Parashat Hukat- Seeing the Inner Goodness
The story of Meh Meriba, when Moshe and Aharon were punished for striking a rock in the desert to produce water for Beneh Yisrael, has baffled commentators for centuries. It seems that Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to produce water by speaking to the rock, but Moshe struck the rock, instead, and for this he and Aharon were severely punished, as G-d decreed that they would die before Beneh Yisrael entered the Land of Israel. Many questions arise regarding this incident, and many different interpretations have been offered.
One explanation could be suggested in light of an insight of the Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) into a mysterious remark in the Gemara. In Masechet Sanhedrin, the Gemara teaches that those who ridicule the Rabbis, asking, "What do they do for us?" have no share in the next world. The Hafetz Haim explained that if one denies the benefit provided by Rabbis through their learning and good deeds, then they forfeit these benefits. If we appreciate the great merit yielded by righteous figures, then we access that merit, which helps us earn a large share in the next world despite our shortcomings. But if somebody does not appreciate this merit, and thinks that the Sadikim are just wasting their time, Heaven forbid, then he cannot access it, and so he risks losing his share of the next world.
Hashem instructed Moshe and Aharon to produce water through their words of prayer. Moshe realized, however, that only those who placed their trust in the religious leaders could benefit from these prayers. Those who denied the power of Moshe and Aharon would, naturally, be denied the benefits yielded through their merits. Moshe and Aharon therefore exclaimed, "Shim’u Na Ha’morim, Ha’min Ha’sela Ha’zeh Nosi Lachem Mayim" – "Listen, O rebellious ones, will we produce water for you from this rock?!" (20:10). They turned to the "Morim," those who denied the value of Moshe and Aharon’s pious actions, and said, "You don’t believe in us – so do you think we can produce water for you?!" If they did not believe that Moshe and Aharon provided them with any benefit, then they forfeited all such benefit, and so they could not drink the water which Moshe and Aharon would produce.
G-d was angry at Moshe and Aharon, however, because they failed to see the inner spark of goodness within even the "Morim." True, there were those among the nation who were "rebellious," who did not trust them, who fought with them and disrespected them. But this was only the exterior. Inside, they were pure and righteous. Moshe and Aharon were wrong for assuming that these "Morim" could not benefit from the water they would produce – because even the "Morim" had a sacred spark within them which was capable of being ignited.
We must never give up on anyone. Every Jew, even if we do not see it, has a spark of greatness within him or her. We must believe and try to appreciate the inner goodness within every person, and do what we can to help bring that inner goodness out into the open.