Monday, June 29, 2009

Parsshat Balak

Parshat Balak 5769

Rabbi Ari Kahn

Opening the Mouth of the Donkey

Of all the biblical characters, one of the most intriguing is a man named Bil'am. Despite the fact that he does not seem to "walk with God", he is a seer, a prophet, and is privileged to hear and see much more than other men. At the point Bil'am is introduced, the fear of the Israelites has spread to neighboring countries. The story of the Exodus has apparently traveled far and wide; as a nation that enjoys divine protection, the Jews have become an obsession of the nations that occupy the area surrounding what would soon be called the Land Of Israel.

במדבר פרק כב

(ב) וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי:(ג) וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב הוּא וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:(ד) וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת כָּל סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ כִּלְחֹךְ הַשּׁוֹר אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה וּבָלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ לְמוֹאָב בָּעֵת הַהִוא:

2. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3. And Moav was very afraid of the People, because they were many; and Moav was distressed because of the People of Israel. 4. And Moav said to the elders of Midian, 'Now shall this company lick up all who are around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.' And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moavites at that time. 5. He sent messengers therefore to Bil'am, the son of Beor, to Petor, which is by the river of the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me; Bamidbar 22:2-5

Bil'am was chosen as the conduit to curse Israel. Apparently, he enjoyed a stellar reputation: Balak's emissaries travelled quite far to procure Bil'am's services; they believed that he was uniquely qualified for this task. In fact, there are even biblical commentaries who share this high regard for Bil'am’s skills. Rabbinic literature describes Bil'am, son of Beor, as a singular prophet for the non-Jewish world, on the same level of prophecy as Moshe, prophet for the Jewish People.

מדרש תנאים לדברים פרק לד

ולא קם נביא עוד ביש' כמ' בישראל לא קם כמשה אבל קם באומות העולם ואיזה זה בלעם בן בעור:

There never arose in Israel a prophet like Moshe, but among the nations of the world there did arise; and who is that? Bil'am son of Beor. Midrash Tanaim Dvarim chapter 34

The Rabbis even enumerate ways that Bil'am’s prophesy may have been greater than Moshe's; for example, Bil'am was capable of anticipating when he would receive a prophetic vision.

This position seems somewhat problematic in light of certain biblical passages. The first and foremost statement regarding the uniqueness of Moshe's prophecy is made by God Himself: When Miriam presumptuously equates her own stature as a prophetess with that of Moshe, God makes it perfectly clear: Moshe’s prophesy is on a completely different level, unequalled in human experience:

במדבר פרק יב

(ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר ה’ הֲלֹא גַּם בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע ה’: (ג) וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה: ס

(ד) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ פִּתְאֹם אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל מִרְיָם צְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּם:(ה) וַיֵּרֶד ה’ בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם:

(ו) וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם ה’ בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ:

(ז) לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה בְּכָל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא:(ח) פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת וּתְמֻנַת ה’ יַבִּיט וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמֹשֶׁה:

2. And they said, 'Has God indeed spoken only by Moshe? Has he not spoken also through us?' And God heard it. 3. And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any other man upon the face of the earth.4. And God said suddenly to Moshe, and to Aharon, and to Miriam, 'Come out you three to the Tent of Meeting.' And the three came out.5. And God came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the Tent, and called Aharon and Miriam; and they both came forth.6. And he said, 'Hear now my words; If there is a prophet among you, I, God, will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream.7. Not so with my servant Moshe, for he is the trusted one in all my house.8. With him I speak mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in dark speech; and he behold the form of God. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moshe?' Bamidbar 12:2-8

The Torah attests that there was never a prophet in Israel of the stature of Moshe:

דברים פרק לד פסוק י

וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ ה’ פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים:

10. And there has not arisen since in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom God knew face to face. Dvarim 34:10

Despite these statements, the rabbinic tradition persists: "There never arose in Israel a prophet like Moshe, but among the nations of the world there did arise - Bil'am son of Beor." The Rabbis even enumerate ways that Bil'am’s prophesy may have been greater than Moshe's; for example, Bil'am was capable of anticipating when he would receive a prophetic vision.

Prophet For Profit

The Midrash ultimately concludes that Bil'am was like a servant of the king, and therefore privy to certain intimate details that remained hidden from even a great friend of the king.[1] Nonetheless, the very comparison is disturbing. Moshe was the most modest man who ever lived; presumably, he had the smallest ego, and was God's most selfless, devoted servant.[2] In contrast, Bil'am gives the impression of arrogance, and displays willingness to deviate from God’s command for financial gain.[3]

An analysis of the verses leaves us with the impression that Bil'am relished the opportunity to curse the Jews – either for ideological or for financial reasons. Despite his reputation, he seems not only far from the prophetic ability of Moshe, he seems inferior to others as well.

The Introduction

When Bil'am is first approached he is asked to curse the Israelites, we quickly learn that this is no simple task for him. He needs to consult:

במדבר פרק כב

(ו) וְעַתָּה לְכָה נָּא אָרָה לִּי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה בּוֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר: (ז) וַיֵּלְכוּ זִקְנֵי מוֹאָב וְזִקְנֵי מִדְיָן וּקְסָמִים בְּיָדָם וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו דִּבְרֵי בָלָק:(ח) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם לִינוּ פֹה הַלַּיְלָה וַהֲשִׁבֹתִי אֶתְכֶם דָּבָר כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר ה’ אֵלָי וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב עִם בִּלְעָם:

6. Come now therefore, I pray you, curse this People for me; for they are too mighty for me; perhaps I shall prevail, that we may defeat them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed. 7. And the elders of Moav and the elders of Midian departed with divination in their hand; and they came to Bil'am, and spoke to him the words of Balak. 8. And he said to them, 'Lodge here this night, and I will bring back word to you, as God shall speak to me'; and the princes of Moav stayed with Bil'am. Bamidbar 22:6-8

Whereas Bil'am must wait for the night, in hope of a message, one of the elements which God stressed as evidence of the superior level of Moshe's prophecy was his ability to prophesize during waking hours:

במדבר פרק יב

(ו) וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם ה’ בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ:

(ז) לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה בְּכָל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא:

6. And he said, Hear now my words; If there is a prophet among you, I, God, will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream.7. Not so with my servant Moshe, for he is the trusted one in all my house. Bamidbar 12:6,7

Still, remarkably, God appears to Bil'am; the message is forthcoming:

במדבר פרק כב

(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא:

12. And God said to Bil'am, You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the People; for they are blessed. Bamidbar 22:12

The suggestion to curse the Jews is shot down. God says two things to Bil'am: first, 'you shall not go', and second, 'you shall not curse'. Then, the reason: 'for they are blessed'. When relaying the answer, Bil'am neglects to relate the entire prophesy; he very selectively says:

במדבר פרק כב

(יג) וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל שָׂרֵי בָלָק לְכוּ אֶל אַרְצְכֶם כִּי מֵאֵן ה’ לְתִתִּי לַהֲלֹךְ עִמָּכֶם:

13. And Bil'am rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, 'Go to your land; for God refuses to give me leave to go with you.' Bamidbar 22:13

He says only that he cannot go. He neglects to say that he cannot curse the Jews; for that matter, he does not tell them that the Jewish People are blessed - implying that no one can curse them, and the entire venture is folly.[4]

Despite God's very clear statement, when Balak's emissaries return, Bil'am enters into two-sided negotiations - with the messengers on the one hand, and God on the other:

במדבר פרק כב

(יח) וַיַּעַן בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַבְדֵי בָלָק אִם יִתֶּן לִי בָלָק מְלֹא בֵיתוֹ כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבֹר אֶת פִּי ה’ אֱלֹהָי לַעֲשׂוֹת קְטַנָּה אוֹ גְדוֹלָה: (יט) וְעַתָּה שְׁבוּ נָא בָזֶה גַּם אַתֶּם הַלָּיְלָה וְאֵדְעָה מַה יֹּסֵף ה’ דַּבֵּר עִמִּי:

18. And Bil'am answered and said to the servants of Balak, 'If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not transgress the word of the Almighty, my God, to do less or more. 19. Now therefore, I beg you, remain you also here this night, that I may know what God will say further to me.' Bamidbar 22:18,19

Despite the previous rejection Bil'am thinks it worthwhile to try again:

במדבר פרק כב

(כ) וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה:

20. And God came to Bil'am at night and said to him, 'If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them; but only that word which I shall say to you, that shall you do.' Bamidbar 22:20

The nuances are critical, and Bil'am ignores them. God says that he should accompany the emissaries “if the men come to call you” - but that is not what these men do. They did not really come for him, they came for him to curse the Jews.[5] This is the direct result of Bil'am's failure to repeat God's earlier instructions in their entirety. Bil'am "forgot" to mention that the Jewish People were un-cursable, that he will be unable to fulfill Balak's request because the Jews are blessed. Had he mentioned this part of the message, the emissaries would not have returned “to call on him”.

God treats man as he wishes to be treated; when a person chooses a path, God facilitates. Bil'am wanted to go with these men; he wanted to curse the Jewish People. Had he truly wished to heed the Word of God as it was revealed to him, he would not have been presented with a second opportunity to go on Balak's mission. He could have faithfully and fully transmitted his first divine message, or informed the emissaries on their second visit what God had communicated to him. Even if the men had come seeking honest counsel, seeking Bil'am's insight and vision, he had no good reason to accompany them; this was the content of God's second communication, the part that Bil'am's selective hearing screened out.[6]

Bil'am enthusiastically sets out on his mission. God is understandably upset:

במדבר פרק כב

(כא) וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת אֲתֹנוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ עִם שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב: (כב) וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ ה’ בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל אֲתֹנוֹ וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ:

21. And Bil'am rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moav. 22. And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of God stood in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his donkey, and his two servants were with him. Bamidbar 22:21,22

A Talking Donkey

Along the way there is an epiphany, but the great seer is blind. He cannot see the danger that looms before him; he cannot sense that God is displeased with him. But someone – or, to be more precise, something - can see:

במדבר פרק כב

(כג) וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת מַלְאַךְ ה’ נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ וַתֵּט הָאָתוֹן מִן הַדֶּרֶךְ וַתֵּלֶךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיַּךְ בִּלְעָם אֶת הָאָתוֹן לְהַטֹּתָהּ הַדָּרֶךְ: (כד) וַיַּעֲמֹד מַלְאַךְ ה’ בְּמִשְׁעוֹל הַכְּרָמִים גָּדֵר מִזֶּה וְגָדֵר מִזֶּה: (כה) וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת מַלְאַךְ ה’ וַתִּלָּחֵץ אֶל הַקִּיר וַתִּלְחַץ אֶת רֶגֶל בִּלְעָם אֶל הַקִּיר וַיֹּסֶף לְהַכֹּתָהּ: (כו) וַיּוֹסֶף מַלְאַךְ ה’ עֲבוֹר וַיַּעֲמֹד בְּמָקוֹם צָר אֲשֶׁר אֵין דֶּרֶךְ לִנְטוֹת יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול: (כז) וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת מַלְאַךְ ה’ וַתִּרְבַּץ תַּחַת בִּלְעָם וַיִּחַר אַף בִּלְעָם וַיַּךְ אֶת הָאָתוֹן בַּמַּקֵּל: (כח) וַיִּפְתַּח ה’ אֶת פִּי הָאָתוֹן וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם מֶה עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים:

23. And the donkey saw the angel of God[7] standing on the path, and his sword drawn in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the path, and went into the field; and Bil'am struck the donkey, to turn it to the path. 24. But the angel of God stood in the pathway of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. 25. And when the donkey saw the angel of God, it pushed itself to the wall, and crushed Bil'am’s foot against the wall; and he struck her again. 26. And the angel of God went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27. And when the donkey saw the angel of God, it fell down under Bil'am; and Bil'am’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with a staff. 28. And God opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Bil'am, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?' Bamidbar 22:23-28

The donkey can see that which the seer cannot; the donkey can speak as eloquently as the loquacious prophet. The donkey is an emissary of God, and sees danger where Bil'am sees an open road to opportunity, riches and fame. The donkey is the true seer. Bil'am, still suffering from blindness, wants to kill the divinely-inspired donkey:

במדבר פרק כב

(כט) וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתוֹן כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי לוּ יֶשׁ חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ:(ל) וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתוֹן אֶל בִּלְעָם הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְךָ כֹּה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא:(לא) וַיְגַל ה’ אֶת עֵינֵי בִלְעָם וַיַּרְא אֶת מַלְאַךְ ה’ נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלֻפָה בְּיָדוֹ וַיִּקֹּד וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לְאַפָּיו:

29. And Bil'am said to the donkey, because you have mocked me; I wish there was a sword in my hand, for now would I kill you. 30. And the donkey said to Bil'am, Am not I your donkey, upon which you have ridden ever since I was yours to this day? Was I ever wont to do so to you? And he said, No. 31. Then God opened the eyes of Bil'am, and he saw the angel of God standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed down his head, and fell on his face. Bamidbar 22:29-31

Who is the Donkey and Who the Prophet?

Just as God had opened the mouth of the donkey, God (finally) opened Bil'am’s eyes, enabling him to see what his donkey had seen all along. Clearly, Bil'am is not like Moshe; his vision is on a lower level than that of the donkey. And yet, he is granted vision: Just as God can use even an animal, grant it vision and allow it to speak, so, too, God can grant Bil'am an epiphany and allow him to speak. This is not evidence of an enlightened, spiritually elevated level; it seems to be a case of God using a particular individual for a specific purpose.[8]

Bil'am was more magician[9] than prophet. He bragged about his powers, inviting desperate people to flock to him. Ultimately, his “gift” of prophesy was like that of all the other prophets - in service of the Jewish People. Therefore perhaps he came to curse and ended up blessing.

Rav Zadok haKohen points out a similarity between the prophecies of Bil'am and Moshe: Whereas most prophets saw visions, or were given specific words to repeat, God spoke from Moshe’s throat. [10] Similarly, when Bil'am finally received his prophecy, he blessed the People of Israel because God spoke through his lips. Unlike Moshe, Bil'am's intention was to curse, not bless. Bil'am was a sociopath, and his participation in Balak's plot was motivated by a combination of greed and hatred. God had other plans, and Balak was allowed to pursue his chosen path up to the point that it impacted the Jewish People; at that point, Bil'am was used as a tool to bless.[11]

Comparing Bil'am to Moshe seems like a cruel joke: The vast difference in spiritual capabilities, in purity of spirit and purpose, is extreme; the chasm separating the two men cannot be approximated. It seems more appropriate to compare Bil'am to his own donkey, but even in that comparison, Bil'am falls short: The donkey sees more, understands more, is more loyal to its master. None of this can be said about Bil'am. He is remembered for all eternity as a failed anti-Semite, a pathetic Moshe-wannabe who squandered his opportunity for true greatness.

