Thursday, August 6, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ekev - Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12–11:25 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

 “And it shall be, because you hear these judgments, and keep and do them, even YHVH your Elohim will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers” (italics added)), is the opening verse of Parashat Ekev. “Because” (here) is “ekev,” from the root a.k.v (ayin, kof, bet/vet) the primary meaning of which is “heel”. In other words, taking the right step (of hearing and obeying) will result in the desired consequences. Our forefather Ya’acov was so named because he was born holding his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26).  He literally came in the footsteps of his brother, and thus his name, which means to “follow”, perfectly matched the birth condition. His, however, was not the kind of following of the faithful disciple, who walks in the footsteps of his master. The image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel grabbing’ refers to hindering or trapping someone, such as we see in the following examples: “Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse’s heels” (Gen. 49:17 italics added); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9 italics added); “They mark my steps [heels]” (Ps. 56:6).  In the following words of Psalm 41:9, we find an allusion to Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend... which did eat of my bread has lifted his heel against me” (italics added).  This type of follower steals quietly behind the one he follows with a crafty intent (as was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Indeed, from the same root of “heel” and “follow”(a.k.v.), stem words like “crafty, cunning, and deceptive”, as we see, for instance, in Yirmiyahu (Jeramiah) 9:4: “... surely every brother deals craftily [akov ya’akov]” (italics added).  When Esav (Esau) was startled by his younger brother’s cunning, in B’resheet (Genesis) 27:34, 36, “he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ‘… Is he not rightly named, Ya’acov? For he has supplanted (“akav”) me...?’” (italics added).  The prophet Hoshe’a (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya’acov”) to their progenitor: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel” (Hos. 12:3, italics added).  In the wake of this ‘birth mark’, Ya’acov (the man and the nation) remained true to his (and their) nature.  


“In the wake of” or “as a result of” - in short “because” - is “ekev”, such as is employed in our Parasha. Quite often YHVH declares: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because (ekev) you have obeyed my voice“(Gen. 22:18 italics added). David answered the prophet Na’tan (Nathan), who told him a parable following his sin with Bat-Sheva (Bathsheba), and said: “He must make restitution for the lamb, because [ekev] he did this thing and had no compassion” (2nd Sam.12:6 italics added). Thus, this little “ekev” - “because” - becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice depends, much like the heel in the physical body. And just as this section of the Parasha started with, “And it shall be, because [EKEV] you hear these judgments, and keep and do them…” it also ends with: “So you shall perish; because [EKEV] you would not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim…” (Deut. 8:20).


Parashat Ekev features two major themes, which alternate throughout: the physical conditions of the Land and the connectedness of these conditions to the people’s obedience to YHVH. The second of these themes, is in the form of reflections on Yisrael’s rebelliousness during their wilderness journey. The recounting of the latter is for the purpose of illustrating sin and rebellion, and issuing warnings in face of the new circumstances that Yisrael is about to face.


In 7:12-13, “keeping the judgments”, as we saw above, guarantees a promise of love, blessing, and multiplication, a promise which is built into the two-sided covenant (the other side being the curse incurred by disobedience to the “judgments”, as we shall see next week).  “Covenant” is “b’reet”, of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), forming the verb “barot”, with its primary meaning being to “separate out the parts” [1], thus rendering the covenant as a special agreement with a special and set apart people. “Blessings” – “bracha” is primarily “growth, or unhindered prosperity”. Its root, (bet, resh, kaf), is also the root for “berech”, which is “knee”.  This all-important word, to “bless” or “blessing", is surprisingly not attached to the imagery of a more regal hand-stretching gesture, or to the mouth which is also an instrument of blessing, but rather to the humble action of kneeling.  Neither is there a special word assigned to Elohim's blessings (so as to distinguish it from blessings conferred by men).


The words uttered in 7:12, 13 are echoed in 8:13: “And your herds and your flocks will multiply, and your silver and your gold will have multiplied [root of “rav”], and all that you have is multiplied [“rav”]…” Moreover, the land YHVH promises to Yisrael is a land “in which you shall eat bread without poverty – miskenot” (8:9). “Misken” (of the same root,, samech, kaf/chaf, noon) is a “poor person, one to be pitied (e.g. Ecc. 9:15, 16). Shmot (Exodus) 1:11 tells us that the storage cities that Yisrael built for Par’oh were “arey miskenot”.  Ironically, the Hebrews themselves were very “miskenim” (plural of “misken” - poor and to be pitied) when they built those “miskenot” cities.  Now, not only will they be free from poverty and want, they will also not have to labor for someone else.  In fact, last week we read in 6:10, 11 about their future dwelling places: “…to give to you great and good cities, which you have not built, and houses full of every good thing which you have not filled…” There will be so much provision that they will not even need to erect for themselves “arey miskenot”, cities of storage, as storing up for the future will not be called for.  However, this plenty will require “watchfulness” lest they forget YHVH (ref. 8:11), who “took you out of Egypt… who led you through the wilderness”, and “who fed you” (ref. vs. 14, 15, 16).  There is always the danger of saying in one’s heart: “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (v. 17), while it is YHVH “who gives to you power to get wealth” (v. 18). Wealth is a translation of “cha’yil”. Remember “not by might, not by power…” in Z’chariah 4:6? There “cha’yil” is translated “might” while “power” is “ko’ach”.  Thus, it is only YHVH’s might – cha’yil - which is able to grant all this wealth. It is therefore paramount that you should “remember YHVH your Elohim, for He gives to you power – “ko’ach” - to “do well” and in this case implying wealth – “chayil” (Deut. 8:18).


The above exhortation stresses remembering YHVH, as forgetfulness will lead to idolatry which, in turn, will bring about destruction (ref. 8:19, 20). The wilderness, therefore, was to serve as a place of refinement, humbling and trial (ref. 8:2, 3, 16) in order to obviate just this kind of outcome.  Some of the blessings (in 7:13) will entail “the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock”.  Here “increase” is “sh’gar”- “cast or throw” in Aramaic, hence “that which comes forth from the womb”. [2] “Oxen” in this context is “alafim”, which also means “thousands” (“elef” singular).  We already encountered this term in Parashat Chayey Sarah (in Gen. 24:60) where we found that its root, a.l.f, is also shared with “aluf” which means “prince or chief” and with “alef”, the name of the first letter of the alphabet. The prominence of “alef” makes it by implication also of great numerical value – hence “elef” - a “thousand”.  Thus, the oxen mentioned here allude to great wealth. The “wealth of the flock” is the rare “a’shtarot” (used in this way only in Dvarim) of the root (ayin, shin, resh), related to “osher” – “wealth” and to “eser”, which is the figure “ten” (and is also connected to Ashtaroth, the goddess of fertility).


