PARSHAT CHUKAT: RAV KOOK ON MOSES’S FATAL ANGRY ERROR AT THE WATERS OF DISPUTATION AND WHAT WE MUST DO TO FIX IT

RAV KOOK ON PARSHAT CHUKAT: 

In Parshat Chukat, we read: “The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.     

The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.

The people quarreled with Moses, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the LORD! Why have you brought the LORD’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”                                           

Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces. The Presence of the LORD appeared to them,and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

“You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”                                                                                         

Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”                                                     

And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”                 

Those are the Waters of Meribah—Waters of Disputation- meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the LORD—through which He affirmed His sanctity.”  (BaMidbar 20:1-13)

The Torah describes Moses committing his most consequential error: HaShem told Moshe: Take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water.”

What did Moses do?  Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”  And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod.”

The Divine response was very strongly negative: “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”

What does Rav Kook’s illuminated Torah understanding teach us about this event? What was Moses’s fatal error and what must we do now to rectify the sin of the waters of disputation?

In Notebook 3, written in Yaffo around 1913, Rav Kook discusses this event and offers us clear guidance on how to fix its consequences . Here are selections from that important discussion:                                     

“All the anger that comes from the leadership through the teaching of ethics, faith and philosophy and through actions, causes the great negative impact – that intolerance and extremism create in the world…                                             

The root for all this is the sin of the waters of disputation. Moses’s angry scream “Listen you rebels!” led him to hit the rock rather than speaking in a gentle, conciliatory manner.

As a result a strict severity was introduced into the guidance of faith and religious precision. This developed and grew until “a father and his son, a rabbi and his students-who are sitting and engaged in the learning of Torah- became enemies of each other.” (Tractate Kiddushin 30:b)…” (Notebook 3:9)

Rav Kook is suggesting that angry religious fanaticism was seeded into Israel by Moses’s response to the complainers. We can currently see the negative effects of this extreme thinking and behavior.  He continues to explain that it is up to us to repair this long lasting problem.

“This must be fixed. The highest holiness can [only] come to the world in a peaceful way, with guidance that is full of calmness, tranquility and honor…

The Torah of Chesed/Kindness is the elevated Torah, the secret Torah that is revealed by Elijah to those of integrity. It is thus prepared for its mission to announce and make peace in the world- to calm the arguments;to bring close and not to distance.

And this will re-open the mouth of Moses who will return to speak to the rock instead of hitting it. It is the work of the sages of the last generations to reveal and spread the Torah of Kindness widely…

Through this the light of the Succat Shalom/The Canopy of Peace will spread over Israel, Jerusalem and the multitude of nations…

The world has suffered greatly from this raging fire of holiness. In the end of days [we must] share an elevated spiritual power that is full of the gentleness of peace and quiet tranquility. “And you shall speak of peace to the nations.” (Zecharia 9:1)…

This spark of the light of peace is spreading and it must continue to grow  along with the spark of the end revealed through the return to and rebuilding of Zion.” (Ibid)

Rav Kook is teaching us that Moses’s angry talk and action seeded a destructive anger in future religious leadership. It led to the conclusion of Aaron’s and his leadership. Aaron died immediately afterwards and Moses was told that he would not enter Israel. 

We see the dangerous results of this on-going religious anger and fanaticism in many situations in the Jewish and non-Jewish world. 

For us to rectify this, Rav Kook teaches us that we must learn to spread the Torah of Kindness, not the Torah of Anger.                     

“The highest holiness can only come to the world through peace and a guidance that is full of calmness, tranquility and honor…This spark of the light of peace must spread; it must continue to grow…” 

May we merit to illuminate and rectify the whole world with the Torah of Kindness and Peace.

Soon and in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

 

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