Chukat 5772 – Gilayon #755

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Parshat Chukkat


Moshe lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice and water came

forth abundantly, and the congregation and their cattle drank"





The Striking of the Boulder- Response Out Of Desperation or

Fulfillment of God's Command?

 Have we the right to

investigate the feelings of Moshe our teacher at that moment? What was in the

heart of 'the servant of God' – about whom God himself testified "in

all my house, trusted is he?" What had distracted him from

properly discharging his mission?

We might offer the

following suggestion: Moshe took the staff from the tabernacle where it had

stood for almost forty years. He took the staff in his hand as God had commanded,

and, holding this symbol of his divine mission, he proceeded to gather the

people. Here he stands once again – after forty years – with the staff of God

in his hand. At the beginning of his mission forty years earlier, he

needed the staff in order to publicly certify his appointment. Now he is pained

by the thought that in all those forty years, despite all he had done for them,

he had not succeeded in winning the people's trust. In the bitterness of this

emotion, he forgot his mission, and instead of talking softly to the boulder,

he spoke harsh words of admonition. In the storm of his feelings, he struck the


(From the commentary

of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Bemidbar 20:11)



Thus Edom

refused to give Israel

passage through his border…

You shall not abhor the Edomite for he is your brother.

Pinchas Leiser


honor of my granddaughter Hila Miriam bat Yael and Imri Nitnas


on 10 Adar 5772,


my grandson Alon Yisrael ben Yael and Nati Leiser,


on 14 Iyar 5772

The Torah tells us about number of events and encounters between

the children of Israel and

other nations at the time of the exodus from Egypt

and leading up to their entrance into the land of Israel.

The Torah tells us at the beginning of Parashat Beshalach "God

led them not by the way of the land of the Plishtim although that was near; for

God said: Lest the people regret when they see war and they return to Egypt".

The first encounter, except for when the Egyptians chased after

the children of Israel before the parting of the Red Sea in which there was a

need for divine intervention in order to release the nation from fear of Egypt

without war, was the encounter with Amalek. It is interesting to point out that this

encounter with Amalek took place in Refidim, after the nation complained about

the lack of water. Immediately afterwards the Torah tells us: "And Amalek

came and fought against Israel

in Refidim", and the author of the Midrash Tanchuma Beshalach Chapter 25

expounds on the word Refidim: "Refidim can only mean that they slackened

their grip on the Torah, thus Amalek came upon them". Amalek is understood

here also as someone who takes advantage of the weakness of the enslaved nation

who just now came out of Egypt.

But here, in contrast to the events at the Red Sea, the children of Israel fought

and were victorious over Amalek.

During the first two years of the journey through the wilderness,

The Torah does not tell us of any additional encounter between the children of Israel and

another nation.

In Parashat Shlach, the spies manage to incite in the generation

of the wilderness fear of war against the residents of the land: "We are

not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than we". On

account of their weakness, it was decreed that the children of Israel should tarry in the wilderness for

another forty years until all those who left Egypt die, for they were not ready

to enter the land.

In our parasha, we witness again a hostile encounter between the

children of Israel

and another nation, and this is the language of the verse:

And Moshe sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: Thus

says your brother Israel: You know all the travail that has befallen us: how our fathers went down into Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a

long time; and the Egyptians dealt ill with us and our fathers; and when we

cried to the Lord, He heard our voice, and sent an angel, and brought us forth

out of Egypt; and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city at the edge of your border.

Let us pass, I pray you, through your land; we will not pass

through field or through vineyard, neither will we drink of the water of the

wells; we will go along the king's highway, we will not turn aside to the right

hand nor to the left, until we have passed your border. And Edom said to

him: You shall not pass through me, lest I come out with the sword against you. And the children of Israel said to him: We will go up

by the highway; and if we drink of your water, I and my cattle, then will I

give the price of it; let me only pass through on my feet; there is no hurt. And he said: You shall not pass through. And Edom came out

against him with much people, and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel

passage through his border; wherefore Israel turned away from him. (Bemidbar


Moshe attempts to turn toward "his brother" Edom but he is turned away with hostility; yet

even in this instance the war between the children of Israel and Edom is prevented.

