Our Parsha contains the mysterious events that transpired at Mei Meriva. After Miriam dies, the people are complaining again- this time because there is no water. Hashem tells Moshe to take the staff – and speak to the rock. Instead Moshe hits the rock, and water miraculously flows forth. While the people are happy- Hashem is angry; angry because Moshe did not do as he was told (and Aharon is faulted too- for not stopping Moshe?) Moshe and Aharon are punished harshly- they are denied entry into the Promised Land. One of the mysteries surrounding this episode is the initial Divine command: What’s the deal with talking to a rock? Of all possible manners to miraculously provide water at this juncture, why does God decide that it should come about as a result of speaking to a stone?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explained that this Divine command was meant to convey an important lesson for us all: Sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a rock. That our message is falling on deaf ears. Nonetheless we should appreciate the value in speaking up in these situations, for even when we speak to a rock water may flow forth- ie there may be some beneficial outcome.
You see, even when we’re talking to a rock, our words can still strengthen our own resolve. A UCLA psychology study suggests that labeling one’s emotions at the precise moment one is confronting a fear, can make you less afraid and less anxious. 88 people who have a fear of spiders were divided into 4 groups and exposed to spiders- with the following instructions:
One group was told to express their feelings of anxiety and fear before touching the spider. A second group was told to use words that helped to make the situation less threatening, such as “this little spider can’t harm me”- the typical approach used for de-sensitization. A third group was told to say something irrelevant to the spider situation and the fourth group was instructed to say nothing. The group that had the most significant decrease in their fear of spiders was the group that put into words what it was they were feeling- to say it as they felt it, not as they wished they would see things.
The verb to pray in Hebrew, L’hitpallel, is a reflexive verb. It means that the impact of the action is felt by the person doing the action. Just like L’hitlabesh means to get oneself dressed. Tefillah is an important exercise in self-reflection: When we verbalize words of prayer we are confronted with questions such as, “Do I believe what I am saying?” “Are my values consistent with those I am expressing in my tefilot- and if not, how do I feel about that?”
The same thing occurs when we speak to others. When we talk to/ yell at our kids to be more attentive or respectful- even if they are not listening to what we are saying, we need to be listening to what we are saying and be asking ourselves, “Are we modeling the behaviors and values that we’d like to see in our children, or friends, or co-workers?” Or are we in some way contributing to the behaviors and attitudes that we are verbally protesting against?
Hashem told Moshe to speak to the rock and it will flow forth water. From this story we learn that Hashem challenges us to speak up, even if it feels like we’re talking to a rock. For even if the rock cannot hear us, we need to hear ourselves. If we appreciate the importance of speaking up, even to a rock, may Hashem in turn hear our voices and bless our efforts.