Thursday, June 30, 2022

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


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


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

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

3)   Chapter 20:14-21: “What was the point of referring to all their [Israel’s] travail [when approaching Edom]? Did Moses wish to arouse their [the Edomites’] compassion?”

4)   Chapter 21:1-3: “What made the King of Arad attack the Israelites? Especially with a view to the  assertion made in the Song of the Red Sea that all the nations of the world were terror-struck by the Divine miracles and dared not interfere with Israel (Ex. 15:14-15)?”

5)   Chapter 21:4-9: “The serpents’ description as “firey,” which in Hebrew is seraphim [s’rafim], is curious in itself, but more so is this method given to Moses to heal the victims [which] is somewhat strange” and “has puzzled many commentators…”  1


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


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


In previous Parashot we also noted that the remedy, or cure for "missing the mark" (i.e. sinning), is already taken into account in sin’s very definition (as we just observed above). This principle takes us to another topic of examination contained in the Parasha - the bronze serpent: “And it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live" (21:8). Once again, the very cause of the malady (the serpents) also becomes, symbolically, its cure. Additionally, the rendering of the serpents as “srafim” (meaning “fiery or burning,” of the root s.r.f – shin, resh, carcass was to be burnt), as the identical root for “burning” is employed several times in the course of the red heifer passage. Additionally, these serpents, or "snakes" – nechashim – as rendered in the Hebrew, are also "fiery" – "srafim", the latter is also the term used in Yisha'yahu 6:2, where YHVH is seen seated on His throne above which there were "fiery ones" – again, srafim.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that the verb “sent” - (va)y’sha’lach - being in the “pi’el” conjugation and not in the more common “kal” [“sha’lach”], connotes a “letting go” or “releasing” of the serpents, whereas up until that time  they (the serpents) were held back by YHVH, who did not permit them to harm His people.3 The serpents’ title points to their characteristic of “burning” or of being “firey” (“saraf”), although the actual word for serpent is “nachash” and therefore the bronze object made by Moshe was called “nachash” – serpent - ha’nchoshet” (of the) brass. The play on words and alliteration continue in 21:9: “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived”. “A serpent had bitten” is “nashach ha’nachash” (even though there no etymological connection between these two words). This unusual ‘formula’ of looking at the brass serpent and being cured, is interpreted for us by Yeshua: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 14, 15). The healing is found in lifting up one’s eyes to the Creator, while the object (which has no power in and of itself) may serve as a reminder of one’s sin and disbelief on one hand, and of YHVH’s power and grace on the other.


At the very onset of the narrative, which leads up to Moshe smiting the rock, the congregation gathers around him and Aha’ron and strives with them (ref. 20:2,3). “Strive” is “meriva” (y.r.b/v, yod, resh, bet/vet), and as it says concerning the Waters of Meriva in Parashat B’shalach (in Ex. 17:7), here too we read: “This is the water of Merivah, because the children of Israel contended [“ravu”] with YHVH, and He was hallowed among them” (20:13). Right along with the striving, rebellion and opposition also make their appearance. In verse 10 Moshe addresses the “rebels” who are called “morim” - “those who are contentious or disobedient”. The root is m.r.h (mem, resh, hey) and it means, “oppose”.  Moshe, like Y’chezkel (Ezekiel), was not to be “rebellious [“meri”] like that rebellious house [“beit ha-meri”]” (Ez. 2:8) of Yisrael, and although commanded to “take the rod”, he was to speak peaceably to the rock (ref. 20:8).  Moshe and Aha’ron, however, failed and thus proved their faith to be deficient (20:12), having acted much like their compatriots. In speaking to the rock, they were to exemplify the obedience of an inanimate object to YHVH’s word. Thus, if even the rocks obey Elohim, how much more were the children of Israel supposed to do so, especially as they were just about the enter the land that He has given them! An example of a proverbial and potential response of rocks is stated by Yeshua. On His way to Jerusalem, in what is called His triumphant entry, “as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise Elohim with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of YHVH!' Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’  But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:37-40 emphasis added).  


