The Rock of … What?

Parashat Chukat

Without water, the community began grumbling against Moses and Aaron. Leaving the community, they went to the entrance of the Tabernacle and fell on their faces in the presence of HaShem. Moshe was commanded to take his staff and speak to the rock, which would produce water in response to the cries of the children of Israel.

However, leaving the Tabernacle Moshe went before the people. “You rebels,” he shouted, “Are we supposed to bring you water from this rock?” Moshe raised his staff and struck the rock twice, and water flowed in abundance.

Displeased, G-d said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not trust in Me, so as to cause Me to be regarded as holy by the people of Israel, you will not bring this community into the land I have given them (Num. 20:7-12).”

So what’s the big deal?

G-d’s Name is intimately linked to the people of Israel. So much so that G-d has chosen to associate His Name with the Jewish people – i.e. “the G-d of Israel.” As HaShem’s remnant, the Jewish people have a specific role to play in the cosmos. This role is something called Kiddush HaShem – the Sanctification of the Name of G-d.

We are to be Or L’Goyim – a Light to the Nations. As Israel, we are partners with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. We are the harbingers of a cosmic message with cosmic ramifications.

The real issue is not that Moshe struck the rock. This is supported by Rashi, and other rabbinic commentators. The issue is that Moshe did not sanctify the Name of G-d in the presence of the people. Moshe’s actions were more than an “oops … I was supposed to speak to the rock, not hit it.” This was so serious that Moshe was forbidden to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. In some way, HaShem was dishonored in front of the entire people. Rather than Kiddush HaShem, Moshe performed a Chilul HaShem (a desecration of the Name of G-d).

The task of the Sanctification of G-d’s Name has been handed down to us. Our job in this world is to bring about glory to HaShem, and prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. May we truly recognize the implications of what is at hand. G-d has chosen each one of us to partner with Him in bringing redemption into the world. We need to rise up, take our staffs in hand, and not only bring water to a parched people and land – but prepare the way for the coming of Mashiach. And may our righteous Messiah (who we eagerly await) lead us out of exile and into the Promised Land speedily and soon!

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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4 Responses to The Rock of … What?

  1. Derek Leman says:

    So Milgrom (JPS Commentary on Numbers) mentions 11 interpretations of what Moses may have done wrong. In the end, the sin of Moses, he theorizes, was in saying “shall we bring forth water?” instead of “shall he?” (we, as in Moses and Aaron, versus he, as in God). This theory is also that of the medieval commentator, the Bekhor Shor. The Torah’s aim to overthrow pagan magical thinking has colored all miracles in Torah.

  2. David H. Stern says:

    Thanks, Josh. Right on!

  3. Jim Killion says:

    Pharoah’s rod was used to inflict pain. Compare with the shepherd’s rod, which is used to defend & protect. The shepherd never uses his rod to hit his sheep. The shepherd leads by voice, not with the threat of punishment.

    Could it be that G_d was using this situation to establish a new normal for these recently freed slaves & us? Moses’ failure to heed G_d’s instruction was that serious.

    Yeshua said, “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.”

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