The reason why Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to enter Eretz Yisrael is a well-known story found in this week’s parshah. In this week’s parshah, Parshas Chukas, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to draw water from a rock in the desert for the Bnei Yisrael to drink. Moshe then hits the rock and water flows out. Afterwards Hashem tells Moshe that both he and Aharon cannot enter Eretz Yisrael since, “יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל” “since you did not have faith in me to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Bamidbar 20:12). The pasuk does not say specifically how Moshe and Aharon were guilty of this, so Rashi explains that Moshe was supposed to speak to the rock instead of hitting it. His speaking to it would have shown Bnei Yisrael that just as an inanimate object reacts to Hashem’s commandments, so should we humans.
However, the explanations do not end there. Nearly every commentator goes into great detail to determine exactly how these great men sinned and how they were even confused as to what Hashem’s purpose was in the first place. The explanation I would like to discuss this week is that of the Ohr HaChaim. He brings a medrash which says that Moshe and Aharon committed four sins. They were: that Hashem did not tell them to hit the rock and they did, that they were supposed to allow Bnei Yisrael to choose whichever rock they wanted for them to bring the water out of and they didn’t, that they said to Bnei Yisrael, “הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם” “can we draw water for you from this rock?” (20:10), which sounds as if they were saying that Hashem couldn’t do it, and finally, that they changed from what Hashem had told them to do. Let’s examine each of these one by one.
While instructing him how to draw the water, Hashem tells Moshe to bring along his staff. Asks the Ohr HaChaim, if Moshe was not supposed to hit the rock, then what was the purpose of the staff? He answers that by looking at the pasuk you see that the staff was not there to be used actively. The pasuk says, “קַח אֶת הַמַּטֶּה… וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע” “Take the staff…and you [Moshe and Aharon] should speak to the rock” (20:8). The staff was known as a symbol of Hashem’s permission, so when Moshe did something while holding the staff, it showed that he was doing it under Hashem’s direction. Here too, the staff was not needed to perform the actual deed but rather for everyone to see that Moshe was operating under Hashem’s command. In order to clarify this to Moshe, Hashem told him specifically in the same pasuk that he should speak to the rock. Not realizing this was Moshe’s first mistake. This was also his second mistake since he changed from exactly what Hashem had told him to do.
In that same pasuk, Hashem tells Moshe, “וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן הַסֶּלַע” “You shall bring forth for them water from the rock” (ibid). How come the pasuk needs to mention the rock by name twice in the same pasuk? The pasuk could have simply said that he will bring forth water and we could have inferred that he meant from the rock? The Ohr HaChaim explains that what this second mention does is separate it from the first mention, meaning that really Moshe could have used any rock that Bnei Yisrael asked him to use, but instead he used the same rock that had been used as a well the entire time they had been in the desert (known as the Well of Miriam). This cut off the potential for a bigger sanctification of Hashem’s name amongst Bnei Yisrael.
Finally, when Moshe and Aharon are about to hit the rock, they say, “שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם” “Listen now, rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” (20:10). This sounds as if they are saying that water could not be brought out from this specific rock which shows a complete lack of trust in Hashem. All together, these four reasons sound like fine testimony to Moshe and Aharon’s sin.
Still, how can we end here? How can we end off by saying that Moshe and Aharon were guilty of multiple cases of rebellion and lack of trust in Hashem? How could it possibly be true? The Ohr HaChaim says that we have an obligation to explain exactly how these two great men could have made these mistakes and how they were not really rebelling.
He explains that Moshe knew that there were two possible explanations for needing the staff, either to hit the rock or, like we explained, to show that he was doing this with Hashem’s permission. At this point two things came to Moshe’s mind, first off, the fact that in Mitzrayim he had used the staff to actually perform miracles many times. Secondly, the way we explained earlier that Hashem mentioned speaking to rock at the same time as he mentioned the staff, Moshe learned it the exact opposite. He reasoned that Hashem’s instructions were to speak to the rock, but that hitting it was also necessary to bring the water out. Also, since the rock cannot hear, Moshe figured that it wouldn’t make any sense for speaking to be enough. (Perhaps this is why Rashi explained the way he did. See the first Paragraph.) This also explains the second mistake since Moshe did not think he was changing anything from what Hashem had told him.
For Moshe’s third mistake, the Ohr HaChaim explains that Moshe was not sure if Hashem meant for him to hit the same rock or any rock he felt like. In order to err on the side of caution, he decided not to try out a new rock but to instead stick with the one they had already used during their time in the desert. Also, even if he could have hit a different rock, Hashem does not make new miracles for no reason and Moshe did not see any reason why Hashem would make a new miracle in this case and cause a second rock to become a well. This will answer up for Moshe’s last mistake.
Even though we can understand now what Moshe and Aharon were thinking at the time, they still made a mistake. The reason they were punished is because in some cases, you are not supposed to be cautious, instead, you have to take a chance that may result in an even larger Kiddush Hashem. If Moshe and Aharon had done what they were supposed to do, the faith that Bnei Yisrael had in Hashem would have been so complete that it never would have been lost. However, since they didn’t, they were punished that they could not enter Eretz Yisrael. Why this specific punishment? Because if Moshe would have gone into the Land, he would have built the Beis Hamikdash and a Beis Hamikdash built by Moshe could not be destroyed. Both Batei Mikdash were destroyed because of the sins of Bnei Yisrael, but if they would have been indestructible, Hashem would have had to punish the nation itself. Because Bnei Yisrael entered the Land with less than perfect faith levels, Moshe was unable to enter with them.
We see from here clear evidence that even at a time of great sorrow, like when we heard that our greatest leaders, Moshe and Aharon, would not come with us into Eretz Yisrael, Hashem is still looking out for our best interests. Let’s use that fact to help us improve our own levels of Emunah, and hopefully bring about the day of an indestructible Third Beis Hamikdash!
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