“And Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given them.’ ” – Bamidbar 20:12
For almost forty years while the Jews were traveling in the desert, their source of water was the be’er, a large rock that provided the water they needed to survive. The Jewish nation then consisted of about three million people. They had also taken many animals with them when they went out of Mitzrayim, so they required millions of gallons of water each day. The be’er provided all they needed and more.
When Miriam died, the rock disappeared, and Klal Yisrael recognized their survival was in jeopardy. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to go out into the desert, speak to the rock, and bring the water back. When Moshe and Aharon went to the rock, they spoke to it and received no response. Moshe then assumed that just as it was necessary to hit the rock when the Jews first went out into the desert, so too now. When he hit the rock, it began pouring forth water.
Later, Hashem told Moshe and Aaron they had erred. Hashem had commanded them to speak to the rock, and it was through the power of speech that the miracle was to come about. On some level, they were lacking in their trust in Hashem, and this caused them to miscalculate. Had they been more complete in their trust, they would have used words alone, and the rock would have provided the water.
Rashi tells us that because of this mistake, the Jewish people lost out on a great lesson. Had Moshe only spoken to the rock, the Jews would have said to themselves, “A rock doesn’t require sustenance, yet it listens to the word of Hashem; surely, we who rely on Hashem for parnassah, must listen to Him.” However, since Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it, that lesson was lost.
Rashi seems to be saying that if Moshe had spoken to the rock, the Jewish people would have increased their level of service to Hashem. They would have realized their livelihood was dependent on doing mitzvahs, and this would have added focus and precision in the way they fulfilled them.
Reward for Mitzvahs Isn’t in This World
There are two problems with understanding this Rashi. One is that the Gemara tells us the reward for mitzvahs is not in this world. While it is true that Hashem rewards every good a person does, the place of that reward is in the World to Come. In fact, it is considered a curse to use up your payment in this world. So it doesn’t seem to be correct that their livelihood was dependent on listening to Hashem.
The second problem with this Rashi is that any motivational system must be tailored to fit the audience. The people of this generation received the Torah on Har Sinai. They spent almost forty years surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, completely immersed in Torah study, and sustained by the mon. They were on the highest madreigah of any generation in history. So even if their parnassah was dependent on their listening, how would they be motivated by something so mundane as earning their daily bread?
The answer to this question is based on understanding the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah, Perek 9). He explains that even though we don’t receive reward for doing mitzvahs in this world, if a person keeps the Torah properly, Hashem will remove all the obstacles that normally prevent a person from keeping the mitzvahs. Sickness, war, poverty, and hunger prevent a person from learning or fulfilling the mitzvahs. If a person is happy and dedicates himself to keeping the Torah, Hashem will shower him with all of the requirements to better serve Him, including peace, tranquility, well-being, sustenance, and all else a person needs to follow the Torah.