Friday, July 29, 2022

Paddling in the Fog

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of YHVH has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but YHVH will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you” (Isaiah 60:1-2). This is probably one of the most quoted scriptures from Isaiah. Having been put to music, many a believer in Yeshua sings these words with gusto, as the Messiah said of Himself: "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12 emphases added).  This light is eternal life, "it" is Yeshua the Word who in B'resheet (Genesis) chapter one was the Word that became Light. John wrote: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). 

In the above-quoted, the prophet uses two terms to denote “darkness”-   cho'shech in Hebrew - and "gross darkness" - a'ra'fel.  This last Hebrew word is used today to describe a dark cloud or if it is near the ground, fog.  If you have ever been driving in a dense fog, where you can’t even see the front of your car it obviously presents a very dangerous situation, especially at night as your headlights are mainly to let others know that you are near or close by.  Isaiah, along with many others, warns us about a spiritual reality of all-encompassing darkness.   A'ra'fel can be defined as water vapor that is made up of very small particles, and under certain atmospheric conditions will become fog, a cloud, or condense on different objects as dew.  We have all seen the beautiful rainbow colors that are reflected as the light passes through a water droplet, which reminds me of Micah 5:7: “Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from YHVH, like showers on vegetation” (emphases added). The apostle Jacob (James) states that we are like a mist that appears for a time (4:14). But at the same time, we are also to be part of a great cloud of witnesses that will comprise YHVH’s glory cloud.

If we are living in the latter days, the darkest of darkness all around should not surprise us. So much so, that it is likely to take the form of the plague of darkness that beset the Egyptians before Israel’s exodus. “And YHVH said to Moses, stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt (Exodus 10:21 emphasis added).  Have you ever frequented places where you could literally feel the presence of evil? I have.  Yes, we may have the light of lights - Yeshua - in our lives and inner-being but it doesn’t mean that we will not experience this surrounding darkness and its attempts to fog our minds and will.  But what do we do, or how do we respond, when we find ourselves encompassed by gross darkness, and when it seems like brothers and sisters are nowhere around (although in the foggy darkness they may be only a few steps away)? 

Let me share a personal experience that provided me with some insight. I was canoeing, one time, on a small lake nearby my parents' home, returning from duck hunting, when the fog rolled in and I couldn’t see the shoreline.  I thought I was paddling the canoe in the right direction but as time went on and I wasn’t reaching my destination, I found myself in a predicament.  Just then a thought came to mind; to listen, perhaps there would be a familiar sound that could help direct my course.  I knew that nearby our home there was a farm, so as I listened closely, I soon heard one of the farmer's cows moo.  That was helpful but cows don’t always continue to make that sound, so it was not a wholly reliable reference point.  After a few minutes, a rooster crowed which also was helpful to get me back on course, but again that did not last for long.  Every once in a while I would stop paddling and just listen.  A car was traveling down a country road that I knew was west of the farm, which was also helpful to re-orient the bow of the canoe.  One thing about fog is that sound carries quite easily.  The farmer’s dog was the most helpful because foggy conditions startled him and he would start barking at the tiniest unfamiliar movement or sound.  Needless to say, I found my way back to the shore near the farm and then followed the shoreline to get home.  

Many are waking up to their Hebrew root identity and are reciting or singing the “Shema,” from Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel! YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is one!”  Hearing of course has to do with listening, but that particular Hebrew word - "shema" - is also connected to obedience. In other words, when you hear His voice, start paddling in the direction that the sound is coming from, this is the only way to find your way back home to Zion. 

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Mas’ey – Bamidbar (Numbers) 33 – 36

We have come to the end of Bamidbar (Numbers), to Parashat Masa’ey which starts off by: “These are the journeys of – “mas’ey” - the sons of Israel… (33:1, emphasis added), “and Moses wrote their departures according to their journeys by the mouth of YHVH. And these are their journeys, according to their departures” (v. 2). Although Moshe is entirely familiar with the journeys and the name of each location that the people of Yisrael had gone through, and/or encamped at, the account which will now follow (vs. 3- 49) is dictated to him “by the mouth of YHVH”.  

Wondering as to the importance of these technical details, some of the sages, including Rashi, have concluded that this list was to serve as a reminder to the people of YHVH’s watchfulness over them, and of His attention to each and every detail pertaining to their lives and destiny.  Thus, the name of each place is used as a device to invoke in them the memory of YHVH’s care for them.  According to Maimonides, the names of the places are a testimony intended to verify that they have indeed stayed at the locations mentioned; places where only YHVH Himself could have sustained them, thusly bringing to their minds the miracles which He wrought for them.  Sforno adds to this: “The Lord blessed be He desired that the stages of the Israelites’ journeyings be written down to make known their merit in their going after Him in a wilderness, in a land that was not sown [ref. Jer. 2:2] so that they eventually deserved to enter the land.  ‘And Moses wrote’ – he wrote down their destination and place of departure. For sometimes that place for which they were headed was evil and the place of departure good… Sometimes the reverse happened. He wrote down too the details of their journeyings because it involved leaving for a new destination without any previous notice, which was very trying. Despite all this, they kept to the schedule…’ In other words, according to Sforno the Torah shows us both sides of the coin. We have been shown an Yisrael “composed of rebels and grumblers, having degenerated from the lofty spiritual plane of their religious experience at Mount Sinai… Now the Torah changes its note and shows us the other side of the picture, Israel loyal to their trust, following their God through the wilderness… They followed Him in spite of all the odds, through the wildernesses of Sinai, Etham, Paran and Zin… that was also a place of fiery serpents and scorpions and drought where there was no water, where our continued existence would have been impossible, were it not?for?the?grace?of?God…”[2]


Upon completing the inventory of the (past) journeys, attention is now being turned to the future: the boundaries of the land of Promise, the names of the men who are to help the people possess their inheritance, the cities apportioned to the Levites, and the cities of refuge. Thus, we read in Chapter 34 the details regarding the extent of the territory of the inheritance. In an era when defined borders did not exist, this was a novelty that underscores, once again, the importance YHVH attaches to the land and to its occupation. About the land of C’na’an it says that it “shall fall to you as an inheritance” (v.2 emphasis added). The usage of this verb in this context demonstrates that Yisrael’s lot was predestined and predetermined. Additionally, it “… is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which YHVH has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe” (emphasis added). As to the land that was to be occupied by the two and a half tribes, in 34:13b-15 (according to the Hebrew text), it is written that the two and a half tribes “took” their inheritance. Hence, a clear distinction is made between the land which is apportioned and the land that is taken by choice. It is here that YHVH also appoints those “who will take possession of the land for you” (34:17ff). As to the cities of the Levites, who are to dwell in the other tribes’ territories, it says: “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites cities to live in, from the land of their possessions, and you shall give to the Levites open land for the cities” (35:2).


