Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Sh'lach Le'cha - Bamidbar (Numbers) 13 - 15 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

"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 Tools for Everyday Use

We have already observed above the verb “tour”, and in the infinitive, “la-tour”. Hence a tourist is “tayar” (“tayarim” plural). So let’s go out touring in Hebrew and see what we can learn. Both “to send” and “for yourself” are very prevalent terms that we can make use of.
Notice the similarity and difference between “for you” and “to you”.

What do you have? (masculine/feminine)
Ma yesh lecha?
                             (literally, what is there for you?)
Ma yesh lach?

I have tourists today
Yesh li ta’ya’rim ha’yom

I will send them to you (masculine/feminine)
Ani esh’lach otam ele’cha
Ani esh’lach otam ela’yich

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Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha - Bamidbar (Numbers) 8 – 12 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

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 Tools for Everyday Use

Since our Parasha is replete with references to body (especially facial) parts, we will devote our attention to those words.

Hand – hands (a feminine noun)
Yad – yada’eem

Mouth - mouths
Peh – piyot (a masculine noun)

Face – Panim (both masculine and feminine)

Nose – noses
Af – apim (masculine noun)

Eye – eyes
Ayin – eyna’eem (feminine noun)

Bone – bones
Etzem – atza’mot (feminine noun)


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Hebrew Insights into Parashat Nasso: Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21 – Ch. 7 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

 "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 alleged 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.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Since in this week’s Hebrew Insights, above, we focused mainly on the verb n.s.a and its Biblical usages, of which there are more than in everyday common Hebrew, we will highlight only one which is in daily usage and that is “nassi” – “president”. “Pakod” – visit, count, muster – is used currently to form the word for office worker, “pakid”. In an indirect way we also discovered the word “me’eel” which in modern usage is simply “coat”. Let’s see how we may put these words into use and increase our Hebrew vocabulary.

The president wore a coat
Ha’nassi lavash me’eel

The clerk works with the president
Ha’pakid oved eem ha’nassi

The president and the clerk are wearing coats
Ha’nassi ve’hapakid lovshim me’eelim

(To listen, highlight, copy and paste on web)

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bamidbar - Bamidbar (Numbers) 1 – 4:20 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

"And YHVH spoke to Moses in the wilderness…" (emphasis added), are the opening words of the Torah's fourth book, Bamidbar (Numbers). In this first verse YHVH is "speaking" – "va’ydaber" – “in the wilderness" - "ba-midbar" - both words originating from the same multifaceted root  - d.v.r (dalet, bet/vet, resh).  Let us examine this root and follow it to a number of unexpected places.  

“In the beginning was the word (davar), and the word (davar) was with Elohim, and Elohim was the word (“davar”)… And the word (davar) became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:1,14). Davar is the spoken word, the all-powerful utterance that creates or generates everything, while “thing” is also "davar."  Thus, all "things" appear to be the results of that which has been "said" or "spoken."  In the Tanach many terms, such as “lies, wisdom, falsehood, truth” and more, are preceded by “d’var” – meaning “thing of….” indicating that the origin of all things is the ‘utterance’.  Davar is that which proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim, and is therefore "the Word of Elohim."  “Matters” or “business” are also “davar” (or “dvarim” in plural form), as we see for example in Shmot (Exodus) 5:13, 19: “Fulfill your works, your – dvarim - daily tasks" (emphasis added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 18:7, reference is made to the Danites who “… had no – dvarim - business with any man” (emphasis added).  Terms such as “deeds" (Jer. 5:28, speaking of "deeds of the wicked") are also “dvarim.” "Reason, motives, customs" (“the custom of the king” in Esther 1:13) also fall within the framework of “davar.”  The literal rendering for “after the order of Malchitzedek” (ref. Ps. 110:4), is “upon my divra, Malchitzedek,” that is, “upon my word.” The form “divra” illustrates the depth and scope of “davar,” which may be also rendered as an “order, pattern, type, arch or proto type." Likewise the “Ten Commandments” are “aseret ha-d’varim,” that is, “the ten words” (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13, 10:4).

From this point let us venture further a-field to “dever,” which is "plague," or “pestilence.”  Although this abrupt transition may seem curious, it is consistent with many such disparities found in the Tanach.  If we remember that "davar" also means "cause," than the "plague," or "dever," illustrates the principle that “the curse causeless/without reason shall not come” (Pro. 26:2).  Indeed, time after time the plague is the result of rebellion against Elohim, as in the case of the plagues of Egypt. YHVH says to Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) about the people of Yisrael: “I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine and by the plague - dever” (Jer. 14:12 italics added). The following is what He speaks to the Land of Yisrael through the prophet Y’chezkel (Ezekiel): “The sword from without and the plague – dever - from within” (Ez. 7:15 italics added). Amos 4:10 records another warning by Elohim to send a plague upon His people.