[1] Midrash Tanaim Dvarim Chapter 34

מדרש תנאים לדברים פרק לד

מה בין נבואתו שלמשה לנבואתו שלבלעם: בלעם מידבר עמו והוא נופל שנ' (במד' כד ד) נפל וג' עי' בלעם היה יודע אימתי המקום מדבר עמו שנ' (שם) מחזה שדי יחז': בלעם היה יודע מה עתיד לידבר עמו שנ' (שם כד טז) ויודע דע' על' מושלו מלה"ד לטבחו שלמלך שהיה יודע מה קרב על שלחנו שלמלך כך היה בלעם יודע מה עתיד לידבר עמו: מה בין נבואתו שלבלעם לנבואתו שלמשה משה מידבר עמו והוא עומד שנ' (ה כז) ואתה פה עמד עמדי: משה מידבר עמו פה אל פה ידבר שנ' (במד' יב ח) פה אל פה אד' בו: משה מידבר עמו פנים בפנים שנ' (ע' שמות לג יא) ודבר ה' אל משה פנים בפנים: אשר ידעו ה' פנים אל פנים למה נאמ' לפי שאמר משה לפני הקב"ה רבון העולם הראני נא את כבו' (שם לג יח) אמ' לו בעולם הזה שנמשל בפנים אין אתה רואה שנ' (שם לג כ) לא תוכל לר' את פני אבל לעולם הבא שנמשל באחור אתה רואה שנ' (שם לג כג) והסירתי את כפי ור' את אחרי אע"פ כן הראהו בשעת המיתה הא למדנו שכל המתים רואים:

[2] The verse cited above, in which we are told that Moshe was the most humble man, is the same verse in which God describes the uniqueness of Moshe's prophecy; presumably these two elements are related.

[3] See Rashi’s comments on Bamidbar 22:18

רש"י במדבר פרק כב פסוק יח

(יח) מלא ביתו כסף וזהב - למדנו שנפשו רחבה ומחמד ממון אחרים. אמר, ראוי לו ליתן לי כל כסף וזהב שלו, שהרי צריך לשכור חיילות רבות, ספק נוצח ספק אינו נוצח, ואני ודאי נוצח:

[4] There is another subtlety: Bil'am speaks of the Eternal, while (only) the Almighty speaks with him.

[5] The Seforno Bamidbar 22:22makes this point, albeit somewhat tersely.

ספורנו במדבר פרק כב פסוק כב

(כב) כי הולך הוא. שלא היה ענינו בדרך כמי שיוליכוהו אחרים כענין ויקם וילך אחריה (מלכים - ב ד, ל) אבל היה הולך הוא כבעל דבר וכמשתדל נגד רצון האל יתברך, כי לא באו לקרוא לו לעצה כלל:

[6] See Chizkuni Bamidbar 22:22

חזקוני במדבר פרק כב פסוק כב

(כב) ויחר אף ה' כי הולך הוא שהרי לא נתן לו רשות בפנים מאירות כדכתיב אם לקרא לך וגו' והיה לו להבין מפעם ראשונה שלא היה בדעתו של הקב"ה שילך הוא, ודוגמא זו מצינו במרגלים שלח לך אנשים וגלוי וידוע לפניו שלא היה בדעתו של הקב"ה שישתלחו, ד"א ויחר אף ה' כי הולך הוא שהרי אמר ואך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אותו תעשה ולא היה לו לבלעם ללכת עד שידע אותו הדבר והוא מיהר עצמו מרוב שנאה ולא המתין הדבור,

[7] Here the name YHVH is used, the Donkey sees that which Bilam can not.

[8] See the Drashot HaRan, drash 5.

דרשות הר"ן הדרוש החמישי בסגנון אחר

ומה שאמר כאן רבי (יונתן) [יוחנן] אין הקב"ה משרה שכינתו אלא על מי שישלמו בו התנאים הללו, אין הכונה שלא יהיה כן לעולם, שכבר אמרו רבותינו ז"ל (ספרי וזאת הברכה על הכתוב דברים לד י) ולא קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה (דברים שם), בישראל לא קם, אבל באומות העולם קם, ואיזה זה בלעם. ואף על פי שאמר בספרי (שם) חילוקים הרבה שהיו בין נבואת משה לבלעם כמו שמפרש שם, אין ספק שהשרה הקב"ה שכינתו עליו, ואי אפשר שהגיע בלעם למדרגת הענוה, שכבר עליו אמרו בהרבה מן המסכתות (סנהדרין קה ב ע"ז ד ב) ולא עוד אלא שאנכי אתונך ביום ואשתך בלילה כתיב הכא (במדבר כב ל) ההסכן הסכנתי וכתוב התם (מ"א א ג) ותהי לו סוכנת, ואין לספק אחרי זאת המימרא, שהאיש הזה לא נתקדש בפרישות וביראת חטא, וכל שכן בענוה שהיא למעלה מהן. אלא אין ארבעה דברים דרבי (יונתן) [יוחנן] בכאן במה שיהיה תמיד, אבל לפעמים ישתנה זה לפי צורך השעה. וכבר אמרו (בספרי) (במדרש רבה בהעלותך על הכתוב במדבר ז פט) מפני מה השרה הקב"ה שכינתו על בלעם, ואף על פי שלא היה ראוי לה, כדי שלא יהא פתחון פה לאומות העולם לומר אילו היה לנו נביא כמה היינו עובדים להקב"ה.

[9] See book of Joshua 13:22

יהושע פרק יג

(כב) וְאֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר הַקּוֹסֵם הָרְגוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּחֶרֶב אֶל חַלְלֵיהֶם:

22. Also Balaam, the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the people of Israel slay with the sword among those who were slain by them.

[10] For more on this see my book Explorations Parshat Dvarim page 407 especially footnotes 1,2. See Zohar Dvarim 265a.

[11] Rav Zadok Pri Zadik Parshat Balak

ר' צדוק הכהן מלובלין - פרי צדיק במדבר פרשת בלק

אך נראה הענין על פי מה שאמרו בספרי (וזאת הברכה ט"ז) ולא קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה אבל באומות העולם קם ואיזה זה בלעם וכו' והוא על פי מה שאמרו (ספרי מטות א') שהנביאים נתנבאו בכה אמר מוסיף עליהם משה שנתנבא בזה הדבר. והיינו דהנביאים נתנבאו בכה אמר שמתחילה שמעו הנבואה מה' יתברך ואחר כך אמרוה ומשה נתנבא בזה הדבר היינו שבשעה שאמר הנבואה אז שכינה מדברת מתוך גרונו והיינו זה הדבר כמורה באצבע ובזוה"ק (פרשה זו ר"י ב) הרי כ"ה וכו' דכד תפתח פומך היא תמלל מילין וכו'. והיינו שהוא לא היה מדבר רק השכינה היא המדברת. וזהו הענין מה שנאמר מקודם במאמר ה' לבלעם ואך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אותו תעשה ומה לשון תעשה והוה ליה למימר תדבר. ומקודם לעשות קטנה או גדולה שייך לשון עשיה אבל כאן שהוא רק דיבור מהו הלשון תעשה. אך הוא על פי האמור שהוא לא ידבר רק השכינה והוא יהיה עושה רק תנועות מוצאות הפה ועל דרך שאמרו (בבא מציעא צ' ב) עקימת פיו הויא מעשה. ואחר כך במאמר המלאך לבלעם אשר אדבר אליך אותו תדבר כתיב גם כן לשון אותו שמורה כמו זה והיינו אותו הדבר זה הדיבור אשר ישים אלהים בפיו בלא שום שינוי. ובלעם לבלק פעם הראשון אמר גם כן אותו אדבר בלא שום שינוי כנזכר ואחר כך שראה יותר שאין בכוחו בדיבורו אמר אותו אשמור לדבר דהיינו שהוא רק כשומר על הדברים אשר ישים ה' בפיו. ואחר כך דכתיב וישם דבר בפיו ואיתא (במדבר רבה כ', כ') הקב"ה פוקם את פיו וכו' וראה יותר שאין בכוחו אף לשתוק אמר כל אשר ידבר ה' אותו אעשה והיינו שהוא רק העושה בעקימת פיו דהוי מעשה. ואחר כך דכתיב ותהי עליו רוח אלהים שכתב הרמב"ן שהיה מעין נבואה ולכן התפאר אז נאום שומע אמרי אל וגו' אמר בלעם אשר ידבר ה' אותו אדבר התפאר עצמו שיש לו גם כן חלק בהדיבור.

