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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Chukat

Chukat

5
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The Jewish people find themselves in great difficulty after the death of the prophetess Miriam. Her miraculous well had sustained them with water during their long sojourn in the desert of Sinai. And now that she was no longer alive, this water, so identified with her being, also disappeared from their midst. They complain to Moshe and clamored for water. People can go on for days without solid food but not without water, especially in a desert. Moshe strikes the rock instead of speaking to it, as he was instructed to do, but water flows miraculously in abundance from the rock, and the situation is stabilized.

There will be sad consequences for Moshe from this incident, but apparently the people are not subject to punishment for their demands to Moshe that he provide them with water, which precipitated the entire matter. In fact, the people will break into song and poetry over this new well of blessed water. Yet, we find that when the people requested meat, the meat miraculously arrived, but the people were severely punished for their request. It seems that requesting and even demanding water, a necessity of life for human existence, is permissible. However, demanding meat, which is a luxury food is inappropriate. There is a great lesson for all of us in this matter. Demanding and even praying for more than we really need and are entitled to carries with it the seeds of subsequent problems and even disaster.

Chassidic legend and tradition records a discussion between Rav Yitzchak Vorker and Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzker Rebbe, regarding why the Jewish people escaped immediate punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf, while for the sin of the Spies and their rejection of entering the land of Israel, the punishment was immediate and harsh.

The Vorker Rebbe explained that when the Jewish people repented after the sin of the Golden Calf they were yet unaware that repentance could nullify decrees and punishment. Nevertheless, they repented sincerely without expectations of forgiveness, and their repentance was accepted. After the sin of the spies, they already knew that repentance could bring about forgiveness, so their repentance was insufficiently sincere.

The Kotzker Rebbe thought otherwise. He said that the sin of the Golden Calf had in it the seeds of searching for and serving a higher power. They went about it incorrectly, but there was a spark of holiness in their quest for divinity. However, the sin of the spies was of a different nature. Its motivation was that they wished for an easy life of luxuries, without the challenges that a nation-state automatically inflicts on its inhabitants. Such a base motive was unacceptable to Heaven. We pray for health and prosperity to be able to serve God with more sincerity and more effectively. If we pray only out of selfish motives, then we have missed the mark with our prayers. This week’s Torah reading is a powerful reminder of this truth,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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