When Words Speak Louder than Actions
Upon Miriam’s death, the miraculous well of water that had accompanied the people for these long years in the desert dried up. The panic-stricken people approached Moshe and Aharon en masse, claiming it would have been better to die a natural death in the wilderness (as their brothers had) than suffer and die of thirst. They accused Moshe and Aharon of leading the people to their untimely and torturous demise, rather than to the promised Land.
This leads to the event known as mei meriva, the fatal event that deprived Moshe and Aharon entry into the Land. Moshe is instructed to take his staff, and, together with Aharon, assemble the people. Moshe and Aharon are to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the people and their animals. Moshe did take the staff, but instead of speaking to the rock, he strikes the rock twice. Water gushed forth abundantly, and the people drank. Moshe and Aharon are sternly chastised, “Because you did not hold fast to Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel, you shall not bring this community into the Land that I have given them.”
But what was so terrible about Moshe’s conduct? The water miraculously flowed, and the people’s trust was restored. And if
The staff has not been seen since the war with Amalek, some 38 years earlier. Since then, it was deposited in the Sanctuary, next to the Ark which held the Tablets. The staff in the hand of Moshe identified him as
Now, the people accused Moshe and Aharon of betraying their Divine mission, and instead, maliciously bringing the people to a waterless place.
Instead, the miracle was supposed to teach them that the required water had already been provided by
Rav Hirsch here quotes his teacher, Rabbi Chacham Bernays, who explains why this was a critical message for the people to receive before entry to the Land. Now, the visible miracles of the wilderness would be replaced by a new era of invisible guidance. The staff of Moshe in the wilderness would be replaced by the word of Moshe, from now on and forever.
- Source: Commentary, Bamidbar 20:8-11