Open land” (or “common land”) is “migrash”. One of the words for “inheritance” is “yerusha” (e.g. 33:52, 53, the latter used there in verb form “yarashtem”). In both words is embedded the term “impoverish” (being a reference to the party from whom one’s inheritance is wrested). “Migrash”, which the Levites were to be granted, are of the root (gimmel, resh, shin) with its primary meaning to “cast or drive out”. “Yerusha”, taking possession, is of the root (yod, resh, shin), and connected to another root, (resh, shin, shin) which means to “beat down, shatter” and lends itself to the noun “rash” – “poor, poverty-stricken” (e.g. 1st 18:23; 2nd Sam. 12;4 and several times in Proverbs).


Hebrew certainly does not conceal or embellish the hard-core facts and does not make attempts at being politically correct.  As a matter of fact, from Matthew 11:12 we learn that the Kingdom of Heaven is also “seized by force”.  Thus, in taking hold of YHVH’s possession (and their inheritance), the Israelites had to “impoverish” and “cast out” the inhabitants of the land.  When “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking, she said to Abraham, ‘Drive away [“ga’resh”] this slave-girl and her son, for the son of this slave-girl shall not inherit [“yirash” – will cause another to be impoverished] with my son, with Isaac’” (Gen. 21:9,10).


The next topic is that of the cities of refuge and their respective guidelines, one of which states that if a person has slain someone unintentionally, he is to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest and only then return to the “land of his possession [inheritance]” (35: 25, 28).  Similarly, it is only through the death of our High Priest that we too have been released, and may now come out of our proverbial confinement into the freedom of our inheritance (ref. Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15). This fact gains even more validity when we read the last part of the chapter: “And you shall take no ransom [kofer, of the root k.f/p.r – kippur] for the life of a murderer; he is punishable for death, for dying he shall die. And you shall take no ransom [kofer] for him to flee to the city of his refuge, to return to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. And you shall not pollute the land in which you are, for blood pollutes the land. And no ransom [kofer] is to be taken for the land for blood which is shed in it, except for the blood of him who sheds it; and you shall not defile the land in which you are living. I dwell in its midst, for I, YHVH, am dwelling among the sons of Israel” (35:31-34). The blood of Yeshua our High Priest has purified both ourselves and our earthly inheritance, and at the same time has also gained for us a heavenly one (ref. 1Pet. 1:4).


According to the English translation, the cities of refuge are to be “selected” or “appointed” (35:11).  The Hebrew, on the other hand, reads: “You shall cause cities to occur (for yourselves)… “ve’hik’re’tem” – root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey, which we encountered in Gen. 24:12, Parashat Cha’yey and Balak  Num. 23:4,16).  This expression is an oxymoron, as one’s will is either actively involved, or else things occur in a happenstance manner, or (more likely) by Providence beyond one’s control. Once again, the Hebraic mentality presents a challenge, pointing to the place where Providence and man’s choice meet, even at the expense of defying human logic. 


YHVH’s meticulous attention to the place He has set apart is seen again in the last chapter of Parashat Masa’ey, where we learn that “no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall turn from tribe to tribe, for each one of the sons of Israel shall cling to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And any daughter that possesses an inheritance from any tribe of the sons of Israel to one of the families of the tribe of her father is to become a wife of the family of the tribe of her father, so that the sons of Israel may each possess the inheritance of his father. And the inheritance shall not turn from one tribe to another tribe. For the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each one cling to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded Moses” (36:7-9 emphases added). The word for “turn” here, is in the future tense, is “tisov” of the root s.b.b (samech, bet, bet). “Savav” is to “turn about or go around”.  It is indicative of mobility, unstableness, and temporariness. The usage of this verb here lends an extra emphasis to the issue at hand: “For the tribes of Israel shall each cling – yid’b’ku, adhere, cleave like glue - to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded…”  In B’resheet 2:24 we read: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and will cleave/adhere/cling to his wife and they will become one flesh”. YHVH declares above that He dwells in the midst of the land, among the sons of Yisrael (Num. 35:34), it is no wonder, therefore, that He is so very particular about the set-up of His abode.


The above paragraph is in reference to the appeal made to Moshe by "the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph" (36:1). These ones are concerned that Tzlofchad's daughters who have obtained permission to inherit their deceased father's property will marry into different tribes and thus the tribal inheritance, as we read above, will be lost. Moshe and the other leaders are attentive to this request and find the solution that is quoted in the above paragraph. What is striking about the passage in 36:1-4, when compared to Bamidbar 27:1-4, where the original request was made by the young women, is the usage of several identical terms/words. The daughter of Tzlofchad, literally, "drew near" (va'tik'rav'na)…  before Moshe and the other leaders, as do the "fathers of the families of" Manasseh – "vayik're'vu". The daughters are concerned lest their father's name "be diminished" – va'yi'gara – as is also the concern of the group of men from Manasseh, that "their inheritance will be", again, "diminished"- yi'gara – from the inheritance of our fathers… so it will be diminished – yi'gara – from the lot of our inheritance" (Num. 27:4; 36:3). Thus, whereas there are opposing interests at hand in this particular case, the usage of the same terms, with regard to each of the parties, reflects the acceptance and understanding granted to meet the need of each – truly a "win-win" solution.

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


Friday, July 22, 2022

Facing the Time

 "Elohim is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah" (Psalm 46:1-3).

As you know, I’m not one to write about doomsday forecasts, but let's face it, for years the world has been challenged by many crises. This has been especially true most lately. Some of the recent episodes which have been played on the world stage are obviously orchestrated by the nations themselves (or a 'higher power' imposing its will on a given nation), or as a consequence of natural phenomena.  Yet ultimately everything is under the guidance and subject to the sovereign will of the Almighty Elohim of Israel, who is faithful to fulfill all that He has spoken, and that which He has put in the mouths of His prophets of old.

Of late the Northern Hemisphere nations have been experiencing record heat.  Obviously, the cause is attributed to global warming and fossil fuels.  The solution of course is the elimination of natural oil and gas and their resultant products.  The fact that the world economy is totally dependent on those antediluvian life forms, leaves the world’s decision-makers under a lot of pressure to do something about this situation, and other current challenges. Their solution to the global problems has been waiting in the wings for many decades, and it is focused on central world governance.

In order to bring this about, advantage has to be taken of chaos caused by these compounding situations such as war, food crises, natural disasters, alarming pandemics, and more. 

When considering the above-mentioned or other situations that have the potential of becoming calamitous, and viewing all of them in face of today’s world, the ingredients for what is called the “tribulation” all line up. Such scenarios are not new to the Christian world. We’ve been warned about this for centuries. The question is, are we prepared, or are we like Jonah sitting under a prosperity vine waiting to be raptured while looking for the wicked to experience the wrath of Elohim?  Or, to use another scriptural example, are we like Hezekiah who when told that the Babylonians were coming to take Jerusalem, pleaded with YHVH to not let it happen during his lifetime?  How sad that this king didn’t seem to care about the generation that would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple!  I’m wondering if some of our prayers are motivated toward the same end.  Are we trying to preserve the lifestyle of yesterday?

