Thursday, June 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Aha’ron’s death on Mount Hor, the Canaanite King of Arad, upon hearing of Yisrael’s approach, fights them and takes some of them captive (21:1). As was already pointed out, the fact that he dared to do so is rather curious. However, the citing, in that connection, of the “road to Atarim” led Nahmanides to attach the sad spy episode to the present adversity, as “Atarim” may share the root “tour” – to “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 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. As we know, the people of Yisrael had complained once more, this time resulting in YHVH sending them these fiery serpents which bit them, causing the death of many (ref. 21:5,6). Nechama Leibowitz points out that the verb “sent” - (va)y’sha’lach - being in the “pi’el” conjugation and not in the more common “kal” [“sha’lach”], connotes a “letting go” or “releasing” of the serpents, whereas up until that time they (the serpents) were held back by YHVH, who did not permit them to harm His people. 3 The serpents’ title points to their characteristic of “burning” or of being “firey” (“saraf”), although the actual word for serpent is “nachash” and therefore the bronze object made by Moshe was called “nachash” – serpent - ha’nchoshet” (of the) brass. The play on words and alliteration continue in 21:9: “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” “A serpent had bitten” is “nashach ha’nachash” (even though there no etymological connection between these two words). This unusual ‘formula’ of looking at the brass serpent and being cured, is interpreted for us by Yeshua: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 14, 15). The healing is found in lifting up one’s eyes to the Creator, while the object (which has no power in and of itself) may serve as a reminder of one’s sin and disbelief on one hand, and of YHVH’s power grace on the other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrew 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), albeit in different contexts, as well as the protagonists' method of echoing each other's expressions, intensify the story line and highlight the protagonists’ 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 (see Num. 4:22ff). 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 (in 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 complained 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 variety of literal and spiritual burdens according to YHVH’s directions, a point which escaped the rebelling leaders, whose motivation and attitudes were entirely at odds with this concept.

Another rendering of Korach and company is "elect men of the assembly" (ref. 16:2), or "k'ru'ey mo'ed." In Parashat Emor (in 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 recall 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.  When we reviewed those concepts, we noticed that the people who are appointed and designated are collectively called "edah," of the very same root. Thus, the "nesi'im" (the “elevated ones”) 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" – 16:2b), 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 had 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." “Nesi’im” is also another word for clouds, and thus Scripture describes the condition of leaders, such as these discussed here, as “clouds and winds without rain” (Proverbs 25:14, Jude 1:5).

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?" (16:3b 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 that above (in 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 “going up") from "a land flowing with milk and honey," and has not brought them into "a land flowing with milk and honey" as he had promised (v. 13, 14; see 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” (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" (ref. 16:13b). "Sar" is the root of "dominion," while it also constitutes another word for "prince," from which the term "Prince of Peace" ("Sar Shalom") is derived, as well as the names 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]" (16:14, 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 Aha'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). In last week’s Parasha (B’ha’a’lotcha) we encountered the same term for anger, which was appended to the nose (ref. 11:1), making it a “burning of/in the nose.” The imagery of fire continues. Moshe's anger here is followed by the injunction to the band of rebels to “kindle” incense on their fire pans and to let YHVH judge them and the situation (vs. 17, 18). YHVH commands Moshe and Aha'ron to separate themselves from this "eda" (congregation, assembly), so that the latter may be "consumed" or "devoured" as by fire (v. 21). Finally, after Korach, Da’tan and Aviram, and their entire company are 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, as we just noted, YHVH tells Moshe and Aha'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) – an apt description of the 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 Aha'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 Aha’ron: "You have brought death [“ha'mitem”] on the people of YHVH" (16:41, italics added), thus echoing the words of Da’tan and Aviram to Moshe in 16:13 ("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: 42b), 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 Aha'ron) to stand back, as He is about to “consume” the congregation (v. 45), using the very same verb which we encountered above (in v. 21). Moshe and Aha'ron fall on their faces, as they did previously (see V. 22), and what starts out as a plague is halted by Aha'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), brining the plague to an end (standing “between the dead and the living,” v. 48). The "wrath" described here is termed "ketzef", (kof, tzadi, fey), which is also found in verse 22, when Moshe and Aah'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-enacted another mutinous 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 Aha'ron's rod (17:1ff.), which is the ultimate evidence, witness and testimony of YHVH's choice. It was for this reason 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 (17:7).  A female witness happens to be “eda,” being 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 witness, represented by the Tent of the Testimony (Ohel Ha’edut).

