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Chukas - “Hitting Rock Bottom” – the Bible Way


“Speak to to the Rock”

Moses could have been a “Rock Star“ -and enter the promised land, had he spoken to , instead of hit the rock. That’s what we will be reading and learning about tomorrow in Shul. The Torah is clear in what he did wrong: “Because you did not believe in me to sanctify me…therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land I have given them”.

Harsh, no? Moses defied the mighty Phaaroh and led us out of Egypt. Tolerated our repeated insufferable attitude throughout 40 years of a desert sojourn caring for us as only a father and mother could, and one slip, made during his attempt to respond to our cries denies him the unselfish pleasure of being able to be with G-d in the Holy Land? Yes, Moses may not have followed the instructions perfectly, but Hashem doesn’t chastise him for that. Hashem says that Moses failed to sanctify G-d. Speaking to the rock would have been a greater miracle, as Rashi and other explain.

But let me ask you, if during the height of California’s “drought” I walk up to Michael Heizer’s 340ton boulder-the giant rock at LACMA, schedule a press conference announcing that I would be drawing forth “rivers of water” directly from that LACMA rock-and then proceed to do just that by merely hitting the Rock with my stick-would that not be the most viral YouTube video of the decade? And if I told everyone that it was not I, but at Hashem’s instruction that I accomplished that,  would that not be a Kiddush Hashem and sanctification of G-d in the highest order? So Moshe hit the rock instead of speak to it-Big deal, was that not miracle enough?

On this 4th of July Eve, I’d like to share an American perspective. On U.S. currency, the words “In G-d we Trust” are prominently displayed. I have always been amazed by this: this was organized not by the “Frum” founding fathers, but around a 100 years later.  What is the idea behind it? If we trust G-d, who needs money? Won’t “G-d provide”? Doesn’t money represent the opposite? Doesn’t the currency system put us a few steps away from G-d? Instead of wheat, milk, labor, we have dollars, shekels, stocks. Instead of farms and fields we have bank accounts and skyscrapers. My answer: For money to mean anything, it must be backed by an element of true value. Money is just the “front”. Fort Knox has the real gold-our money is just a reflection of the real source. And so too, all of our human endeavors, our personal efforts, are fronts. Our labor and toil is really the face of Hashem’s guiding and sustaining hand behind the scenes. We may be holding the steering wheel but someone else is directing traffic…. And so long as we remember that-wonderful. But the moment we forget the “man behind the veil”, start thinking it’s all about us and what we do and stop recognizing our “silent investor”–we may lose our biggest backer and truest partner.

Let’s take a look at the verse again. The Torah tells us that “”Moses raised his arm and struck the rock TWICE…”.  Why twice? Hitting something twice carries with it a powerful and dangerous implication: “It’s  about my strength, my effort, my input. If it didn’t work the first time, then maybe I just didn’t hit it strong enough-after all, my success is totally dependent on my own efforts. The perfected expression of  faith however, is that yes, we need to put our best foot forward, but it’s really not us that does the heavy lifting-for that we have the Almighty. If Moshe just hit the rock once, he may have been spared the rebuke. We all have to put our efforts in! But Moshe, teached G-d, “you knew all along that it’s me behind the scenes-so why did you hit the rock again? Twice?” Yes, Moshe was denied entry to the land. Quite a punishment. But While Moshe certainly personally knew Hashem as the source of all blessing, Hashem-using Moses (the ultimate servant), was teaching us that if we seek the promised land, where by the sweat of our brow, and the toil of our hands we will endeavor to work the land and build our lives, we can only gain entry-and everlasting success if we understand this lesson in the greatest way.  The IDF may be the best trained army the world has seen-but insiders know that behind them is the world’s most secret and undiscovered weapon…

Our founding fathers viewed America as the promised land, and saw the settlement of this great U.S. as a fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies we read about on Shabbat.  As we celebrate the fruition of their vision in a country where we get to freely seek our  personal physical and spiritual fortunes, we pray that we never lose sight of the ROCK we stand on, and continue to gaze on those spangled heavenly stars that never cease to light our way…all the way back to Jerusalem of Gold!

Rock On! and Good Shabbos!

Shalom Rubanowitz,

at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice,  California.



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