Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Balak – Bamidbar (Numbers): 22 – 25: 9

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 shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field… there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me… for they are too mighty for me” (22:4,5), says Balak. In other words, ‘these numerous multitudes are liable to devour my land and my people, just like a hungry ox would 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 as “the eye of the earth.” The imagery of the “eye” (which has many and varied uses), is not utilized in this case for that which sees, but rather for that which is seen. Since the very theme of the Parasha centers on Bil’am’s visions, it only stands to reason 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: “Balaam the son of Beor has said, and the man whose eyes are open has said the words of Elohim, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling, with uncovered eyes” (literal translation, vv.3,4,16). Interestingly, the term for ”he 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 she-ass, when it was only after YHVH “uncovered the eyes of Balaam” (22:31) that the latter was able to see what his animal had noticed so clearly.

The meaning of the name Bil’am, just like Par’oh’s (see Hebrew Insights into Parashat Miketz, Gen. 41 – 43), 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.” “Frequently this word is used as a symbol of destruction and ruin: Lam. 2:2; Isa. 3:12; 49:19 etc.” [1]  In Psalms 52:4 “devouring words” are “divery bela.” Balak’s intention was just that. He intended for Bil’am’s words to become a source of destruction for Yisrael. The Theological Wordbook Book of the Old Testament goes on to say that “bela” and “am” [making up the name “Bil’ am”] mean “destruction of a people” which accords with his reputation as a charmer and a conjurer.” Albright believes that its origin is from the Amorite “yabil’ammu,” meaning, “the (divine) uncle brings.” [2]

“Come now therefore, I pray, curse [“ara”] me this people… 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 having to do with “cursing.” The most common is “kalel” (k.l.l, kof, lamed, lamed) which stems from “kal” meaning “light” and “easy,” that is “of no esteem” and therefore, by default, “no blessing.” 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 you are banned/anathematized from all the other animals and condemned be the soil on your account. 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 is 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 puts in Bil’am’s mouth: “There is no enchantment 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 “when Balaam saw that it pleased YHVH to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments [“n’cha’shim”], but he set his face toward the wilderness” (24:1).

An interesting encounter forms a prelude to Bil’am’s oracles about Yisrael. As he is about to walk with Balak’s messengers (“mal’achim”), “the angel – “mal’ach” - of YHVH stood in the way as an adversary – “(le)satan” - against him… with his sword drawn in his hand (22:22,32). Juxtaposing “mal’ach” with “satan,” in this particular context may allude to YHVH’s supremacy over all powers, and to the control He exerts to the point of using them (simultaneously and/or intermittently) for His own purposes, much like using the mouth of a pagan diviner to bless and the mouth of a donkey to talk.

However, the would-be prophet, unlike his she-ass, is unaware of YHVH’s messenger. 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 ass with his staff (22:27). What ensues is the most improbable dialog between a man and his donkey. Thus, Bil’am not only finds himself mishandled physically, he also has to deal with his own 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: “And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I would have slain you, and saved her alive” (22:33). Bil’am forthwith admits to being wrong, and only then is given permission to “go with the men,” while at the same time being warned to utter only that which YHVH will speak to him (ref. v. 35). In the dialog between Bil’am and his she-ass, 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?” is the question. “Sachen” (, samech, chaf, noon) in this context is “customarily or habitually” (v. 30).  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 the she-ass had been in the past, and even more so in this particular case, acting as a tool in the hand of YHVH.

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). “Time” as referred to here is “an occurrence, event, or occasion.” The much more common phrase is “pa’am” (a word we briefly looked at in Parashat Tetzaveh, Ex. 28; 33 where we examined the noun “bell,” stemming from the same root which also is 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 advance 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 Parashat Chu’kat we met the spies that Moshe had dispatched (21:32), who were called “m’raglim,” again of the root r.g.l, not to mention “ragal,” which means “slanderer” (e.g. Ps. 15:3), thus taking us back to our protagonist.

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 (24:14-19).

After uttering the curses-turned-blessings, the angry king commands his appointee to flee, adding the following: “I thought to promote you to great honor; but, lo, 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 (perhaps because of the late date ascribed to it). 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 have 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 she-ass 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 1st Corinthians 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 confound the wise… [and] the things which are mighty; … and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence “ (vv. 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 actually begins next week’s 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 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). Thus we are introduced to both Ba’al and Pe’or earlier on; a premonition, as it were, to the tragic words: “And Israel joined himself [va’yitza’med – “clung”] to Ba’al 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”? Indeed the elders of the people were “destroyed before YHVH against the sun” (25:4). Here “destroyed” is from the root y.k.a (yod, kof, ayin), literally meaning to “dislocate or pluck out” from the roots.  Thus, the leaders who did not take care to root out sin were being  “rooted out” themselves.

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

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

1) Chapter 19: “The chapter on the red heifer… is one of the most mystifying in the Torah…[which] even the wisdom of the wisest of men failed to fathom.”

2) Chapter 20:7-13: “What was Moses’ sin for which he was so severely punished?”

3) Chapter 20:14-21: “What was the point of referring to all their [Israel’s] travail? 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 “fiery,” 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 make an attempt to solve these puzzles, word investigations may help us to connect some of these ideas and discover a possible ‘internal logic’ within Parashat Chu’kat.

