And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: ‘Listen now, you rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?’ (Bamidbar 20:10)
Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was known as a defending “angel” for klal Yisrael, for he was always able to find the good in people, even in what seemed like the most incriminating of actions. A story that shows this is of a man who left shul in the middle of davening to change the wheel of his wagon. Being that it was in the middle of davening, he was obviously still wearing tefillin. Reb Levi Yitzchak commented, “Hashem look at your people! Even when they are doing such mundane things as changing a wheel, they are wearing their tefillin!”
We understand that this is not just an expression of his creative mind, rather Rav Levi Yitzchak was trying to create a new reality by turning the negative into something positive. This week I saw an idea from him, which underscores this philosophy, and I would like to share it with you.
There is a dispute between Rashi and the Ramban as to what was the sin of “The Waters of Strife” – the incident in this week’s parsha where Moshe hit the rock. Rashi says the sin was that Moshe actually hit the rock, and Ramban says it was that he addressed the bnei Yisrael as “rebels”. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak explains that there is actually no dispute between Rashi and the Ramban – just that each is starting from a different point of reference.
There are situations where we must give rebuke to our fellow man. There are two ways in which this can be done: One through positive encouragement, and the other by underlining the person’s faults. The verse in Mishlei (9:8) states “Do not give rebuke to a fool, for he will hate you. Give rebuke to a wise man for he will love you.” The Shla famously explains this verse as follows: When you give rebuke, do not say “You are a fool” for the person will hate you and not accept your rebuke. Instead say “You are a wise man, I am sure this must have been a mistake” and he will love you because you give him confidence and he will try to improve himself.
Reb Levi Yitzchak similarly explains that the sin of Moshe Rabbeinu was that he did not give rebuke in a positive way. We know that the entire world exists to provide klal Yisrael with its needs. When klal Yisrael is on a high level, the whole of Creation takes pride in its job. When klal Yisrael does not perform as it should, it takes an extra measure to get the world to do their forced obligation. Hence, when klal Yisrael sinned at the rock and Moshe Rabbeinu rebuked them with a negative word by calling them “rebels”, the rest of the Creation – meaning the rock itself – did not want to respond properly and therefore had to be hit in order to get it to respond. If Moshe Rabbeinu would have instead spoken about the positive side of klal Yisrael, it would not have been necessary to cajole the rock into bringing forth its waters.
We find too that the Angels said about klal Yisrael “Why should the sea split for the Jews? They also worship idols!” Indeed, the sea itself did not want to split until Hashem promised it payment at a later date. This may have been a response to the perception that was prevalent about the low level of klal Yisrael at that time. Whereas when Yaakov Avinu, who was a known as a righteous person, wanted to lie down on Har Moriah, the rocks miraculously joined together, without the need to be prodded.
I think that we can apply Reb Levi Yitzchak’s approach not only to how Hashem will treat klal Yisrael, but to how others will respond to our requests or comments . If you make someone feel good, possibly they will look up to you, and see your words in a positive light and act accordingly. Whereas if you treat someone in a negative manner, you will have to ‘hit them’ (like the rock) in order to get them to act. Which would you prefer?