Parshat Chukat -
Did Moshe really sin?

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Remember that feeling of "it's just not fair" after the first time you read the story of Mei Meriva? Whatever it may have been that Moshe did wrong - his punishment seems much too harsh.

In this week's shiur, we attempt to tackle this complicated "sugya" by viewing it from a broader perspective.

Although we are most familiar with Rashi's explanation of Moshe's sin - that he hits the rock instead of talking to it - other commentators offer numerous different opinions. For example:

In fact, Abrabanel (commenting on Devarim 1:37) lists around ten different opinions (each of which he later proves incorrect).

To better understand why there are so many different opinions, the first part of this week's shiur carefully analyzes the key psukim of this narrative. Then, by considering earlier events recorded in Sefer Bamidbar, we will ['join the club' and] offer an interpretation of our own.

Part I - Crime and Punishment

To understand why there are so many opinions, we must begin with the Torah's own description of their sin:

"...because you did not trust Me enough to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, therefore you will not lead Bnei Yisrael into the land...." (see 20:12)
This pasuk indicates that Moshe and Aharon could have done something great [" sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael"], but failed to do so. However, the Torah never tells us precisely what they did wrong.

Therefore, somewhere within the Mei Meriva incident there lies a flaw. But since it is so difficult to pinpoint that flaw, we find such a wide range of opinions.

So let's do on our own what (most likely) all of the commentators did on their own before they wrote their commentaries. Let's carefully compare what God's commands Moshe to do with what Moshe actually does! That would be the most logical way to figure out wherein lies his mistake.

[In other words, we must take 20:8 and compare it to 20:9-11. I highly recommend that you first attempt to do this on your own before continuing. (See study questions!)]

Following Instructions
God's instructions to Moshe at Mei Meriva seem clear and straightforward:

"And God spoke to Moshe saying: take the staff, and gather the congregation together, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it should give water, and take out for them water from the rock, and give drink to the people and their animals." (20:7-8)
Reread these psukim one more time, paying specific attention to the five commands that Moshe (and Aharon) must execute. (See Board #1.)

Now, to determine Moshe's sin, we must simply examine the following psukim (i.e. 20:9-12) in search for any deviation on Moshe's part. [As we do this, we will find the source for each of the aforementioned opinions in the rishonim.]

Command #1 - "Take the staff" (20:8)

Command #2 - "Gather the eydah (congregation)..." (20:8) Command #3 - "Speak to the rock that it should give water..." (20:8; note the difficulty in arriving at an accurate translation) Command #4 - "Take out for them water from the rock..." (20:8) Command #5 - "Give drink to the people and their animals." (20:8) Thus, by comparing Moshe's actions to God's command, we found the underlying reasons for the opinions of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rambam, and Malbim, etc.

In any event, no matter how we explain Moshe's sin, the more basic question (raised in our introduction) remains - i.e. why is his punishment so severe? We will attempt to answer this question in Part Two of our shiur.

Continue to the next page for Part II.

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