The red heifer, described as being "without blemish, in which there is no defect (“t’mee’ma”) 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,” and 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. ). Messiah is also the One who turns our scarlet sins, making them as white as snow and wool (ref. Is. ). The purification mixture was made of the ashes of the red heifer, cedar wood and the “scarlet of a [special] worm (tolah),” referring to the same scarlet (of the sins) that we just read about in Yisha’ya’hu-Isaiah (in both cases literal translation). It was this mixture which was made available to the impure for “cleansing” or “purification,” with the verb used being “yit’cha’teh” (“shall cleanse himself”, 19:12ff). The root of this type of purification is ch.t.a. (chet, tet, alef), which means “sin” (as we have already seen a number of times, e.g. Ex. 29:36; Lev. ; etc.). In the past we have noted that the remedy, or cure, for "missing the mark" (i.e. sinning) is already taken into account in sin’s very definition. 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 disease (the serpents’ bite) also becomes, symbolically, its cure. Additionally, the serpents’ rendering as “srafim” (“fiery or burning,” of the root s.r.f – sin, resh, fey) forms another link to the red heifer (whose carcass was to be burnt), as the same 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 A’ha’ron, striving with them (ref. 20:2,3). “Striving” is “meriva” (y.r.b/v, yod, resh, bet/vet), and as we read concerning the Waters of Meriva (Parashat B’shalach, Ex. 17:7), here too it says: “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 comes rebellion and opposition. 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 A’ha’ron, however, failed, proving their faith to be deficient (20:12) and 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.” Thus, it was the rod, symbolic of Moshe and A’ha’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, promising that the procession of Israelites will not trespass or trample down their land, nor use anything of theirs along the road saying, “we will not turn aside (“nita”, once again of the root n.t.h that we just looked at) to the right hand or to the left” (v. 17).  And when “Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, Israel turned away [“va-yet”] from him” (v. 21). Thus the last two episodes (the people’s rebellion and Moshe’s response, and the Edomites’ retort) seem to be characterized by acts of “turning” and “diversions” (of the root n.t.h – noon, tet, hey) from YHVH’s ‘straight and narrow’ path.

Following A’ha’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 we have already pointed out, the fact that he dared to do so is rather curious. However, the mention, in that connection, of the “road to Atarim” led Nahmanides to connect the sad spy episode to this present adversity, as “Atarim” may share the root “tour” – to “spy out” - 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 Thus, if Yisrael were indeed coming by “the way - or manner - of the spies” it would have given the Canaanite king the confidence to assail them.

We now return to the snakes’ story. The people complain once more, this time resulting in YHVH sending them fiery serpents which bit them, causing the death of many (ref. 21:5,6). Nechama Leibvowitz points out that the verb “sent”, “(va)y’sha’lach,” being in the conjugation of “pi’el”, and not in the more regular one of “kal”, connotes a “letting go” or “releasing” of the serpents, whereas up until that time they were held back by YHVH, who did not permit them to harm the Israelites in the desert. 3 The serpents’ title points to their characteristic of “burning” or of being “firey” (“saraf”), although the actual word for serpent is “nachash” and the bronze object made by Moshe is called “nachash” – serpent - ha’nchoshet” (of the) brass. The play on words and alliteration continues in 21:9: “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” “A serpent had bitten” is “nachash nashach” (although 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 grace on the other.

In -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 A’ha’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 the word used for the ruler’s staff (see Gen. 49:10). “The usage of this term is aimed at pointing out that many miracles were performed with this staff.” “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”). Perhaps the content of this song, describing a source of water that has been dug by a ruler’s staff of the law, sets out to correct (or remedy) what should have been a bringing forth of water from a rock by an utterance of a word. This takes us back to the beginning of the Parasha, where the “statute/rule (chok) of the Torah” concerning the red heifer is presented for the purpose of “purification from sin,” reinforcing the idea that the “rules/laws/statutes” have to be wielded and enforced in order to deal with rebellion (sin) against the ‘Water (of the Spirit)’ flowing from the ‘Rock’ by 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 Parashat Cha’yey Sarah (in Gen. 24:2), we saw further connection between “proverb” and “rule.”

The Parasha ends with another spying 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.

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

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Korach – Bamidbar (Numbers) 16 – 18

This week's Parasha features a central episode in the forty-year wilderness journey, the rebellion of Korach (Korah), Da’tan (Dathan), Aviram (Abiram), On, and 250 other leaders,  "… princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown" who … assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron…" (Num.16:2,3).  The above quotes, as well as the language employed in the rest of the discourse between the malcontents and Moshe, contain words and expressions which we have already encountered elsewhere. The usage of the very same words (or ones emanating from the same roots) but in different contexts, as well as the protagonists' method of echoing each other's expressions, intensify and add color and poignancy to the characters and the issues at hand.