This parasha, in which Moshe requests passage through Edom and is

answered negatively, occurs between the story of "the waters of Meriva"

(in which there is again a lack of water, after the death of Miriam. In this

story, the people suffer from despair, and Moshe strikes the rock instead of

speaking to it and the decree is given that Moshe and Aharon will not enter the

land of Israel) and the story of Aharon's death.

After Aharon's death, the Canaanite King Ered starts a war with Israel by whom

he apparently feels terrorized. Israel

makes a vow to God, wages battle and is victorious in this war.

The next war, too, following the refusal of Sichon the king of the

Amorites when Israel

requests passage through his land, concludes with Israel's victory and the conquering

of the Amorite cities. The children of Israel

also won the war against Og king of the Bashan

who initiated a war.

When Balak the Moabite king saw that all the local nations who

attempted to fight Israel

were beaten, he hires the services of Balam who may not be successful in

cursing Israel,

yet nevertheless is successful in seducing large portions of the nation to have

licentious relations with the daughters of Moav and worship the baal peor. This

is not a classic victory of battle, but it does constitute the cause of a

severe crisis within the people of Israel.

After the difficult plague in which 24,000 people among Israel died,

Moshe is commanded to enlist the people in a war of revenge against Midian. In

this war, the kings of Midian are killed as well as Balam ben Be'or.

In contrast, Moshe is commanded not to wage war against Ammon and

Moav because their lands were given to the descendants of Lot.

Beyond the various stories that are told about the animosity that

prevailed between the children of Israel and the other nations, it is

interesting to notice the differential manner in which the Torah relates to

these enemies and commands us to respond to them.

Concerning the Egyptians, who enslaved the people Israel

for hundreds of years, it is stated: "You shall not abhor an Egyptian,

because you were a stranger in his land" (Devarim 23:8).

As we know, Amalek becomes the ultimate eternal enemy about whom

it is said: "Utterly erase the memory of Amalek" and also "It is

an eternal war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation".

Also in relation to the Edomite, although he did not allow us to

pass through his land, and he even came out to war against us, we are commanded

to relate to him as we do towards the Egyptians: "You shall not abhor an

Edomite, for he is your brother" (Devarim 23:8).

In contrast, concerning the Ammonites and Moabites it is said "An

Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord even to the

tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of the Lord for

ever. Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when you

came forth out of Egypt;

and because they hired against you Balam the son of Be'or from Petor Aram

Naharayim, to curse you. Nevertheless the Lord your God would not hearken unto

Balam. But the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because

the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace nor their

prosperity all your days for ever" (Devarim 23:4-7).

It is interesting to point out that seemingly Ammon and Moav

cannot enter the assembly of God although there is no such comprehensive

limitation concerning Edom

who behaved in a similar manner. More than that, there is no explicit mention

in the Torah stating that Ammon or Moav did not greet the children of Israel with

bread and water. The Torah only tells us that the children of Israel must avoid being provoked into a war with

Ammon and Moav because their land was promised to Lot.

The Ramban (23:5) explains why Ammon and Moav are excluded from

the "assembly of God", and these are his words:

It seems to me that the Torah distances these two brothers who

were recipients of Avraham's loving kindness, for he saved their father and

mother from destruction and captivity (Bereshit 14:16), and in his merit

God sent them out from the upheaval (Bereshit 18:29) and they were

obligated to treat Israel well, yet they treated them badly; The first hired

Balam ben Be'or against him- these were the Moabites, and the other did not

greet them with bread and water when they approached nearby, as it is stated (Devarim


"'You are today to pass over the border of Moav, even Ar, and when you

come over against the children of Ammon" and behold the verse warns them (Devarim

2:19) "harass

them not, nor contend with them" and they did not greet them at all, as

the verse would have written "as the children of Esav, the Moabites, and

Ammonites did to me", but it did not mention Ammon, who did not meet them.

