By Rabbi David Shasho
וַיָּ֨רֶם מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־יָד֗וֹ וַיַּ֧ךְ אֶת־הַסֶּ֛לַע בְּמַטֵּ֖הוּ פַּעֲמָ֑יִם
And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod.
In this week’s parasha, Moshe hit the rock to get water. He was supposed to teach the Jewish people a new lesson: they will be going to a land where they will be working to produce food and to live, unlike before when Hashem constantly performed miracles for them. The message of hitting was for the old generation that came out of Egypt forty years earlier. Moshe needed to teach the previous generation with strict discipline to keep the nation in line. But now a different lesson was required to show the new generation who were about to enter Eretz Yisrael that they should not just trust in their strength, but rather pray to Hashem for everything. That is why Moshe was instructed to speak to the rock and not hit it. Moshe was connected to the old generation and was not ready to lead this new generation into the land so Hashem told him he will not be joining them.
There are two languages in Hebrew for the word rock. צור, which is a language of strict judgment, and סלע, which is mercy. Moshe’s generation knew the language of צור and understood how to live with fear and harshness of Hashem, experiencing it firsthand with their own bodies as slaves in Egypt. The generation going into Eretz Yisrael was a free nation. They were not slaves; they lived a free life with bread from heaven and clouds of glory protecting them. You cannot force a free person to fear you with a stick. You need to come close to him, talk with him, and understand his sensitivities.
Every generation needs to be understood and treated according to its level. Compelling someone to love Hashem by using a stick to hit like the old generation doesn’t work. Of course Hashem commanded Moshe to bring his stick with him to show fear and strength. But a long term relationship with Hashem needs more than just fear; it needs love and compassion. Let us always speak softly to others and understand each person’s individual needs and sensitivities to guide them on the right path.