By now we have all heard the term “the great reset”, the idea of which was actually formulated way back in history.  The first reset was in the days of Noah, another was at the end of the Bronze Age when YHVH took Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Probably the greatest of all resets occurred with the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah.  So, although the rich merchants of the earth are planning their “reset”, it isn’t really anything new. The beasts of Daniel are not any different from the ones mentioned in Revelation.  As with all of YHVH’s resets, they are accompanied by great upheavals and shakings, which are described in many of the texts of the prophets and by Yeshua, making it very clear that we are living in the times of YHVH’s next phase of impending changes. 

Recently a friend shared with me a word that he received during a worship service at his congregation.  The abbreviated version of that word goes something like this: “You are the clay, and as such you have been on the potter’s wheel and now it is time for you to be fired". 

But not to worry - there is a fourth Man in the fire!

Back to Psalm 46: "…Be still, and know that I am Elohim; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! YHVH of hosts is with us; The Elohim of Jacob is our refuge. Selah" (vs. 10-11).

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ma’tot Bamidbar (Numbers) 30 – 32

 In the opening verses (30:1-2) of our Parasha Moshe is seen addressing the “heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel”.  The word used here for tribes is “ma’tot” (plural, while singular is “ma’teh”). In Parashat Chu’kat we discovered that “ma’teh” is a rod or a staff (like the one Moshe used to hit the rock, Num. 20:8-11), and that this word is rooted in the verb “stretch out” but also means “incline, turn, or turn away”.  Thus, by implication, “ma’teh” is used for “tribe”, emanating from the rod of authority in the hand of the respective tribal leaders. (The other word for tribe, “shevet”, also means a “rod” or "staff".)  Here “mateh” is used solely for “tribe” or “tribes” (e.g. 31:4; 32:28).  In Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:26 we encountered another “staff”, that is “ma’teh lechem” which is the “staff of bread”. There it was used metaphorically for that which is leaned (or depended) upon, as indeed our bodies cannot do without bread (used there as a generic term for “food”). 

The first part of Parashat Ma’tot deals with oaths and prohibitions, and the annulment thereof (see Matt. 18:18-19). The passage starts with the mention of a vow or oath undertaken by a man and underscores the strict prohibition not to "break" them. "Break" or "annul" here is "yachel", which is rooted in ch.l.l, a multi-meaning root that we examined several times in the past. Here it points to "profaning", implying the profaning of the name of YHVH, as at the beginning of the verse it stated clearly that the oath and/or vow were made to Him. Continuing, in 30:3-5 we read: “And when a woman vows a vow to YHVH, and has bound a bond in the house of her father in her youth, and her father has heard her vow… and her father has remained silent… then all her vows shall stand... But if her father has prohibited her in the day he heard, none of her vows and her bond with which she has bound her soul shall stand. And YHVH will forgive her because her father prohibited her”.  “Prohibited” in both instances in this passage is “heh’nee,” of the root n.o.h (noon, vav, alef) meaning “hinder, restrain, or frustrate”. Similarly, in verse 8, the same verb is used: “If in the day her husband hears, he prohibits her…” (emphasis added). (Here there is a fascinating connection to the book of Esther).* 

The latter part of Parashat Ma’tot (chapter 32) presents the story of the sons of Re’uven and Gad who express to Moshe their desire to settle in the land of Gil’ad, on the eastern shore of the Yarden (Jordan). However, Moshe, being concerned that they may be separating themselves from their brethren and that their move could have a negative impact on the rest of the people, voices his misgivings and says: “And why do you discourage the heart of the sons of Israel from passing over to the land which YHVH has given to them?  So your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. And they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, and discouraged the hearts of the sons of Israel” (32:7-9). Here we find the verb n.o.h once again, but this time translated as “discourage or discouraged”.  Moshe attributes the same motives that operated in the hearts of the ten spies (in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha, Num. 13-15) to the two and a half tribes wishing to settle on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  He construes their wish as being one that would frustrate YHVH’s will, while at the same time incurring frustration in his listeners who no doubt were concerned lest their leader would frustrate their plans. Frustration and a feeling of hindrance would also be the experience of a woman, who after taking a vow and/or restricting herself in some way for Godly reasons and in good conscious, is prevented from going through with her commitments. 

The origin of the verb n.o.h is “rise with difficulty” [1] illustrating what we have noticed time and again, namely that Hebrew is a very concrete language and thus most of its abstract terms are actually borrowed from the tangible world.  Two other such terms in this Parasha are “bind” (see 30:3,4,5,6 ff), which is “assor” (a.s.r., alef, samech, resh) and literally means “imprison or imprisoned” (e.g. Gen. 40:3; Jud. 15:12-13; 1Sam. 6:7, etc.). Another one is “annul or make void” – “ha’fer” (in 30:12), whose root is “porer” (p.r.r. pey, resh, resh) and means to “crumble, break, shatter or destroy”. 

Returning to Moshe’s exhorting address to the two and a half tribes; the aging leader expresses his concern lest their actions would give rise to a “brood of sinful men” (32:14). The word used there is “tarbut”. which is of the root “rav” meaning “much, many, or great”, and is therefore simply a derivation of “increase or add”. Thus, Moshe is literally talking about an increase or spread of evil among them, without pointing to an existing grouping or a particular “brood”.  In verses 14b and 15 he adjoins: “[Lest] you still [will] add more to the burning anger of YHVH against Israel. For if you turn away from Him, He will add more to His abandoning of them [i.e. Yisrael] in the desert…” (literal translation).  Moshe is worried that the actions of the Reuvenites and Gaddaites would bring about an increase of evil and in this manner add to YHVH’s anger, adding disciplinary measures, resulting in more suffering for the people as a whole. 

Another main theme in our Parasha is the command directed at Moshe to “execute vengeance… against the Midianites, afterward, you [Moshe] shall be gathered to your people” (31:2).  In the preparations leading to this eventuality, Moshe calls out for men to be “prepared for the army” (31:3 literal translation).  However, “he-chal’tzu” (with root, chet, lamed, tzadi), which is the command used here for “be prepared”, actually means to “draw, pull out, or remove” (such as “removing” one’s foot out of a shoe, Deut. 25:9). Thus, the literal rendering of 31:3 should be: “Draw out from amongst yourselves men for the army…” Rabbi Mordechai Eilon, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, stresses that although the expression “draw out from amongst yourselves” is in reference to a select group, it actually points to the ‘whole’ from which this group is to be drawn, implying the involvement of the entire group. In this way, by virtue of being represented by the “cha’luztim” (plural for “cha’lutz”, “those who plod ahead;” see also 32:20, 21 translated “arm yourself”), the whole army will be participating in the battle. Aside from meaning “drawn out”, the root also speaks of being removed from one’s customary environment and comfort zone, indicating that the vanguards were willing to venture and forge the way ahead of everyone else. The additional meaning of the verb cha’letz - “to rescue and deliver” (used a number of times in the Psalms) - is totally compatible with the readiness of the two and a half tribes to help their brethren. 