Behold, in this respect Ammon acted more wickedly than the others, for the

children of Esav and the Moabites took bread and water out from their borders

when they knew that Israel

was warned against contending with them, yet Ammon did not want to do so. This

is the reason behind the phrase "who did not greet": they did not go

out to greet them with bread or water as the others did, thus the verse names "Ammonite"

first and mentions his sin in not greeting them first, and afterwards mentions

the Moabite and his sin.

Concerning the preferential relationship which the Egyptians and

Edomites merit, Rashi writes (Devarim 23:8-9): You shall not abhor an Edomite – completely,

although it would be fitting for you to abhor him for he came out to meet you

with sword. You shall not abhor an Egyptian- entirely, although they threw your

male children into the Nile; Why? For they

were your lodging place when you were in need, therefore: Children who are born

to them to the third generation etc…. and the other nations are permitted

immediately, thus you may learn that [the punishment] is more severe for

the person who causes another to sin than it is for one who kills another

person, for the one who kills him kills him in this world, while the one who

causes him to sin takes him out of this world and the world to come. Therefore Edom who

greeted them with sword shall not be abhorred, nor the Egyptians who drowned

them, yet those who caused them to sin shall be abhorred.

Rashi, then, not in accordance with the Ramban who explains the

severity of the punishment for Ammon and Moav by saying that they were

obligated to treat us with loving kindness because they were saved in the merit

of our forefather Avraham, sees a greater danger in the nation that harms the

soul of the people that he finds in the nation who fights against us. It is not

clear how Ammon caused Israel

to sin.

The Netziv, in his commentary "Ha’emek Davar" does not

hang the matter particularly upon the merit of the Edomite and the Egyptian,

but rather he sees in this relationship an opportunity for cultivating elevated

character traits. This is his wording:

For he is your brother": The Holy One Blessed Be He wanted to

habituate Israel

to the sublime level of the soul, and the more elevated a soul is, he draws

close those who are near him. Thus he reminded him to remember their

brotherhood with the children of Edom. "Because you were a

stranger in his land": This, too, is the way of the sublime soul to bestow

goodness and not to be ungrateful and called a scoundrel. Thus the Holy One

Blessed Be He habituates us to this mitzva.

On the practical,

halakhic plane, our Sages neutralized the scope of these restrictions. For

example: At first, they decreed that the restriction of Ammonites and Moabites

joining the assembly of God should apply only to the males, and they expounded:

Ammoni (male) and not Ammonit (female), Moavi (male) and not Moavit (female)"

(Yevamot 69A). A more comprehensive neutralization of the restriction is cited

in the statements of Rabbi Yehoshua (Brachot 28A): "But are

Ammon and Moav sitting in their proper places? Sanherev the king of Ashur

already came and mixed up all the nations". Meaning: We cannot correlate

the nations from ancient days with latter day nations that have the same name.

How, then, shall we

relate to the differences in our relations towards various nations described in

the scriptures? I think that in all the attempts of the Torah commentators

to explain the differences between the relations with various nations in the

Torah, one should relate on the level of "seek and you shall be rewarded",

since they raise various criteria that are likely to be useful to us when we

come to determine, even in our day, our relations with nations who cause us

harm in various forms. It could be that it is possible to learn from here that

there is a difference between relations of animosity or hostility that follows

from opposing interests or political quarrels even if they are accompanied by

difficult violence and relationships of essential hatred that flow from racist

ideology. Similarly, the Netziv teaches us that hatred is not a desirable

quality of the soul and one must rise above feelings of vengefulness.

The way of our Sages

also makes it possible for us to believe in the possibility of people and

nations to change and not to drag animosity and hostility on for many

generations, but rather to remember that "the descendants of Haman taught

Torah in Bnei Brak, and the descendants of Sisra taught children in Jerusalem,

and the descendants of Sanheriv gave public Torah expositions" (Gittin


to rise above and forgive.