The "princes," with whom we commence the study, are called here "nesi'im" ("nasi" - singular, of the root n.s.a, meaning to "lift up"), just as were the leaders in Parashat Nasso (Num. 4:21-37). In the latter we noted that "nasso," "lifting, carrying, raising," also means "to bear" and in 5:31 (of the same Parasha) it was used as the "bearing of sin" (in reference to "being guilty"). However, the verb "bearing" may also indicate the bearing of another's sin in a sense of forgiveness, as is seen in Parashat Ki Tissa (whose title also means "lifting," being connected, in that case, to the census of the People). In the said Parasha (Ex. 32:32), Moshe pleaded with YHVH on behalf of the people, in the wake of the Golden Calf episode, saying, "If you will forgive…"(or literally "bear"), in Hebrew: "eem tissa." In Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:11,12 (Parashat B'ha'alotcha) Moshe complains about "bearing" and "carrying" the people of Yisrael. “…You lay the burden (massa) of all this people upon me. Have I conceived this people? Did I bring them forth, that You should say to me, carry them (“sa'e'hu”) in your bosom like a nursing father carries (“yissa”) the sucking child, to the land which You swore to their fathers?" (Italics added). However, in spite of his momentary 'blowing of steam,' Moshe did in fact bear and carry the people. It was this very thing, which gave him the right to be called a "nassi," one who is "lifted up." According to the words uttered by Yeshua, "whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve…" (Mat. 20:26, 27). In chapter 18 of our Parasha, the priests are told to bear – “tis'ou” - the iniquity of the sanctuary, as well as the iniquity of the priesthood (ref. v.1). "Nesi'im," therefore, aside from being lifted up, are also to be in a position of "bearing" and "carrying," a point which was not comprehended by the rebelling leaders, whose motivation and attitudes were entirely at odds with this concept.

Korach and company are also described here as "elect men of the assembly" (ref. 16:2), or "k'ru'ey mo'ed." In Parashat Emor (Lev. 23:2-4) we recognized that the root k.r.a is to “call" and that "mikra" means "a called (out) assembly, a congregation, or a convocation." Thus, these leaders were not only "lifted up," but were also honored by being "called out" (translated here "elect"). However, their "calling" does not stop there. They are also the "called out" of the "mo'ed," which is translated "assembly," but if we refer again to Va’yikra (Leviticus) 23 we see that "mo’ed” stems from the root y.a'a.d (yod, ayin, dalet) and means "appoint, design, or designate." Thus YHVH's special appointments, His feasts, are called "mo'adim," plural, and "mo'ed,” singular.  We also noted there that the people who are appointed and designated are collectively called "edah," of the very same root. Thus, the "nesi'im" are the "princes of the congregation," which is the "edah," or the "appointed assembly."  How ironic that these "lifted up" individuals of the "appointed assembly," who have been "called," or "singled out," by "appointment" for special "YHVH-designated" occasions, and who are also men of renown ("shem", i.e. "name"), are the very ones now "gathered… against Moshe and A'haron" (16:3)! These men did not understand that it was not for vainglory that they had been raised up. Although described as "men of name" (translated "renown"), it was not their own names that were to be lifted, but the name of the One who called and appointed them for His name's sake. Let us take note, though, that in spite of their flagrant behavior their "company" (16: 5, 11,16, 21) is still termed here "eda" which is, as mentioned, "an appointed assembly."

These "nesi'im," in their blinded fury and haughtiness decry YHVH's leaders of choice and dare challenge them saying: "Why do you lift yourselves up [“tit'nas'u”] above the congregation of YHVH?" (v. 3b italics added). Prior to that they maintain: "This is too much ["rav"] for you, since all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and YHVH is among them" (16: 3a literal translation, italics added). Moshe's initial response to these words is to fall on his face, after which he says: "In the morning YHVH will show who are His, and him who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him; even him whom He has chosen, He will cause to come near to Him. Do this, take fire-pans, Korah and all his company, and put fire in them, and put incense in them before YHVH tomorrow. And it shall be the man whom YHVH chooses, he shall be holy. This is too much ["rav", again] for you, sons of Levi!” (16:5-7 literal translation, italics added). "This is too much for you" - "rav la'chem" - is the expression employed by the rebels. Moshe was not unaware of their every word, and answered them ‘tit for tat.’ As he continues, he says, "Is it a small ("m'at" - opposite of "rav") thing to you that the Elohim of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of YHVH and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? And He has brought you near…" (v. 9, 10, italics added). Notice above (v. 5), Moshe claims that the one whom YHVH chooses, that one "He will bring near" (k.r.v, the same root as "offering" or "sacrifice"), and now he states that they have already been brought near by their very position. But not being satisfied with their lot, they are coveting the priesthood too, "therefore you and all your company are gathered against YHVH" (v. 11, italics added). The "company," once more, is "eda," while "gathering against" is "no'adim," of the same root - y.a’a.d - which, as we have seen means "appointed."  Thus, those who used to take part in YHVH's appointed congregation, feasts and service, are now gathered for another 'appointment,' this time engendered by their evil and rebellious intent against YHVH's servants, but in so doing they are actually 'ganging up' against YHVH Himself.

The sad story continues… Again, notice the wording, "and Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. And they said, 'we will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land that flows with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but must you also seize dominion over us?'" (16:12, 13 italics added). In their defiance, Da’tan and Aviram are determined to not "come up" ("na'aleh"), while this is followed by their accusation, "is it a small thing…" – ham'at" - echoing Moshe's words in verse 9, "is it a small thing to you that the Elohim of Israel…?" Their excuse for "not going up" (“lo na’alea”) is that it was Moshe who "brought them up" ("he'e'li'tanu", of the root for “going up") from "a land flowing with milk and honey," and has not brought them into "a land flowing with milk and honey" as promised (v. 14; Ex. 3:8).  In this way, these two are responsible for twisting YHVH's promises and substituting truth for a lie by portraying the land of their slavery and bondage as a dreamland of the past, while their supposed grim present holds no promises for the future. They choose to make their point by not only repeating and twisting Moshe’s own words, but also by employing the verb for “going/bringing up” (of the root a.l.h) in a way that imbues their statement with thick sarcasm. They maintain that the purpose for having been "brought up" to the desert was in order to "cause them to die," and so that Moshe could "dominate them with dominion" – tis’ta'rer hista'rer." "Sar" is the root of "dominion," while it also constitutes another word for "prince," from whence the term "Prince of Peace" ("Sar Shalom") is derived, as well as the name Sarah and Yisrael.  They seal their harangue by accusing Moshe of not having given them "inheritance in fields and vineyards," adding, "Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up ["lo na'aleh", again]" (v. 14, italics added). Their ultimate end - of "descending/going down alive into Sheol" (v. 30) - highlights with an eerie light their repeated refusal to “go up."

