Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Nasso: Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21 – Ch. 7

"Subject matter in the Bible is often arranged and linked together by a process of thought and, in particular, word association, probably originally designed as an aid to memory".1   This principle is well illustrated in Parashat Nasso. There is no need to look far and wide in the Parasha's three and a half chapters for a unifying theme. It is apparent.  In spite of the assortment of different and seemingly unrelated subjects that the Parasha presents, the root of "nasso" pops up in a number of places and in different connotations.

Bamidbar 4:22 says: "Lift the heads of the sons of Gershon…" (literal translation). "Lift" here is "nasso", of the root n.s.a (noon, sin, alef), which we have already encountered in previous portions, and several times in the same context of taking a census in last week’s Parasha (of the leaders of the sons of Israel 1:2, and of the Kohathites 4:2)2. Although the English translations use the imperative form ("take" or "lift"), in actual fact, this is not what the Hebrew text says. The form “nasso” which is used here as a charge, is more like the English present progressive, rendering “nasso” almost as, "lifting up".  This unusual usage in an address form (cf. 3:40 in last week's Parasha, where the usual imperative form "sa" was used) serves to call attention to this verb and lends it the character of a noun.

Let us follow "nasso" throughout our Parasha, and examine its usages within the contexts of the different topics presented.  The reason for the census as it applies to the Gershonites is given as: "This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and in bearing burdens ["masa"]… they shall bear ["venas'ou"] the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tent of meeting, its covering, and the covering of sealskin that is above upon it, and the screen for the door of the tent of meeting… At the commandment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burden ["masa'am"], and in all their service; and you shall appoint unto them the charge of all their burden ["masa'am"]” (4:24,25,27 italics added). 

"Lifting" and "bearing a burden" or a “charge” are all rooted in n.s.a, which describes the essence of the Gershonites' service in the Mishkan. The Meraris' census, on the other hand, is not qualified by the verb n.s.a, but rather by “pakod”, which is translated as "number" but basically means to “attend or visit" (it was also used in this form in last week’s Parasha in relationship to the census of the army, ch. 2). Yet the Meraris’ work is also described as "a charge of their burden" (v. 31), which is, once again, "masa". Altogether the essence of the Levites' service may, therefore, be summarized as: "All those that were numbered of the Levites… everyone that entered in to do the work of service, and the work of bearing burdens ["masa"] in the tent of meeting… every one that entered in to do his work of service, and the work of his burden ["masa'o"] in the tent of meeting… they were numbered by the hand of Moses, each according to his service and his burden…" (4: 46, 47,49 italics added). The ultimate purpose of "bearing" these "burdens" (literally “carrying” or “lifting”), was in order to "lift high” or “elevate” (same root – n.s.a) the One to Whom the Levites were rendering these rites. 

The next section where the root n.s.a makes an appearance is at the very end of the "law of jealousy" (5:11-31), as it is called (or “Sota” – ‘sinning woman’), which is the inspection of possible adultery on the part of a married woman. If and when proven that the wife has transgressed in such a manner, and after having gone through the various rites enumerated, she was to "bear ["tisa"] her iniquity" (v. 31, italics added). Whereas the priests’ duties in "bearing the burdens" of the Mishkan were of the more 'uplifting' kind, here "nasso" connotes 'carrying' a heavy burden of guilt.

The issue of "lifting" comes up again in the famous priestly or Aaronic blessing or benediction, which seals chapter 6. Toward the end of the blessing, we read: "YHVH lift up ["yisa"] His face upon you and give you peace" (v. 26, italics added), which is an altogether different application of the root n.s.a, touching Elohim and His relationship with His People. Notice that the whole benediction is written in the second person singular, implying that each individual within the Nation is being addressed. "Yisa YHVH panav", the lifting of YHVH's face, or countenance "toward you" or "upon you" indicates favor, acceptance, and turning toward the object of the benediction (as we have already seen in the past, regarding the meaning of "face" - "panim"), thus instilling hope in one’s heart. 

Finally, chapter 7 is dedicated in its entirety to the offerings brought for the dedication of the Mishkan (or "Ohel Mo'ed") by the "princes" or "leaders", the "nesi'im", those who are "lifted up" (verses 2,3). Each of those “leaders” is called “nassi” - “one who is elevated”. Because of the specific conjugation that is used for this noun, its literal translation should be, “one who is elevate-able”. In other words, the leaders were not merely the heads of their tribes by virtue of birth. Not at all! In order to be in their lofty positions, they had to be equal to these positions - proving their faithfulness and leadership capabilities. 

“Nesi’im” is also plural for “cloud”. In Proverbs, we find this word used metaphorically: “Whoever falsely boasts of giving is like clouds and wind without rain” (Proverbs 25:14, italics added). In 1st Peter the same imagery is used regarding those “who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority…. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (2:10, 17 italics added). 