In Shmot (Exodus) 23:27, 28 (in Parashat Mishpatim), we read the following promise: “…and I will confound all the people among whom you come. And I will give the neck of your enemies to you. And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you” (italics added). Here, in 7:20 we read again: “And YHVH your Elohim shall send the hornets among them, until the ones who are left perish, even those who hide themselves from your face” (italics added), and again in verse 23: “And YHVH your Elohim shall…. confuse them into great confusion until they are destroyed” (literal translation). Both “confound” in Shmot 23:28 and “confusion” here in 7:23 are of the root h.m.m (hey, mem, mem) meaning to “make noise, confuse or discomfort” (and is an onomatopoeic word, just like the English “hum”). This, then, in not only a promise for the future; but is also a glimpse into the past recalling that YHVH had “confused – “va’yaham” - the camp of the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:24), during their exodus out of the “house of bondage”.


In spite of all the material wealth and the increase promised in the beginning of the Parasha, and later in 8:7-10, sandwiched in between these two passages, in 8:3, is the following passage: “And He has humbled you, and caused you to hunger, and caused you to eat the manna, which you had not known, and your fathers had not known, in order to cause you to know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH” (italics added). All material goods, whether plentifully or scantily supplied, are the outcome of a “word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH”.  One way or another He ‘calls the shots’.  Moreover, it is not these provisions, again whether in great or small quantities, which determine life or the quality thereof but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH”.  When Yeshua cited this very scripture, in a situation somewhat similar to that of Yisrael, which like Him was tried (according to 8:2, 3, 16) in the wilderness, He passed the test and overcame his trial.


The word “bread” - “lechem” - is many times translated “food”, as indeed it is a generic term for man’s sustenance. The root of “lechem” is (lamed, chet, mem), with the last two consonants - ch.m - making up the word “cha-m,” meaning “hot” or “warm”.  Only by baking the dough in a hot oven will it turn into the desired edible substance.  Hence, heat, energy and effort are all part of the bread-making process. Another noun that shares the root is “milchama”, which is “war”, as does the verb tofight, or struggle for one’s existence or survival” – “lachom”.  The closeness of these two terms is well illustrated by two verses in Mishley (Proverbs) 23. Verse 1 says: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, look carefully at what is before you”.  The Hebrew for “eat” reads here “lilchom”, which literally means “to fight”, but because of’s dual meaning it is possible to read the verb as “eat” or more literally “to partake of bread”.  Verse 6 of the same chapter says: “Do not eat the bread of one who has an evil eye, and do not desire his delicacies”. Here “eat” is “tilcham”, which again could be read as “fight”.  We may infer, therefore, that if man were to live solely by the bread of his own making (or imagine that he does), he would have to fight and strive for it. Thus, once again, Zechariah 4:6 “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says YHVH of Hosts”, proves to be very applicable.


The circumstances awaiting the Israelites in the land will differ vastly from those prevailing in the desert. Yet just as until now every detail pertaining to their lives and needs was determined by “every word proceeding out of the mouth of YHVH”, so will it continue to be the case in their new home. But for this principle to stay afloat, the people must keep and guard His every word and live accordingly. The 8:7-10 passage is regarded “as the classic description of the fertility and other wonderful qualities of the holy land. But we must not ignore its other implication. The Torah sings the praises of the land to emphasize too the moral dangers and pitfalls that such gifts might bring with them. Although the life of the Israelites in the Promised Land would no longer be dependent on water being extracted from the rock or on manna dropping from heaven, nevertheless even the normal rainfall and all the natural gifts of the land were similarly derived from the Creator and not in virtue of their own power and might of their hand”.[3]


Chapter 9 continues to center on YHVH’s promises of “consuming the enemies” in the land, and also recounts Yisrael’s golden calf rebellion and the need that arose then to inscribe anew the two tablets of the Torah.  It opens with the famous words: “Hear oh Yisrael…” implying that Yisrael is to hear and obey, as “hearing the voice…” is a Hebrew idiom for obeying, which is evident from the previous verse (the last one in chapter 8): “…You shall perish; because [EKEV] you did not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim” (8:20, emphasis added). In 9:6, 13 references are made to Yisrael’s “stiff neck”, or literally “hard nape”. Having a “stiff neck” implies a literal inflexibility, which does not allow one to turn one’s face (panim - “face” - from the root p.n.h which is also the root for the verb “turn”, while “pina” is “corner”).  Thus, the proverbial stiffness of the neck speaks of a head that is facing in one direction only, and of a person who is headstrong and unable to turn (from his old ways).  We have already noted in the past that “panim” - “face” - stemming from the verb “to turn”, exposes the essential nature of YHVH’s approach toward us, and that is His relational nature to which we are to respond. Yisrael’s “stiffness” and “hardness” of neck and uncircumcised heart are addressed in the following: “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your neck any more” (10:16).  “Such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it [that is, of the exhortation], and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it”. [4]  In chapter 30:6 there is a promise that YHVH will circumcise their heart, so that they may love Him, thus laying the foundations for the new covenant of the heart, in the course of which the latter becomes the ‘parchment’ on which the Torah is inscribed (ref. Jer. 31:33).


The Parasha ends with another look at the land - “a land which YHVH your Elohim cares for; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to its end” [5] (11:12). “Care for” is “doresh”, with its literal meaning being to “seek”. YHVH is very intent in His constant surveillance of the land, “from the beginning of the year to the end…” meaning that He is involved in every part of the natural cycle to which this land is subject.  And as pointed above, Yisrael’s conduct toward Him will also have its ramifications on the land (e.g. 11:13 – 17).  These words of YHVH were to be inscribed on the hearts and are also to be for a sign on frontlets – “totafot” – between the eyes and on the hand (ref. 11:18).  One of the explanations for “totafot” is that it is a derivative of the Egyptian word for a hair ornament called “tataf”. [6]


Above we noted that multiplication (of the root “rav”) of both people and livestock is mentioned several times in our Parasha.  In summation of the Parasha we read: “And you shall teach them [YHVH’s commands] to your sons by speaking of them as you sit in your house, and as you go in the way, and as you lie down, and as you rise up. And you shall write them on the side posts of your house, and on your gates, that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied [“yirbu”, again of the root “rav”], and the days of your sons in the land which YHVH has sworn to your fathers, to give to them, as the days of the heavens over the earth” (11:19-21). The  “heaven and earth”, according to last week’s Parashat Va’etchanan (4:26), are YHVH’s witnesses to His dealings with the people of His choice, both here and also when He proclaims a new covenant in Yimiyahu (Jeremiah 31:32, 37).


1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem. New York.

2 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, PeabodyMass. 1979.

3 New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

4 Online Bible, Gill Commentary.

5 The spelling of the word used here for “beginning,” “resheet”, is irregular.  This spelling possibly hints at “ree’sh”, which is poverty (ref. Parashot Matot/ Masa’ey), since the beginning of the year in the month of Aviv occurs at the end of the winter dormancy.