Moshe's next comment, "I have not taken one donkey from them, neither have I hurt one of them" (16: 15) is reminiscent of Shmu'el's soliloquy in Shmu’el Alef (1st Samuel) 12:3: "Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed?"  The accusations hurled against Moshe are in stark contrast to his description in last week's Parashat B'ha'alotcha. Miriam and A'ha'ron's slandering against their brother was met there by the words: "Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the men on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). In light of this statement, the present malicious words against him seem even more unjust and deplorable.

Now Moshe is angry - "(va)yichar le-Moshe"! (16:15).  Last week we encountered the same term for anger, which was appended to nose, and thus it was the “burning of/in the nose.” Moshe's anger here is followed by the injunction to the band of rebels to “light up” incense on their fire pans and to let YHVH judge them and the situation. YHVH commands Moshe and A'ha'ron to separate themselves from this "eda" (congregation, assembly), so that the latter may be "consumed" or "devoured" as by fire. Finally, after Korach, Da’tan and Aviram, and their entire company is swallowed up, "a fire came forth from YHVH and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense" (16:35, literal translation, italics added).

In 16:9 we read that the Elohim of Yisrael had separated Korach and his band in order to "bring you near Himself to do the service of the tabernacle." "Separated" there was "hivdil," being of the root b.d.l (bet, dalet, lamed), "to divide, separate, set apart, exclude, and single out."  Later on, before punishment is meted out to this group, YHVH tells Moshe and A’ha'ron to "separate" themselves from “this congregation" (v. 21). There too the root b.d.l is used ("hibadlu"). Thus, when those who have been called and separated out by YHVH, according to His order and method of selection, oppose His ways they become separated and set apart from the rest of the community, but this time for reproof of the severest kind.  Further, YHVH says to the congregation (of Yisrael): "Turn away from the tents of these wicked men" (v. 26). "Turn away" is "suru," of the root "sur" (samech, vav, resh), whereas in verse 15 Moshe asks YHVH to “not turn" to these men's offerings, using the root panoh (with "panim – face” being its derivative). We have dealt with "p.n.h" a number of times, and found that it indicates a "turning toward," in contrast to "sur" which is a "turning away from."  A "sorer" (again, of the root “sur”) is a stubborn rebel (e.g. Deut. 21:18,20) – a description quite appropriate of these 250 and some individuals.

Interestingly, the bronze fire pans used by the sinners were to be salvaged from the fire, and were to be reshaped and made into plates for covering the altar, thus rendering these objects sanctified. This was to be a visible sign and a warning to and for the Children of Yisrael, so that in the future no one who was not of the seed of A'ha'ron would attempt again to “come near” and offer incense before YHVH, “so that he may not be as Korah and as his company” (16: 40).

Only one day goes by and the people begin to complain again, saying to Moshe and A’ha’ron: "You have brought death [“ha'mitem”] on the people of YHVH" (v. 41, italics added), thus echoing the words of Da’tan and Aviram to Moshe in verse 13 ("you have brought us up here… to cause us to die - le'hamitenu"). In both cases the root is "ma'vet", that is, “death” (m.v.t - mem, vav, tav). Once again the cloud covers the Tent of Meeting and the glory of YHVH appears (ref. 16: 42), much like the description in verse 19, where the same thing took place in front of Korach and company. This time YHVH admonishes Moshe (and A'ha'ron) to stand back, as He is about to “consume” the congregation, using the very same verb which we encountered above (in verse 21). Moshe and A'ah'ron fall on their faces, as they did in the episode of the rebels (cf. V. 22), and what starts out as a plague is halted by A'ha'ron's action of kindling the incense on fire pans, with fire obtained from the altar.  He then runs through the camp, holding on to the fire pans to "make an atonement… for wrath has gone out from YHVH" (v. 46), and thus halts the plague. The "wrath" described here is termed "ketzef", (kof, tzadi, fey), which is also found in verse 22, when Moshe and A'ah'ron display their concern for the entire congregation of Yisrael upon the mutiny of Korach and his band, saying: "Shall one man sin and will You be angry [“tiktzof”] with all the congregation?" (Italics added). Thus, the entire congregation of Yisrael, far from learning the lesson displayed before them the previous day, re-enacts this unfortunate scenario.

Following the major affront dealt to the office of the priesthood and the roles of the Levites, the rest of the Parasha is devoted to reconfirming their uniqueness, by the blossoming of A'ha'ron's rod, which is the ultimate evidence, witness, and testimony of YHVH's choice. It was for this reasons that another title is being accorded here to the Tent of Meeting. Ohel Ha’edut, that is, Tent of the Testimony/Witness, replaces its usual title of Ohel Mo’ed (17:8).  A female witness happens to be “eda,” sounding the same as the word for “band or congregation” employed so often in our Parasha. This new term may be hinting at the (poor) ‘testimony’ of the assembly “eda,” as compared to YHVH’s true witnesses, represented by the Tent of the Testimony (Ohel Ha’edut).

