Moses hitting the rock is one of the most mystifying episodes recounted in the Torah.
The well that supplied the Israelites with water dried up. G‑d instructed Moses to go to Mount Horeb and extract water from a rock. Moses did so successfully, but in the course of executing G‑d's command, he commits a grave error. As a result, it is decreed that Moses must die in the desert, and Joshua will be the one who will lead the Israelites in to the Promised Land.
Why didn't Moses -- G‑d's most loyal servant -- follow simple instructions?The Torah is very ambiguous regarding the nature of Moses' error. There are as many interpretations as there are biblical commentators. The conventional explanation, quoted from the Midrash by Rashi, is that Moses was commanded to talk to the rock to bring forth water, and instead Moses struck it. Some thirty-nine years earlier, the first time the Israelites were in need of water, G‑d had indeed instructed Moses to strike the rock. But this time the instructions were different, and Moses failed to comply.
A few obvious questions:
1) If striking the rock was so awful, why was it okay so many years earlier?
2) Why didn't Moses -- G‑d's most loyal servant -- follow G‑d's simple instructions?
3) Why did this seemingly minor offense have such severe consequences?
An analysis of Moses' leadership will perhaps shed light on this puzzling episode.
Moses is synonymous with miracles. The name Moses means "from the waters he was drawn"; and this is indeed an appropriate name for an individual whose soul emanated from the hidden waters of the supernal worlds, and never acclimated to his new habitat. Moses did not know how to deal with this world on its terms. Instead, when he needed to accomplish a task he resorted to supernatural powers to do so. He didn't convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites, he didn't even engage in conventional warfare; instead he used the miraculous powers at his disposal to utterly crush his opposition.
He didn't talk to rocks to bring forth waters, he struck them into submission.
While this is an exciting modus operandi, this wasn't how the land of Canaan was to be conquered. This worked for the generation which left Egypt, a generation that subsisted on miracles for forty years. But G‑d had a different plan in mind for this generation which was now poised to enter the Holy Land. They weren't intended to miraculously obliterate their opposition, they were given the mandate to change the world by dealing with it on its terms. They were supposed to enter the world, plow and reap its fields, and cajole the world to higher levels of spirituality and G‑dliness.
Moses' striking the rock was a symptom of the reason why he couldn't enter CanaanThis was a task which Moses could not accomplish -- he was simply too great a spiritual giant. This was a task for Joshua.
Moses' striking the rock wasn't the reason why he couldn't lead the Jews in to Canaan; it was a symptom of the reason.
The lesson of this episode in our relations with others, in our endeavor to draw water -- holiness and value -- from our fellows, is quite clear. But this lesson should also guide us in our own personal spiritual journey.
We start serving G‑d by "hitting the rock." We may not understand, we may not be convinced, but we follow G‑d's orders because we must do so. We overpower our natural impulses and urges in order to do the mitzvot.
But then we must spiritually mature. We must "talk to the rock." We must study enough and gain the understanding to actually convince ourselves, our emotions as well as our minds, to become spiritual people.
Then we are ready to enter the Promised Land.