Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rav Moshe Weinberger on Parshas Chukas - Speaking the Language of the Generation

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's morning drasha from parshas Chukas. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. I'm trying something new by not including the original Herew text (except where it's relevant to understand a shoresh) to see if this makes it easier for most readers. Please let me know your feedback on this change. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available onlin HERE. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. Shalosh Sheudos will remain up. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Chukas 5773
The Language of the Generation

Regarding the nature of Moshe Rebbeinu’s sin in striking the rock to bring forth water for the Jewish people, Rav Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto, זצ"ל, the great-grandson of the Ramchal, wrote that “While Moshe Rebbeinu only committed on sin, the commentaries heaped thirteen or more sins upon him because each one attributed some novel sin based on his own understanding...” The Torah tells us very little about the reason for the drastic consequences of Moshe’s sin. We must therefore understand the commentaries’ explanations rather than inventing any new sins to add to the already-long list.

There is a well-known dispute between the Rambam (Shmonah Perakim, Ch. 4) and Rashi (on Bamidbar 20:12) regarding the nature of Moshe’s sin. According to the Rambam, his sin was excessive anger when he said (Bamidbar 20:10) “Listen, you rebels.” According to Rashi, however, his sin was disobeying G-d by hitting the rock when he was commanded to speak to the rock. While the Ramban takes issue with both of these explanations, the Maharal in Gur Areye and Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in Kedushas Levi explain that on a deeper level, the Rambam and Rashi’s explanations are not mutually exclusive. Each refer to a different stage in one process. The process began with Moshe becoming angry and that anger caused him to disobey Hashem’s command to speak to the rock.

Hashem speaks to us in every generation through the Torah as if it is being given today. We must therefore understand what we must learn from the nature of Moshe’s sin in order to know what is right in our own generation. The first step in that process is understanding the difference between the events in parshas Chukas and the events in parshas Beshalach when Moshe first drew water from a rock (Shmos 17:1-7). There, the people lacked water and came to complain to Moshe, Moshe told Hashem that he was afraid they would kill him, Hashem told him to hit a rock, he did so, and water began flowing from the rock to fulfill the Jewish people’s need for water. What is the difference between these two events? Why was it a mitzva for Moshe to hit the rock shortly after the Jewish people left Egypt but a grave sin to do so in their last year in the desert before entering Eretz Yisroel?

The difference was the generation. Moshe was commanded to hit the rock for the generation who left Egypt. This older generation grew up as slaves in Egypt. They were familiar with the language of force and harshness. For them, when Moshe hit the rock, using force to extract the water, he was speaking the language of the old style of education understood by that generation. However, the generation in parshas Chukas lived forty years later. They grew up in the desert protected by Hashem who provided for all of their needs. They were a softer, weaker generation. This new generation, on the brink of entering Eretz Yisroel, understood a different language. Hashem expected Moshe to speak to the new generation in a language it understood, the language of conversation, speech, and dialogue. That is why He commanded Moshe only to speak to the rock and not to strike it.

In our times too, we see this distinction between the “old generation” and the “new generation.” Our parents and grandparents who lived through the war, grew up for the most part under the control of totalitarian regimes or dictatorships and were accustomed to the harsh language of force. That generation also educated its children using the language of strict discipline and force. That approach does not work in the current generation. The old generation was not broken by the old approach to education. But if anyone tries to use the old way of discipline on the new generation, he will only shatter the lives of his students. Such an approach to education no longer works. It is simply outdated.

What happened to Moshe Rebbeinu in parshas Chukas? When he lifted up his staff to hit the rock just as he had done forty years earlier for the previous generation, he revealed that, on his level, he did not appreciate the difference between the generations. As great as he was, he could not speak the language of the new generation. He was still educating people the way it was done in the “old country.” He did not understand how to communicate with the generation in its way, which was through speech, conversation, and dialogue. The new way is one of (Devarim 6:7) “And you shall teach your children and speak to them.” The way of the new generation is speaking with one’s children rather than using force to elicit their compliance.

It was not so much that Moshe was punished by not being allowed to bring the Jewish people into Eretz Yisroel. Rather, it was a natural consequence of the fact that he was no longer able to understand the true nature of the new generation. He could not be the person who would lead them into the land. But Yehoshua, his successor, did lead them into the land. It is known that Rashi (on Bamidbar 11:28) teaches us that Eldad and Medad has prophesized that “Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring the Jewish people into the land of Israel.” What was Yehoshua’s approach to education? The pasuk at the end of the book of Yehoshua (24:27) tells us that at the end of his life, Yehoshua established a large stone as a monument and said that “it has heard all of the words of Hashem which He has spoken to us.” Yehoshua understood that one can also speak to a stone and it will hear. He understood that the nature of the new generation is one of conversation rather than coercion.

