In Parsha Chukat, Rashi (BeMidbar 20:12) says that, if Moshe would have spoken to the rock instead of hitting it, there would have been a big lesson to the Israelites.

The people would have made a kal v'chomer: if the rock, which does not need livelihood and is not subject to reward and punishment, does the will of G-d, then certainly we should also.

Since when does a rock have intelligence and free will? Isn't it forced to do whatever it does?

Can you learn a similar lesson from your computer, which follows the laws of physics G-d instituted?

  • In keeping with the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that everything a person sees and experiences is a lesson the service of Hashem, you could say Siri is teaching that lesson every day.
    – Yishai
    Jun 26, 2014 at 14:01
  • 2
    What happened to Gadol HaMetzuveh VeOseh?
    – Double AA
    Jun 26, 2014 at 14:42
  • @robev There are at least 3 different parts to dealing with this old question. 1: What is actually being said in BeMidbar 19:12 & after understanding the posuk correctly what is Rashi saying about it? 2: What are the implications and assumptions in the paragraph about the rock? This is really the core of Rashi's comment. 3: The actual question from the OP, which is only about whether a computer falls under the same definition and category as a rock? (It does not.) None of the answers provided below actually deal with the question from the OP. Please clarify what you want answered. Jun 17, 2021 at 14:41
  • @YaacovDeane Since when does a rock have intelligence and free will? Isn't it forced to do whatever it does? Rsshi's kal vachomer seems flawed because it compares rocks to humans. An integral difference between the two, precluding any Kal vachomer is that humans have free will, unlike rocks
    – robev
    Jun 17, 2021 at 18:46
  • @robev If you read the Rashi, he is clearly saying that the words being used in the Torah here need to be understood correctly. What are "Eyes of the Congregation"? What is "This Rock"? The "eyes of the Congregation" are its leaders, meaning Moshe & Aharon. The transgression is theirs alone. They are equated with the "congregation" & the flock only goes where it is led, to the slaughter or otherwise. Understanding what "this Rock" means is also vital for proper comprehension of the text. It is not talking about stones on the ground. That is what Rashi is pointing out. Jun 17, 2021 at 19:16

6 Answers 6


You may be "over analyzing" Rashi"s Kal Vachomer, here.

First, translate what Rashi said in the context of the word he is explaining as well as the entire verse. Rashi is explaining the word, "lehakdisheini" - "To sanctify me". In other words, Moshe hit the rock. God said to Moshe SPEAK to the rock. So, Moshe did NOT do God's will, and therefore did not sanctify God's name. Had Moshe spoken to the rock, both Moshe and the rock would have been performing God's will. The people would have said, that just as the rock "responded" to Moshe who spoke to it because God commanded Moshe to speak to the rock, so to should we learn the importance of obeying God's will...

Supplemental to this explanation, view the Sifsei Chachamim marked letter Heh on the verse immediately before this one.

Summarizing what Sifsei Chachamim says - Moshe asked, "Can we bring water from this rock?" - Sifsei Chachamim emphasizes the word THIS, implying that all rocks have the ability to bring forth water. But, Moshe doubted that the specific rock that God told him to speak to would be the one that could do it. By hitting the rock, Moshe didn't prove anything and didn't sanctify God because people thought, "Oh, this is no different than any rock that brings forth water." But had Moshe spoken to the rock, they would have said, "Oh! This specific rock brought forth water because it was listening to God's commandment to bring water, not just because it had the water in it and it would have done so, anyway."


Rashi has no problem attributing intellectual capacity and filtering the command of Hashem to the earth and to the grass.

Thus the idea would appear to be that the rock didn't make any calculations and try to rationalize or justify the Mitzvah - it did what it was told. (The intellect likely meaning coming from its spiritual source).

Free will isn't attributed to something by this. Free will is not about intelligence (although intelligence may be a component of free will). An intelligence makes decisions based on its knowledge and capacity. If its experience and reasoning dictate a certain result, and it follows it, that was not an exercise in free choice. Free choice means, for example, choosing between following your intellectual conclusion and your emotional desire, doing something beyond where a natural reaction (even an intellectual natural reaction) would take you. (This explanation of free choice I heard from Rabbi Elimelech Tzviebel.)


R' Shimon Schwab writes in Maayan Beis HaSho'eva Beshalach 15:8 that part of many miracles is that inanimate objects and animals acquire free-will. He said this in discussing the water wanting to collapse on the Jewish people as they passed through the sea on their way out of Egypt. Another example given was the kal vachomer which Chananya, Misha'el, and Azarya inferred from the frogs jumping into the ovens in Egypt (Pesachim 53b).

The same could be applied to this miracle - part of the miracle would be the rock being imbued with free-will and the capacity to not perform the desired act.


See Medrash Rabbah here


"אם בחקותי תלכו" הה"ד (תהלים קיט, נט): "חשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדתיך" אמר דוד רבש"ע בכל יום ויום הייתי מחשב ואומר למקום פלוני ולבית דירה פלונית אני הולך והיו רגלי מביאות אותי לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות הה"ד "ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך"

Dovid said, "Master of the universe, every day I thought to go to this place or to that house, but my feet would bring me to the beis ha'medrash and to the beit ha'kenesset."

It is evident from this medrash that if one sanctifies one's body sufficiently, then the body itself will tend to mitzva observance, though the body does not have free will.

(A similar proof is brought from that which the donkey of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa did not eat grain from which terumah had not been separated (אבות דר׳ נתן פרק ח׳). The donkey could not have picked up these vibes from the intelligence of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, only from the inclinations of his body.)

If so we can understand that the lesson from Moshe speaking to the rock should have been that the benei yisrael should have understood that even the parts of themselves that do not have intelligence and bechirah should naturally will to fulfill the will of Hashem.

