Rocking the Chillul Hashem by Eli Ginsberg


Parshat Chukat contains the famous story of Moshe striking a rock to get water for Bnei Yisrael. After Moshe hits the rock instead of talking to it, Hashem says, “Ya’an Lo He’emantem Bi LeHakdisheini LeEinei Bnei Yisrael Lachen Lo Tavi’u Et HaKahal HaZeh El HaAretz Asher Natati LaHem,” “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the Land that I will give them.” (BeMidbar 20:12). What seems strange about Hashem’s rebuke to Moshe is His accusation that Moshe created a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem; what Chillul Hashem did Moshe make when he hit the rock? The fact that the water sprang forth from the rock even though Moshe hit it is still miraculous. The nation now had water, and, according to some opinions, they even bursted into song. While it can be suggested that Moshe talking to the rock would have created a bigger Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem, calling Moshe’s hitting of the rock a Chillul Hashem seems harsh and inaccurate.

In order to answer this question, we must first understand why Hashem asks Moshe to speak to the rock in front of Bnei Yisrael. The Yalkut Shemoni explains that Moshe was supposed to say to the rock, “So says Hashem, ‘bring out water.’” The purpose of speaking to the rock was not only for Bnei Yisrael to have water, but also, as Rashi explains (20:12 s.v. LaHakdisheini), in order to make a Kiddush Hashem. If Moshe had spoken to the rock and not used any force on it, the nation would come to understand that if a rock, which doesn’t speak or have needs, would listen to the will of Hashem, of course Bnei Yisrael, people who have needs for their continued survival, should willingly listen to Hashem. This sight of the rock’s “voluntary submission” to Hashem’s will would enable Bnei Yisrael to realize that they should listen to Hashem’s words without being forced into it. By Moshe hitting the rock, he in effect gave a message to Bnei Yisrael that we should do Mitzvot because we are forced to. This created a Chillul Hashem as it makes it seem as if Hashem forces us to do His Mitzvot. However, we know quite the contrary is true: Hashem has graciously granted us all the free will to choose whether or not to walk in the paths of a Torah lifestyle.

From Moshe hitting the rock, we learn of the great responsibility we have to voluntarily choose to live by the commandments in the Torah, as well as appreciating how beautiful the Mitzvot are—they are not a set of laws that we are forced to follow, but rather, a set of guidelines to live our lives the proper way.

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