Mistaken Correctness by Tzvi Zuckier


At a certain point during the episode of Moshe hitting the rock to quench Bnei Yisrael’s thirst, Moshe says to Bnei Yisrael, “Shimu Na HaMorim HaMin HaSela HaZeh Notzi Lachem Mayim,” “Listen now, you Morim, will we bring forth water for you from this rock?” (20:10). Rashi presents two interpretations of the word Morim. Either it means “Sorvanim,” “wayward ones,” for Bnei Yisrael sinned by telling Moshe to hit any rock, not just the one which Hashem commanded him to hit, or it means “Shotim,” “fools,” and that Bnei Yisrael had attempted, through their demand,  to “teach their teachers” how to act in a crisis. The Admor Re’eim MiGur, cited by the Maayanah Shel Torah, wonders why Rashi put the two seemingly disparate explanations that Bnei Yisrael were fools and that they attempted to teach their teachers in his second answer. Why didn’t he present them as separate answers? (This is not an issue in the Roma and Alkabetz editions of the text of Rashi in which they are in fact divided into two answers.)

The Admor answers his question beautifully. He says that “They taught their teachers” is the reason why Bnei Yisrael are fit to be called fools, and therefore it is part of that explanation. The reason that their attempt to teach their teachers warrants the appellation “fools” is that when someone thinks he can teach his teacher, he thinks he is better than everyone. He thinks he knows better than the one whose very specialty is teaching! Someone with such an idea is quite clearly a fool. The Admor cites a Pasuk in Mishlei with a similar idea: “Ra’ita Ish Chacham BeEinav Tikva LaKesil MiMenu,” “Have you seen a man who is smart in his eyes - a fool has more hope than he” (26:12). This Pasuk shows that when someone thinks that he is always correct, he is on a lower level than a fool. Thus, we see that someone who thinks he can teach his teacher, who by extension must think he’s smarter than everyone else, is given the status of a fool or worse.

We must be able to control our desire to be haughty and to always think we are correct. While it is occasionally necessary to settle on a single explanation when trying to understand a passage in the Gemara, Tanach, Meforshim, etc., we must do so only after carefully evaluating others’ positions. If, after doing so, we still think we are correct, that is fine (as long as the explanation is tenable within the greater framework of the Torah). However, if we always think we are correct about different issues without looking into those matters deeply and exploring them from their roots, we may Chas VeShalom stray and be considered wayward and foolish.

Cognitive Complications by Rabbi Scott Friedman

A Hard Lesson by Benjy Lebowitz