Sometimes we outgrow our mitzvos.

While there is a wide range of opinions regarding the exact sin of Moshe Rabbeinu at Mei M’rivah, most of us were taught that Moshe extracted water by hitting the rock, instead of speaking to it as Hashem had commanded (Rashi, BaMidbar 20:11-12).

While bringing water from a boulder is miraculous, irrespective of how it is achieved, there was a critical difference between these two methods. By striking the rock with a stick, Moshe allowed for the possibility that he was procuring water in a natural manner, by breaking the cover off an underground spring. Had Moshe produced the water through speech, it would have been more obvious to the nation that they were witnessing a miracle from Hashem. Moshe’s error, therefore, was his failure to help the people see that it was Hashem providing for them (Rabbeinu Bachya).

Many commentators challenge this classic approach by pointing to a similar incident in Parshas B’Shalach (Sh’mos 17:1-7). Nearly 40 years earlier, B’nei Yisrael had also complained for water, and on that occasion, Hashem had explicitly instructed Moshe to produce water by hitting a rock. If so, why was it so terrible for Moshe to “naturalize” the wellspring in Chukas, when it had been perfectly acceptable to do so in B’Shalach?

An insightful answer is shared in the name of the Alter of Slabodka. Back in B’Shalach, the Jewish people were in the infant stages of their relationship with Hashem. True, they had witnessed the miracles of Egypt and the Sea, but they had also just been released from generations of torture and impurity, which had weakened their capacity for faith in Hashem. At that stage, it was understandable for a parched nation to demand water in an immediate way, without needing to focus on the Source of that sustenance.

By contrast, after four decades in the desert – surrounded by Clouds of Glory, nourished by manna and the well of Miriam – B’nei Yisrael should have grown significantly in their emunah. They were now expected to exhibit complete trust in Hashem. As thirsty as they were, the people should have waited patiently so Moshe could make it abundantly clear that this water was not from himself, but from Hashem. Instead, they screamed and pressured Moshe to bring forth water in the old, uninspired way, and Moshe acquiesced. He failed to hold them to a higher standard than the one they had occupied 40 years earlier.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l often spoke of the importance of growing in avodas Hashem, and not remaining religiously immature. For example, he lamented that many people recite brachos as adults no differently than the way they did as children. As a youngster, blessings are often chanted mindlessly or rushed hurriedly, which is to be expected of one in the young stages of frum development. The tragedy, he continued, is when kids grow into adults, yet maintain their childish mentality of mitzvos.

Rav Yaakov likened it to a child-size pair of tzitzis. For the three-year-old, it fits well, and the kid looks adorable. However, as the child begins to grow, an upgrade is expected. The longer he stays inside the small tzitzis (a.k.a. talis “katan”), the more obvious that it does not fit. If, by adulthood, he still insists on wearing the same-old kiddie-tzitzis, it is clear that something is seriously wrong (from The Laws of B’rachos by Rabbi Binyamin Forst, p. 19).

B’nei Yisrael should have progressed in their bitachon over their 40 years in the desert, and we are expected to grow in our mitzvah observance as we mature. If our avodas Hashem feels stunted and incongruent with our stage of life, then it is time to upgrade to a larger size. Learning the meaning of that paragraph in davening we never understood, reciting blessings more slowly, and studying the laws of Shabbos are some of the ways we can increase our sophistication in the mitzvos that we have been doing since childhood. And yes, we should make sure that our tzitzis are not too small either.

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant Rabbi at the Young Israel of West Hempstead, while also pursuing a PsyD in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.