Let us return now to Umberto Cassuto, who makes the following point: "The book of Bamidbar is arranged chiefly after such a fashion… with various items being included because of a similarity of thought, or phrases recurring in the chapters concerned…"4, as, indeed, is the case of the root n.s.a. Cassuto incorporates other examples from our Parasha: "The laws applying to the suspected adulteress (5:11-31) succeed by those treating the Nazirite (6:1-21), after which is appended the formula for the priestly blessing (6:22-27)".  Preceding the law of the suspected adulteress, which focuses on a "man's wife [who] trespasses a trespass [“uma'ala bo ma'al”], are the laws of the guilt offering, where we encounter the phrase "to do a trespass/commit unfaithfulness ["li'm'ol ma'al"] against YHVH" (5:6 italics added).  Before we continue to follow our ‘chain’, let us pause to look at the verb “ma’al”. A common noun that stems from the same root is “m’eel”, which simply means a “robe”. Thus, it infers that “trespass” is a form of deception, as it is rooted an attempt to cover up one’s actions. By contrast, we read in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 61:10: “…For He [YHVH] has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe – m’eel - of righteousness…”

Back to Bamidbar 5:18, where it says about the alleged adulteress: "And the priest shall set the woman before YHVH, and let the hair of the woman's head go loose - u'fara" (italics added). In 6:5 it says concerning the Nazirite: "He shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long - "pera". Both u'fara and pera share the root p/f.r.a (pey/fey, resh, ayin). Surprisingly this edict conveys a similarity between the Nazarite and the alleged adulteress. However, there are also similarities shared by the Nazarite and the high priest, both of whom are not to touch the dead (cf. 6:6 to Lev. 21:11), being the reason why the Priestly Blessing is appended to this chapter which deals with the Nazirite's laws. Another connection is found in 6:3: "he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins". Immediately after Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, kindled the strange fire which brought about their demise, Aaron and his other sons are charged in Leviticus 10:9:  "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations". 

Within the specifications of the laws of guilt offering and compensation, mentioned in 5:5-10, the topic of confession - "viduy" - comes up (v. 7). This is not the first time we encounter this topic. In fact, we have already examined the term in Parashat Vayikra (Lev. 1-5, e.g., 5:5). Sefer Ha-hinukh sheds further light on this issue: "The verbal confession of guilt provides an indication that the sinner truly believes that all his deeds are revealed and known to the Lord, blessed be He, and he will not deny the omnipresence of the All-seeing. Again, by verbally specifying the sin and regretting it, he will be more careful in the future not to stumble thereon. After he has said with his mouth… he will as a result, become reconciled with His maker. The good God who desires the welfare of His creatures guided them in this path through which they would gain merit".5 Similarly, we read in 1st John: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1:9). Hirsh notes that the form of the Hebrew verb "to confess," "hitvadeh", conjugated as it is (in the "hitpa'el" form) “…indicates that the confession consists of man speaking to himself, admonishing his [own] conscience".

In Vayikra 27:1 (Parashat B'chu'kotai) the taking of oaths drew our attention because of the unique Hebrew term "taking a vow". Here this term is used again:  "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself YHVH". "Consecrates" here is "yaflee" – of the root p.l.a (pey, lamed, alef (the same root in a slightly different form is used in Bamidbar 15:3 for the same action. There it is "paleh"). This root, as we noted recently, means "wonder" or "to do wonders". Hence, what is "wonderous" about taking an oath? This week's Haftara deals with the annunciation of Shimshon's birth, who was called to be a Nazarite from birth. There, this root is used twice, although not directly in connection with the Nazarite vow. When Shimshon's father, Mano'ach, asks the angel/messenger who appeared (originally) before his wife as to his name, the latter responded with a question: "Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful – pel'ee?" (Judges 18:13). In the next verse, we read: "So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it upon the rock to YHVH. And He did a wondrous thing – hiflee - while Manoah and his wife looked on". The "wonderful" name or the messenger, who acted "wondrously", may divulge His identity as the One who later on was known as the "Wonderful Counselor" of Yisha'ya'hu 9:6. "Is anything too hard for YHVH?" of B'resheet 18:14, reads in the original, "is anything too wonderful – hayipa'le – for YHVH". These words were spoken following Sarah's laughter when she heard the promise that she was to give birth to a son. This chain of words of the root p.l.a may not throw more light on what is said at the opening of chapter 6 of Bamidbar, but it certainly confirms Prof. Cassuto's, regarding "similarity of thought, or phrases recurring in the chapters concerned", and in fact in the entire Scriptures. Thus, it is another device that illustrates the connectedness of all the various parts of Elohim's Word, making it an ongoing organic aggregate.

