Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Hukkat 5763/ July 5, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Hukkat 5763/ July 5, 2003
The Song of the Well
Dr. Yair Barkai
In the fourth chapter of Shemonah Perakim (Eight
Chapters) Maimonides claimed that Moses committed two transgressions in
striking the rock: one - loosing his temper, and the other -
causing the people to think mistakenly that the Lord was angry at them for
asking for water to drink, and consequently leading the people to think that the
Lord is cruel.
Nahmanides strongly disagreed with Maimonides, suggesting
instead an interpretation of Rabbenu Hananel:
The closest thing that has been said in this regard, also best
for rebutting questions, is the explanation by Rabbenu Hananel, who wrote that
the sin was in their saying (Num. 20:10), "Shall we get water for you out
of this rock?" when what they should have said was: The Lord will get
water out for you! Likewise, all the miracles were to inform them that the Lord
was marvelously with them. Perhaps the people thought that Moses and Aaron, in
their wisdom, got water for them out of the rock, and that is the meaning of
Deuteronomy 32:51: "failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite
Nahmanides, who sided with Rabbenu Hananel's
interpretation, took the stand that a human being is not capable of performing
miraculous acts on his own, only as an agent of G-d. Moses and Aaron might have
misled the people by their words into thinking that the two leaders were capable
of getting water out of a rock and therefore in place of G-d, as it
This idea is expressed in the Song of the Well, which appears
towards the end of this week's reading (Num.
And from there to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said
to Moses, "Assemble the people that I may give them water." Then
Israel sang the song:
Spring up, O well - sing to it -
The well which the chieftains dug,
Which the nobles of the people started
With maces, with their own staffs.
And from Midbar to Mattanah.
In Issaco Samuel Reggio's Torat
this song is interpreted
It is the way of the world for servants to dig wells, since it
requires hard labor. Not so this well, for the chieftains themselves, namely
Moses and Aaron, dug it. This is by way of simile, for the words which Moses
uttered to the rock (and the blow he struck against it) are likened to digging;
for just as by digging in the earth water comes up, so too it came up by
Moses' words. It is the way of the world for hewing to be done with an
axe and mallets; but no so this well, for hands did not touch it, rather the
nobles and leaders of the people hewed it without hard labor, with the staffs in
their hands. And mehokek (rendered here as "maces") is the
lawgiver, and the mace in the lawgiver's hand symbolizes greatness and
Note that at the beginning of this song (which opens with the
words "Spring up") there is no mention whatsoever of the
Lord's grace in giving them water, and this is evidence in support of our
interpretation of Moses' and Aaron's sin as being that the people
believed then that Moses and Aaron, by their own might, had gotten out water for
them, and therefore they praised them in this song. Moses, however, having seen
that profanation of the Lord had resulted from his actions, took care to say to
them in Deuteronomy that this was an act of the Lord, as it is said: "who
brought forth water for you from the flinty rock" (Deut. 8:15).
If we accept Reggio's interpretation of the Song of the
Well, it substantiates Nahmanides' idea (with which Reggio agreed) about
the essence of Moses' and Aaron's sin at the Waters of Meribah.
Their sin lay in saying, "Shall we, and not the LORD, get water for you
out of this rock." In other words, their sin was in misleading the people
regarding the source of the miracle.
In this context we can understand the punishment decreed on
Moses and Aaron, that they not enter the land. Their punishment served to
prevent confirmation of the error regarding their status among the people. For,
if Moses and Aaron were to accompany the people in conquering and settling the
land - an era characterized, among other things, by miracles that were
done for Israel (such as crossing the Jordan, capturing Jericho, the miracles at
Gibeon and the Valley of Ayalon, etc.), the mistake in ascribing these miracles
to them might have become deeply rooted among the people. Leaders, for all
their greatness, do not transcend the limitations of human beings.
Most commentators believe
that these verses describe the deed in reference to the famous sin of Moses and
Aaron at the Waters of Meribah (above, 10:7-11), but Da'at Mikra
this verse holds that the Torah is alluding here to another miracle that was
performed for Israel and was well-known among the people, rather than the
miracle of striking the rock, which happened far away from the eastern borders
of Moab, where the people were presently located.
Isacco Samuel Reggio,
1784-1855, Italian rabbi, associated with Hokhmat Yisrael
, and founder of
Collegio Rabbinico Italiano in Padua.