The Self-Discipline to Say “No”

The Self-Discipline to Say “No” 7.19.19

The “lead-up” to Bila’am’s trying to curse the Jewish people.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ internet Devar Tora for Parashat Balak, “The Hardest Word to Hear”, he raises a number of questions regarding the beginning of the Parasha, when Balak’s emissaries visit Bila’am on two separate occasions:

BeMidbar 22:7-22

#1

7 And the elders of Moav and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Bila’am and spoke unto him the words of Balak. 8 And he said unto them: Lodge here this night, and I will bring you back word, as the LORD may Speak unto me; and the princes of Moav abode with Bila’am. 9 And God Came unto Bila’am, and Said: What men are these with thee? 10 And Bila’am said unto God: Balak the son of Tippor, king of Moav, hath sent unto me (saying): 11 Behold the people that is come out of Egypt, it covereth the face of the earth; now, come curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to fight against them, and shall drive them out. 12 And God Said unto Bila’am: Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed. 13 And Bila’am rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak: Get you into your land; for the LORD Refuseth to give me leave to go with you.

#2

14 And the princes of Moav rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said: Bila’am refuseth to come with us. 15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honorable than they. 16 And they came to Bila’am, and said to him: Thus saith Balak the son of Tzipor: Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me; 17 For I will promote thee unto very great honor, and whatsoever thou sayest unto me I will do; come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people. 18 And Bila’am answered and said unto the servants of Balak: If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the Word of the LORD my God, to do anything, small or great. 19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will Speak unto me more. 20 And God Came unto Bila’am at night, and Said unto him: If the men are come to call thee, rise up, go with them; but only the Word which I Speak unto thee, that shalt thou do. 21 And Bila’am rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moav. 22 And God’s Anger was Kindled because he went…

The text leads one to ask a very fundamental question about God. 

R. Sacks feels that everything in the bible makes logical sense through v. 18. However, beyond that point there are serious theological questions regarding God’s Consistency and Transparency:

a. If in v. 17, Bila’am has already told Balak’s emissaries that he will not be able to do anything other than what God wishes for him to do, and in v. 12, God unambiguously prohibited Bila’am from going to Balak, why is he waiting for God to Appear to him a second time? Does he assume that God Is Capable of “Changing His Mind”?

b. In v. 20, how can God Tell Bila’am to go with these men if He had already Told him in v. 12 not to go? Has God Changed His Mind?

c. After having told Bila’am to go with the men, v. 22 describes God as very angry. Had He Changed His Mind yet again?

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Bila’am Slowly Comes to the Realization that He is Not in Control

Bila’am Slowly Comes to the Realization that He is Not in Control 7.18.19

Pointing out the different approaches taken by Bila’am in his three endeavors to metaphysically harm the Jews.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s seventh essay on Parashat Balak, “Shloshet HaNe’umim Shel Bila’am” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Yediot Achronot, Sifrei Chemed, Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018 [new, expanded edition], pp. 353-4) he recounts how the bible describes Bila’am’s three failed attempts to comply with Balak’s request to curse the Jewish people. Not only is Bila’am flummoxed each time he tries to carry out his mandate, but R. Bazak asserts that each “parable” contains a different theme and emphasis.

R. Bazak describes Bila’am’s first words:

BeMidbar 23:7-10

And he took up his parable, and said: From Aram Balak bringeth me, the king of Moav from the mountains of the East: Come, curse me Yaakov, and come, execrate Yisrael. 8 How shall I curse, whom God hath Not Cursed? And how shall I execrate, whom the LORD hath Not Execrated? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. 10 Who hath counted the dust of Yaakov, or numbered the stock of Yisrael? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let mine end be like his!

as primarily concerned with himself (see the 7 [!] words that are underlined above.) R. Bazak notes that in this biblical passage, Bila’am does not particularly attempt to bless Israel; and when he indirectly does so, at the very end, it is only in terms of his own eventual demise that he references the fate of the Jews.