וזה ענין דכל התורה כולה גם הסיפורים אף שהם סיפורים על ידי שנכתבו על ידי משה נעשו דברי תורה כמו מילין דהגר מילין דעשו מילין דלבן על זה אמר משה כתב ספרו שהם כולן בכלל ספרו. וכן מילין דבלק מה שדיבר והמעשיות הוא גם כן בכלל כתב ספרו שעל ידי כתיבתו אותם בהתורה נעשה הכל תורה. ואף שהתורה קדמה לעולם אלפים שנה מכל מקום כתיב (מלאכי ג', כ"ב) תורת משה עבדי שנקרא על שמו וזה כתב ספרו ומשום הכי לא הוזכר פרשת בלק. אך פרשת בלעם שבזה לא היה צריך לחדש דבר שהרי באמת היו דבר ה' רק שהיה בלעם עוקם שפתיו ועושה מעשה מוצאות הפה על זה אמרו ביחוד ופרשת בלעם שאינו בכלל כתב ספרו. מה שאין כן שם בגמרא ביקשו לקבוע פרשת בלק בקריאת שמע היינו כל הפרשה מן וירא בלק עד אחר נבואת בלעם דלקבוע פרשת בלעם היינו נבואתו לבד לא היה אפשר כמו שאמרו בגמרא שם כל פרשה וכו' דלא פסקה משה רבינו לא פסקינן ובפרשת בלק אין הפסקת פרשה עד אחר גמר נבואת בלעם והיה צריך לקבוע גם מילין דבלק דבריו עם המעשיות ולכן קראו בגמרא פרשת בלק כל הפרשה מילין דבלק ומילין דבלעם עד גמר הפרשה:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

parshat chukat

Parshat Chukat 5769

Rabbi Ari Kahn

To Truly Believe

After the death of Miriam a crisis developed in the camp; there was no water to drink:

במדבר פרק כ

(א) וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל הָעֵדָה מִדְבַּר צִן בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם בְּקָדֵשׁ וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם:(ב) וְלֹא הָיָה מַיִם לָעֵדָה וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל מֹשֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן:(ג) וַיָּרֶב הָעָם עִם מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֵאמֹר וְלוּ גָוַעְנוּ בִּגְוַע אַחֵינוּ לִפְנֵי ה’:(ד) וְלָמָה הֲבֵאתֶם אֶת קְהַל ה’ אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה לָמוּת שָׁם אֲנַחְנוּ וּבְעִירֵנוּ:(ה) וְלָמָה הֶעֱלִיתֻנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם לְהָבִיא אֹתָנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם הָרָע הַזֶּה לֹא מְקוֹם זֶרַע וּתְאֵנָה וְגֶפֶן וְרִמּוֹן וּמַיִם אַיִן לִשְׁתּוֹת:

1. Then the People of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the desert of Zin in the first month; and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 2. And there was no water for the congregation; and they gathered themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon. 3. And the people quarreled with Moshe, and spoke, saying, 'and would that we had died when our brothers died before God! 4. And why have you brought up the congregation of God into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? 5. And why have you made us come out of Egypt, to bring us in to this evil place? This is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink. Bamidbar 20:1-5

Rabbinic tradition connects the death of Miriam with the sudden lack of water in the camp: The miraculous well that followed them in the desert and supplied their needs was in the merit of Miriam; with her death, the water ceased.

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת במדבר פרשה א סימן ב

והבאר בזכות מרים מה כתיב (במדבר, כ, א) ותמת שם מרים ותקבר שם ומה כתיב אח"כ (במדבר כ, ב) ולא היה מים לעדה

And the well was due to the merit of Miriam. For what does Scripture say? And Miriam died there, and was buried there (Bamidbar 20, 1). And what is written after that? And there was no water for the congregation (Bamidbar 20, 2). Midrash Rabba Bamidbar 1:2

The water shortage served as the impetus for yet another confrontation between the Jewish People and Moshe. Their litany of complaints had by this point become a familiar chorus. Over the years, they had demanded meat as well as water, complained about the Manna, complained about leaving Egypt, complained about being in the desert, even complained about the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, this latest complaint does not surprise us. Yet in all previous episodes, their complaints were answered in one of two ways: either their wishes were fulfilled, or the People were punished. In this new incident, a third outcome is introduced: Moshe and Aharon are severely punished.

במדבר פרק כ

(י) וַיַּקְהִלוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶת הַקָּהָל אֶל פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם: (יא) וַיָּרֶם מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ וַיַּךְ אֶת הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ פַּעֲמָיִם וַיֵּצְאוּ מַיִם רַבִּים וַתֵּשְׁתְּ הָעֵדָה וּבְעִירָם: ס

(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם: (יג) הֵמָּה מֵי מְרִיבָה אֲשֶׁר רָבוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת ה’ וַיִּקָּדֵשׁ בָּם: ס

10. And Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now, you rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11. And Moshe lifted up his hand, and with his rod he struck the rock twice; and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 12. And God said to Moshe and Aharon, Because you did not believe in me to sanctify me before the eyes of the People of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. 13. This is the water of Merivah, because the People of Israel strove with God, and He was sanctified in them. Bamidbar 20:10-13

Moshe cannot lead these people into the Land of Israel because of a lack of faith in God; Rashi stresses that had it not been for this sin Moshe would have entered the Land. On its own, Rashi's comment here would have been somewhat perplexing: Rashi goes to great lengths to stress that this particular sin, and no other, is the cause of Moshe's ultimate exile. Had he not hit the rock, Moshe would have entered the Land of Israel. In Rashi's view, the Torah includes the rationale for Moshe's punishment in order to forestall any conjecture that Moshe was guilty of the same sin as the rest of his generation - the sin of the spies.[1]

The Midrash seems to address this same problem from a slightly different perspective: It is Moshe himself who asks that the nature of his sin be spelled out in the text, recorded for all posterity.

דברים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ב

ד"א מהו לאמר אמר לפניו רבש"ע תכתב חטייה שלי לדורות כך אמר משה רבש"ע תכתב חטיה שלי לדורות שלא יהיו ישראל אומרים זייף משה בתורה או אמר דבר שלא נצטווה וידעו שלא היה אלא על המים הרי בעת ההיא לאמר.

So Moshe said before God: ' Let my actual sin be written down for future generations that Israel may not say, "Moshe falsified something in the Torah." or, "he spoke something which he had not been commanded"; and they shall know that it was merely because of the water [that I was punished].’ This is the force of the words, AT THAT TIME, SAYING. Midrash Rabba Dvarim, 2:6

Moshe chose transparency and accurate reporting over revisionism. He feared that cynical readers in future generations might suspect that the Torah is less than accurate, a whitewashed account penned by his own hand and not the Hand of God. He hoped to leave no room for suspicions that he had corrupted the Torah itself, embellished or edited the Word of God; he wanted the record to reflect that his only sin was in the matter of the Waters of Meriva, the "Waters of Strife".

