Get email notifications of blog updates

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Parashat Balak 5775

At the end of this week’s parasha we have the story of Israelites cohabiting with Moabite women and consequently worshipping idols. Pinchas makes an example of one such couple - Zimri and Kozbi - by spearing them in front of the congregation. The Rabbinic history of this is a struggle. One side of the struggle is whether or not idolatry done as the result of other motivations is as serious as pure idolatry and whether or not such people should truly be punished by death. Let us begin with the verses and explore the tension.
במדבר סיני פרשת בלק - פינחס פרק כה
Numbers, Chapter 25
(1) Then Israel dwelled in Shittim; then the nation began to be promiscuous with the daughters of Moav.
(א) וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשִּׁטִּים וַיָּחֶל הָעָם לִזְנוֹת אֶל־בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב:
(2) Then they called the nation to the sacrificial meals of their gods; then the nation ate and bowed to their gods.
(ב) וַתִּקְרֶאןָ לָעָם לְזִבְחֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶן וַיֹּאכַל הָעָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶן:
(3) Then Israel was joined with Ba’al Pe’or; then Hashem was angry with Israel.
(ג) וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר וַיִּחַר־אַף יְקֹוָק בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:
(4) Then Hashem said to Moshe, “Take the leaders of the nation and hang them for Hashem, opposite the sun; then Hashem’s anger will turn from Israel.”
(ד) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל־מֹשֶׁה קַח אֶת־כָּל־רָאשֵׁי הָעָם וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַיקֹוָק נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף־יְקֹוָק מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל:
(5) Then Moshe said to the judges of Israel, “A man shall kill the people joined to Ba’al Pe’or.”
(ה) וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר:
(6) Behold, a man from the children of Israel came and drew a Midianite women to his fellows in front of Moshe and the entire congregation of the children of Israel and they were crying at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
(ו) וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל־אֶחָיו אֶת־הַמִּדְיָנִית לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:
(7) Then Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the cohen saw, then arose from within the congregation and took a spear in his hand.
(ז) וַיַּרְא פִּינְחָס בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן־אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ:
(8) Then he followed after the Israelite man into the chamber and speared the two of them - the Israelite man and the women through her stomach - and the plague upon Israel ceased.
(ח) וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־הַקֻּבָּה וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת־שְׁנֵיהֶם אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת־הָאִשָּׁה אֶל־קֳבָתָהּ וַתֵּעָצַר הַמַּגֵּפָה מֵעַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
(9) Those who died in the plague were twenty four thousand.
(ט) וַיִּהְיוּ הַמֵּתִים בַּמַּגֵּפָה אַרְבָּעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים אָלֶף: פ

Below in the Babylonian Talmud we see the debate, recorded in brief, about one who worships idols not due to the idols but due to the influence of people. Rava sees the person as exempt of the punishment for idolatry since this is not truly devoted religious worship while Abaye still sees this as worship. Influencing Abaye might be the idea that someone who does something not for its own sake will come to do so for its own sake.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף סא עמוד ב
It was stated about one who worships idols out of love or out of fear [of a person]:
איתמר, העובד עבודה זרה מאהבה ומיראה,
Abaye said, “He is liable.” Rava said, “He is exempt.”
אביי אמר: חייב, רבא אמר: פטור.
Abaye said, “He is liable, for he has worshiped.” Rava said, “He is exempt, for is he accepts the god upon him, he is [liable], and if not, he is not.”
אביי אמר: חייב, דהא פלחה. רבא אמר: פטור, אי קבליה עליה באלוה - אין, אי לא - לא.

