Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

One of the most challenging incidents in the entire Torah, and perhaps most appropriately in Parshas Chukas, which begins "zos chukas haTorah - this is the law that is beyond human reason and comprehension", is mei-merivah, i.e. Moshe's sin at the rock. Just as we cannot understand the laws of the parah adumah (the red heifer), similarly we cannot understand how Moshe who "In My entire house he is the trusted one" (Bamidbar 12:7) could disobey Hashem. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh lists no less than ten possible explanations as to what was Moshe's sin, from the opinion of Rashi that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it to that of the Ma'asei Hashem, that Moshe and the Jewish people differed as to which rock should be addressed, the nation having dug out and selected a different rock location, and Moshe in anger at the people threw his staff which hit the rock and water emerged.

I'd like to focus on the opinion of the Ramban who concurs with Rabbeinu Chananel that Moshe's sin was that he and Aharon said to the people (20:10) "Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?" They said the word "notzi" which means literally "we shall bring forth", giving the impression that they, with their knowledge and capabilities, will produce the water. They should have used the word "yotzi" which clearly means that He (referring to Hashem) will perform the miracle, as indeed Moshe said (Shemos 16:8) "in the evening Hashem gives you meat to eat, and bread to satiate in the morning."

It is thus understandable, continues the Ramban, that where Hashem clearly announces why Moshe does not enter the promised land (Devarim 32:51), He enumerates two wrong doings: 1) "Asher m'altem bee" literally you trespassed against Me or the sin of m'ilah, and 2) "Lo kidashtem osi" - you did not sanctify me among the children of Israel.

The Ramban notes, that what transpired here was assessed by Hashem to be an act of m'ilah. M'ilah is misuse-abuse of sanctified property, most often associated with misuse of the Beis Hamikdash, its possessions, and karbanos. The Ramban is broadening the horizon and definition of m'ilah. Moshe had an incredible opportunity. The Torah (20:10) informs us that Moshe and Aharon "gathered the congregation before the rock." Rashi cites the medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 10:9) that the entire nation, literally millions of people, were able to miraculously stand in front of the rock to see and hear the proceedings. Thus, in this environment Moshe's use of "notzi" rather than "yotzi" was a form of m'ilah, taking the credit and honor that was due Hashem and on some level attributing the success to himself and Aharon. The absence of a great kiddush Hashem - sanctification of Hashem's name was thus a chilul Hashem on Moshe's level on their part.

What emerges from these few terse words of the Ramban is that the entire world is His stage, and man constantly has the opportunity to either bring honor, or the antithesis, to His name. The Talmud (Brachos 35a) teaches "it is forbidden for a person to derive benefit from this world without first reciting a bracha and whoever derives benefit from this world without first reciting a bracha - ma'al." Ma'al means he has committed an act of m'ilah, i.e. stealing from the Holy, the unauthorized use of His property, as indeed we are taught (Tehillim 24:1) "to Hashem belongs the Earth and its fullness."

The difference between eating with or without a bracha might be compared to "notzi" vs. "yotzi". With a blessing, one is acknowledging that she-hakol, everything and every aspect of this nourishment came about only through His directive and involvement. True, man is involved with sowing and harvesting and baking, still one admits with a blessing that He (Devarim 8:18), "gives you strength to make wealth," which is understood by Targum Unkelus to mean, "He gives you the intelligence and ideas to succeed and progress." Without the recitation of a bracha it is "notzi", man is ascribing too much to himself and his involvement.

The recitation of brachos is not only simply a matir - enabling one to rightfully enjoy their food, but a personal religious encounter acknowledging His presence and participation in all we do.

More divrei Torah and shiurim from Rabbi Yudin

More divrei Torah on Parshas Chukas

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