking to the rock, as commanded, Moshe struck it with the staff, not once, but twice.

And for this failure to obey Hashem’s commandment, Moshe’s fate was that he was not to enter the Land. 
And here we, and the commentators, ask:If Hashem’s Intention was that Moshe should ‘only’ speak to the rock, why was he commanded to take the staff?

Answers the Kli Yakar: He was to take the staff, so as NOT to use it!

He explains:Forty years had elapsed since the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, and the people mused that perhaps that miracle, like the others in Egypt, were not performed by Hashem, but by Moshe, with the magic powers of his staff.

And, as they were on the cusp of entering the Land, it was critical that their אמונה in Hashem was complete, as the gift of the land was dependent on this.

Rav Avraham Dov Mabrutsh (1760-1840), a sage of Tzfat, beautifully derives this from the pasuk:(Bechukotai 26:5)’And you will dwell לבטח: with security in your Land’, as: If you have בטחון: trust in Hashem, then you will dwell in the Land.

Therefore, the command  was:Take  the staff, but do not use it; speak to the rock, and it will provide water; and the people, when they see this, will believe that, like this miracle, all the earlier miracles were, solely the handiwork of Hashem, and not of your staff.

They would then have the necessary אמונה in Hashem, that would ensure their stay in the Land.

But, since, by Moshe’s actions, the people remained ‘weak’ in their אמונה- their doubts not only not having been dispelled, but reinforced-their stay in the Land would be tenuous, as indeed occurred.

Moshe was, therefore, punished measure for measure, and precluded from entering the Land.

Rav David Hofstedter, however, comments that the decree should be viewed, not as a punishment, but mainly as an outcome of Moshe’s actions:In view of the doubts that remained in the mind of the people, they might also, should Moshe lead them into the Land, think that the conquest of the land, and all that occurred there, were also due to Moshe’s powers, and remain weak in their אמונה in Hashem.

To preclude this,Moshe could not, after the events at Mei Meriva,  lead them into the Land.

Rav Shimon Schwab proffers an original perush of Moshe’s transgression. He expounds that the key to this chapter, lies in the command to Moshe(20:7-9):‘Take THE staff..from before Hashem’; this was the staff of Ahron, a dry stick that, at Hashem’s command, miraculously ‘produced’ water, and flowered, as related in Parshat Korach (17:23).

And, as we read there: (17:25):’Hashem said to Moshe: Bring back the staff of Ahron before the Aron a sign for rebellious ones; let their complaints cease from Me that they not die’.

Expounds the Rav:Had Moshe shown them this staff, it would have led them to cease their complaints, as Hashem had promised him; and to believe that, just as Hashem had caused a dry stick to ‘produce’ water, at His command, so too the rock, at Hashem’s command, would ‘give its waters, to slake their thirst.

But, perhaps because of his anger at the behavior of the people, Moshe failed to do so, and, instead, spoke harshly to the people, and then struck the rock with the staff, twice.

And for this ‘failure to sanctify Hashem in the eyes of Bnei Israel’, Moshe and Ahron ‘will not bring the Children of Israel into the Land’.

And, רחמנא לצלן, as the pasuk says:(20:13)’They are the waters of Mei Meriva, where the Children of Israel contended with Hashem, and He was sanctified’- when the people heard the awesome decree, pronounced against the Holy brothers, Moshe and Ahron, for their inadvertent actions, Hashem’s Name was indeed sanctified.