The Talmud also tells us that the Israelites knew that the idolatry was a faux religious practice, but they did so due to sexual desire. And even when they seemed to yearn for the idolatry itself, it was out of habit or addiction which still seems to exempt them.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף סג עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 63b
Said Rav Yehuda said Rav, “Israel knew that idolatry was nothing substantial. And they only worshiped idolatry to permit sexual prohibitions in public.
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: יודעין היו ישראל בעבודה זרה שאין בה ממש, ולא עבדו עבודה זרה אלא להתיר להם עריות בפרהסיא.
Rav Mesharshiya objected, “‘Like the remembrance of their children were their altars,’” (Jeremiah 17:2). And Rebbi Elazar said, “It is like a person who has yearnings for his child.”
מתיב רב משרשיא כזכר בניהם מזבחותם וגו (ירמיהו יז:ב)', ואמר רבי אלעזר: כאדם שיש לו געגועין על בנו!
Rav Mesharshiya objects based on a verse which is interpreted to mean that Israel was attracted to the idolatry itself.

This was after they were addicted to it.
- בתר דאביקו ביה.
The Gemara responds that the attraction was only after the people were already addicted to the practice and not the initial cause of the practice.


The Midrash below gives us a sense of the dark path the Israelites headed down. Imagine hungry Israelites wandering in the desert, tempted by the desert locals, their markets, and their women, and eventually by their wine. This shows a people who acted without foresight but not intentional idolaters or even intentional sinners. The Midrash also has two nice interjections: one about non-Jewish wine and another about a folk saying involving the worship of Ba’al Pe’or.
ספרי במדבר סיני פרשת בלק פיסקא קלא
Sifrei B’midbar Sinai, Parashat Balak, 131
“They came and dwelled in Shittim,” (Deuteronomy 3:7). In a place of sh’tut [lack of intelligence].
באו וישבו להם בשיטים (דברים ג:ז). במקום השטות
At that time the Ammonites and Moabites built shops for them from Beit HaYeshimot to Snow Mountain. And they stationed Moabite women there and with them all types of snacks.
באותה שעה עמדו עמונים ומואבים ובנו להם קילין מבית הישימות ועד הר השלג והושיבו שם נשים מוכרות כל מיני כסנין
The Israelites would eat and drink; at that time, a person would go out to walk in the market seeking to buy goods from an older woman and she would offer a fair price. But a young woman would call from inside and say, “Come and buy for less.” He would buy from her on the first day and the second day.
היו ישראל אוכלים ושותים באותה שעה אדם יוצא לטייל בשוק ומבקש ליקח לו חפץ מן הזקנה והיתה מוכרת לו בשוויו וקטנה קוראה לו ואומרה לו מבפנים בוא וקח לך בפחות והיה הוא לוקח הימנה ביום הראשון וביום השני.
On the third day she would say to him, “Come inside, it is clear you are not the man of the house [ie there are no sexual concerns]. He would enter and the cooler by her would be filled with Ammonite wine.
וביום השלישי אמרה לו היכנס לפנים וברור לך לעצמך אי אתה בן בית והוא נכנס אצלה והצרצור מלא יין אצלה מיין העמוני
And the wine of non-Jews was not yet prohibited to Israel.
ועדיין לא נאסר יינן של גוים לישראל
She would say to him, “Would you like to drink some wine?” And he would drink and the wine would burn inside of him. He would say to her, “Subject yourself to me [now there are sexual concerns].” And she would remove a statue of Pe’or from under her belt and say, “My master, if it is your will that I subject myself to you, bow to this.” He would say to her, “I should bow to idolatry?” She would say, “What does it matter to you, just uncover yourself for him.” And he would strip.
אמרה לו רצונך שתשתה יין והוא היה שותה והיה היין בוער בו ואומר לה השמיעי לי והיא מוציאה דפוס של פעור מתחת פסיקיא שלה ואומרת לו רבי רצונך שאשמע לך השתחוה לזה והוא אומר לה וכי לעבודה זרה אני משתחוה אמרה לו וכי מה איכפת לך אינו אלא שתגלה עצמך לו והוא מתגלה לו
From here they said that one who reveals himself to Ba’al Pe’or, this is its worship.
מיכן אמרו המפעיר עצמו לבעל פעור זו היא עבודתו
And the wine would burn in him, and he would say to her, “Subject yourself to me,” And she would say, “Is it your will that I should subject myself to you? Separate from the Torah of Moshe.”
והיה היין בוער בו ואומר לה השמיעי לי ואומרת לו רצונך שאשמע לך הנזר מתורתו של משה
And this is the separation that is spoken of by, “They came to Ba’al Pe’or and separated themselves to shame, and they were disgusting like that which they loved,” (Hoshea 9:10).
והוא ניזור שנאמר והמה באו בעל פעור וינזרו לבושת ויהיו שקוצים כאהבם (הושע ט י)
In the end the made banquets for them and called to them and ate, as it says, “Then they called the nation to the sacrificial meals of their gods.”
באחרונה חזרו לעשות להם מרזיחים והיו קוראות להם ואוכלים שנאמר ותקראן לעם לזבחי אלהיהם.

