Torah Readers Reflections

Footprints in the rock

The Israelites experienced so many positive events in this week's portion. So why did they also complain so much - what was missing in their lives that caused them to complain so much? How does this apply to our own lives?
Dvar Image

Footprints in the rock

Every event can be looked at in several ways. On the one hand, we can look at the things we learned or received from another, and on the other hand, we can look at the emotions someone triggered in us at a certain time. When you read this weeks parasha, at first, you see that a lot of good things happen in it - the splitting of the Red Sea, miracles about water that becomes drinkable, bread that falls from heaven, the observance of the first Shabbat, and more. It looks busy and good.

On the other hand when you read the parasha with the feelings that the Israelites and Moses felt during this time, things look much more "sour". The word “complaint” and variations of that word appear many times during these events. Also the words - fight, attempt, shout, appear more than once.

Psychologist Avraham Maslau describes the "pyramid of needs" that man needs to exist in a happy way. According to the theory, a person is able to turn to the higher aspects of himself - morals, the development of intellectual skills and the creation of a deep social connection, only when the basic aspects are present - water, food and personal security. In this sense, the people of Israel lack the most basic things and therefore, even when great things happen to them and around them, it is difficult for them to comprehend them. They are too immersed in complaints, shouting and are generally in a very bad mood. 

Unfortunately, life in the desert, but also life in general, is built in a way that is not arranged in stages - different things happen to us at the same time, some of them are amazing and some of them undermine the foundations on which we stand. How can you experience the great things that are happening and not immerse yourself only in the basic aspects? It seems that God teaches this lesson to the people of Israel in a short story at the end of the parasha.

From the wilderness of Sin the whole Israelite community continued by stages as יהוה would command. They encamped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.

The people quarreled with Moses. “Give us water to drink,” they said; and Moses replied to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you try יהוה ?”

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

Moses cried out to יהוה, saying, “What shall I do with this people? Before long they will be stoning me!”

Then יהוה said to Moses, “Pass before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel, and take along the rod with which you struck the Nile, and set out.

I will be standing there before you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock and water will issue from it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.(Ex. 17:1-6)

When the people of Israel reach the Rephidim, the water begins to dwindle. The people argued with Moses and asked for water right now. (Not because it is missing now, but because it will be missing soon and this undermines confidence). Moshe reproaches the people and tells them that he is not the correct address for this complaint, but God is and that they should trust him. The situation is getting worse, and now the people are really thirsty. They begin to defy Moses, who in turn shouts to God. God tells Moses to strike the rock and water came out of it. But before that He tells him "I will be standing there before you on the rock at Horeb" - What does this sentence mean? A short and very bold midrash from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's midrash says this:

"I stand there: every place you find traces of human feet... that is where I stand before you"

G-d tells Moses, that when he comes towards the rock - he will see human footprints in the rock, the meaning of the footprints, G-d says that he is already there, ready in advance to take care of water for the people of Israel. I think the midrash came to teach Moses and the elders of Israel, something very important. The Almighty tells them that He foresees them in their time of trouble and when the moment comes, when the need is real, they will receive water. He accompanies them all the time. The escort is not escorted only from above - from a divine perspective, but as it were escorted, like another person who sees the trouble of his friend and therefore the footprints are human footprints.

It suddenly becomes clear that the most significant journey of the people of Israel in the Parsha is a journey of security and connection with God. Even before all the important things, this basic lesson must be passed. This lesson means that when there is security, the worries about the lack of basic needs diminish. This security is not just security provided by G-d as an external savior, but it is a partnership between him and the people of Israel. In this partnership  G-d is a close and loving partner, God the Almighty cares for the people of Israel. This is true not only during the time that the Israelites were in the desert, but throughout all the generations. God lays the foundation very slowly in this week's parasha - through direct messages but also through footprints in the rock.

The next story, after the story of the water coming out of the rock, is the story of the war of Amalek. This is the first story since the Exodus that the people of Israel are actively working - fighting. When the lesson is learned - the nation of Israel moves from a childlike state that expresses helplessness to a mature state, of a deep partnership with God and a war against an enemy that threatens its existence. A war together with God as a loving and watchful partner.


Shabbat Shalom Matan Schneeweiss



Leave a Comment