In the Merit of Moshe’s Righteousness

Al hasela hach vayeitzu mayim; b’tzidko chon cheshras mayim (Tefillas Geshem)

In the prayer for rain recited by the chazzan during his repetition of the Mussaf prayers on Shemini Atzeres, each stanza invokes the water-related merits of one of our righteous forefathers. In the stanza referring to Moshe, we include a reference to the fact that at the time that the Jewish nation was thirsty for water, he struck the rock and caused water to come forth, and we pray that in the merit of his righteousness, Hashem should bless our water supply. Since Moshe was punished for his actions and was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel as a result, why do we invoke an incident that is considered more of a sin than a merit?

In his responsa Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer (17:41), Harav Eliezer Waldenberg writes that the Gerrer Rebbe suggests that this difficulty is a proof to the Rambam’s explanation (Shemoneh Perakim 4) of the nature of Moshe’s sin in this episode. In contrast to Rashi, who explains that Moshe’s error was that he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as he was commanded, the Rambam maintains that Moshe’s sin was that he lost his temper and angrily addressed the people as rebels (Bamidbar 20:10).

The Gerrer Rebbe posits that according to Rashi’s opinion that the sin was hitting the rock, it would be inappropriate to mention this incident in our prayers, but according to the Rambam’s explanation that Moshe did nothing wrong in hitting the rock to produce water and only sinned in how he spoke to the people, it would not be as problematic to mention this episode in our prayers for water.

In order to understand our prayers even according to Rashi’s opinion, the Tzitz Eliezer cites the explanation given by the Lev Aryeh (Chullin 7b) for Moshe’s actions. In Parashas Chukas, the Jewish people complained to Moshe about a lack of water, just as they did in Parashas Beshalach (Shemos
17:2-3).

In both cases, Hashem commanded Moshe to respond to their protests by extracting water from a rock. However, there is one subtle difference between the two episodes. In Parashas Beshalach, Hashem told Moshe to strike the rock with his staff (Shemos 17:5-6), whereas in Parashas Chukas, Hashem told him to speak to the rock in order to produce the water. What is the reason for this change?

Rashi writes (Bamidbar 20:2) that the Torah juxtaposes the death of Miriam to the complaints of the people about a lack of water to drink as a way of teaching us that the well that provided them with water until now existed in the merit of Miriam, and now that she died, the well disappeared and the people had nothing to drink.

The Lev Aryeh explains that as great as Miriam was, she was not on the spiritual level of Moshe. As a result, the initial miracle of bringing forth the water in her merit had to take place in a slightly more natural manner, in which Moshe was instructed to strike the rock with his staff.

Once Miriam died, the well returned in the merit of Moshe (Taanis 9a), and on his lofty level, he was capable of producing the water in an even more miraculous fashion: by merely speaking to the rock, without needing to hit it. However, Moshe was concerned that if he did so, it would on some level reflect badly on Miriam in that she only had the merit for water to come forth by force, while he was able to do it through speech. In Moshe’s humility and righteousness, in order to avoid appearing greater than his sister, he specifically elected to hit the rock, just as he was originally commanded to do in her merit.

The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that this interpretation perfectly explains the request that we make in our prayers. After telling Hashem of our need for rain, we beseech Him that even if we are not worthy of receiving it, He should leniently treat us with mercy and compassion, just as Moshe went above and beyond to hit the rock and protect his sister’s reputation.


Q: How many words are in Parashas Haazinu, and what is the significance of this?

A: The Vilna Gaon points out that there are 613 words in Parashas Haazinu, which corresponds to the number of mitzvos in the Torah, because Moshe alluded to the entire Torah in Parashas Haazinu.


Q: If the Jewish people lived in sukkos during their sojourn in the wilderness (Vayikra 23:43), were they exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah during this time just as our sukkos are exempt from mezuzahs?

A: The Mabit writes that the Jewish people were exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah during their 40 years in the wilderness. Because the Torah records (Bamidbar 9:20) that the Jews traveled whenever Hashem commanded them to do so via the lifting of the Clouds of Glory, none of their encampments was ever considered permanent in nature. Even if they ultimately remained in one location for months or years, the very fact that Hashem could command them to leave at any moment caused their stay to be considered temporary in nature.

Harav Yosef Engel questions this logic based on the teaching of the Gemara (Shabbos 31b) that the very fact that their travels were directed by Hashem caused their encampments to be considered significant and permanent in nature for the purposes of other laws, in which case they should perhaps be considered permanent for the purposes of requiring a mezuzah as well.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.