Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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 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).**(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” (e.g. 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 etc.). 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.”  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 ch.l.tz, 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 ch.l.tz 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 ch.l.tz), 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 ch.l.tz 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 ch.l.tz 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 note 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” (33:52, 53), in both words is embedded the term to “impoverish” (being a reference to the party from whom one’s inheritance is wrested). Both “Yerusha” and “migrash,” which the Levites were to be granted, are of the root g.r.sh (gimmel, resh, shin) with its primary meaning to “cast or drive out.”  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 emphases added). 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 to forfeit her life is 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 like 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
https://www.alephbeta.org/
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 g.r.sh 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 ch.l.tz. When the pioneers started coming to the land of Israel at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, there arose a need for a fitting word by which to name 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 very common.

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


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Pinchas – Bamidbar (Numbers) 25:10 – 29:40 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The issue we encounter at the beginning of Parashat Pinchas has already been introduced to us at the end of last week’s Parashat Balak. Pinchas, A’haron’s grandson who is his son’s El’azar’s firstborn, observed the sinful act committed by an Israelite, a leader of the tribe of Shim’on (Simeon) with a Midianite woman, and slew both of them. He thus “made atonement” (25:13) for the sons of Yisrael and brought to an end the plague that stuck them. The word used here for “made atonement” is none other than “(vay)cha’per,” of the root k.f.r, which we know as “kippur,” or “covering.”  Pinchas’ action, along with the penalty paid for by the two sinners, had propitiated for Yisrael’s iniquity of “clinging to Ba’al Pe’or” (ref. 25:3). T’hilim (Psalms) 106 also refers to this episode: “They also were joined to Baal-Peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead; and provoked Him with their deeds; and a plague broke out among them. Then Phinehas stood and intervened, and the plague was stayed” (vs 28-30).  In this latter reference Pinchas’ act is describes as – (vay)fa’lel (p/f.l.l, pey/fey, lamed, lamed) – which is interposing, intervening, mediating, as well as judging and pleading.  It is from this root that the word “t’fila,” prayer, originates. In fact, as we will find out, Pinchas’ action was multi-facetted.  In the second half of this article, His atoning act and its judicial aspects and parallelism to Yeshua’s will be elaborated on.

The two persons involved in the said episode were, Zimri the son of Salu, one of the leaders of the tribe of Shim’on, and Cozbi a Midianite woman, who, likewise was a daughter of a “head of the people of a father's house in Midian” (25:15). Leading Yisrael astray definitely ranked high on the list of priorities of the Mo’av-Midian coalition. The protagonists’ names in this Parasha, are also of interest. Thus, Pinchas appears to be an Egyptian name, having typical characteristics such as the name of the town of Tach’pan’ches (Jeremiah 44:1) and that of Tach’peh’nis, the Egyptian wife of Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:19, 20). But even more intriguing is the name of the Midianite princess Cozbi, which is made up of the letters kaf, zayin, bet, yod. The first three of these, that is c.z.b, constitute the root for the word “cazav” (or, phonetically, “kazav”), which means to “lie, deceive, lying, deception.”  Last week we read in Bamidbar 23:19: “Elohim is not a man that He should lie...”  The verb rendered there as “lie” is “(vay)cha’zev,” which refers particularly to “being unfaithful or untrue to one’s commitment or promise.”  In a land thirsty for water as Yisrael is, riverbeds hold a promise of being filled during the winter.  However, in the dry season such riverbeds become waterless.  Hence a stream of water which dries up after the rainy season may be used as imagery for that which lets one down: “You surely are to me like deceitful – ach’zav - waters which cannot be trusted,” complains Yirmiyahu to his Creator in a moment of dark despair (Jer. 15:18). Cozbi, too, was nothing but a bait of deception and enticement to the people of Yisrael (cf. Prov. 5), and especially to leaders like Zimri. Walking in the paths of temptation, away from He Who is the Way the Truth and the Life, leads not only to disappointment, but far worse… and in the case before us, to destruction and death, which was experienced by 24,000 souls in Yisrael’s camp (ref. Num. 25:9).

As noted above, Cozbi was a Midianite.  Midian was a son of Avraham by his wife K’turah (see Gen. 25:2). The name stems from the verb “din” (dalet, yod, noon), meaning primarily to “judge or mete justice,” referring to all aspects of government. It is the root for the word “medina” – province.  However, this particular form – “Midian” – may also be related to “mah’don,” which albeit of the same root (as “judgment”) means “strife or contention” (e.g. Prov. 15:18; Jer. 15:10; Hab. 1:3 etc.). Thus, far from being a people of judgment (that is of justice and righteousness), the Midianites’ affairs were handled by resorting to magic and witchcraft and all forms of deception, as was so evident in the character of Bil’am.  The fact that they were not wholly unaware of the Elohim of Yisrael and of His ways (as illustrated by Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law and even by Bil’am), only made the “din” (‘judgment’) pronounced upon them by Yisrael’s Elohim more severe. Hence, YHVH says to Moshe: "Harass the Midianites, and attack them;  for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian, their sister, who was killed in the day of the plague because of Peor” ( Num. 25:17-18).  