Or in other words, even the chomer aspect of the benei yisrael should be niskadesh with the teshukah to observe the Torah.

  • Is this your explanation, or did you see it somewhere?
    – robev
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:37
  • @robev It is based on a Maharal and a schmooze from Rabbi Mordechai Miller.
    – pcoz
    Jun 20, 2021 at 0:15

Here is a paragraph from a longer discussion in the introduction to the לבוש מרדרכי:

(My own translation) שו"ת לבוש מרדכי הקדמה ותוכן העניינים
The question is asked: since prior to The Sin Man had no evil inclination or independent will, how did he end up defying God's will and eating from the tree of knowledge, unless there was some logical error with which his great intellect misunderstood God’s command and due to is great wisdom made deep considerations [concluding] that it was permissible for him to eat [from the tree.] But this would be inconceivable unless he had some ounce of lack of humility which was the root from which arrogance could develop, which would be located in the “I”, which could lead to many considerations. ונשאלת השאלה, מכיון שקודם החטא לא היה באדם שום יצר הרע ושום רצון עצמי, איך הגיע לידי כך להמרות את פי ה' ולאכול מעץ הדעת, אלא ע"כ שהיה בזה טעות שכלי, ששכלו הגדול טעה בציווי ה', ובגודל חכמתו עשה חשבונות עמוקים שמותר לו לאכול, ולא יתכן זה אלא א"כ קיננה בשכלו נקודה קטנה של חסרון תכלית הענווה, שממנה השורש להתחלת גבול הגאווה, שמוצאה בנקודה של ה'אני', העלולה להביא לידי טעויות של חשבונות רבים.
And this is the intent of [the Rabbi’s statement] on the verse (Num 20:12) “since you did not believe in me to sanctify me” regarding Moshe’s striking of the rock, that the lack of sanctification was because if they spoke to the rock and it let out [water] I (God) would’ve been sanctified before the congregation, and they would say “If this rock which neither speaks nor hears and needs no support fulfills God’s word, surely we” (Rashi ibid.) ולזה מכוון מאמרם ז"ל, על הכתוב (במדבר; כ, יב), 'יען אשר לא האמנתם בי להקדישני', הנאמר בהכאת הסלע של משה רבינו, שמניעת הקידוש היתה מפני, שאילו דברתם אל הסלע והוציא הייתי מקודש לעיני העדה, ואומרים מה סלע זה שאינו מדבר ואינו שומע ואינו צריך לפרנסה מקיים דיבורו של מקום, קל וחומר אנו (רש"י שם).
Seemingly the comparison is not understandable: Does the rock have any sentience of choice and free will? Is it relevant to speak of a rock fulfilling God’s word? If speaking were to cause water to flow this could only happen by God’s will (without choice or input from the rock)! But in light of our above comments this comparison is perfectly understandable. In truth since the entire creation was by God’s word it should necessitate that God’s will would constantly act upon Man automatically as it does with inanimate objects and plants. However, it is God’s intent regarding the purpose of creation to give man free will to choose between good and evil, and to repay him in accordance with his deeds. Therefore, if talking to the rock resulted in it giving forth water they would make such a comparison: If the rock which is inanimate and has been given no choice nor any obligation or commandment and despite this it was God’s will that he should enact his will upon (through) it, (then) we that were created in the highest level—the image of God—and were given the power of [free] will and choice and were commanded with God’s commandments is it not logical that we should use this ability of ours to choose and reach the highest realization—to nullify our independent will in the spirit of “and what are we” and we should be purified to the point that God will act though us automatically via the divine will as he necessarily acts with all of creation. ולכאורה הקל וחומר בלתי מובן הוא, וכי יש איזה דעה של רצון ובחירה לסלע, וכי שייך לומר עליו שמקיים דיבורו של מקום, הרי אילו היה מוציא המים ע"י הדיבור היה בא זה רק מפני רצון ה'; אבל עפ"י הנ"ל מובן שפיר כוונת הק"ו, כי באמת עפ"י יצירת העולם שהכל נברא במאמרו, היה צריך להיות שרצון ה' יפעל תמיד אצל האדם מאליו כמו שפועל אצל הדומם והצומח, אלא שרצון ה' בתכלית הבריאה היה לתת לאדם בחירה לבחור בין טוב לרע ולשלם לו כפרי מעלליו, ולכן אילו היו מדברים אל הסלע והיה מוציא את מימיו, היו נושיאם לעצמם ק"ו, דמה הסלע שהוא דומם ולא ניתן בידו שום בחירה ורצון עצמי ואין עליו שום חיובי מצוות, בכל זאת היתה מאת ה' שיפעל עליו רצונו מאליו, אנו שנבראנו במדרגה עליונה של צלם אלקים, וניתן בנו כח של רצון ובחירה ונצטוינו בציווי ה', אינו דין שנשתמש בכחנו זה לבחור ולהגיע לידי ההכרה העליונה האמיתית לבטל את כל עצמיות רצוננו בבחינה של 'ואנחנו מה', שנזדכך עד כדי כך שיפעל בנו מאליו אך ורק הרצון האלקי, כמו שפועל בכל הבריאה בהכרח

I don't have a source for this explanation, but will posit it nonetheless. Perhaps RaSh"Y is saying that, because we were born with free will, it would be a great feat for us to overcome our inclinations to carry out HaShem's Will effectively as angels (or rocks).

Correct, had we been created without free will, we would have no choice but to carry out HaShem's Will. But, we were created with free will, such that overcoming our inclinations to return to such simple Divine Service is indeed a monstrous feat.

  • 1
    That would seem to be the opposite of a kal vachomer.
    – msh210
    Jun 26, 2014 at 15:17

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