A’ha’ron’s dead rod "had budded and had brought forth buds, and had bloomed blossoms, and had yielded almonds" (17:8); A miracle of life sprouting out of death – death that has been so characteristic of these last episodes - has taken place in front of the entire nation. As we have already noted (in Parashat Trumah, Ex. 25:31-40), almond is "sha'ked," which is of the root sh.k.d (shin, kof. dalet) meaning to “watch and to be diligent." From the famous passage in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:11,12 we learn of YHVH's watchful determination to perform His word. Here too, after a line of incidents and insurrections, complaining and disciplinary measures, YHVH is pointing to His irreversible will (marked by resurrection power) in carrying out His word and accomplishing it, despite and in face of all opposition.

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Sh'lach Le'cha - Bamidbar (Num.)13-15

"And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Send men for you, and they shall spy out the land of Canaan…one man, every one a leader among them'" (Num. 13:1). Being into their second year of wandering in the desert, it was time for the Israelites to 'touch base' with the Promised Land. Twelve leaders of the tribes were commissioned "to spy it out."  These leaders are singled out individually, as we read in chapter 13:2,3: “.. from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them… all of them men, heads of the children of Israel.”  The Hebrew is even more emphatic, for “from each tribe… every one…” reads: “one man, one man” and continues, “every elevated leaders… all of them men, the heads of the sons of Israel.”  These individuals were assigned the task that typically had the potential of becoming multi-facetted, turning in various directions, as the verb itself for "spying out" - "tour" - implies. Aside from "spying out," "tour" also means "to observe, seek, search, reconnoiter, explore, examine and follow." However, "tour's" primal meaning is “to turn."1

In the middle of last week's Parashat B'ha'a’lot’cha we read: "And they set forward from the mount of YHVH three days' journey; and the ark of the covenant of YHVH went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting-place for them" (10:33 italics added). We are thus informed that before any "touring" could take place, before any human reports could be filed, it was first and foremost YHVH Himself who did the "seeking" - "tour" - of a resting place for His people. Let us now follow this band of twelve on their physical and spiritual journey.

Which way will they turn, as they set forth on their "touring" mission? Will their mission be marked by genuine exploration and seeking YHVH's face, clinging to Him when faced with challenges (of which there will be no shortage in the new territory)? Will they see the land through His eyes, or will their experience prove to be a mere sightseeing tour, inspecting the 'attractions' of the land and expressing dissatisfaction if their expectations are not met? And above all, since these men were singled out so categorically, inferring that each of them was a strong individual; would they be able to come to agreement at the end of the day?

When YHVH tells Moshe to send the twelve He says, "shla'ch le'cha," meaning "send forth for yourself [or, on your behalf]…" recalling to mind a similar, and likewise vigorous call many years beforehand. Lech le'cha," or "go forth (for yourself)" (Gen. 12:1), were the words which set off Avram from his "land and from [his] kindred, and from [his] father's house," going to the land which YHVH was about to show him. Both dispatches are marked by a certain sense of expediency and urgency to “get going." The first 'send off’' was followed implicitly, resulting in a successful mission despite a number of setbacks. Although living as a nomad, Avram/Avraham was no "tourist" in the Promised Land. He took YHVH at His word, to “rise up, walk through the land, its length and its breadth, for I will give it to you" (Gen. 13:17). When Moshe heard the words "sh'lach le'cha," the centuries-old story of the father of the Hebrew nation must have resounded in his heart. What wouldn't he have given to be numbered among the twelve?! What, then, does he have in mind when he follows YHVH's instruction to "sent them to spy out, to examine, to check - "la'tour" - the land of Canaan…”? (verse 17). Moshe specified: "And you shall see the land, what it is, and the people who are living on it, whether it is strong or feeble; whether it is few or many; and what the land is… whether good or bad; and what are the cities… whether in camps or in fortresses; and what the land is, whether it is fat or lean; whether wood is in it or not" (verses 18-20). Moshe is seeking information of facts and figures that are necessary for a strategic purpose, and not for scrutinizing Elohim's plan for the nation of Yisrael.

But, regardless of what that intelligence will turn out to be, the upshot, according to the Nation’s leader is: "And you shall make yourselves strong and shall take of the fruit of the land" (v. 20, italics added). Paraphrased, Moshe's words may sound something like this, "If you rely on YHVH's strength and on the power of His might, you shall succeed and partake of the fruit of the land." This appears, then, to be the nature of the "tour" that Moshe had intended for the dozen leaders to take.

