Moshe and Aharon’s Real Sin, Part #1
Source Sheet by Rav Ya’akov Bar Yosef
Based on a sheet by Ephraim Helfgot
This is part one of a series, in which I will try to prove that Moshe and Aharon’s cardinal sin, which blocked them from entering the land of Israel, was not hitting the rock during the confrontation at Mei Merivah.
For the first installment, I will present the popular opinion and then endeavor to disqualify it. Hope you enjoy!
The Popular Opinion
(ב) וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה מַ֖יִם לָעֵדָ֑ה וַיִּקָּ֣הֲל֔וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹֽן׃ (ג) וַיָּ֥רֶב הָעָ֖ם עִם־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לֵאמֹ֔ר וְל֥וּ גָוַ֛עְנוּ בִּגְוַ֥ע אַחֵ֖ינוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ז) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ח) קַ֣ח אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֗ה וְהַקְהֵ֤ל אֶת־הָעֵדָה֙ אַתָּה֙ וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּ֧ם אֶל־הַסֶּ֛לַע לְעֵינֵיהֶ֖ם וְנָתַ֣ן מֵימָ֑יו וְהוֹצֵאתָ֨ לָהֶ֥ם מַ֙יִם֙ מִן־הַסֶּ֔לַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ֥ אֶת־הָעֵדָ֖ה וְאֶת־בְּעִירָֽם׃ (ט) וַיִּקַּ֥ח מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֖ה מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר צִוָּֽהוּ׃ (י) וַיַּקְהִ֜לוּ מֹשֶׁ֧ה וְאַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַקָּהָ֖ל אֶל־פְּנֵ֣י הַסָּ֑לַע וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֗ם שִׁמְעוּ־נָא֙ הַמֹּרִ֔ים הֲמִן־הַסֶּ֣לַע הַזֶּ֔ה נוֹצִ֥יא לָכֶ֖ם מָֽיִם׃ (יא) וַיָּ֨רֶם מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־יָד֗וֹ וַיַּ֧ךְ אֶת־הַסֶּ֛לַע בְּמַטֵּ֖הוּ פַּעֲמָ֑יִם וַיֵּצְאוּ֙ מַ֣יִם רַבִּ֔ים וַתֵּ֥שְׁתְּ הָעֵדָ֖ה וּבְעִירָֽם׃ (ס) (יב) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹן֒ יַ֚עַן לֹא־הֶאֱמַנְתֶּ֣ם בִּ֔י לְהַ֨קְדִּישֵׁ֔נִי לְעֵינֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לָכֵ֗ן לֹ֤א תָבִ֙יאוּ֙ אֶת־הַקָּהָ֣ל הַזֶּ֔ה אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥תִּי לָהֶֽם׃
(2) And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. (3) And the people strove with Moses, and spoke, saying: ‘Would that we had perished when our brethren perished before the LORD! (4) And why have ye brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, to die there, we and our cattle? (5) And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.’ (6) And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tent of meeting, and fell upon their faces; and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them. (7) And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: (8) ’Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their cattle drink.’ (9) And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as He commanded him. (10) And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: ‘Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?’ (11) And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. (12) And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: ‘Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’
Based on the bolded verse, most explain that Moshe and Aharon were forbidden to enter the land because of something they did wrong at Mei Merivah (the name of this episode). These people pick up on a seeming disconnect between G-d’s instructions to talk to the rock and Moshe and Aharon’s actions of hitting the rock. Because they didn’t follow G-d’s directions, they didn’t make a Kiddush Hashem.
(יג) הֵ֚מָּה מֵ֣י מְרִיבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־רָב֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־יְהוָ֑ה וַיִּקָּדֵ֖שׁ בָּֽם׃ (ס)
(13) These are the waters of Meribah, where the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and He was sanctified in them.
If Moshe and Aharon didn’t sanctify G-d, how was He sanctified?
(ח) וּלְלֵוִ֣י אָמַ֔ר תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִסִּיתוֹ֙ בְּמַסָּ֔ה תְּרִיבֵ֖הוּ עַל־מֵ֥י מְרִיבָֽה׃ (ט) הָאֹמֵ֞ר לְאָבִ֤יו וּלְאִמּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א רְאִיתִ֔יו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו֙ לֹ֣א הִכִּ֔יר וְאֶת־בנו [בָּנָ֖יו] לֹ֣א יָדָ֑ע כִּ֤י שָֽׁמְרוּ֙ אִמְרָתֶ֔ךָ וּבְרִֽיתְךָ֖ יִנְצֹֽרוּ׃
(8) And of Levi he said: Thy Thummim and Thy Urim are for [ie. support] Thy holy one, Whom Thou didst prove at Massah, With whom Thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; (9) Who said of his father, and of his mother: ‘I have not seen him’; Neither did he acknowledge his brethren, Nor knew he his own children; For they have observed Thy word, And keep Thy covenant.