Aha’ron’s dead rod, out of the rods of all the other leaders of Yisrael, "had budded and had brought forth buds, and had bloomed blossoms, and had yielded almonds" (17:8). This miracle of life out of death, death that has been so characteristic of these last episodes, was displayed in front of the entire congregation of Yisrael. As we have already noted (in Parashat Trumah, in Ex. 25:31-40 regarding the Menorah), almond is "sha'ked," which is of the root sh.k.d (shin. kof. dalet) meaning to “watch and to be diligent." The famous passage in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:11, 12, teaches us 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.

Another hint as to the power of resurrection is found, of all places, in the most dreadful description, right before the earth opened up and swallowed up the rebels. Moshe (wanting to affirm his mission) says (according to the Hebrew text), “And if YHVH creation will create [translated ‘will do a new thing’] and the earth will open up its mouth and will swallow… and they go down alive into the pit [she’ol]…” (16:30). How is it that an act of “creation” is tagged on to this most morbid scene of death and annihilation?  Since “creation” always speaks of life, could this be alluding to a new creation, springing forth from the “lowest parts of the earth,” that is, “sheol,” to which Yeshua descended in accordance with Ephesians 4:9? (See also 1 Peter 3:19).

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

"And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Send men for you, and they shall spy out the land of Canaan…” (Num. 13:1-2). In the course of 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 therefore commissioned "to spy out" this piece of property.  These leaders were singled out individually, as we read in 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…” it reads: “one man, one man” and continues, “every elevated leader… all of them men, the heads of the sons of Israel” (italics added). These individuals were assigned a complex task that potentially could turn in various directions, as the Hebrew verb 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 [“tour”] 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. In that was also a promise that He would continue to do so not only in the wilderness, but also in the land which they were about to possess. Let us now follow the band of twelve on their journey.

Which way will they turn, as they set forth on their "touring" expedition? Will their mission be marked by genuine exploration and seeking of 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 a similar and a 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," toward the land which YHVH was about to show him. Both dispatches were 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…”? (Num. 13:17).
Moshe’s instructions are very specific: "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 strategic purposes, and not for scrutinizing Elohim's plan for the nation of Yisrael.

But regardless of what that intelligence will turn out to be, the Nation’s leader has a certain end view in mind: "And you shall make yourselves strong and shall take of the fruit of the land" (13:20, literal translation, 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.

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… "(13:21, 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…

However, what started out as a promising report suddenly came to a screeching halt: "e'fes!” "E'fes" translated here "however" or “nevertheless” (13:28), is followed by the envoys' very negative descriptions.  The literal meanings of "e'fes" are: “to cease or come to an end" and hence "extremity" (such as "ends of the earth" in Deut. 33:17), as well as "naught or nothing" (Is. 34:12), and "only." "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 later on 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 italics added). Thus, instead of the land devouring them, they would devour (or consume) their future enemies, 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 has no substance at all, so as not to even cast 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" (v. 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 [“tour”] the land, forty days, a day for a year, a day for a year; you shall bear your iniquities forty years…" (v. 34).  The "tour" of the other ten resulted in what became for the entire body of the People of Yisrael a wandering “tour” in the wilderness, while for those dispatched it spelt an immediate 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 and senses.  Hence the "tzitzit" (root, tzadi, vav, tzadi meaning “bloom, burst out,” and by inference “protrude out” 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. 1:33, 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 YHVH who goes before us to “seek out - 'tour' – “a place” and “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 – 12

Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha is packed with a variety of issues, commencing with the lighting of the menorah.  Thus in 8:2 YHVH instructs Moshe with the following: “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 also had to do with “raising” and “lifting”, although an altogether different Hebrew verb was used for that purpose. The Levites’ sanctification and service duties form the next topic. Then 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 role in the course of 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 is next, while mention is made of 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.  The impartation of a “portion” of Moshe’s spirit to the seventy elders is next, with the final scene of Miriam and Aha’ron maligning their brother Moshe, resulting in Miriam’s leprosy (chapter 12).  Miriam had not only expressed jealousy (as did Aha’ron) against her brother, but also decried him for having married a dark skinned woman. Now, being struck with leprosy, her skin had lost its pigmentation rendering her completely white (“as snow”). One cannot fail but notice the irony and the lesson presented to Miriam (especially if compared to Isaiah 1:18)!

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 of, to “sacrifice or offer” before YHVH (v. 9).  At that point, “the sons of Israel” had to “put [or “lay”] their hands upon the Levites” (v. 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. 27:20-30:10) in 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 being 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 when identical images are juxtaposed, and consider how this literary device contributes to the descriptions where it is employed, and whether (subtle) messages are conveyed by its usage.

When Moshe displays some doubts as to YHVH’s ability to provide an entire nation with meat (11:21-22), he hears: “Has YHVH’s hand become short?” (v. 23, italics added). However, in other instances it is Moshe’s hand that is mentioned… in connection with YHVH’s mouth. In 9:20 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”. Additionally, in 9:23 and 10:13 added to these words is the following: “by the hand of Moses” (italics added). Notice that the mouth of YHVH represents the charge, but the execution is symbolized by the hand (in this case, Moshe’s). 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 had set out to do (that is, can His hand be "short")?

In His scolding response to Miriam and A’haron’s slander of their brother, YHVH points out that with His servant Moshe He “speaks mouth to mouth” (12:8 italics added, translated “faced to face”).  Thus, YHVH’s authority is signified by the usage of the noun “mouth,” lending an extra emphasis to the Word and its implications.  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’haron) 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, imploring 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 of those who were turned in the wrong direction (in this case the People of Yisrael), only made their owners blind to the generosity and care that was freely granted to them.

In Parashat Yitro, Moshe’s father in law advised him to lighten up his load by sharing his duties and delegating authority (Ex. 18:13-27). It is interesting that his reappearance here is in proximity to the appointment of the seventy elders, who were instated as a result of Moshe’s complaint regarding his heavy burden (ref. 11:14, 16ff.).

Another body part cited in the Parasha is “bone.”  In the first part of chapter 9 (v. 12, and also Ex. 12:46) 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” or “increase” 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 in the ‘seed principle’). 

Back to Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha. The first part of chapter 10 deals with the silver trumpets, and their various usages. “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. 17:12; Job 14:15). Was it 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 Him.  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 addresses YHVH and 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” (italics added).  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 battle was fought with a bitter foe, while victory was had by simply lifting up the tired hands of an elderly man!

Moshe, Aha’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 – emunah.  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 these 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 nurse.” Examples of this are found in Mlachim Bet (2nd Kings) 10:1 and 5; Ruth 4:16 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 (“emunah”).

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” (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 (ref. 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, (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 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). Interestingly, the verb used for describing the “fall” of the quails upon the camp – va’yitosh – is more often relates to “forsaking, withdrawing, leaving” (e.g. Deut. 32:15, Ps. 27:9), and therefore acts here as a hint regarding the attitude of the people toward YHVH, as well as alluding to His ultimate response to their unbridled desire. Interestingly, in Tehilim (Psalms) 27:10, the usage of the same verb (“forsaking”) is followed by “gathering” (YHVH “will gather me in,” literal translation, v. 10). This very verb asof, a.s.f (alef, samech,fey), also connects the two passages that we are dealing with here (11:24-30 and 31-34).