Let us conclude by reviewing once again the case of the jealous husband from another angle. When Yeshua came up out of the grave on the first of the week (see John 20:1) He was acting as the fulfillment of the first [beginning) of the Omer, which was “waved for our acceptance” (see Lev. 23:11).  An omer of barley (i.e., one-tenth of an ephah, see Ex. 16:36), was also to be used as an offering by the husband who was overcome by a spirit of jealousy, and so we read in 5:15 “… the man shall bring his wife to the priest. He shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah [i.e., an omer] of barley meal…” (emphasis added). The priest was then to make the woman drink bitter water in order to determine whether she was innocent or not (ref. 5:17,18, 22-24, 27), with the effect of the drink on her body being such that it would disclose her true state. When on the stake, Yeshua was also given a bitter drink (gall mixed with wine), which although He did not actually drink, He did taste (see Matt. 27:34). Thus, Yeshua as the jealous husband – or representing Him (see 34:14; Deut. 6:12-16, etc.), whose wife Yisrael has gone astray (e.g., Jer. 3:6) has also become the very offering for her sin, the Priest who makes the offering (e.g., Heb. 5:10), and the One who takes upon Himself her transgression, drinking, as it were, the bitter drink in her place (see. Mat. 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11). Without Yeshua's all-encompassing intervention, if the woman was found guilty, she would forever carry her guilt in a form of the curse that she brought upon herself. However, in Vayikra 20:10, it states very clearly that an adulterer and an adulteress are both to be put to death. What is the difference then, between the treatment of the adulteress that we had just read about, who was not to be put to death, and the one that was? If viewed from the more global picture, as we did above, seeing the Husband and the wife being Elohim/Messiah and Yisrael, we may conclude that this is portraying YHVH's treatment of Yisrael versus His approach to Yehuda. The former having, to all intents and purposes, "died" for her adulterous behavior, while the latter was not put to death but had to carry the burden of her sin and curse for many generations. The coming of Yisrael and Yehuda's Redeemer has, of course, completely changed this situation.

In a response letter to the above, Garret Lukas says the following: This past week I saw similarities between the Bitter Waters test and Isaiah 53 that I haven't seen before.  In Numbers 5, a guilty woman "bears (tisa, carries) her iniquity", as you pointed out.  If she is guilty, the presumption is that she'll be barren from then on.  If she is innocent, the scripture says, "She will conceive seed”.

Israel was the Wife of YHWH.  There were plenty of witnesses against her, testifying that she was unfaithful to her husband.  If she had been forced to drink the bitter waters, it was known what the outcome would be.

But Messiah Yeshua stepped in for her:  Isaiah 53:4: "Surely our sicknesses he carried (nasa) and our pains he bore (s'valam - synonym to nasa)." 53:11 "...and their iniquity he bore (yisbol)." 53:12 "and he carried (nasa) the sins of the many".

He bore her iniquity for her.  You mentioned the cup of gall mixed with wine that Yeshua tasted.  In Delitzch's Hebrew translation of Matthew 27:34, he translates gall as "m'rorot", from maror, meaning "bitter".  (What a picture of Pesach as well; just as we are commanded to eat maror at Pesach and taste the bitterness of suffering, so did he.)

One passage in Isaiah 53 that always puzzled me was verse 10.  Even though Messiah would be crushed as a trespass offering, "he will see seed (descendants)."

But reading it in light of Numbers 5, I see now that if Israel had been forced to drink the bitter waters, she would surely have been left barren. How could Messiah hope to inherit future generations of faithful followers with a barren, forsaken wife?  So, he drank the cup in her place, a Righteous One who didn't do anything wrong.


And after the suffering of Isaiah 53 is accomplished, what is spoken in Isaiah 54:1? "Sing Barren One who did not bear!  Burst forth with song, you who were not in labor!  For more are the children of the desolate wife than the sons of the married, says YHWH".

The Barren One is free to conceive seed because her husband has borne her sins and atoned for them himself.

"If it be Your desire, let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not my desire, but Yours be done".

"And YHWH desired to crush him with sickness, in order to make his soul a trespass offering..."

Psalm 32:1-2 makes for an appropriate conclusion to what we have just read: Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom YHVH does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit”.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Key to Forgiveness

 Speaking with His disciples, Yeshua warned them sternly regarding being stumbling blocks (literally, “snare”) or the cause for a child to be defiled by their words or actions (see Luke 17:1-2).  Yeshua went on to state that it would be better for anyone who has committed such an act that a millstone be tied around his neck and he would be cast into the sea.