6 Chumash Dvarim with Daat Mikrah comentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.



As we noted above the root e.k.v’s primary meaning is “heel”. This time we will learn to make use of our “Hebrew heel”.  The modern word for “soldier” stems from “chayil”, a noun used in our Parasha as “wealth” (although more often than not, in the Tanach, it means “strength” or “might”, or “doing well”). “Wealth” - “osher (the commonly used Hebrew word) – and “blessing” – b’racha – are often connected. We will learn how to say in Hebrew an excerpt of verse 22 in Proverbs (Mishley) 10. What is definitely not a blessing - is “war”. “War” is “milchama”, which stems from the adjective “cham” – “hot”, as does the noun “lechem” – “bread” as we noted already above (also using the example of Proverbs 23:1 & 6).


The heel of the soldier

Ha’akev shel ha’cha’yal


The heels of the soldiers

Ha’akevim shel ha’cha’ya’lim


The blessing of YHVH will make rich (Prov. 10:22) (lit. The blessing of YHVH, she [that is the blessing], shall make rich, as “blessing” in Hebrew is in feminine gender)

Birkat YHVH he ta’ashir 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’etchanan – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 3:23 – 7:11 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

 If there is one term that typifies the book of D'varim, it is "transition" - or "avor" in Hebrew, stemming from the root. e.v.r, (ayin, vet/bet, resh) meaning to "traverse, cross over, pass by or through, transgress, get angry/cross, other side, for the sake of and fords, or passageway," being also the root for the word “Hebrew”.  This term, with some of those derivatives, shows up many times in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is why we will follow it not only there, but also throughout the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy). This excursion will also provide an opportunity to observe, once again, patterns of the Hebrew mindset and the compactness of the language, as well as the mutual effect of thought and language on each other. We will see how “avor” lends D’varim its special character, and in turn how it expresses the calling of the People of Yisrael.


In Sh'mot (Exodus) the Hebrews passed over from one state of existence (slavery) to another (freedom and redemption) as well as to a new geographical location, by crossing the Sea of Reeds. Here, in Dvarim, they are about to experience another crossing. This time it is the Yarden, which is to become the passageway that will lead them to the land promised them by YHVH. They will, once again, go through a change of status, ceasing to be nomads. In the past we have noted that "Hebrews"- "Ivrim" - are those who are destined for transitions of one form or another. This group of people is seen here (and throughout Scripture) fulfilling this very destiny, already alluded to by the name of their progenitor Ever (Eber, Gen. 11:14,15) mentioned five generations before Avraham, whose name they bore.  However, nowhere is the "passing" or "crossing" – designated by e.v.r - more evident than in D'varim, where the term is used in several connotations forming, as it were, a series of milestones that enable us to follow the Israelites through their journeys and transitions as depicted in this book.


Already in Dvarim’s opening verse we see Moshe addressing "all Israel on the side of the JordanEver ha'Yarden" (1:1 italics added). Ever (vowel sounds like in “essence”) is "the other side", thus rendering the land on the Yarden's eastern shore, "Ever haYarden".  It was also at "Ever ha'Yarden" where Moshe "began to explain the Torah" (1:5). Sometime later Yehoshua (Joshua) reminds the Israelites of another "ever" -  the place where their forefathers came from, saying: "Thus says YHVH the Elohim of Israel: `Your fathers Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side [ever] of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side [ever] of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac'" (Josh. 24:2,3 italics and emphases added).


In recounting the wilderness journey and its adventures, Moshe says, "We came through [a'va'rnu] the nations which you passed by [a'va'rtem]… "(Deut. 29:16 italics added). About these nations, he made earlier comments, recalling YHVH’s words to him: "You are passing [ovrim] by the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau" (2:4).  And as to the actual event: "And we passed [va'na'vor] and turned beyond our brother the sons of Esau… and we passed [va'na'vor] by way of the Wilderness of Moab" (2:8). “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over [avarnu] the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as YHVH had sworn to them" (2:14). Although the wording here appears to be recounting technical details, it captures the tragedy that the Israelites brought upon themselves - the passing on of an entire generation. Preceding the crossing of this river (Zered), YHVH exhorted the Israelites: “Now rise up, and go over [e’e’vru] the river Zered! And we went over [va’na’avor] the river Zered” (2:13, italics added).


The next “crossing over" [o-ver in Hebrew] (2:18) was through the territory of Moav and Ammon, that according to YHVH's word was not to be trampled. But the command to "cross [e’e’vru]" the River Arnon, was different! The land of Sichon, the Amorite king, was to come under Yisrael's dominion. The Amorites ignored the message, "Let me pass through [e'ebra] your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink; only let me pass through [e'ebra] on foot, just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross [e'evor] the Jordan to the land which YHVH our Elohim is giving us" (2:27,28 italics added). Instead, "Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through [ha'a'virenu]" (v. 30 italics added). Thus, the land of the Amorites was conquered. A similar fate awaited Og the king of Bashan, whose land was also conquered by the Israelites. Moshe recalls: "We took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were on this side of the Jordan [Ever haYarden], from the River Arnon to Mount Hermon" (3:8 italics added).


This was also the land requested by the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, who had to meet one condition: "All you men of valor shall cross over [ta'avru] armed before your brethren, the children of Israel" (3:18 italics added), in order to help them take control of the Promised Land. Moshe continues, promising to Yehoshua: "YHVH will do to all the kingdoms through which you pass [over]" (v. 21), what He had done to the former kingdoms”.


In addition to the above promise, there is an even greater one (preceded by the words "Sh'ma Yisrael - Hear O Israel" in 9:1): "Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over [ha'over] before you as a consuming fire" (9:3 italics added). And moreover, "YHVH your Elohim Himself crosses over [over] before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over [over] before you, just as YHVH has said" (31:3 italic added). The "crossing over [ovrim] to possess" or "inherit" the land is also an inseparable part of the description of the Land itself, as everything about its conditions constitutes a major change-over and transition from the setting of the desert (for details see 11:10 -12).


And while Moshe was thus preparing the nation, which he had so greatly nurtured and for whom he had been willing to give up his life, he did not conceal from them and from posterity the sad fact that he had "pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying: ‘O my Adonai YHVH, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand… I pray, let me cross over [e'ebra] and see the good land beyond [ever] the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But YHVH was angry [va'yita'ber] with me on your account, and would not listen to me" (3:23-26 italics added). Yes, "angry" in this context is also made up of the root ayin, vet/bet, resh! Thus, there is more than one way to 'cross over'. ‘Crossing over' to the 'wrong side' and 'crossing' YHVH's will, will incur His anger (“evrah”).


Moshe continues to relate his plight, as pronounced by YHVH: "Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; Behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over [ta'avor] this Jordan. But command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over [ya'avor] before this people…" (3: 27,28 italics added). Just before Moshe's death on Mount Nevo (Nebo), called here “Avarim” (32:49) - the Mount of Crossing - he is once again reminded by his Elohim, "I have caused you to see it [the land] with your eyes, but you shall not cross over [ta'avor] there" (34:4 italics added). In Psalm 106:32 this story is repeated: “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes [ba’a’vu’ram]” (italics added). The singular form “(ba)avu’r,”  literally means “one who has been caused to pass over”.  Thus, even a common preposition such as “for someone’s sake” is rooted in e.v.r – i.e. “crossing or passing over” - pointing to the centrality of this term and to an active force, or agent, outside of one’s self who, as this preposition shows, acts as the Prime Cause.


