In the middle of Parashat Chukat, we read the well-known story of Moshe hitting the rock in order to extract water. The Chumash tells us that Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon to speak to the rock in order to extract water from it. When Moshe approaches the rock, instead of talking to it, he hits the rock with his staff twice and water comes out. Hashem becomes angry at Moshe and Aharon for this, and he punishes them by frobidding them to enter Eretz Yisrael: “VaYomer Hashem El Moshe VeEl Aharon Ya’an Lo He’emantem Bi Lehakdisheini LeEinei Benei Yisrael Lachein Lo Tavi’u Et HaKahal HaZeh El HaAretz Asher Natati Lachem,” “Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘because you did not believe in me to sanctify me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land I have given them’” (BeMidbar 20:12). Almost all the commentaries have the same question that Rashi poses. What sin did Moshe and Aharon commit? The Torah does not explicitly tell us what made them worthy of punishment; it simply records that they are punished?
Rashi (20:12 Lehakdisheini) explains that the sin was that Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Had he spoken to the rock, it would have sanctified Hashem’s name before Bnei Yisrael, as they would have understood that if a rock – which cannot speak or hear – follows Hashem’s will, then we must follow Hashem’s will as well. While this is the famous answer, this is certainly not the only answer to our original question, as numerous commentaries offer many different answers as to the nature of the sin.
Ramban poses the same question as Rashi, but he presents serious objections to Rashi’s answer. Ramban (20:1 s.v. VaYeishev HaAm BeKadeish) raises two main objections to Rashi’s explanation of the sin. Earlier in the chapter, Hashem tells Moshe to “take the staff… and speak to the rock” (20:8). According to Ramban, this command to take the staff implied that Moshe was supposed to use it. Had Hashem wanted Moshe to only talk to the rock, why would he command him to take a staff? Furthermore, if the reason Moshe was supposed to speak to the rock was to sanctify Hashem’s name, then how is extracting the water from the rock by hitting it less of a miracle and a sanctification of Hashem's name than extracting water by speaking to it? Both ways would cause Bnei Yisrael to reflect and to realize that if the rock fulfills Hashem’s will, then they should too.
Ramban quotes the answer to which he subscribes, the answer presented by Rabbeinu Chananeil. Rabbeinu Chananeil (20:12 Ya’an Lo He’emantem Bi) writes that Moshe’s sin was in the way he spoke to Bnei Yisrael about extracting water from the rock. Having gathered Bnei Yisrael, Moshe and Aharon tell them, “‘Listen now, rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?’” (BeMidbar 20:10) Rabbeinu Chananeil explains that Moshe’s and Aharon’s sin was not that they hit the rock, but rather that they did not make it clear that it was Hashem who is responsible for the upcoming miracle of extracting water from the rock; instead, they asked Bnei Yisrael if they themselves should extract the water.
The approach of Moshe and Aharon being punished because they failed to sanctify Hashem’s name is supported by two Pesukim towards the end of Devarim, in which Hashem tells Moshe, “And die on the mountain upon which you are climbing and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aharon died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you betrayed Me in the midst of Bnei Yisrael at the waters of Merivat Kadeish, [in] the desert of Tzin, [and] because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of Bnei Yisrael” (Devarim 32:50-51). When Hashem in Sefer Devarim carries out the punishment promised here in Parashat Chukat, Hashem explains that Moshe failed to sanctify His name in the desert, which, according to Rabbeinu Chananeil, is referring to Moshe’s and Aharon’s failure to mention that it is Hashem who will perform the miracle of extracting the water from the rock.
While there are many different lessons that can be gleaned from the debate amongst the commentaries about what the actual sin was, I think the lesson that stands out is the importance of realizing and acknowledging that everything comes from Hashem. As Rabi Chaninah teaches, “HaKol BiDei Shamayim Chutz MiYir’at Shamayim,” “Everything is in the hands of God except for fear of God (Berachot 33b). If Moshe, someone who is described in the Torah as being humbler than any man (BeMidbar 12:3) and Aharon, who is described as being a lover of peace and pursuer of peace (Avot 1:12), were not allowed into Israel because, when addressing the nation about the rock, they didn't make it clear that everything is in the hands of Hashem, then all the more so we should acknowledge that everything we have comes from Hashem. May we merit Hashem grantinge us all many successes in life, and that we always remember Who facilitates our successes.