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Parshiyyot Chukat-Balak 5780 — 07/04/2020

Parshiyyot Chukat-Balak 5780 — 07/04/2020

Happy Fourth of July!

Chukat: Bamidbar 19:1-22:1
Balak: Bamidbar 22:2-25:9

At the end of parashat Chukat we have the incident where Moshe Rabbeinu hits the rock to bring forth water, instead of speaking to it, as Gd instructed him to do. In response, Gd tells 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 that I have given them (20:12).

The whole passage is rather cryptic. If Moshe wasn’t supposed to hit the rock, why did Gd tell him to take the staff? And which rock was he supposed to speak to? What was he supposed to say? Why did such a seemingly minor transgression lead to such major repercussions? What, exactly, did Moshe do wrong? And how can we take seriously the charge that Moshe didn’t believe in Gd, when he knew Gd face-to-face?! The commentators offer many different answers, all of which Or haChaim dismisses as inadequate. Instead, he gives a very long and detailed analysis of the incident, especially Moshe’s thinking process in trying to interpret what he was told to do. I will do my best to summarize it briefly, and then discuss it even more briefly.

He begins by quoting a Midrash that lists four sins that the text mentions: (1) You did not believe in Me; (2) You did not sanctify Me (Deut 32:51); (3) You trespassed against Me (ibid); and (4) You defied my Word (20:24 and 27:14). He associates these with four actions during the incident: (1) Moshe struck the rock, which he wasn’t told to do; (2) Gd commanded Moshe to produce water from any rock the people wanted (but he stuck with the original rock); (3) Moshe said Shall we bring forth water from this rock and (4) Gd told Moshe to speak to the rock, meaning to recite a chapter of Torah over it, but he hit the rock instead.

This Midrash begins to answer some of our questions. Why did Gd tell Moshe to take the staff? Or haChaim answers that the staff is a symbol of Moshe’s royal authority, granted by Gd. But he was not told to use it as he had been the first time; this time he was to speak to the rock. Gd assumed that Moshe would understand that if he were told to speak instead of hit, that’s what he would do. By speak to the rock, Gd meant to recite a chapter of Torah over it. By telling Moshe to bring forth water from “the” rock, He meant whichever rock the people would choose, but Moshe did not do so. (I might add that back in Egypt, Moshe toyed with Pharaoh, asking him to choose when he would like the plague [of frogs] to end.  Pharaoh said, “tomorrow,” and Moshe prayed that Gd take the plague away on the next day, which He did (Ex 8:5-10). So apparently this wasn’t a completely foreign concept to Moshe.)

Now Or haChaim presents Moshe’s perspective. First, the staff – this staff had the Name of Gd inscribed on it and Moshe knew that he could use it to perform miracles, like drawing water from a rock, even without hitting the rock. He had never before been commanded to take the staff and not do anything with it, so the question was, to strike with it or to use it in some other way. In fact, from the exact wording of Gd’s commands to Moshe, Moshe thought that Gd was telling him that speaking to the rock would be necessary, but not sufficient, to draw water from it. Something would have to be done with the staff as well, hence the instruction to take it.

As far as speaking to the rock goes, the meaning of that depends on how one interprets the instruction to take the staff. Logically, a rock, which has neither senses nor intellect, could not respond to a command, even from Moshe. However, if it struck by the staff with which Moshe performed the signs and miracles of the Exodus, that could enliven the life force in the rock, and then it could respond to speech. According to Or haChaim, this was Moshe’s understanding of Gd’s command. The other possibility is that the staff was not to be taken to strike the rock, in which case merely commanding it to give water would be insufficient – one would have to recite “a chapter of Torah” over it to have the desired effect.

Moshe was now faced with a dilemma as to whether or not to strike the rock and simply order it to give water, or to speak “a chapter of Torah” over it. Or haChaim explains that Moshe basically took the safe way out, the way that he knew would produce water, so that Gd’s Name would not be desecrated by a potential failure. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what Gd wanted. Gd wanted the greater sanctification of His Name that would have come from having the rock, any rock that the people chose, respond to speech alone. But why? And if that is what Gd wanted, why wasn’t He more clear and explicit in His instructions to Moshe?