In our text the covenant and the commandments are not 'passed over' either.  In his discourse, Moshe elaborates extensively on these issues. YHVH made another covenant with the Children of Yisrael, "in the land of Moab besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb… that you may enter [le'ov'recha] into covenant with YHVH your Elohim" (Deut. 29:1, 12 italics added). Thus, in “entering” this covenant they were literally "crossing" into it. "Transgressing" YHVH's commandments, according to 26:13 is also referred to as "crossing". Some of these commandments are: "When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged [ya'avor] with any business…" (24:5 italics added), and "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through [ma'avir] the fire…" (18:10 italics added). "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond [meh’ever] the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over [ya'avor] the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it" (30:11-14 italics added). According to these words, it appears that fulfilling Elohim's Word does not necessarily require a physical crossing or passing over; it is simply a matter of turning inwardly, to that which had already been deposited there by the Almighty (see Rom. 8:11).


Finally, "And it shall be, on the day when you [plural] cross over [ta'avru] the Jordan to the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over [be'ovre'cha], that you may enter the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you [plural] have crossed over [be'ovre'chem] the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today…" (27:2-4 italics added). Thus, the "crossing over" is to be marked by stones that were to be a testimony of a genuine "crossing over" and a “change over” undertaken by the Hebrews, the 'People of Transition'!


The root e.v.r, however, is also being applied to the enemies of Yisrael. Prior to the actual crossing, Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho (Jericho). These two were pursued by men who themselves had to cross the Yarden’s "fords”. These “fords” are “ma’a’barot,” literally, “that which enables passage” (ref. Josh. 2:7).


Interestingly, the Hebrew translation for Hebrews 6:20, speaking about the Place of the Presence (behind the veil), states that Yeshua has “gone over” (in Hebrew - ‘o’ver’) there for us, as a forerunner.


In closing, let us pause briefly on “va’etchanan”, the title of our Parasha, which takes us back to its opening verse (3:23) where Moshe pleads with YHVH to let him cross the Yarden. “And I pleaded or implored…” – etchanan – is of the root ch.n.n (chet, noon, noon), which means to “show favor or be gracious”, while “chen” (chet, noon) is “grace” (e.g. Zech. 4:7, 12:10). Thus, he who pleads with, and implores YHVH knows he is invoking His grace, cognizant of the fact that even the pleading itself is linked to YHVH’s compassion and favor active in the one who is pleading with expectancy.


Note: In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are placed in an ark called “teiva”.  When the representative of the congregation who prays on their behalf stands before the ark, he too is said to be “passing [over] before the teiva”.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


Many of the Hebrew words which we encounter in the Tanach are not used in Modern Hebrew, while others are still in use, but differently than in the scriptures. Let us take a look at a few of the variations of the common root ayin, bet, resh in its contemporary usage.


I am moving (away) from here

Ani o’ver mi’poh (m.)

Ani o’veret mi’poh (f.)


It is forbidden to transgress the law (literally, forbidden to transgress/pass over the law)

Asur la’avor al ha’chok


Over the sea

Meh’e’ver la’yam


Parents do much for their children

(literally, parents do much for the children theirs)

Horim osim harbeh avur haye’ladim she’la’hem

(ha’ye’ladim she’lo – the children his

ha’ye’ladim she’la – the children hers)






Friday, July 24, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Dvarim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 1 – 3:22 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Dvarim” is the book of Deuteronomy and lends its name to our Parasha. “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan…” (1:1).D’varim” (singular - “davar”), of the root d.v/b.r which is also the root for “midbar” that we encountered in the opening Parasha of the book of Bamidbar - Numbers - refers to “words”. Thus, the names of the books of Bamidbar and Dvarim (as well as their respective contents) are connected by the root d.v.r, alluding to the Word (“davar”) spoken in the desert (“midbar”). Dvarim is also known as “Mishneh Torah”, mentioned in Dvarim 17:18 as part of the instructions for a future monarch. This term suggests copying, since “mishneh” originates with the root sh.n.h, meaning to “repeat” (and hence copy). However, “mishneh” also means “secondary” (with “two” – “sh’na’yim” - sharing the same root, thus being related to “second”). This may indicate that the book at hand is a “secondary Torah”, as it is a kind of synopsis of the three previous tomes (not including B’resheet).

In 1:5 we read: “On the other side of the Jordan Moses began explaining this law”, but more literally it says that Moshe was “willing to undertake” (“ho’eel” of the root y.a.l, yod, alef, lamed) to expoundba’er - the Torah”, thus summing up the essence of this fifth book of the Pentateuch. Referring to this summary as… “expounding the Torah” lends (once again) a broader meaning to this term.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sheds more light on “ho’eel”: “The primary meaning of this root is ‘to make a volitional decision to commence a given activity…’  This volitional decision to begin an act clearly indicates the function of one’s mind to initiate… The verb concentrates on the volitional element rather than upon emotional or motivational factors. It stresses the voluntary act of the individual’s will to engage in a given enterprise, not what may have brought him to that decision… Theologically this verb strongly supports the concept of man’s freewill, for man can make decisions to initiate any given action (within human control), but God holds him responsible for that volitional decision”.[1] This is not the first time that the verb “ho’eel” is ‘attached’ to Moshe. After having rescued Re’u’el’s (Yitro) daughters at the well and accepting their father’s invitation, it says that “Moses was content – va’yo’el – to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses” (Ex. 2:21).

Back to the present. Moshe is exercising his will, resolving to “ba’er” (expound) the Torah to the People of Yisrael. “Ba’er” (b.a.r. bet, alef, resh) is to make distinct, declare, make plain”, and shares its root with “be’er” which is a “well or cistern”. Although it is not altogether certain whether there is an etymological connection between “making plain” and “well”, the fact that the word for “eye” and for “water spring” is one and the same in Hebrew (“ayin”), indicates that while water is connected to the act of seeing, it may also be related to ‘understanding’, which is another form of ‘seeing’. By expounding on YHVH’s words, Moshe was certainly providing the Israelites with clear, thirst-quenching, well-drawn living water in the dry desert.

The passage in 1:9-33 employs a number of times the familiar verb “nasso”, to carry, lift, bear a burden”, which has been used particularly in Bamidbar (Numbers), with even a Parasha by that name (Num. 4:21-27). From Moshe’s speech we learn how heavy of a burden this people was for him at times, although the One who had truly carried and cared for them was their Elohim. Compare 1:9, 12, which is Moshe’s retort, to 1:31, where the Father’s heart toward His people is portrayed.

