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Purifying Midianite Spoils – From What?
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Introduction Wars and Mitzvot The second half of Sefer Bemidbar describes the battles which the Children of Israel fought during their fortieth year in the Wilderness against Arad, Sichon, Og,[1] and Midyan. While the earlier battles mentioned no special halakhic directives, the conquest of Midyan (Bemidbar 31) stands out in that it is followed by […]
Pinechas – Action and Reward
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Introduction Baal Peor and Zimri Bemidbar 25 opens with the Children of Israel’s fornication with Moabite women which leads to their idolatrous worship of Baal Peor and the ensuing Divine wrath. At Hashem’s behest, Moshe then commands the Israelite judges to kill all of the worshipers of Baal Peor, and the reader waits apprehensively to […]
Why Worry About Bilam?
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Introduction Who Needs to Know? The Bilam and Balak narrative is unique in being the only extended story in the last four books of the Torah in which nobody from the Children of Israel is an active participant and non-Jews form the entire cast of human characters. The story spans multiple chapters, the first of […]
Moshe’s Misstep and Mei Merivah
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Introduction Crime and Punishment? After Miryam’s death in Bemidbar 20, the Children of Israel once again complain to Moshe and Aharon over their lack of water, and Moshe and Aharon respond by prostrating themselves in prayer before Hashem in the Tent of Meeting. The ensuing verses describe Hashem’s command to Moshe to take his staff […]
Dialogue with the Divine During Korach’s Rebellion
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Introduction Abundant Ambiguity After accusing Moshe and Aharon of raising themselves above the nation of Israel (“עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל”), Korach and his 250 men (“קֹרַח וְכׇל עֲדָתוֹ“) assemble at the Mishkan to participate in the incense test, designed to establish who has been chosen by Hashem. The Torah then records a series of verses which include […]
The Spies – Where Did They Tour?
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Introduction All or Part? Bemidbar 13 records Hashem’s command to Moshe to send the spies, Moshe’s charge to the spies, and the spies’ execution of their mission. At first glance, all three of these verses appear to explicitly indicate that the spies scouted out the entire land of Israel: (ב) שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת […]
Shimshon and Shemuel
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Introduction The Shimshon and Shemuel narratives each open with a scene in which the leader’s birth and future destiny is promised.  The two birth stories contain a significant number of plot similarities, buttressed by some linguistic allusions.  The similarities, though, mainly serve to highlight the many contrasts between the narratives and the difference in character […]
Miryam’s Critique of Moshe and his Cushite Marriage
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Introduction Dual Grievance Bemidbar 12 opens with Miryam and Aharon voicing a double complaint regarding Moshe: (א) וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח. (ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר ה’ הֲלֹא גַּם בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע ה’. (1) And Miryam and Aharon spoke against Moshe, regarding the Cushite […]
The Decalogue: Direct From Hashem or Via Moshe?
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Introduction Unidentified Audience The verse introducing the Decalogue in Shemot 20 is the only case in the entire Torah in which Hashem speaks and His addressee is not identified: וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר. To whom did Hashem communicate the Decalogue? Did He speak directly to the nation, or did He deliver it only […]
Repentance Rejected?
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Punishing the Penitent Vayikra 26 details both the rewards the Children of Israel will receive for following the commandments and the punishments that will be meted out if they do not.  When describing the exilic fate of the sinning nation, the verses appear to suggest that, at least ultimately, the people will repent: (מ)  וְהִתְוַדּוּ […]