Parshat Chukat

In Parshat Chukat, after the intriguing law of cleanliness through the ash of red heifer, we return to the challenges of leadership in the wilderness, with Moshe hitting the rock to bring out water, and being punished by not being allowed to enter the holy land. Clearly, Moshe was wrong to hit the rock, in his anger, when told by Hashem to speak to the rock, but what was the actual sin? After the incident, Hashem says to Moshe and Aaron “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy, in the sight of Bnei Yisrael, you will not bring this congregation into the land,” without really telling us what they did wrong.

The Abarbanel, summarizes ten different explanations given by earlier sages, but rejects them all, and suggests the time had come for new leadership.This incident takes place in the fortieth year of wandering in the wilderness, and over the years Moshe and Aaron had struggled with episodes like the golden calf and the spies. This new younger generation who witnessed the event, needed a new younger leadership, with a different approach.

The Kli Yakar, R Ephraim Luntshitz, gives credit to the Abarbanel, but looks closely at the text describing the incident, and comes up with a unique explanation. Bnei Yisrael complained, not for the first time, that they had no water, and Moshe was commanded to take the staff and talk to the rock.  Moshe is told to take the staff, not his staff. The Kli Yakar explains that this refers to the special staff which was mentioned last week in Parshat Korach. Hashem commanded that each tribe place their staff in front of the people, and Aaron’s staff flowered with almond blossoms. This indicated that Aaron was the one chosen for the priesthood. Hashem then instructed Moshe to put the staff aside and bring it out on occasions when there was trouble in the camp.

Now we can understand when Hashem tells Moshe – take out that staff, put aside for troubled times and talk to the rock. Hashem does not tell Moshe what to speak, but probably suggested he offer a prayer. The implication is that is that just as Hashem can miraculously bring water and make a dry staff flower so he can bring water from a dry rock.

The Kli Yakar notes, that at the crossing of the Red Sea, Hashem told Moshe, to lift his staff and raise his hand over the sea, in other words lift and throw away your staff. In addition, to return the waters over the Egyptians, Hashem tells Moshe to lift his hand over the sea, with no mention of the staff. Finally, we are told “And Israel saw the mighty hand of Hashem…and they believed in Hashem and Moshe his servant.” But here, returning to this incident, Moshe in using his own staff, sends a message of having some type of magic wand, rather than showing the power of speaking to Hashem in prayer.

Interestingly, water had been a dominant issue throughout the Exodus, from the water turning to blood in the Nile, the parting of the Red Sea, through to the lack of water in the dessert, and it’s importance caries through to this day.

Recently we were informed of an attempt to harm Israel by a cyberattack on Israel’s water supply system. In the modern world many devices, not just computers are attached to networks in what is called IoT (The Internet of Things). The cyberattack appears to have been an attempt to create an apparent fault in a device, which would have caused an excess flow of chlorine into the national water supply, creating a serious health hazard. Fortunately, the control mechanisms picked up the unexplained fault in the system.

The Hebrew word for water is “mayim” which is unusually in plural to stress it’s importance, just like the word “chaim” for life. We are told right at the beginning of creation “and the spirit of Hashem hovered over the waters.” We cannot survive without it and we thank both Hashem and those who manage our water systems, that sustain our lives.

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