When Moshe stresses just judgment (in 1:17) he says: “You shall not respect persons in judgment…” which in Hebrew is, “you shall not acknowledge, or know, or recognize [anyone’s] face in judgment” (ha’ker panim), as “recognizing” one person above another does away with impartiality which is indispensable for meting out justice. Thus, one is not to prefer one’s relatives, friends or associates over strangers.  Recognize a face” - as presented here – appears in other places as “carry a face” (having the same meaning as the former), such as in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:15, regarding the prohibition to show partiality to the poor. Yet in spite of the usage of the theme of “carrying” used in the present passage (see 1: 9, 12, 31), when ‘carrying out’ of justice is mentioned (in the above-mentioned 1:17), this common idiom of “carrying/lifting a face” (that is, being partial) is strangely omitted, and instead “recognizing a face” is the idiom of choice.

Recently we have been noticing that the word used for “tribe/s” has been  “ma’teh/matot” (“rod/rods”), in contrast to the more common word ”shevet” (sh.v.t, shin, vet, tet, which also means “rod, staff, club, scepter” and also a live branch). The “rod and staff [which] will comfort me” (of Psalm 23:4) are, respectively, “shevet” and “mish’e’net” (which is a staff specifically for leaning on). In chapter 1 the references to the tribes (vs 13, 15) are couched in the term “shevet”.  “Shevet” is also the rod that if a father spares, may earn him the reputation of one who hates his son (ref. Prov. 13:24). The usage of “shevet”, which refers to didactic reproof (as preparation before entering the land and starting out a new life), is therefore quite appropriate in this 5th book of the Pentateuch! ("I will make you pass under the rod..." in Ezekiel 20:37, where “shevet” is used, is a key verse regarding the restoration.) But what is so striking about this monologue to the younger generation, many of whom would not have participated in the events which Moshe is mentioning, is that he is addressing his audience in second person as though all of them had been responsible and had participated in those events. Perhaps he is using this, at this particular juncture, as another educational tool.   

Continuing in chapter 1, we see that one of the lessons that Moshe wishes to draw from is the story of the spies (v. 22ff). “Why did he not also refer to the sin of the Golden Calf? “Why did he select the sin of the spies and omit all the other historical experiences?” These are questions posed by Nechama Leibowitz. She then goes on to cite Hoffman who, “illuminatingly points out that Moses wishes to refer to an exactly parallel situation. The children of Israel were once again on the threshold of the Promised Land, just as their ill-fated parents had been, thirty-eight years previously. Let them not forfeit the Land once again…” Moshe therefore issues a warning to “the children of Israel against once more forfeiting the land by their lack of faith…” [2]

The spies’ story truly serves to illustrate accurately the Israelites’ skepticism. In 1:22 we read: “And you came near to me, every one of you, and said, let us send men before us, and they shall search out the land for us…” It is significant that the request for a surveillance report of the land by “every one of you… coming [or drawing] near” is interpreted (in the above quote) as lack of faith. (This, in contrast to the original  story in Parashat Sh’lach Le’cha, Bamidbar – Numbers: 13:1-2; 32:8, where YHVH is presented as being the initiator of the plan). Another “drawing near” is mentioned in the next Parasha, when Moshe recalls the scene at Chorev (Horeb). “And it happened, when you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain burned with fire, you came near to me, all the rulers of your tribes, and your elders, and you said… ‘If we hear the voice of YHVH your Elohim any more, then we shall die. For who of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living Elohim speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and has lived? You go near and hear all that YHVH our Elohim may say, and you shall speak to us all that YHVH our Elohim may speak to you…’” (5:23-27, italics added). We see that at the time of the giving of the Torah, the elders and leaders of Yisrael had a real concern about “drawing near” to YHVH, and instead “drew near” to Moshe and asked him to act on their behalf. If this was the leaders’ attitude, it is no wonder that some time later the entire nation (“every one of you”) displayed a similar apprehension regarding YHVH’s promises, which is why that whole generation was condemned to die in the wilderness.

Moshe goes on to recount the sad episode, all those years back, recalling that the ones who had displayed unbelief, insisted later  to go up and fight the enemy (ref. 1:41) against YHVH’s wishes (as if to make up for their former attitude). YHVH declared, therefore, that they would be “struck” before their enemies (ref. v. 42). The word used for “struck” is “tinagfu” of the root n.g.f (noon, gimmel, fey). “Negef” and “mage’fa” mean “plague or pestilence”, and are usually divinely ordained for the purpose of discipline, such as in the case before us.  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:46, 47 we read about the plague (“magefa”) which followed the rebellion of Korach and his band. Later, in Vayikra 25:8,9, mention was made of the “magefa” that plagued the Israelites in the wake of the Baal Pe’or episode and the daughters of Mo’av, whereas in Sh’mot (Exodus) 12:13, it was the Egyptians who were “struck” while the Israelites remained untouched.

Back to our chronology here, as recounted by Moshe: In spite of YHVH’s warning, Yisrael “rebelled and … acted proudly and went up into the hills” (Deut. 1: 43). “[you] acted proudly” reads here (va)taz’du" (root zayin, dalet). Back in B’resheet (Genesis) 25, in Parashat Toldot, Ya’acov was seen “cooking a stew”, which in Hebrew is “va'ya'zed na'zid" (v. 29). We learned there that although “stew” is “nazid”, the root "zed” also means “pride, rebellion or presumptuousness”. Thus, Ya'acov was cooking up a non-too healthy stew for his brother, and according to the present passage his progeny’s conduct even surpassed that of their forefather’s.

The ensuing result of this failed attempt to go to battle is reported in Dvarim 1:44: “And the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out to meet you and they chased you, as the bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah”.  In Shmot (Exodus) 23:28 it says: “And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you”. However, because of disobedience and rebellion the Israelites incurred defeat and were chased by so many (proverbial) bees, being “driven back” all the way from Se’ir and Chorma.  The latter happens to stem from the root ch.r.m (chet, resh, mem), rendered “cherem” which in this case means “destruction”.  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:1-3, we read: “And the king of Arad the Canaanite… heard that Israel had come… and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to YHVH, and said, ‘if you will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy [(ve)he’cheramti] their cities’. And YHVH listened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed [(va)yacharem] them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah [Chorma]” (italics and emphasis added). However, Moshe’s narration here lets us know that destruction was also the lot of the Israelites, who at that point “sat and wept before YHVH, but YHVH would not listen to [them]” (Deut. 1:45) following the episode recounted above (in verse 44).