In view of this, when the Re’uvenites and Gaddites declare later (in 32:17): “We shall ourselves go armed” (which reads, “va’necha’letz”, again of the root, their intent appears much clearer. They are saying in fact that after making basic provisions for their families and livestock, they will “remove” themselves from all that is familiar to them and will “hurry and go ahead of the sons of Israel until we bring them to the place which is theirs…” (32:17, literal translation).  In his response, Moshe states that each of them is to be a “cha’lutz” for his brother, (while stressing that failing to do so will be considered a sin “before YHVH” vs. 20-23).  Their response is again marked by the term “cha’lutz” (v. 27). Moshe repeats this condition; namely, that only if they will act as “chalutzim” will they be entitled to land on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  In their reply, the Gaddaites and Re’uvenites confirm their readiness to “go over… as chalutzim… before YHVH into the land of Canaan, so that the land of our inheritance on that side of Jordan may be ours” (v. 32).  

Interestingly, the first time the root shows up in Scripture is in Genesis 35:11, where the Almighty promises Abraham that, “…a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come out of your loins” (sometimes translated “body”).  “Loins” in that text is “chalatza’yim” - the strong body part. The root also lends itself to festive or royal robes. Yehoshua the High Priest was dressed in such robes (ma’ch’la’tzot) in exchange for his filthy ones (ref. Zech. 3:4).  Finally, in the Hebrew translation of Hebrews 6:20, Yeshua, as the forerunner who entered behind the veil for us, is called “Yeshua he’cha-lutz”. 

Aside from declaring their willingness to go forth as a vanguard before their brethren in their campaign to take over the land, the two tribes also use another term (translated “ready to go”, 32:17) – chushim – which underscores their determination and readiness to act “hastily” (see Is. 60:22). At the same time, they also describe to Moshe their plans (regarding their land in the eastern side of the Jordan), saying:” We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones...” (32:16). Moshe, for his part repeats these words a little later, with a slight modification: “Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep...” (v. 24). The experienced leader resets their priorities, ‘take care of your families, and then attend to your flocks...’

* When Mordechai begged Esther to plead the Jews’ case before king Achashverosh, he added that she could forfeit her life if she were to “keep silent” (Esther 4:14). Esther was to go and try to annul the king’s “vow”, much like the husband or father in our Parasha in the case of his wife’s/daughter’s vow making. In the Parasha, if the male were to keep silent (same word used in Esther) for more than a day, the vow would remain valid but the said male would bear its consequences, if there were any, just like Esther would have done had she kept silent. Typical of the book of Esther’s “technique of opposites”, there it is the female who was in a position to annul a harmful vow taken by her husband.

This point was extracted from Rabbi Fohrman’s study on Esther

 In Shmot (Exodus) 19:8 and 24:7, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the People of Yisrael made a promise (oath or vow-like) to obey YHVH. But since Yisrael did not keep her word, the consequences ultimately fell on her. Because YHVH, her husband, did not annul her ‘vow’, He too was ‘held responsible for her sin of breaking her promise-vow. This is seen very clearly by the fact that Yeshua “bore her guilt”, as it says in 30:15 (see also 1st Peter 2:24).



            [1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown   

             Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979


Thursday, July 14, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Pinchas – Bamidbar (Numbers) 25:10 – 29:40


The issue we encounter at the beginning of Parashat Pinchas has already been introduced to us at the end of last week’s Parashat Balak. Pinchas, A’haron’s grandson who is his son’s El’azar’s firstborn, observed the sinful act committed by an Israelite, a leader of the tribe of Shim’on (Simeon) with a Midianite woman, and slew both of them. He thus “made atonement” (25:13) for the sons of Yisrael and brought to an end the plague that stuck them. The word used here for “made atonement” is none other than “(vay)cha’per”, of the root k.f.r, which we know as “kippur” or “covering”.  Pinchas’ action, along with the penalty paid for by the two sinners, had propitiated for Yisrael’s iniquity of “clinging to Ba’al Pe’or” (ref. 25:3). T’hilim (Psalms) 106 also refers to this episode: “They also were joined to Baal-Peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead; and provoked Him with their deeds; and a plague broke out among them. Then Phinehas stood and intervened, and the plague stayed” (vs 28-30).  In this latter reference Pinchas’ act is describes as – (vay)fa’lel (p/f.l.l, pey/fey, lamed, lamed) – which is interposing, intervening, mediating, as well as judging and pleading.  It is from this root that the word “t’fila” – prayer - originates. In fact, as we will find out, Pinchas’ action was multi-facetted.  In the second half of this article, his atoning act and its judicial aspects and parallelism to Yeshua’s will be elaborated on.

The two persons involved in the said episode were, Zimri the son of Salu, one of the leaders of the tribe of Shim’on, and Cozbi a Midianite woman, who, likewise was a daughter of a “head of the people of a father's house in Midian” (25:15). Leading Yisrael astray definitely ranked high on the list of priorities of the Mo’av-Midian coalition. The protagonists’ names in this Parasha are also of interest. Thus, Pinchas appears to be an Egyptian name, having typical characteristics such as the name of the town of Tach’pan’ches (Jeremiah 44:1) and that of Tach’peh’nis, the Egyptian wife of Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:19, 20). But even more intriguing is the name of the Midianite princess Cozbi, which is made up of the letters kaf, zayin, bet, yod. The first three of these, that is c.z.b, constitute the root for the word “cazav” (or, phonetically, “kazav”), which means to “lie, deceive, lying, deception”. Last week we read in Bamidbar 23:19: “Elohim is not a man that He should lie...”  The verb rendered there as “lie” is “(vay)cha’zev”, which refers particularly to “being unfaithful or untrue to one’s commitment or promise”.  In a land thirsty for water as Yisrael is, riverbeds hold a promise of being filled during the winter.  However, in the dry season such riverbeds become waterless.  Hence a stream of water which dries up after the rainy season may be used as imagery for that which lets one down: “You surely are to me like deceitful – ach’zav - waters which cannot be trusted”, complains Yirmiyahu to his Creator in a moment of dark despair (Jer. 15:18). Cozbi, too, was nothing but a bait of deception and enticement to the people of Yisrael (cf. Prov. 5), and especially to leaders like Zimri. Walking in the paths of temptation, away from He Who is the Way the Truth and the Life, leads not only to disappointment but far worse… and in the case before us, to destruction and death, which was experienced by 24,000 souls in Yisrael’s camp (ref. Num. 25:9).

As noted above, Cozbi was a Midianite.  Midian was a son of Avraham by his wife K’turah (see Gen. 25:2). The name stems from the verb “din” (dalet, yod, noon), meaning primarily to “judge or mete justice”, referring to all aspects of government. It is the root for the word “medina” – province.  However, this particular form – “Midian” – may also be related to “mah’don”, which albeit of the same root (as “judgment”) means “strife or contention” (e.g. Prov. 15:18; Jer. 15:10; Hab. 1:3 etc.). Thus, far from being a people of judgment (that is of justice and righteousness), the Midianites’ affairs were handled by resorting to magic and witchcraft and all forms of deception, as was so evident in the character of Bil’am.  The fact that they were not wholly unaware of the Elohim of Yisrael and of His ways (as illustrated by Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law and even by Bil’am), only made the “din” (‘judgment’) pronounced upon them by Yisrael’s Elohim more severe. Hence, YHVH says to Moshe: "Harass the Midianites, and attack them;  for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian, their sister, who was killed in the day of the plague because of Peor” ( Num. 25:17-18).  

