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Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Chukas (Numbers 19:1-22:1) Water Quality Not Detected by a Microscope

[Introduction: Where did millions of Jewish men and women get water for themselves and their children (and their flocks) during their 40 year desert sojourn? They were nourished by the miraculous manna, which fell daily, but their water came as a result of another miracle; the well of Miriam. The entire nation was “watered” in the merit of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. This remarkable woman had displayed exceptional rationality, boldness, and kindness throughout her life. When she died, the Well of Miriam ceased giving water.
One of the desert stops was Kadaish; it was the first time they were waterless.
The people had no water, so they assembled against Moses and Aaron…and said, “If only we had died with the death of our brothers before the G-d. Why have you brought (us) to this desert so that we and our livestock should die? Why have you taken us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place; it is not a place for seeds, or for fig trees, grapevines, or pomegranate trees, and there is no water to drink. (Numbers 20:2-5)
What would be their new source of water? G-d instructed Moses;
Take the staff and assemble the people, 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 those assembled and their livestock to drink… Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and abundant water gushed forth, and the assembly and their livestock drank. (20:8,11)
A miracle was to occur; Moses was instructed to “speak to the rock… so that it will give forth its water” but he “raised his hand and struck the rock.” What was the result? “…abundant water gushed forth.” This is unexpected; if Moses didn’t do as he was commanded, why did a miracle follow? The answer give a perspective in evaluating miracles.
Quality vs. quantity is one of the great distinctions in virtually every area of life. When a family sits down together for dinner but everyone is looking at their phones, there’s virtually no quality time, even if the ‘meal’ lasts a long time. Similarly, if one owns a small piece of the Empire State Building, it is worth more than acres of land in Wyoming. The same holds true for blessings. The Almighty’s greatest gift when granting food is not to give abundant produce, it is to make the produce itself higher quality. This elevated form of blessing is referred to at the end of Leviticus (25:19), which describes the blessings that will ensue if the people remain faithful to G-d and His instructions. The blessing is that the ‘Land will yield its fruit,’ which is explained by Rashi to mean that one need only eat a small amount of produce and (s)he will be satiated; the one who eats it “receives a blessing inside of you.” It is a bigger blessing to have the ability to eat a small amount of food and be satiated rather than to have a large yield of produce but have to eat it in greater quantity to be satiated. A Bumper Crop means that there will be more plowing, sowing, reaping, and all other labors involved with harvesting and preparing the food. This abundance is not nearly as advantageous as a smaller crop in which the food has the intrinsic ability to satiate with less. In that scenario, you need less food and therefore don’t have to spend as much time planting, harvesting, and preparing it.
We can now begin to understand the miracle that was supposed to be with the water; it was meant to be special water, in which the smallest quantity would have the ability to quench one’s thirst and satiate. Had things happened as they should have, then the very act of drinking would have presented the opportunity for a spiritual experience due to its unique ability. Anyone who has spent time in a hot climate knows that if you are planning on spending a lot of time outside, you better drink a lot of water; if not, you will dehydrate. Imagine yourself spending the day taking a long hike with breathtaking views—and the only thing you need to do to hydrate yourself is drink two or three shot glasses of water. No purchasing water before and after your trip, and no schlepping it around for the hours you will spend going up and down mountains.
When Moses was originally instructed to take water from the rock, G-d did not mention “abundant water,” just “water” because the blessing at that stage was one of quality, not quantity. It would not have been necessary to have a lot of water because a small amount would have had the ability to satiate. However, because Moses did not do as instructed (i.e. he hit the rock), the bringing forth of water did not contain the blessing for which it was intended. In the end, when the water did finally come out, the verse testifies that “abundant water came out,” indicating a shift in the blessing from quality to quantity.
We all receive numerous blessings throughout our lives, as well as every day of our lives, but many people don’t have the spiritual wherewithal to enjoy them. How is it that some celebrities are able obtain the wealth and fame they dreamt of, yet they fall prey to substance abuse, depression, and other maladies and often find it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships? Why is it that people eat entire meals but feel the need to eat more? Some call it the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation; the annoying tendency humans have to get used to the things that once made them happy. But it’s more than that; people feel empty inside and therefore their life does not have meaning. People with wonderful spouses complain about them, as well as the other blessing in their lives. The blessing is there, but it is not satiating the person.
In our Sabbath prayers we ask G-d to “satiate us with Your goodness.” We need help appreciating what we have. We might have a lot of good in our lives but not feel satisfied. People try yoga, go to the Himalayas, and seek other means to quiet the gnawing they feel in their inner selves but have they ever given Judaism a chance? Have they ever known the serene feeling resulting from a meaningful personal prayer or being part of a meaningful service? If you aren’t getting anything out of it, perhaps you need to change the way you do it or where you do it. We pray to feel satiated physically, emotionally, and spiritually because we understand that these things don’t come naturally. One must work hard for them and at times fight for them. Having good people or possessions won’t make one happy but being satisfied will.
May we all know the wonderful feeling of being satiated and have the wisdom and courage to fight for it when we don’t.

Good Shabbos

(Source: Mechech Chochmah)