Study Guide: Two Ends of a Stick

Text: Shemot 17:3-5

3 And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moshe, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moshe cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” 5 And the LORD said to Moshe, “Pass before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. And your rod with which you struck the river you shall take in your hand and you shall go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”

  • Do you consider the people’s complaint legitimate? Did God consider it legitimate? What proof supports your answer?
  • Why does Moshe think that the people are about to stone him? Do you think that they would have stoned him? Why? 
  • Why is Moshe told to take some elders along?
  • Why do you think that Moshe is told to take the rod with which he struck the river?

Commentary: Rashi on Shemot 17:5

And your rod with which you struck the river—Why are the words “with which you struck the river” included? For the Israelites had said of the rod that it was intended only for punishment: by it Pharaoh and the Egyptians had been stricken with many plagues in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds. Therefore, it is stated here: with which you struck the river—they shall see now that it is also intended for good.

  • Rashi (following the midrash) noticed that the description of the rod as the one that struck the river is not relevant for the current story. So why is it included in the verse?
  • Try to think of other items that take on a positive or threatening meaning in people’s lives, despite being merely an object. What is the message of using the same object for opposite results?

Commentary: Ramban on Shemot 17:5

…He mentioned the striking of the river, but He did not say, “and the rod which was turned to a serpent”… to call attention to the wonder; for back then the rod turned the waters into blood, thus removing from them their nature, and now the rod brought water into a flinty rock, thus doing things of contrary effect.

  • What other descriptive terms could have been used to describe this rod? Why are they not used? 
  • What is the wonder, according to the Ramban?

See more: Parashat Beshalach

Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here


  • Vered Hollander-Goldfarb teaches Tanach and Medieval Commentators at the Conservative Yeshiva and is a regular contributor to Torah Sparks, FJC’s weekly message on the weekly Torah portion. She received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Tanach from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and studied at Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before making aliyah, Vered taught at Ramaz School and Stern College in New York.

  • The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a hub in the heart of Jerusalem for transformative encounters with Torah and Israel powered by a commitment to intellectual honesty, egalitarian values, spiritual growth, and lifelong engagement in the Jewish world.

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