In the course of a day, we generally do not think about who happens to be observing us and our behavior. In other words, there may be ‘children’ around watching when we ‘blow it’, especially our own. Continuing, within the context of the above-mentioned instruction, Yeshua refers to one of those ‘tripping stones’ which may challenge us greatly:  "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,’ forgive him’" (Luke 17:3-4 emphases added). Notice that Yeshua mentions twice the importance of “forgiveness”. This must have been very difficult for the disciples to digest, as they no doubt knew what it felt like to suffer an offense, wound, or hurt inflicted by a ‘brother’ towards others, or towards themselves.

In the first case, when someone misbehaves (“sins”) towards others it says that we are to rebuke them. However, we also remember Yeshua saying that before we do that, we need to check the log in our own eyes (ref. Luke 6:41-42).  But in the second case, when we are the victims of the transgression or abuse, and the offender repents we are to grant forgiveness. At most times, we are able to do so for the first or second time, and then the relationship can be restored.  However, by the time it gets around to the fifth or sixth incident, we may not trust that individual's sincerity, and develop an altogether biased attitude toward them. This is why the disciples turned to Yeshua and asked: “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).  Shortly after (according to the Gospel of Matthew), Yeshua continued to elaborate even more on this topic, when “Peter came and asked to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Yeshua said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21).

Why would Yeshua’s followers ask Him to increase their faith when the topic was forgiveness?  What does faith have to do with forgiveness?  In response to their request, Yeshua actually veered away from the topic of "faith", or its centrality, for "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you'" (Luke 17:6).  In other words, a tiny amount of faith is sufficient for great achievements, but that is not so when it comes to "forgiveness".  Yeshua was about to drive home a point to His disciples, by an example that demonstrates how difficult it would be to forgive seven times or seventyfold (i.e., forgiveness without end). Thus, the question remains, is it faith that is required in order to forgive?  

Yeshua points to the solution that this difficulty presents in the following story of a servant, whose master sent him to plow a field or tend a flock, and who after a hard day’s work was called by this master to dinner.  But, alas, instead of finding a nicely prepared meal waiting for him, the servant was told to wash and change his clothes and proceed to the kitchen in order to prepare a meal for the master.  It is only when the latter finished eating, that the servant was given an opportunity to have his own meal.  This scenario appears to be quite unfair and humiliating.  Did the servant need faith in this situation, or was he simply required to obey?  What was the attitude of his heart when he continued to do what the master required?

Yeshua sums up this example with these words:  "He [the master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done'" (Luke 17:9-10 emphases added). Thus, forgiveness is not based on how we judge a matter as to whether or not someone deserves to be forgiven. We forgive because we were commanded by our Master to do so. Obedience unlocks the key to forgive seventy times seven.

Thus, there is a “faith” message in the above story, as in it Yeshua is also revealing the heart of His Father.  We can be sure that He will forgive us seventy times seven when we come to Him and repent. However, it is not unconditional as Yeshua taught us in His prayer, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  If we have not learned the lesson of obedience, it will be difficult to forgive others as we have been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, and hence we ourselves could become a stumbling block (“snare”) of “unforgiveness” in someone else’s life. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bamidbar - Bamidbar (Numbers) 1 – 4:20


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


“In the beginning was the word (davar), and the word (davar) was with Elohim, and Elohim was the word (“davar”)… And the word (davar) became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:1,14). Davar is the spoken word, the all-powerful utterance that creates or generates everything, while “thing” is also "davar".  Thus, all "things" appear to be the results of that which has been "said" or "spoken".  In the Tanach, many terms, such as lies, wisdom, falsehood, truth, and more, are preceded by “d’var” – meaning “thing of….” indicating that the origin of all things is the ‘utterance’.  Davar is that which proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim, and is therefore "the Word of Elohim".  “Matters” or “business” are also “davar” (or “dvarim” in plural form), as we see for example in Shmot (Exodus) 5:13, 19: “Fulfill your works, your – dvarim - daily tasks" (emphasis added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 18:7, reference is made to the Danites who “… had no – dvarim - business with any man” (emphasis added).  Terms such as “deeds" (Jer. 5:28, speaking of "deeds of the wicked") are also “dvarim”. "Reason, motives, customs" (“the custom of the king” in Esther 1:13) also fall within the framework of “davar”.  The literal rendering for “after the order of Malchitzedek” (ref. Ps. 110:4), is “upon my divra, Malchitzedek”, that is, “upon my word”. The form “divra” illustrates the depth and scope of “davar”, which may be also rendered as an “order, pattern, type, or prototype". Hence, the “Ten Commandments” - “aseret ha-d’varim” - are “the ten words” or “things”, or “matters” (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13, 10:4. Notice, none of these terms are related to “commandments” or “laws”).


