Thursday, July 11, 2019

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 (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, 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.

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Chu'kat – Bamidbar (Numbers) 19 – 22:1 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

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, connected to the “rod” – mateh - 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 (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

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)