Accounting for God’s Interactions with Bila’am

Accounting for God_s Interactions with Bila_am

Two fundamental questions posed by a classical biblical commentator.

In Dr. Alexander Klein ‘s 2003 essay on Parashat Balak, “Magic and Miracles, Donkeys and Angels” on behalf of the Bar Ilan Parashat HaShavua series, among the issues that he discusses are two of Abrabanel’s many questions on the Parasha:

(Abrabanel structures his Tora commentary by first listing a long series of questions and only afterwards, proceeds to address them, one by one in the order that they were raised. As opposed to other biblical commentators where one has to play a form of the quiz show Jeopardy, by extrapolating from their insights what exactly was the issue(s) that precipitated their comment, in the case of Abrabanel, he spells out his questions prior to interpreting the verses.  Although such a system allows for appreciating the orderliness and logic of his mind, students sometimes skip the questions in order to proceed straightaway to the answers out of impatience to get to the “point.” However, in the interests of developing a personal learning approach, considering such questions when articulated by the commentator himself is a valuable resource. “Wags” have said that one should be careful on Friday evening, when ordinarily after a heavy Shabbat meal, one is inordinately sleeply, not to dwell on Abrabanel’s lengthy questions, since he might fall asleep and never get to the answers!!)

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Rav Saadia Gaon and Reward and Punishment

Rav Saadia Gaon and Reward and Punishment

An emphasis that starkly contrasts with a classical view expressed by RaMBaM.

In R. Yitzchak Blau’s essay, entitled “Rav Sa’adia Gaon’s Emunot VeDeot,” included in the collection Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought (Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought & Maggid Books, New Milford, CT, 2017, pp. 1-18) (for my review of this book’s companion volume, Torah and Western Thought: Intellectual Portraits of Orthodoxy and Modernity see ) he states that due to “Maimonides’ towering and overshadowing presence may also play a role in students of Jewish thought not encountering R. Sa’adia.” In my own case, there is an aspect of Jewish thought that I find I have been completely given over to RaMBaM’s view, without having even been exposed to contrary positions. This could in part be due to my training at YU and the preeminence of RaMBaM in the Brisker approach, but it’s never too late to begin to consider alternatives.

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Korach’s Wealth—To What Extent Did this Concept Based in the Midrash, Contribute to his Confrontation with Moshe?

Korach_s Wealth—To What Extent Did this Concept Based in the Midrash, Contribute to his Confrontation with Moshe

The Rabbinic (rather than biblical) assumption that Korach was wealthy.

In Daniel Samuel’s 2011 contribution to the Bar Ilan Parashat HaShavua series, “Rich as Korach”, the author notes that the contemporary Modern Hebrew expression from which the essay derives its title, and which is colloquially and pejoratively translated “filthy rich,” has no basis in the biblical text, but can be traced to several Midrashim and Talmudic references to this individual:

The extent of Korach’s wealth:

Pesachim 119a

R. Levi said: The keys of Korach’s treasure-house were a load for three hundred white mules, though all the keys and locks were of leather (as opposed to metal, considered a heavier material.)

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Power vs. Influence

Power vs Influence

Two sharply different reactions on the part of Moshe.

In the fifth of his essays on Parashat Korach, “Power and Influence” (Covenant and Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible; Numbers: The Wilderness Years, OU Press/Maggid, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 219-25), R. Jonathan Sacks initially pits two of Moshe’s responses over and against one another, noting that it appears that the greatest of Jewish prophets was acting inconsistently and perhaps even arbitrarily. As pointed out in the blog posting, “A Foreshadowing of Moshe’s Eventual Fatal Error” we noted how angrily he lashes out at the rebels led by Korach when he takes personally their attacks upon him:

BeMidbar 16:29-30

29 If these men die the common death of all men, and be visited after the visitation of all men, then the LORD hath not Sent Me. 30 But if the LORD Make a new thing, and the ground open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down alive into the pit, then ye shall understand that these men have despised the LORD.

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A Reactionary Counter-Revolution

A Reactionary Counter-Revolution

Looking upon the Korach rebellion as something more than a craven attempt to gain status and influence by the rebels.

In Dr. Amos Barde’a’s 2007 essay on behalf of Bar Ilan’s Parashat HaShavua series, “’And Korach Took’”, he depicts Korach as attempting to lead a counter-revolution against the innovations intended by God and His Prophet Moshe, to lead the Jewish people to reject pagan Egyptian culture. Now that the majority of the Jewish people were confronted with the reality that they would not be allowed by God to enter the Land of Israel (BeMidbar 14:23), but were rather doomed to wander in the wilderness until the generation of the Exodus had died out, even though they were still being expected to fulfill God’s Commandments

(see Chidushei Aggadot MaHaRShA on Bava Batra 119a, quoting Tosafot s.v. Afilu Ketana SheBaHen Lo Niseait Pachot MeiArbaim Shana, where it is posited that R. Akiva’s view that Tzelofchad was the Shabbat woodgatherer [BeMidbar 15:32-6], and he deliberately engaged in this transgression in order to demonstrate to the Jews that despite their being destined to die in the wilderness, the Mitzvot still had to be observed!),

they were particularly susceptible to a charismatic leader, such as Korach, attacking the effectiveness of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, as well as the jarring innovations vis-à-vis religious outlook that had been imposed upon them.

