Archive for June 2015

Parashat Chukkat - Miriam's Well - Moshe Strikes the Rock

Thursday, June 25, 2015 · Posted in

[Miriam HaNeviah - Artist Yoram Raanan]

Bamidbar 20:1 In the first month, the entire community of Benei Yisrael came to the Tzin Desert, and the people stopped in Kadesh. It was there that Miriam died and was buried.
We must understand why the death of Miriam is recorded immediately after the chapter dealing with the commandment of the Red Cow, althought this commandment was give to the Benei Yisrael on the day that the Mishkan was completed - the first of Nissan, in the second year after the Exodus - and that the death of Miriam occurred in the fortieth year. (Rashi; Mizrachi)

The answer is that the Torah does so, despite the time lag of so many years between one event and the other, in order to teach us that just as the Red Cow served to bring atonement upon the Benei Yisrael for their sin of the Golden Calf, so does the death of righteous persons bring forgiveness. (Ibid. and end of Moed Katan, cf. Tosefot ad loc. See Abarbanel)

Now the words, "The entire community of Benei Yisrael came," tell us that they were the survivors of the desert generation who would be entering the Land of Yisrael, all those who had been twenty years of age and over at the time of the Exodus having already died. That is, they were that "entire community" who were set apart for life.

20:2 The people did not have any water, so they began demonstrating against Moshe and Aharon."
When they arrived at this location, the waters of the well that had accompanied them during those forty years came to an end. (Yalkut Shemoni; Rashi; Divrei Shlomo, Chapter 28; See Ramban)

The Benei Yisrael in the wilderness enjoyed three benefits, bestowed upon them in the merit of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. The manna they were given on account of Moshe; the Clouds of Glory were present on account of Aharon; and the well of waters they had on account of Miriam.

This well was her reward for having waited by the river to see what would happen with Moshe when he was cast adrift in the river (Shemot 2:4), lingering there until the daugther of Pharaoh came and took him. Since this was the reason that the Benei Yisrael were given that source of water, when she died the well came to an end and it then became clear to everyone that it had been made available to them on her account. Now that it was gone, they all assembled in protest against Moshe and Aharon. (Yalkut Shemoni; Bachya)

20:11 With that, Moshe raised his hand, and struck the cliff with his staff.
20:12 Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, "You did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Benei Yisrael! Therfore, you shall not bring this assembly to the land that I have given you." 

There are many different opinions concerning the precise nature of Moshe's sin in this portion. Rashi holds that Moshe had not been commanded to hit the rock at all but only speak to it, and to instruct it in the name of Hashem to produce water. He bases himself on the words, "you shall speak to the rock." If we were to ask what was the point of his being told to take his staff if not in order to strike the rock, this is no argument seeing that practically all the miracles Moshe had performed involved his staff although not necessary that he used the staff to strike something with. For instance, we find in Shemot 4:17 that G-d told Moshe to take his staff in order to perform the miracles with it but no mention is made of his using the staff to strike something or somebody. His sin therefore (according to Rashi) consisted in his striking the rock without having been commanded to do so.

The penalty was applied to both Moshe and Aharon as apparently they had agreed to use the staff to hit the rock instead of speaking to the rock. By doing so they minimized the impact of the miracle, seeing that G-d had wanted to demonstrate that the rock would respond to G-d's command even if merely spoken to. Had Moshe carried out G-d's instructions the people would have said to themselves that if a mere rock responds to verbal instructions by G-d to completely change its nature by turning into a well, how much more must intelligent people like themselves heed all instructions given to them by Hashem! Now that they saw that the rock responded only to Moshe's physical force as a result of being struck, this gave some of them a chance to use this as an argument that Moshe had achieved his objective by superior wisdom and machinations but that there was no question of the rock having responded to a command from its Creator. The people's faith in G-d's ability had been undermined by Moshe's hitting the rock. This is why G-d said to both Moshe and Aharon: "because you did not have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Benei Yisrael" (v12). Had they only *spoken* to the Rock this would have resulted in a great sanctification of G-d's Name.