Ironically, despite this plea, the precise nature of Moshe’s sin is a question that has been answered in various ways, a topic that has become confused and confusing. On the one hand, there are abundant explications of the “Waters of Strife” incident, each proposing different motivations or understandings of Moshe's sin.[2] On the other hand, despite the unequivocal statement by God Himself in these very verses attributing this incident as the cause of Moshe's punishment, other sources point to different episodes in Moshe’s life to explain the seemingly harsh decree.

The Mechilta of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, a very ancient source, cites a much earlier episode in Moshe’s life as the cause of Moshe's banishment: As the Jewish People languished in slavery, God appeared to Moshe and tasked him with leading the people to freedom; Moshe demurred. Only after being asked numerous times, Moshe half-heartedly acquiesced:

שמות פרק ד

(יג) וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנָי שְׁלַח נָא בְּיַד תִּשְׁלָח:

And he said, O my Lord, send, I beseech you, by the hand of him whom you will send. Shmot 4:13

It was this belated, halfhearted response that caused God to foreswear Moshe's entry to the Land.[3] While it seems difficult to reconcile this opinion with the explanation given by God regarding the “Waters of Strife”, this commentary is not unique in its apparent contradiction of the text. In fact, Rashi himself offers an alternative motivation in comments on an earlier episode, contradicting both the text of our present parsha and his own comments on that text! The incident in question is Moshe's dialogue with God in Egypt: Moshe delivers God's message to Pharoh, but the situation seems to worsen rather than improve. Moshe then questions God:

שמות פרק ה

(כב) וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה’ וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי: (כג) וּמֵאָז בָּאתִי אֶל פַּרְעֹה לְדַבֵּר בִּשְׁמֶךָ הֵרַע לָעָם הַזֶּה וְהַצֵּל לֹא הִצַּלְתָּ אֶת עַמֶּךָ: ]פרק ו[ (א) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה עַתָּה תִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לְפַרְעֹה כִּי בְיָד חֲזָקָה יְשַׁלְּחֵם וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה יְגָרְשֵׁם מֵאַרְצוֹ: ס

22. And Moshe returned to God, and said, Lord, why have You done evil to this People? Why have You sent me? 23. For since I came to Pharoh to speak in Your Name, he has done evil to this People; neither have You saved Your People at all. [Chapter 6] 1. And God said to Moshe, Now shall you see what I will do to Pharoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. Shmot 5:22,23 6:1

Rashi comments on the words “now you shall see,” implying that Moshe will see the fall of Pharoh, but will not live to see the fall of the kings who occupy Israel.[4] The implication is that Moshe's fate had already been sealed in Egypt, long before the Exodus, long before the incident at Meriva. This seems to contradict Rashi’s own commentary on our current parsha, discussed above: Was Moshe punished for striking the rock, or for his complaints about the progress of liberation from Egypt, some 39 years earlier?

Among those who offer alternative reasons for Moshe's punishment is Moshe himself! While recounting the events of the sin of the spies, Moshe says:

דברים פרק א

(לד) וַיִּשְׁמַע ה’ אֶת קוֹל דִּבְרֵיכֶם וַיִּקְצֹף וַיִּשָּׁבַע לֵאמֹר: (לה) אִם יִרְאֶה אִישׁ בָּאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה הַדּוֹר הָרָע הַזֶּה אֵת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָתֵת לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם: (לו) זוּלָתִי כָּלֵב בֶּן יְפֻנֶּה הוּא יִרְאֶנָּה וְלוֹ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר דָּרַךְ בָּהּ וּלְבָנָיו יַעַן אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּא אַחֲרֵי ה’: (לז) גַּם בִּי הִתְאַנַּף ה’ בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר גַּם אַתָּה לֹא תָבֹא שָׁם:

34. And God heard the sound of your words, and was angry, and swore, saying, 35. Surely not one of the men of this evil generation shall see that good land, which I swore to give to your fathers, 36. Save Caleb the son of Yefuneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he has trodden upon, and to his children, because he has wholly followed God. 37. Also God was angry with me on your account, saying, You also shall not go there. Dvarim 1:34-37

Not only does Moshe recount his own punishment within the context of the punishment of the spies, he blames the People for his harsh sentence. This was the very conclusion that Rashi wished to avoid, yet Moshe seems quite clear in associating his own exclusion from Israel with the sin of the spies and the People's reaction to it. This same association is echoed at a later juncture, when Moshe prays for the punishment to be rescinded. When his prayers are rebuffed, he once again points an accusing finger.

דברים פרק ג

(כג) וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל ה’ בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר: (כד) אֲדֹנָי ה’ אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַבְדְּךָ אֶת גָּדְלְךָ וְאֶת יָדְךָ הַחֲזָקָה אֲשֶׁר מִי אֵל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה כְמַעֲשֶׂיךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶךָ: (כה) אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן: (כו) וַיִּתְעַבֵּר ה’ בִּי לְמַעַנְכֶם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֵלָי וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֵלַי רַב לָךְ אַל תּוֹסֶף דַּבֵּר אֵלַי עוֹד בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה: (כז) עֲלֵה רֹאשׁ הַפִּסְגָּה וְשָׂא עֵינֶיךָ יָמָּה וְצָפֹנָה וְתֵימָנָה וּמִזְרָחָה וּרְאֵה בְעֵינֶיךָ כִּי לֹא תַעֲבֹר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה: (כח) וְצַו אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְחַזְּקֵהוּ וְאַמְּצֵהוּ כִּי הוּא יַעֲבֹר לִפְנֵי הָעָם הַזֶּה וְהוּא יַנְחִיל אוֹתָם אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה: (כט) וַנֵּשֶׁב בַּגָּיְא מוּל בֵּית פְּעוֹר: פ

23. And I pleaded with God at that time, saying, 24. Almighty God, you have begun to show Your servant Your greatness, and Your mighty hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can achieve Your works and Your might? 25. I beg You, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly mountain region, and the Levanon. 26. But God was angry with me for your sakes, and would not hear me; and God said to me, Let it suffice you; speak no more to Me of this matter. 27. Get up to the top of Pisgah, and lift up your eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with your eyes; for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28. But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you shall see. 29. So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-Peor. Dvarim 3:23-29

A careful reading shows that Moshe isn’t blaming them as much as saying that he must stay on the other side of the Jordan for their sake. The Midrash notices this nuance and explains:

דברים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ב

ט כי לא תעבור את הירדן הזה, אמר לו הקב"ה למשה אם אתה נקבר כאן אצלן בזכותך הן באין עמך כך אמר לו הקב"ה למשה אם נקבר אתה אצלם במדבר הן באים בזכותך ואת בא בראשם שנאמר (דברים לג) וירא ראשית לו וגו' ויתא ראשי עם.