As for Bila’am’s second try to do Balak’s bidding:

Ibid. 18-24

18 And he took up his parable, and said: Arise, Balak, and hear; give ear unto me, thou son of Tzipor: 19 God Is not a man, that He should Lie; neither the son of man, that He should Repent: when He hath Said, will He not Do it? Or when He hath Spoken, will He not Make it Good? 20 Behold, I am bidden to bless; and when He hath Blessed, I cannot call It back. 21 None hath beheld iniquity in Yaakov, neither hath one seen perverseness in Yisrael; the LORD his God Is with him, and the shouting for the King is among them. 22 God Who Brought them forth out of Egypt Is for them like the Lofty Horns of the Wild-ox. 23 For there is no enchantment with Yaakov, neither is there any divination with Yisrael; now is it said of Yaakov and of Yisrael: What hath God Wrought! 24 Behold a people that riseth up as a lioness, and as a lion doth he lift himself up; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

R. Bazak points out that Bila’am directs his words to Balak, explaining to him why he will be unable to curse the Jews, i.e., God Is on their side, has Promised them to Be their Protector, and there is no basis for such an arrangement being rescinded. Bila’am concludes with a veiled threat to Balak, that this people will respond harshly to its enemies attempting to defeat them.

Bila’am finally bids to curse the Jews a third time, but ends up blessing them directly, much to the chagrin of his patron, Balak:

Ibid. 24:3-9

3 And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Bila’am the son of Be’or, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The saying of him who heareth the Words of God, who seeth the Vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes: 5 How goodly are thy tents, O Yaakov, thy dwellings, O Yisrael! 6 As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes Planted of the LORD, as cedars beside the waters; 7 Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in many waters; and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God Who Brought him forth out of Egypt Is for him like the Lofty Horns of the Wild-ox; he shall eat up the nations that are his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them through with his arrows. 9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? Blessed be everyone that blesseth thee, and cursed be everyone that curseth thee.

R. Bazak interestingly compares the “leonine” references in the second and third “parables”:

#2 Ibid. 23:24

Behold a people that riseth up as a lioness, and as a lion doth he lift himself up; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

#3 Ibid. 24:9

He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?…

He surmises that while in #2, the comparison to lions was intended as a warning to the Moabite King, as well as anyone else who wished to “take” the Jewish nation “on”, the reference in #3 is part of the blessing of Israel, i.e., that once Canaan is captured and settled, the Jews will not be summarily displaced.

R. Bazak concludes that once Balak recognizes that not only is Bila’am going to bless the Jews indirectly, but also directly, it stands to reason that the Tora posits:

Ibid. 10-1

10 And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together; and Balak said unto Balaam: I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times. 11 Therefore, now flee thou to thy place; I thought to promote thee unto great honor; but, lo, the LORD hath Kept thee back from honor.

Discussion.  

The prophet Bila’am is clearly employed as a “foil” by God to demonstrate to all HaShem’s Metaphysical Prowess in the face of man’s best efforts, paralleling the manner in which Pharaoh was Manipulated in order to publicize God’s Physical Mastery—Shemot 7:5 “And the Egyptians shall know that I Am the LORD, when I Stretch forth My Hand upon Egypt, and Bring out the children of Israel from among them.” If Harvey Cox, in The Secular City, depicts Moshe’s confrontation with Pharoah as an early version of the “showdown at the OK corral,” the same could be said about Bila’am attempting to curse the Jewish people despite God’s having Defined Himself as their Protector.

The fact that people continue to sin, both after the Exodus from Egypt, and following Bila’am’s come-uppance with respect to the “black arts,” suggests that denial is a powerful component in man’s mental processing. It is one thing if Jews generations removed from directly witnessing these manifestations of Divine Power, attempt to suggest that perhaps the Mesora (tradition) can be challenged; quite another when even the contemporaries of these events refuse to acknowledge their implications. Such an attitude probably led directly to the period of “Hester Panim” (the Hiding of the Face), when the only miracles that one is able to witness are “hidden” ones, leading to the conclusion that belief in religious tradition is understood to be a narrow function of personality and upbringing, more than a reflection of empirical reality. Naturally, people do not wish to give up their autonomy regarding determining how to live their lives; but if they continue to refuse to acknowledge the importance of deferring to an Entity that is far superior to themselves morally and ethically, it is difficult to understand how human civilization will ever evolve and positively develop.

How Can We Ignore Bila’am’s True Intentions?

How Can We Ignore Bila’am’s True Intentions 7.17.19.17.19

Why should we recite Bila’am’s blessings if in fact he was trying to curse the Jewish people?

In the fourth of Sivan Rahav-Meir’s short essay on Parashat Balak, “Repeating the Good Words” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, p. 242), she wonders about our frequent invocations of Bila’am’s blessings in Jewish liturgy, when in fact, at least the first two times he discusses the Jewish people, he attempted to curse them at the behest of Balak, King of Moav:

(To reflect upon the four “parables” that Bila’am invokes over the course of Parashat Balak, see the blog posting “Rejecting Bias and Preferring Objectivity.”

