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ב"ה

Striking the Heart

Thursday, 17 June, 2021 - 12:04 pm

Summer is here. For many children, it’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Many kids are thrilled at the break from education.

My mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, argued that the summer is not a break from education. That’s not necessarily because he advocated for summer school.

It’s because the Rebbe viewed the summer as an opportune time for a different type of education. The summer camp experience, for example, is an unparalleled opportunity to teach children by example and inspiration. The life skills acquired during camping and outings cannot be learned in a classroom. The pride of being a Jew cannot be taught. It must be experienced. And, living Jewishly is not something gleaned from a book. It’s instilled by going through real-life situations as a Jew. By eating kosher, by wearing a kippa while playing sports, by baking Challah on Friday.

The lessons learned in camp cannot be replicated by the greatest pedagogic minds.

***

In this week’s Parsha of Chukat, we are informed of Moshe’s shortcoming. Instead of speaking to a rock to miraculously procure water, he hit the rock and - miraculously - an abundant flow of water burst forth.

In response to this failure G-d told Moshe, “Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.”

We know humans can be prone to moods and overreaction. But why would G-d enforce such severe punishment for an innocuous mistake?

Rashi - citing the Midrash - explains the gravity of his error:

“Had you spoken to the rock and it had given forth water, I would have been sanctified in the eyes of the congregation. They would have said, "If this rock, which neither speaks nor hears, and does not require sustenance, fulfills the word of G-d, how much more should we!”

True, the impact would have been grander if the Jews had witnessed a miracle resulting from Moshe speaking to the rock. But was hitting the rock not sufficient a miracle to provide the same lesson?! And if G-d was truly angry with Moshe, why allow the rock to supernaturally produce water?!

***

The Chassidic Master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev provides a deeper perspective. Striking the rock, he explains, represents force and discipline. Speaking to the rock represents willingness and inspiration.

If a leader's influence on the community is achieved through harsh words of rebuke, then his relationship with the environment is likewise: he will have to forcefully impose his will on it to get it to serve his people's needs and their mission in life.  If, however, he influences his community by lovingly uplifting them to a higher place so that they, on their own, will desire to improve themselves, the world will likewise willingly yield its resources to the furtherance of his goals.

Both options are acceptable. Therefore, in either case, the rock would generate water. And both would cause the Jewish nation to follow his lead.

The final consequence, however, would look quite different. For the Jews to truly embrace their mandate, they needed a leader that would motivate, not dictate.

As they neared the Holy Land, G-d determined that the awesome - and unparalleled - leadership of Moshe was becoming a relic of the past. It was time for a new technology. It was time for Jews to move forward on their own accord, with hearts brimming with self-achieved enthusiasm. 

***

In our own lives we are also leaders with choices. We can compel others to pursue the values we hold dear, with momentary success. Or we can be a living - and enduring - inspiration.

Summer is a great time to reflect on the malleable – and lasting – lessons we learn through love and experience.

We can strike at the surface, or we can penetrate the heart.

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