Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chukas, Bamidbar 20:8. Mei Merivah.

(Based in part on the Tzitz Eliezer and the Aruch Hashulchan.)

Mei Merivah is what we call the calamitous event when Moshe was told to bring forth water by speaking to the rock, but instead, he struck the rock. This was the error that finally and irreversibly prevented Moshe from entering Eretz Yisroel. Why, then, when we pray for rain in T’fillas Geshem on Sukkos, do we say regarding Moshe Rabbeinu “Ahl hasela hoch vayeitzu mayim, betzidko chon chashras moyim.” We ask Hashem to remember the time that Moshe struck the stone and brought forth a great cascade of water, and we ask that in that merit may we, too, be blessed with an abundance of water. This was not a good day for Moshe Rabbeinu. On the contrary, it was because of this act that his tragic fate of not entering Eretz Yisroel was sealed. Why would we recall this tragic error when we should be invoking merits and remembering zechusim?

The obvious answer is, that "ahl haSelah Hoch" refers to the first time he brought forth water from a stone, in Parshas Beshalach, when he did exactly as he was commanded.

The obvious answer is, as usual, wrong. The stone in Parshas Beshalach was called צור, ‘tzur,’ and only here, at the second event, is the stone called סלע, ‘selah.’ So when we say ‘ahl haselah,’ we’re not talking about the first time.

The correct answer begins with the Gemorah in Tainis 25b.

There was once a drought in Eretz Yisroel, and R’ Eliezer davenned during the tainis and nothing happened. R’ Akiva got up, said two ‘Ovinu malkeinus’ and it began to pour. This shocked the observers, because at that time R’ Eliezer was the godol and z’kan hador. So a bas kol was heard that said “lo mipnei shezeh godol mizeh, elloh shezeh ma’avir ahl middosov v’zeh eino ma’avir ahl middosov.” It is not because this one is greater than the other, but because this one is forgiving to personal affronts, he does not bear a grudge against those that are disrespectful to him.

R’ Yisroel Salanter asks, well, in that case, the ma’avir ahl middosov was greater, wasn’t he? Doesn’t this story show that the prayers of the forgiving soul are more precious? Doesn’t this story show that forbearance is a worthy trait? He answers that it is clear from this Gemorah that ‘ma’avir ahl middosov’ is not necessarily the only or even the best way to serve Hashem. One can be a makpid ahl middosov and be equal to or greater than a ma’avir ahl middosov, as we see in the case of Shammai and Hillel.

We know Shammai and Hillel behaved differently. Shammai was not ma’avir ahl middosov, while Hillel was. Did this prove that Hillel was a greater man than Shammai? No. Shammai chose the derech of a sar, a melech, and Hillel chose the derech of an eved. In fact, you could argue that Shammai was greater, as we see that it took a long time to pasken like Beis Hillel despite their majority, because Beis Shammai was mechadedi tfei, they were the greater lomdim. In fact, as the Aruch Hashulchan says in Hilchos Tefillin, the halacha will be like Beis Shammai in the times of Moshiach. But when it comes to asking for Hashem’s chein, when you are asking for grace, for something you don’t really deserve, you need a ma’avir ahl middosov to ask Hashem to be ma’avir ahl middosov.

The Leiv Aharon on Chulin and the Oruch Hashulchon both say that a person cannot be punished for an innocent misunderstanding. If, however, his misunderstanding was motivated by something within him that is wrong, then he can be punished for the misunderstanding. This is not because the underlying motivator is wicked or evil or even wrong, but simply because a motive, even a good one, even an indirect one, makes a person responsible for his behavior. It is no longer called an “oneis.” This explains why Moshe was punished for what happened at Mei Merivoh.

Moshe was punished at Mei Merivoh because although it was a misunderstanding that resulted in his action, his misunderstanding was motivated by something within him, and he was liable for it. Moshe knew that the first be’er was in the z’chus of Miriam, and the second was in his z’chus. When Hashem told Moshe to talk to the stone, Moshe thought, “what does Hashem mean by ‘talk.’ Does He mean only talk? But then this would be a public demonstration of my superiority to Miriam! I am not superior to her! I am her younger brother, she saved me, etc. Hashem must mean talk and strike, as He meant with the first stone, which was in the zechus of Miriam. Moshe came to this conclusion because he was the greatest ‘ma’avir ahl middosov.’ In fact, though, Hashem did mean only talk. (1. Tzitz Eliezer– because Moshe was greater, and for him the neis would have been a complete lema’alo miderech hateva, with no physical aspect at all, unlike Miriam’s which involved some small element of teva. 2. Oruch Hashulchon– because Miriam’s z’chusim were mitzvos ma’asios, while Moshe’s zchus was Torah, which is dibbur. 3. Taam Vodaas from Rav Shternbuch– because the ‘dibbur’ required here was the pronouncement of the Sheim Hameforash, which Klal Yisroel was not worthy of prior to Mattan Torah, but they were worthy of at this point.)

So Moshe was wrong. It was a mistake, but the mistake was motivated by his being a ma’avir ahl middosov. It was a mistake, but it was a sublime mistake, a glorious mistake. In fact, it was the middah of ma’avir that resulted in the water flowing from the rock despite the fact that striking the rock was wrong! So although Moshe got into trouble for it, it still expresses that middah of anivus and ma’avir ahl middosov, and it is that middah we stress when asking for Hashem to give us the chein of brocho and geshem and parnossoh, as we see in the story of R’ Eliezer and R’ Akiva.. We are far from perfect; even in the light of middas harachamim, we are embarrasingly far from what we should be.  But we mean to do the right thing.  We desire to serve the Ribono shel Olam.  We ask that even when we're wrong, please recognize that our motives are good.  That is ‘betzidko chon chashras moyim.”