The following was delivered by Rav Daniel Glanz in Yeshiva Ohr Yerushalayim in 5766 (2006):
In this weeks first parsha, we have the incident of the Mei Meriva, where, instead of talking, Moshe and Aharon mistakenly try to draw water from a rock by hitting it instead. As a result, they are punished and are not allowed to enter into Eretz Yisrael. Why though, we have to ask, were Moshe and Aharon punished so severely for such a seemingly minor transgression? Furthermore, why were Moshe and Aharon given this nissayon (test) in the first place? In order to answer this we have to first go back to the pesukim themselves.
It is interesting to note that the story of the Mei Meriva begins with the death of Miriam. Rashi explains that Miriam’s death caused the Be’er Miriam, the well of Miriam, and therefore Bnai Yisrael’s source of water, to stop. This resulted in Klal Yisrael complaining, which, in turn, leads directly to the incident where Moshe and Aharon hit the rock. Which, of course, we already know is what then prevented Moshe and Aharon from being able to enter Eretz Yisrael.
But one thing we do not know in all of this is why Miriam herself did not merit entering Eretz Yisrael?
Much like Moshe and Aharon with the Mei Meriva, the Chumash records Miriam’s foremost transgression as the Lashon Hara she told Aharon, about their brother, Moshe. We all know that the entire Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, and all of Klal Yisrael exiled, as a result of Bnai Yisrael’s hatred and Lashon Hara. This lesson seems to imply that Miriam also could have lost her right to Eretz Yisrael as a result of her personal sin in Lashon Hara. But if this is true, then why do Moshe and Aharon seem to get tested (and subsequently punished) as a result of Miriam? It is one thing that Miriam was denied entrance to Eretz Yisrael, but why does the Chumash so closely link this with Moshe and Aharon’s ultimate test with the Mei Meriva?
We are often taught that one of the reasons why nissyonot, or tests, are given is as a result of Ayin Hara. With this understanding, we can now begin to piece together the different parts of this story. Miriam sinned with her Lashon Hara and, as a result, was denied entrance into Eretz Yisrael. Though Moshe and Aharon were not held primarily responsible for this incident, as the subjects through which Miriam lost her right to Eretz Yisrael, (an Ayin Hara was set upon them by the heavenly prosecution that) it was determined that their worthiness to enter Eretz Yisrael should also be tested. Which is why we now realize it wasn’t happenstance that Miriam’s death immediately precedes, and directly results, in the test that challenged Moshe and Aharon’s rights to enter Eretz Yisrael as well!
Consequently, there is another inyan that arises from this whole episode as well: If Moshe was trying to serve Hashem at his utmost, and this caused Miriam to say Lashon Hara about him, are we therefore wholly obligated to hide aspects of our Avodas Hashem so that others shouldn’t say Lashon Hara about us? The Mesilas Yesharim explains that although one is not required to hide his Shmiras Hamitzvos and Avodas Hashem out of fear of what others will say, nonetheless, when one practices an extreme form of Perishus (separation: a term used by the Mesilas Yesharim to describe a high level of personal service to Hashem where one separates even from things that are permitted to all of Klal Yisrael), one must make extreme efforts to do so only in private so that others shouldn’t be confused and commit a transgression such as Lashon Hara. Rabbi Nachaman of Breslov was famous for this. As a child he would fast for weeks straight; immerse himself in bitter cold Mikvas; but he would only do this in secret. In the public eye he would act like a normal child, playing all the silly games that children play.
Although it is certain that Moshe took precautions in order to ensure that his physical separation from his wife not be discovered, apparently it wasn’t enough as Miriam was able to find out. And while keeping things from family is always a task, nonetheless, on Moshe’s high level he was expected to take extra precaution so as not to be discovered by anyone.
Therefore, as we stated before, an Ayin Hara was created by Miriam’s death which resulted in Moshe and Aharon also being tested to determine whether they deserved to enter Eretz Yisrael. Miriam died, the water stopped, the people complained. This leads to Hashem instructing Moshe and Aharon to speak to the rock in order to sanctify Hashem’s name through their speech. Instead, Moshe and Aharon hit the rock, failing to sanctify Hashem’s name through their speech and resulting in their punishment.
This also explains why in Hashem’s decree that Moshe and Aharon not enter Eretz Yisrael He uses an oath that leaves no opportunity or option for prayer and supplication (Rashi). If Miriam had failed with her speech and not been permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael, then Moshe and Aharon who also now failed with their speech, would not be given the opportunity to appease Hashem through the words of Tefilla and win back that right either.
And finally, just one more rayah (proof) for those who enjoy arranging letters and codes. We find Miriam’s name several times throughout this area of the Parsha, once again suggesting that what happened with Miriam was the motivation for this test. First in Perek 20 Pasuk 10 the Torah says “Shimu Nah Hamorim.” Rashi struggles to determine the meaning of the word Hamorim. If you look at the word in Hebrew it spells Miriam. In the next Pasuk it says, “Vayorem Moshe” speaking about when Moshe actually lifted his hands to hit the rock. If you take the middle letters Yud, Raish, Mem, Mem, you once again end up with the name Miriam. Also in Pasuk 13 in the words Mei Meriva -the title and essence of the entire topic at hand- you get none else than the name Miriam as well.
Obviously, the power and detriment of Lashon Hara is not lost on all of this. May this week be the impetus for all of us to renew our resolve in this grave aveira and may that therefore merit the hastening of the Mashiach speedily in our days.