Faithfulness Forever

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The adaptation of this shiur is written l’iluy nishmat my dear friend since childhood, Marta Schraub Schron, Mottel Leah bas Yosef Avimelech Halevi, who went to her olam haemet on Thursday, Tamuz 3.

Miriam had died, and the well that had sprung from the rock in her merit dried up. Bnei Yisroel again approached Moshe, complaining that it would have been better in Egypt rather than dying in the desert without water. Hashem then tells Moshe to take his staff, speak to the rock and tell it to give forth water. Moshe and Aharon then took the staff, gathered the people around them and Moshe said, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” Then Moshe hit the rock and abundant water poured forth.

We can easily see the discrepancy in Moshe’s fulfilling Hashem’s command. Hashem had told Moshe to speak to the rock, but Moshe hit the rock. This failure to accurately fulfill Hashem’s command elicited this response from Hakodosh Boruch Hu: “Because you did not he’emantem Bi/believe in Me lehakdisheinu/to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisroel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given them.”

The simplest question on this incident is why did Moshe veer from Hashem’s explicit command? At least equally important is how Moshe’s action demonstrated a lack of faith, especially, as the Sifsei Chaim notes, Hashem declared Moshe to be the most faithful in His entire house, in the whole world? Finally, how was Hashem’s decree that Moshe would not lead Bnei Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel an appropriate response?

Every sin has an element of lack of faith, writes Rabbi Goldstein in Shaarei Chaim. It is only through a lack of awareness of Hashem’s constant presence that one will fall into sin. Even though Moshe had confronted Hashem on other occasions, especially to plead for Bnei Yisroel, those confrontations were in private while this one was public, spurring a lack of faith in others.

Continuing this idea, Rav Wolbe in Alei Shor reminds us that the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem in public/sanctifying God’s Name is so important that we are commanded to even die if necessary to achieve this goal. In this, Moshe fell short, continues Rabbi Wolbe. Had Moshe spoken to the rock instead of hitting it, people would have reasoned that if an inanimate object which can neither see nor hear and requires no sustenance immediately heeds God’s command, how much more so must we do so as human beings. Further, adds Rabbi Zelig Epstein, merely speaking to the rock would have shown that the rock obeyed Hashem’s will through its own choice rather than through coercion, a goal compromised by hitting the rock, when obedience seems to have been achieved by force rather than by faith. Rabbi Reiss in Meirosh Tzurim builds on this concept. Our desire to do Hashem’s will should be so strong that we should feel as if we have no other choice. That way, our desire itself forces us to do His will.

Along these lines, Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv draws on the words of our Morning Prayers. Every morning, we ask Hashem “to compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You,” as He had compelled us to [continue to] accept the Torah at Sinai even though we had already declared our acceptance of the Torah. At Sinai, we had reached the level of integrating Hashem’s will into our own, so that intuitively we would follow His commands. The impurity of the negative inclination had left us, and we were in a totally pure state. However, that state did not last long, and negativity again entered our psyche when we made the golden calf. Speaking to the rock would have demonstrated that doing Hashem’s will is the natural order of the world while sinning is unnatural.

Moshe’s hesitancy in following Hashem’s dictate, irrespective of not following it exactly, also contributed to a lack of faith, writes Birkat Mordechai Ezrachi. That hesitancy could give Bnei Yisroel the idea that one can hesitate and ponder whether one should follow the command or not, even if one eventually complies. It is like answering someone’s request with, “I’ll think about it,” implying that their request was not that important to you, adds Rabbi Bernstein in Aggadah.

Moshe himself certainly knew the difference between speaking to the rock and hitting the rock, but his mission, and the mission of every Jew, is to instill in others the love of Hashem, writes Rabbi Reiss citing the Ramban. By hitting the rock, Moshe failed to instill additional love for and faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu in Bnei Yisroel.

The Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom takes a different approach to this incident. Citing verse Tehillim 37:3, “Trust in Hashem… that you may enter the land with faithfulness,” the Slonimer Rebbe suggests that speaking to the rock would generate in Bnei Yisroel the trust and faith necessary to properly enter the Land. But Moshe underestimated the faith of Bnei Yisroel, and therefore he hit the rock not once, but twice. He even called Bnei Yisroel “the rebellious ones.” Moshe mistakenly assumed that if, after the splitting of the Sea and so many other miracles of the time, Hashem had told him to strike the rock to bring forth water, certainly now, after Bnei Yisroel complained for forty years in the desert, they would have even less faith. But Moshe did not calculate the effect of receiving the Torah would have on Bnei Yisroel. Entering Eretz Yisroel required a certain amount of bitachon/faith, and the purpose of entering the Land was to continue building that faith. Hashem wanted this experience of witnessing the rock obeying the spoken command without any human effort to be part of the process of building that faith. Instead, by hitting the rock, Moshe undermined this belief. He failed to understand that Bnei Yisroel were inherently believers, albeit that faith could be hidden. What Hashem wanted of Moshe was that he reveal the inner faith that Bnei Yisroel already possessed.