Highlighted in this passage is the cunning posture and frame of mind of the Midianites, illustrated so typically by Cozbi. The order from on High here is “to harass and attack” the Midianites, since they “harassed you.” “harassing” in this case is “tza’ror” (tz.r.r - tzadi, resh, resh), meaning, “showing hostility,” while “tzorer” is an “enemy or adversary.”  In Parashat Balak, we heard Bil’am say of Yisrael: “he shall eat up the nations that are his foes – tza’rav” (Num. 24:8 italics added). In Bamidbar (Numbers) 33:55 a condition will be placed before Yisrael:  But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass– (ve)tza’ra’ru -  you in the land where you dwell”. Haman, the Jews’ cruel adversary, was named in Esther 3:10; 8:1, “tzorer ha-Yehudim,” the “foe of the Jews.” Haman the Agagite was a descendent of the royal house of Amalek, about whom it was said, “Amalek threatened the body of the people [of Yisrael], whilst Midian threatened its soul.” [1]

The opening section of the Parasha presents two words that are used several times within a few verses. The first one is repeated four times in 25:11-13, and it is “jealous,” “zealous,” or “jealousy.”  The root of “jealousy/zealousness” is kano (root k.n.a. kof, noon, alef), originating in the “color produced in the face by deep emotion” [2]. It is especially used in situations pertaining to marriage relationship, and as “God is depicted as Israel’s husband; he is [therefore] a jealous God… Phinehas [too] played the faithful lover by killing a man and his foreign wife, and thus stayed the wrath of divine jealousy”. [3] The other word that occurs five times in verses 14-18 is “smite or smitten” and “strike” (in other translations “slay and slain”). In all these instances the verb “nako” (n.k.h, noon, kaf, hey) is used in a variety of conjugations. N.k.h (or its derivation “hakot”) is a very common root and may be used in many different ways, describing fall and defeat, punishment, being beaten, smitten or hurt for a variety of reasons. In our case, it relates to the punishment of death.

However,/because/of/the/emphatic/repetition/of/“jealousy/ zealousness” - kano - just before the reiteration of “nako,” it would appear that our text is underscoring a situation in which YHVH’s “jealousy” has been provoked, resulting in a “smiting unto death.” Clearly, a cause-and-effect ‘word picture’ is being conveyed here by a (subtle) play on words.

Chapter 26 is devoted to the census of the leaders of the tribes and of all those who were twenty-year old and above; that is, those eligible for army service.  It is according to their relative number that the land of Yisrael is to be apportioned to them: “To the many you shall increase their inheritance; and to the few you shall diminish their inheritance” (v. 54 emphases added). On the other hand, in verse 62 we read that the census of the Levites applied to “all males from a month old and upward,” but it goes on to say that they were not counted among the sons of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the sons of Israel” (emphasis added). “Inheritance” here is “nachala,” the root of n.ch.l (noon, chet, lamed) is also a stream (“nachal”), and therefore connotes a downward flow, meaning “a permanent possession inherited by succession” (the Levites were told by YHVH that He was their portion – “nachala,” Num. 18:20). A different conjugation transforms n.ch.l to “manchil,” which is “to cause to possess” such as is seen in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 32:8: “When the Most High gave – “hinchil” - each nation its heritage, when he set apart the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the people of Israel.” And just as the Land of Yisrael was divvied out according to the size of each household, so was the rest of the world divided up by YHVH, who knew that His people would be scattered among the nations, according to the ‘quota’ of Israelites in their midst. In chapter 27 of our Parasha, we meet Tzlofchad’s daughters who demand their possession saying: “Our father died in the wilderness… and had no son. Why is our father's name taken away from the midst of his family because there is no son to him? Give us an inheritance among our father's brothers” (vs. 3, 4 emphasis added). Inheritance in this case is “achuza,” of the verb achoz (root a.ch.z. alef, chet, zayin), meaning to “grasp or hold” and hence to “possess and possession.” The stronger word for “possession,” used here by these daughters certainly underscores their claim.

When YHVH reminds Moshe that his day of departure is close at hand, the latter expresses his concern regarding the future: “Let YHVH, the Elohim of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, so that the congregation of YHVH may not be as sheep to whom there is no shepherd” (27:16, 17 italics added). Evidently, Moshe understands the integrated composition of man, being both flesh and spirit while at the same time also recognizing that YHVH knows his creatures through and through. In describing the need for a leader, Moshe highlights “going out before (the people)… going in before (them)… leading out… and bringing in…” Is Moshe subtly making reference to the possible fate of the next leader, lest it be similar to his own (that is, staying behind and not entering the land with the rest of the people)?  Whether that is the case or not, Moshe displays no bitterness when told to “take Joshua, a man in whom is the spirit” (v. 18), echoing the “Elohim of the spirits” mentioned in verse 16 above. YHVH instructs Moshe how to ordain his successor, which Moshe follows implicitly; “as YHVH commanded” (v. 23), in spite of what was no doubt a grave disappointment to him. However, since Moshe had not been deceived or embittered, his disappointment is not like the description found in Ee’yov (Job) 41:9: “Behold, your expectation is false [nich’zeva, of the root k.z.v examined above].” Neither/was Moshe’s experience like that of the faithless ones from among the people of Yisrael who sought gratification in the wrong places and from a source which was not able to satisfy.  

In Parashat Balak (and Pinchas) we encounter the Israelites’ harlotry and idolatry instigated by the daughters of Moab and Midian (ref. 25:1-6). This act included sacrifices with the worshippers prostrating in front of idols, as well as sexual immorality./It/is/no/wonder,,therefore,/that/scripture/terms/it clinging/adhering/sticking to Baal Pe’or” (v. 3), who was the local deity. YHVH’s anger burned against Yisrael, and so a little later a plague broke out among them (25:8-9). YHVH addressed Moshe in no uncertain terms, commanding him to “take all the leaders of the people and hang them before YHVH, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of YHVH may turn away from Israel” (25:4 literal translation, emphasis added). YHVH held all the leaders responsible for these abominable acts, and His response was to have them hung in broad daylight and in view of all Israel in order to appease His righteous indignation.

