(Courtesy: Rabbi Zach Truboff)
One of the greatest challenges that every activist faces is how to persuade others to join a cause. No single person can create social change by themselves, but rather one requires the commitment and assistance of others.
The Kedushat Levi (Parshat Chukat s.v. V’Dibartem), Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, describes how this was the very challenge that Moshe faced in Parshat Chukat. After the death of Miriam, the Jewish people are left without water. Angry and upset, the people confront Moshe and Aaron, proclaiming that it would have been better for them to have remained in Egypt rather than to die in the desert. When faced with this provocation, Moshe and Aaron turn to God. God instructs Moshe that he must speak to the rock in order to bring forth water. Moshe gathers the people. At that moment, he is forced to decide how best to convince the people to have faith in the mission, the cause that the Jewish people were brought out of Egypt to fulfill.
The Kedushat Levi explains that in those moments a person has two options. The first option is that one can rebuke one’s fellow by pointing out the wrongness of his ways and embarrass him until he recognizes that he has done wrong. The second option, however, is to empower the other person and remind him of the great capabilities and strengths that he has within himself. In this case, Moshe chose the first approach. He embarrassed the people and chose to address them as “rebels” (Bemidbar 20:10). According to the Kedushat Levi, it was because of this sin, this missed opportunity, that Moshe was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel.
Because Moshe chose to speak harshly to the people, the Kedushat Levi writes that Moshe had no choice but to hit the rock. When we speak harshly to others, the Kedushat Levi argues, the only way we will be able to move them is by force. If Moshe had instead chosen to speak to the people with kind words, he would have been able to merely speak to the rock in order to bring forth water.
When we turn to others to advocate for a cause that we feel passionate about, treat them with respect. We should emphasize the great potential that lies within each individual. By taking this approach, our words can have a profound effect on others, no less powerful than bringing forth water from a stone.