Saturday, October 27, 2018

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yera B’resheet (Genesis) 18 - 22 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use



Va’yera,” which is translated "he appeared," actually means "and he showed himself," and even more literally: “and he caused himself to be seen.”  “Yera” stems from the root r.a.h. (resh, alef, hey), meaning to "see."  Some of its other derivatives are: "seen, to show, to be seen, and sight." Certainly, "seeing" plays a major role in this Parasha.  Yes, YHVH does show Himself to Avraham – but it was up to the latter to do the seeing.  The opening statement in 18:1-2 reads thus: “YHVH appeared to him… and he lifted up his eyes and saw… three men!" This peculiar wording indicates that while looking, Avraham had to see beyond what met his eye. But before we continue, let us note that last week’s Parashat Lech Lecha also had its share of “seeing,” such as in 12:7, where it is ‘seen’ twice (as “appreared”), similar to the way it is used in our Parasha. Then there was the concern of the beautiful Sarai being “seen” by the Egyptians (12:12, 14). In 13:10 Lot “lifts up his eyes” and sees the expanse of land which appeals to him. However, Avram’s magnanimity pays off, as in 13:14ff YHVH promised to give him all the land which his sight captures (and that includes Lot’s territory). Chapter 15 opens up with Avram’s vision, and then with “seeing” the stars that were symbolic of his future progeny. Later, Hagar, who was carrying Avram’s child, “saw that she had conceived, and her mistress became despised in her eyes” (16:4). As a result of the conflict between the two women Hagar fled with her child. There, in the wilderness, she was met by an angel at a spring of water (“spring” is “ayin” in Hebrew, meaning also “eye”), “then she called the name of YHVH… You-Are-the-El-Who-Sees –Me - El Ro’i – for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” (16:13). Even the well that was there, was to commemorate this “seeing,” by being named (by Hagar) the well of the Living-One-Who-Sees-Me (Be’er La’Hai Ro’i). This, then, forms the backdrop of all the “seeing” that will be mentioned in our Parasha of Va’yera.

The principle promulgated by Yeshua in Matthew 25:40, namely, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me," is apparent throughout chapter 18.  Avraham (as he is called now) appears to be keenly aware of the fact that by entertaining strangers, one could unknowingly (or knowingly), be entertaining (at the very least), angels… (ref. Hebrew 13:2).  The strangers passing by, whether one of them is or is not YHVH Himself, are greeted by their host, in word and deed, with great respect and homage not unbefitting royalty. 

The passage at hand (in chapter 18) contains significant interplays between singular and plural,* as in verse 3 Avraham addresses the three men who had just appeared to him as "Adonai" (“Lords”) saying: “…If now I have found favor in your [single person] sight, pass not away from your servant." Verses 4 and 5, however, employ the second person plural, whereas in verse 10, where the promise of the son who is to be born to Sarah within the year is pronounced, there is a switch to singular again (“and he said I will return,” italics added). It is YHVH who is actually mentioned in verses 13 and 14, as the One addressing Avraham (relating to Sarah’s response), while in v. 16 the “men rise up” and get ready to leave. Starting with verse 17 the scene changes altogether.  In the passage which commences here (describing Avraham's intercession on behalf of the cities of Sdom and Amora – Gomorrah - vs. 23-32), YHVH, and the men who until now seemed to represent Him, are referred to as totally separate entities: “And the men turned their faces away from there, and went toward Sodom. But Abraham still stood before YHVH” (v. 22). The blurred distinction (in regards to YHVH) within the three-person party leaves us baffled as to ‘who is who’ here, and raises the question whether there is a hidden message in this unusual and enigmatic text formulation. Later on, when Lot and the members of his family are being led out of Sdom by the messengers-visitors, there is a similar lack of distinction between YHVH and His ‘agents’ (ref. 19:16-21 with another interchange between singular and plural)*. Thus, although this Parasha is characterized by ‘seeing,’ the reader’s vision is often quite impaired (or challenged).

Back to chapter 18, where Avraham’s guests stand and view Sdom from a distance, while the Elohim who "showed Himself" to Avraham determines (v. 17) to (literally) not "cover" His plans from His servant, and to inform him what He was about to do (to Sdom and Amora).  YHVH then declares that He Himself aims to "come down and see if they had done according to the outcry that had come" to Him (18:21 italics added).  In this instance, the "seeing" is a symbolic "inspection," or a declaration of intent that will obviously be followed by action on YHVH’s part. 