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


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


The attempt to appease the Edomites (in approaching their king Moshe says: “thus says your brother Israel…” 20:4) is a gesture of creating peaceful coexistence between “Esav” and “Jacob-Yisrael”, and abolishing the enmity between the two.  The previous scene, of drawing water from the rock (20:2-11) in the wake of the people’s complaint that ended with an unsuccessful encounter with ‘Esau’, parallels another such scene, which took place shortly after Yisrael left Egypt. In Rephidim, the people contended with Moshe and asked for water (Exodus 17:2). The problem was resolved by Elohim directing Moshe to hit the rock, from which water gushed out (v. 6). Immediately after this scene (and perhaps because of it), the Yisraelites were attacked by the Amalekites, who are Esav’s descendants (see Genesis 36: 9-12). What is the reason for these corresponding scenes? It seems that in the present ones, in our Parasha (forty years later, this time with the younger generation), there is an attempt at rectifying, or redeeming these two issues. However, both these attempts ended with failures (i.e., the demand for water without honoring the Almighty who provided it, and the consequent Edomites, Esav’s progeny, rejection of the peaceful offer). Thus, with the two groups of ‘defendants’ (and also Moshe and A’haron) refusing to come clean regarding their offenses, YHVH was now within His perfect right to pass judgment and declare His verdict (to come into effect immediately or sometime in the future).


Following Aha’ron’s death on Mount Hor, the Canaanite King of Arad, upon hearing of Yisrael’s approach, fights them and takes some of them captive (21:1). As was already pointed out, the fact that he dared to do so is rather curious. However, the citing, in that connection, of the “road to Atarim” led Nahmanides to attach the sad spy episode to the present adversity, as “Atarim” may share the root “tour” – to “survey” - which we looked at in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha (Numbers 13-15). “What connection then was there between the incident of the spies and this attack on the children of Israel? The latter had shown their lack of confidence and fear of the future, by sending the spies. The Canaanites fortified themselves with the knowledge of Israel’s sense of weakness and inferiority. The lowering of the Israelites’ morale was followed, automatically, by the rising morale of their enemies.” 2   If Yisrael were indeed coming by “the way - or manner - of the spies/surveyors” it would have given the Canaanite king the confidence to assail them.


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


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


The Parasha ends with another spying episode. Before the Israelites ventured out to conquer the Amorites, it says in 21:32: “Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer…” The word there for “spy out” is different than the one we encountered previously, this time it is “ra’gel,” of the root r.g.l, meaning “foot or leg” (“regel”), a term also used for the spies who were later sent by Yehoshua (Joshua) to explore Yericho (ref. Joshua 2:1). It seems that these spies (“footmen”) were not to “tour” – survey – the land, but rather walk to their designated destination, one step at a time (one foot in front of the other :).


See article below

*    “Parashat” = “Parasha of…”       

1.   Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, Eliner Library, Dept.

      of Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Joint Authority

      for Jewish Zionist Education, Jerusalem, 1995.

2.    ibid

3.    ibid

4.    Da’at Mikra, A’haron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001


The following article, which is now a chapter in our book Creation Revisited, deals with some of the Parasha’s themes. The book may be downloaded from our site


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 23, 2022

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

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

“And Korah the son of … took” are the opening words of the Parasha, continuing with the names of those who joined him. Although it does not say explicitly what Korach “took”, the list of the others who joined him and their collaboration underscores underhanded opportunism, in an attempt to grab that which did not belong to him, or to any of the other men with him.

