The people of Israel were dying of dehydration. They had excruciatingly painful headaches and were starting to become disoriented. They needed to get some liquid into their systems, fast! But where would they find water in the barren and arid desert?

Miriam, Moses’ and Aaron’s older sister, had recently passed on, and the water-giving rock that had traveled with them in her merit ceased to serve as a well for the Jewish people. Now, there was nowhere for them to get water. So they approached Moses, their leader.The people of Israel were dying of dehydration

Moses immediately went to seek G‑d’s guidance, and was soon answered with a response similar to the one he had been given back in the Torah portion of Beshalach during a similar crisis:

Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock, and give the congregation and their livestock to drink.1

A misunderstanding ensued, and (through the persuasion of the overly jittery people) Moses hit the rock (as he had been commanded to do in the previous incident2) instead of speaking to it, as he was commanded to do now.

Once the stone was struck, it began providing meager drops of water,3 an amount that was insufficient to quench the thirst of a nation of several million people! Only after Moses struck the rock again did a fountain of water begin pouring out of it.

Now, the obvious question is: Why was there the necessity for the teaser of only a few drops emerging at first?

A fascinating passage from the Talmud about our forefather Abraham’s hospitality will give us some insight into this event:4

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: “Whatever Abraham did for the ministering angels [who were his guests] himself, the Holy One, Blessed Is He likewise did for Abraham’s children Himself. But whatever Abraham did only through an agent, the Holy One Blessed Is He likewise did for His children only through an agent. . . . ‘Let some water be brought’ [through someone else]5 resulted in ‘You [Moses] shall strike the rock and water will come forth from it and the people will drink.’ 6

Based on this quote from the Talmud, the commentary Imrei Emet7 explains our story beautifully.

Abraham was extremely hospitable, and his kindness was unparalleled. Even at the age of 99, he would sit outside in the scorching sun and wait for passersby that he could invite inside to be his guests.

There His kindness was unparalleledwas, however, one subtle blunder in this hospitality. When Abraham told his servant to get food and drink for the newly arrived guests, he said, “Let a little water be brought.” He was willing to offer them only a small amount of water.

It was a small blunder, but the price would be paid many years later, when G‑d did to Abraham’s offspring what he did to the angels: He gave them a small trickle of water.8

For You or for the Other

Generally, there are two ways to perform acts of kindness. One can be extremely generous, displaying an exceptional degree of openhandedness. Deep down, though, the sole reason the person is acting in this manner is to enhance other people’s perception of him; it’s a publicity stunt to show off one’s wealth.9

At the opposite extreme is the person who gives because that’s who he is. He senses the innate qualities of anyone who knocks on his door, and he offers people whatever they need, even if he’ll lose out as a result.

Abraham was the embodiment of this kind of kindness, willing to sacrifice for the other, even when it meant a loss to him. And no one since his time has surpassed his greatness in this respect.10

And here lies an amazing aspect of this event in the desert. True, the water came from the rock a bit slowly, and through a third party, but it came as a result of Abraham’s kindness. Seven generations and 400 years after Abraham gave some travelers water with his whole heart, G‑d quenched the thirst of an entire nation because of that action.

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It was a freezing night in a small Russian town. Two men, frozen to the core, sat down in a local pub to warm themselves up. After several “warm-ups,” the mood began to shift to revelry mode.

When They would have needed a designated driverthey were well beyond the point when they would have needed a designated driver, they began to fantasize, starting the “what would you do if you won the lottery” conversation.

One of the men declared, “If I were a billionaire, I would give all my wealth straight to the Motherland!”

“And what if you owned an entire city, what would be the first thing you’d do?” his friend asked. “I would wholeheartedly donate it to Mother Russia! What’s the question?!”

“And what would be if you had two chickens hanging out in the coop in your backyard, what then?” Hesitating slightly, he answered, “Well I’m not really so sure . . .”

His friend immediately asked: “But what’s the difference here?”

To which he tentatively responded, “You see, I actually have two chickens in my backyard . . .”

When push comes to shove, all the talking must take a back seat, and action must be at the forefront.