Highlighted in this passage is the cunning posture and frame of mind of the Midianites, illustrated so typically by Cozbi. The order from on High here is “to harass and attack” the Midianites, since they “harassed you”. “harassing” in this case is “tza’ror” (tz.r.r - tzadi, resh, resh), meaning, “showing hostility”, while “tzorer” is an “enemy or adversary”.  In Parashat Balak, we heard Bil’am say of Yisrael: “he shall eat up the nations that are his foes – tza’rav” (Num. 24:8 italics added). In Bamidbar (Numbers) 33:55 a condition will be placed before Yisrael:  “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass – (ve)tza’ra’ru -  you in the land where you dwell”. Haman, the Jews’ cruel adversary, was named in Esther 3:10; 8:1, “tzorer ha-Yehudim”, the “foe of the Jews”. Haman the Agagite was a descendent of the royal house of Amalek, about whom it was said, “Amalek threatened the body of the people [of Yisrael], whilst Midian threatened its soul”. [1]

The opening section of the Parasha presents two words that are used several times within a few verses. The first one is repeated four times in 25:11-13, and it is “jealous”, “zealous”, or “jealousy”.  The root of “jealousy/zealousness” is kano (root k.n.a. kof, noon, alef), originating in the “color produced in the face by deep emotion” [2]. It is especially used in situations pertaining to marriage relationship, and as “God is depicted as Israel’s husband; he is [therefore] a jealous God… Phinehas [too] played the faithful lover by killing a man and his foreign wife, and thus stayed the wrath of divine jealousy”. [3] The other word that occurs five times in verses 14-18 is “smite or smitten” and “strike” (in other translations “slay and slain”). In all these instances the verb “nako” (n.k.h, noon, kaf, hey) is used in a variety of conjugations. N.k.h (or its derivation “hakot”) is a very common root and may be used in many different ways, describing fall and defeat, punishment, being beaten, smitten or hurt for a variety of reasons. In our case, it relates to the punishment of death. But additionally...

Because/of/the/emphatic/repetition/of “jealousy/zealousness” -  kano - just before the reiteration of “nako”, it would appear that our text is underscoring a situation in which YHVH’s “jealousy” has been provoked, resulting in a “smiting unto death”. Clearly, a cause-and-effect ‘word picture’ is being conveyed here by a (subtle) play on words. 

Chapter 26 is devoted to the census of the leaders of the tribes and of all those who were twenty-year-old and above; that is, those eligible for army service.  It is according to their relative number that the land of Yisrael is to be apportioned to them: “To the many you shall increase their inheritance, and to the few, you shall diminish their inheritance” (v. 54 emphases added). On the other hand, in verse 62 we read that the census of the Levites applied to “all males from a month old and upward”, but it goes on to say that they were not counted among the sons of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the sons of Israel” (emphasis added). “Inheritance” here (in both cases) is “nachala”, the root of (noon, chet, lamed) is also a stream (“nachal”), and therefore connotes a downward flow, meaning “a permanent possession inherited by succession” (the Levites were told by YHVH that He was their portion – “nachala,” Num. 18:20). A different conjugation transforms to “manchil”, which is “to cause to possess” such as is seen in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 32:8: “When the Most High gave – “hinchil” - each nation its heritage, when he set apart the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the people of Israel”. And just as the Land of Yisrael was divvied out according to the size of each household, so was the rest of the world divided up by YHVH, who knew that His people would be scattered among the nations, according to the ‘quota’ of Israelites in their midst.

 In chapter 27 of our Parasha, we meet Tzlofchad’s daughters who demand their possession saying: “Our father died in the wilderness… and had no son. Why is our father's name taken away from the midst of his family because there is no son to him? Give us an inheritance among our father's brothers” (vs. 3, 4 emphasis added). Inheritance, in this case, is “achuza”, of the verb achoz (root alef, chet, zayin), meaning to “grasp or hold” and hence to “possess and possession”. The stronger word for “possession”, used here by these daughters certainly underscores their claim.

When YHVH reminds Moshe that his day of departure is close at hand, the latter expresses his concern regarding the future: “Let YHVH, the Elohim of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in, so that the congregation of YHVH may not be as sheep to whom there is no shepherd” (27:16, 17 italics added). Evidently, Moshe understands the integrated composition of man, being both flesh and spirit while at the same time also recognizing that YHVH knows his creatures through and through. In describing the need for a leader, Moshe highlights “going out before (the people) … going in before (them)… leading out… and bringing in…” Is Moshe subtly making reference to the possible fate of the next leader, lest it is similar to his own (that is, staying behind and not entering the land with the rest of the people)?  Whether that is the case or not, Moshe displays no bitterness when told to “take Joshua, a man in whom is the spirit” (v. 18), echoing the “Elohim of the spirits” mentioned in verse 16 above. YHVH instructs Moshe on how to ordain his successor, which Moshe follows implicitly; “as YHVH commanded” (v. 23), in spite of what was no doubt a grave disappointment for him. However, since Moshe had not been deceived or embittered, his disappointment is not like the description found in Ee’yov (Job) 41:9: “Behold, your expectation is false [nich’zeva, of the root k.z.v examined above]”. Neither/was Moshe’s experience like that of the faithless ones from among the people of Yisrael who typically sought gratification in the wrong places and from sources that were not able to satisfy.  

In Parashat Balak (and Pinchas) we encounter the Israelites’ harlotry and idolatry instigated by the daughters of Moab and Midian (ref. 25:1-6). This act included sacrifices with the worshippers prostrating before?idols,?as?well?as?sexual?immorality./It/is/no/ wonder, therefore/that/scripture/terms/it?clinging/

adhering/sticking to Baal Pe’or” (v. 3), who was the local deity. YHVH’s anger burned against Yisrael, and so a little later a plague broke out among them (25:8-9). YHVH addressed Moshe in no uncertain terms, commanding him to “take all the leaders of the people and hang them before YHVH, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of YHVH may turn away from Israel” (25:4 literal translation, emphasis added. Or alternately, commanding the leader to hang the ones who committed the sin). YHVH held all the leaders responsible for these abominable acts, and His response was to have them hung (or have them hang the sinners) in broad daylight and in view of all of Yisrael in order to appease His righteous indignation.

Moshe, however, did not obey this very specific order accurately. Instead, He spoke to the nation’s judges, telling them to kill (not specifying how): “each man his men who were joined to Baal of Peor" (25:5).  This time Moshe’s delegation of power to his subordinates was not according to YHVH’s judicial order. That being the case, the plague continued, and additionally, a leader from the tribe of Shim’on, as we noted last week and above, dared to defy and blatantly rebel against YHVH by fornicating in the sight of all the congregation of Israel with a Midianite princess in front of the Mishkan. It was only after the two offenders were pierced to death that the plague (which took a substantial toll on the people – 24,000 persons died) came to a halt.