Moshe, however, did not obey this very specific order accurately. Instead, He spoke to the nation’s judges, telling them to kill (not specifying how): “each man his men who were joined to Baal of Peor" (25:5).  This time Moshe’s delegation of power to his subordinates was not according to YHVH’s judicial order. That being the case, the plague continued and additionally a leader from the tribe of Shim’on, as we noted, dared to defy and blatantly rebel against YHVH by fornicating in the sight of all the congregation of Israel with a Midianite princess in front of the Mishkan. It was only after the two offenders were pierced to death that the plague (which took a substantial toll on the people – 24,000) came to a halt.

As we noted above, it was said about Pinchas that, in his jealousness and zeal for YHVH he atoned for the Sons of YIsrael, resulting in a covenant of peace, as well as in a covenant of an everlasting priesthood for him and for his seed (25:12, 13). As we have already seen, Psalm 106:30-31 adds a few more terms regarding the scene at hand: “Then Phinehas stood up and intervened/ mediated/interjected, and the plague was stopped.  And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore” (italics added).

Thus, in order to appease YHVH, according to His specifications, in the case of this most horrendous act of sin and transgression there were several requirements and legalities. First, the leaders had to be held accountable with the consequential requirement of being hung in broad daylight. When that order was not followed implicitly, and another brazen act of defilement was performed in public, it took the piercing to death of the offenders to restore righteousness, interpose, atone, and propitiate for all YIsrael, who without that would have all perished (by the plague).

Moreover, in the act of the fornication of the masses, as well as the single act of the Simeonite leader Zimri, there was not only a clinging/joining/adhering to the idol of Baal Peor, but also a joining and becoming one with the enticing harlots. Thus, Yisrael as YHVH’s bride was joined to another, becoming one with Baal and its priestesses. Hence the Jealous Husband (see Numbers 5:11-31) had every right to activate the “law of jealousy” against His bride. Pinchas, however, appeased that too, and so we read in Bamidbar 25:11 that he “has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.”

The above facts and especially the responses to the sin so flagrantly displayed, help shed light on the judicial aspects of Yeshua’s atoning act on His execution stake. YHVH, as the jealous husband, had to see to it that His bride’s inherent sinful condition by which she had been enticed to betray Him would be propitiated and atoned for. In the Baal Peor incident, it was also YHVH’s household that was defiled. Similarly, Yeshua responded to the peddling that took place in the Temple compound (see John 2:17), while the disciples associated it with T’hilim (Psalms) 69:9, which says: “…zeal for Your house has eaten me up…”

Above we referred to the reoccurrence of the verb n.k.h (smite, smitten, strike, stricken) at the beginning of the Parasha, which in Yisha’ya’hu (Isaiah) 53:4 in adverb form, is used to portray the One who was “smitten by Elohim” (mu’keh Elohim). Both Matthew (27:30) and Mark (15:19) give an account of how Yeshua was stuck/beaten/smitten on His head before being hung on the tree.       

 YHVH’s desired form of reckoning with the leaders of Yisrael, who had failed miserably, was to have them executed by hanging, so that the curse could be removed from the rest of the people, as it is written: “He who is hanged is accursed of Elohim”  (Deuteronomy 21:23). This was fulfilled in Yeshua, who redeemed us from the curse of sin and of betraying Elohim by hanging on a tree (ref. Gal. 3:13). 1Peter 2:24 says:Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…”  When the hanging did not take place in the Numbers 25 episode, and when further offense was committed, as we saw, Pinchas resorted to piercing the offenders with a javelin. Yeshua too was pierced, in that case, during His crucifixion (ref. John 19:34). In regards to the piercing, John adds, quoting Zechariah 12:10: "They shall look on Him whom they pierced" (John 19:37).

“…Elohim set forth as propitiation by His [Yeshua’s] blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance Elohim had passed over the sins that were previously committed…” (Romans 3:25).  With the requirement of blood in order to propitiate for the sins committed by the Israelites, for “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22), Pinchas’ action fulfilled YHVH’s righteousness, or at least foreshadowed the ultimate act of righteousness that was to come.

Pinchas’ reward was a covenant of peace, and of everlasting priesthood (ref. Number 25:12,13). Later on, Yisrael too would be receiving the promise of a “covenant of peace” (Is. 54:10, Ez. 34:25, 37:26). Moreover, this covenant of peace was to be an everlasting one. It is no wonder, therefore, that the agent of propitiation, interposing, and atoning (namely Pinchas) was also the recipient of this covenant. The greater covenant of peace comes into effect by the Prince of Peace (ref. Is. 9:6) who  promised, over and again, peace to His followers, has brought the Gospel of peace (ref. Eph. 2:17), and made peace through His blood (ref. Col. 1:20). And as to the everlasting priesthood… that same “agent” of righteousness (Yeshua) was eligible for this kind of priesthood, as it says about Him: “…where the forerunner has entered for us, even Yeshua, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek… But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” (Hebrews 6:20  7:24). 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 25, therefore, presents YHVH’s legal requirements for atonement in a most detailed and graphic way, both in what preceded Pinchas’ interposing act, and afterwards. Hence, when we gaze from this vantage point in Bamidbar further into the historical account, it is clear that Yeshua’s action and position met every requirement to the full and complete satisfaction of His Father.


[1] 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.

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

3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody
   Press,  Chicago, 1980


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This week Bamidbar chapter 26 will provide us with words that are common in Modern Hebrew and are used frequently in the military. This chapter deals with a census for the purpose of enlisting all those over twenty years of age into the army. As then, so now, “tzava” is the word we use for “army” or “military”. The census, of course, required “numbering”, which in this chapter employs the root p.k.d – pey, kof, dalet.  In modern speech “lefaked” is “to command” and “pkuda” is “a command”, while “commander” is “me’fa’ked”. Remember that in Hebrew the sound “p” (pey) and “f” (fey) are designated by the same letter.


Israel Defense Forces
Tz’vah Hagana Le’Yisrael (literally, the army of defense for Israel) – commonly called Tzahal (acronym).

