By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
7 Tammuz 5764 - June 25, 2004
In the fortieth year since the Exodus, the Children of Israel
approach the borders of the Promised Land, encountering all the surrounding
nations. In the first of these confrontations, they find themselves on the
outskirts of the territory of the descendants of Esav, the Edomites.
Moshe requests permission for safe passage:
And Moshe sent messengers from Kadesh (MALACHIM MIKADESH) to the king of Edom:
“Thus said your brother Israel: You know all the travail that has befallen us.
And our fathers descended to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt for many years, and
the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and with our fathers. And we cried out to
Hashem, and He heard our voice, and He sent a messenger (MALACH), and he took
us out of Egypt. And behold we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your
boundary. Let us please pass through your land; we will not pass through field
or vineyard, nor shall we drink the water of the well. By the king’s road we
will go — we will not veer right or left — until we have crossed your border.”
And Edom said to him: “You will not pass through me, lest with the sword will
I come out towards you.”
And the Children of Israel said to him: “By the path will we ascend, and if we
drink of your water, I or my livestock, then I shall give its value. Only, it
is no matter, let me pass through on foot.”
And he said, “You will not pass through!” And Edom came out towards him with a
massive army and with a strong hand. And Edom refused to allow Israel to cross
his border. And Israel turned away from him
We would like to explain this incident according to the Haamek Davar (R.
Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893), who notices a few subtle
peculiarities. First, it was unnecessary to mention that Moshe sent the
messengers from Kadesh (possibly Petra, in Jordan). Shortly before this
incident it says that “the nation dwelt in Kadesh” (20:1), and immediately
after the encounter with Edom we are told that “they traveled from Kadesh”
Second, the words messengers from Kadesh (MALACHIM MIKADESH) are in an
unconventional order. Compare this with the spies sent by Yehoshua:
And Yehoshua bin-Nun sent from the Shittim two men as spies (MIN HASHITTIM
SHNAYIM ANASHIM MERAGLIM) (Yehoshua 2:1).
There, the point of origin of the mission is mentioned before the agents.
Haamek Davar concludes that Moshe does not send Israelites, but rather local
people, either Edomites or others, messengers from Kadesh, to the king of
Edom. When a small number of Israelites are conspicuous among a large number
of people from the nations, dangers can befall them. Witness what occurred in
the days of David (Shmuel II, chapter 10): Nachash, king of the Ammonites died
and David sent a deputation to comfort his son Chanun. But the Ammonite royal
advisers suspect them of spying in preparation for conquest, and Chanun sends
them back, but not before shaving off half their beards and cutting off half
their garments. This results in a devastating war against Ammon and their
allies the Arameans. To avoid this kind of humiliation, or worse, Moshe sends
Furthermore, there is a distinction between the two delegations sent to Edom.
The first time, Moshe sends them. However, the second time we read that “the
Children of Israel said to him” — Why the difference?
After the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, the Children of Israel sang
Then will the captains of Edom be terrified (Shemot 15:15).
Haamek Davar explains that at first the Edomites were frightened of Israel.
However, as a result of the sin of the spies the Israelites would have to
circumnavigate the land of Edom, and this fear would dissipate, as we see now.
Only “Then” — after the defeat of Sichon and Og (Bamidbar 21:21-35) — would
Edom’s fear of Israel be restored.
It is important for Edom to remain afraid of Israel precisely because Israel
would not conquer his territory until Messianic times (see Rashi on Bereishit
15:19). As Hashem had said to Moshe:
For I shall not give you of their land even the space of a footstep (Devarim
The fear would keep them from harassing Israel.
But Hashem decreed that Edom attain that fear following an attitude of
And they will fear you, so you must take great care (ibid., verse 4).
Therefore, Moshe needed to determine Edom’s disposition first. If they were
truly afraid, Israelite messengers would have taken note of Edom’s fear. Then
Israel would have insisted on advancing through Edom. Moshe would have had to
oppose the people’s will, because Hashem wanted Edom to lose its nerve, not to
start off frightened. On the other hand, by sending locals — who would only
deliver messages and ignore Edom’s morale — Moshe avoided this.
Moshe’s description of the Exodus downplays Divine intervention, so as not to
frighten Edom prematurely:
And we cried out to Hashem, and He heard our voice, and He sent a messenger (MALACH),
and he took us out of Egypt.
There is no mention of the Ten Plagues or the splitting of the Sea of Reeds.
Moreover, Moshe expected Edom to mistake MALACH for the “guardian angel” that
Israel, like every other nation, has. In reality, MALACH refers to Moshe
himself, Hashem’s prophet. Without lying, Moshe allowed the king of Edom to
The king of Edom’s declaration
lest with the sword will I come out towards you
demonstrates Edom’s self-assuredness; the stage is set for it to lose its
confidence, and Moshe does not need to send another message. The rest of
Israel however, continues to try, until Edom blocks their entry. With the
overthrow of Sichon and Og “will the captains of Edom be terrified.”
Albert Camus wrote:
“The spirit together with the sword will always win out over the sword alone.”
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Among the wars dealt with in the later
part of the Parasha is the battle against Og, the giant king of the Bashan.
Our Sages tell us that this battle
was lead by Moses himself, and it was Moses who killed Og in battle.
It seems strange, that this was the
only battle in which Moses actually fought. In previous wars, Moses did
not participate as a combatant. For example, when Israel was attacked by
Amalek, Moses instructed his disciple Joshua to choose soldiers and lead
them into battle.
My father explained that our Sages
wish to teach us an important lesson. Joshua was the one destined to lead
the People of Israel into the Promised Land, whereas Moses was the one who
brought God’s Torah to the People. In order to fight the Amaleks, the
anti-Semitic forces massed against us, we need the Land of Israel. When
the Jews possess a land of their own and are independent, they can defeat
the anti-Semitic forces.
When the Jews live in exile, the most
they can do is minimize the destructive power of Amalek, they cannot hope
to destroy Amalek completely. The destruction of Amalek can be
accomplished only in Israel. (Indeed, the mitzva to wipe out Amalek
applied only after the Tribes of Israel conquered the Land and appointed
their king.) Ultimately, it is little Israel which stands in defense of
the Jew everywhere.
Against the giants, we need the power
of Moses, the strength of the Torah. As long as the People of Israel
follow the Torah, they need not fear even the giants.
The ideal, of course is the
combination of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. May we be privileged to
achieve this combination and have it bring the ultimate redemption.
Har Nof , Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254