As we noted above, it was said about Pinchas that, in his jealousness and zeal for YHVH he atoned for the Sons of YIsrael, resulting in a covenant of peace, as well as in a covenant of an everlasting priesthood for him and for his seed (25:12, 13). As we have already seen, Psalm 106:30-31 adds a few more terms regarding the scene at hand: “Then Phinehas stood up and intervened/ mediated/interjected, and the plague was stopped.  And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore” (italics added).

Thus, in order to appease YHVH, according to His specifications, in the case of this most horrendous act of sin and transgression, there were several requirements and legalities. First, the leaders had to be held accountable, with the consequential act of being hung in broad daylight (or hanging the offenders themselves). When that order was not followed implicitly, and another brazen act of defilement was performed in public, it took the piercing to death of the wrongdoers in order to restore righteousness, interpose, atone, and propitiate for all YIsrael, who without that would have all perished (by the plague).

 Moreover, in the act of the fornication of the masses, as well as the single act of the Simeonite leader Zimri, there was not only a clinging/joining/adhering to the idol of Baal Peor, but also a joining and becoming one with the enticing harlots. Thus, Yisrael as YHVH’s bride was joined to another, becoming one with Baal and its priestesses. Hence the Jealous Husband (see Numbers 5:11-31) had every right to activate the “law of jealousy” against His bride. Pinchas, however, appeased that too, and so we read in Bamidbar 25:11 that he “has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal”.

The above facts and especially the responses to the sin so flagrantly displayed, help shed light on the judicial aspects of Yeshua’s atoning act on His execution stake. YHVH, as the jealous husband, had to see to it that His bride’s inherent sinful condition by which she had been enticed to betray Him would be propitiated and atoned for. In the Baal Peor incident, it was also YHVH’s household that was defiled. Similarly, Yeshua responded to the peddling that took place in the Temple compound (see John 2:17), while the disciples associated His action with T’hilim (Psalms) 69:9, which says: “…zeal for Your house has eaten me up…”

 Above we referred to the reoccurrence of the verb n.k.h (smite, smitten, strike, stricken) at the beginning of the Parasha, which in Yisha’ya’hu (Isaiah) 53:4 in adverb form, is used to portray the One who was “smitten by Elohim” (mu’keh Elohim). Both Matthew (27:30) and Mark (15:19) give an account of how Yeshua was stuck/beaten/smitten on His head before being hung on the tree.   

YHVH’s desired form of reckoning with the leaders of Yisrael, who had failed miserably, was to have them executed by hanging (or have them execute the sinners by that method) so that the curse could be removed from the rest of the people, as it is written: “He who is hanged is accursed of Elohim” (Deuteronomy 21:23). This was fulfilled in Yeshua, who redeemed us from the curse of sin and of betraying Elohim, by hanging on a tree (ref. Gal. 3:13). 1st Peter 2:24 says:Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…”  When the hanging did not take place in the Numbers 25 episode, and when further offense was committed, as we saw, Pinchas resorted to piercing the offenders with a javelin. Yeshua too was pierced, in that case during His crucifixion (ref. John 19:34). In regards to the piercing, John adds, quoting Zechariah 12:10: "They shall look on Him whom they pierced" (John 19:37).

 “…Elohim set forth as a propitiation by His [Yeshua’s] blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance Elohim had passed over the sins that were previously committed…” (Romans 3:25).  With the requirement of blood in order to propitiate for the sins committed by the Israelites, for “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22), Pinchas’ action fulfilled YHVH’s righteousness or at least foreshadowed the ultimate act of righteousness that was to come.

Pinchas’ reward was a covenant of peace, and of an everlasting priesthood (ref. Number 25:12,13). Later on, Yisrael too would be receiving the promise of a “covenant of peace” (Is. 54:10, Ez. 34:25, 37:26). Moreover, this covenant of peace was to be eternal. It is no wonder, therefore, that the agent of propitiation, interposing, and atoning (namely Pinchas) was also the recipient of this covenant. The greater covenant of peace comes into effect by the Prince of Peace (ref. Is. 9:6) who promised, over and again, peace to His followers, has brought the Gospel of peace (ref. Eph. 2:17), and made peace through His blood (ref. Col. 1:20). And as to the everlasting priesthood… that same “agent” of righteousness (Yeshua) was eligible for this kind of priesthood, as it says about Him: “…where the forerunner has entered for us, even Yeshua, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek… But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” (Hebrews 6:2; 7:24). 

 Bamidbar (Numbers) 25, therefore, presents YHVH’s legal requirements for atonement in a most detailed and graphic way, both in what preceded Pinchas’ interposing act and afterward Hence when we gaze, from this vantage point in Bamidbar, further into the historical account it is clear that Yeshua’s action and position met every requirement to the full and complete satisfaction of His Father.



[1] New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner

  Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed

  Books Inc.,   Brooklyn, N.Y.


2 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.

   Publishers,  Peabody, Mass. 1979.


3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody

   Press,  Chicago, 1980



Friday, July 8, 2022

Tents and Terror

 In this week’s Parashat “Balak”, we certainly meet some interesting characters.  Balak king of Moab and a seer, Balaam, who has had his eyes "open" to hear from YHVH, the Elohim of Israel.  Although seeing is not normally attached to hearing, in regards to this issue, Balaam is like Habakkuk, who stated: “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart, and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me”, (2:1 emphasis added).  'Seeing the speech' was also true for this prophet, who had a reputation for “blessing” and “cursing”.  A very strange profession indeed. Yet, having open eyes can mean gaining an understanding regarding a specific issue or reason.  The exclamation “Oh, I see!”  is quite common when one suddenly grasps an idea or comes to an understanding of a certain matter.

In the case of Balaam – ironically this seer was actually blinded by his own reputation. He understood (open eyes) ordinances/laws that govern blessings and curses, but his pride would not allow him to be obedient to YHVH’s command.  This becomes evident in his answer to Balak, in which he did not repeat all of YHVH's instructions to him.  “And Elohim said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Balaam (whose name means "swallow up the people") chose to tell the king's messengers only the first part of that message, but nothing regarding His decree concerning these people (ref v. 13). What was Balak to make of this refusal, other than that the magician/prophet was demanding more pay?  However, the message that Elohim wants to convey in the rest of the story is not about either man, but about how He views His people who belong to Him, and about His faithfulness to bring them to their promised inheritance. "How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel"! (Numbers 24:5)  

Balak, whose name means “devastator”, was defeated by his imagination. Israel was told by YHVH not to harm the Moabites, as He had given to them their territory (see Deut. 2:9), but king Balak and his people were fearful and full of dread from what they had heard and now are seeing, masses of Israelites and their tents.: “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me… "Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field” (Numbers 22:5 and 4).  