The Biblical narrative elaborates on the mission, and so we read the ‘headlines’: "And they went up and spied out the land…And they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days…And they reported to him… " (, 25, 27 italics added).  The faithful messengers apparently did according to Moshe's bidding, and in addition also found the land to be "flowing with milk and honey" (verse 27), evidence of which was the fruit that they had picked and which they were now bringing to their leader, just as he had asked them to do.  So far so good…

But what started out as a promising report suddenly came to a screeching halt: "e'fes!” "E'fes" translated "but" or "however" (v. 28), is followed by the envoys' very negative descriptions.  The literal meaning of "e'fes" is to “cease or come to an end" and hence "extremity" ("ends of the earth", Deut. 33:17), "naught or nothing" (Is. 34:12), and "only," which is actually the way it is used in our text.  "E'fes" turns what promised to be a positive report into an extremely negative one.  One of the characteristics which the report attributed to the land was that it “devours its inhabitants,” or literally “eats up” its inhabitants (13:32).  Verse 30 depicts a conflict of opinions, as Calev (Caleb) "[stills] the people," assuring them of their ability to take the land.  A little further Calev and Yehoshua continue to exhort the people: “Only do not rebel against YHVH, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and YHVH is with us. Do not fear them” (14:9). Thus, instead of the land devouring them, their future enemies were to become their ‘consumption,’ if they would only obey YHVH. Additionally, for “their protection has departed from them,” the Hebrew says, “their shadow has departed…” Calev and Yehoshua paint a totally different picture from the one that was just presented. They counter the description of “men of great stature, giants” (ref. 13:32,33) with a depiction which ascribes to the enemy “no shadow,” as if he is of no substance at all, not even having a (proverbial) shadow.

But when the evil reporting does not cease, "Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who spied out the land, tore their garments; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, 'The land into which we passed, to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land'" (14:6,7 italics added).  The eyes of these two devoted witnesses had seen something altogether different when they made their "tour" of the Land of C’na’an; evidently they were of "another spirit" (verse 24), and thus both of them were to be rewarded by being brought into the land and by possessing it (ref. v. 24, 30). As for the rest, their punishment was pronounced by YHVH: "By the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a day for a year, a day for a year; you shall bear your iniquities forty years…" (verse 34).  The "tour" of the other ten resulted in what became for the entire body of the People of Yisrael a wandering 'tour' of the wilderness, and for themselves - death by a plague (ref. v.37).

By following their own hearts and inclinations these leaders, who had been granted the privilege of walking ahead of the nation, brought calamity not only upon themselves, but also upon the entire nation.  This type of "going about after your own heart and your own eyes after which you go astray" (15:39, italics added) is, once again, defined by the verb "tour."  Thus, at the very end of Parashat Sh’lach Le'cha provision is made against the inherent condition of following, or going about after one's own heart.  Hence the "tzitzit" (root tzadi, vav, tzadi meaning “bloom, burst out” and by inference “protrude” - of one’s clothing, which explains the shape of the “fringes”), is introduced: "to look at and remember all the commandments of YHVH, so as to do them… in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your Elohim” (15:39-40). Appended to this injunction are the words, "I am YHVH your Elohim who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim. I am YHVH your Elohim" (v. 41), "Who goes before you in the way to seek out ["la'tour"] a place for your camping, in fire by night, to show you the way in which you should go, and in a cloud by the day" (italics added. Deut. , ref. also Ezekiel 20:6), as we also saw in last week's Parasha. Ultimately, for all of our own seeking, searching and exploration - our so called touring expeditions - it is He who goes before us to “seek out - 'tour' - a place and a rest” for us, so that we, in turn, may turn to Him.

Note: The English words "turn" and "tour" are derivatives of the Hebrew "tour," which we have just examined, having found their way to the English language via the Old French "tourner," meaning "to turn" (ref. The Word, Isaac E. Mozeson, Shapolsky Publishers, New York, 1989).

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

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha: Bamidbar (Numbers) 8 – 13

Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha is packed with a variety of issues, commencing with the lighting of the menorah.  Thus in 8:2 we read YHVH’s instructions to Moshe: “When you raise (literal translation) the lamps…,” being the words that the Parasha is named after. We may note that last week’s Parasha’s title and leitmotif had to do with “raising” and “lifting” too, although an altogether different Hebrew verb was used for that purpose. The sanctification and service duties of the Levites is the next topic, and provision for keeping Pesach, for those unable to celebrate it on its given date, follow. The instructions are now intercepted by a narrative passage describing the cloud and its ‘function’ along the journey, with added instructions, this time concerning the two silver trumpets that were to be instrumental in rounding up the camp of Yisrael (as well as having other functions). A list of the heads of the tribes, as they were coming out of the wilderness of Sinai is next, while at the same time the text discusses the departure of Moshe’s father-in-law (here called Chovav). Chapter 11, almost in its entirety, is devoted to the story of the Israelites’ gluttony and desire for meat.  An episode describing the bequeathing of a “portion” of Moshe’s spirit to the seventy elders is then related, with the final scene of Miriam and A’ha’ron maligning their brother Moshe, resulting in Miriam’s leprosy (chapter 12).  Miriam had not only expressed jealousy (as did A’ha’ron) against her brother, but also decried him for having married a dark skinned woman. Now, having been struck by leprosy, her skin had lost its pigmentation rendering her completely white, making for quite a graphic and somewhat ironic lesson!

While the Levites’ purification rite entailed the sacrifice of two young bulls (8:8), they (the Levites) were also to be “brought near” (“le’hakriv,” with its additional meaning, to “sacrifice or offer” 8:9) before YHVH.  At that point, “the sons of Israel” had to “put [or “lay”] their hands upon the Levites” (8:10).  It was only then (v. 12) that the Levites could lay hands on the two bulls; one designated as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering.  In Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex. 29:10 ff.), we looked at the "laying of hands," which is “samoch” (, samech, mem, kaf/chaf), with the primary meaning of the verb being to “lean upon."  The "laying of hands" as is seen preformed here by the priests (as well as in Parashat Tetzaveh), denotes identification with the sacrifice, which is about to give up its life in ultimate submission. Interestingly, as the People of Yisrael “leaned” on the Levites, the latter vicariously carried their sins, just before their own were transferred to the bulls.

