The Water and the Rock
In this Torah portion the nation cries out for water, and Gd instructs Moshe to speak to a particular rock so that it should miraculously bring forth water. Moshe, however, takes his staff and strikes the rock instead of just speaking to it.
Numerous commentators attempt to explain why Moshe’s action resulted in the drastic punishment of being denied entry into the Land of Israel, the ultimate goal of the Exodus from Egypt. Abarbanel summarizes ten different answers to this question and rejects them all as insufficient reasons for such a drastic punishment. Instead, Abarbanel offers a novel solution to the problem.
He states that they were actually being punished for two much more serious previous transgressions. Aharon was punished for his role in the incident of the Golden Calf, and Moshe for his role in sending and instructing the men who spied out the Land of Israel. Even though Aharon certainly tried to prevent idolatry, his actions ultimately led to the tragedy of the death of thousands. Just as these individuals were prevented from entering the Land, Aharon too — according to the principle of “measure for measure” — was prevented from entering the Land as well.
Moshe’s transgression was that he essentially went beyond the simple request of the people to “send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land, and bring word back to us; the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.” Moshe, however, added his own instructions to their basic request, telling them to find out if the inhabitants were strong or weak, few or numerous, and if the cities were open or fortified. Even though Moshe’s intention was to impress upon them
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Abarbanel brings numerous proofs to his interpretation. Included among them is the fact that in Sefer Devarim Moshe does not mention this incident with the rock at all, attesting to its relatively minor importance. Furthermore, in Sefer Devarim Moshe and Aharon’s punishments are both mentioned in the context of the incidents of the Golden Calf and the Spies. Also, since Aharon had no involvement in the incident of the water and the rock other than assisting Moshe in gathering the people, it is illogical to think that this would result in such a drastic punishment. Finally, when