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


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


The "subdued" enemy (or the sinner), therefore, is often “pursued", "sent away", or “driven” to the "wilderness" or "desert" - "midbar".  But just as the wilderness may turn out to be a place of “pasture” for the flocks, it may also become a place of repentance and spiritual refreshing to those fleeing (or forced) there. In the “midbar’s” stillness there are many opportunities to hear the voice of YHVH sounding His Word. The Bible records an impressive list of those who can attest to this fact.


Another place where YHVH’s voice is heard is in the Holy of Holies (or “inner sanctuary”), which in Solomon’s Temple is called Dvir (ref. 1st Kings 6:16).  Dvir is the furthest and innermost place within the Temple.  Divine communication, therefore, is to be found in the furthest and remotest of places; sometimes even in a land of banishment and punishment, which may become a refreshing oasis and even turn into a 'Holy of Holies'.


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


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


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


In Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shmot (Ex. 1-6:1) we noted that as soon as the Egyptians embarked on their program of subjugating the Hebrews, they began treating them as a nameless mass (ref. Ex. 1:10-12), while also condemning to death the baby boys (Ex. 1:16). This is in striking contrast to what we encounter in Bamidbar chapter 1. In Verse 18 we read, “State their genealogies”, or “declare their pedigree”, or “register their ancestry” (depending on the translation), which is designated in Hebrew by one word - “hit’yaldu” - the root being y.l.d (yod, lamed, dalet) for “child” or “to give birth”, or “midwife” (this also brings to mind the two midwives who saved the lives of the baby boys). This verb is found nowhere else in Scripture, and literally means to “become a child”. Thus, restoring the nameless individuals and clans to their respective origins, with the various groupings and families being recognized, acknowledged, and brought to the fore, is part of the redemption process. This aspect of redemption will one day be experienced again when all the names of the families, clans, and tribes of Yisrael will be revealed, so as to make up the full Commonwealth of the Household of Yisrael.  


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


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


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


The above-mentioned orders, regarding the tribes and their placements, excluded the Levites who were to serve in the Mishkan, and were to be at YHVH's disposal. In the course of the detailed description of their duties and responsibilities for the various parts of the Mishkan, mention is made of the edifice’s sides (Num. 3:29, 35). The Hebrew word here for “side” is “yarech”, of the root (yod, resh, kaf/chaf), meaning “thigh, loin or base”. The thigh represents man’s strength and power (see Gen. 24:2; 47:29), both in terms of virility and force (being also the place upon which the sword was placed). That is why in order for Ya’acov to become Yisrael his was so injured that he limped on it (Gen. 32:31), and likewise, the repentant one, who in order to demonstrate his true intentions smites this part of his body (e.g., Jer. 31:19, Ephraim’s repentance). Similar to the root d.v.r. in some of its uses, “yarech” also refers to the “furthermost point”, to the “backside” or to the “rear” (Jud. 19:1, Is. 14:15), and hence the application to “side”.


The vicarious role of the Levites as firstborn follows in Bamidbar 3:41, 45 with reference to their required conduct. It says there that, they were to be taken “instead” or “in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel”. “Instead” or “in place of”, here (and in numerous other places), is “tachat”, meaning “rear, under, or underneath”, thus underscoring the required attitude of humility and servitude congruent with the tasks assigned to YHVH’s ministers. On the same issue: In chapter 1 verse 49 it says regarding the Levites: "Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel”. However, the literal Hebrew says the following: “But the Tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you lift up their heads among the children of Israel”. Although, “lift up their heads” does imply census, as we saw above, let us not ignore the literal meaning of “not lifting up the heads [of the priesthood and their assistants] from among the [rest of] the children of Israel”!


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


1 New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh

Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and

Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N. 

2     Ibid


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashot B’har/ B'chukotai (Leviticus) 25 – 27



The first verse of Parashat B’har (meaning, "In Mount…") serves to remind us that YHVH’s words to the Children of Yisrael, via Moshe, were spoken on Mount Sinai. 

The opening of the Parasha focuses on the seventh-year suspension of all soil cultivation (known as “Shmita,” whose root sh.m.t is mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 23:11. See Heb. Insights into Parashat Mishpatim - Ex. 21-24).  In spite of this edict regarding work cessation, it is stated, "the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food" (25:6). This declaration contains the familiar and principal thought, similar to the one that accompanies the weekly Shabbat, that YHVH is the Provider and thus the members of the community are afforded an opportunity to exercise faith throughout that year. In fact, contrary to human logic, this very rest will result in an abundance

Secondly, every member of the community and the livestock are equally promised provision for that time period (25: 6, 7). Again, not unlike the weekly Shabbat, the benefits of YHVH's year of land rest apply to one and all without regard to status and origin. However, this “Shabbat of Shabbats” (v. 4) year, together with the 50th year Jubilee, the "yovel" to which the rest of this Parasha is dedicated - applies only in the Land of Yisrael.