The Meshekh Chokma, whose comments motivated this source sheet, plays out this tension. While the Israelites joined with idolatry, they are still called “Israel” and not “the nation.” That is, they maintain their monotheistic identity. However, he interprets the circumcision and Paschal sacrificing at the beginning of the book of Joshua as a sort of reconversion after the errant ways of following Ba’al Pe’or. He plays out the tension found in the debate between Abaye and Rava regarding one who worships idols out of love or fear of a person.
משך חכמה במדברסיני פרשת בלק - פינחס פרק כה
Meshekh Chokhma, Numbers Chapter 25
Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 19th and 20th Century Latvia
“Then Israel joined with Ba’al Pe’or.”
ויצמד ישראל לבעל פעור…
It is possible that since one who worships out of love for a person is exempt from death as Rava reasons. Therefore it says, “Israel joined,” for from the approach of thought they were diverted after idolatry and not from the approach of desire alone, as they said in the Gemara, “After they were addicted to it.”
ויתכן משום דעובד מאהבת אדם פטור ממיתה כדסבר רבא. לכן אמר "ויצמד ישראל" - שמצד השכל נתעו אחרי העבודה זרה, לא מצד התאוה בלבד, וכמו שאמרו בגמרא בתר דאביקו ביה.
But know that after the happenings at Shittim - which according to the Midrash caused a decree on them to be scattered amongst the lands - they had after this a new conversion, and they needed circumcision - such that Joshua circumcised them, immersion, and an offering of blood: and this was the Paschal sacrifice.
ודע דאחרי מעשה דשטים - דלפי המדרש נגזר עליהם לזרותם בארצות - היה להם אחרי זה דין גירות חדש, והיו צריכים מילה - שמלן יהושע - וטבילה, והרצאת דמים זה היה הפסח.
And this is what it means in the Gemara in the chapter Ha’Arel (Yevamot 71b) that they were circumcised, they immersed, and they performed their Paschal sacrifice in innocence: like a convert, and they emerged through the Passover, like in the giving of the Torah where they sacrificed peace offerings (Exodus 24:5).
וזה שאמר בגמרא פרק הערל, (יבמות עא:ב) מלו וטבלו ועשו פסחיהם בטהרה, וכמו גר, והם יצאו בפסח, כמו במתן תורה שהקריבו שלמים (שמות כד:ה).

Finally, the Talmud itself seems unsure of Pinchas’ actions. One one had, the Torah seems to commend his action. However, one who wants to act like Pinchas is neither encouraged nor discouraged by the court. And had Zimri stopped what he was doing, or even if he had defended himself, he would have been in the right and Pinchas would have been subjected to death.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף פב עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 82a
Said Rav Chisda, “One who comes to receive counsel [as to whether or not to act out of zealousness], they do not instruct him.” Said Rabbah son of the son of Channah, said Rebbi Yochanan, “One who comes to receive counsel, they do not instruct him.”
אמר רב חסדא: הבא לימלך - אין מורין לו. איתמר נמי, אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: הבא לימלך - אין מורין לו.
Not just that, but if Zimri had separated [from the Kozbi] and Pinchas had killed him, he would have been killed for it. If Zimri had turned around and killed Pinchas, he would not have been killed for it, for he [Pinchas] was a pursuer.
ולא עוד אלא, שאם פירש זמרי והרגו פנחס - נהרג עליו. נהפך זמרי והרגו לפנחס - אין נהרג עליו, שהרי רודף הוא.

No comments:

Post a Comment