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Imagine waking up one morning and turning on the faucet, and no water comes out. “Oh well, the utility company is up to its shenanigans again!” You call your neighbor “Chaya, do you have any water?” Chaya also has no water. So, you take a bottle of mineral water from the fridge, no problem. An hour goes by, two, three . . . still no water. You turn on the TV. “Due to damage caused by Hurricane Miriam, the entire Eastern Seaboard will have no water for the next 48 hours!” Mild irritation turns into full-blown panic! “No water? How will we go to the bathroom? How will we shower? Will I be able to buy enough bottled water before there is a run on the supermarkets?”

This was the scenario on the tenth of Nisan 2486, after 39 years of wandering in the Midbar. Miriam had just died and the Well of Miriam, which satiated Am Yisrael in the desert for 40 years, suddenly stopped flowing. Six million people were suddenly without water. They were out in the blazing desert – they had to drink! Okay, so the adults could hold out a little longer, but what about the children? Mothers had to feed their crying babies! Is it not legitimate to call the municipal “hotline” (congregate outside Moshe’s tent) and clarify what was going on?


The second question is “Why did Hashem tell Moshe to take the staff if He wanted Moshe to speak to the rock?” Why open a possibility for Moshe to sin?

The final question is, “Why did they have Lechem Hapanim in the Midbar?” The text tells us that they baked Lechem Hapanim in the Midbar. We read a few weeks back in Bamidbar that the Lechem Hapanim was present on the shulchan “on the road” while they were traveling. The purpose of the Lechem Hapanim is to serve as a conduit for material blessing: that there should be abundance, lots of food to eat, water to drink and so on. But the Lechem Hapanim is seemingly superfluous in the Midbar, since they had the mon in Moshe’s merit and the Well of Miriam in Miriam’s merit. They had untold abundance anyway, so what did the Lechem Hapanim add? The question seemingly has no bearing on our text – but in fact it is intricately connected.

Hashem did not think this was an unreasonable complaint from Am Yisrael, He was not angered by it (as in previous episodes when He became angry, as with the Mit’onenim in Beha’alotcha) Instead Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to use this opportunity to do a tremendous kiddush Hashem – “speak” to the rock and the water would resume its flow.

The Netziv of Volozhin says that Hashem instructed Moshe to do a “Hakhel,” to gather the entire nation to witness the miracle. Moshe and Aharon would do a limud Torah in front of the rock – a little Torah shebichtav, a little Torah sheba’al peh, and miraculously, as a result, the water would gush forth. According to the Netziv, this was intended to be a reenactment of Har Sinai, where the words of the Torah would not only be heard, they would also be visible to the eye.

Hashem wanted to prepare Am Yisrael for when they would enter Eretz Yisrael in a few short months – prepare them for a new reality where there would no longer be any mon and no Well of Miriam, where Am Yisrael would have to grow their own food and channel their own water. Despite this, they would continue to merit Divine abundance, just as in the Midbar. As long as Am Yisrael were smiling, sameach bechelkam and adhering to the Torah, they would lack nothing.

Hashem told Moshe to take “the staff,” according to the Kli Yakar, not Moshe’s staff, but the staff of Aharon, the almond branch that had blossomed – to show Am Yisrael that Hashem can make life spring from dead wood, just as He can make water flow from a rock. This was the lesson Hashem wanted to ingrain into Am Yisrael, but it went wrong.

Moshe read the situation differently. When Aharon saw the throngs approaching the tent, he said to Moshe “Look they are coming to perform the comforting of mourners for our sister!” Moshe had a knack for gauging the true mood of Am Yisrael. When he came down from Har Sinai and encountered the Golden Calf, Yehoshua told him there were sounds of war in the camp. Moshe responded, “There are no cries of victory, no cries of defeat – just cries.” Similarly here, Moshe knew that the purpose of the “angry mob” was not to comfort mourners.

Moshe did Hashem’s bidding: He first spoke to the rock, but instead of gushing forth, the Midrash says only a small trickle came out. The leitzanim (clowns) in Am Yisrael mocked him. Moshe, angered at what he perceived as a belligerent mob, called them morim, rebels.

Anger, Chazal say, is like avodah zarah. When someone becomes angry it eventually results in losing faith in Hashem. Instead of keeping his cool, Moshe became angry and the result was that he lost faith. When he saw the water was not gushing forth, instead of continuing to do what Hashem had told him and giving a shiur Torah, he grabbed his own staff, the one that had previously brought forth water, and struck the rock.

There was no need for the blessing of the Lechem Hapanim in the Midbar; they had the mon and the Well of Miriam. The reason the Lechem Hapanim was present was for a different purpose – to teach the principle of serving Hashem with joy. The shape of the Lechem Hapanim is a smiling face (meir panim). Moshe should have remembered the lesson of the Lechem Hapanim and not become angry.

Instead of a kiddush Hashem, it turned into a chilul Hashem, and subsequently Moshe was punished. Aharon, whose life philosophy was to “love peace and pursue peace,” who always had a smile on his face, was also punished for not stopping his brother and calming him down.

Instead of adequately preparing Am Yisrael for their first encounter with “life according to nature” in Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to “life according to miracle” in the Midbar, Moshe and Aharon failed in this task, and this led to Am Yisrael sinning repeatedly in Eretz Yisrael as well as the subsequent destruction of both Batei Mikdash. Such was the severity of their sin that they were harshly punished and not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: How tall was Og Melech Habashan?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What “baking ingredient” is hidden in the names of Korach’s ancestors? Korach’s father’s name was Yitzhar, meaning “oil” (dagan, tirosh veyitzhar).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.