The Talmud presents two views regarding how God Made Certain that Bila’am would exclusively say only what God Wished him to:

Sanhedrin 105b

(BeMidbar 23:5, 16) “And the Lord Put a thing in the mouth of Bila’am.” 

R. Eleazar said: An angel [consequently, even the sounds did not originate with Bila’am, but rather with another spiritual being. It only looked as if Bila’am was saying these words.] 

R. Yonatan said: A hook [the voice might have been provided by Bila’am, but the foreign object in his mouth changed the sounds so that instead of curses, they came out as blessings.] 

Rahav-Meir’s question appears to be more relevant to the view of R. Yonatan than that of R. Eleazar, since the latter posits that Bila’am really wasn’t involved in the least with what he said on behalf of Balak the first two times that he attempted to curse the Jews.)

An interpretation offered by a legendary Rabbi.

Rahav-Meir quotes the interpretation of R. Yosef Chayim of Baghdad, known as the Ben Ish Chai:

His blessings have a great purpose, because they were recorded in the Tora, so when righteous people study them every year while learning the Parasha, all of Israel will be blessed through the merit of this study.

In addition, when Bila’am’s blessings are recorded in the Tora, and God then Reads them to Moshe, and Moshe Repeats them aloud, the children of Israel are blessed by God and by Moshe, His Prophet.

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Rejecting Bias and Preferring Objectivity

Rejecting Bias and Preferring Objectivity 7.16.19

Bila’am is made to realize that “wishing something does not make it so.”

In R. Binyamin Lau’s 2014 internet Devar Tora for Parashat Balak, he comments on how Bila’am is a good example of someone, who rather than initially allowing himself to simply state what he is witnessing, instead tries to will and manipulate reality to conform to his own desires, in this case to please the king who had hired him to curse the Jewish people. Only after a number of failures, does Bila’am realize that he must “free his understanding” and allow his eyes to clearly see what there is to be seen:

BeMidbar 24:1

And when Bila’am saw that it Pleased the LORD to Bless Israel, he went not, as at the other times, to meet with enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.

(Ibid. 2-8

2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God Came upon him. 3 And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Bila;am the son of Be’or, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The saying of him who heareth the Words of God, who seeth the Vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes: 5 How goodly are thy tents, O Yaakov, thy dwellings, O Yisrael! 6 As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes Planted of the LORD, as cedars beside the waters; 7 Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in many waters; and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God Who Brought him forth out of Egypt Is for him like the Lofty Horns of the Wild-ox; he shall eat up the nations that are his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them through with his arrows. 

This parable and the subsequent one [Ibid. 14-24] are in contrast to the first two times, when God had to Speak on Bila’am’s behalf, as it were, [Ibid. 23:5, 16 “And the LORD Put a Word in Bila’am’s mouth…]:  

Ibid. 23:7-10

7 And he took up his parable, and said: From Aram Balak bringeth me, the king of Moav from the mountains of the East: Come, curse me Yaakov, and come, execrate Yisrael. 8 How shall I curse, whom God hath Not Cursed? And how shall I execrate, whom the LORD hath Not Execrated? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. 10 Who hath counted the dust of Yaakov, or numbered the stock of Yisrael? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let mine end be like his!… 

Ibid. 18-24

18 And he took up his parable, and said: Arise, Balak, and hear; give ear unto me, thou son of Tzippor: 19 God Is not a man, that He should Lie; neither the son of man, that He should Repent: when He hath Said, will He not Do it? Or when He hath Spoken, will He not Make it good? 20 Behold, I am bidden to bless; and when He hath Blessed, I cannot call it back. 21 None hath beheld iniquity in Yaakov, neither hath one seen perverseness in Yisrael; the LORD his God Is with him, and the shouting for the King is among them. 22 God Who Brought them forth out of Egypt Is for them like the Lofty Horns of the Wild-ox. 23 For there is no enchantment with Yaakov, neither is there any divination with Yisrael; now is it said of Yaakov and of Yisrael: What hath God Wrought! 24 Behold a people that riseth up as a lioness, and as a lion doth he lift himself up; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.)

R. Lau, referring to Ibid. 24:1, states how Bila’am at this moment became “free,” looking at what lay before him “without prejudgments.” He no longer had ulterior motives, he no longer attempted to say what he thought would please Balak.

