PUT YOUR FAITH IN THE GOD OF THE LAND
This week’s parashah contains the episode of Mei Merivah (The Waters of Strife), in which Moshe and Aharon are told that they will not enter the Land of Israel. Many interpretations have been given to explain what exactly they did to deserve this punishment. The Abarbanel lists ten and rejects them all, only to suggest an eleventh. Some of the more famous answers are: 1) Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it; 2) he said, “– Listen now, you rebels”; 3) he got angry with B’nei Yisrael for no reason, for they had a right to ask for water; 4) Moshe and Aharon said, – Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?, implying that they – not God – would produce the water. The Abarbanel, himself, says that they did nothing so grievous here; they were punished for previous sins – Aharon for the Sin of the Calf and Moshe for the Sin of the Spies (for agreeing to send them in the first place). HaShem didn’t punish them at the time of the original sin, because He wanted to make a clear distinction between them and the rest of the nation (who really sinned).
One thing is clear, though: their sin somehow showed a lack of faith in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, as the verse states, – The Lord said to Moshe and Aharon, “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 to the Land which I have given them” (20:12).
I believe that this explains why they were punished specifically with not being allowed to enter the Land. One of the most fundamental attributes that a person must have in order to survive in Eretz Yisrael is faith in HaShem. From a rational perspective, there is almost no way an individual Jew – and all the more so, the Jewish Nation as a whole – can endure here in Israel. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies who want to annihilate us; the economic situation is not always so stable; we are entirely dependent on rain water, which does not always fall as it should; we are plagued with social problems galore; etc. So how do we make ends meet, and how do we survive? The answer is obvious: HaShem watches over us here in His Chosen Land more than He does anywhere else in the world. Anyone who wants to make it here must recognize this fact profoundly. He must firmly believe in HaShem and trust Him to the utmost. Then, he will not be discouraged when times get tough, for he will understand that everything is in God’s hands and that He will do as He sees fit, for better or for worse. Perhaps this is why HaShem did not let Moshe and Aharon enter the Land. Since they fell short (on their level) in the area of faith in HaShem, they were not allowed to enter the Land which requires complete faith in HaShem.
According to R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, this explains why HaShem told Moshe to speak to the rock in the first place, as opposed to hitting it, as He had commanded in Shemot (17:6). HaShem wanted to fortify B’nei Yisrael’s faith in Him particularly at this juncture, when they were about to enter the Promised Land, with all of its unique challenges:
[Speaking to the rock] would have taught the people that under the guidance of God one can dismiss all worries from one’s mind, and even without the miracle-causing staff of Moses, [one] can be confident at all times of the right help coming at the right time… Just at the border of the Promised Land and the new future awaiting them, when the visible constant miracles of God’s guidance during their wanderings were henceforth to be replaced by the invisible, but no less miraculous, hidden miracles of God’s no less closer guidance, [speaking to the rock] would have brought this home to the people.
Finally, this idea also connects to the end of the parashah, where we read about the war against Sichon King of Cheshbon. Rav Kook derives an important and timeless lesson from this war. Playing upon the literal meaning of the word cheshbon – calculation or reckoning – he said: “Before the Israelites entered the Land, they killed Sichon King of Cheshbon. This teaches us that in order to enter the Land one must do away with all of his calculations (cheshbonot).” An article in “To Dwell in the Palace” (Feldheim, p. 113) explains this best:
A man may be ruled by his own accounts and calculations; they may become his king. A Jew thus governed is not free to move towards serving God unconditionally. Enslaved by his own reckonings, he acts in accordance with plans he has made, even where the will of God would be better accomplished by setting those plans aside… Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is a perfect example. By ordinary human reasoning, it appears unfeasible. A man living outside the Land cannot incorporate such a move into his calculations. It just won’t work out. What of his plans for his future, for the financial security of his children, his grandchildren…?