Following Avraham's bargaining scene with YHVH, we meet his nephew Lot as he is sitting in the evening by the gate of Sdom (whereas his uncle had been sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of day).  Now it is his turn to "see" (19:1).  Lot greets the two messengers (quite likely of the same “threesome” who had visited his uncle) by rising up and bowing down, just as his relative had done.  He too offers to have his guests' feet washed, and is anxious to supply them with refreshments.  As it is evening time, Lot also offers them a place for the night, which they are very reluctant to accept (or are they simply testing him?), and do so only after much imploring on the part of their host.  The meal served by Avraham under the tree was far more peaceful than the feast at Lot's house in the city of Sdom (notice that up until now each reference to “city” has been connected to wickedness, Kayin built a city, ref. 4:17; Nimrod was a city builder, ref. 10:11-12, the tower of Babel builders intended to build a city, ref. 11:4).  Before Lot’s guests are about to retire, the town's evil men surround the house (ref. 19:4, 5). The messengers, however, quickly and supernaturally blind the eyes of the would-be-assailants (ref.  19:11). Next, Lot tries to talk his family into leaving town, but his sons-in-law perceive it to be a joke ("laughing" is the word in Hebrew in verse 14). This laughter, however, is only short lived, as in verse 25 YHVH overthrows the two cities and in verse 28 Avraham is mentioned watching (literally “seeing” - “vayar” - of the  root r.a.h) “the smoke of the country.”

Laughter was also part of the above-mentioned scene with Avraham and his guests.  The three visitors came in order to reaffirm, once again, the promise of a son. Sarah, who overheard this conversation, laughed in her tent and later denied it (18:12-15).  What’s more, this is not the last time that she is seen laughing.  After giving birth, exactly within the year as YHVH had declared, Sarah says, "Elohim has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of it will laugh at me" (21:6 italics added).  “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking” (the word is again “laughing,” v. 9, italics added). "Seeing" this “laughter” results in the banishment of Hagar and her son Yishmael (Ishmael).  The banished handmaiden wanders in the wilderness by Beer Sheva, and when her drinking water is used up she places her son under a shrub and exclaims: “Let me not see the death of the boy.  And she … lifted up her voice and cried" (v.16 italics added). “And Elohim opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave drink to the boy” (v. 19 italics added).

Hagar's eyes are opened in the wilderness of Beer Sheva. The episode that follows (21:22 – 32) expounds on the meaning of that town’s name.  Beer Sheva is literally "the well of seven".  The words “adjure, charge, and oath” share the same root (sh.v.a, shin, bet/vet, ayin). “Satisfaction, or to have had enough” (especially regarding food), is “sovah,” being of the same root (although the letter “shin,” “sh” sound, is modified to a “sin,” - “s” sound).  The usage of the number seven is often indicative of “fullness” and “completeness,” and as such it is also a solemn promise, or an oath that can be guaranteed simply by repeating it seven times (or by using multiplications of seven).  The connection between these two words ("seven" and "oath") is well illustrated here in our story, namely in Avraham and Avimelech's settlement.  Avraham places seven (“sheva”) ewe lambs in front of Avimlelech, as a witness to the fact that he had dug the well that was now under dispute.  Following this action "he called that place Beer Sheva, because there the two of them took an oath (sh'vu'ah, v. 31)".  In Matthew 18:21, we see Peter proclaiming that the act of forgiving up to seven times is sufficient.  Yeshua, of course, goes beyond that but He too stays within the ‘realm of seven’ saying, "up to seventy times seven” (v. 22).  Truly, “…The words of YHVH are pure words; as silver… refined seventy times" (Ps.  12:6). The figure ‘seventy’ tells us that His words promise to guarantee full satisfaction.  "…On the day when YHVH binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted… the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days" (Is. 30:26).  Again, the guarantee of fullness in the form of "sevens" renders it like an oath.  The sunrise and sunset dictate the formation of any given day, just as the sun and the moon control the length of the months and seasons of the Biblical year.  The seven-day week, however, seems to be quite arbitrary - but is it?  Elohim chose to create the world in six days and then to add one more at the end, which He set apart for rest, remembrance, and declaration.  The sanctification of the seventh day, the commemoration of the number "seven" (in naming the “week” “shavu’a”), the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has accomplished, and its guaranteed fulfillment are all innately expressed in the Hebrew language by the root sh/s.v.a: "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied (“es'be'ah”) with Your likeness when I awake" (Ps. 16:11 & 17:15). To seal off the episode of Avraham’s test, YHVH declares: "By Myself I have sworn – nish’ba’ti - ’ says YHVH, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed…” (22:16-17 italics added)    

This blessing is the culmination of Avraham’s test, known as the "binding of Yitzchak (Isaac)," or “Akedat Yitzchak.”  After a three-day journey, set off by the words “lech le’cha”, with Yitzchak and two of his servants “…Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…” (22:4 italics added).  Responding to his son's question, as to the whereabouts of the lamb for the sacrifice, Avraham says, "Elohim will see for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (v. 8 literal translation, italics added).  YHVH does indeed "see" (translated as “provide”) a substitute for Yitzchak in the form of a ram…  "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns.  And Abraham called the name of the place ‘YHVH Yir'eh - will see’ - as it is said to this day - 'it shall be seen on the mountainof YHVH'" (v.13-14 emphasis added). 

