Talk is Cheap

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Chukat

Talk is Cheap

“Speak out in acts; the time for words has passed, and only deeds will suffice.” -John Greenleaf Whittier

The people of Israel are thirsty and restless. They complain and demand water. Moses is worried. God tells him to take his staff and talk to the rock. Moses strikes the rock. God punishes Moses by prohibiting him from entering the land of Israel. This is one of the more confusing episodes in the Bible.

Why did God punish Moses? There are as many answers as there are Bible commentaries. Ibn Ezra chimes in with his own theory. What does Moses do right before he strikes the rock? He gives a speech. It is a curt, sharp speech, biting and sarcastic in its tone. It is highly unusual for Moses, though not unwarranted, given the excessive complaints of the people. In Numbers 20:10 Moses asks:

“Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?”

Moses doesn’t wait for an answer. He hits the rock (twice) and water gushes forth.

Ibn Ezra (on Numbers 20:8) claims that the sin of Moses was his speech. He didn’t need a preamble. He didn’t need to announce his plans in what was a negative, derogatory comment. He just needed to act. He needed to follow God’s instructions and provide the people of Israel with water.

It is true that they may have deserved a reprimand and that before performing yet another miracle, this may have seemed like an opportune time. But according to Ibn Ezra he should have acted first and spoken later.

May we always remember that talk is cheap and that actions always speak louder than words.

Shabbat Shalom,



In memory of Leon Lempert and Solomon Gerstenfeld. Men of action.

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