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

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

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

The sad story continues… Again, notice the wording, "And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. And they said, 'we will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land that flows with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but must you also seize dominion over us?'" (16:12, 13 italics added). In their defiance, Da’tan and Aviram are determined to not "come up" ("na'aleh"), while this is followed by their accusation, "is it a small thing…" – ham'at" - echoing Moshe's words in verse 9, "is it a small thing to you that the Elohim of Israel…?" Their excuse for "not going up" (“lo na’alea”) is that it was Moshe who "brought them up" ("he'e'li'tanu", again of the root for “going up") from "a land flowing with milk and honey", and has not brought them into "a land flowing with milk and honey" as he had promised (v. 13, 14; see Ex. 3:8).  In this way, these two are responsible for twisting YHVH's promises and substituting truth for a lie by portraying the land of their slavery and bondage as a dreamland of the past, while their supposed grim present holds no promises for the future. They choose to make their point by not only repeating and twisting Moshe’s own words but also by employing the verb for “going/bringing up” (root a.l.h) in a way that imbues their statement with thick sarcasm. They maintain that the purpose for having been "brought up" to the desert was in order to "cause them to die", and so that Moshe could "dominate them with dominion" – tis’ta'rer hista'rer". "Sar" is the root of "dominion", while it also constitutes another word for "prince", from whence the term "Prince of Peace" ("Sar Shalom") is derived, as well as the names Sarah and Yisrael.  They seal their harangue by accusing Moshe of not having given them "inheritance in fields and vineyards", adding: "Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up ["lo na'aleh", again]" (16:14, italics added). Their ultimate end - of "descending/going down alive into Sheol" (v. 30) - sheds an eerie light on their repeated refusal to “go up".  Moreover, by stating so emphatically their refusal to go up, they were actually pronouncing their own doom. Indeed, “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

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

Now Moshe is angry - "(va)yichar le-Moshe"! (16:15). In Parashat B’ha’a’lotcha we encountered the same term for anger, which was appended to the nose (ref. Bamidbar 11:1), and thus it was the “burning of/in the nose”. Moshe's anger here is followed by the injunction to the band of rebels to “light up” incense on their fire pans and to let YHVH judge them and the situation (v. 17). YHVH commands Moshe and Aha'ron to separate themselves from this "eda" (congregation, assembly), so that the latter may be "consumed" or "devoured" as by fire (v. 21). Finally, after Korach, Da’tan and Aviram, and some of their company, are swallowed up, "a fire came forth from YHVH and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense" (16:35, literal translation, italics added). In Bamidbar 26:11, it says, quite curiously, that “the children of Korach did not die”. Indeed, the sons of Korach are recorded as the writers of 11 of the psalms (although quite possibly they were of a later generation of Korach’s children).

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

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

Only one day goes by and the people begin to complain again, saying to Moshe and Aha’ron: "You have brought death [“ha'mitem”] on the people of YHVH" (v. 41, italics added), thus echoing the words of Da’tan and Aviram to Moshe in 16:13 ("you have brought us up here… to cause us to die - le'hamitenu"). In both cases the root is "ma'vet", that is, “death” (m.v.t - mem, vav, tav). Once again, the cloud covers the Tent of Meeting and the glory of YHVH appears (ref. 16: 42), much like the description in verse 19, where the same thing took place in front of Korach and company. This time YHVH admonishes Moshe (and Aha'ron) to stand back, as He is about to “consume” the congregation, using the very same verb which we encountered above (in 16:21). Moshe and Aha'ron fall on their faces, as they did previously (see V. 22), contrary to what YHVH told them this time, which was to "elevate themselves" – hey'romu - of the root r.o.m (resh, vav, mem). What started out as a plague was halted by Aha'ron's action of kindling the incense on fire pans, with fire obtained from the altar.  Running through the camp, holding on to the fire pans to "make an atonement… for wrath has gone out from YHVH" (v. 46), Aha'ron brought the plague to an end (standing “between the dead and the living” v. 48). The "wrath" described here is termed "ketzef", (kof, tzadi, fey), which is also found in verse 22, when Moshe and Aah'ron display their concern for the entire congregation of Yisrael upon the mutiny of Korach and his band, saying: "Shall one man sin and will You be angry [“tiktzof”] with all the congregation?" (Italics added). Thus, the entire congregation of Yisrael, far from learning the lesson displayed before them the previous day, re-enacted the mutinous scenario.