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Parashat Balak (BeMidbar 22:2-25:9): Questions for discussion and consideration

Rishon: What is the common denominator of the metaphors that appear in BeMidbar 22:5 and Ibid. 13:33?

 Hint: See HaEmek Davar on BeMidbar 22:5 s.v. Heneh Kisa Et Ein HaAretz for a possible answer.

 Sheini:  Why does HaShem Appear to Contradict Himself, when He first Tells Bila’am that he cannot go (ibid. 12), but then Tells him that he should go (Ibid. 20)?

Hint: See RaShI on Ibid. 35 s.v. Leich Im HaAnashim for a possible answer.

 Shelishi: In Ibid. 22:34, Bila’am sounds truly remorseful. Yet in Ibid. 24:1, he seems to finally resign himself to saying whatever God Tells him. How can this be reconciled?

Hint: See RaShBaM on Ibid. 24:1 s.v. VeLo Halach KeFa’am LePa’am LiKrat Nechashim for a possible answer.

 Revi’i:   When the Tora states in Ibid. 41, that Bila’am looked at “a small portion of the people,” he opens himself up to criticism on the part of Balak in Ibid. 23:13. What might this connote?

Hint:  See RaMBaN on Ibid. 22:41 s.v. VaYa’aleihu Bamot Ba’al VaYar MiSham Ketzeh HaAm for a possible answer.

 Chamishi: What is implied when Bila’am says in Ibid. 23:21, that he doesn’t see transgressions among the Jews? And what would have been if he had?

Hint: See RaShBaM on Ibid. 23:21 s.v. Lo Hibit Aven B’Yaakov for a possible answer.

Shishi:   Ibid. 24:5 contains one of the most famous verses in all of TaNaCh. And yet, MaHaRShaL refused to recite it when he entered the synagogue. What could explain MaHaRShaL’s rationale?

Hint: See http://text.rcarabbis.org/how-blessed-were-bilaams-blessings-by-yaakov-bieler/ for a possible answer.

 Shevi’i: What textual evidence might there be for Bila’am being given the blame for the plot of Benot Moav and Midian at the end of the Parasha, in Ibid. 31:16?

Hint: See RaMBaN on Ibid. 25:1 s.v. LeZanot El Benot Moav for a possible answer.

Conveying the Tradition to the Next Generation

Conveying the Tradition to the Next Generation 7.15.19

Creatively parsing one of the poetic passages of Parashat Balak.

In one of R. David Silverberg’s 2016 short Divrei Tora for Parashat Balak, he discusses the Tolna Rebbe’s interpretation of a Midrash on one of the verses appearing in the Parashat HaShavua:

BeMidbar 24:6

(Bila’am states that the Jewish people can be described) as valleys stretched out, as gardens by the riverside; as aloes Planted of the LORD, as cedars beside the waters.

Tanna DeVei Eliyahu Rabba 21:7

What is meant by “as gardens by the riverside”?

This refers to the schoolteachers among Israel, who produce wisdom, understanding, knowledge and intelligence from their hearts, and teach the students to perform the Will of their Father in Heaven.

Noting the Midrash’s emphasis upon what constitutes effective Tora education.

R. Silverberg cites the Tolna Rebbe’s reflection on the contents of this Midrashic interpretation of the bible’s poetic metaphor:

It is not enough to teach; parents and educators must allow their charges to experience the gratification of Tora, that it can be enjoyed like the sight of a magnificent garden.  And thus the Midrash compared the Tora taught by effective teachers to the breathtaking, exhilarating sight of a lush garden sustained by a healthy supply of water.

R. Silverberg proceeds to add his own perspective to the Tolna Rebbe’s words:

The Tolna Rebbe explained that for this reason, Tanna DeVei Eliyahu here applauds the efforts of the teachers who produce the desired results “from their hearts.”  Teaching and educating in a manner that evokes joy and enthusiasm requires emotional investment.  It necessitates not only the skills to clearly and effectively communicate the information, but also a genuine display of love and concern for the child or student.  The joy of Tora alluded to in this verse can be evoked only when we teach and tend to our charges “from our hearts,” which sincere and selfless devotion, appreciating their potential and eagerly awaiting its full realization.