"Subdue” or "destroy" stem once again from the root d.v.r, with its infinitive “lehadbir.”  In T’hilim (Psalms) 18:47 we find for example: “Elohim… subdues the people under me” (emphasis added). This verb also means “to expel or send away," such as sending off the flock to pasture, or to the desert.  Thus in Mi’cha (Micah) 2:12 the flocks are seen in the midst of their “hidabar,” which is translated "fold" or "pasture."

Hence the "subdued" enemy (or the sinner) is often “pursued," "sent away," or “driven” to the "wilderness" or "desert" - the "midbar."  But just as the wilderness may turn out to be a place of “pasture” for the flocks, it may also become a place of repentance and spiritual refreshing to those who are fleeing (or are forced) there. In the “midbar’s” stillness there are many opportunities to hear the voice of YHVH sounding His Word. The Bible records an impressive list of those who can attest to this fact. Another place where YHVH’s voice is heard is in the Holy of Holies (or “inner sanctuary”), which in Solomon’s Temple is called Dvir (ref. 1st Kings 6:16).  Dvir is the furthest and innermost place within the Temple.  Divine communication, therefore, is to be found in the furthest and remotest of places; sometimes even in a land of banishment and punishment, which may not only become a refreshing oasis, but may even turn into a 'Holy of Holies.'

In summation, the Word, as epitomized by the Son of Elohim, is life giving, but rejecting Him (the "Davar") may result in a plague (“dever”), which subdues and drives ("madbir") one to the desert ("midbar"), there to be spoken to ("daber") by the Living Word ("Davar") Who utters the Word of Truth ("dvar emet") in His inner sanctuary, or most holy place (dvir). “And I will woo her to Me in the wilderness…” we read in Hoshe’ah (Hosea) 2:14. D.v.r teaches us why it was essential for the Israelites to go through their wilderness journey on the road to becoming a nation.

Chapters 1 and 2 of Bamidbar describe the formation of the congregation of Yisrael’s encampment for the purpose of a census (cf. Ex. 30:11-16). However, whereas on the previous occasion (in Exodus) each of them had to "give a ransom for his soul to YHVH while numbering them" (which was of one half shekel that was used for the Mishkan), here they are not required to do so.

"Lift the heads of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their skulls (literal translation, Num. 1:2 emphasis added).  "Nahmanides emphasizes that the census was personal and individual… impressing on us the value and sterling worth of each and every soul which is a unique specimen of divine creativity and a world of its own."  In the same vein, Isaac Arama says: "They were not just like animals or material objects, but each one had an importance of his own like a king or a priest.  Indeed Elohim had shown special love towards them and this is the significance of mentioning each one of them by name and status; for they were all equal and individual in status."[1][1] Yeshua’s death, for each and every man (ref. Heb. 2:9) on the Hill of "Golgota," which is Aramaic for "skull," lends an even greater credence to the above statements. 

In Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shmot (Ex. 1-6:1) we noted that, as soon as the Egyptians embarked on their program of subjugating the Hebrews they treated them as a nameless mass (ref. Ex. 1:10-12), while at the same time attempting to carry out infanticide (Ex. 1:16). This is in striking contrast to what we encounter in Bamidbar chapter 1. In Verse 18 we read, “State their genealogies,” or “declare their pedigree,” or “register their ancestry” (depending on the translation), which is designated by one word - “hit’yaldu” - the root being y.l.d (yod, lamed, dalet) for “child” or “to give birth,” or “midwife” (this, bringing to mind the two midwives who saved the lives of the baby boys from the cruel edict of Par’oh). The usage here of this verb is the only place where it is found in this form, literally meaning to “become a child.” Thus, the restoration of the nameless individuals and clans to their respective origins, with the various groupings and families being recognized, acknowledged and brought to the fore, is part of the redemption process. This aspect of redemption will one day be experienced again when all the names of the families, clans and tribes of Yisrael will be revealed, so as to make up the full Commonwealth of the Household of Yisrael.  