When a Jew feels that his emunah/faith is lagging, he must repeat for himself, almost as a mantra, that he believes, and the repetition will grow that inherent belief in himself. [Modern day life coaches know the value of self talk to generate lagging confidence. CKS] Just as the sun is always there, even when hidden by the clouds, so too is a Jew’s faith always there, even when the challenges of life shake that belief. Moshe needed to get Bnei Yisroel ready for entry into Eretz Yisroel by awakening that dormant belief.

What exactly does emunah/belief/faith mean? The Sifsei Chaim gives us two meanings, that complement each other, and both are alluded to when we answer “Amen” to a brachah. One is in fact a validation of what was already said, I also believe that Hashem is the Creator and He has the ability to do all. The second meaning is more subtle. It is the trust I have in Him that He will keep the faith with me and continue to take the action to fulfill that trust, and I too will act on that faith.

This is the concept advanced by Rabbi Akiva Tatz, especially to guide teenagers for life. Emunah does not mean faith, but faithfulness, loyalty, acting on what is already known and believed. Unfortunately, humans often act in complete contradiction to what they know to be true, what they believe to be the right thing to do. This is the essence of free will, and this is the work of emunah.

It’s not enough just to believe abstractedly in Hashem, writes the Sifsei Chaim. One must rely on Him in every situation. Relying on Him will strengthen your emunah. That’s why the one who responds Amen to a brachah is greater than the one who actually recited the brachah. The Sifsei Chaim explains what the acronym AMeN stands for.  A(E)l, the God of kindness; Melech, the King and Master; Ne’eman, Who is trustworthy to act on that kindness. By responding with Amen, I am recognizing Hashem in my life and am relying on Him.

It is this dual message that we convey every morning at the end of Modeh Ani, “Rabah emunatecha/abundant is Your faithfulness.” We are grateful both that we can rely on his kindness to us, but also acknowledge that, having returned our souls to us for another day of life, He also has abundant faith in us. [In dark and challenging times, what a comforting and reassuring message. CKS]

Rambam suggests that Moshe was punished for expressing anger at Bnei Yisroel, calling them Rebels. Rav Asher Weiss and the Tiferes Shimshon both explain why this anger was such a grave sin in Moshe’s case. Everyone knew that Moshe was Hashem’s spokesperson to Bnei Yisroel. Now, when Moshe expressed anger, Bnei Yisroel assumed that Hashem Himself was angry at Bnei Yisroel, diminishing their faith in Hashem’s kindness. In fact, Hashem was not angry. Hashem merely instructed Moshe to bring them water, as the request was a legitimate one. But it is also possible that Moshe himself had a momentary lapse in faith, adds Rabbi Pincus.

We obviously inherit our faith through our Avot/Patriarchs. They were our Rosh Tzurim/immovable rocks of faith that even the gentile Prophet Bilaam recognized, explains Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz. Had Moshe’s faith been intact and pure, he would have remained joyful, not gotten angry and not have hit the rock. The anger was a symptom of a lack of faith. By hitting the rock in anger, Moshe eroded the faith Bnei Yisroel had that they could ask Hashem for anything, adds Rabbi Shmulevitz in Sichot Mussar.

Rav Schlesinger takes our whole premise and turns it around. If Moshe sinned by hitting the rock to bring forth water, how could we ask Hashem to provide water/rain for us in Moshe’s merit when we pray for rain on Succot? To answer this question we must explore Moshe’s mindset in hitting the rock. Had the rock obeyed Hashem’s command after simply being spoken to, it would reflect badly on Bnei Yisroel who constantly don’t listen to Hashem. As previously in his life, Moshe was willing to sacrifice his own life for the benefit of his people. Therefore, it is Hashem, the merciful aspect of God Who speaks to Moshe. Hashem’s words to Moshe, according to Rav Schlesinger, is not a punishment, but a natural extension of Moshe’s concern. Had Moshe led the nation into Eretz Yisroel and built the Beit Hamikdosh, the Beit Hamikdosh would have been eternal in Moshe’s merit. Then, when Bnei Yisroel would sin, as would inevitably happen, Hashem would not be able to vent His anger (so to speak) on the wood and stones of the Beit Hamikdosh, but would have had to destroy Am Yisroel. Not granting Moshe entry into Eretz Yisroel was actually a way of fulfilling Moshe’s greatest wish, the survival of Bnei Yisroel. Moshe’s deep love of Bnei Yisroel allowed him to give up his deep desire of entering Eretz Yisroel.

At what level of trusting in Hashem are we, of knowing and acting on that faith? Equally important, how trustworthy are we to others who depend on us? While we can never approach the bond that Moshe had with Hashem, being the most trusted in all the world, we can strive to build that bond every day from when we wake up in the morning with Modeh Ani until we introduce our final Shema of the day with E-l Melech Ne’eman.

 Marta Schraub Schron was a woman of tremendous faith who lived her life with simplicity, ready to give to others and always cognizant of the gifts Hashem blessed her with. Tehei zichrah boruch.