Aside from reference to the laying, or the putting of hands for atoning purposes, “hands,” as well as other body parts, are mentioned a number of times in our Parasha.
Let us look at the handling of this imagery, especially in the instances when identical images are juxtaposed, and consider how this literary device contributes to the descriptions in which it is employed, and whether at times a (subtle) message is also conveyed thereby.

In 11:21-22, when Moshe displays some doubts as to YHVH’s ability to provide an entire nation with meat, he hears (v. 23): “Has YHVH’s hand become short?” (Italics added). However, in other instances it is Moshe’s hand that is mentioned… in connection with YHVH’s mouth. In 9:20,23 and in 10:13 it says about the desert travels: “At the command – Hebrew: by the mouth - of YHVH they encamped, and at the command – by the mouth - of YHVH they traveled. They kept the charge of YHVH at the command – by the mouth - of YHVH, [and] by the hand of Moses” (italics added). Notice that the mouth of YHVH represents the charge, but that the execution is symbolized by the hand.  Thus, Moshe’s aforementioned doubt raises the questions: if Moshe’s hand is ‘long enough’ to carry out YHVH’s word, is it at all possible that YHVH Himself is not able to implement that which He set out to do (that is, can His hand be "short")?

When Miriam and A’ha’ron try to slander Moshe, YHVH, while scolding them, also points out that with His servant Moshe He “speaks mouth to mouth” (12:8 italics added).  Thus, YHVH’s authority is signified by the usage of the noun “mouth” which lends an extra emphasis to His Word and to what it implies.  The “nose” is also mentioned here several times.  YHVH had cause to be angry with the Israelites more than once in the course of our Parasha, as we see in 11:1 where His anger is kindled against them.  This “kindling” here, and also in 12:9 (the episode with Miriam and A’ha’ron), is described as taking place in the nose.  The anger that “burned in YHVH’s nose” was caused by the People’s over-desire for meat.  YHVH, therefore, promises to provide them, for a period of one whole month, with so much meat…“until it comes out of your noses” (11:20, literal translation, italics added).  The Israelites certainly selected to ‘butt noses’ with the wrong Person!

It is a well-known fact that the eating process starts with the eyes.  In 11:6 the people murmur: “But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all besides this manna before our eyes” (italics added).  The text continues to convey to us that “the manna was like coriander seed, and the color of it was like the color of bdellium,” with the word for “color” being “eye.”  And so, the consumers’ (i.e. the Israelites’) eyes looked ‘into’ the ‘eyes’ of the food that was handed them, but they did not like what they saw!  Just before that, when Moshe’s father-in-law expresses his desire to depart to his own land, Moshe, pleading with him, says, “… you were to us for eyes” (10:31), meaning ‘you directed and helped us find our way in the wilderness.’  Thus the usage of “eyes” conveys clarity, direction and care, while the eyes that were turned in the wrong direction of some (in this case the People of Yisrael), only made their owners blind to the generosity and care that was granted them freely.

In Parashat Yitro, Moshe’s father in law advised him to lighten up his load by sharing his duties and delegating authority (Ex. -27). It is interesting that here he is mentioned again, in proximity to the appointment of the seventy elders who were instated as a result of Moshe’s complaint regarding his workload (ref. ).

Another body part mentioned in Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha is “bone.”  In the first part of chapter 9 (v. 12, and Ex. ) we read that no bones of the Pesach sacrifice were to be broken. The word for “bone” is “etzem,” whose root is (ayin, tzadi, mem).  These three letters are shared by words such as “great, greatness, or might” (“atzum”), found for example in the promise regarding Avraham’s seed, which was destined to be a “great and mighty nation” (Gen. 18:18).  It is also used for “forceful demand” or “protest” (“atzuma”. ref. Is. 41:21).  “Multiplication” is another derivative of the same root, seen in Yirmiya’hu (Jeremiah) 5:6.  In T’hilim (Psalms) 40:12 it is used for the “increase” of hair.  “Strength” that is rendered as “otzem” and “otzma” - are other derivatives of the same root.  At the same time also means the “essence of something” or “the very same,” such as in the oft-used expression “the very or selfsame.”  In Parashat Bo, for example, we read: “And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very [“b’e’tzem”] day that all the hosts of YHVH went out from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:41 italics added).  Carrying the marrow, the bone is indeed the bearer of the very essence of life, although in a compressed form.  Yet out of this substance “strength, power, and greatness” emanate, implying also “increase” (in size and/or number).  The employment of these terms not only discloses surprising anatomical knowledge, but it also evidences that the Hebrews must have been cognizant of the concept that a minuscule nucleus has a tremendous (sometimes latent) potential and an (explosive) force, such as is seen in the atom for example (and recognizable, of course, also in the ‘seed principle’). 

The first part of chapter 10 deals with the silver trumpets, and their various uses. “Silver” is “kesef,” of the root k.s.f (kaf, samech, pey/fey) and has also come to be the generic word for “money.”  The same root also serves the verb for “longing, yearning or desiring” (e.g. Gen. 31:30; Zeph. 2:1; Ps. ; Job ). Was it the longing for the pale precious metal that has given rise to this verb?