I would like to suggest the following. The first incident of water from the rock took place at the beginning of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. These 40 years of wandering were a time of open miracles – clouds that shielded the people from the elements, a miraculous well that traveled with them and gave enough water for a city the size of metro St Louis, but with cattle and flocks as well, and food that fell from heaven. Embarking on this journey, Moshe was told to demonstrate Gd’s power over nature, which he did by striking the rock.

Now, at the end of the 40 years, the nation is about to enter the Land of Israel, where they will lead a “normal” existence, plowing, planting and reaping. Now it is not sufficient for Gd to be master of nature. Now we must become masters of nature. And Moshe was supposed to show them how – by “reciting a chapter of Torah.” How would that work? We know that the “supernal Torah” is structured in the transcendent basis of all creation, and its vibrations are the virtual vibrations of the transcendent as it manifests itself.

I think what Torah and our Sages are telling us is that if we can stimulate the appropriate vibrations we can create a kind of resonance effect in physical creation, which allows us to create the physical outcome that we desire. And this recitation cannot be simply a rote reading of a string of syllables – it must come from the level of Torah itself, as established in the awareness of the one doing the recitation. Only then are all levels of creation stirred and the resonance effect can produce results even on the crude, physical plane. In other words, we need to internalize Torah to the extent that the vibrations of our own consciousness are the vibrations of Torah, and then we will work in harmony with Gd and with nature to enjoy all the blessings of heaven and earth, as Gd promises us time and again.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshiyyot Chukat – Balak
Parashat Chukat

In this parshah, Miriam dies, the well that follows her dries up, the people complain, Gd tells Moses to take his rod , speak to a rock and water will come out of it. Moses strikes the rock instead and Gd denies him entrance to the Promised Land for his disobedience – there are different rabbinical theories about why Gd denies Moses entrance but Torah is very clear that Gd did deny Moses entrance.

Does that mean that Moses has lost his chance for teshuvah, return to primordial Oneness?

Put it another way: when Moses is denied entry to the physical land of Canaan, Eretz Israel, does that mean he’s also denied entrance to the spiritual Promised Land, the land of fully developed awareness?

No, this Land he can enter. And, perhaps, since he has been a conduit for Gd to speak through him, he is already in this Land. He struck the rock because Gd guided him to strike the rock, even though Gd told him to speak to the rock.

Let us see what we can find in Torah and in this parshah that supports this view, not only for Moses but for every generation, including our own and all future generations.

1. “Be Thou holy”:
Gd many times said, “Be thou Holy, for I Am Holy”(for example, Leviticus 11:44) and has given many directions that suggest how this can be done; for example, “Love Gd with all thy heart and all thy soul”. This Love is something Moses clearly has: even when he pleads with Gd to grant forgiveness to wrongdoers, Moses is loving Gd with all his heart and soul, pleading for the life of people who are Expressions of Gd, even though Gd is seeming to hide within them, even though they seem to be unaware that they are the Whole hidden in Its Expressions. “Loving Gd” is something that clearly doesn’t depend on entering the physical Promised Land.

2. Gd earlier in Torah (Numbers 12:8) describes Moses as someone with whom Gd speaks mouth to mouth, clearly, not in riddles.
What will make the physical Promised Land a spiritual place will be the ease with which people can perceive Gd’s Presence in it: since Moses is already in Gd’s Presence (and serves as the physical body through whom Gd’s Voice speaks to the people) Moses is already living in the spiritual Promised Land even though he cannot enter the physical Promised Land.

3. Going beyond duality.
Teshuvah, return to Oneness, requires going beyond the struggle between opposites; for example, requires seeing that Gd is within Egypt (restrictions), within the wilderness/desert (freedom) and within the Promised Land (freedom along with restrictions). Moses. In serving Gd, anyone, not just Moses, can provide this Awareness that Gd is All.