In 25:3 we read: "You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and shall gather its produce". "Produce" or "provender" is “t'vua”, of the root b.o. (vet/bet, vav, alef), meaning “to come, come in or go in", but in another conjugation, it is “to bring”. Thus, the term "produce" conveys the idea of that which does not result merely from man's productivity or effort, but rather that which "comes" or is "brought" to him from an outside source.

As already mentioned, following YHVH's instructions guarantees that “…you shall live on the land securely. And the land shall give its fruit, and you shall eat to satisfaction, and you shall dwell securely on it" (25:18, 19). To this promise, an extra and supernatural blessing will be added: "I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year. And it shall produce the increase for three years; and you shall sow the eighth year, and shall eat of the old crop until the ninth year, until the coming [bo] in of its produce [t'vua]; you shall eat of the old" (21-22, italics added). Here again we see the connection between “produce” and the verb "to come" (remember, both originate in the same root).

 The un-gathered harvest (or “after growth”) is called “that which grows of itself” – “safee’ach”, of the root (samech, pey/fey, chet), literally “adding, attaching, joining (25:5, 11).  In light of verse 25:23, where the addressees (the Israelites) are called “strangers [gerim] and sojourners” - Leviticus 25:23  - "you are strangers and sojourners with Me"), it is interesting to note how the verb s.p/ is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 14:1: “For YHVH will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers (gerim) will be joined [nisfe’chu] with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob” (Italics added). 

"Your unkempt grapes" (25: 5, 11) are termed here “ee'nvey (“grapes of”) nezir'cha”. This expression is rooted in the word “nazir” (Nazarite), whose restrictive vows include abstention from wine drinking or grape eating. Why are these grapes qualified by the term “nazir”? The connection is thought to be the Nazarite's hair, which was to be left uncut and unkempt, much like these grapevines. This is reinforced by the first part of verse 5 ("that which grows of itself", alluding to unkemptness).

As mentioned, the second part of the Parasha deals with the Year of the “Yovel” ("jubilee", which is a direct derivative of “yovel”). The primary meaning of yovel is thought to be the word for “horned animal” or for the "horn" itself, which was used for multiple purposes in the ancient Israelite community. Quite possibly the role of the “horned animal” (such as the bull or ox), in leading solemn processions has branched off into nouns and verbs that share the root y.v/b.l (yod, bet/vet, lamed) and are therefore connected to “leading”.  The verb “hovel” is to "lead", thus forming the noun for "stream" which is “yuval”, and for the "produce of the soil" – “y'vul” (‘issuing or proceeding out of the ground’).  Another interesting derivative of this root is “tevel”, meaning "world".  This renders the world and its elements (e.g., streams and produce) as mere ‘issues’, or results that proceed (or are ‘led’) from that which has originally formed or produced them, but which exists outside of them. Notice the conceptual (and etymological) similarity to our former observation of the term "provender" - t'vua.  “The earth is YHVH’s, and the fullness of it; the world (“tevel”), and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1), affirms this point.

Aside from letting the land lie fallow during the year of the “yovel”, that year was also to be “sanctified” (“vekidashtem”) for the purpose of "proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants…" (25:10). "Liberty" is “dror”, which is the same word for the bird known as "swallow" (e.g., Pr. 26:2), thus lending a graphic rendition to this term.  The yovel year signifies and stipulates that all property, or its calculated value in another form, is to be returned to its original owner. “Dror” for “liberty” is also mentioned in Yishayahu 61:1-2a, where we read: “The Spirit of Adonai YHVH is upon Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty [d’ror] to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of YHVH…” This “acceptable” year when “liberty” is proclaimed to the captives seems to be alluding to a (large scale and “grand”) Jubilee.

But above all the human benefits attached to the yovel, there is a greater significance to its proclamation; a significance that at the same time also forms a ‘Divine paradox’ so typical of Hebraic logic.  In 25:23 we read: “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are aliens and tenants with Me". "Perpetuity" here is “tzmi'toot”, stemming from the root tz.m.t (tzadi, mem, tav) which is to “end, put an end to something" or “freeze assets”.  Thus, reverting property to its original owner demonstrates the fact that it actually belongs to… YHVH, as we just learned from the above-citation.  And as much as the Torah stresses ownership rights, it also reminds us, almost in the same breath, who the real Owner is and that “we have no permanent city here, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

Another aspect of the yovel is redemption, “geula”, whose primary meaning is "kin" (denoted by “go’el”).  It is the next-of-kin's duty to buy back that which a member of the family has lost - or perhaps even the family member himself if he had been conscripted to slavery. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he is to be released on the yovel, “because they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the land of Egypt" (25:42 italics added). This verse is set in the context of the release of (other) slaves (25:44ff). Biblical Hebrew for "slave" and "servant" is one and the same - e'ved - from the root e.v.d (ayin, vet/bet, dalet), meaning "work" or "labor" (and also rendering service to, or worship of, YHVH).