Chapter 2 contains Moshe’s reviews of some geographical and historical facts. As part of preparing the young Israelites for their relocation, he wants them to have a geographical and historical orientation and perspective. This is particularly true in 2:9-12 and 18-23. Some of the names of the peoples mentioned are rather revealing. In 2:10 we read about the “Eimeem” (Emims). “Eima” is “fear, dread or horror” (for example, in the Covenant Between the Torn Pieces it says: “… and behold a terror – “eima” – of great darkness,” Gen. 15:12). These “Eimim” are compared to, or regarded as the Anakim (Deut. 2:11) who are the giants described by the spies (Num. 13:28). Following them, mention is made of the “Rfa’eem.” The root r.f.a. (resh, fey, alef) is used several times to describe the dead, or dwellers of She’ol.  In Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 14:9 we read: “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; It arouses for you the spirits of the dead (“rfa’eem”)….” The Rfa’eem were also considered among the giants (and are mentioned in B’resheet 14:5). According to 2:20, the giants were also called “Zam’zumeem”, and lived in the land that was “considered the land of the Rfa’eem” (literal translation). This latter fact may have rendered that land as the “land of the dead”, perhaps subtly hinting that YHVH will “begin to put your dread and your fear on the face of the people under all the heavens, who will hear your fame, and will tremble and writhe because of you” (2:25 italics added). Appropriately, the Parasha ends with the following: “Do not fear them for YHVH your Elohim, He shall fight for you” (3:22). But these descriptions of the vanquishing of the former dwellers of the lands of Seir (Edom), Moav and Ammon for the sake of Esav-Edom ((Yitzchak’s son) and Lot’s grandsons serve also as encouragement to the Israelites, as to their awaiting land of promise.  

Before concluding, let us examine a leitmotif which is repeated a number of times in our Parasha and is first seen in 1:8 (and then in 1:21): “See, I have placed the land before you (lit. “to your faces”) go in and possess [“r’shu” – wrest it by impoverishing its present residents] the land which YHVH swore to give to your fathers… and to their seed after them” (italics added). This repeated declaration is preceded, in verse 7, by the imperative “p’nu” (turn) which stems from the same root as “face” (see also 1:40, 2:1, 8). It seems that before YHVH will “give/place” the land before His people, they are required to make a “turn”. Last week we examined briefly “yerusha” as one of the words for inheritance, which is rooted in the verb “resh”, used here by YHVH in its imperative form. YHVH declares that He has already “given/placed” – “natati” - the land before His people (1:20, 21, 39), but that it was incumbent upon them to do their duty. First, they had to “turn” and then “see”. That is, they had to realize, by exercising faith, what their heavenly Father had already accomplished. Secondly, they had to go and take/wrest the land, based upon the former realization and premise, and act, again, in faith. In 2:5, 2:9, 2:19, respectively, YHVH likewise declares that He “has given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” and “has given Ar (Mo’av) to the sons of Lot as a possession” [“yerusha” – the same term He uses for Yisrael’s inheritance or possession), and the same regarding the Amonites. However, “before them” is significantly missing. Thus, although YHVH is sovereign over all peoples, He is notably treating His own in an exceptional manner. In 2:31, YHVH declares again to His people (literal translation): “See, I have begun to give/place – “natati” – Sihon and his land over to you. Impoverishing begin to impoverish his land”. In the case of Sichon and his people, Yisrael’s Elohim also announces that it is He who has “hardened his [Sichon’s] spirit and made his heart obstinate” (2:30), having “mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills He hardens” (ref. Rom. 9:18).

Thus, as just mentioned, while YHVH is totally sovereign and controls all people groups, we notice that He places certain expectations upon Yisrael, who are to apply their conscious will (like Moshe, at the beginning of the Parasha) and act volitionally in faith and obedience to their Maker and King, with the Land of Promise being a venue for such actions.

1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980

2. New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh   Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

     Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

     Our Parasha affords us a very ordinary and widespread word – davar – which in Modern Hebrew is not used for “word”, but is very commonly used for… “thing”. “Close” or “near” – karov – is also available to us for use. Sometime ago we examined the same word – karov and krovim plural – for “relatives”, now we will examine its other usage. And finally, “to give” – natan – is another useful word for you to be familiar with.

This thing is near/close

Ha’davar ha’zeh karov


These things are near/close (lit. the things the these are close/near)

Ha’dvarim ha’e’lu krovim


Please (you, male) bring near to me the thing (lit. translation)

Be’va’ka’sha karev eli et ha’davar


Please (you, female) bring near to me the things (lit. translation)

Be’va’kasha karvi eli et had’varim


He gave her the thing

Hu natan la et ha’davar


She gave him the things

He nat’na lo et ha’dvarim



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashot* Ma’tot/Mas’ey – Bamidbar (Numbers) 30 – 36 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

We have come to the end of Bamidbar (Numbers), and this time we will be looking at the two Parashot which conclude this book. In the opening verses (30:1-2), Moshe is seen addressing the “heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel”.  The word used here for tribes is “ma’tot” (plural, while singular is “ma’teh”). In Parashat Chu’kat we discovered that “ma’teh” is a rod or a staff (like the one Moshe used to hit the rock, Num. 20:8-11), and that this word is rooted in the verb to “stretch out” but that it also means to “incline, turn, or turn away”.  Thus, by implication, “ma’teh” is used for “tribe”, emanating from the ‘rod of authority’ in the hand of the respective tribal leaders. (The other word for tribe, “shevet”, also means a “rod”.)  In both of our Parashot, “mateh” is used solely for “tribe” or “tribes” (e.g. 31:4; 32:28).  In Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:26 we encountered another “staff”, that is “ma’teh lechem” which is the “staff of bread”. There it was used metaphorically for that which is leaned (or depended) upon, as indeed our bodies cannot do without bread (used there as a generic term for food).

The first part of Parashat Ma’tot deals with oaths and prohibitions, and the annulment thereof (see Matt. 18:18-19).  In 30:3-5 we read: “And when a woman vows a vow to YHVH, and has bound a bond in the house of her father in her youth, and her father has heard her vow… and her father has remained silent… then all her vows shall stand... But if her father has prohibited her in the day he heard, none of her vows and her bond with which she has bound her soul shall stand. And YHVH will forgive her because her father prohibited her”.  Prohibited” in both instances in this passage is “heh’nee,” of the root n.o.h (noon, vav, alef) meaning “hinder, restrain, or frustrate”. Similarly, in verse 8, the same verb is used: “If in the day her husband hears, he prohibits her…” (emphasis added). (In this there is a fascinating connection to the book of Esther) **

The latter part of Parashat Ma’tot (chapter 32) presents the story of the sons of Re’uven and Gad who express to Moshe their desire to settle in the land of Gil’ad, on the eastern shore of the Yarden (Jordan). However, Moshe, being concerned that they may be separating themselves from their brethren and that their move could have a negative impact on the rest of the people, voices his misgivings and says: “And why do you discourage the heart of the sons of Israel from passing over to the land which YHVH has given to them?  So your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. And they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, and discouraged the hearts of the sons of Israel” (32:7-9).  Here we find the verb n.o.h once again, but this time translated as “discourage or discouraged”. Moshe attributes the same motives that operated in the hearts of the ten spies (in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha, Num. 13-15) to the two and a half tribes wishing to settle on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  He construes their wish as being one that would frustrate YHVH’s will, while at the same time incurring frustration in his listeners, who no doubt were concerned lest their leader would frustrate their plans. Frustration and a feeling of hindrance would also be the experience of a woman, who after taking a vow and/or restricting herself in some way for Godly reasons and in good conscious, is prevented from going through with her commitments.