There are commanders in the army
Ba’tza’va yesh me’fakdim (literally, in the army there commanders – Hebrew has no “is” or “are”)

In the army there are also female commanders
Ba’tza’va yesh gam me’fakdot (literally, in the army there also female commanders)

The commander gave a command
Ha’me’faked na’tan pkudah



Monday, July 3, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Balak – Bamidbar (Numbers) 22 – 25: 9 with (musical) Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

                                                                       
Yisrael’s exploits and adventures (including the surprise attack of the Canaanite King of Arad, who defeated Yisrael) in the last Parasha, terminated with victory over the Amorites, which caused Balak, King of Mo’av (Moab) quite a concern. He therefore solicited the services of Bil’am (Balaam) son of Be’or the Midianite sorcerer, who was commissioned to put a curse on the people that constituted so great of a threat to the Moabite monarch. "Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field …a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! …they are too mighty for me” (22:4, 5, 6 italics added), says Balak. In other words, ‘these numerous multitudes are liable to devour my land and my people, just like a hungry ox would eat up green grass in a field. There are so many of them, that they cover every visible part of the land.’ The “face of the earth” or the ‘visible part’ is rendered here in the original text as “the eye of the earth.” The multifaceted imagery of the “eye” is not utilized in this case for that which sees, but rather for that which is seen.

Since the central theme of the Parasha is Bil’am’s visions, it is not surprising that sight and eyes are mentioned frequently. Thus, in the beginning of chapter 24 we read that Bil’am “lifted his eyes…” and said about himself: “The utterances of Balaam the son of Beor, the man whose eyes are open [and] who has heard the words of Elohim, who saw with uncovered eyes the vision of the Almighty…” (literal translation, vs.3, 4 and 15, 16). Interestingly, the term for, “whose eyes are open” is “sh’tum ey’na’yim.” With a slight modification “shatum” becomes “satum,” making it “that which is covered, or not revealed” (e.g. Ez. 28:3). Truly, Bil’am’s assurance about his inherent ability to ‘see’ is more than questionable. This is demonstrated very graphically in the episode with the mare of the donkey. Thus, it was only after YHVH “opened the eyes of Balaam” (22:31) that he was able to see what his animal had seen much earlier on.  

The meaning of the name Bil’am, just like Par’oh’s (see Hebrew Insights into Parashat Miketz, Gen. 41 – 44:17), happens to be appropriate and relevant to its bearer, as it contains the letters that make up “bela” (b.l.a, bet, lamed, ayin), which is to “swallow or swallow down” (used also in Parashat Korach, Numbers 16:30,32,33). “Frequently this word is used as a symbol of destruction and ruin: Lam. 2:2; Isa. 28:7; 49:19 etc.” [1] In Psalms 52:4 “devouring words” are “divery bela.” Balak’s intention was just that. He aimed for Bil’am’s words to become a source of destruction for Yisrael. Thus, “Bela” and “am” [making up the name “Bil’am”] mean “destruction of a people,” befitting the sorcerer’s reputation as a charmer and a conjurer. Another meaning of the name is offered by Albright, who believes that its origin is from the Amorite “yabil’ammu,” meaning, “the (divine) uncle brings.” [2]

“Therefore please come at once, curse [“ara”] this people for me… for I know that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed” (22:6), is the essence of Balak’s assignment for Bil’am. When the latter quotes the former (in 22:11), he uses “kava” for “curse.” Hebrew is replete with verbs for cursing. The most common is “kalel” (k.l.l, kof, lamed, lamed) which stems from “kal” meaning “lightweight” and “easy,” that is “of no esteem” and therefore, by default, “no blessing,” or “making light of another’s honor.” However, a.r.r (alef, resh, resh) and k.v.v (kof, vet, vet), which are used in this narrative, are more ‘dynamic.’ “On the basis of the Akkadian ‘araru,’ the Hebrew arar is to snare or bind, with the Akadian noun “irritu” being a noose or a sling. Brichto, following Speiser, advances the interpretation that the Hebrew “arar” means to bind (with a spell), hem in with obstacles, and render powerless to resist. Thus the original curse in B’resheet (Genesis 3:14, 17: “cursed are you above all cattle” and “cursed is the ground for your sake”( means that the serpent was doomed to being banned/anathematized from all the other animals, while the soil was condemned as a result of man’s sin. “Kavav” connotes the act of uttering a formula designed to undo its object. The most frequent use of this root relates to the incident involving Bil’am and Balak. Certainly the ‘magical’ belief and intent of Balak are prominent here.” [3]

Both a.r.r and k.v.v are used throughout the Parasha, denoting that the issue at stake is steeped in witchcraft. Several other terms found here verify this fact. In 22:7, the elders of Mo’av and Midian come with “divinations – “k’samim” - in their hands.” Again, in 23:23 we read the words that YHVH put in Bil’am’s mouth: “There is no enchantment – “nachash” - in Jacob and no divination – “kesem” – in Israel.”  And thusly “it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel what YHVH has wrought” (literal translation, italics added), and not that which the diviners and sorcerers have uttered. Therefore, “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased YHVH to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness” (24:1).
In this Parasha YHVH’s supremacy over all powers, and the control He exerts in order to achieve His purposes, much like using the mouth of a pagan diviner to bless, and the mouth of a donkey to talk, is clearly evident.