But while in the first section Moshe is “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” that was lusting for the meat.  Mixed multitude is “asaf’soof” (those “randomly gathered”) 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 was “gathered” (12:15) – once again of the root a.s.f - so that the people could continue on their journey.  

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Nasso: Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21 – Ch. 7

"Subject matter in the Bible is often arranged and linked together by a process of thought and, in particular, word association, probably originally designed as an aid to memory."1   This principle is well illustrated in Parashat Nasso. There is no need to look far and wide in the Parasha's three and a half chapters for a unifying theme. It is apparent.  In spite of the assortment of different and seemingly unrelated subjects that the Parasha presents, the root of "nasso" pops up in a number of places and in different connotations.

Bamidbar 4:22 says: "Lift the heads of the sons of Gershon…" (literal translation). "Lift" here is "nasso," of the root n.s.a (noon, sin, alef), which we have already encountered in previous portions, and several times in the same context of taking a census in last week’s Parasha (of the leaders of the sons of Israel 1:2, and of the Kohathites 4:2)2. Although the English translations use the imperative form ("take" or "lift"), in actual fact this is not what the Hebrew text says. The form “nasso” which is used here as a charge, is more like the English present progressive, rendering “nasso” almost as, "lifting up."  This unusual usage in an address form (cf. 3:40 in last week's Parasha, where the usual imperative form "sa" was used) serves to call attention to this verb and lends it the character of a noun.

Let us follow "nasso" throughout our Parasha and examine its usages within the contexts of the different topics presented.  The reason for the census as it applies to the Gershonite priests is given as: "This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and in bearing burdens ["masa"]… they shall bear ["venas'ou"] the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tent of meeting, its covering, and the covering of sealskin that is above upon it, and the screen for the door of the tent of meeting… At the commandment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burden ["masa'am"], and in all their service; and you shall appoint unto them the charge of all their burden ["masa'am"]” (4:24,25,27 italics added).
"Lifting" and "bearing a burden" are both of the root n.s.a, which describes the essence of the Gershonites' service in the Mishkan. The Meraris' census, on the other hand, is not qualified by the verb n.s.a, but rather by “pakod,” which is translated "number" but basically means to “attend or visit" (it was also used in this form in last week’s Parasha in relationship to the census of the army, ch. 2). Yet the Merari’s work is also described as "a charge of their burden" (v. 31), which is, once again, "masa." Altogether the essence of the Levites and their work may therefore be described as: "All those that were numbered of the Levites… every one that entered in to do the work of service, and the work of bearing burdens ["masa"] in the tent of meeting… every one that entered in to do his work of service, and the work of his burden ["masa'o"] in the tent of meeting… they were numbered by the hand of Moses, each according to his service and his burden…" (4: 46, 47,49, italics added). The ultimate purpose of "bearing" these "burdens" (literally “carrying” or “lifting”), was in order to "lift high” or “elevate” the One to Whom the Levites were rendering this service.

However, the root n.s.a accompanies us all the way to the end of the Parasha, where the twelve leaders of the tribes are seen making their respective offerings for the inauguration of the Mishkan (7:2ff). Each of those “leaders” is called “nassi”  - “one who is elevated.” Because of the specific conjugation that is used for this noun, its literal translation should be, “one who is elevate-able.” In other words, the leaders were not merely the heads of their tribes by virtue of birth; in order to be in their lofty positions they had to be equal to these positions - proving their faithfulness and leadership capabilities.   

The next section where the root n.s.a makes an appearance is at the very end of the "law of jealousy" (5:11-31), as it is called (or “Sota” – ‘sinning woman’), which is the inspection of possible adultery on the part of a married woman. If and when proven that the wife has transgressed in such a manner, and after having gone through the various rites enumerated, she was to "bear ["tisa"] her iniquity" (v. 31, italics added). Whereas the priests’ duties in "bearing the burdens" of the Mishkan were of the more 'uplifting' kind, here "nasso" connotes 'carrying' a heavy burden of guilt.