Proper treatment of one's fellow citizen, defined as "brother", prohibits charging usury or interest (ref. 25:36,37). The two words used are “neshech” and “marbit”. The root of neshech (, noon, sheen, chaf) is also the root for the verb “to bite". "Those who bite" (e.g., Habbakuk 2:7) are therefore the oppressors and creditors. “Marbit” is from the root r.v/b.a (resh, vet/bet) which literally means "much, many, to add, to make greater, to increase". Hence “marbit” is a "monetary increment".

As part of taking care of one’s “brother”, if he has lost his assets and was sold to “a stranger who sojourns with you, or to a member of the stranger’s family” (25:47 literal translation), the recipient of this injunction is obliged to redeem the one sold. As to the “member of the stranger’s family”, here he is called “eker”, which is a most unusual term. The root a.k.r (ayin, kof, resh) basically means “to uproot”, and thus a “barren woman” is “akara”. But since this word can also mean a “shoot”, making the one plucked out from the parent plant also transplantable – albeit in different soil. Further, should misfortune be the lot of a native Israelite, he too would feel “plucked out” and “uprooted”, and hence this term may also be applied to, or at least infer to the latter. Selling one’s services, this Israelite is termed “sachir” – a hired person ("servant" in some translations, ref. 25:40, 50, 53).  

Aside from instructions on how to calculate the redemption payment (25:50-53), specifics are also given as to the possible next of kin who is eligible to redeem (vs. 48, 49) the one who has “become poor” (“mooch”, root of –  mem, vav, kaf – impoverish, become low).  Having once been others’ servants/slaves, the sons of Yisrael are now the servants/slaves of the One who redeemed them from their lowly state (ref. 25:55), hence YHVH requires that redemption be continually operative in accordance with the measures that He is providing for His people.    

The topic of the important place accorded to the Land, which we examined in Parashat B’har with its varied ramifications, continues in Parashat B’chu’kotai ("In My Statutes"), as seen in 26:3-13. Keeping YHVH's statutes is destined to be reflected in the natural conditions of the Land of Yisrael.  The correlation will be seen in the abundance of rain (and therefore of crops), the removal of dangerous carnivores, demographic expansion, abundance, and prosperity.  The other benefits resulting from faithfulness to YHVH and His Word will be peaceful conditions prevailing in the Land and its surroundings, the ability to defeat the enemy, and primarily the fulfillment of His promise to instate His Mishkan in the midst of His people, and to always walk among them (ref. 26:11, 12).

In 26:5 we read, “…and your threshing shall reach [or overtake] the vintage, and the vintage shall reach [or overtake] the sowing time, and you shall eat your bread to satisfaction, and live in your land securely”.  This is especially pertinent in light of Parashat B’har’s sh’mita-year promise: “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 25:21 italics added).  In a prophecy pertaining to a latter-day, the prophet Amos echoes this “overtaking”: "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who draws along seed" (9:13). Moreover, 26:10: "And you shall eat very old provision, and clear away the old because of the new", reminds us of 25:22 (in the previous Parasha): “And [you] shall eat of the old crop… until the coming in of its crop; you shall eat of the old". In other words, not only will there be a long and lasting overabundance that will remain fresh and usable for the entire time period, but even before it is fully consumed there will be a fresh crop!

Having examined above, in Parashat B’har, one of the words for "interest" - “marbit”, here is another word that shares the same root and needs to be pointed out - “r’vava” (which we also encountered in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah in Gen. 24:60). In 26:8 we read, "…and one hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand (“r’vava”)…" (emphasis added).  

These promises are sealed with the familiar: "I am YHVH your Elohim, who has brought you out of the land of the Egyptians, from being their slaves”. It then continues: “And I will break the bars of your yoke, and I will make you walk upright" (26:13). "Walking upright" is “ko'memi'yoot”, of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to “rise or get up".  In Parashot Va'ye'tze (Gen. 28:10-32:2) and Vayishlach (Gen. 32:3-Ch. 36), we noticed the significance of Ya'acov's "rising up", as well as that of the special "place" - ma'kom (of the same root) - where he experienced some of his ‘rising’. Here the sons of this Patriarch are promised "an upright walk", providing they do so in Elohim's chosen paths. Additionally, in 26:37 we encounter the word “t’kuma”, translated as "power to stand" (“you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”), with its more modern usage being "resurrection" and "recovery."