Following the major affront dealt to the office of the priesthood and the roles of the Levites, the rest of the Parasha is devoted to reconfirming their uniqueness, by the blossoming of Aha'ron's rod, which is the ultimate evidence, witness, and testimony of YHVH's choice. It was for this reason that another title is being accorded here to the Tent of Meeting. Ohel Ha’edut, that is, Tent of the Testimony/Witness replaces its usual title of Ohel Mo’ed (17:7).  A female witness happens to be “eda”, being the same as the word for “band or congregation” employed so often in our Parasha. This new term may be hinting at the (poor) ‘testimony’ of the assembly “eda”, as compared to YHVH’s true witness, represented by the Tent of the Testimony (Ohel Ha’edut).

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

The cynical tone which accompanied the dialogues between Moshe and the rebels does not cease, even to the very bitter end that finds the protagonists. The Hebrew text which describes the horrifying scene of their death refers to it thus: “And if YHVH creation will create [translated ‘will do a new thing’] and the earth will open up its mouth and will swallow…” etc (16:30). How is it that an act of “creation” is appended to this most morbid scene of death and annihilation? Yes, the “creation” here is referenced as a new action by the Almighty, albeit a negative one. But, at the same time, the root b.r.a (bet, resh, alef) for “bara”, create, is also used in the verb “ba’reh”, which means to “remove” (such as in Yehoshua 17:15,18 where it is “to clear” and “to cut down”). Thus, the “removal” of the rebels in this most unusual way was underscored by the usage of an equally unusual term.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Love or Leave

 Last week during our local prayer and bible study we were discussing John 15, in particular one word that appears 10 times in the first 11 verses.  In this context, Yeshua says to His disciples: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).  He then goes on to warn them that a branch that does not bear fruit will be pruned or cut off completely.  But what is peculiar to the analogy of this particular branch -  klay’may” in Greek -  is that it refers to a broken-off branch (G2806). True to the botanical analogy, Yeshua continues by stating a botanical fact, and that is that in and of itself a branch cannot bear fruit. In other words, it must draw its nourishment from the vine.  The fruit that Yeshua is referring to here is obviously the spiritual produce mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, etc.).  The reason that He uses the grapevine analogy is that grafting was (and still is) a common practice in vineyards, as there are many positive benefits to doing so. 

However, Yeshua is referring back to the condition of YHVH’s vineyard in Jeremiah chapter 2, when He says to all Israel: "Yet I planted you a choice vine, a completely faithful seed. How then have you turned yourself before Me into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?" (Jeremiah 2:21).  "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith" (Romans 11:20). Even though Paul uses here the olive tree as his example, the same principle applies to the vine as well, as Yeshua is also the Netzer of the olive tree that both Judah and Ephraim have to be grafted back into.  They were both cut off because of their unbelief which is disobedience, forsaking the very waters of life that fed them. The spiritual sap that they/we were receiving from the degenerate vine, from our forefathers, was contaminated by Sin and as a result, we produced no fruit at all, or at 'best' poisonous fruit.  The Vinedresser and Creator laid the ax/cross to this root and killed that which was feeding our branch.  However, in His great mercies and faithfulness, He is grafting the branches back -  into the True Vine, or put differently into the New Shoot which sprung up from the only root He preserved, the root mentioned in Isaiah:  "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots… "And in that day there shall be a shoot of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Nations seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1, 10).

What does Yeshua mean when in the midst of the discourse and exhortation regarding the vine, He suddenly says to His disciples the following: "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3)? Having been washed by the water of His word (ref. Eph. 5:26) they (the disciples) were made ready for the implant.

The word that I referred to above, as appearing 10 times in John 15 is "abide.  In Greek it is “men’o, which means to sojourn, remain, not to depart, or to stay temporarily in a place.  One would think that "connected" or "linked" in a permanent way would have been more appropriate terms. But in warning these particular 'grafted in branches', Yeshua emphasizes that they have a choice, to stay connected and draw life from the vine or not. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5-6). Daily our circumstances and the power of sin challenge us – will we remain in union/graft in the Messiah or not?  Clinging to Him and drawing our life from Him results in “the fullness of joy” (verse 11), and in “rest” (Isaiah 11:10). 