When the roll call was completed and the Levites' duties in the Mishkan were dispensed, "YHVH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 'Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting'" (2:1, 2).  The organizational process, of turning the former slaves into a nation, is continuing.  The Israelites were to array themselves according to their tribes in specified directions around the Mishkan.  The “standard" mentioned here (and in 1:52) is "degel," of the root d.g.l (dalet, gimmel, lamed). In Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 5:10 we read: "My Beloved is bright and ruddy, standing out among ten thousand". “Standing out" is "dagul," of the same root as “degel”. "Dagul" may also be interpreted as "chosen" and "selected."  Again, in the same book, the betrothed says about her beloved, "And His banner ("diglo") over me is love" (2:4). The various banners, or standards (according to the respective tribes) with their emblems, were indicative of YHVH's favor and love toward His "select" people, and over each member of this chosen race. 

The "emblems", mentioned above in 2:2, are "otot" (plural, and "ot" singular). "Ot" (alef, vav, tav) is a widely used term, denoting "sign, token, pledge, assurance, miracle, omen" and more.  Although we do not know what the banners looked like, it appears that each of them had the "ot," or sign, of a particular "father's house," which rendered each tribe much like a family related to a single progenitor. 

Concerning the grouping around the Mishkan, which was in the midst of the camp, Nahmanides says in relationship to this edifice:  “It was a kind of Mount Sinai on which the Torah was given, accompanying them on all their journeying.” Benno Jaccob follows up this idea: “The Lord transferred His presence from Sinai to the Tabernacle, from the sanctuary of the Lord which His hands had established, to the sanctuary which Israel had made'"2 This may account for the strict orders of the camp's formation.

The above mentioned orders, regarding the tribes and their placements, excluded the Levites who were to serve in the Mishkan, and were to be at YHVH's disposal. In the course of the detailed description of their duties and responsibilities for the various parts of the Mishkan, mention is made of the edifice’s sides (Num. 3:29, 35). The Hebrew word here for “side” is “yarech,” of the root (yod, resh, kaf/chaf), meaning “thigh, loin or base.” The thigh represents man’s strength and power (see Gen. 24:2; 47:29), both in terms of virility and force (being also the place upon which the sword was placed). That is why in order for Ya’acov to become Yisrael his thigh had to be injured, and likewise the repentant one, who in order to demonstrate his true intentions smites that part of his body (e.g. Jer. 31:19, Ephraim’s repentance). Similar to the root d.v.r. in some of its uses, “yarech” also refers to the “furthermost point,” to the “backside” or to the “rear” (Jud. 19:1, Is. 14:15), and hence the application to “side.”

The vicarious role of the Levites as firstborn follows in Bamidbar 3:41, 45 with a reference to their required conduct. It says there that, they were to be taken “instead” or “in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel.” The word for “Instead,” or “in place of,” here (and in numerous other places) is “tachat,” meaning “rear, under or underneath,” thus underscoring the required attitude of humility and servitude congruent with the tasks assigned to YHVH’s ministers.

In chapter 4 we view how the chosen family of K'hat (Kohath) was to dismantle the Mishkan when it was time to move on.  During this awesome procedure they had to restrain themselves and avert their gaze from the holy articles, with the help of A'haron and his sons (vs 19, 20). "They shall not go in to see the holy things as they are being covered, lest they die," is the Parasha's last verse, which literally says, "And they shall not go in to see, at the swallowing of the holy things [lest] they die." The usage here of "swallow" ("bela") for "covering" the Mishkan articles is very unusual. It may be alluding to the fact that an unwarranted gaze could bring upon the onlookers (that is, the members of the K'hat clan) the penalty of being swallowed alive (a form of punishment which was sometimes inflicted – supernaturally - upon offenders, such as in the case of Achan in Num. 16:30-34). Thus, A'haron’s family was being charged with responsibility over the lives of their brothers, the K'hats, whose "keepers" they were to be.

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

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Most of our attention in the above article was focused on the root d.v/b.r which is still used widely and commonly in Modern Hebrew. Let us do some conjugating of this verb and in this way practice using it. In our Parasha we encountered the unique usage of “hitya’ldu” for “pedigree”, or “genealogy”, while the noun “yeled” is the common word for “child” and “moledet” is one’s “homeland”. This takes us to the “banner”, which in Bamidbar 2:2 is “degel” and in everyday speech is used for “flag”.

I (masculine) speak Hebrew
Ani me’da’ber Ivrit

I (feminine) do not speak Hebrew
Ani lo meh’da’be’ret Ivrit

You (masculine) talk much
Ata me’da’ber harbeh

You (feminine) speak English
At me’da’be’ret Anglit

He is speaking to the child
Hu meda’ber el ha’yeled

The girl is speaking about (lit. “on”) the homeland
Ha’yal’da me’da’be’ret al ha’moledet

The homeland’s flag (the flag of the homeland)
Ha’degel shel ha’moledet

(To listen, highlight, copy and paste on web)