Jonathan's Little Corner : Torah : Parshat Pinchas

Water bad, Water good.

   Dvar torah, parshat Pinchas 5759, 3 July 1999.
   by Jonathan Baker

This parsha is made up of odd bits that look like they belong elsewhere. If you want we can talk about it this afternoon, in lieu of the rabbi's chassidus class.

Two of the bits are God announcing Moshe's death, followed almost immediately (separated by the appointment of Joshua, which is the natural consequence of the end of Moshe's term of office) by the list of daily and musaf offerings. When two apparently disparate things are jammed together like this, there's often a reason to be found. The common theme I found is water.

Let's look a little deeper. Moshe's death is announced by God as a consequence of his having hit the rock, when God asked him to speak to the rock. God had asked him to speak to the rock, so that God's name would be sanctified among the people of Israel, and they would not need to whine about not having water after the death of Miriam. When Moshe hit the rock instead, that was a miracle the Jews had already seen, so it didn't make much of an impression on them. As punishment for that, God told Moshe that he would not enter the Land with the rest of Israel.

As for the sacrifices, in the section at the end of the parsha dealing with the sacrifices for Sukkot, there are three puzzling words. Libations of wine are associated explicitly with each day's sacrifice. But the word for "its libation" is "niscah." On day 2, it says "nisceihem", on day 6 "nisacheiha", on day 7, "mishpatam" where it should be singular by the plain grammar.

These are a hint, according to the RYbBatera, Taanit 2b, this extra "mem", "yud", and "mem", to "mayim", water - this is the Torah source for the additional libation of water. This water was
associated with the Simchat Beit haShoevah, the Ceremony of Water-Drawing, about which the Mishna says, "one who has not seen this has not known true joy." (Sukkah 5:1) - full of singing and dancing.

What is the connection between these two water-passages? It seems to me, although I haven't found it in sources, that the extra mitzvot of water-libation and of Simchat Beit haShoevah, are like a tikkun, a correction for the mistake of Moshe.

What is a tikkun in the context of a sin? When we sin, what are the consequences? Something happens to someone, be it ourselves or someone else. We may be punished for the sin, but we also have to make up for what we did. Corrective action must be taken. On a personal level, the tikkun is teshuvah, repentance, behavior modification so that we do not sin again- that is the final part of teshuvah, when we are faced with the same situation, we do not commit the sin again. But what about crimes with victims? While the theif must repay the owner of the stolen object, and he may have a fine to pay as punishment, there is also tikkun to be done. The theif must do teshuvah - the personal tikkun, and the owner will take steps to guard his belongings better, install a burglar alarm, whatever - let's call that the victim's tikkun. I don't know if there's an official term for it.

How does that model fit our parsha? I submit that the water-libation (nisuch hamayim) and the Simchat Beit haShoevah *are* the tikkun for am Yisrael for Moshe's having hit the rock. Moshe's mistake caused God's name *not* to be sanctified at the right time. The PEOPLE missed out on sanctifying God's name! So God instituted a corrective action, an extra pair of mitzvot, which cause His name to be sanctified in the midst of the people assembled for the holiday of Sukkot. Essentially He threw an annual party, a time of fun and rejoicing, so that the Am would rejoice in His name, and thus sanctify It and be thankful to Him.

What lessons can we draw from this association?

1) During these Three Weeks, with the recent antisemitic incidents in our thoughts - the synagogues burned in Sacramento, the thirteen Jews arrested as spies in Iran - our thoughts must turn to teshuvah, to correcting our actions, our thoughts, our attitudes. Only by national teshuvah, creating ahavat Yisrael, eliminating the internecine rivalries, can we hope to bring about the restoration of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, because people from one group refused to associate with people from another group. We must accept that all Jews are one People, regardless of differing philosophies. We must practice Ahavat Chinam, causeless love of one another, in order to make a tikkun for the sins of our ancestors. As it says, "every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if they themselves destroyed it."

2) Furthermore, we must think about the effects of our actions on other people. Moshe Rabbenu apparently did not think about the effect that his striking the rock, rather than talking to it, would have on the Jewish people of his day. So the people had to make a tikkun, a correction for that. When we do teshuvah, we must reflect on how our mistakes affect others, and try to make up for that. To take a well-known story: a Jew asked the rabbi how to do teshuvah for lashon hara, evil speech, which affects the listener who is not supposed to hear it as much as the teller who is not supposed to say it. The rabbi told him to take a pillow, go out into the town square, rip the pillow open, and let the feathers fly out. Then he should go and pick up all the feathers.

We may not always know how much our actions and our mistakes affect others. To this end Pirke Avos warns, "Hachamim, hizaharu bedivreichem" "Sages, be careful what you say." Even sages must be careful not to make mistakes - they are human as well as we. We must make up for our mistakes, as well as repent of them.

Let us all strive to create a national teshuvah, a national tikkun, so that Moshiach will come and the Temple will be rebuilt, speedily, speedily in our days, amen.