As "branches" Yeshua places a condition before us: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:11).  "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  Thus, if the above 'equation' is reduced to its conclusion – what we are asked to do is to abide in His love, drawing life from the Source - the Father through Yeshua. Furthermore, in John 15:5 He tells us categorically: "without Me you can do nothing”. In other words, it is impossible for us to keep His commandments if we are not abiding in Him and He in us. Staying in this abiding place, being engaged in this intimate relationship with Him is described thus: “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).  Living this way, we will bear or produce the fruit of the Spirit, which in and of themselves fulfill all the commandments of Yeshua, thus enabling us to enjoy the foretaste of eternity:  "As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.  And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25). 

"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9).

Thursday, June 16, 2022

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

 "And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Send out for yourself men 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 (Cf. Dvarim 1:22-23, where it says that the people had initiated this expedition, which was looked upon favorably by YHVH).  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".

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, and 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 enter and 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 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 an 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 that 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. Additionally, the responses of the delegates will expose their deep inner convictions, “whether strong or feeble”, “whether good or bad”, and ‘whether full of faith or following natural inclinations".

But regardless of what the 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. Hopefully, these leaders’ reports will be a testimony of encouragement, in order to build up their compatriots’ faith.

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 as "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, the two faithful messengers observe, “their protection has departed from them”, which in Hebrew is, “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 that 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 entering the land and 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 spelled 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 and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your Elohim” (15:39-40). 

Let’s read part of this excerpt again, but this time in its literal translation: “and you shall not tour after your heart and after your eyes [leading] you to commit harlotry”. In other words, the unsteady and shifty heart is inclined to “tour”, to be followed by the eyes that are so easily given to deception, all of this culminating in harlotry. The “touring” hearts and eyes in the previous section, pertaining to the spies, certainly proved this description of the inner heart process to be true. 

Appended to the tzitzit 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), to which we may add from Deuteronomy 1:33, "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, see 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.

Bוא as if to underscore that in spite of what has just taken place, the aftermath of the negative report, and the response of the people, the following chapter starts with "when you have come into the land you are to inhabit… and you make a burnt offering" (15:2-3). The promise to enter the land still stands firm and sure…  



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.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha - Bamidbar (Numbers) 8 – 12

Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha is packed with a variety of issues, commencing with the lighting of the menorah.  Thus in 8:2 YHVH instructs Moshe with the following: “When you raise (literal translation) the lamps…” - being the words that the Parasha is named after. We noted that last week’s Parasha 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. There too an “elevation” is mentioned, but it is one associated with “waving” (root n.o.f, noon, vav, pey/fey). 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 also mentioning the departure of Moshe’s father-in-law (here called Chovav, or conversely the latter’s son). 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 (a “kushite”). 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 performed 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. Since the People of Yisrael “leaned” on the Levites, did the latter vicariously carry all of Yisrael’s sins, just before their own were transferred to the bulls? Or, were the Israelites commissioning the Levites to act as mediators on their (Israel’s) behalf especially transferring the firstborn position? 

Aside from the 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 and whether there are (subtle) messages that are conveyed thereby. 

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 9:18 and 20, it says about the desert travels: “At the command – in 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”. 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 question: 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", ref. 11;21-23)? 

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 His Word and to the implications thereof.  The “nose” is also mentioned a number of 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 to them, but did not like what they saw!  Just before that, when Moshe’s father-in-law (or brother-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 or his son’s, appearance 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 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 in the atom  (and in the ‘seed principle’).  

Back to Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha. The subject of the first part of chapter 10 is 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 as the verb for “longing, yearning or desiring” (e.g. Gen. 31:30; Zeph. 2:1; Ps. 17:12; Job 14:15). Was it the desire 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 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 or 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 tutor who is faithful (“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 italics added).  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 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).  Thus, 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, the wind is cited as 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 – 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. 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). The verb a.s.f (alef, samech,fey) also connects the two passages that we are examining - 11:24-30 and 31-34 – as in verse 30 it says: “And Moses returned to the camp”, the Hebrew rendering is, “And Moses was gathered to the camp”. 

But while in the first section Moshe is “gathering the elders” (11:24, 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.