These two approaches to education also manifest themselves in a remarkable teaching by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 24a), which says:

Rav Oshea says, “What is meant by the pasuk (Zecharia 11:7), which says ‘And I will take two staffs. I will call one pleasantness and I will call the other violence.’ The one called ‘pleasantness’ refers to the sages of Eretz Yisroel, who discuss halacha sweetly with one another. ‘Violence’ refers to the sages of Bavel, who do violence against one another in their discussion of halacha.”

We therefore see from this Gemara that the way of education for the old generation, the generation of exile, Bavel, is violence, force, and coercion. But the way of education in Eretz Yisroel, the way of the new generation, the way of redemption and Moshiach, is one of pleasantness.

For reasons only truly known to Him, Hashem conducts the world in this way. Each generation has its own unique character. Some people may want to rail against this, asking, “Why does it have to be that way?”, “If it worked then, it should work now!” or “That’s our mesorah in education!” They can ask these questions but if they attempt to educate this generation the way the previous generations educated their children, it simply will not work.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Zohar 128a) even said in his time that while in previous generations the main point was strictness and fear of punishment, “For us, the matter is dependent on love.” In our generation too, we see that fear was the modus operendi for prior generations who lived in monarchies and dictatorships. To a large extent this worked. But we now live in democracies, countries in which everyone has a right to his opinion. Now, we communicate with one another by talking things over, with the staff of pleasantness. It goes without saying that we do not turn our houses into democracies, giving our children a vote on all household decisions. There must be authority, limitations, and boundaries. It is difficult to find the correct balance between dialogue with parental authority but we may not ignore the nature of the generation.

A friend of mine attended parent-teacher conferences for his sixth grade son one year. This son gave my friend a lot of aggravation at home, so he expected to hear a similar report from his son’s rebbe. But the rebbe’s report was glowing. After confirming that he and the rebbe were indeed referring to the same boy, my friend told the rebbe that he did not understand why his son acted so different in yeshiva than he did at home.  This rebbe was a baal teshuva from the Midwest with a very sweet, simple approach, and he asked my friend, “Do you every talk with your son?” After thinking for a few moments, he answered that he really hadn’t. He asked his son to do things. He learned with him, He disciplined him. He even told him he was doing a good job once in a while. But he never actually had a conversation with him. The rebbe then suggested that he should talk with his son because he has some very deep thoughts about things. We must educate our children in the context of dialogue, of actually communicating with them.

It is the same thing in the caustic bitter dispute between the Chareidi and the secular elements in Eretz Yisroel today. Both sides largely carry only the “staff of violence” in their dealings with one another. Each side may only skewer each other with the point of a pen, but that is still violence. Certain voices in the secular media condemn the Chareidim as parasites who are a greater threat to Israel than Iran. And some in the Chareidi camp compare anyone who disagrees with them with history’s worst anti-Semites. Neither side is, for the most part, willing to hear out the other side, to have a true conversation. A chassidishe friend of mine says that whenever he travels to Eretz Yisroel, he finds himself in conversations with secular Israelis and they inevitably wind up discussing the Chareidi draft issue. He explains his perspective and they explain theirs and at the end, they usually hear where he is coming from and he understands their perspective. But that can only happen when people engage in a true dialogue.

Persuasion through conversation is the way to bring redemption in this generation. In fact, the Hebrew word Moshiach, משיח, shares the same root as the word “שיחה,” “conversation.” The prophet Yeshaya (11:4) says about Moshiach that “He will smite the land with the rod of his mouth and will put the wicked to death with the breath of his lips.” Using only his mouth, words of dialogue, teaching, conversation, and persuasion, he will turn the wicked around and bring about the ultimate redemption. May we merit to recognize the nature of our generation and education our generation according to its unique path and thereby see the revelation of Moshiach soon in our days.

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devorah said...

Excellent, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this latest shiur from HaRav Weinberg Shlita.... may I add that this new format is much better... It flows without the reader having to mentally stop to change direction when interspersed with the loshon Ha Kodesh... well done as always