For this reason, before entering the Land, the king of cheshbon had to be wiped out. The people of Israel in the wilderness had to make the lesson palpable and unambiguous for themselves and for their descendants. A man’s computations could not rule over him, else he could never take over the Land…
If we would just strengthen our faith in HaShem and learn to ignore our own petty calculations, we would all realize that living in the King’s Palace is not as impossible as we thought.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
After the episode of Mei Merivah, the Children of Israel begin their final journey towards the Promised Land. Immediately after being told that he would not enter the Land, Moshe Rabbeinu sends messengers to the King of Edom requesting permission to cross through his land into Eretz Yisrael. This, says R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch and R. Zalman Sorotzkin (Oznayim LaTorah), demonstrates Moshe’s selfless devotion to HaShem and His people. Most other leaders would have said, “Why should I continue? Why should I bother leading them up to the border of the Land, seeing that I will not be privileged to bring them all the way in? Let Yehoshua take over from here.” Moshe, however, ignored his own personal feelings and continued to do whatever he could to lead his charges towards the Promised Land.
The rest of the parashah goes on to describe the various battles that B’nei Yisrael waged in order to conquer the eastern side of the Jordan River, culminating in the victory over Sichon King of Cheshbon and Og King of the Bashan. These wars constitute the beginning of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, which was completed by Moshe’s successor, Yehoshua bin Nun.
Allow me to share a beautiful idea that explains Moshe’s underlying motive in waging war against Sichon and Og. It is found in Simcha Raz’s biography of Rav Kook, called An Angel Among Men (Kol Mevaser Publications, p. 260):
An exceedingly wealthy man, a sworn “Lover of Zion,” once came to Eretz Yisrael to explore the possibility of settling there with his family. He toured the length and breadth of the Land, but in the end, he decided to return to his home in Chutz LaAretz.
The day before his return trip, the man went to receive a farewell blessing from Rav Kook. Knowing how much the Rav encouraged every visitor to make aliyah and settle in the Land, the man began by extolling the virtues of Eretz Yisrael. Then he said: “Unfortunately, though, I must abandon the idea of moving here, for the time being. I feel that I can do a great deal for the country specifically from outside its borders.”
The Rav answered his guest by elucidating a verse in the Torah: Moshe Rabbeinu said, I beseeched the Lord at that time, saying… “Please, let me cross over and see the good Land…” (Devarim 3:23-25). One could ask: Moshe was banned from entering the Land as a result of the episode of Mei Merivah, which took place a long time before this verse was stated. Why, then, did he wait so long to try to annul the decree? Why didn’t he beseech God earlier?
The answer is: Moshe thought to himself, “I will first demonstrate, with concrete actions, how strong my love is for the Holy Land, and then I will pray.” Therefore, he waited until the Jews – under his command – conquered the lands of Sichon and Og, making it easier to conquer the Land of Canaan. Only then, he began to pray. This explains the words I beseeched the Lord at that time. That is, Moshe requested permission to enter the Land specifically at that time [after the conquest of Sichon and Og]. He hoped that his efforts on behalf of Eretz Yisrael would help his prayers be accepted.
“You, my honorable friend, should do the same,” concluded the Rav. “For many years now you have been working for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, and you have thoroughly demonstrated your devotion and love for the Land. The time has come for you to get up and move here with your family, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael with your own body.”
In our days as well, especially over the past 22 months, many Diaspora Jews have demonstrated their true love for Eretz Yisrael and its inhabitants. HaShem is undoubtedly impressed by their selfless devotion, and He will certainly assist anyone who is willing to take the next step and make God’s Chosen Land his permanent dwelling place.
Ø The people quarreled with Moshe, saying… “Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord to this wilderness, that we and our animals should die there? And why did you cause us to ascend from Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? [It is] not a place of seed, fig, grape, or pomegranate; and there is no water to drink” (20:3-5).
Besides the complaint in verse 4, “Why have you brought… to this wilderness… to die there,” they continued to complain, “And why did you cause us to ascend from Egypt…” Realize that prior to the [episode of] Mei Merivah, Edom was the beginning of Eretz Yisrael. (After all, it is one of the three lands [that God promised to Avraham]: the Kenite, the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite; or Edom, Ammon, and Moav. But because of this sin, [HaShem] postponed the bestowal [of these lands] until the days of Mashiach.) So when they arrived at Kadesh, on the border of the land of Edom, and saw that it was not a place of seed, fig, grape, or pomegranate; and there is no water to drink, they became disappointed with the Promised Land in general. Therefore, they asked, “If so, why did you cause us to ascend from Egypt, to bring us to this evil place?” (Oznayim LaTorah)
 This article was written in the second year of the so-called “Al-Aqsa Intifada.”