- Torah Portion and Tanach
Translated by Hillel Fendel
This week's Torah portion of Hukat starts with the famous inexplicable statute known as the Red Heifer. We have no idea how it works that burning the Red Heifer in the precise manner prescribed by the Torah can purify us of certain impurities. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught that in general, the reasons for the Torah's commandments are not known to us – and certainly regarding this mitzvah of the Red Heifer. When we don't know the reason, he says, we fulfill the mitzvot simply because this is what G-d commanded. But in fact, our soul knows the reasons, and is very anxious to fulfill them out of an understanding of their profound significance. The body doesn't understand this, however, and therefore has no desire to fulfill them. Thus there is a struggle between the soul and the body: When the person succeeds in having his soul defeat, and thus raise up, the body, he becomes pure and sanctified…
Later on in the Torah portion, we read that Miriam died, the well that G-d gave us in her merit ceased providing water, and Israel began complaining of dire thirst. G-d instructed Moshe and Aharon to speak to the boulder and extract from it water. At this point, Moshe speaks very sharply to Israel, calling them "rebels," and then strikes the boulder. Some commentators said that what Moshe did wrong (I don't like saying that Moshe "sinned") is that he spoke in anger to Israel, and others say that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it. The Maharal of Prague explains that these two things are one: Because Moshe got angry, therefore he hit the boulder instead of speaking to it. "Anger" means a lack of happiness, a lack of emuna and trust in G-d. The Maharal says that joy and faith in G-d always come together.
Complete faith means "faith with bitachon, trust." If someone believes that everything is from G-d, but worries that possibly some not-good things will happen – this is not complete faith. Rather, one with complete faith has bitachon that everything that G-d does is for the best. G-d does everything, and everything is good. A person who has this trust walks around with happiness and serenity, he does not get rattled, he does not get angry. As the Maharal continues, Bnei Yisrael at the time should have been able, based on this great miracle of extracting water from a rock, to have great faith and trust, and then they would have been in great joy – for with faith, one's joy is renewed.
The Maharal thus teaches us a fundamental principle: Complete faith means faith with bitachon, and this leads naturally to happiness, calmness, no worries or fears – because of the knowledge that G-d is always with us, watching over us, and providing for us; in such a state, one cannot get angered.
Don't Hit, Talk
Hashem wanted to execute a miracle for us, to produce water from a rock via speech. Moshe did the same thing via hitting it. Is there really such a difference between these two that what Moshe actually did was a sin?
The Maharal answers that the Master of the Universe wanted to teach us that our service of G-d must not be forced, but rather from a sense of inner persuasion. Even a rock must simply be "spoken to," not hit or coerced. If the Israelites had gotten a chance to see this miracle that expresses how even a rock follows G-d's will without being forced, then they too would have understood that this is what service of G-d is all about – inner desire, not external compulsion. This would have been a great Kiddush Hashem, Sanctification of G-d's Name.
Here I would like to note that a few years ago something bothered me: Why did G-d give Moshe such a severe punishment for what was likely a simple misunderstanding? Moshe certainly did not mean to go against G-d! But then I thought that when Moshe heard what a mistake he had made, how he had missed the opportunity for a tremendous Kiddush Hashem and for a revolution in the entire concept of how to serve G-d – this is what caused him such sorrow! He felt bad not that G-d had punished him, but that he had missed the chance to be the agent for a miracle that would have caused Bnei Yisrael to truly cleave to G-d and love him. Israel would have entered the Land of Israel on such a high, a truly sublime spiritual level. The problem was not the sin itself, but rather the lack of the Kiddush Hashem. As G-d later said, "Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of Bnei Yisrael…" (Bamidbar 20,12).
We thus see that the purpose was to have Israel enter the Land with an inner desire to serve Hashem. I believe that this is very relevant for our own generation. This is a generation of challenges: we are challenged to rise up to high levels, to augment our faith, to see G-d in truly everything. Rav Kook writes often that we must see G-d, and His goodness, in everything. When we see a tree growing, we should realize that G-d is making it grow; and when its branches sway in the wind, it is G-d doing that as well. When we see people, and their deeds, and the development, and all the technological advances – even the media – we must realize that it is G-d's work, and that it is all for the truly best.
We recall that Adam behaved with basic ingratitude when G-d created a "helpmate" for him, and then Adam blamed this very helpmate "that You gave me" for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge! G-d says: "I gave you a helpmate, and then you blame Me for causing you to sin?!" The same thing here: G-d helps mankind develop, and gives us technology, and mass media, and social networks, and all sorts of things that can help us serve Him so wondrously – and then man says, "You created extra enticements for me! The internet is full of temptations!" G-d's answer to us is: "I gave you temptations?! I gave you a helpmate!"
We have to be able to see G-d in every aspect of our lives – and not just to say artificially that there is something "inner and internal" in everything. We must simply see it before our eyes. Just like when we talk to a friend: We are not talking with his skin or with his flesh and bones, that which we see, but rather with his inner personality. He has a life-force that we do not see, but rather sense. So too we look at everything around us and see that everything is Divinely created. We realize that every aspect of reality was effected by G-d, and that everything is an expression of Him. If He were to remove His "light" from them, they would cease to exist. This is our challenge: to see the world this way – and if we do, we will be full of faith and trust.
King David wrote: "The heavens tell the glory of G-d, and the upper firmaments tell of His deeds." To live this way is to live a life of values, of cleaving to G-d, of happiness, of song all day long. R. Yochanan teaches in the Talmud, "Would it be that a person would pray all day long!" This seems a bit difficult: Why should a person want to pray all day long and repeat the same words again and again!?
The explanation is that when we look deeply at everything around us, we feel that we simply cannot stop singing this song of praise. In Nishmat of the Sabbath morning prayers we say, "If our mouths were full with praise like the oceans, and our tongues were singing all day like the waves… we would not be able to thank and bless You, G-d, for even a fraction of what You give us." It's not that there is a technical problem; rather, G-d's goodness comes upon us so frequently that though we wish to express our great desire and love for G-d, we simply cannot catch up…
Our service of G-d must be with extra light, with extra faith, with extra holiness – and then automatically, that which bothers us will cease to exist. Instead of fighting evil, we must simply raise ourselves to higher levels, and it will then simply disappear. We must wage war with darkness not with sticks, but by adding light. This is the truest way to be.
Not the Lack of Water…
Parshat Hukat is the introduction to our conquest of the Land of Israel. The lack of water has a purpose: It's not that the lack of water caused Moshe to extract water from the rock – but rather that there had to be a water problem in order to result in a great miracle that would teach us this great lesson that would raise Israel up to these high levels. We are about to enter the Land of Israel, where there must be a very sublime level of connection with Hashem. There we will worship G-d not because we are forced to, not by overcoming the Evil Inclination – but with true inner desire.
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