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Seizing the Moment for Kiddush HaShem

Seizing the Moment for Kiddush HaShem 7.14.19

Moshe’s inability to respond forcefully to the challenge posed by the sexual immorality engaged in at Ba’al Pe’or:

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2002 internet Devar Tora for Parashat Balak, “Action and Laziness in Divine Service”, he discusses the incident at Ba’al Pe’or where Pinchos intervenes when the wiles of the daughters of Moav threatened to cause the total downfall of the Jewish people:

BeMidbar 25:1-9

1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav. 2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat and bowed down to their gods. 3 And Israel joined himself unto the Ba’al of Pe’or; and the Anger of the LORD was Kindled against Israel. 4 And the LORD Said unto Moshe: Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up unto the LORD in face of the sun, that the fierce Anger of the LORD may Turn away from Israel. 5 And Moshe said unto the judges of Israel: Slay ye everyone his men that have joined themselves unto the Ba’al of Pe’or. 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moshe, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the Tent of Meeting. 7 And when Pinchos, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. 9 And those that died by the plague were twenty and four thousand.

R. Lichtenstein analyzes the Midrashic account of what transpired on that fateful day:

BeMidbar Rabba 20:24

…Immediately, Moshe hands became “weak,” and he forgot the Halacha, and all broke out in weeping… Why were they weeping? Because their hands became “weak” at that moment. A parable. To what is this comparable? To a princess who was all ready to enter her marriage canopy, and she is found to be sinning with another, resulting in the “weakening” of the hands of her father and her relatives. So too Israel, at the conclusion of the forty years, were encamped before the Jordan River in order to cross over into the land of Israel, as it is said, (BeMidbar 33:49) “And they pitched by the Jordan, from Beit-HaYeshimot even unto Aivel HaShitim in the plains of Moav.” And there they “broke out” in sexual promiscuity, and Moshe’s hands were “weak” along with the hands of the righteous with him, and they cried.

But didn’t he stand up to the 600,000, (as it is said): (Shemot 32:20) “And he (Moshe) took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.”? It was 1) because of Pinchos (that Moshe forgot the lawsee RaShI on BaMidbar 27:5 s.v. VaYakreiv Moshe Et Mishpatan, “Davar Acher…”), that he (Pinchos) should come and receive what was his due.

And 2) because “SheNitatzel”

(he was “lazy” [!] R. Lichtenstein, in his essay, writes: The Midrash uses a harsh word, that we must not, Heaven forfend, take literally.),

therefore (Devarim 34:6) “And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moav over against Beit Pe’or; and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.”

(R. Lichtenstein points out that according to this Midrash, not knowing where Moshe was buried, was not only to assure that his burial place not be turned into a shrine—see for example, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/lag-baomer-in-meron/ which describes a contemporary annual celebration at a great man’s gravesite—but also as a punishment for his failure at Ba’al Pe’or.)

To teach you that a person should be bold like a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and courageous as a lion to do the Will of his Creator. From here you derive that He Is Precise with the righteous, even to the width of a hairbreadth (i.e., the righteous are held to a high standard, allowing them virtually no “wiggle room” for error.)

(The Talmud offers a dramatic backstory similar in many respects to what is recorded in the Midrash cited above,, although maintaining that the “weeping” in the face of such contemptuous insolence was on the parts of the people as a whole, rather than only by Moshe and his fellow leaders:

Sanhedrin 82a

“And Moshe said unto the judges of Israel: Slay ye everyone his men that have joined themselves unto the Ba’al of Pe’or.”  Thereupon the tribe of Shimon went unto Zimri ben Salu and said unto him: Behold, capital punishment is being meted out, yet you sit silent [i.e., inactive]? What did he do? He arose and assembled twenty-four thousand Israelites and went unto Cozbi and said unto her: Surrender thyself unto me. She replied: I am a king’s daughter, and thus hath my father instructed me: Thou shalt yield only to their greatest man. “I too,” he replied, “am the prince of a tribe; moreover, my tribe is greater than his (Moshe), for mine is second in birth, whilst his is third. [See Beraishit 29:32-4.] He then seized her by her coiffure and brought her before Moshe. “Son of Amram,” exclaimed he, “is this woman forbidden or permitted? And should you say, ‘She is forbidden,’ who permitted thee Yitro’s daughter?” [See Shemot 2:15-21.] At that moment Moshe forgot the Halacha (concerning intimacy with a heathen woman) [see Devarim 7:3-4] and all the people burst into tears; hence it is written, “they (the Jewish people) were weeping before the Door of the Tabernacle of the congregation.” …)

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Parashat Chukat (BeMidbar 19:1-22:1):  Questions for discussion and consideration

Rishon: What moral lesson could be derived from the Kohen who engages in purifying the person who became Tamei Meit, himself become Tameh?