Bil’am, the would-be prophet, unlike his mare, is unaware of YHVH’s messenger who was sent to him as an “adversary” (ref. 22:22). When the animal is forced to divert from the path and to put its master in what appears to him as a compromising situation, Bil’am loses his temper and strikes the mare with his staff (22:27). What ensues is the most improbable discussion - between a man and a donkey. Thus, Bil’am not only finds himself mishandled physically, he also has to deal with his (unjustified) anger and express regret to a vindicated beast. And as if this is not enough, when his eyes are opened, he is the one who is seen as the blind fool who incurs a rebuke from the angel: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live” (22:33). In the dialogue between Bil’am and his mare, the latter justifies her conduct by asking (rhetorically) if she had ever caused her master any trouble “as a rule.” “A’has’ken his’kanti?” (v. 30) is the question, using the root s.ch.n (samech, chaf, noon) twice, in two different conjugations. “Sachen” in this context is “customarily or habitually.”  In other words, “has it been my custom (to so treat you)?”  The root s.ch.n, however, also means to “be of use, benefit or service,” as indeed she had been in the past, and even more so in this particular case, acting as a tool in the hand of YHVH. Bil’am forthwith admits to being in the wrong, and only then is given permission to “go with the men,” having been warned to utter only that which YHVH will speak to him (ref. v. 35).

Three times in this text we encounter the phrase, “three times” (22:28, 32, 33). The word for “times” here is “r’galim” (“regel” singular) - an “occurrence, event, or occasion.” The much more common term is “pa’am” (a word we briefly looked at in Parashat Tetzaveh, in Ex. 28:33 where we examined the noun “bell,” stemming from the same root which is also at the core of “pulse” or “beat”). “Regel” on the other hand, is the word for “foot.” It is evident that both “pa’am” and “regel” connote movement, which of course is an indication of the passing of time, but also, and especially in the case of the latter (“regel”), point to a purposeful progress such as walking. Since walking assumes an arrival, and arrival points to a specific destination (a place), we are led once more to the conclusion that in the Hebrew mind there exists an interrelation between time and place (as we have already observed when we examined “mo’ed” – “appointed time,” in Leviticus 23, Parashat Emor). It was Bil’am’s crushed “regel” (“foot” in 22:25) which prevented him from arriving at his destination, thus perhaps prompting the usage of “r’galim” for “times,” rather than “p’amim” (both in the plural). Note that at the end of last week’s Parashat Chu’kat we met Moshe’s dispatched spies (21:32), whose commission was “le’ra’gel” (“to spy”), again of the root r.g.l, not to mention “ragal,” meaning “to slander” (found in Psalm 15:3) – an action fitting the agenda of our Parasha’s namesake.

The extraordinary episode just experienced by Bil’am proves to be part of his preparation for speaking YHVH’s words, couched in four powerful prophetic oracles describing Elohim’s intended destiny for His people. “The three blessings are… differentiated in their relation to the time factor; the first one refers to the immediate present, to the generation of the wilderness facing him, the second to the immediate future, to the generation which would conquer the land, whilst the third concerns the distant future, to an era when wars and conquests will be no more and when the lion will lie down to rest after it has finished its task.” [4] However, there is also a fourth blessing, one which has not been solicited (as a curse) by Balak (24:14-24).

Bil’am’s encounters with the Elohim of Yisrael are qualified by two different verbs. Twice “Elohim came to Balaam” (22:9, 20 italics added), in the two instances which preceded the confrontation with the mare. However, the blessings that Bil’am uttered later on all followed Elohim’s meeting with him and putting a word in his mouth (ref. 23:3, 4, 15, 16). The Hebrew verb used here for “meet” is rooted in k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), literally meaning “to happen,” or “to occur.” The usage of this term gives the impression that these meetings had a coincidental characteristic about them, rather than being preordained and appointed.   

After Bil’am uttered the curses-turned-blessings, the angry king commanded his appointee to flee, adding the following: “I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, YHVH has kept you back from honor” (24:11). Stubborn and blind, Balak dares to make the statement, “YHVH has kept you back from honor” (“kept you back” being “mah’nah”, m.n.a, mem, noon, ayin, meaning “withheld”)! It is at this point that Bil’am, now as a persona-non-grata, offers to speak out what “this people [Yisrael] will do to your [Balak’s] people in the latter days” (24:14). What comes next does not please the Moabite monarch, but at the same time (surprisingly) does not incur his protest. At the end of a very significant prophecy pertaining to Yisrael and to some of its neighbors, the two men depart silently; one “to his place,” while the other is said to be “on his way” (v. 25). All the pomp and ceremony planned by Balak has just been deflated without as much as another word.

The story of a pagan enchanter and magician, who is commissioned by an equally pagan king to lay a debilitating curse on YHVH’s people, and whose mouth utters some of the most profound words regarding the very people whom he is called to curse, is rather curious and stands out in the Torah narrative. The addition, the talking donkey episode makes for an even more intriguing text. “The dialog between the man and the ass, [as interpreted by some of the commentators] is the Torah’s scornful commentary on the imaginary powers ascribed to sorcerers, its mockery of human gullibility, in believing in the power of the magician to curse and subject the supernatural to his will.” [5] Thus, the story of the mare of a donkey echoes that of Bil’am’s and his so called wonder-working abilities. But, if an ass can talk, so can a con man be made to speak out YHVH’s words, calling to mind what 1Corinthians 1 has to say about those who are wise in their own eyes: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. … Elohim has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise… [and] the things which are mighty … and things which are despised… to bring to nothing things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence “ (vs. 19, 27-29). In the end, it is YHVH’s sovereignty that prevails far above any and all of man’s feeble attempts at controlling life. 