9. FOR YOU SHALL NOT GO OVER THIS JORDAN (3, 27). God said to Moshe: 'If you are buried here, near those [who died in the wilderness], then they will enter the land for your sake [at the time of Resurrection]…' Similarly, God said to Moshe: 'Should you be buried near those who died in the wilderness, they will enter the land for your sake, and you will be at their head, as it is said, 'And he chose a first part for himself, for there a portion of a ruler was reserved; and there came the heads of the people (Devarim 33, 21). Midrash Rabba Dvarim, 2:9

Moshe is not the only one to provide a retrospective of his crime and punishment. When the time for Moshe to die arrives, God speaks:

דברים פרק לב

(מח) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לֵאמֹר:(מט) עֲלֵה אֶל הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה הַר נְבוֹ אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי יְרֵחוֹ וּרְאֵה אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לַאֲחֻזָּה:(נ) וּמֻת בָּהָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹלֶה שָׁמָּה וְהֵאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר מֵת אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ בְּהֹר הָהָר וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו:(נא) עַל אֲשֶׁר מְעַלְתֶּם בִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמֵי מְרִיבַת קָדֵשׁ מִדְבַּר צִן עַל אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדַּשְׁתֶּם אוֹתִי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:(נב) כִּי מִנֶּגֶד תִּרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְשָׁמָּה לֹא תָבוֹא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: פ

48. And God spoke to Moshe that same day, saying, 49. Go up to this Mountain Avarim, to Mount Nevo, which is in the land of Moav, that is opposite Yericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give to the People of Israel for a possession; 50. And die in the mount where you go up, and be gathered to your people; as Aharon your brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people; 51. Because you trespassed against me among the People of Israel at the waters of Merivat-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not sanctify me in the midst of the People of Israel. 52. Yet you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there to the land which I give the people of Israel. Dvarim 32:48-52

Here the reader is offered a unique perspective. God Himself speaks, and explains why the narrative unfolds as it does: Moshe will die in exile due to the sin at the “Waters of Strife”. How can there be any further discussion, any alternative interpretation? Twice God speaks in the Torah about the death of Moshe, and in both instances it is related to the “Waters of Strife”; all other commentary is nullified, pointless – even presumptuous.

Our assumption must be that Moshe and the later commentaries knew full well what crime God Himself associated with this punishment; the verses of the Torah were as at least as familiar them as to they are to us. Surely, then, our task is to find the relationship between the various perspectives on Moshe's punishment, the common denominator between each explanation of Moshe's crime. Only such a common thread can explain why more than one interpretation – God's interpretation – exists.

In describing Moshe's sin here in Parshat Chukat, God raises two distinct objections: “ma'altem bi - you trespassed against Me”, and “you did not sanctify Me”. The language in the Book of Devarim used to describe the same sin is different: “Because you did not believe in me to sanctify me in the eyes of the People of Israel”. Both verses speak of a missed opportunity to sanctify God's Name, but it is the charge that Moshe did not believe in God which is particularly frightening. If Moshe, who stood alone with God on Mount Sinai, who spoke to God "face to face", whom God Himself described as the most loyal to Him of any of His servants, doesn’t “believe” in God, what chance do the rest of us have of achieving "belief"? How can the entire nation possibly believe if even Moshe was found lacking? Perhaps this problem may relate to a different incident regarding Moshe's faith: When Moshe was first told of the mission that God intended for him, Moshe questioned the belief of the entire nation. Moshe tries to avoid his own destiny; he stalls, he declines the appointment to the role of savior of the Jews – and he expresses reservations about the ability of the slaves to believe.

שמות פרק ד

(א) וַיַּעַן מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר וְהֵן לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי כִּי יֹאמְרוּ לֹא נִרְאָה אֵלֶיךָ ה’:

1. And Moshe answered and said, 'But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for they will say, God has not appeared to you. Shmot 4:1

Apparently Moshe thought that these people, who had been abused and enslaved, had lost hope. He assumed that they had lost faith in their own redemption, in the possibility that a redeemer was sent by God. Moshe underestimated the People of Israel. This was the reason he was less than enthusiastic about accepting the position of redeemer; he feared that the mission was doomed to failure because the people had lost faith. Not only was Moshe questioning the people, he was questioning the educational and spiritual accomplishments of their forefathers. The doubts he had about their continued commitment to the Covenant implied that Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov Rachel and Leah had failed, as parents and grandparents, to instill their own belief in their children and grandchildren -- belief that could withstand exile and slavery, that could transcend geographic distance from the Holy Land, belief that would allow them to enthusiastically accept the redeemer when he finally arrived. [5]

The Talmud says that God defended the People against Moshe’s accusation:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף צז עמוד א

אמר ריש לקיש: החושד בכשרים לוקה בגופו, דכתיב (שמות ד) והן לא יאמינו לי וגו', וגליא קמי קודשא בריך הוא דמהימני ישראל. אמר לו: הן מאמינים בני מאמינים, ואתה אין סופך להאמין. הן מאמינים - דכתיב (שמות ד) 'ויאמן העם'; בני מאמינים (בראשית טו) 'והאמין בה'.' אתה אין סופך להאמין - שנאמר (במדבר כ) 'יען לא האמנתם בי וגו'.

Resh Lakish said: He who entertains a suspicion against innocent men is bodily afflicted, for it is written, [And Moshe . . . said,] 'But they will not believe me'; but it was known to the Holy One, Blessed be He, that Israel would believe. Said He to him: They are believers, [and] the descendants of believers, whereas you will ultimately disbelieve. They are believers, as it is written, "and the people believed"; the descendants of believers: "and he [Avraham] believed in God." You will ultimately disbelieve, as it is said, "[And God said unto Moshe and Aharon,] 'Because you did not believe in me.'[6] Talmud Bavli Shabbat 97a

Moshe casts aspersions on the faith of the Jewish People, but he does not stop there.

Why have you sent me? 23. For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have you saved your people at all. [Chapter 6] 1. And God said to Moshe, Now shall you see what I will do to Pharaoh.

By this point, Moshe has reluctantly accepted the task; he begins to work toward redeeming the Jewish People, but there are setbacks. Moshe questions God, questions the mission on which he has been sent, and questions his own place in the larger picture. Moshe was faced with his first real setback, and once again he suspects that the people will lose faith. If before his mission began he thought the people had no faith, he reverted to this same mindset; now he fears that due to the reversal of fortune the people again would not continue to believe. Rashi notes the 'superfluous" word 'now': Moshe would see victory over Pharoh, but he would not see the ultimate, future victory in the Land of Israel.

Much later, in the Book of Devarim, Moshe explains that his own death is part and parcel of the generation of the spies: "Also God was angry with me for your sakes (biglalchem), saying, 'You also shall not go there'." Dvarim 1:34. Was this, or was this not, the reason Moshe was punished? In fact, the answer is – yes and no. The sin of the spies might not have had anything to do with Moshe's death, were it not actually one and the same as his earlier sin: breach of faith. The sin of the spies caused the People of Israel to lose faith in their destiny. It caused a setback on the route of their march to the Promised Land, a reversal of the process of redemption – not unlike the manner in which Pharoh's defiance of Moshe's message increased the slaves' burden. The path to redemption seemed longer, the fulfillment of the dream eluded their grasp just when it was in sight.

When Moshe relates his punishment to the sin of the spies, he is, in fact, taking a longer view of the circumstances: Had the spies not led the people astray, his own sin would not have taken on such weight. Had the route to the Promised Land not become so long and circuitous as a result of the sin of the spies, the People would have entered the Land of Israel without ever having stopped at Meriva; Miriam would not have died on the 40-year trek that never was, and the water source would never have run dry. There would have been no sin at the rock of Merivat-Kadesh. Had the People of Israel never been infected by the spies' faith-shaking report, Moshe's own breach of faith would have seemed an isolated, forgivable lapse. Only when this malady of faith is seen to have spread through the nation, Moshe's sin is seen as part of a far more widespread phenomenon, a defining spiritual flaw of the entire generation that perished in the desert. A careful reading of the verses in Devarim reveals this very claim in Moshe's interpretation of his punishment: “But God was angry with me (lma'anchem) for your sakes, and would not hear me; and God said to me, Let it suffice you; speak no more to me of this matter.”

