"Saving Lives"

By Alan Lee, London

We read in this week's Torah reading a famous story, that of the Jewish people afraid they would die of thirst in the desert, crying out for water (Num. 20:3-5). Moses and Aaron prayed (verse 6), whereupon G-d tells Moses (verse 8),

"Take the staff and assemble the congregation, 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 the congregation and their livestock to drink."

However Moses does not [only] speak to the rock, but [also] hits it (verses 10-11 with Rashi's explanations), and after that water began to flow.

According to many commentators, this 'disobedience' is the reason Moses did not merit to enter into the promised land (verse 12). The usual view taken is that Moses could not contain himself at the Jewish people's requests and he acted out of anger.

Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe of blessed memory, was one of the foremost leaders of his generation. He suffered terribly in the holocaust, losing his wife and all of his 11 children.

He somehow found the strength to carry on. He was perhaps best known for his kindness to all and the building of the Laniado-Sanz Hospital in Netanya. It functions at the highest standards of humanity, ethics and medical practice, a living memorial. [See #244 in our weekly Chasidic story mailings and posts-ed.]

Although 250 members of his family died, miraculously he survived the camps and against all odds, remained a beacon of light and optimism for all those around him.

He was part of a work force of 3,000 Jews that the Germans took from Birkenau in 1944 to clean the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Russians were closing in and the Germans didn't want to leave behind any evidence for them.

The work was backbreaking, soul destroying, almost non-stop. Escape was out of the question.

One blisteringly hot morning, the Germans told all the workers to line up in rows of three and begin marching fast.

The heat was unbearable. There was no food or water. The Jews could barely stand no less walk, but it made no difference to the Germans. Dogs and Nazis were barking everywhere.

Anyone that stepped out of line was immediately shot. It was awful when they passed a river or a brook. The thirst was so intense that the sight of water simply drove some people crazy and, unable to hold themselves back, they moved towards the water and were riddled with bullets before everyone.

The Rabbi passed the word that no one should step out of line and assured them there would be water.

When the second day of marching came and water still didn't arrive, the complaints, moaning and thirst became unbearable. Many felt it was better to die quickly from a gunshot then slowly from thirst.

The Rebbe promised that in the evening he personally guarantees water for everyone. Near sunset the Nazis told everyone to lie down in the road to sleep. It was impossible to march at night because it would be too easy for people to escape in the darkness, but there was still no water.

The people came to him and complained "Where is the water? People are dying! You said that we would have water!"

The Rebbe answered, "Everyone has a spoon (the Germans gave each prisoner a crude spoon to eat the 'soup' that was sometimes given out). Tell each person to take his spoon and dig in the ground where he is and they will find water."

It was summer, the road was totally dry surrounded by open fields and there was no trace of water as far as the eye could see. It was totally impossible that there would be water in this wasteland.

However as people lay on their sides, they took out their spoons and listlessly scraped the dirt where they were, and lo and behold, a miracle!! Each one found water! Everyone's spoons filled with water and they survived. This is a well documented and true story [see #761 in our weekly Chasidic story mailings and posts, and the Editor's Note at the end of this article].

Let's return to the beginning of the parsha.

Chief Rabbi of England Jonathan Sachs explains another event preceded Moses' crisis, the death of his sister Miriam. This and the absence of water for the community were connected. It was in Miriam's merit, our Rabbis say, that the Israelites had water during the 40 desert years. A well, Miriam's well, accompanied them on their travels, and when Miriam died, the water ceased.

It was not simply the lack of water or the people's complaining that led Moses to lose control of his emotions, but rather his own deep grief. The Israelites may have lost their water, but Moses had lost his sister, who had watched over him as a child. At the same time Moses had such empathy for the people he couldn't bear to see them suffer. He was in anguish over the people's plight as they were dying of thirst. Maybe Moses' impatience should be seen as an act of kindness.

Next week (Tammuz 9 on the Jewish calendar) is the yahrzeit of the Klausenberg Rebbe, who passed away in 1994 [5754-on the Shabbat of the same week that the Lubavitcher Rebbe departed-ed]. Just like Moses he acted with love and saved many lives. We can learn from both of them.

As we approach the three weeks leading to Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple and many bad things for the Jewish people of the centuries, we need to recall the cause of Tisha B'Av. This was that people didn't act kindly to each other and acted with real nastiness emphasising their differences, not shared values or destiny.

We and our religious and secular leaders in both Israel and abroad, need remember to act with love, kindness, respect and understanding to one another.



[Alan Lee is a London based real estate investor and long term friend of Ascent.]

Editor's note:
When I heard this story for the first time-in my own house!-on a Saturday night in early 5739 (Autumn 1978), the teller, a nephew of one of the survivors of the group, related in the name of his uncle that the Klausenburger said, "My friends, you have merited to partake of water from Miriam's Well!"

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