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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Chukat

Rock of Ages

While we must always employ our brain and our innate sense of right and wrong, when Hashem clearly tells us to do something – even if it goes against our own logic & instinct – we have to trust that G-d knows what He is saying, & knows exactly what is best for us.
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Two seminal subjects are highlighted in this week’s Sedra: The first is the imponderable, somewhat illogical chok of the Para Aduma, the Red Heifer employed by the
Kohen to render those who were spiritually impure, pure again. Because the ashes of the Para Aduma also caused the administering Kohen to himself become tamei, it is an inscrutable statute that all but Moshe could not fathom.

The second well-known subject is the incident at "Mey M’Riva," where Moshe strikes the rock, producing water for Am Yisrael. Because Moshe strikes, rather than speaks to the rock – as Hashem had directly commanded him – Moshe will be punished by being denied entrance to Eretz Yisrael.

Many, many times, people ask: "Why was Moshe so harshly punished? What, exactly, was his crime?"

While many answers have been suggested, I would like to share an idea connecting the two above subjects of the rock & the Red Cow. But, like every good answer, we must first begin with another question: Why, when Hashem criticizes Moshe, does He say: "Because you did not believe Me, you will not bring the nation to Israel." What does that mean?! Why doesn’t Hashem just say, "Because you HIT the rock, rather than address it, I am punishing you." What does belief have to do with it?

Consider the following: Moshe was the only person in history to merit understanding the Para Aduma; even Shlomo the Wise could not figure it out. So, essentially, Moshe knew everything there was to know! Now, when Hashem told Moshe to bring his staff to the rock, Moshe asked himself, "Why would I be told to take my staff & then speak to the rock! Surely I am meant to strike it! And hang on, there's more; the last time the people needed water, wasn’t I commanded then to hit the rock?! So clearly, the obvious, called-for act here is for me to rap the rock, not rap with the rock!"

It’s easy to see how Moshe could have questioned G-d’s command, but that is exactly the point! Hashem was testing Moshe: Will he follow My directives – though they clearly seem wrong to him – or will he do what he thinks is right? In short, will he believe Me, or will he second-guess me?

Alas, Moshe - for all his greatness - fails this test, but he leaves us a lasting lesson, wisdom for the ages: While we must always employ our brain, our "sechel" and our innate sense of right and wrong, when Hashem clearly tells us to do something – even if it goes against our own logic & instinct – we have to trust that G-d knows what He is saying, & knows exactly what is best for us. So - just do it!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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