The great leader who took the Jewish people out of Egypt, gave them the Ten Commandments, and led them to the entrance of the Promised Land, was punished to die in the desert just because he hit the rock. How is this fair?
A. What Was So Terrible About Hitting the Rock?
In our parshah we read about G-d’s command to Moses to speak to the rock and extract water from it. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses hit the rock. As a result, he was punished by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land (Source 1).
The Rebbe asks: What was so terrible about hitting the rock, worse than other things that Moses did wrong (Sources 2-3)? Why was this the reason he was punished not to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel?
B. Doesn’t Mortal Danger Override Shabbat?
The Previous Rebbe was arrested by the Soviet authorities for his activities to spread Judaism. He was originally sentenced to death, and then the sentence was commuted to three years of exile. When he was told that the train taking him to his place of exile would be traveling on Shabbat he absolutely refused to travel, and stayed in prison for another few days as a result.
Seemingly, every day in prison was a danger to his life, and the law is that mortal danger overrides Shabbat (Source 5). In fact, being on board a train during Shabbat isn’t even an absolute transgression.
C. Sanctifying G-d’s Name
Had the Rebbe agreed to travel on Shabbat the Soviet authorities would have bragged about their success in forcing the Jewish leader to travel on Shabbat. This is why the Previous Rebbe risked his life for this, in order to sanctify G-d’s name.
The Rambam writes that if a person is compelled to transgress in front of 10 Jews he should rather be killed than transgress, so as not to desecrate G-d’s name.
This is why Moses was punished so severely for hitting the rock: this was done in front of the entire Jewish people and caused a desecration of G-d’s name.
Story: President Shazar and Ben Gurion observed Shabbat at Churchill’s funeral and sanctified G-d’s name.
Lesson: Every one of us represents the Jewish people, and this obligates us to conduct ourselves in a way that brings honor to Judaism. For example: late payment in a store is also a desecration of G-d’s name.
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