In the beginning of the Jews sojourn in the Wilderness G-d told Moses to hit a certain rock, and out came water. That source of water lasted for most of the forty years until Miriam passed away, because that miraculous well was in her merit. This time around, G-d told Moses to SPEAK to the rock instead of hitting it, but Moses hit the rock and while the water flowed again, Moses was punished for it.
This is a famous biblical story. OK, maybe not as many know that the rock gave forth water twice, and that the first time Moses was commanded to hit the rock, and the second time to speak to it. People might not be familiar with all that, but its quite common knowledge that Moses was told to speak to the rock and instead he hit the rock, and was punished for it. That part is pretty well known.
This all makes a certain Chassidic Niggun (melody) quite puzzling. “Al HaSelah Hoch Hoch, vayatzu Mayim” which translates to the rhythmic “On the Rock Bang Bang!… out came water” is taken from the prayer service for rain. Chabad sings this song lively and upbeat with energy and increasing tempo. In fact it was one of the songs at the Rebbe’s Simchat Torah Hakafot. Here’s a link to listen to the “Al HaSelah Hach” song on Chabad.org.
But why emphasize and celebrate “hit the rock”? Is that appropriate considering that (on the second time) Moses was not supposed to hit the rock? Why bring it up and dance up a storm about it?
We sang this song and then asked this question at our Cozy-Shabbat table. Thanks to all the students who shared thoughtful answers, based only on the basics of the story, without access to biblical commentaries. We’ll first share students’ answers, and then an in-depth Chassidic insight.
Justin said the song celebrates the result of flowing water. True, Moses shouldn’t have hit the rock. But the Jews got the water anyways. The liveliness of the song shows gratefulness for positive results even when our choices or behaviors aren’t deserving of it. Lianne added that the song highlights the importance of forgiveness. Marc pointed out the while Moses was to be punished for disobeying G-d’s command, the Jewish people still needed the water, and how Moses did or didn’t do it, wasn’t their fault. Raizy spoke of the symbolism of a heart of stone, hard as a rock, that if tapped the right way can give forth life-giving refreshing water. And there were more answers around the table, too.
The whole thing is quite perplexing. Why wouldn’t Moses speak to the rock? Why did he insist on hitting the rock when G-d said it was now time to speak to it? And either way – getting water from a rock is quite the miracle, whether you hit it or speak to it. What’s the significant difference between hitting and speaking to it? There are lots of interesting commentaries with all kinds of answers.
Here’s something different: Moses knew that had he spoken to the rock and it would’ve responded with water, it would look bad for the Jewish People. After all, G-d spoke to them, and they didn’t always respond in kind. He knew G-d wanted him to speak to the rock (because after 40 years of spiritual growth it was time for a higher level miracle), but as a loving leader, his first thoughts were with his people. So he hit the rock.
You find a similar concept at the end of the Torah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe uses this leadership paradigm to highlight what true Jewish leadership ought to be about. In the final words of the Torah, Moses is praised for all the great things he did for Israel. You’d think of things like the Plagues, the Exodus, Splitting the Sea, Mount Sinai… but no, Rashi (based on the Talmud) says this accolade refers to Moses breaking the Tablets. Breaking the tablets!? Is that Moshe’s greatest accomplishment? It may very well be, for it shows his tremendous love and defense of his people, with tremendous personal self-sacrifice. The Jewish people were the bride, G-d was the groom, so the Golden Calf was adultery. But the Tablets were the marriage document, so when Moses saw the Jews’ infidelity he broke the Tablets – the marriage contract. If there’s no marriage, there’s no adultery!
So according to this interpretation, the liveliness of the Chabad Chassidic “Hit the Rock” song may be celebrating the great love for their people that true Jewish leaders have.
When I first posted the question about this song on Twitter, @SandmanEli was quick to respond with this Chassidic insight. That’s what was on my mind. And when we asked the question at our Shabbos table, visiting Rabbi Yossi Piekarski warmly shared the same. It’s almost natural Chabad-speak. The Rebbe instilled this perspective of Jewish leadership by his teaching and personal example.