Hint: See RaShI on 19:22 s.v. LeMishmeret for one possible answer.

Sheini: Why is it relevant that Miriam dies prior to the people yearning for water?

Hint: See RaShI on 20:2 s.v. VeLo Haya Mayim LeEida for one possible answer.

 Shlishi: Is the punishment that Moshe and Aharon receive appropriate for their transgression?

Hint: See https://yaakovbieler.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/fulfilling-ones-potential/

Revi’i: Reconcile how Edom treats the Jewish people with Devarim 23:8.

Hint: See Da’at Zekeinim MiBa’alei HaTosafot on Devarim 23:8 s.v. Le Teta’eiv Edomi for two possible answers.

 Chamishi: What can be concluded from a comparison of BeMidbar 20:29 and Devarim 34:8?

Hint: See RaShI on Devarim 34:8 s.v. Benai Yisrael for one possible answer.

Shishi: Compare the Shira mentioned in BeMidbar 21:17-20 with Shirat HaYam in Shemot 15.

Hint: See Hadar Zekeinim on BeMidbar 21:17 s.v. Az Yashir for one possible answer.

Shevi’i: Why isn’t what the Moshlim say in Ibid. 21:27-30 referred to also as a “Shira”?

Hint: See RaShI on Ibid. 21:27 s.v. HaMoshlim for one possible answer.

Shabbat Shalom,
Yaakov Bieler

 

Moshe’s Grief over Miriam’s Passing

Moshe’s Grief over Miriam’s Passing 7.12.19

Accounting for Moshe’s serious lapse of judgment in Parashat Chukat.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2012 internet Devar Tora for Parashat Chukat, “Losing Miriam,” he proposes that Moshe’s lapse of judgment in BeMidbar 20 when he fails to sanctify God’s Name, was brought about by the death of his sister, mentioned only in passing at the beginning of the chapter:

BeMidbar 20:1-13

1 And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Tzin in the first month; and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 

2 And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon. 3 And the people strove with Moshe, and spoke, saying: Would that we had perished when our brethren perished before the LORD! 4 And why have ye brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, to die there, we and our cattle? 5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink. 6 And Moshe and Aharon went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the Tent of Meeting, and fell upon their faces; and the Glory of the LORD Appeared unto them. 7 And the LORD Spoke unto Moshe, Saying: 8 Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aharon thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their cattle drink. 9 And Moshe took the rod from before the LORD, as He Commanded him. 10 And Moshe and Aharon gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock? 11 And Moshe lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. 12 And the LORD Said unto Moshe and Aharon: Because ye believed not in Me, to Sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have Given them. 13 These are the waters of Meriva, where the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and He was Sanctified in them.

R. Sacks writes:

…(Moshe) was in mourning for his eldest sibling. It is hard to lose a parent, but in some ways it is even harder to lose a brother or sister. They are your generation. You feel the angel of death come suddenly close. You face your own mortality…

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Reflecting upon the Implications of the Initial Phrase in Parashat Chukat

Reflecting upon the Implications of the Initial Phrase in Parashat Chukat 7.11.19

A question regarding the juxtaposition of two words in a biblical phrase.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first essay for Parashat Chukat, “Chukat HaTora” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Yediot Achronot, Sifrei Chemed, Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018 [new, expanded edition], pp. 338-9), he wonders about the first phrase in the second verse of the Parashat HaShavua, from which the Parasha derives its name (“Chukat”):

BeMidbar 19:2

This is “Chukat HaTora” (the Statute of the Law) which the LORD hath Commanded, Saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.

(Although the word “Chukat” is in the Semichut form, i.e., “the x of y”, and therefore would never be used alone, as it is in the name of this Parasha, since the Parashiot take their names from the first significant word at the Parasha’s beginning, we do not worry about the grammatical requirements of the word by which the Parasha is referred.)

R. Bazak feels that, at first glance, these two words, i.e., “Chok” and “Tora”, relate to two fundamentally different entities, and therefore arranging them together is unexpected.

Chok” he asserts, is used in connection with a particular action that either the Jewish people have been Commanded to carry out, or refrain from. E.g.,

Shemot 12:14

And this day (the festival of Pesach) shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by “Chukat Olam.”

VaYikra 16:29

And it (Yom HaKippurim) shall be “LeChukat Olam” unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you.

Ibid. 3:17

It shall be “Chukat Olam” throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that ye shall eat neither fat nor blood.

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