A teaching by Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, from Kedushas Levi, Parshat Hukat.
God said to Moses, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water.”… Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, “Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:7-12
Rashi and Ramban disagree on what exactly was Moses’ sin (1). According to the Ramban, it was calling the Israelites “rebels,” and according to Rashi it was striking the rock. It seems to me that these are the same, for one led directly to the other.
There are two ways of persuading others to do the will of the Creator. One is to speak encouraging words, pointing out the inherent holiness of every soul, since all of our souls are “hewn from God’s throne” (2), and also the great potential in each one of us, how each of us can be a righteous person, even a spiritual leader, and how we can bring great pleasure to God and joy to all the worlds when we do God’s will. This stirs the heart to serve God and accept the yoke of heaven, always rising higher and higher. The other way is to speak harsh words, embarrassing others into serving God.
Now when we follow the first way, lifting others up, then every part of creation acts with us, aiding our service of God, for this is creation’s very purpose; but if we follow the second way, then creation takes no part, and we must fight the world in our service, forcing it to do our will in serving God.
So when Moses said, “Listen, you rebels!” he followed the second way, and so he had to strike the rock to force it to do his will, to fulfill its purpose and give forth water for the Israelites. Therefore his calling the Israelites “rebels” caused him to have to strike the rock, and so both Rashi’s and Ramban’s answers are one and the same.
This is the reason for God’s punishment, that Moses should not enter the Holy Land. For God’s intent was that Moses should raise up all of the Israelites to his level of enlightenment.
1) Rashi, an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (1040-1105), was a French Torah commentator (and grape farmer) who wrote the first comprehensive commentaries on both the Tanakh (Bible) and Talmud. His commentaries are still the starting point for everyone from school children trying to understand the basic meaning of the text to scholars seeking out underlying nuances. His commentary is so respected, even to the point of being considered divinely inspired, that his own words are parsed and interpreted just like words of Torah. Ramban, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (1194-c.1270), was a mystically inspired Biblical commentator (among other things). 2) Zohar III 29b
At first blush, this seems to be an almost Pollyanna-ish view of the world: if you just see the G0(o)d in everything and everyone, everything will work out for you. First of all, I don’t think what the Kedushas Levi is saying is that simple and, second, he’s not the first one to say it. The Garden of Eden is a world that works on exactly this claim — because Adam and Eve were sinless, living in perfect harmony with creation, then creation worked with them, right down to growing their food for them without having to work for it. The prophets tell us that we will one day return to that state. Isaiah 11 says:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the L!RD as the waters cover the sea.
and Zechariah 14 says
The day of the LORD is coming… On that day “holy to the LORD” will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty.
The Kedushas Levi isn’t saying anything new, he’s just speeding up the clock a bit. We don’t have to wait for the whole world to “be full of the knowledge of the LORD” — if we fill our little corner with it, if we remember that “there is nothing but God” (Deuteronomy 4:35), then we can bring a piece of Gan Eden into the world. For if the world is nothing but God in disguise, how could it not want to help us, if we only know how to let it?
For another teaching on bringing the redemption by acting as if it’s already come, click here.