The last section of the Parasha is part of next week’s episode, related in Parashat Pinchas. That which was not achieved by war or by sorcery is now being accomplished by seduction. [6] In 25:3 we read: “And Israel joined himself to Baal of Pe’or.” In the former narrative, chapter 22:41, mention was made of Bamot Ba’al, the “high places of Ba’al,” as being one of the sites designated by Balak from which Bil’am was to curse Yisrael. Several places later, when Balak’s aspirations were not realized, he took the seer to Rosh (the “head of”) Pe’or (23:28). This introduces us to both Ba’al and Pe’or; premonitions, as it were, to the above quoted tragic words, describing how Yisrael “joined himself [va’yitza’med – “clung”] to Ba’al of Pe’or.” And is it a coincidence that Pe’or is similar to the verb “pa’or” (p.a.r, pey, ayin, resh), which means to “open wide,” such as is employed by Yisha’ya’hu (Isaiah) in 5:14: “Therefore hell has enlarged herself, and opened [“pa’ara”, root p.a.r) her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoices, shall descend into it”?

1 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press,  
   Chicago,  980.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 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
5 Ibid.
6 Gill Commentary, Online Bible

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


This week our Hebrew Tools will go a different direction. Some of the most amazing words regarding Israel’s future are uttered in this Parasha by a pagan soothsayer, who speaks them out regardless of who he is, and irrespective of his motivation. This forms a very unique glimpse into the sovereignty of the Almighty, not only in regards to His intents for His people, but it also shows that no matter how much Israel itself may act idolatrously like Bil’am himself, the word of YHVH will never become void or revocable concerning them. Hence we will focus on two major idioms that are coined by Bil’am, which are still in use today. We will learn how to say them in Hebrew, and also listen to them being sung.

A people dwelling alone (23:9)
(Hen) am le’vadad yishkon

To listen to this verse being read in Hebrew:
from 1:17 to 1:25

The entire verse (v. 9) is sung by Yaacov Shwekey

An even more popular idiom is found in 24:5:
How lovely are your tents O Jacob! Your dwellings O Israel!
Ma to’vu oha’le’cha Ya’acov, mishke’no’techa Yisrael

To listen to this verse being read in Hebrew:
from 0.39 to 0.44

Ma Tovu Oha’le’cha as sung by Miki Rosenbaum

And again, another rendition, Yaacov Shwekey sings “Ma, Ma, Ma” (a repetition of the first word “ma” for “Ma tovu”)

In both of the above songs the idiom forms ONLY the refrain.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Chu'kat – Bamidbar (Numbers) 19 – 22:1

This week’s Parashat* Chu'kat (“statute of…”), not unlike many of the other Parashot, deals with several issues, some of which are unrelated or appear to be so. Moreover, a number of these topics are clouded over with an air of mystery, or at least with insufficient information, leaving us wondering as to their full meaning. Nechama Leibowitz lists for us some of the queries which are raised by our Parasha:

1)    Chapter 19: “The chapter on the red heifer… is one of the most mystifying in the Torah… [which] even the wisdom of the wisest of men failed to fathom.”             
2)    Chapter 20:7-13: “What was Moses’ sin for which he was so severely punished?”
3)    Chapter 20:14-21: “What was the point of referring to all their [Israel’s] travail [when approaching Edom]? Did Moses wish to arouse their [the Edomites’] compassion?”
4)    Chapter 21:1-3: “What made the King of Arad attack the Israelites? Especially with view to the  assertion made in the Song of the Red Sea that all the nations of the world were terror-struck by the Divine miracles and dared not interfere with Israel (Ex. 15:14-15)?”
5)    Chapter 21:4-9: “The serpents’ description as “firey,” which in
Hebrew is seraphim [s’rafim], is curious in itself, but more so is this method given to Moses to heal the victims [which] is somewhat strange” and “has puzzled many commentators…”  1

Although we shall not attempt to solve these puzzles, word investigations may help us to connect some of the ideas and discover a possible internal logic within Parashat Chu’kat.

The red heifer, described as being "without blemish (“t’mee’ma”), in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come,” is “para – cow – aduma - red” (19:2). As far back as Parashat B’resheet (Genesis 1-6:8) we noted that “man” – “a’dam” – is ‘rooted’ in “adama,” “earth,” and that “dam” is “blood,” hence the color “red.” Thus, the animal used in the purification process, whose blood was to be sprinkled (ref. 19:4) was ‘earthy,’ but was also without blemish or defect, recalling the humanity of Messiah (who “was in all points tempted as we are,” Heb. 4:15), as well as His perfection (“a lamb without blemish and without spot,” 1Pet. 1:19). Messiah is also the One who turns our scarlet sins, making them as white as snow and wool. Though the sins are red [“ya’adimu,” again, root of “dam” – “blood” and “adam” – “man”] like crimson (shani), they shall be [as pure and white] as wool (ref. Is. 1:18). The purification mixture, at hand, was made of the ashes of the red heifer, cedar wood and the “scarlet [shani] of a [special] worm (tolah),” referring to the same scarlet (of the sins) mentioned above (in both cases literal translation). It was this mixture that was made available to the impure for “cleansing” or “purification.” Notably, the verb used is “yit’cha’teh” (“shall cleanse himself”, 19:12ff). The root letters of this particular word for “purification” is ch.t.a (chet, tet, alef), which actually spells “sin” (as we have already seen a number of times, e.g. Ex. 29:36; Lev. 14:49 etc.).

In previous Parashot we noted that the remedy, or cure for "missing the mark" (i.e. sinning) is already being taken into account in sin’s very definition (as we just observed above). This principle takes us to another topic of examination contained in the Parasha - the bronze serpent: “And it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live" (21:8). Once again, the very cause of the malady (the serpents) also becomes, symbolically, its cure. Additionally, the rendering of the serpents as “srafim” (meaning “fiery or burning,” of the root s.r.f – shin, resh, pey/fey) forms another link to the red heifer (whose carcass was to be burnt), as the identical root for “burning” is employed several times in the course of the red heifer passage.