The issue of "lifting" comes up again in the famous priestly or Aaronic blessing or benediction, which seals chapter 6. Toward the end of the blessing we read: "YHVH lift up ["yisa"] His face upon you and give you peace" (v. 26, italics added), which is an altogether different application of the root n.s.a, touching Elohim and His relationship with His People. Notice that the whole benediction is written in second person singular, implying that each individual within the Nation is being addressed. "Yisa YHVH panav," the lifting of YHVH's face, or countenance "toward you" or "upon you" indicates favor, acceptance, and turning toward the object of the benediction (as we have already seen in the past, regarding the meaning of "face" - "panim"), thus instilling hope in one’s heart.

Finally, chapter 7 is dedicated in its entirety to the offerings brought for the dedication of the Mishkan (or "Ohel Mo'ed") by the "princes" or "leaders," the "nesi'im", those who are "lifted up" (verses 2,3). “Nesi’im” is also plural for “cloud.” In Proverbs we find this word used metaphorically: “Whoever falsely boasts of giving is like clouds and wind without rain” (Proverbs 25:14, italics added). In Jude the same imagery is used (v 12), regarding “ungodly men who creep unnoticed” among YHVH’s own, and “who turn the grace of our Elohim into lewdness and deny the only Lord YHVH and our Master Yeshua Messiah” (Jude v 4).

Let us return now to Umberto Cassuto, who makes the following point: "The book of Bamidbar is arranged chiefly after such a fashion… with various items being included because of a similarity of thought, or phrases recurring in the chapters concerned…"4, as, indeed, is the case of the root n.s.a. Cassuto incorporates other examples from our Parasha: "The laws applying to the suspected adulteress (5:11-31) succeed by those treating  the Nazirite (6:1-21), after which is appended the formula for the priestly blessing (6:22-27)."  Preceding the law of the suspected adulteress, which focuses on a "man's wife [who] trespasses a trespass [“uma'ala bo ma'al”]," are the laws of the guilt offering, where we encounter the phrase "to do a trespass/commit unfaithfulness ["li'm'ol ma'al"] against YHVH" (5:6 italics added).  Before we continue to follow our ‘chain,’ let us pause to look at the verb “ma’al.” A common noun that stems from the same root is “m’eel,” which simply means a “robe.” Thus we infer that “trespass” is a form of deception, as it is rooted an attempt to cover up one’s actions. By contrast, we read in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 61:10: “…For He [YHVH] has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe – m’eel - of righteousness…”

Back to Bamidbar 5:18, where it says about the adulteress: "And the priest shall set the woman before YHVH, and let the hair of the woman's head go loose - u'fara" (italics added). In 6:5 it says concerning the Nazirite: "He shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long - "pera." Both u'fara and pera share the root p/f.r.a (pey/fey, resh, ayin). According to the above-mentioned principle, the similarities shared by the Nazarite and the high priest, both of whom are not to touch the dead (cf. 6:6 Lev. 21:11), are the reason why the Priestly Blessing is appended to this chapter which deals with the Nazirite's laws.

Within the specifications of the laws of guilt offering and compensation, mentioned in 5:5-10, the topic of confession - "viduy" - comes up (v. 7). This is not the first time we encounter this topic. In fact, we have already examined the term in Parashat Vayikra (Lev. 1-5, e.g. 5:5). Sefer Ha-hinukh sheds further light on this issue: "The verbal confession of guilt provides an indication that the sinner truly believes that all his deeds are revealed and known to the Lord, blessed be He, and he will not deny the omnipresence of the All-seeing. Again, by verbally specifying the sin and regretting it, he will be more careful in the future not to stumble thereon. After he has said with his mouth… he will as a result, become reconciled with His maker. The good God who desires the welfare of His creatures guided them in this path through which they would gain merit."5 Similarly, we read in 1st John: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1:9). Hirsh notes that the form of the Hebrew verb "to confess," "hitvadeh," conjugated as it is (in the "hitpa'el" form) “…indicates that the confession consists of man speaking to himself, admonishing his [own] conscience."6