In the opening verses of our Parasha we saw Avraham “seeing” YHVH by using his 'inner eyes' and discernment, even when looking upon three men.  YHVH is also seen as the One who reveals His "secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7) prior to judging Sdom and Amora, though not before doing His own "seeing" of the state of affairs there (ref. 18:21). Further, His messengers' aura of light impairs the vision of the spiritually blind.  Avimelech sees YHVH in a dream which prevents him from sinning with Sarah (ref. 20:3, 4).  What the latter “sees” (ref. 21:9) causes her to send Hagar and Yishmael away, but their needs are “seen to” by YHVH in the wilderness (ref. 21:014-19).  Finally, YHVH is the One who “sees” (present tense) for Himself the sacrificial Lamb provided by Him for all time (ref. 22:8, 14). And so, as it is in the beginning so it is at the end of the Parasha - YHVH reveals Himself.  More on Avraham’s, this time long range vision, is found in the words of Yeshua who declared to the Pharisees: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Quite likely this is connected to Avraham’s statement regarding the future “lamb for the sacrifice.”

Earlier we noticed that Avraham was sitting at the tent door “in the heat of the day” (18:1) denoting daylight, while Lot was sitting at the gate of the city of Sdom “in the evening” (19:1), denoting darkness (cf. John 3:19, 8:12, 12:35, 46; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:5,7). But in the Parasha as a whole, it is the expression “early in the morning” that keeps reoccurring. In three out of four times it relates to Avraham (19:27; 21:14; 22:3), and one time to Avimelech (20:8). “And he rose early” is rendered each time, “va’yashkem” of the root sh.ch.m (shin, kaf/chaf, mem) which is also applied to the word “shoulder.” This is illustrated very graphically in 21:14: “And Abraham rose up early  - “va-yashkem” - in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder -”shichma” -  (italics added). The connection of those two terms is thought to be imbedded in the very reason for rising early, which is to put one’s shoulders to work. However, the two examples (out of the three) of Avraham’s early rising and setting to do as he is told (“Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice,” – 21:12; and “… so Abraham… took… Isaac his son… then they came to a place that Elohim had told him, 22:3, 9), have a common theme. In each of those Avraham is told to give up his son, his firstborn. But whereas in the first instance, which appears to be a rehearsal for the second, he contests the word (21:11), when the second episode comes round he obeys implicitly (see 22:12b). Interestingly, Avraham, whose original call was “lech lecha” (12:1), words with which he complied without as much as blinking an eyelid, was once again addressed by these very words when he was told by YVHVH to go to Mount Moriah and there offer up his son (ref. 22:2)  

In 19:37 and 38 we learn of the origin of the Moabites and the Amonites. The fact that they are the product of an incestuous relationship is expressed by the name of the older of the two: “Mo’av” stems from “m’av,” meaning “from a father,” as the boy had been begotten by his mother’s father (his own grandfather). The second boy’s mother names him “Ben Ami” (Ammon), meaning “son of my people,” which is also a reference to the close family tie. Lot’s daughters’ conduct is not surprising, as earlier on, when the men of Sdom demanded that he hand over his guests to them, their father attempted to offer these two daughters in place of the visitors (ref. 19:4-8). If Ham, and especially his son, Kna’an, were cursed for revealing the father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:24, 25), the same, and more, would be applicable to Lot’s descendents, Moav and Amon.


*In all these cases this is much more pronounced in the Hebrew original than in the translations, one reason being that in English there is no distinction between you singular and plural, which there is in Hebrew.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

We will “look” at and “see” the usage of “seeing”, roeh/ro’ah (m.f.), as well as at Avraham’s position by the opening – petach - of his tent – ohel - versus Lot’s at the city – eer - gate – sha’ar. As we noted above, “rural dwelling” and its implication is sharply contrasted with “urbanism”. (Also, remember last week’s “country living”?).   
Here we go:
-                     What do you see?
-                     (masculine) Ma ata ro’eh?
-                     (feminine) Ma at ro’ah?
-                     I am seeing Avraham at (the) entrance to the tent
-                     (masculine) Ani ro’eh et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel.
-                     (feminine) Ani ro’ah et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel
-                     I am seeing Lot at (the) gate of the city.
-                     (masculine) Ani ro’eh et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer.
-                     (feminine) Ani ro’ah et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer
Vocabulary: ro’eh/ro’ah – he/she sees
                  Petach – opening (b’fetach – at opening).
(The p and f sounds are designated by the same consonant,
while the vowels change depending on the placement of the
consonant in the word, thus in this case the “p” sound becomes an “f”)
Ohel – tent (ha’ohel – the tent)
                  Sha’ar – gate (b’sha’ar – at gate)
                  eer – city, town (ha’eer – the city, the town)
Note: as you may have noted, the definite article “the” – “ha” – isn’t used within the sentence in exactly the same way as it is in English.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yelech – Deuteronomy 31 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


While last week’s Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter and lead you into the land

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”). “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both.  this echoes the opening words of the Parasha, regarding Moshe’s “going”, but with a consoling element of YHVH’s “going” (present tense) with His people and being with them.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: “He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weaklet gobe negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”);;is azav (ayin,zayin,bet/vet),’’and’’means,//leaveabandon or 
forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In  Parashat Nitzavim, (Deut. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root y.tz.v that we encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim”. In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In verses 10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "readrecitecall.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).

Finally, the ironic vein makes its appearance in verses 28, 29 if compared to verse 12, doing so by the usage of the verb “gather” in its imperative form. In the first instance it is the command to gather all the “people, men and women, and little ones, and the stranger… that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YHVH your Elohim and carefully observe the words of this Torah” (that is in the 7th year gathering at Succot). In the second instance, “all the elders of your tribes, and your officers” are to be gathered “that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them”. The object of this present gathering is in order to predict that after Moshe’s death “You will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (verse 29).




 “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

From Parashat Va’yelech we will glean several useful verbs.  “Going”
(or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used
in the Parasha in the same way. From the unique usage above of the verb
“to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is
“to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual
spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”.

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We (masculine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit
We (feminine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’ot Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisre’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)

Parashot Nitzavim and Va’yelech – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 29:10 - Chapter 31 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


Parashat Nitzavim may be subtitled “The Hebrew People - A Testimony of the Covenant and of the Promises.” Although Nitzavim is translated "You stand…" - it actually means "standing in position, standing firmly, or taking a stand," the root being y.tz.v (yod, tzadi, bet/vet) and the definition is “set, establish or take a stand.”[1] According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, however, the root is tz.v.v (tzadi, vet, vet), and means “cover while moving.” [2] Embodied in these two Parashot is the definition of the nation as well as the ultimate promise of grace. Interestingly, about the “nations” which “rage” and “the peoples” who “contemplate a vain thing”, with their “kings and rulers” (mentioned in Psalm 2:1-2), it is said that they “take their stand together against YHVH and His Anointed…” (v.2). In Hebrew “take their stand” is, again, “yit’ya’tzvu,” which places the latter in a parallel position to those who stood at the foot of Mount Horeb. Thus, with these two “stances” placed side by side, one is left with a choice of, where to stand and with whom

The familiar verb "avor" which means “to pass, go through, go over, enter,” and the noun and verb forms of "witness or testimony” ("ed"), show up more than once. The Hebrew people, YHVH’s witnesses, are characterized, as we know, by ‘crossing’ or ‘passing over,’ hence different aspects of this action are presented in the text.

But why are the “passers over” standing “in position” or “formation”? “That you may enter ("avor") the covenant with YHVH your Elohim, and enter("avor") into His oath [alah – an oath that if broken incurs a curse; in 30:7 it is used as “curse”] which YHVH your Elohim is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your Elohim, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of YHVH our Elohim and with those who are not with us here today" (29:12-15). ). With all the crossing over of the Hebrews, the passing/crossing over into the covenant is of prime importance. Notice also the far reaching aspect of the covenant, to those “not with us today,” thus pointing to the continuity of the people of Yisrael and to generational unity within the boundaries of the covenant. Moreover, in 29:10-11 the text stresses the all-inclusiveness of the covenant by addressing “all of you,” as well as by enumerating the entire social structure of the nation: “your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives -- also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water.”

Covenant” – “brit” – is of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), meaning to “cut." “Making a covenant” – “karot”- is another verb for “cut” (or fell, a tree, for example). Consequently, in making the covenant there is a double cutting as it were, which points emphatically to separation from one’s former situation, both naturally and spiritually (and is signified by the cutting entailed in the physical circumcision). By the same token, by transgression one may experience a “cutting (again, k.r.t, e.g. Lev. 7:20)… away” from the boundaries prescribed by the covenant.

This covenant, being two-sided, is therefore like a two-edged sword. Abba laid down the conditions, but knowing the infidelity which is characteristic of His children’s heart, He also built into the covenant the promise of grace. In other words, ultimately it will be Him only who will make possible its fulfillment, as is seen so vividly in 30:3-10. In verse 6 He promises that at a latter time He will “circumcise the heart” of His people. “Circumcise” is designated by the root m.u.l (mem, vav, lamed), meaning… “to cut”, once again. In between this promise of grace and the warnings of transgressing His commandments (29:16-28), we read in 29:29: “The things hidden are to YHVH our Elohim, and the things revealed are to us and to our sons -- that wemay do all the words of this Torah” (literal translation, italics added). Disobedience cannot be excused by claiming that the Torah is mystical and concealed, and as if this is not enough it says in 30:11-14: "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 the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over 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.” The word for “mysterious” here is different from the one employed in 29:29 for “hidden.” The present term (v. 14) is “niflet,” rooted in p.l.a (pey, lamed, alef. See Shoftim - Judges 13:18 and Tehilim - Psalm 139:6, in both this word is translated “wonderful”). However, having said all of the above, in the next Parasha (chapter 31) there is warning that could result in situations where YHVH will hide His face from His people (v. 17).  

Repentance and turning to YHVH will bring a restoration which is expressed in the 30:3-10 passage where all the verbs are in the ‘active causative form,’ denoting that He is both the initiator and the ‘enactor.’ Not only does He take it upon Himself to enable the fulfillment of the covenant, and at a latter date sends Yeshua to carry all of our afflictions and sufferings, in 31:13 it also says that, "YHVH your Elohim [is He] who will cross (“avor”) ahead of you" (italics added). YHVH is truly the Elohim of the Hebrews! He goes ahead of them by "crossing over" Himself! At the same time, together with the “crossing” or “passing over” we have here one of those Hebraic dichotomies indicated by “standing firmly.” The blend of both is the desired condition and status designated for the People of Yisrael. And indeed, we see Yeshua crossing  - “over”* – ahead of us, entering within the veil giving us a hope which is sure and steadfast – “yatziv” (ref. Heb. 6:19, 20, Hebrew translation of the Greek, being also of the root y.tz.v). Thus, with a “yatziv” (sure) hope, we are enabled to be steadfast and stand firmly in our crossing over journey.

In the meantime, this drama of the covenant nation, its unfaithfulness and the grace granted it, is to unfold in front of the entire universe and creation. The testimony – witness -“ed” – is being established by calling upon heaven and earth (ref. 30:19). The Song of Moses (referred to in Parashat Va’yelech 31:21 and presented in chapter 32) is the written record that serves as a witness, as does the Torah too, which is to be kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies (31:26). The desolate land (29:23-28) will also bear witness to the unfaithfulness of the people, both before their own sons' eyes, and in front of the foreigners (v. 22), as will their banishment from it (i.e. the land). All this is with view toward the end that, the Hebrew people themselves will become a witness and a testimony nation. "You are my witness, declares YHVH" (Is. 43:10), to the fact that He is the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of creation, and the Elohim of the universe.

As we have already seen, the covenant pertains to this preset day generation (see 29:14-15), just as much as it was to those who lived back then. Therefore we too are to "stand firm in position," standing our ground today, to be a covenant people and a witness to the Elohim of the covenant, the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of the Hebrews - the Elohim of grace.

While Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter and lead you into the land.”

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”). “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both. This echoes the opening words of the Parasha, regarding Moshe’s “going”, but with a consoling element of YHVH’s “going” (present tense) with His people and being with them.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: “He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weaklet gobe negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”) is azav (ayin, zayin, bet/vet), and means, “leaveabandon or forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In  Parashat Nitzavim, above (Det. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shallrise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root y.tz.v that we just encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim” above. In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In 31:10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "readrecitecall.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).
Finally, the ironic vein makes its appearance in verses 28, 29 if compared to verse 12, doing so by the usage of the verb “gather” in its imperative form. In the first instance it is the command to gather all the “people, men and women, and little ones, and the stranger… that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YHVH your Elohim and carefully observe the words of this Torah” (that is in the 7th year gathering at Succot). In the second instance, “all the elders of your tribes, and your officers” are to be gathered “that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them”. The object of this present gathering is in order to predict that after Moshe’s death “You will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (verse 29).


 “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Nitzavim makes reference several times to the witness of “earth”, and even more so to the “heavens”. It also makes reference to “land”, to its demise but also to its restoration, being a reflection of the people of Israel’s heart condition. Last week we used the verb “to love” – le’e’hov – and this time we will focus on the noun “love” – “ahavah”, being the required ingredient for the heart’s restoration. By the way, the word “shamayim” for “heaven” or “sky”, is made up of two words “sham” – there, and “mayim” – water, and together “shamayim” – there is water there. It is always in the plural form, as is also “mayim” – water.

In the heaven/sky there are stars
Ba’sha’ma’yim yesh kochavim (kochav – star; kochavim – stars)

The Land of Israel – the beloved land
Eretz Yisrael – eretz ahu’va (lit. land beloved)

I have love in my heart
Yesh li ahava ba’lev (lir. There is to me love in the heart)

You (m.) have – yesh le’cha
You (f.) have – yesh lach
He has – yesh lo
She has – yesh la

From Parashat Va’yelech we will glean several useful verbs.  “Going”
(or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used
in the Parasha in the same way. From the unique usage above of the verb
“to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is
“to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual
spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”.

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We (masculine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit
We (feminine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’ot Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisre’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hebrew insights into Parashat Ve’zot Habracha – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 33-34 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The Torah’s last Parasha, with its prophetic blessings upon the People of Yisrael and the individual tribes, is also the last curtain for Moshe who takes his leave off the stage of history. We have seen the Patriarchs bless their sons before their departure, and now we view Moshe blessing the people whom he had carried in his bosom like a father (sometimes in spite of himself, ref. Num, 11:12) for over forty years.

The opening statement, “ve’zot habracha” (“and this is the blessing”), indicates that the first and more general component of the blessing (33:2-5) is part and parcel of one singular blessing that Moshe delivers as YHVH’s Spirit rests upon him. That is to say that each tribe’s blessing is not separate from the word bestowed upon the nation as a whole. The very usage of “b’racha”, singular, implies that YHVH is considering each individual tribe as part of a complete entity. Moreover, employing the (seemingly unnecessary) “and” implies that the blessing is a continuation of what preceded its pronouncement. 

The glorious and majestic description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai is likened to an epiphany of YHVH Himself, denoted by His “coming,” “rising” and “shinning forth” over physical and geographical locations (ref 33:2). An equivalent description, although underscored by a more specific prophecy, found in Chavakuk (Habakkuk) 3:3-4 will perhaps help us realize that this expose’ of YHVH may not be restricted only to the event which took place at Chorev, as YHVH is not bound to, or limited by Time, even when He intercepts our dimensionally-confined world. Thus, we may infer that a wider scope of revelation of Yisrael’s Elohim is presented here. Interestingly, in “He came with ten thousands of saints” (33:2), it is not the usual “ba” (“came”), but rather the Aramaic “ata,” evoking the Aramaic “maranatha” – or “maran ata” (Revelation 22:20) - that is, “Master come” or “the Master has come.”  The enigmatic meaning of verses 2 and 3 is matched by the very words and syntax used, all of which are complex and extraordinary, presenting a challenging task for the commentators. The literal rendering, for example, of “ten thousands of saints,” mentioned in verse 2, is literally “ten thousands of holiness,” the word used there being “kodesh.” Thus, if the text is referring to “ten thousands of saints” or “holy ones,” why are “His holy ones” in the next verse (v. 3) rendered as “k’doshav” (“kadosh” - “holy one”), plain and simple? If in both cases the meaning is “His holy ones,” why are the terms not identical? Or, is it possible that “ten thousands of holiness” is not a reference to “saints” (or “angels” according to rabbinic interpretation) at all, but is a description of His abode (from which He is said to be coming) being “abundant in holiness”?

The next expression in the same verse (2) is no less problematic. That which is translated either “firey law” or “flashing lightning” is “eshdat” in Hebrew, being a term that appears nowhere else. If broken in two it is: “e’sh” – fire – and “dat” – “law, edict” or “manner of things”. However, “dat” is found only in Esther, one time in Ezra and in the Aramaic sections of Daniel, making its usage here, at such an early stage, totally doubtful. According to the B.D.B Lexicon “eshdat” was originally “esh yokeh-dat,” that is “burning fire” (with the first two syllables now missing). [1] According to this viewpoint we should read, “On His right (that is by the right hand side) is a burning fire”.

Verse 3 reads: “Indeed, He loves the people; all your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps, carrying Your words”. This presents several problems. It changes mid-sentence from third to second person. “He who loves the nations” or “peoples” is described as “chovev amim.” The root ch.v.v. (chet, vet, vet) – love dutifully – also forms the name Chovav, which is one of the names of Moshe’s father-in-law (ref. Num. 10:29). According to Daat Mikra, “even when He expresses love toward all peoples, ‘all His Holy ones’ are Yisrael and they are ‘in Your hand’”. Therefore the change to second person in the second part of the verse denotes YHVH’s closeness to His people. Daat Mikra adds that the rest of the verse should read: “And they will be smitten at Your feet, and receive Your Word,” [2] whereas according to BDB the verb “tuku,” (“smitten”) is of dubious meaning and should therefore be understood as: “will be assembled,” as it is more compatible with the context. [3]

Yisrael’s present and future destiny is defined in the next two verses (33:4, 5). Since Moshe is mentioned here in third person, the question arises whether he is speaking of himself, or is the assembly intoning the following: “Moses charged us with Torah, an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob. And there was a king in Jeshurun” [remember last Parasha’s Yeshurun, “the one who has been straightened,” in contradistinction to Ya’acov who is “winding” or “crooked”?]; when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of Israel together” (vs. 4, 5). For the “assembly of Jacob” we have here the unusual form of “kehila” (of the root k.h.l), rather than the frequent “kahal” or “eda.” “Kehila” appears to refer to a more organized form of the congregation, or society, rather than to a random assembly of the multitudes. Thus, when the People of Yisrael is in unison they become the redeemed community ruled over by YHVH while inheriting the Torah, rendering them no longer a wayward Ya’acov, but Yeshurun, whose paths have been made straight. 

At this point Moshe confers on each tribe its respective prophetic blessing.

The first three tribes to receive their blessings are the firstborn Reuven, who in spite of having lost the birthright (ref. 1st Chronicles 5:1, 2), symbolizes here this significant position; Secondly, Yehuda (Judah), who was to receive the kingly position, while Levi is third to be given his blessing which is the office of the priesthood. There is no mistake - this is the order of YHVH’s Kingdom: the birthright comes first, ideally consisting of kingship and priesthood. However, in the un-regenerated state the birthright had to be divided up into its two offices (namely the ‘kingly’ and the ‘priestly’), which were only brought together in Yeshua (ref. Zech. 6:13). But when YHVH’s kingdom will fully manifest upon the earth, His people will form the long-awaited-for nation of priests (after the order of Malchitzedek) and kings (e.g. 1st Peter 2:9).*

Since Yehuda, according to the blessing (v. 7), was destined to be “brought to his people,” it is apparent that he will be separated from them at some point. This prediction became fact when the ten northern tribes seceded from the united kingdom ruled by Yehuda, and were later exiled and dispersed and until now have not been reunited with their estranged southern brethren, albeit the many prophecies predicting their eventual union.  
 . 
Of Levi it says (in verse 9): “who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; and he has not acknowledged his brothers, nor knew his own son, for they have observed Your word and kept Your covenant.” The word for “acknowledge” is “hekir,” also meaning to “recognize” and stems from the root n.ch.r (noon, kaf/chaf, resh) used in “nochri,” “stranger,” and in the verb “hitnaker,” to be “estranged.” This term describes Yoseph’s initial treatment of his brothers in B’resheet (Genesis) 42:7. The Levites, who were also to assume the position of judges, could not be “partial” to anyone, including their own family members, or as the Hebrew has it, they could not (in their official capacity) “recognize or acknowledge" their relatives, but rather, had to become “estranged” from them. “Estrangement” and “recognition,” although appearing to be contradictory, are in fact not that far apart; at times it takes the former in order to achieve the latter (as was the case with Yoseph and his brothers).

The description enumerating Yoseph’s blessing (vs. 13 – 17) resembles a trail going up and down hills, descending into valleys and underground resources and climbing mountain tops; a journey, which while topographical and geographical, also crosses the boundaries of Time and is ‘intercepted’ by the human element as well as by heavenly bodies, such as the sun and the moon (recalling to mind Yoseph’s dreams). “Meged” - translated “precious - is the leitmotif of this passage, as it is repeated five times within few verses. Its expanded meaning is “excellence, glory, and gifts of choice” in reference to nature.[4]  In verse 15, Yoseph’s hills and mountains are termed “ancient” (“kedem” - “first, initial, primary” and also connected to that which is "ahead"), and “everlasting” (the word being “olam,” which also means “futurity”). Both the heavens and the abyss are destined to contribute toward Yoseph’s well being. That which the ground will produce for him on a monthly basis will grow so fast, that it will seem as though “expelled” (“the best yield” is “geresh,” g.r.sh, to “expel, force out”) by the earth (v. 14). On the one hand “he shall push out the peoples” (v. 17), but his leadership position is not likened to the prowess of a king or a military leader, nor even to that of a typical priest, but rather to that of the Nazarite (ref. end of v. 16 – “n’zir ehcav”, literally the “nazarite among his brothers” and translated as “the one who was separated from his brothers,” or “a prince among his brothers”). The title used here originates in “nezer,” a “crown or a miter,” which is made up of the nazarite’s uncut hair (as we saw in Parashat Nasso, in Num. 6). The “nazarite” - or “nazir”- is one who takes upon himself an oath to abstain from worldly pleasures.

Z’vulun (Zebulun) is told to rejoice in his “going out” (v. 18). In Parashat Ki Tetze (in Deut. 21:10) we already noted that “going out” many a time connotes going out to war (ref. 1st Ch. 12:33), and in Z’vulun’s case also going out to sea (ref. Ya’acov’s blessings to his sons, in Gen. 49:13). Yisas’char’s (Issachar) tent dwelling is an antidote to Z’vulun’s “going out,” and refers to homestead and attachment to the land (the tent dwelling here does not seem to suggest a nomadic life style; cf. Jacob’s blessings, Gen. 49:14), and perhaps also to the wisdom and discernment characteristic of this people (ref. 1st Ch. 12:32). The mutual cooperation between these two neighboring tribes is captured by verse 19. Yisas’char “shall call the peoples to the mountain. There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness,” while Z’vulun will make provisions of “the bounty of the seas and treasures hidden in the sand”.

Naphtali is “satisfied with favor,” which is “s’vah ratzon” (v. 23), while Asher, who is “favorable in the eyes of his brothers,” is “r’tzooy echav” (v. 24). Both these words emanate from the root r.tz.h., which is to “please, accept, favor”.

In verse 15 we read about the “ancient – kedem – mountains,” while in verse 27 Elohim, who is described as a “dwelling place” (“me’ona”), is also called “Elohey kedem,” translated here as “eternal”. Thus, He who always was from the very beginning, is also the One who will ever be and it is He who will enable Yisrael to “dwell alone securely” (v. 28, literal translation; cf Bil’am’s blessing, Num. 23:9), as He Himself is her dwelling place while “underneath [her] are [His] everlasting arms” (v. 27).

Moshe’s last words constitute an exhilarating exclamation: “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people saved by YHVH, the shield of your help, and who is the sword of your excellence! And your enemies shall be found liars to you, and you shall tread on their high places” (33:29). It is most likely that Moshe himself did not compose the last eight verses of D’varim (chapter 34, or even the entire chapter, consisting of 12 verses). About his body it is said, “He buried him…” (34:6), inferring the direct involvement of the Holy One of Yisrael in this task. And although in Sh’mot (Exodus) 33:20 YHVH said to Moshe: “You cannot see My face. For there no man can see Me and live,” here we read in verse 10: “And never since has a prophet like Moses arisen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face”.  These words do point to Moshe’s intimate knowledge of the Almighty, Who Himself is said to have “known” Moshe (cf. 1st Cor. 13:12). “Panim el panim” (“face to face”) implies exposure before someone, as in Hebrew “face” is not only an external image, with the root p.n.h (which we have noted several times in the past) meaning “to turn”.  Thus “face” is that which “turns” to look at and respond to another. And while “panim” is the “exterior,” or the “surface,” “p’nim” means “inner” (ref. Ezekiel 40:19,23 etc.). Thus “panim” - face – also reflects that which is on the inside. In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 this principle is applied in a powerful way to each individual believer: “We all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld [‘turned toward’] the glory of YHVH as in a mirror, are being changed [on the inside] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by YHVH, the Spirit” (italics added).


[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979
[2] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Cook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[3] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon
[4] Ibid. 
* More information on the “firstborn factor” may be obtained
from our book, Firstborn Factor in the Plan of Redemption, which can also be read online. See www.israelitereturn.com


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our short Parasha yields several words which are common in Modern Hebrew.  “Yeshurun” is of the root y.sh.r. (yod, shin, resh), which means “straight” as well as “honest”. The verb “hekir”, for “recognize” and “familiar” (“mukar”) is also very useful, as well as “rotzeh” – “want” and “ratzon” – will. Finally, “face” – “panim” – is not something we want to miss, especially when we “recognize” someone… Notice “panim” is always plural in Hebrew.

He is an honest man
Hu eesh yashar

The road is straight
Ha’kvish yashar

Do you (m.) know him?
Ata makir oto?

I know (f) her
Ani makira ota

What do you (m) want?
Ma ata rotzeh?

What do you (f) want?
Ma at rotzah?

Is he familiar to you (m)?
Hu mukar le’cha?

Yes, his face is familiar
Ken, ha’panim she’lo muka’rot (lit. the face of his…)