Maimonides, in the fourth chapter of his introduction to Tractate Avot, views Moshe's sin as being that he addressed the people as "morim" (rebellious) (v10). Had he not been angry at the people which caused him to use such an unflattering description of them he would not have forgotten the instruction that he was to speak to the rock. When a man of the stature of Moshe allows himself to become angry the result is liable to be a desecration of G-d's Name. Even the bodily motions of a man of Moshe's caliber normally inspire people who see him, give them confidence of their progress towards a better world, the hereafter. When people observe that their leader reveals frustration such confidence is undermined. Public display of frustration displays an internal conflict in man. This in turn reduces his student's confidence in him. The people were very intelligent as they had experienced visions which even a great prophet such as Yechezkel had not experienced (Mechilta Shirata 50). When the people observed Moshe being angry they assumed that Moshe's anger at them reflected G-d's anger at them for having demanded water. This was an erroneous conclusion as the Torah does not indicate with a single syllable that G-d considered their request as inappropriate. When G-d said (v24) "you defied My word," He referred to the mistaken image of G-d's reaction to their request conveyed to them through Moshe's demeanor. 

Rabbeinu Chananel believes that Moshe's sin consisted of the word "notzi" - "we shall extract" or "shall we extract?" By using the first person plural Moshe created the impression that it was his and Aharon's task to extract the water from the rock. He should have said "He, G-d, will extract water for the people from the rock" (v10). The moment Moshe said: "We shall extract water," some of the people thought that whereas on the first occasion when Moshe had struck the rock this had been a miracle, a demonstration of G-d revealing His power (Shemot 17:5-7), this time there would not be a similar intervention by G-d in their fortunes. These people simply thought that Moshe and Aharon used their own devices in order to produce water from the rock. This is reflected in the Torah writing: "because you have missed an opportunity, "to demonstrate My Holiness before the eyes of the Benei Yisrael" (v12). According to Rabbeinu Chananel the expression "lehakdisheni" (to demonstrate My Holiness) is reflexive, i.e. to cause G-d to appear as Holy, whereas the words "lo-he'emantem bi" are not to be understood as transitive, i.e. "you have failed [to exploit the opportunity] to instill in the people an additional dimension of faith in Me."

The verses in front of us all support PARTS of the opinions express by Rashi, Maimonides, and Rabbeinu Chananel. But the overall meaning of the subject discussed in our paragraph is not explained satisfactorily by either one of these illustrious Rabbis. Rashi's approach would be acceptable if the speaking to the rock would be the only miracle at issue and not the striking of the rock. However, how can we ignore the fact that if water emerges from a rock after the rock has been struck that this is by itself a powerful miracle? Is there then a qualitative difference between the two kinds of miracle? Seeing G-d had instructed Moshe to take his staff (instead of leaving it in his tent) surely he was meant to use it to strike the rock!

Also the words of Maimonides do not clarify all the problems raised by the text. He was himself aware of this as he said that he clarified *one of the problems* in our paragraph by his comments. His comments would be acceptable if indeed there were proof that Moshe was angry and displayed anger during this episode. However, the words "shimu-na hamorim" (hear now you rebellious [rebels]) do not necessarily reflect anger on Moshe's part but mean that he addressed the people as a group which needed to be admonished. Aharon, who stood beside him, certainly had never been angry during his career. He was known as always pursuing peaceful means. Had he permitted himself to become angry and display anger he would not have qualified for the title "Rodef Shalom" (Pursuer of Peace). Why would he suffer the same fate as Moshe if he had not been angry, had not displayed anger, had not said anything inappropriate?

Also the words of Rabbeinu Chananel are not totally convincing. If Moshe had said "We will produce water for you from this rock," he would be correct. However, this is not what Moshe said. He said, "shall we produce water from this rock?" Moshe implied that they themselves most certainly did not have the power to produce water from that rock. Moshe made it clear that only G-d could orchestrate such a miracle. Still, his words are the most plausible from all the commentators. (Me'am Lo'ez)

A Kabbalistic approach:

The sin is connected to the word "pa'amayim" (twice) (v11). This solves all the problems which have been raised previously. They mystical dimension of the whole episode is as follows:

Hashem, the Unique One, Who had descended to the mountain, i.e. Mount Sinai at the time He gave the Ten Commandments, was the same attribute that had revealed Himself to Moshe in Shemot 17:6 where Mount Chorev is identified with "tzur" (rock), the site also known (Tehillim 132:5) as "an abode for the Mighty One of Yaakov." The expression "tzur" in connection with G-d revealing Himself to Moshe occurs again in Shemot 33:21 where G-d tells Moshe to take up a position "next" to Him describing that place as "al-hatzur" (next to the Rock) Hashem. When G-d had instructed Moshe to hit the rock in Shemot 17:6, He had first described His presence in the words "hineni" i.e. "Here I am standing in front of you by the rock at Chorev and when you strike the rock water will emerge, etc." The attribute of YKVK appears frequently in the guise of the word "Ani." Moshe had struck the rock only a single time, seeing he had been receiving his instructions from a single attribute of Hashem. Here at Kadesh G-d had not spelled out which attribute of His had issued the instructions as He had not said "here is My attribute Ani, etc." There had not been a manifestation of the glory (attribute) of G-d such as there had been in Shemot. As a result of doubt as to which attribute had issued the instruction Moshe and Aharon both agreed to hit the rock twice, i.e. once in respect of each attribute which could have issued such an instruction, i.e. either to attribute "tzur" or the attribute Hashem. They considered it quite likely that the Shechinah was angry at the people (for having blamed Moshe for the shortage of water). The people, who had all been privy to manifestations of the Shechinah on the previous occasions associated with the phenomenon described as "tzur," were aware that that this time there had not been such a manifestation of G-d's glory. In view of all of these considerations Moshe and Aharon felt the need to attract the attribute of Hashem, attribute of Mercy, hence they struck the rock twice (instead of merely once). It is important to realize that neither Moshe nor Aharon entertained any wrongful thoughts in any of this. Their sin resulted exclusively from the fact that *by their action* they missed an opportunity presented to them by G-d to aggrandize His Name, i.e. "lehakdisheni le'einei Benei Yisrael" (to demonstrate My Holiness before the eyes of the Benei Yisrael) (v12). 

Although their intentions had been good, striking the rock twice could have led the people to believe that Moshe's powers [and by extension G-d's powers] had waned and that this was why he had to strike the rock twice instead of merely once. His sin was inadequate faith in G-d. He should have had faith enough not to hit the rock twice. This is why the Torah writes in v12 "because you did not plant sufficient faith in Me." (Bachya)

Parashat Korach

Sunday, June 14, 2015 · Posted in , , ,

Korach Artist Yoram Raanan

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן
Vayikach Korach ben-Yitz'har ben-Kehat ben-Levi veDatan va'Aviram benei Eli'av ve'On ben-Pelet benei Re'uven
BaMidbar 16:1 Korach son of Yitz'har (a grandson of Kehat and great-grandson of Levi) began a rebellion along with Datan and Aviram (sons of Eli'av) and On son of Pelet, descendants of Re'uven.

Korach incites a mutiny challenging Moshe’s leadership and the granting of the kehunah (priesthood) to Aharon. He is accompanied by Moshe’s inveterate foes, Datan and Abiram. Joining them are 250 distinguished members of the community, who offer the sacrosanct ketoret (incense) to prove their worthiness for the priesthood. The earth opens up and swallows the mutineers, and a fire consumes the ketoret-offerers. ( 

Torah Sheleimah
16:1 And Dathan and Aviram 

They were the ones who forced Moshe to flee from Egypt (by informing on him to Pharaoh that he killed the Egyptian -- Shemot 2:13-15). They were the ones who hurled harsh words at Moshe and Aharon in Egypt (ibid. 5:20-21). They were the ones who left over from the manna (in defiance of Moshe’s instructions -- ibid. 16:20) and went out to gather the manna on Shabbat (ibid. v. 27). And they joined in Korach's mutiny.

Midrash Rabbah; Rashi
16:1 of the tribe of Re'uven

From this text the saying is derived: "Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor!" It applies to Datan and Aviram, neighbors of Korach, who both camped to the south side of the Sanctuary, as it is written: "The families of the sons of Kehat were to pitch on the side of the Sanctuary southward" (BaMidbar 3:29); and it says, "On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Re'uven" (ibid. 2:10).

Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b
16:1 And On the son of Pelet

Wife of Ohn ben Pelet Artist Nava Levine-Coren

Said Rav: On the son of Pelet was saved by his wife. She said to him, "What matters it to you? Whether the one remains leader or the other becomes leader, you will be but a follower." Said he: "But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me to be with them"... She said: "Sit here, and I will save you." She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down within [the tent]. Then she sat down at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.

Meanwhile, Korach's wife joined in and said to him: "See what Moshe has done! He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother's sons he has made the vice High Priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees: Let it be for the priest. If the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [i.e., to the Levi'im], he orders: Give a tenth part thereof to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off (cf. BaMidbar 8:7) and makes sport of you as though you were dirt... ; for he was jealous of your hair." Said he to her, "But he has done likewise!" She replied, "Since all the greatness was his, he said also, 'Let me die with the Plishtim'..."

Thus it is written, "A wise woman builds her house" (Mishlei 14:1) -- this refers to the wife of On the son of Pelet; "but the foolish woman destroys it with her hands" (ibid.) -- this refers to Korach's wife.

The Holy Ari  (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria)

Korach was a Levi and moreover was the head of the Levi'im; he embodied the highest aspect of all states of gevurah, whereas Aharon embodied the highest aspect of all states of chesed. Their natures are fundamentally opposed and this was the basis of Korach’s quarrel. Thus, their quarrel was that of the left side with the right side. Chesed is the central sefirah on the right axis of the sefirot, while gevurah is the central sefirah on the left axis. Their natures are fundamentally opposed, chesed being the nature to give and gevurah being the nature to withhold. The tension between them is thus the fundamental tension of duality in all reality.

Korach refused to reconcile because his quarrel was not "for the sake of heaven."

The sages state that "Any quarrel that is for the sake of heaven will endure, while [any quarrel] that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure. What is [an example of] a quarrel for the sake of heaven? The quarrel between Hillel and Shamai. And [what is an example of] a quarrel that is not for the sake of heaven? The quarrel of Korach and his congregation." (Pirkei Avot 5:17) "For the sake of heaven" means "for the purpose of arriving at the truth, in order to further G-d’s purposes on earth" rather than "for the purpose of self-aggrandizement."

Because Korach caused all this, he descended to Gehinom as befitted him. (Ibid. 16:31-33)  Thus, we see how Korach reflected the very first quarrel, in which the [coarser aspects of] gevurah asserted themselves stridently.

Haftarah for Korach
Shmu’el Alef 11:14-12:22

The Haftarah of Korach is about Shmu’el, who, according to Chazal, is descended from Korach’s sons.  Shmu’el finds himself in a situation similar to Moshe’s in Parshat Korach

The nation gathers at Gilgal for a second coronation of King Sha’ul--the first one having lacked a convincing consensus. They offer sacrifices and rejoice together. The prophet Shmu’el then delivers a talk: he asks the people to testify that he never committed crimes against the people, and they confirm. He discusses how G‑d saved and aided them every step of the way and chastises them for wanting a flesh and blood king. He assures them that G‑d will be with them if they follow in His ways, and of the consequences they will face if they do not follow G‑d's word. To underscore the seriousness of his words, Samuel asks G‑d to send a thunderstorm, although it was not the rainy season. The Jewish people got the message and asked Shmu’el to intercede on their behalf and to have the thunderstorm cease. The haftorah ends with a reassurance: "For G-d will not forsake His people for His great name's sake; for G-d has sworn to make you a people for Himself."

The connection to this week's Parsha is the fact that Shmuel was a descendent of Korach. Whereas Korach expressed a right to interpret the Torah as he saw fit, Shmuel tells the people that the success of the king and the nation is totally dependent upon their adherence to the letter of the law. In the end, it was Korach's own grandson who founded our nations leadership upon the unquestioned teachings of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Striking among the common points between sedra and Haftarah is the invoking of a miracle to “back up” his credentials. The unexpected violent storm, then, parallels in a way, the flowering stick.

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