 The song that Moses and the Israelites sang after having crossed the Reed Sea on dry ground, is no less than a prophecy. Among other issues, it also describes the reaction of the inhabitants of Canaan to the Israelites and their wanderings.  "The peoples have heard, they tremble; anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.  Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.  Terror and dread fall upon them; By the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; until Your people pass over, YHVH, until the people pass over whom You have purchased” (Exodus 15:14-16). 

What are we to learn today from the Torah portion of Balak? 

As mentioned, this story is really not about a king and a diviner/prophet, but about YHVH and His chosen people, not only then, but also today.  The Haftara of this Parasha brings us to the reality of YHVH’s people in this generation: “Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from YHVH, like showers on vegetation which do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men.  And the remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, among many peoples like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which, if he passes through, tramples down and tears, and there is none to rescue” (Micah 5:7-8).  

How very sad that the multitudes of this remnant of Jacob today do not know who they are, and what they are called to!  YHVH did not fail to accomplish His purposes with the hordes of Israelites that came out of Egypt and neither will He be sidetracked in accomplishing His end-time goals for His redeemed remnant in this generation of the descendants of Jacob and Israel.  “’For, behold, days are coming,' declares YHVH, 'when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.' YHVH says, 'I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers, and they shall possess it.' Now these are the words which YHVH spoke concerning Israel and Judah, 'For thus says YHVH, 'I have heard a sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace”’ (Jeremiah 30:3-5).  Notice again that at that time there will be “terror and dread” in the nations.  Are we, His people, in this day and age ready for this condition that will strike the nations and will trigger the second exodus and the return to our homeland? Should we be singing the song of Moses: "I will sing to YHVH, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.  YHVH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my Elohim, and I will praise Him; my father's Elohim, and I will extol Him…”? (Exodus 15:1-2). 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Balak – Bamidbar (Numbers) 22 – 25: 9

 Yisrael’s exploits and adventures (including the surprise attack of the Canaanite King of Arad, who defeated Yisrael) in the last Parasha, terminated with victory over the Amorites, which caused Balak, King of Mo’av (Moab) quite a concern. He, therefore, solicited the services of Bil’am (Balaam) son of Be’or the Midianite sorcerer, who was commissioned to put a curse on the people that constituted so great of a threat to the Moabite monarch. "Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field …a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! …they are too mighty for me” (22:4, 5, 6 italics added), says Balak (the latter’s paranoia is reminiscent of Paroh’s in Ex. 1:8-9). In other words, ‘these numerous multitudes are liable to devour my land and my people, just like a hungry ox would eat up green grass in a field. There are so many of them, that they cover every visible part of the land.’ The “face of the earth” or the ‘visible part’ is rendered in the original text as “the eye of the earth”. The multifaceted imagery of the “eye” is not utilized in this case for that which sees, but rather for that which is seen

Since the central theme of the Parasha are Bil’am’s visions, it is not surprising that sight, eyes, and other related terms are mentioned frequently (about 30 times). The very opening words of the Parasha are: “Now Balak… saw…”. In 24:1 we read that Bil’am “lifted his eyes…” and said about himself: “The utterances of Balaam the son of Beor, the man whose eyes are open [and] who has heard the words of Elohim, who saw with uncovered eyes the vision of the Almighty…” (literal translation, vs.3, 4 and 15, 16). Interestingly, the term for, “whose eyes are open” is “sh’tum ey’na’yim”. With a slight modification “shatum” becomes “satum”, making it “that which is covered, or not revealed” (e.g. Ez. 28:3). Truly, Bil’am’s assurance about his inherent ability to ‘see’ is more than questionable. This is demonstrated very graphically in the episode with the mare of the donkey. Thus, it was only after YHVH “opened the eyes of Balaam” (22:31) that he was able to see what his animal had seen much earlier on.  

The meaning of the name Bil’am, just like Par’oh’s (see Hebrew Insights into Parashat Miketz, Gen. 41 – 44:17), happens to be appropriate and relevant to its bearer, as it contains the letters that makeup “bela” (b.l.a, bet, lamed, ayin), which is to “swallow or swallow down” (used also in Parashat Korach, Numbers 16:30,32,33). “Frequently this word is used as a symbol of destruction and ruin: Lam. 2:2; Isa. 28:7; 49:19 etc”. [1] In Psalms 52:4 “devouring words” are “divery bela”. Balak’s intention was just that. He aimed for Bil’am’s words to become a source of destruction for Yisrael. Thus, “Bela” and “am” [making up the name “Bil’am”] mean “destruction, or the swallowing up of a people”, befitting the sorcerer’s reputation as a charmer and a conjurer. Another meaning of the name is offered by Albright, who believes that its origin is from the Amorite “yabil’ammu”, meaning, “the (divine) uncle brings”. [2]

“Therefore please come at once, curse [“ara”] this people for me… for I know that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed” (22:6), is the essence of Balak’s assignment for Bil’am. (Compare this with Genesis 12:3, the words said over Avram). When Bil’am quotes the Balak (ref. 22:11), he uses “kava” for “curse”. Hebrew is replete with verbs for cursing. The most common is “kalel” (k.l.l, kof, lamed, lamed) which stems from “kal” meaning “lightweight” and “easy”, that is “of no esteem” and therefore, by default, “no blessing”, or “making light of another’s honor”. However, a.r.r (alef, resh, resh) and k.v.v (kof, vet, vet), which are used in this narrative, are more ‘dynamic’. “On the basis of the Akkadian ‘araru’, the Hebrew arar is to snare or bind, with the Akadian noun “irritu” being a noose or a sling. Brichto, following Speiser, advances the interpretation that the Hebrew “arar” means to bind (with a spell), hem in with obstacles, and render powerless to resist. Thus the original curse in B’resheet (Genesis 3:14, 17: “cursed are you above all cattle” and “cursed is the ground for your sake( means that the serpent was doomed to be banned/anathematized from all the other animals, while the soil was condemned as a result of man’s sin. “Kavav” connotes the act of uttering a formula designed to undo its object. The most frequent use of this root relates to the incident involving Bil’am and Balak. Certainly the ‘magical’ belief and intent of Balak are prominent here”. [3] 

Both a.r.r and k.v.v are used throughout the Parasha, denoting that the issue at stake is steeped in witchcraft. Several other terms found here verify this fact. In 22:7, the elders of Mo’av and Midian come with “divinations – “k’samim” - in their hands”. Again, in 23:23 we read the words that YHVH put in Bil’am’s mouth: “There is no enchantment – “nachash” - in Jacob and no divination – “kesem” – in Israel”.  And thusly “it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel what YHVH has wrought” (literal translation, italics added), and not that which the diviners and sorcerers have uttered. Therefore, “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased YHVH to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness” (24:1).  