The origin of the verb n.o.h is “rise with difficulty” [1] illustrating what we have noticed time and again, namely that Hebrew is a very concrete language and thus most of its abstract terms are actually borrowed from the tangible world.  Two other such terms in this Parasha are “bind” (see 30:3,4,5,6 ff), which is “assor” (a.s.r., alef, samech, resh) and literally means “imprison or imprisoned” (e.g. Gen. 40:3; Jud. 15:12-13; 1Sam. 6:7). Another one is “annul or make void” – “ha’fer” (in 30:12), whose root is “porer” (p.r.r. pey, resh, resh) and means to “crumble, break, shatter or destroy”.

Returning to Moshe’s exhorting address to the two and a half tribes; the aging leader expresses his concern lest their actions would give rise to a “brood of sinful men” (32:14). The word used there is “tarbut”, which is of the root “rav” meaning “much, many, or great”, and is therefore simply a derivation of “increase or add”. Thus, Moshe is literally talking about an increase or spread of evil among them, without pointing to an existing grouping or a particular “brood”.  In verses 14b and 15 he adjoins: “[Lest] you still [will] add more to the burning anger of YHVH against Israel. For if you turn away from Him, He will add more to His abandoning of them [i.e. Yisrael] in the desert…” (literal translation).  Moshe is worried that the actions of the Reuvenites, Gaddaites and Menashites would bring about an increase of evil and in this manner add to YHVH’s anger, adding disciplinary measures, resulting in more suffering for the people as a whole.

Another main theme in our Parasha is the command directed at Moshe to “execute vengeance… against the Midianites, afterward you [Moshe] shall be gathered to your people” (31:2).  In the preparations leading to this eventuality, Moshe calls out for men to be “prepared for the army” (31:3 literal translation).  However, “he-chal’tzu” (with root, chet, lamed, tzadi), which is the command used here for “be prepared”, actually means to “draw, pull out, or remove” (such as “removing” one’s foot out of  a shoe, Deut. 25:9). Thus, the literal rendering of 31:3 should be: “Draw out from amongst yourselves men for the army…” Rabbi Mordechai Eilon, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, stresses that although the expression “draw out from amongst yourselves” is in reference to a select group, it actually points to the ‘whole’ from which this group is to be drawn, implying the involvement of the entire group. In this way, by virtue of being represented by the “cha’luztim” (plural for “cha’lutz,” “those who plod ahead;” see also 32:20, 21 translated “arm yourself”), the whole army will be participating in the battle. Aside from meaning “drawn out”, the root also speaks of being removed from one’s customary environment and comfort zone, indicating that the vanguards were willing to venture and forge the way ahead of everyone else. The additional meaning of the verb cha’letz - “to rescue and deliver” (used a number of times in the Psalms) -  is totally compatible with the readiness of the two and a half tribes to help their brethren.

In view of this, when the Re’uvenites and Gaddites declare later (in 32:17): “We shall ourselves go armed” (which reads, “va’necha’letz”, again of the root, their intent appears much clearer. They are saying in fact that after making basic provisions for their families and livestock, they will “remove” themselves from all that is familiar to them and will “hurry and go ahead of the sons of Israel until we bring them to the place which is theirs…” (32:17, literal translation).  In his response Moshe states that each of them is to be a “cha’lutz” for his brother (while stressing that failing to do so will be considered a sin “before YHVH” vs. 20-23).  Their response is again marked by the term “cha’lutz” (v. 27). Moshe repeats this condition; namely, that only if they will act as “chalutzim” will they be entitled to land on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  In their reply, the Gaddaites and Re’uvenites confirm their readiness to “go over… as chalutzim… before YHVH into the land of Canaan, so that the land of our inheritance on that side of Jordan may be ours” (v. 32). 

Interestingly, the first time the root shows up in Scripture is in Genesis 35:11, where the Almighty promises Abraham that, “…a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come out of your loins” (sometimes translated “body”).  “Loins” in that text is “chalatza’yim” - the strong body part. The root also lends itself to festive or royal robes. Yehoshua the High Priest was dressed in such robes (ma’ch’la’tzot) in exchange for his filthy ones (ref. Zech. 3:4).  Finally, in the Hebrew translation of Hebrews 6:20, Yeshua, as the forerunner who entered behind the veil for us, is called “Yeshua he’cha-lutz”.

Chapters 33-36 constitute the next Parasha, which is Masa’ey. “These are the journeys of – “mas’ey” - the sons of Israel… (33:1, emphasis added), “and Moses wrote their departures according to their journeys by the mouth of YHVH. And these are their journeys, according to their departures” (v. 2). Although Moshe is entirely familiar with the journeys and the name of each location that the people of Yisrael had gone through, and/or encamped at, the account which will now follow (vs. 3- 49) is dictated to him “by the mouth of YHVH”.  

Wondering as to the importance of these technical details, some of the sages, including Rashi, have concluded that this list was to serve as a reminder to the people of YHVH’s watchfulness over them, and of His attention to each and every detail pertaining to their lives and destiny.  Thus, the name of each place is used as a device to invoke in them the memory of YHVH’s care for them.  According to Maimonides, the names of the places are a testimony intended to verify that they have indeed stayed at the locations mentioned; places where only YHVH Himself could have sustained them, thusly bringing to their minds the miracles which He wrought for them.  Sforno adds to this: “The Lord blessed be He desired that the stages of the Israelites’ journeyings be written down to make known their merit in their going after Him in a wilderness, in a land that was not sown [ref. Jer. 2:2] so that they eventually deserved to enter the land.  ‘And Moses wrote’ – he wrote down their destination and place of departure. For sometimes that place for which they were headed was evil and the place of departure good… Sometime the reverse happened. He wrote down too the details of their journeyings because it involved leaving for a new destination without any previous notice, which was very trying. Despite all this, they kept to the schedule…’ In other words, according to Sforno the Torah shows us both sides of the coin. We have been shown an Yisrael “composed of rebels and grumblers, having degenerated from the lofty spiritual plane of their religious experience at Mount Sinai… Now the Torah changes its tone and shows us the other side of the picture, Israel loyal to their trust, following their God through the wilderness… They followed Him in spite of all the odds, through the wildernesses of Sinai, Etham, Paran and Zin… that was also a place of fiery serpents and scorpions and drought where there was no water, where our continued existence would have been impossible, were it not?for?the?grace?of?God…”[2]

Upon completing the inventory of the (past) journeys, attention is now being turned to the future: the  boundaries of the land of Promise, the names of the men who are to help the  people possess their inheritance, the cities apportioned to the Levites, and the cities of refuge. Thus we read in Chapter 34 the details regarding the extent of the territory of the inheritance. In an era when defined borders did not exist, this was a novelty which underscores, once again, the importance YHVH attaches to the land and to its occupation. About the land of C’na’an it says that, it “shall fall to you as an inheritance” (v.2 emphasis added). The usage of this verb in this context demonstrates that Yisrael’s lot was predestined and predetermined. Additionally, it “… is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which YHVH has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe” (emphasis added). As to the land that was to be occupied by the two and a half tribes, in 34:13b-15 (according to the Hebrew text), it is written that the two and a half tribes “took” their inheritance. Hence, a clear distinction is made between the land which is apportioned and the land that is taken by choice. It is here that YHVH also appoints those “who will take possession of the land for you” (34:17ff). As to the cities of the Levites, who are to dwell in the other tribes’ territories, it says: “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites cities to live in, from the land of their possessions, and you shall give to the Levites open land for the cities” (35:2).

