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HIT THE HEIGHTS

By Rabbi Benjamin Stone

We all find ourselves in uncomfortable situations every now and then, facing challenges which touch the raw edges of our character.

Take for example the case where Reuven is listening to the chazzan’s repetition of the shemoneh esreh during mincha just before his daughter’s chupah takes place.
Reuven’s overly sensitive brother, having just stepped off the plane from the United States marches into the hall and walks briskly towards him, arms spread wide apart. As he approaches, grinning broadly, Reuven thinks to himself :
“The Shulchan Aruch definitely says that each member of the minyan is required to listen to the Chazarat Hashatz (124:4) and also says serious things about one who talks at this time

(“His sin is too great to bear” (ibid: 7)).

On the other hand as Reuven recalls the three year-long grudge his brother held against him for not attending his son’s wedding, a completely different set of thoughts cross his mind:
“Surely the halacha does not apply in sensitive cases such as this? Furthermore, my brother is not as religious as I am – in this case refusing to hug him or to shake his hand might possibly
cause a chilul Hashem (a desecration of Hashem’s name).

How does one get a hold of oneself in such situations? It truly takes lion-like strength to cling tightly to the precise letter of the law in such cases. If a person can pull off the impossible, to smile warmly and gently point to their siddur, then surely, they will bring about a great kiddush Hashem as their friend’s initial bemusement and fleeting anger turns to respect for a sincere oved Hashem (servant of Hashem). Or should one indeed listen to the calm voice of common sense and prevent an imagined chilul Hashem.

How should one approach this question? What tools should one use to make a decision?
The answer to this question is found in this weeks’s sedra.
In the face of complaints from the B’nei Yisrael, Moshe is commanded to
“Take the stick…speak to the rock…the rock will give forth its water…extract water for them from the rock (Bamidbar 20,8).

The Ohr Hachaim writes that Moshe considered two possible interpretations of this command before he decided on a course of action.

Moshe reasoned that Hashem’s intention must have been for him to hit the rock with the stick. If not then why was he commanded to take a stick with him? Furthermore Moshe saw the words“and extract water for them from the rock” as an unnecessary repetition of a command already made and thus
being intended to drive home the idea that it was necessary to perform a physical act in order to make the rock give forth its water. Hashem had indeed instructed Moshe to “speak” to the rock but Moshe considered that a couple of words such as “Give forth your water” would satisfy this requirement.

In fact, as the medrash (Yalkut 247) tells us, Hashem’s true intention had been for Moshe to speak divrei Torah to the rock at length and not hit it. Furthermore Hashem wanted Moshe to give the B’nei Yisrael the option of choosing which rock they wished to see water sprout from.

If the scene would have played out as Hashem wanted it to, the kiddush Hashem would have been greater; the rock would produce water through speech alone, without any physical intervention. Additionally the B’nei Yisrael would have been able to select any rock in sight and Moshe would oblige in extracting water from it!

Indeed, the pasuk could of course have been interpreted the way Hashem had meant it to be, just as reasonably as the way in which Moshe in fact interpreted it. If so why did Moshe choose his own interpretation over the true one?
According to the Ohr Hachaim, Moshe was concerned that if he would go for the more ambitious option of speaking to the rock, then in the event that he was wrong (although we know that he would not have been) he would cause a chilul Hashem when the rock would fail to produce water.

Similarly if he would offer the B’nei Yisrael the choice of rock from which to extract water then in the event that he had misunderstood Hashem’s intentions there would be a further chilul Hashem when the rock in question failed to oblige.

But if this was the case what did Moshe do wrong? In striking the rock he was taking the safe option, preventing a possible desecration of Hashem’s name! In answer to this question the Ohr Hachaim presents a chilling, although inspiring principle.

He writes that Moshe was to“…put aside his worries with the great emunah (faith) which he should have had”.
When it comes to a question of kiddush Hashem, we are supposed to go all-out, not to play safe. To think that you will be unsuccessful in achieving the maximum kiddush Hashem belies a fault in one’s emunah.

Moshe was judged in an exacting manner in this respect – his case was one of genuine doubt as to what the correct path of action was. In contrast, the scenarios we face from time to time – such as the one set out at the beginning of this article – are in a sense easier challenges to overcome.

In those cases the right course of action is clear (i.e not communicating during Chazarat Hashatz) and it follows we should seek to adhere to the halacha, thereby bringing about a kiddush Hashem.
Nevertheless when we are caught up in an awkward moment we might well weave unlikely arguments which suggest that in fact we should shy away from holding firm by the halacha because of the imagined chilul Hashem which could follow.

We learn from Moshe’s severe punishment that when we are caught in a moment of indecision and self-doubt as to our ability to pull off a kiddush Hashem we should hold on to our emunah and go for broke.

 

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