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Tithes and Gifts in Exchange for Divine Service

Tithes and Gifts in Exchange for Divine Service

A shift in the address to which the tithes are to be directed.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s third essay on Parashat Korach, “HaYei’ud HaChadash Shel Matanot Bnai Yisrael (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Machon Tzomet, Alon Shevut, 5766, pp. 163-4), he notes the reassignment of a number of tithes to the tribe of Levi in general and the Kohanim in particular.

Prior to Parashat Korach, R. Bazak points out that according to a literal reading of the biblical text, the various percentages of their crops, in effect “taxes,” that the members of the Jewish people would be required to donate—this system would begin once the Jews reached the Promised Land and would individually engage in farming and animal husbandry, as opposed to their relying upon God to supply the food that they consumed—were to be “given” to HaShem:

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Appropriating and Misappropriating Communal Funds

Appropriating and Misappropriating Communal Funds

The accusation that Moshe finds most painful of all.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s first essay on Parashat Korach, “’Lo Chamor Echad’—Nikayon Kapav Shel Oved Tzibbur” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 370-3), he focuses attention upon the comment made by Moshe in response to the personal attack directed at him by first Korach and then Datan and Aviram (for R. Sacks’ treatment of this topic, see the previous blog post: “A Foreshadowing of Moshe’s Eventual Fatal Error”):

BeMidbar 16:3, 13

3 And they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon, and said unto them: Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD Is Among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD

13 Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but thou must needs make thyself also a prince over us?

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A Foreshadowing of Moshe’s Eventual Fatal Error

A Foreshadowing of Moshes Eventual Fatal Error

The attacks on Moshe and his angry response.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ fourth essay on Parashat Korach, “Not Taking It Personally,” (Covenant and Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible; Numbers: The Wilderness Years, OU Press/Maggid, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 211-7.), he discusses the belligerant manner in which Moshe responds, at least initially, to the rebels, led by Korach. Moshe faced three separate charges brought against him by different groups. They claimed fairly or unfairly, explicitly or implicitly: a) he had nepotistically appointed his brother Aharon to the position of High Priest, passing over other candidates (BeMidbar 16:3,9); b) he had not made good on his promise to bring the people to a land flowing with milk and honey (Ibid. 14); and c) it was unfair that he had transferred the role of priests in the Tabernacle from the first-born to the tribe of Levi (Ibid. 5-7). It appears that he manages to keep his emotions in check initially by speaking rationally and cogently, but the accusations that Datan and Aviram levy at him during their refusal to have a face-to-face meeting with Moshe, prove to cause Moshe to issue an extremly sharp response:

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God Rejects the Jews’ Repentance after the Sin of the Spies

God Rejects the Jews_ Repentance after the Sin of the Spies

Mourning as a reflection of personal regret and repentance.

In Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg’s essay on Parashat Shelach, “Black Sun: Moses and Job” (Bewilderments, Schocken. New York, 2015, pp. 147-69), she compares the people’s reactions to being confronted with their terrible sins following first, the Golden Calf, and then, after having been swayed by the spies to the point of wishing to return to Egypt. In both instances, the people are described as engaging in mourning—the biblical account in BeMidbar describes the Jews as even demonstrating “great mourning” — as an apparent reflection of how deeply they regretted having “let” God “down”:

Shemot 33:3-6

3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not Go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people; lest I Consume thee in the way. 4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned; and no man did put on him his ornaments (removing one’s jewelry and other accoutrements is an external manifestation of the state of mourning). 5 And the LORD Said unto Moshe: Say unto the children of Israel: Ye are a stiff-necked people; if I Go up into the midst of thee for one moment, I shall Consume thee; therefore, now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may Know what to do unto thee. 6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from mount Chorev onward.

BeMidbar 14:39

And Moshe told these words (i.e., the Divine Decree that the generation that left Egypt would never reach Israel) unto all the children of Israel; and the people mourned greatly.

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The Best Kind of Freedom Evolves on Its Own

The Best Kind of Freedom Evolves on Its Own

(Much of this essay by R. Sacks, is a shortened version of the chapter “Time as a Factor in Politics” in R. Sacks’ recent book, Covenant and Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible; Numbers: The Wilderness Years, OU Press/Maggid, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 153-9. In the essay appearing in the book, he makes reference to the character Brooks Hatlen in the 1994 film, “The Shawshank Redemption” as an exemplar of someone who once a long-serving inmate, finds it impossible to adjust to the freedom that comes with parole. I also referenced this same character in the blog post “Barley vs. Wheat; Pesach vs. Shavuot)

RaMBaM’s view of the incident of the spies: a dimension of human nature.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ online essay for Parashat Shelach, “Freedom Needs Patience” ( ) he supports RaMBaM’s understanding of the incident with the spies, where, instead of emphasizing the sinfulness of the people who were swayed by the negative reports of the Promised Land, the commentator stresses how human nature is such, that considerable time will be required to effect substantive change on the part of not only individuals, but an entire nation:

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