Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“These are the waters of strife…” (Bamidbar 20:13).

Moshe Rabbeinu invested his entire life in sanctifying the name of Hashem. Only once in his 120 years did he unintentionally do something that appeared to be a slight departure from his usual holiness. But Hashem criticized him for it: “you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Jewish nation” (Bamidbar 20:12).


Hashem’s name was, in fact, sanctified; the entire congregation witnessed water miraculously pour forth from a stone. But the sanctification would have been greater had Moshe brought forth water by merely speaking to the stone as per Hashem’s command. Since he didn’t follow Hashem’s instructions, he was punished in accordance with his exalted stature.

Some people are content to pray a little bit, learn a little bit, and do a few mitzvos. Hashem, though, doesn’t ask a person, “What did you do?” He asks, “What are you able to do?” If we are able to do more, we should.

The Talmud (Berachos 28b) reports that R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai began to cry when his disciples visited him as he lay on his deathbed.

“Why are you crying?” his disciples asked him.

R’ Yochanan replied that he would cry even if he was being taken to a king of flesh and blood “who is here today and gone tomorrow, whose anger does not last forever…and who, if he puts me to death, cannot subject me to an everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money.”

Surely, then, R’ Yochanan said, he should cry now that he’s being taken to the King of Kings who lives forever and whose anger is everlasting. Shouldn’t I cry, he asked, “when there are two ways before me – one leading to Gehenom and one leading to Gan Eden – and I do not know to which I shall be taken?”

How could this great Tanna who had achieved the level of angels and was able to perform miracles not know whether he was going to Gan Eden or Gehenom?

HaGaon R’ Aharon Kotler answers that R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai knew that he had dedicated his entire life to learning Torah lishmah and serving Hashem. He knew what he had done, but he was afraid because of what he had not done. He knew Heaven had bestowed upon him unbelievable abilities, and he feared that he had not used them fully.

Shlomo HaMelech writes, “Whatever you are able to do with your might, do it…” (Koheles 9:10). R’ Nissim Yagen stresses that a person must know his potential and G-d-given abilities. Each person has different strengths that are unique to him, which Hashem gave him to accomplish his personal mission in this world. He must utilize them properly, not misuse or waste them.

Someone with speaking skills should educate, do outreach, and inspire his community. Someone who is proficient in organizing, uniting, and supervising should be involved in chesed projects, arranging shiurim, and establishing organizations and institutions.

We find it difficult to fulfill our potential because the Evil Inclination exerts every effort to dampen our enthusiasm and discourage us from accomplishing the great achievements we are capable of. But we must persevere; we must maximize our potential and achieve our mission.

The great Divrei Shmuel of Slonim asks: How could Moshe Rabbeinu – about whom Hashem said, “In My entire house he is the trusted one” – defy Hashem by striking the rock instead of hitting it? He explains that Moshe underestimated the great power of Klal Yisrael.

There are two levels of miracles. The lower level involves a physical act eliciting a physical reaction while the higher level involves words alone eliciting a physical reaction. Moshe Rabbeinu thought the Jewish people did not merit a superior miracle and thus hit the rock instead of speaking to it.

When the first waves of Jewish migrants left Syria, some slowly began to trickle into Eretz Yisrael, many making their way to the home of the great R’ Yehuda Tzodka. In addition to helping the immigrants materially as much as possible, R’ Tzodka also guided the new immigrants spiritually and ensured that they enter appropriate institutions and mosdos haTorah.

One day, a young 18-year-old from Syria, with nothing but the clothes on his back, came to the home of R’ Tzodka. After attending to the young man’s immediate needs, R’ Tzodka tried to determine the young man’s spiritual standing so he could direct him appropriately. When he asked him whether he knew any Torah, the immigrant replied that he knew one tractate of the Talmud perfectly, Meseches Ketubos.

R’ Yehuda was overcome with emotion. He tested the young man and saw that he, in fact, knew the entire Ketubos – except for the first eight pages. After praising the young man, he asked why he didn’t know those few pages. The man replied that in his neighborhood only one Meseches Ketubos was available and this heavily used copy was missing the first eight pages.

What a great revelation of the honor of Hashem! A Jew from Syria without any of life’s conveniences, and with no proper sefarim or educational aids, learned virtually the entire Meseches Ketubos. What great potential lies in Klal Yisrael!