External Vs. Internal Challenges

There are two ways a person, community, or nation can be compromised: external or internal threats. Both are dangerous; but when they originate from the outside, you cannot always see them coming, whereas internal challenges are often foreseeable.

The two Parshiyot we read this week, Chukat and Balak, contain within them mishaps. In Chukat, we read of the Hitting of the Rock, that caused Moshe and Aharon not to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. In Balak, we read of the existential threat caused by Balak hiring Balaam to curse the Jewish people.                

In Chukat, G-d commands Moshe to Speak to the Rock so it will bring forth water.

Numbers 20:7-8

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ קַ֣ח אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֗ה וְהַקְהֵ֤ל אֶת־הָעֵדָה֙ אַתָּה֙ וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּ֧ם אֶל־הַסֶּ֛לַע לְעֵינֵיהֶ֖ם וְנָתַ֣ן מֵימָ֑יו וְהוֹצֵאתָ֨ לָהֶ֥ם מַ֙יִם֙ מִן־הַסֶּ֔לַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ֥ אֶת־הָעֵדָ֖ה וְאֶת־בְּעִירָֽם׃ 

 G-d spoke to Moses, saying, “You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes speak to the rock to yield its water. Thus, you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”

Yet Moshe does not comply:

Numbers 20:11

וַיָּ֨רֶם מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־יָד֗וֹ וַיַּ֧ךְ אֶת־הַסֶּ֛לַע בְּמַטֵּ֖הוּ פַּעֲמָ֑יִם וַיֵּצְאוּ֙ מַ֣יִם רַבִּ֔ים וַתֵּ֥שְׁתְּ הָעֵדָ֖ה וּבְעִירָֽם: {ס}}    

And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.

The commentators go to great lengths to explain why Moshe chooses to hit the rock instead of speaking to it. However, whatever the reason is, the end result was due to his lack of compliance to G-d’s command, he is not permitted to enter the Land of Israel.

In Balak, King Balak hires the sorcerer Balaam to undo the Israelites by cursing them. Three times Balaam tries to destroy the Israelites, and each time G-d miraculously transforms his curses to blessings. As a matter of fact, the first thing a Jew recites upon entering a synagogue is Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov-How goodly are your tents Jacob… Ironically, 

Numbers 24:5

מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ 

How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel.


While life is filled with goodness and blessings, it can also be fraught with challenges and threats. The question is what can we do about them?

For the challenges that we cannot prepare for, we can pray for G-d’s protection, and then simply deal with them when they arise. For challenges that arise because of our own misdoing, we can and should take preventive measures to protect ourselves and others from any danger or difficulty.

For example: is there anything we could have done to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19? We would not have even known what to pray for before it arrived. However, once the outbreak occurred defensive and preventive measures were taken.

As we head into next week and celebrate Independence Day, lots of fireworks will be launched. Great caution must be taken to maintain appropriate safety. Too many preventable injuries take place annually due to carelessness and a lack of preparation.

As we advance towards the summer months, may we merit sharing good tidings and not experience external or internal challenges in our lives, families, and nation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein

Community Scholar in Residence