In this Parasha, YHVH’s supremacy over all powers and the control He exerts in order to achieve His purposes, much like using the mouth of a pagan diviner to bless, and the mouth of a donkey to talk is clearly evident. Bil’am, the would-be prophet, unlike his mare, is unaware of YHVH’s messenger who was sent to him as an “adversary” (ref. 22:22). When the animal is forced to divert from the path and to put its master in what appears to him as a compromising situation, Bil’am loses his temper and strikes the mare with his staff (22:27). What ensues is the most improbable discussion - between a man and a donkey. Thus, Bil’am not only finds himself mishandled physically, but he also has to deal with his (unjustified) anger and express regret to a vindicated beast. And as if this is not enough, when his eyes are opened, he comes out as the blind fool who incurs a rebuke from the angel: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live” (22:33). In the dialogue between Bil’am and his mare, the latter justifies her conduct by asking (rhetorically) if she had ever caused her master any trouble “as a rule”. “A’has’ken his’kanti?” is the question in v. 30, using the root (samech, chaf, noon) twice, in two different conjugations. “Sachen” in this context is “customarily or habitually”.  In other words, “has it been my custom (to so treat you)?”  The root, however, also means to “be of use, benefit or service”, as indeed she had been in the past, and even more so in this particular case, acting as a tool in the hand of YHVH. Bil’am forthwith admits to being in the wrong, and only then is given permission to “go with the men”, having been warned to utter only that which YHVH will speak to him (ref. v. 35). 

Three times in this text we encounter the phrase, “three times” (22:28, 32, 33). The word for “times” here is “r’galim” (“regel” singular) - an “occurrence, event, or occasion”. The much more common term is “pa’am” (a word we briefly looked at in Parashat Tetzaveh, in Ex. 28:33 where we examined the noun “bell”, stemming from the same root which is also at the core of “pulse” or “beat”). “Regel” on the other hand, is the word for “foot”. It is evident that both “pa’am” and “regel” connote movement, which of course is an indication of the passing of time, but also, and especially in the case of the latter (“regel”), point to purposeful progress such as walking. Since walking assumes an arrival, and arrival points to a specific destination (a place), we are led once more to the conclusion that in the Hebrew mind there exists an interrelation between time and place (as we have already observed when we examined “mo’ed” – “appointed time”, in Leviticus 23, Parashat Emor). It was Bil’am’s crushed “regel” (“foot” in 22:25) which prevented him from arriving at his destination, thus perhaps prompting the usage of “r’galim” for “times”, rather than “p’amim” (both in the plural). Note that at the end of last week’s Parashat Chu’kat we met Moshe’s dispatched spies (21:32), whose commission was “le’ra’gel” (“to spy”), again of the root r.g.l, not to mention “ragal”, meaning “to slander” (found in Psalm 15:3) – an action fitting the agenda of our Parasha’s namesake. 

The extraordinary episode just experienced by Bil’am proves to be part of his preparation for speaking YHVH’s words, couched in four powerful prophetic oracles describing Elohim’s intended destiny for His people. “The three blessings are… differentiated in their relation to the time factor; the first one refers to the immediate present, to the generation of the wilderness facing him, the second to the immediate future, to the generation which would conquer the land, whilst the third concerns the distant future, to an era when wars and conquests will be no more and when the lion will lie down to rest after it has finished its task”. [4] However, there is also a fourth blessing, one which has not been solicited (as a curse) by Balak (24:14-24).

Bil’am’s encounters with the Elohim of Yisrael are qualified by two different verbs. Twice “Elohim came to Balaam” (22:9, 20 italics added), in the two instances which preceded the confrontation with the mare. However, prior to the blessings that Bil’am uttered, later on, he met with Elohim, who put a word in his mouth (ref. 23:3, 4, 15, 16). The Hebrew verb used here for “meet” is rooted in k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), literally meaning “to happen”, or “to occur”. The usage of this term gives the impression that these meetings had a coincidental characteristic about them, rather than being preordained and appointed.   

After Bil’am uttered the curses-turned-blessings, the angry king commanded his appointee to flee, adding the following: “I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, YHVH has kept you back from honor” (24:11). In his stubbornness and spiritual blindness, Balak dares to make the above statement! “Kept you back” is “mah’nah”, m.n.a, mem, noon, ayin, meaning “withheld” It is at this point that Bil’am, now as a persona-non-grata, offers to speak out what “this people [Yisrael] will do to your [Balak’s] people in the latter days” (24:14). What comes next does not please the Moabite monarch, but at the same time (surprisingly) does not incur his protest. At the end of a very significant prophecy pertaining to Yisrael and to some of its neighbors, the two men depart silently; one “to his place”, while the other is said to be “on his way” (v. 25). All the pomp and ceremony planned by Balak has just been deflated without as much as another word. 

The story of a pagan enchanter and magician, who is commissioned by an equally pagan king to lay a debilitating curse on YHVH’s people, and whose mouth utters some of the most profound words regarding the very people whom he is called to curse, is rather curious and stands out in the Torah narrative. The addition, the talking donkey episode makes for an even more intriguing text. “The dialog between the man and the ass, [as interpreted by some of the commentators] is the Torah’s scornful commentary on the powers ascribed to sorcerers, its mockery of human gullibility, in believing in the power of the magician to curse and subject the supernatural to his will”. [5] Thus, the story of the mare of a donkey echoes that of Bil’am’s and his so-called wonder-working abilities. But, if an ass can talk, so can a con man be made to speak out YHVH’s words, calling to mind what 1st Corinthians 1 has to say about those who are wise in their own eyes: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. … Elohim has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise… [and] the things which are mighty … and things which are despised… to bring to nothing things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence “(vs. 19, 27-29). In the end, it is YHVH’s sovereignty that prevails far above any and all of man’s feeble attempts at controlling life. 

The last section of the Parasha is part of next week’s episode, related in Parashat Pinchas. That which was not achieved by war or by sorcery is now being accomplished by seduction. [6] In 25:3 we read: “And Israel joined himself to Baal of Pe’or”. In the former narrative, chapter 22:41, mention was made of Bamot Ba’al, the “high places of Ba’al”, as being one of the sites designated by Balak from which Bil’am was to curse Yisrael. Several places later, when Balak’s aspirations were not realized, he took the seer to Rosh (the “head of”) Pe’or (23:28). This introduces us to both Ba’al and Pe’or; premonitions, as it were, to the above-quoted tragic words, describing how Yisrael “joined himself [va’yitza’med – “clung”] to Ba’al of Pe’or”. Is it a coincidence that Pe’or is similar to the verb “pa’or” (p.a.r, pey, ayin, resh), which means to “open wide”, such as is employed by Yisha’ya’hu (Isaiah) in 5:14: “Therefore hell has enlarged herself, and opened [“pa’ara") her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoices, shall descend into it”?  

“Then YHVH said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before YHVH, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of YHVH may turn away from Israel’" (25:4). The verb used here for “hang” is quite unusual, it is of the root y.k.h (yod, kof, ayin) which also means “to dislocate”. Since the leaders did not ‘dislocate’ or ‘dislodge out of place’ the flagrant sins committed, together with the sinner, they are the ones who are to be ‘dislocated’ themselves, by being hung (but which appears not to have taken place).  

 1 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press,  Chicago,  980.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y

5 Ibid.

6 Gill Commentary, Online Bible