Two people of Levi are prised here for defying Bnei Yisrael at Marah. ‘Tumim and Urim’ is a reference to the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, which is a reference to Aharon himself. ‘Ish Chasidecha’, your pious man’, is a reference to Moshe, who is called ‘Ish’ over and over:
(כ) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֶל־בְּנֹתָ֖יו וְאַיּ֑וֹ לָ֤מָּה זֶּה֙ עֲזַבְתֶּ֣ן אֶת־הָאִ֔ישׁ קִרְאֶ֥ן ל֖וֹ וְיֹ֥אכַל לָֽחֶם׃
(20) And he said unto his daughters: ‘And where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.’
(ג) וַיִּתֵּ֧ן יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־חֵ֥ן הָעָ֖ם בְּעֵינֵ֣י מִצְרָ֑יִם גַּ֣ם ׀ הָאִ֣ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֗ה גָּד֤וֹל מְאֹד֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעֵינֵ֥י עַבְדֵֽי־פַרְעֹ֖ה וּבְעֵינֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃ (ס)
(3) And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.
(א) וְזֹ֣את הַבְּרָכָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר בֵּרַ֥ךְ מֹשֶׁ֛ה אִ֥ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לִפְנֵ֖י מוֹתֽוֹ׃
(1) And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.
(א) תְּפִלָּה֮ לְמֹשֶׁ֪ה אִֽישׁ־הָאֱלֹ֫הִ֥ים אֲֽדֹנָ֗י מָע֣וֹן אַ֭תָּה הָיִ֥יתָ לָּ֗נוּ בְּדֹ֣ר וָדֹֽר׃
(1) A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.
If Moshe and Aharon were praised for their conduct at Mei Merivah, then why were they punished?
(ו) הִנְנִ֣י עֹמֵד֩ לְפָנֶ֨יךָ שָּׁ֥ם ׀ עַֽל־הַצּוּר֮ בְּחֹרֵב֒ וְהִכִּ֣יתָ בַצּ֗וּר וְיָצְא֥וּ מִמֶּ֛נּוּ מַ֖יִם וְשָׁתָ֣ה הָעָ֑ם וַיַּ֤עַשׂ כֵּן֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְעֵינֵ֖י זִקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
(6) Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
(כה) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה הָשֵׁ֞ב אֶת־מַטֵּ֤ה אַהֲרֹן֙ לִפְנֵ֣י הָעֵד֔וּת לְמִשְׁמֶ֥רֶת לְא֖וֹת לִבְנֵי־מֶ֑רִי וּתְכַ֧ל תְּלוּנֹּתָ֛ם מֵעָלַ֖י וְלֹ֥א יָמֻֽתוּ׃
(25) and the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not.’
The first source shows that it was the established protocol to hit a rock for water. The second shows that, in fact, Hashem had designated a stick for use in refuting rebels. At Mei Merivah, Moshe uses this stick:
(ז) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ח) קַ֣ח אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֗ה וְהַקְהֵ֤ל אֶת־הָעֵדָה֙ אַתָּה֙ וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּ֧ם אֶל־הַסֶּ֛לַע לְעֵינֵיהֶ֖ם וְנָתַ֣ן מֵימָ֑יו וְהוֹצֵאתָ֨ לָהֶ֥ם מַ֙יִם֙ מִן־הַסֶּ֔לַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ֥ אֶת־הָעֵדָ֖ה וְאֶת־בְּעִירָֽם׃
(7) And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: (8) ’Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their cattle drink.’
Hashem asks for Moshe to bring the stick; clearly the stick is needed for something! And what about talking to the rock?
(י) וַיַּקְהִ֜לוּ מֹשֶׁ֧ה וְאַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַקָּהָ֖ל אֶל־פְּנֵ֣י הַסָּ֑לַע וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֗ם שִׁמְעוּ־נָא֙ הַמֹּרִ֔ים הֲמִן־הַסֶּ֣לַע הַזֶּ֔ה נוֹצִ֥יא לָכֶ֖ם מָֽיִם׃
(10) And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: ‘Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?’
The language of ‘V’Dibartem el HaSela’, ‘and you shall speak unto the rock’, also means, ‘and you shall speak towards the rock’. Moshe does just such; he gathers the people by the rock and talks to them, ostensibly facing them (and in doing so, he faces the rock too).
Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Rav Ya’akov Bar Yosef
Based on a sheet by Ephraim Helfgot