At the heart of the Parasha, in 10:35 and 36, we read the following powerful, vigorous and prophetic proclamation:  “And it happened when the ark pulled up, Moses said, ‘Rise up, YHVH, and let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ And when it rested, he said, ‘Return, O YHVH, to the many thousands of Israel.’”  Interestingly, upon YHVH’s rising the enemy has to flee, but His “rest” marks the returning and the restoration of Yisrael, and therefore their reconciliation with Elohim.  This is all the more emphatic because the word for “return” – “shuva” – is reminiscent of “shev,” which means to “sit,” thus connecting Yisrael’s “return” to YHVH’s “rest.” “Shuv” may also be associated with “shevi” – “captivity,” as is seen, for example in the alliteration employed in T’hilim (Psalms) 126:4, where we read the plea: “Return YHVH our captivity,” which in Hebrew is, “shuva shvee’teynu,” while
”when YHVH brought back (“beshuv”) the returning/captivity (“shivat”) Tziyon we were as those dreaming a dream..." (Ps. 126:1).

In the course of Moshe’s complaint (11:11–15) concerning his burdensome task, he bemoans his lot, and addressing YHVH he asks rhetorically:  “Have I conceived all this people?  Did I bring them forth, that You should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom like a nursing father carries the sucking child, to the land which You swore to their fathers?'” (v.12). “Nursing father” is a translation of “omen,” whose root is a.m.n (alef, mem, noon).  One of the earliest references in the Tanach (Old Testament) to this root, is found in Shmot (Exodus) 17:12:  “But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”  This, of course, is the description of the war with Amalek.  The word for “steady” is “emuna,” which is also the common word for “faith” and “trust.”  Indeed, a great act of faith was displayed there, in the wilderness of Refidim, where a bitter foe was defeated by simply lifting up the tired hands of an elderly man!

Moshe, A’ha’ron and Chur, and certainly Yehoshua, who was conducting the battle against the enemy, were faithful (i.e.“ne’emanim”), being another of this root’s derivatives (see Prov. 27:6 for example), in the practice of their faith.  In the post-biblical developments of the Hebrew language, use was made of this root for the creation of the verb “hit’amen” which means to “practice,” and the nouns “me’yoo’ma’noot” for “proficiency”; “omanoot” for “art” and craftsmanship.” Hence an “artist”is an “aman,” all of which express the requirement for faith to be active and be made evident by action (e.g. James 1:22; 2:14-26).  However, the primal meaning of the root a.m.n. is "to confirm, support,” from which stem verbs such as “to nourish, bring up and to nurse.” Examples of this are found in Mlachim Bet (2nd Kings) 10:1 and 5; Ruth and Esther 2:7. In the description of Wisdom-personified (Proverbs 8), Wisdom - Elohim’s “delight” - is said to have been “brought up” - “amon” by Him (v. 30).  This terminology is also used in the Hebrew translation of Galatians 3:24, for “schoolmaster,” or “tutor,” in reference to the role of the Torah in bringing up and leading us (faithfully, we may add) to the Messiah.  Thus, a faithful tutor (“ne’eman”) can truly (“om’nam,” ref. Gen. 18:13) be trusted (“ne’eman”) to lead his or her protégé on to the path of faith (“emuna”).

The exhortation in Divrey Hayamim Bet (2nd Chronicles) 20:20, to “believe - “ha’aminu - in YHVH...,” is followed by the promise: “and you will be confirmed (“te’amnu”). Avraham “believed in YHVH and He counted it to him as righteousness,” it says in B’resheet (Genesis) 15:6.  It is here that the root a.m.n makes its first appearance in Scripture.  Having faith in YHVH is what constituted Avraham righteous.  It follows, therefore, that those who are likewise constituted righteous by faith (Gal. 3:24) “will [also] live by faith (Hab. 2:4 italics added), having an Elohim whose “faithfulness is unto all generations” (Ps. 119:90 italics added). AMEN (a.m.n)?

The process of associative thought and images, that is found in sequential passages such as we have already observed in this Parasha, is also evident in 11:24-30 and in its subsequent verses, 11:31-34, although being far apart thematically. When the seventy elders were gathered by Moshe, YHVH “took of the spirit – ru’ach - which was on the latter and placed it on them” (v. 25).  It was thus that they were enabled to function in their newly bestowed roles.  Immediately following this episode, in the last part of chapter 11, we read, “And a wind – ru’ach - went forth from YHVH, and it cut off quails from the sea and let them fall by the camp…” (v. 31).  Since “ru’ach” is both spirit and wind, this reference to YHVH setting up a team of elders endowed by the Spirit, is not coincidentally followed by Him ‘employing’ the ru’ach once again, though for a totally different purpose, and thus calling our attention to His total control over all matters.  In the latter case it was for the purpose of driving the quail from the sea in order to satisfy the gluttonous demands of the people (ref. 11:31).

Another word connecting these two passages is the verb “asof,” which is “to gather.” But while in the first section we read about Moshe “gathering the elders” (v. 24 italics added), a much different picture follows, with the people of Yisrael gathering the quail (v. 32). In 11:4 another “gathering” is being referred to, it is that of the “mixed multitude.”  There they are described as lusting for the meat. Mixed multitude is “asaf’soof,” which is another derivative of the root a.s.f. - “gather or collect.”  At the very end of our Parasha we read about Miriam, who was quarantined for a week  following her leprosy.  After being kept at a distance from the camp, Miriam was “brought in” – or literally “gathered” (12:15) – once again of the root a.s.f - so that the people could continue on their journey.