Friday, July 23, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’etchanan – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 3:23 – 7:11

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Dvarim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 1 – 3:22

 

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

In 1:5 we read: “On the other side of the Jordan Moses began explaining this law”, but more literally it says that Moshe was “willing to undertake” (“ho’eel” of the root y.a.l, yod, alef, lamed) to expoundba’er - the Torah”, thus summing up the essence of this fifth book of the Pentateuch. Referring to this summary as… “expounding the Torah” lends (once again) a broader meaning to this term.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sheds more light on “ho’eel”: “The primary meaning of this root is ‘to make a volitional decision to commence a given activity…’  This volitional decision to begin an act clearly indicates the function of one’s mind to initiate… The verb concentrates on the volitional element rather than upon emotional or motivational factors. It stresses the voluntary act of the individual’s will to engage in a given enterprise, not what may have brought him to that decision… Theologically this verb strongly supports the concept of man’s freewill, for man can make decisions to initiate any given action (within human control), but God holds him responsible for that volitional decision”.[1] This is not the first time that the verb “ho’eel” is ‘attached’ to Moshe. After having rescued Re’u’el’s (Yitro) daughters at the well and accepting their father’s invitation, it says that “Moses was content – va’yo’el – to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses” (Ex. 2:21. Another example is found in 1st Samuel 12;22, where for “ho’eel” the translation is “pleased” – although not totally accurate.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2 contains Moshe’s reviews of some geographical and historical facts. As part of preparing the young Israelites for their relocation, he wants them to have a geographical and historical orientation and perspective. This is particularly true in 2:9-12, 18-23. Some of the names of the peoples mentioned are rather revealing. In 2:10 we read about the “Eimeem” (Emims). “Eima” is “fear, dread or horror” (for example, in the Covenant Between the Torn Pieces it says: “… and behold a terror – “eima” – of great darkness,” Gen. 15:12). These “Eimim” are compared to, or regarded as the Anakim (Deut. 2:11) who are the giants described by the spies (Num. 13:28). Following them, mention is made of the “Rfa’eem.” The root r.f.a. (resh, fey, alef) is used several times to describe the dead, or dwellers of She’ol.  In Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 14:9 we read: “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; It arouses for you the spirits of the dead (“rfa’eem”)….” The Rfa’eem were also considered among the giants (and are mentioned in B’resheet 14:5). According to 2:20, the giants were also called “Zam’zumeem”, and lived in the land that was “considered the land of the Rfa’eem” (literal translation). This latter fact may have rendered that land as the “land of the dead”, perhaps subtly hinting that YHVH will “begin to put your dread and your fear on the face of the people under all the heavens, who will hear your fame, and will tremble and writhe because of you” (2:25 italics added).

Appropriately the Parasha ends with the following: “Do not fear them for YHVH your Elohim, He shall fight for you” (3:22). But these descriptions of the vanquishing of the former dwellers of the lands of Seir (Edom), Moav and Ammon for the sake of Esav-Edom ((Yitzchak’s son) and Lot’s grandsons serve also as encouragement to the Israelites, as to their awaiting land of promise.  

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

In 2:31, YHVH declares again to His people (literal translation): “See, I have begun to give/place – “natati” – Sihon and his land over to you. Impoverishing begin to impoverish his land”. In the case of Sichon and his people, Yisrael’s Elohim also announces that it is He who has “hardened his [Sichon’s] spirit and made his heart obstinate” (2:30), having “mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills He hardens” (ref. Rom. 9:18).

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

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

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

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashot* Ma’tot/Mas’ey – Bamidbar (Numbers) 30 – 36

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Returning to Moshe’s exhorting address to the two and a half tribes; the aging leader expresses his concern lest their actions would give rise to a “brood of sinful men” (32:14). The word used there is “tarbut”, which is of the root “rav” meaning “much, many, or great”, and is therefore simply a derivation of “increase or add”. Thus, Moshe is literally talking about an increase or spread of evil among them, without pointing to an existing grouping or a particular “brood”.  In verses 14b and 15 he adjoins: “[Lest] you still [will] add more to the burning anger of YHVH against Israel. For if you turn away from Him, He will add more to His abandoning of them [i.e. Yisrael] in the desert…” (literal translation).  “Add more” here is “lispot” and “vayasaf”. The first of these can be easily related to “safoh” (s.p.h, samech, peh, hey) which often means “destruction” (e.g. Genesis 18:23).  Moshe is concerned that the actions of the Reuvenites, Gaddaites and Menashites would bring about an increase of evil and in this manner add to YHVH’s anger, adding disciplinary measures, resulting in more suffering for the people as a whole.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Aside from declaring their willingness to go forth as vanguard before their brethren in their campaign to take over the land, the two tribes also use another term (translated “ready to go”, 32:17) – chushim – which underscores their determination and readiness to act “hastily” (see Is. 60:22). At the same time they also describe to Moshe their plans (regarding their land in the eastern side of the Jordan), saying:” We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones...” (32:16). Moshe, for his part repeats these words a little later, with a slight modification: “Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep...” (v. 24). The experienced leader resets their priorities, ‘take care of your families, and then attend to your flocks...’

