Torah thought forFriday 4 Tammuz 5783 June 23 2023

Parashat Chukat (outside Israel Parashat Korach)

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Okay so they Hit the Rock! Exploring that in Spiritual Pursuits the Minimum that is Required is the Maximum that a Person is Capable of, but with Material Things, Manage with Less

This Shabbat we shall read the harsh decree on Moshe Rabbeinu not to enter the land. First of all, when the Bnei Yisrael arrived at Kadesh, where Miriam had passed away and was buried, the people were thirsty for water. But there was no water and the people began to argue with Moshe and Aron, as the passuk states, “Why did you bring Hashem’s congregation to this desert? So that we and our livestock should die? Why did you take us out of Egypt and bring us to this terrible place? It is an area where there are no plants, figs, grapes or pomegranates. [Now] there is not even any water to drink!” (Bamidbar 2-5:20). Then Hashem turned to Moshe and said to him, “Take the staff, and you and Aron assemble the community. Speak to the cliff in their presence, and it will give forth its water. You will therefore bring forth water from the cliff, and allow the community and their livestock to drink” (ibid. 20:8). Moshe Rabbeinu and Aron HaCohen gathered Am Yisrael and as the passuk states, “Moshe raised his hand, and struck the cliff twice with his staff. A huge amount of water gushed out, and the community and their animals were able to drink” (ibid. 20:11). About this Hashem said, “You did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Bnei Yisrael! Therefore, you shall not bring this assembly to the land that I have given you!” (ibid. 20:12).

Rashi (ibid. 20:12) explains that Moshe and Aron’s sin here was that Hashem asked them to speak to the cliff but they struck it. This implies that they would have been able to sanctify Hashem’s Name more greatly in the world, for had they spoken to the cliff and had it gushed water they would have sanctified Hashem’s. This is because the Bnei Yisrael would have said, just as this cliff doesn’t speak or hear, fulfils Hashem’s command, all the more so should we. Therefore Moshe and Aron were punished not to enter Eretz Yisrael.

The question is asked, why were Moshe and Aron punished so severely. Since also when smiting the cliff in the middle of a dry and arid desert and to extract water from it in front of the people, this in itself is a great miracle and a sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Since everyone came to know that Hashem is the One who brings forth water from stone in the wilderness. If so, so what that they struck the cliff and didn’t speak to it. So why were they punished so extremely?

The Torah taught us a tremendous principle in this Parashah, that a deficiency in completing spiritual acts is incomparable to a deficiency in physical actions. Meaning, if for example a person requests from his friend that he build him a complete wall and he builds him only half a wall, then at least he still has half a wall and he must be grateful to him for that. However, with spiritual endeavours, a deficiency in the completion of the required act creates a blemish even it what has been accomplished. This is because in spiritual matters a person is required to do what they are capable of, for it states, “If you are careful to pay heed to my commandments, which I am prescribing to you today, and if you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul” (Devarim 11:13). Am Yisrael are commanded to fulfil Hashem’s mitzvot completely, in every which way. Any deficiency in completing an action that a person should do, is a tangible blemish in the performance of the mitzvah. For there is a principle in spiritual growth, “the minimum that is required is the maximum that a person is capable of”. Therefore with Moshe and Aron, even though extracting water from the cliff in the middle of the desert by smiting it would have been a great miracle, nevertheless, if they had spoken to the cliff, as Hashem instructed them to, and the water had gushed simply through a verbal request, then the miracle would have been greater and a larger sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Since the deficiency of the act within the context of the miracle was a huge blemish, and Moshe and Aron’s had an elevated spiritual status, they were therefore punished more severely.

This teaches us how much we have an obligation to be careful in fulfilling mitzvot with extra diligence. Not just in how many mitzvot are performed but also the quality of their performance. To fulfil the mitzvah as required by halachah completely, such as prayer at the correct time, in the right place with the congregation and with the appropriate concentration, whilst carefully considered before Whom one is praying. Likewise with each and every mitzvah, for we learn that a deficiency in the action blemishes the essence of the mitzvah.

This is how chazal explained the passuk, “Realise it today and ponder it in your heart: Hashem is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth beneath - there is no other” (Devarim 4:39), “in heaven above” - in every spiritual pursuit, aim for the maximum that is possible, but “on the earth beneath” - with material things, manage with less. This is analogous to a very wealthy person had an elaborate palace, it had a roof with wooden steps which led to it. After some time the wealthy man no longer wanted people to access the roof and he asked his trusted attendant to remove the wooden stairs that led to the roof. The servant went to action the request and went backwards up the steps removing each step as he ascended. He did this with all of them until he reached the roof and all the steps were removed. However, when he wanted to descend he was unable to, for there were no stairs left by which to descend. He began calling for help. The owner came and said to him, you don’t do it like this, but instead go to the top of the stairs and then begin descending and from there to remove the stairs, removing a stair at a time until you are at the lower floor. The servant heard this and took this advice on board. After some time the rich man had a pit with stairs in his backyard and asked his servant to remove the stairs. The servant remembered the advice that had been given to him and decided to implemented it. He went to the top of the steps and removed one at a time until he reached the bottom and then he began calling for help. The owner came and the servant said to him, I did what you told me last time and again I am in trouble! The rich man smiled and said to him, always know until where is the main thing and where is the ancillary item. When you want to remain below start at the top working downwards, but when the main thing is at the top you must start from below and work upwards.

So may we learn in material things. With money, food and physical benefits, manage with less, but with spiritual things, mitzvot and good deeds realise that “the minimum that is required is the maximum that a person is capable of”. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!

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