Open land” (or “common land”) is “migrash”. One of the words for “inheritance” is “yerusha” (e.g. 33:52, 53, the latter used there in verb form “yarashtem”). In both words is embedded the term to “impoverish” (being a reference to the party from whom one’s inheritance is wrested). “Migrash”, which the Levites were to be granted, are of the root (gimmel, resh, shin) with its primary meaning to “cast or drive out”. “Yerusha”, taking possession, of the root (yod, resh, shin), is connected to another root, (resh, shin, shin) which means to “beat down, shatter” and lands itself to the noun “rash” – “poor, poverty stricken” (e.g. 1st 18:23; 2nd Sam. 12;4 and several times in Proverbs).

Hebrew certainly does not conceal or embellish the hard-core facts, and does not make attempts at being politically correct.  As a matter of fact, from Matthew 11:12 we learn that the Kingdom of Heaven is also “seized by force”.  Thus, in taking hold of YHVH’s possession (and their inheritance), the Israelites had to “impoverish” and “cast out” the inhabitants of the land.  When “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking, she said to Abraham, ‘Drive away [“ga’resh”] this slave-girl and her son, for the son of this slave-girl shall not inherit [“yirash” – will cause another to be impoverished] with my son, with Isaac’” (Gen. 21:9,10).

The next topic is that of the cities of refuge and their respective guidelines, one of which states that if a person has slain someone unintentionally he is to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, and only then return to the “land of his possession [inheritance]” (35: 25, 28).  Similarly, it is only through the death of our High Priest that we too have been released, and may now come out of our proverbial confinement into the freedom of our inheritance (ref. Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15). This fact gains even more validity when we read the last part of the chapter: “And you shall take no ransom [kofer, of the root k.f/p.r – kippur] for the life of a murderer; he is punishable for death, for dying he shall die. And you shall take no ransom [kofer] for him to flee to the city of his refuge, to return to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. And you shall not pollute the land in which you are, for blood pollutes the land. And no ransom [kofer] is to be taken for the land for blood which is shed in it, except for the blood of him who sheds it; and you shall not defile the land in which you are living. I dwell in its midst, for I, YHVH, am dwelling among the sons of Israel” (35:31-34). The blood of Yeshua our High Priest has purified both ourselves and our earthly inheritance, and at the same time has also gained for us a heavenly one (ref. 1Pet. 1:4).

According to the English translation, the cities of refuge are to be “selected” or “appointed” (35:11).  The Hebrew, on the other hand, reads: “You shall cause cities to occur (for yourselves)… “ve’hik’re’tem” – root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey, which we encountered in Gen. 24:12, Parashat Cha’yey and Balak  Num. 23:4,16), an expression which is an oxymoron, as one’s will is either actively involved, or else things occur in a happenstance manner, or (more likely) by Providence beyond one’s control. Once again the Hebraic mentality presents a challenge, pointing to the place where Providence and man’s choice meet, even at the expense of defying human logic. 

YHVH’s meticulous attention to the place He has set apart is seen again in the last chapter of Parashat Masa’ey, where we learn that “no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall turn from tribe to tribe, for each one of the sons of Israel shall cling to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And any daughter that possesses an inheritance from any tribe of the sons of Israel to one of the family of the tribe of her father is to become a wife of the family of the tribe of her father, so that the sons of Israel may each possess the inheritance of his father. And the inheritance shall not turn from one tribe to another tribe. For the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each one cling to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded Moses” (36:7-9). The word for “turn” here, in future tense, is “tisov” of the root s.b.b (samech, bet, bet). “Savav” is to “turn about or go around”.  It is indicative of mobility, unstableness and temporariness. The usage of this verb here lends an extra emphasis to the issue at hand: “For the tribes of Israel shall each cling – yid’b’ku, adhere, cleave like glue - to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded…”  In B’resheet 2:24 we read: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and will cleave/adhere/cling to his wife and they will become one flesh”. YHVH declares above that He dwells in the midst of the land, among the sons of Yisrael (Num. 35:34). It is no wonder, therefore, that He is so very particular about the set up of His abode.

*“Parashot” plural for “Parasha” (whereas “Parashat” is “Parasha of…”, hence “Parashat Matot”   or “Parashat Mas’ey”)

** When Mordechai begged Esther to plead the Jews’ case before king Achashverosh, he added that she could forfeit her life if she were to “keep silent” (Esther 4:14). Esther was to go and try to annul the king’s “vow”, much like the husband or father in our Parasha in the case of his wife’s/daughter’s vow making. In the Parasha, if the male were to keep silent (same word used in Esther) for more than a day, the vow would remain valid but the said male would bear its consequences, if there were  any, just as Esther would have done had she kept silent. Typical of the book of Esther’s “technique of opposites”, there it is the female who was in position to annul a harmful vow taken by her husband.
This point was extracted from Rabbi Fohrman’s study on Esther
In Shmot (Exodus) 19:8 and 24:7, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the People of Yisrael made a promise (oath or vow-like) to obey YHVH. But since Yisrael did not keep her word the consequences ultimately fell on her, but because YHVH, her husband, did not annul her ‘vow’, He too was ‘held responsible’ for her sin of breaking her promise-vow. This is seen very clearly by the fact that Yeshua “bore her guilt”, as it says in 30:15 (see also 1st Peter 2:24).

1. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown    
Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

2 New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh   Newman,    Eliner Library,  Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Hemed    Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Above we observed that the root serves both the noun “lot” or “open land”, as well as the verb to “cast out” or “expel”. The literal word for “bind” – “assar” - is more commonly used in Modern Hebrew for “prohibit”, while the “binding” finds expression in the term for prison – “Bet Sohar” (literally, “house of binding”). We paid quite a bit of attention to the root When the pioneers started coming to the land of Israel at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, the need arose for a fitting word by which to define them. Thus “chalutz” was chosen. Interestingly, “brood” – “trabut” – (with its negative connotation in our text) is used for “culture” or for a given civilization. Finally, the name-sake of the Parasha – “massah” – is still a very common term.

On the lot there is a prison
Al ha’mig’rash yesh bet sohar

The pioneers forbade the usage of foreign culture (lit. “in culture/civilization foreign”)
Ha’cha’lutzim asru shimush be’tarbut  zara
(“shimush” – usage, “zar”, “zara” – foreign, m.f).

The pioneer did not expel the sons of the land
Ha’cha’lutz lo ge’resh et b’ney ha’aretz

For the (female) pioneers the journey was difficult
La’cha’lu’tzot ha’massah haya ka’sheh