4. Perceiving Gd in All.
Experiencing that All is One requires perceiving Gd in All. When Gd denies Moses entrance into the physical Promised Land, He is forcing Moses to experience freedom within restrictions: to accept the restriction of not entering the physical Promised Land and to find freedom within that restriction. Gd is the Restrictor and the Restriction: The Restriction is Filled with Gd’s Presence. Gd is setting up the condition in which Gd as Gd begins to reveal Himself fully to Gd, playing the role of Moses; Gd begins to reveal Himself as Unlimited, and His Moses role begins no longer to be lost in weeping over loss, exulting over gain, but begins to perceive himself as the Wholeness that flows in Streams of Loss and Gain, of Weeping and Exulting.

The same thing happens to us: Gd hides within each of us, playing the role of the limited people that we are and he may sometimes give us restrictions that force our limited self to surrender, open to Gd within our self, as Gd – always Gd, always Whole, always One – begins to soften the limits and to reveal that we are what we always are: One!

This Revelation becomes clearer, deeper, longer lasting, through our innocent desire and actions to serve Gd, to do God’s Will, as we know it from family traditions, religious traditions, Torah on the surface, Torah in the Transcendent and our intuition.

Parshat Balak
In this parshah, we are reminded that Gd is always Protecting us, Blessing us. By doing our best to follow His Will, this Protection and Blessing becomes clearer and more livable in our daily life. Balaam, though requested by Balak, king of Moab, to curse Israel could only speak what Gd gave him to speak and that was blessings for Israel. Although Balaam was forced to give a blessing, he would have been happier to curse and tried to find ways to do so.

From our side we can be armored in purity and receive and give only Blessings by behaving like Moses who served Gd with all his heart and soul in leading Israel to high spiritual consciousness and to the physical Promised Land,

Or we can behave like Balaam, always holding something back so we can make a personal profit if at all possible. According to Jewish legend, Balaam was made a prophet so that the non-Jewish nations could not say, “If we only had our own prophet, like Moses, we could also have served Gd well.”  But Gd abandoned him and he lost his status as a prophet after his advice to Balak to set up the conditions of harlotry and idolatry that would tempt a people too weak to resist – despite the blessing they had so recently received.

This parshah shows us that we need to be alert:
We really need to be following the straight path and we cannot forget that our good life is a gift from Gd for being good people; we cannot sharply depart from the Path of Virtue. Hardly a moment after Gd blessed Israel through words he put into the prophet Balaam’s mouth, the people are sinning with harlots from Midian and worshiping their gods – abandoning Wholeness for partiality.

Key in the blessings of this parshah are the words, “Ma Tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkanotecha Yisroel”: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwelling places, O Israel”. This is the prayer we recite when we enter the synagogue. And these words Gd put into Balaam’s mouth instead of the curse that Balak, king of Moab, wanted Bilaam to speak.

Balak means “Destroyer”; Balak, the king of Moab, sends messengers asking Balaam (his name means “no nation”, he does not serve a nation, a whole: he is a prophet that can be hired by individuals to bless or curse) to curse Israel as they pass through Moab.

Balaam replies that he can only speak what Gd puts in his mouth to speak and try though Balak does and try though Balaam does, Gd puts only a blessing for Israel in Balaam’s mouth.

This is the comforting side of this parshah: The warning side is the sinning with harlots and worshiping their idols, actions which result in a plague and Moses ordering each of the judges in the community to slay two wrong-doers to stop the plague.

The parshah ends with Pinchas, grand-son of Aaron, slaying an Israeli prince along with the harlot he took into his tent in full view of the community.

Though today we can certainly not take up a sword and slay a wrongdoer to end plagues and immorality in our community, in the world, we can do our best to live good, pure lives so that our community, our world, is blessed by Gd flowing through us and everyone feels comforted by this Blessing.

In this time when the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly plaguing our world this purity is the foundation upon which all such other things (face masks, washing hands, social distancing…) rests.

Our congregation can and is creating a world in which Gd’s Presence is becoming more visible (perhaps not in the mainstream news) but in everyday life and setting up the conditions so, as Rabbi Tuvia Bolton likes to say when ending his commentary on the weekly parshah: “Moshiach Now!”

Baruch HaShem