At the very onset of the narrative, which leads up to Moshe smiting the rock, the congregation gathers around him and Aha’ron, striving with them (ref. 20:2,3). “Striving” is “meriva” (y.r.b/v, yod, resh, bet/vet), and as it says concerning the Waters of Meriva in Parashat B’shalach (in Ex. 17:7), here too we read: “This is the water of Merivah, because the children of Israel contended [“ravu”] with YHVH, and He was hallowed among them” (20:13). Right along with the striving, rebellion and opposition also make their appearance. In verse 10 Moshe addresses the “rebels” who are called “morim” - “those who are contentious or disobedient.” The root is m.r.h (mem, resh, hey) and it means, “oppose.”  Moshe, like Y’chezkel (Ezekiel), was not to be “rebellious [“meri”] like that rebellious house [“beit ha-meri”]” (Ez. 2:8) of Yisrael, and although commanded to “take the rod,” he was to speak peaceably to the rock (ref. 20:8). Moshe and Aha’ron, however, failed and thus proved their faith to be deficient (20:12), having acted much like their compatriots.

Moshe’s “rod” is called “ma’teh,” which aside from being rooted in the verb to “stretch out,” also means to “incline, turn or turn away.”  It was the rod, symbolic of Moshe and Aha’ron’s authority, which the people followed, while the two leaders had the power to turn their subordinates either toward YHVH or away from Him.

The next part of the chapter presents Moshe’s surprising approach to the Edomites (20:14-21), whose compassion he appears to be seeking, with a promise that the procession of Israelites will not trespass or trample down their land, nor use anything of theirs along the road. Calling them Yisrael’s brothers, Moshe’s messengers to the king of Edom said, among other things: “We will not turn aside (“nita,” once again of the root n.t.h that we just looked at) to the right hand or to the left” (v. 17).  And when “Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, Israel turned away [“va-yet”] from him” (v. 21). Thus, the last two episodes (1. the people’s rebellion and Moshe’s ensuing action, and 2. the Edomites’ retort) are characterized by “turning” and “diversions” (of the root n.t.h – noon, tet, hey) from YHVH’s intended path.

Following Aha’ron’s death on Mount Hor, the Canaanite King of Arad, upon hearing of Yisrael’s approach, fights them and takes some of them captive (21:1). As was already pointed out, the fact that he dared to do so is rather curious. However, the citing, in that connection, of the “road to Atarim” led Nahmanides to attach the sad spy episode to the present adversity, as “Atarim” may share the root “tour” – to “survey” - which we looked at in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha (Numbers 13-15). “What connection then was there between the incident of the spies and this attack on the children of Israel? The latter had shown their lack of confidence and fear of the future, by sending the spies. The Canaanites fortified themselves with the knowledge of Israel’s sense of weakness and inferiority. The lowering of the Israelites’ morale was followed, automatically, by the rising morale of their enemies.” 2 If Yisrael were indeed coming by “the way - or manner - of the spies/surveyers” it would have given the Canaanite king the confidence to assail them.

We now return to the snakes’ story. As we know, the people of Yisrael had complained once more, this time resulting in YHVH sending them these fiery serpents which bit them, causing the death of many (ref. 21:5,6). Nechama Leibowitz points out that the verb “sent” - (va)y’sha’lach - being in the “pi’el” conjugation and not in the more common “kal” [“sha’lach”], connotes a “letting go” or “releasing” of the serpents, whereas up until that time they (the serpents) were held back by YHVH, who did not permit them to harm His people. 3 The serpents’ title points to their characteristic of “burning” or of being “firey” (“saraf”), although the actual word for serpent is “nachash” and therefore the bronze object made by Moshe was called “nachash” – serpent - ha’nchoshet” (of the) brass. The play on words and alliteration continue in 21:9: “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” “A serpent had bitten” is “nashach ha’nachash” (even though there no etymological connection between these two words). This unusual ‘formula’ of looking at the brass serpent and being cured, is interpreted for us by Yeshua: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 14, 15). The healing is found in lifting up one’s eyes to the Creator, while the object (which has no power in and of itself) may serve as a reminder of one’s sin and disbelief on one hand, and of YHVH’s power grace on the other.

In 21:17-18 we read the following: “Then Israel sang this song, ‘Spring up, O well. Sing to it. The well which the rulers dug, which the nobles of the people dug with their lawgivers’ staves and rods’”. Daat Mikra Commentary says: “The digging was initiated by the ‘nobles of the people,’ being a reference to Moshe and Aha’ron who dug it without using ordinary work tools, but with ‘m’chokek mish’a’notam’ (‘their lawgivers’ staves’). 4 A “m’chokek” is a prince, ruler or lawgiver, but it is also another word used for a ruler’s staff (see Gen. 49:10). “M’chokek” originates with the root ch.k.k (chet, kof, kof) and means to “inscribe or engrave” (see Parashat Yitro, Ex. 18 – 21, where we examined this root more extensively, e.g. 18:20), and is thus employed in the word “statute” – “chok” or “chukka,” such as we see in the title of our Parasha (“chu’kat” – the “statute of”). The content of this song, describing a source of water that has been dug by a ruler’s staff of the law, is set against the previous scene where water should have gushed freely from a rock by the mere utterance of the word and not by the effort of “digging” by the “staff of law.” Thus Moshe’s (mis)usage of the staff in order to bring forth water may be the cause for the proverbial staff of the law having to be wielded and for the sweat of the brow to be exerted in order to dig a well and obtain water by human effort. This takes us back to the beginning of the Parasha, where “statute/rule (chok) of the Torah” concerning the red heifer is presented for “purification from sin,” reinforcing the idea that “rules/laws/statutes” have to be wielded and implemented because of rebellion (sin) against the ‘Water (of the Spirit)’ flowing from the ‘Rock’ at the sound of the ‘Word.’