Moshe's proper place of rest was in exile, with the generation he led out of Egypt, with the people he had personally committed to leading to the Promised Land. If they weren’t going, neither could he. Only at the End of Days will he finally lead them to the Promised Land.[7]

The idea of emuna - belief - may be related to Moshe's sin and his punishment in more ways than we had realized. The Netziv's comments on our parsha highlight one very important aspect of Moshe's sin that we might otherwise have overlooked: In general, the Netziv understands the main theme of the Book of Bamidbar as being the shift from supernatural existence to natural existence: God's relationship with the Jewish People, from the moment Moshe appeared before Pharoh, through the period of the plagues, the Redemption, the splitting of the sea, and throughout their sojourn in the desert, was supernatural. God's involvement in Jewish history was direct, explicit, unmistakable; the People of Israel were sustained by miraculous means. As they approached their final destination, the relationship with God would necessarily change: the people were being prepared for life in their own land, a life of natural existence.[8] The Netziv sees Moshe's sin in this larger context. Moshe's leadership up to this point had also been supernatural. He was the agent of God's direct involvement in the day –to- day existence of the nation. At the point that their supernatural water source was no longer available, the Jewish People stood to learn a vital lesson, and it was Moshe who was meant to teach it to them. It was time to make the shift to a more natural way of life, to a more permanent method of fulfilling their human needs. The Jewish People were meant to learn how they should behave in a situation of distress, in a crisis that threatened their physical existence. Their supernatural water source would not accompany them into the Promised Land; how, then, were they to proceed into this new era?

The instructions Moshe received were very specific: Take the staff with which all of the miracles were performed, but do not use it. Do not resort to the supernatural. Begin to teach the People the power of speech – the power of prayer. Teach them that as individuals and as a nation, they have the ability to have a "natural" relationship with God, through prayer. Moshe was instructed not to hit the rock, but rather to teach the people to pray, as the farmers would one day when they enter the Land and are faced with drought.

העמק דבר על במדבר פרק כ פסוק יב

לכן לא תביאו וגו'. לא היה העונש שימותו במדבר שא"כ לא היה משה מתפלל להחל שבועת ה' אלא הגזירה היה מדה במדה. שבשביל שלא הראו לישראל הדרך להתנהג בא"י בעת עצירת גשמים וכדומה ע"כ. לא תביאו וגו'. ובמ"א כתיב על אשר מעלתם בי מעילה הוא שנוי בדבר ה' כמש"כ בספר ויקרא כ"ו מ'. והכונה כאן שעשה משה נס ושנוי בהליכות הטבע בעת שלא היה הרצון בכך וזה נקרא מעילה כמו שנענש רבא בעת שעשה נס שלא ברצון ה' כדאיתא בתענית פ"ג והיה נזוף מחמת זה כדאי' בחולין דף קל"ג א:

It is in this context that the Netziv explains the use of the word me'ila “trespass” (Dvarim 32:51) in God’s description of the sin: The purpose of the episode was to teach the people to pray, to instill within their hearts more emuna (faith) in God in times of need. Instead, Moshe “misappropriated” the miracle, and gave the impression that it was his own stature as a prophet which brought the desired results. Rather than wean them off their dependence on supernatural sustenance, hitting the rock reinforced the people's dependence on Moshe and the miracles he facilitated. He misappropriated the emunah of the nation.

The opportunity that Moshe missed was no trifling matter; the lesson that Moshe was meant to teach is one of the most basic tenets of Judaism, and one of the most critical tools for life in the Land of Israel. As an agricultural society, the nation will need belief, above all else. Indeed, the Jewish view of the symbiotic relationship of the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel is this very fine line of emunah: the line between natural existence as a farming society on its land - and faith in the supernatural, in God's involvement in our history. It is the belief of the farmer that the tremendous investment of time and toil will bring results, but that the results of this physical, natural labor are dependent on God's "investment" in the process. In this sense, agriculture is a wonderful metaphor for all of Judaism; as the Talmud teaches, agriculture is related to faith.[9] We work as hard as we can – yet still recognize the need to lift our ours heavenward and pray for rain. This was the lesson that was to have been taught at Meriva. This was the lesson Moshe did not teach when, instead of “speaking” to the rock, lifting his voice in a prayer for physical sustenance, he reverted to the "desert mentality" and struck with his staff, bringing one more miracle like all the others the nation had seen in the desert.

The Land of Israel is hardwired for belief; it is a land which requires its inhabitants to look heavenward. Unlike Egypt, Israel has no overflowing rivers to sustain life. All of its water, its life-source, comes from above.

דברים פרק יא

(י) כִּי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת זַרְעֲךָ וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק:(יא) וְהָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ אֶרֶץ הָרִים וּבְקָעֹת לִמְטַר הַשָּׁמַיִם תִּשְׁתֶּה מָּיִם:(יב) אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה: ס

10. For the land, which you enter to possess, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came out, where you sowed your seed, and watered it with your foot, as a garden of vegetables; 11. But the land, which you are going over to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water from the rain of the skies; 12. A land which God your God cares for; the eyes of God your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Dvarim 11:10-12

The Land of Israel is therefore the perfect partner for the People of Israel who are also “hardwired” for belief. As the Sfat Emet teaches, the Forefathers were successful in instilling faith. If we look at a fellow Jew and the faith is not evident, if they seem distant from belief and far from tradition, we must not be quick to judge, for the Forefathers transmitted something so durable and powerful that belief in God is deep inside the soul of every Jew. In the words of the Sfat Emet, "just as the ways of God are often beyond man's comprehension, the way of the Jewish soul is often impenetrable to the casual observer."[10]

In Judaism, belief in God is axiomatic. The Rambam insists that belief in the Jewish People is equally axiomatic. Though these two foundations of Judaism may be obscured by the tribulations of human history, they will ultimately be revealed in their full force in the Messianic Age. Indeed, the clear and unmistakable affirmation of these parallel foundations of Judaism is the very definition of the Messianic Age: The Messianic redemption is defined as a period in which God's involvement in our personal and collective lives becomes clear, unmistakable, immediately obvious to each and every one of us. The process of this future redemption, the ultimate redemption, is actuated by the return to emunah: Jews will return to God, will find the belief which is all too often hidden deep within.

רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ז הלכה ה

כל הנביאים כולן צוו על התשובה ואין ישראל נגאלין אלא בתשובה, וכבר הבטיחה תורה שסוף ישראל לעשות תשובה בסוף גלותן ומיד הן נגאלין שנאמר והיה כי יבאו עליך כל הדברים וגו' ושבת עד ה' אלהיך ושב ה' אלהיך וגו'

Moshe's sin was the failure to establish the ongoing dialogue of faith between the People and God. The irony is so sharp, the tragedy so human: Moshe had suspected that the People of Israel lacked emunah; he had cast a shadow of doubt on the founding Mothers' and Fathers' success in instilling emunah in the following generations. Now it was Moshe's turn to teach emunah – and he missed the opportunity. Years earlier, when Moshe questioned Jewish belief, he questioned the efficacy of the tradition of belief passed on from the Forefathers. When he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, he forfeited his role as the conduit of this belief to the next generation. In both instances, the sin is the same: When Moshe saw the redemptive process stall, or regress, he didn’t think the people could continue. He didn’t think they had enough faith. When the sin of the spies overshadowed their faith, Moshe again thought that they didn’t have the faith to continue.

God disagreed. God believes in the Jewish People. He knew that we could enter the Land, that we would have the emunah to lift our hearts and voices heavenward, to remember that God is involved in our lives through the natural processes of history – and to pray. And when we do, God will answer. For our part, we must not lose sight of the faith that is our legacy, our very identity: faith in God, and faith in His People.