Let us conclude by reviewing once again the case of the jealous husband from another angle. When Yeshua came up out of the grave on the first of the week (see John 20:1) He was acting as the fulfillment of the first of the Omer, which was “waved for our acceptance” (see Lev. 23:11).  An omer of barley (i.e. one tenth of an ephah, see Ex. 16:36), was also to be used as an offering by the husband who was overcome by a spirit of jealousy, and so we read in 5:15 “… the man shall bring his wife to the priest. He shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal…” (emphasis added). The priest was then to make the woman drink bitter water in order to determine whether she was innocent or not (ref. 5:17,18, 22-24, 27), with the effect of the drink on her body being such that it would disclose her true state. When on the stake, Yeshua was also given a bitter drink (gall mixed with wine), which although He did not actually drink, He did taste (see Matt. 27:34). Thus, Yeshua as the jealous husband (see Ex. 25:5; 34:14; Deut. 6:12-16 etc.), whose wife Israel has gone astray (e.g. Jer. 3:6) has also become the very offering for her sin, the Priest who makes the offering (e.g. Heb. 5:10), and the One who takes upon Himself her transgression, drinking, as it were, the bitter drink in her place.

In a letter in response to the above, Garret Lukas says the following: This past week I saw similarities between the Bitter Waters test and Isaiah 53 that I haven't seen before.  In Numbers 5, a guilty woman "bears (tisa, carries) her iniquity", like you pointed out.  If she is guilty, the presumption is that she'll be barren from then on.  If she is innocent, the scripture says, "She will conceive seed."

Israel was the Wife of YHWH.  There were plenty of witnesses against her, testifying that she was unfaithful to her husband.  If she had been forced to drink the bitter waters, it was known what the outcome would be.

But Messiah Yeshua stepped in for her:  

Isaiah 53:4: "Surely our sicknesses he carried (nasa) and our pains he bore (s'valam - synonym to nasa)."
53:11 "...and their iniquity he bore (yisbol)."
53:12 "and he carried (nasa) the sins of the many."

He bore her iniquity for her.  You mentioned the cup of gall mixed with wine that Yeshua tasted.  In Delitzch's Hebrew translation of Matthew 27:34, he translates gall as "m'rorot", from maror, meaning "bitter".  (What a picture of Pesach as well; just as we are commanded to eat maror at Pesach and taste the bitterness of suffering, so did he.)

One passage in Isaiah 53 that always puzzled me was verse 10.  Even though Messiah would be crushed as a trespass offering, "he will see seed (descendants)."

But reading it in light of Numbers 5, I see now that if Israel had been forced to drink the bitter waters, she would surely have been left barren. How could Messiah hope to inherit future generations of faithful followers with a barren, forsaken wife?  So he drank the cup in her place, a Righteous One who didn't do anything wrong.

And after the suffering of Isaiah 53 is accomplished, what is spoken in Isaiah 54:1?

"Sing Barren One who did not bear!  Burst forth with song, you who were not in labor!  For more are the children of the desolate wife than the sons of the married, says YHWH."

The Barren One is free to conceive seed because her husband has borne her sins and atoned for them himself.

"If it be Your desire, let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not my desire, but Yours be done."

"And YHWH desired to crush him with sickness, in order to make his soul a trespass offering..."


1 Umberto Cassuto in 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 For more on the root n.s.a, look up Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’resheet   (Genesis - with special reference to 3: 13; 4:7, 13).

3 Although "nasso" in reference to the Kohathites is found in last week’s  Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:2.

4 Umberto Cassuto in New Studies in Bamidbar, Leibowitz

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.