The encounter with the Amorites, after bypassing Moav, resulted in a military victory and the possession of their cities. One of those cities was their capital, Cheshbon (Heshbon).  This conquest engendered a statement by the “those who use proverbs … ‘Come to Cheshbon…’” (21:27). “Those who make use of proverbs” is “moshlim” – also meaning rulers - while “cheshbon” is rooted in ch.sh.v (chet, shin, b/vet), which means “important, to think, ponder, calculate.”  Thus, the combination of proverb and rule, as well as ponder and calculate led the commentators of the past to view the above quote as a statement relating to the rule (control) one should have over one’s natural inclinations (“flesh”) by self-examination (pondering and evaluating).  In the past we have examined the connection between “proverb” and “rule” in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah (in Genesis 24:2).

The Parasha ends with another spy episode. Before the Israelites ventured out to conquer the Amorites, it says in 21:32: “Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer…” The word there for “spy out” is different than the one we encountered previously, this time it is “ra’gel,” of the root r.g.l, meaning “foot or leg” (“regel”), a term also used for the spies who were later sent by Yehoshua (Joshua) to explore Yericho (ref. Joshua 2:1). It seems that these spies (“footmen”) were not to “tour” – survey – the land, but rather walk to their designated destination, one step at a time (one foot in front of the other :).

See article below
*    “Parashat” = “Parasha of…”
1.     Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, Eliner Library, Dept.
      of Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Joint Authority
      for Jewish Zionist Education, Jerusalem, 1995.
2.    ibid
3.    ibid
4.    Da’at Mikra, A’haron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
The following article, which is now a chapter in our book Creation Revisited, deals with some of the Parasha’s themes. The book may be downloaded from our site www.israeliteretun.com

Chapter 4 of the Gospel of John commences with a description of Yeshua traveling north, from Judea to Samaria.  It goes on to say that when He arrived near the city of Shechem, in close proximity to a plot of land that Jacob had purchased many years beforehand for his son Joseph (see v. 5), Yeshua stopped to rest by a well while his disciples were in the city purchasing supplies. Within a short time a local (Samaritan) woman came there to draw water.  In her discourse with Yeshua the woman mentioned that her people had inherited the well from their “father Jacob” (see v. 12). 

Yeshua proceeded to ask her for a drink. That a Jew would stoop to talk to a Samaritan, a female, and then even make His need known to her startled the woman. She therefore reminded Him that Jews did not have any dealings with the Samaritans (who were considered a mongrel race and hence inferior). But yet she continued, noting that the well was very deep.

The woman’s answer to this Jewish Man’s request for a drink was met by the following words: "If you knew the gift [in Hebrew – “mattanah”] of Elohim, and who it is who says to you, 'give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Her reply, however, disclosed that she did not have a clue as to the meaning of what He was saying: “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep” (John 4:11a).  The woman could only relate to what she knew and understood about wells and water, and continued to miss the point even after Yeshua promised: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:14a). “Sir,” she retorted, “give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (John 4:15).  According to her way of reasoning, Yeshua would somehow draw water for her from Jacob’s well or perhaps even generate it from some magical source, so that she would never thirst again, nor have the burden of drawing water every day. Still puzzled, the woman felt that Yeshua had not answered her former query (see John 4:11b).       

The Samaritan woman’s unawareness as to the “living water” and its spiritual source, may serve as an illustration for those who have been habitually drawing water from the world’s resources.  For example, when the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, just east of the Land, circumventing the Moabites and Amorites, Moses promised that YHVH would supply them with water. So when they arrived at a place called Be’er (meaning “well”) they broke out in a song:  “’Spring up, O well! All of you sing to it -- The well the leaders sank, dug by the nation's nobles, by the lawgivers, with their staves.’ And then they [Israel] continued from Be’er and went to a place called Mattanah (Numbers 21: 17-18 emphases added).  

Notice that after they left the well, which the leaders, nobles, and lawgivers [“me’cho’kekim,” literally meaning “those who engrave or dig in”] had dug with their staves, they went to Mattanah - “gift”.  To the woman’s declarations that the well was deep and that it was dug by “her father Jacob” Yeshua responded: “If you knew the “gift” [mattanah] of Elohim, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Just like then, so today, many teachers, philosophers, scholars, and lawgivers are digging wells for us, some of which are very deep, from the world’s education system,  making it necessary to use (the proverbial) ropes and buckets in order to draw up the ‘water’ (just the work itself makes one thirsty).  However, we find that those wells of water often leave us ‘high and dry’ and thus thirsting for more. And when the ‘wells’ start drying up we, like the Israelites in the desert, are told to sing to the “well”, so that the “diggers” can dig even deeper (until the ropes and the work used for drawing the water all fail). Then, after being exhausted and parched, we sometimes go looking for another such well. Or - do we let go and make our way to the ‘Mattanah’ that Elohim has provided, and drink of the living water of which Yeshua spoke?

Let us also ask: “From which source does Yeshua get living water?”  We may find the answer in a statement that He made to His disciples "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23).  Is Yeshua referring here to Genesis 1:7? “Thus Elohim made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so” (emphases added).  

Then, again, on the last day of the feast of Succot, Yeshua repeated what He had said to the Samaritan woman: “…If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37b-38).  Obviously He was not referring to natural waters, but to the “waters above” that is, the Spirit of Elohim. “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).  Hence the Holy Spirit of Elohim is the living water. 


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Let us make use of “fire”, “strife”, “send”, “important” and “think”, all of which we encountered above.

Strife (or argument) is like fire
Riv hu k’mo srefa

What shall I send you?
Ma lishlo’a’ch le’cha? (addressing a male) (literally, what to send to you?)
Ma lishlo’a’ch lach? (addressing, a female)

It is important to think
La’ch’shov ze cha’shuv (literally, to think is important)