But if Yisrael chooses to “...despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break [invalidate] My covenant” (26:15 italics added), a long list of punitive measures follows. “Abhor” here is “tig’al” (root g.a.l gimmel, ayin, lamed), being the first mention of this word (26:11). Some may recognize the similarity of this verb to “ga’al” – redeem (gimmel, alef, lamed), a minor change in spelling and sound (ayin versus alef), and yet a world of difference!  Making void the covenant signifies removing one’s self from under the protective umbrella of redemption, rendering it no longer operational.  Further, in verse 18 we read: “If you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins”. The chastisement of “seven times over” is also mentioned in verses 21, 24, and 28.  As part of YHVH’s covenant with His people, provision for national atonement for sin was made available by the high priest sprinkling seven times the blood of a goat on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (ref. Lev. 16:14).  Hence, nullifying the covenant would result in a similarly seven-fold (negative) outcome.

Thus, YHVH will not "make them walk uprightly" (as we saw above), but instead will inflict upon them a series of blows. Moreover, He will also "walk contrary" to them (ref. 26:24). The expression, "walking contrary" is used nowhere else except in this chapter, where it appears… seven times! The word used for "contrary" – keri - probably stems from the root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), meaning "to happen". Rashi comments on this: “Our rabbis said: ‘This word signifies irregularity, by chance, something that happens only occasionally. Thus [meaning], 'if you will follow the commandments irregularly…’ Menahem explains it as an expression for refraining… ‘refrain (hoker) your foot from your neighbor's house’ (Prov. 25:17), or of a refraining (va'yikar) spirit…."1. “Keri”, therefore, may refer to avoidance of performing YHVH’s Word, along with a casual and nonchalant attitude which was also condemned by Yeshua in Revelation 3:15,16, where we read: "I wish you were cold or hot… So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot I will spew you out of my mouth" (italics added), leading us to the curse of eventually being spewed out of the Land (26:32 – 39, and also Lev. 20:22). Thus the “contrary walk” incurs a “seven-fold chastisement”.

The list of curses (26:14-46) is somewhat parallel to the list of blessings, albeit much longer. It is divided up into several progressive categories: diseases, defeat, drought, carnivorous animals, and a combination of wars, plagues, and famines, which will cause parents to consume their own children's flesh.  Finally, after the destruction of the idols and pagan images, there will be a dispersion of the People of Yisrael among the nations. Under these conditions, and once the Land has been emptied of its inhabitants, its Shabbats will be repaid (as the Israelites would not keep the Sabbatical years that we read about in the last Parasha). These Shabbats will "appease" the land, with the word used here being “tirtzeh” (of the root “ratzon” - “will” or “acceptance”). Thus, the land "will be appeased" (v. 34, 35) and “accept” its inhabitants.  Accordingly, the "year of acceptance" is “sh'nat ratzon” (Is. 61:2).  The same word for “acceptance” appeared in Parashat Emor, where we read in 23:11 about the Omer: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted [lirtzon'chem] for you…" (italics added).  As we saw above, negligence to observe the Shmita in the seventh year is what makes the figure seven stand out, relative to sin and the subsequently incurred penalties. The usage of seven here reminds us of some of the commands which the Israelites will be transgressing, commands that are related to the figure seven, such as the seventh day of the week, the seventh year of rest, and the seven years multiplied by seven leading to the Jubilee, the 50th year of release of all debts and property.

The last part of Parashat B’chu’kotai deals with laws concerning vows of dedication to YHVH (27:2-29), while the final verses pertain to tithes. Verse 2 introduces the subject of the vows by not merely stating “Should a man/person make a vow…”, but curiously qualifies the making or taking of this vow by the verb “yaflee”, rooted in “pele” - y.p/f.a (yod, pey/fey, alef), which means that the 'vower's' action is considered “outstanding, wonderful” such as in “Wonderful Counselor” (Is.9:6).

As mentioned, verses 32-33 (of ch. 27) deal with tithes: “And all the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, all that passes under the rod, a tenth shall be holy to YHVH.  He shall not search whether it is good or bad; neither shall he change it…” (italics added). Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 20:37-38 echoes the terms we encounter here, applying them to YHVH’s sheep and to the land of their inheritance: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.  And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who sin against Me. I will bring them out from the land where they reside, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel” (italics added).  In the above Vayikra (Leviticus) text, we encountered, “He shall not search (also meaning “to inspect”)” – “lo ye’vaker (v. 33).  Y’chezkel 34:12 reiterates this phrase (as if in dialog with the present text), though this time with positive intent, and so we read: “For so says Adonai YHVH: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out – uvikarteem, as the seeking out – kevakarat – of the shepherd of his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out a’vaker - My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered …” (literal translation, italics added).


The final verse, which is similar to the opening verse of Parashat B’har (referring to Mount Sinai) seals off the Parasha, and indeed the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with the words:  "These are the statutes which YHVH made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (v. 34 italics added).

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

Some of the word meanings were gleaned from: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.