Leiser, Editor of Shabbat Shalom, Psychologist


"When a man dies in a tent" (Bemidbar 19:14)

[Translator's note: To understand this passage from Sifri, it is

helpful to compare two verses in Hebrew: Num.19:14 Zot hatorah adam ki yamut

baohel… and 2 Sam 7:19 vzot torat ha-adam…]

"You shall die on the mountain you are about to ascend" (Deut.32:50) Moses said: Master

of the Universe, why do I have to die an untimely death? They will say Moses

took us out of Egypt

and split the sea and gave us the Torah, and the manna, and brought the quail,

and performed miracles and wonders… but I still have much left to do. God

responded: Moses, every man (adam) must die, as it is said, "This is the

law [zot hatorah] :When a man [Heb. adam] dies in a tent" ; and it says, (2


"This is the law, after the manner of a great man, O Lord God" [Heb.

v'zot torat ha-adam] The accompanying angels said to the Holy One Blessed be

He: Master of the Universe, why did the first man, Adam, die? He answered: He

did not follow My instructions. They responded: And did Moses follow Your

instructions? God said to them: every man (adam) must die, as it says in

Numbers 19:14, "This is the law: When a man [adam] dies [in a tent]…"

(Sifri, Haazinu, section 339)


Can a serpent kill – can a serpent revive?

Hezkiyahu, King of Judea, did four things, and his thought

concurred with of the Omnipresent: He hid a book of remedies, and his thought

concurred with of the Omnipresent; he crushed the copper serpent, and his

thought concurred with of the Omnipresent…


D'Rabbi Natan, 2:4)


The Holy One,

Blessed Be He, said to him: "Make yourself a burning-snake… So Moshe

made a viper of copper… (Bemidbar 21:8-9) And thus stood the

copper serpent; whenever a person was bitten, he would look upon it and be healed.

Until Hezkiyahu reigned and saw Israel

going astray after it. He said; Now whoever is in need of cure goes to this and

ignores The Holy One, Blessed Be He. He took it away, as is written "And

he crushed the copper serpent etc." (II

Kings 18:4) People began to protest: That which Moshe established you

demolish? He replied: Whoever is need of cure, let him look to The Holy One,

Blessed Be He, and he will be cured, as is written "Men look to Him and

are radiant; let their faces not be downcast."

(Midrash Aggadat

Bereishit, Chap 11)


The sin of jeftah

…And this was the mistake that Jeftah made with his daughter.

For he thought that just as a cheirem ["doomed" object] of the chief

of Israel is valid and takes effect to put [certain] people to death, and

[also] anyone who transgresses it is liable to the death penalty, so [Jeftah

thought] that if he uttered a vow at a time of war, to make an offering of a

certain person or persons, the vow is valid; but he did not know that a cheirem

declared by the king and Sanhedrin is valid [only] regarding the destruction of

rebels, or against one who transgresses their decrees and ordinances. But that

a vow should take effect to make a burnt-offering of something not appropriate

for God [as Jeftah thought] – Heaven forbid! Therefore the Rabbis have said in

Bereshit Rabbah that [Jeftah] was not even obliged to pay the price of [an

amount equivalent to his daughter's] value to the Temple treasury [as his vow

was totally invalid], and he was punished for her [innocent] blood!

(Ramban on Lev.27:29, tr.Chavel)


Jeftah is not to be regarded as a national hero. His deed is not

to be admired as one of self-sacrifice and greatness prompted by patriotic

feeling. It was a cruel and unwarranted deed. We may rely on our Sages who saw

him as an ignorant and unlettered person, a boor, empty, and rash. Enthusiasm

by itself is no guarantee of the desirability of a cause. Enthusiasm that is

not backed by conscience and the self-discipline of Torah is liable to bring

disaster. 'What caused Jeftah to take the life of his own daughter? His failure

to read and understand Torah.'

(From Studies in Bamidbar by Nehama Leibowitz, tr. A. Newman,



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