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

** When Mordechai begged Esther to plead the Jews’ case before king Achashverosh, he added that she could forfeit her life if she were to “keep silent” (Esther 4:14). Esther was to go and try to annul the king’s “vow”, much like the husband or father in our Parasha in the case of his wife’s/daughter’s vow making. In the Parasha, if the male were to keep silent (same word used in Esther) for more than a day, the vow would remain valid but the said male would bear its consequences, if there were  any, just as Esther would have done had she kept silent. Typical of the book of Esther’s “technique of opposites”, there it is the female who was in position to annul a harmful vow taken by her husband.

This point was extracted from Rabbi Fohrman’s study on Esther

https://www.alephbeta.org/

In Shmot (Exodus) 19:8 and 24:7, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the People of Yisrael made a promise (oath or vow-like) to obey YHVH. But since Yisrael did not keep her word the consequences ultimately fell on her, but because YHVH, her husband, did not annul her ‘vow’, He too was ‘held responsible’ for her sin of breaking her promise-vow. This is seen very clearly by the fact that Yeshua “bore her guilt”, as it says in 30:15 (see also 1st Peter 2:24).

1. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown    

Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

 

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

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Pinchas – Bamidbar (Numbers) 25:10 – 29:40

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Chapter 26 is devoted to the census of the leaders of the tribes and of all those who were twenty-year old and above; that is, those eligible for army service.  It is according to their relative number that the land of Yisrael is to be apportioned to them: “To the many you shall increase their inheritance; and to the few you shall diminish their inheritance” (v. 54 emphases added). On the other hand, in verse 62 we read that the census of the Levites applied to “all males from a month old and upward”, but it goes on to say that they were not counted among the sons of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the sons of Israel” (emphasis added). “Inheritance” here (in both cases) is “nachala”, the root of n.ch.l (noon, chet, lamed) is also a stream (“nachal”), and therefore connotes a downward flow, meaning “a permanent possession inherited by succession” (the Levites were told by YHVH that He was their portion – “nachala,” Num. 18:20). A different conjugation transforms n.ch.l to “manchil”, which is “to cause to possess” such as is seen in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 32:8: “When the Most High gave – “hinchil” - each nation its heritage, when he set apart the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the people of Israel”. And just as the Land of Yisrael was divvied out according to the size of each household, so was the rest of the world divided up by YHVH, who knew that His people would be scattered among the nations, according to the ‘quota’ of Israelites in their midst.

In chapter 27 of our Parasha, we meet Tzlofchad’s daughters who demand their possession saying: “Our father died in the wilderness… and had no son. Why is our father's name taken away from the midst of his family because there is no son to him? Give us an inheritance among our father's brothers” (vs. 3, 4 emphasis added). Inheritance in this case is “achuza”, of the verb achoz (root a.ch.z. alef, chet, zayin), meaning to “grasp or hold” and hence to “possess and possession”. The stronger word for “possession”, used here by these daughters certainly underscores their claim.

When YHVH reminds Moshe that his day of departure is close at hand, the latter expresses his concern regarding the future: “Let YHVH, the Elohim of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, so that the congregation of YHVH may not be as sheep to whom there is no shepherd” (27:16, 17 italics added). Evidently, Moshe understands the integrated composition of man, being both flesh and spirit while at the same time also recognizing that YHVH knows his creatures through and through. In describing the need for a leader, Moshe highlights “going out before (the people)… going in before (them)… leading out… and bringing in…” Is Moshe subtly making reference to the possible fate of the next leader, lest it be similar to his own (that is, staying behind and not entering the land with the rest of the people, see Deut. 31:2)?  Whether that is the case or not, Moshe displays no bitterness when told to “take Joshua, a man in whom is the spirit” (v. 18), echoing the “Elohim of the spirits” mentioned in verse 16 above. YHVH instructs Moshe how to ordain his successor, which Moshe follows implicitly; “as YHVH commanded” (v. 23), in spite of what was no doubt a grave disappointment to him. However, since Moshe had not been deceived or embittered, his disappointment is not like the description found in Ee’yov (Job) 41:9: “Behold, your expectation is false [nich’zeva, of the root k.z.v examined above]”. Neither/was Moshe’s experience like that of the faithless ones from among the people of Yisrael who typically sought gratification in the wrong places and from sources which were not able to satisfy.  

In Parashat Balak (and Pinchas) we encounter the Israelites’ harlotry and idolatry instigated by the daughters of Moab and Midian (ref. 25:1-6). This act included sexual immorality and sacrifices with the worshippers prostrating before?idols.?   

It/is/no/wonder,therefore/that/scripture/terms/it?clinging-adhering-sticking to Baal Pe’or” (v. 3), who was the local deity. YHVH’s anger burned against Yisrael, and so a little later a plague broke out among them (25:8-9). YHVH addressed Moshe in no uncertain terms, commanding him to “take all the leaders of the people and hang them before YHVH, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of YHVH may turn away from Israel” (25:4 literal translation, emphasis added). YHVH held all the leaders responsible for these abominable acts, and His response was to have them hung in broad daylight and in view of all Israel in order to appease His righteous indignation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner

  Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed

  Books Inc.,   Brooklyn, N.Y.

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

   Publishers,  Peabody, Mass. 1979.

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

   Press,  Chicago, 1980