אנחנו מאמינים בני מאמינים
ואין לנו על מי להישען
אלא על אבינו

[1] See Rashi Bamidbar 20:12

רש"י על במדבר פרק כ פסוק יב

(יב) יען לא האמנתם בי - גלה הכתוב שאלולי חטא זה בלבד היו נכנסין לארץ כדי שלא יאמרו עליהם כעון שאר דור המדבר שנגזר עליהם שלא יכנסו לארץ כך היה עון משה ואהרן. והלא (במדבר יא) הצאן ובקר ישחט קשה מזו אלא לפי שבסתר חסך עליו הכתוב וכאן שבמעמד כל ישראל לא חסך עליו הכתוב מפני קדוש השם:

[2] See comments of the Ohr Hachaim who lists ten different opinions regarding Moshe’s sin.

אור החיים על במדבר פרק כ פסוק ח

(ח) קח את המטה וגו' ויקדש בם פרשה זו רבו עליה כל מפרשי התורה, ותרתי בה לאור באור החיים, וקודם שנעמוד על פשטן של כתובים נקדים להבין מה היתה שגגתו של משה בענין זה, אשר היה סיבה לגזירתו, וראיתי שנאמרו עשרה דרכים בענין בדברי מפרשי התורה, והן הנה בקצרה:

[3] Mechilta of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai 3:8

מכילתא דרבי שמעון בר יוחאי פרק ג פסוק (ח)

משלו משל למה הדבר דומה למלך שהיה לו עבד והיה אוהבו אהבה גמורה (ו)בקש המלך לעשותו אפטרופוס שלו להיות מפרנס בני פלטין של מלך מה עשה (אותו) המלך תפס את העבד בידו והכניסו לבית גנזיו והראהו כלי כסף וכלי זהב אבני' טובות ומרגליות וכל מה שיש לו בבית גנזיו ומאחר כן הוציאו והראהו אילנות גנים ופרדסים וקרפיפות וכל מה שיש לו בשדות. לאחר כן כבש העבד את ידו ואמר איני יכול לעשות אפטרופוס להיות מפרנס בני פלטין של מלך. אמ' לו המלך הואיל ולא היית יכול לעשות אפטרופוס למה הטרחתני כל הטורח הזה וכעס עליו המלך וגזר עליו שלא יכנס לפלטין שלו. כך כבש הקב"ה למשה ששה ימים ובשביעי אמר לו שלח נא ביד תשלח. נשבע לו הקב"ה שלא יכנס לארץ ישראל שנא' לכן לא תביאו וגו' (במ' כ יב).

[4] See Rashi Shmot 6:1

רש"י שמות פרק ו פסוק א

(א) עתה תראה וגו' - הרהרת על מדותי, לא כאברהם שאמרתי לו (בראשית כא יב) כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע, ואחר כך אמרתי לו (שם כב ב) העלהו לעולה, ולא הרהר אחרי, לפיכך עתה תראה. העשוי לפרעה תראה, ולא העשוי למלכי שבעה אומות, כשאביאם לארץ:

[5] See comments of the Chatam Sofer Talmud Bavli 97a

ספר חתם סופר על מסכת שבת דף צז/א

יען לא האמנתם בי, אמר ריש לקיש החושד בכשרים לוקה בגופו דכתיב והן לא יאמינו לי וכו' ויאמן העם בני מאמינים. פי' דמה שחשד משה רבינו ע"ה שישראל לא יאמינו אין זה חשד על ישראל כי מהיכי תיתי יאמינו אי לא היו מקובלים מאבותיהם, אך החשד נגע באבות הקדושים שלא ציוו בניהם אחריהם והתקיעו האמונה בלבותם, וע"ז אמר לו הקב"ה אתה אין סופך להאמין כי חלילה שמרע"ה לא האמין אלא שע"י הכאת הסלע לא גרם לקדש השם שיאמינו ישראל נמצא נכשל הוא באותו דבר עצמו שחשד האבות:

[6] Rav Zadok in Ohr Zarua Lazadik section 7, asserts that this Moshe's negativity was due to the influence of his adoptive mother Bitya, and his father –in- law Yitro.

ספר אור זרוע לצדיק - אות ז

זה מצד יחוסם שמצד זה שורשם טוב וקדוש וכמו שנתבאר לעיל כמה פעמים. וכן מורה מצה שנקרא בזוהר (ח"ב קפ"ג ע"ב) מיכלא דמהימנותא רצה לומר אמונה כמו שנאמר (שמות י"ב, ל"ט) כי לא חמץ כי גורשו וגו' וגם צידה לא וגו' רק האמינו בה' שיפרנסם. ואמונה מצד ירושת היחוס כלשון חז"ל מאמינים בני מאמינים [ואתה אין סופך להאמין מצד לשון הרע שדברת על בני זה מורה חסרון ביחוס כנ"ל לכך אין סופך להאמין. והחסרון מצד בתיה שגדלתו ויתרו חמיו]. וכנודע שכנסת ישראל נקראת אמונה וכמו שכתבתי במקום אחר על ואמונתך בלילות:

[7] Chizkuni Dvarim 3:26

חזקוני על דברים פרק ג פסוק כו

)כו) ויתעבר ה' בי למענכם - אמר הקב"ה למשה אם אתה עובר בארץ יאמרו מה שנגזר על דור המדבר שלא ליכנס לארץ היינו לפי שאין להם חלק לעולם הבא ואם תכנס לארץ בתפלתך יאמרו לא חש משה אלא על עצמו אלא תיקבר אצלם ותביא עמך לעתיד היינו ויתא ראשי עם.

[8] See introduction of Netziv to Bamidbar

[9] See Tamud Bavli Shabbat 31a

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לא/א

אמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב והיה אמונת עתיך חוסן ישועות חכמת ודעת וגו' אמונת זה סדר זרעים

Resh Lakish said, 'What is meant by the verse, "and there shall be faith in thy times, strength, salvation, wisdom and knowledge?" Faith refers to the Order of Seeds.

[10] Sfat Emet Vaera 5663

שפת אמת ספר שמות - פרשת וארא - שנת [תרס"ג]

ואיתא בגמ' שהקב"ה השיב לו בנ"י מאמינים בני מאמינים ואתה אין סופך להאמין דכ' יען לא האמנתם כו'. פי' בנ"י יש בכחם מושרש האמונה בכח האבות. ואפי' שבגלות אין יכולין להוציא מכח אל הפועל זו האמונה. אבל הם בני מאמינים. ובאמת כמו שצריכין להאמין בהקב"ה אף שאין יכולין להבין הנהגה הנעלמת של הקב"ה. כמו כן צריכין להאמין בבנ"י אפי' שנראין כעורין ושחורין כמ"ש שחורה אני ונאוה. ולכן התרעם עליו הקב"ה שהי' לו להאמין בבנ"י. וגם במאמר יען לא האמנתם כו' להקדישני לעיני בנ"י. הי' ג"כ רק חסרון אמונה בבנ"י שסבור שלא יוכלו לקבל זו ההנהגה שנצטוה ודברתם אל הסלע. לפי שהמרו את רוחו. אבל הי' צריך להאמין שהחטא רק במקרה בבנ"י. וכן גם עתה אע"פ שלא שמעו אל משה מ"מ הדיבור נכנס בהם בכח שצירף הקב"ה מעשה אבות וצירף אהרן שיקבל ממשה. והם יקבלו מן אהרן. וגם צירף ראשי בית אבותם כמ"ש במד'. וע"ז נאמר קול דודי כו' זה בא מדלג על ההרים. שהקול בא לבנ"י בכח ההרים והגבעות שהכין להם הקב"ה ברחמיו עצות שיוכלו לקבל הדברים: