Thursday, July 20, 2017

Parashah Mattot "Tribes" Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:1- 32:13

Mattot "Tribes"

Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:1- 32:13

Bamidbar 31

HaShem commands Moshe saying, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Yishrael" 31:2, therefore 1,000 from each tribe of Yishrael went to battle under the leadership of "Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand", 31:6.

At this point a few questions beg to be answered:
1.   Why war against the Midianites?
2.   Why under the command of Phinehas?
3.   Why are the holy articles and signal trumpets mentioned?

When Moshe escaped from Egypt after murdering an Egyptian, he dwelled in Midian. He stayed with the Priest of Midian - Jethro (Exodus 2:18), and there he married a Midianite women Zipporah, Exodus 2:16-21. Midian was established in the land of Moab , and they appeared to have a relationship of sorts, perhaps instigated after the attack on Midian from Bedad in Genesis 36:35. The knowledge of HaShem being with Yishrael and leading them into many victories appears to have spread, and it is  mentioned in scripture that Moab feared Yishrael, as Yishrael was camped just outside of Moab 22:3. As we discover after this battle, the Midianites were extremely influential and powerful within Moab as indicated by the death of 5 Midianite Kings by Yishrael 31:8 - Rashi states the relationship and weight of the Midianites by saying: "Why was it necessary [for Scripture] to say “five”? But it is to teach you that they were all equally involved in the conspiracy", (

1.    So why aim for the Midianites and not so much Moab? Moab and Midian were united together perhaps mores interweaved socially and as a people, they decided to try and have a curse placed upon Yishrael - it was a weird desperate idea, using Balaam to try and get HaSham to curse those He has blessed... anyway, that's what happened. Balaam was a prophet who would hear from HaShem, however he was a wicked man at heart. Balaam would not speak what HaShem didn't instruct him to speak, and after a bit of a saga, Balaam ended up blessing Yisrael 3 times instead of cursing them as what was asked of him, and therefore Balaam never received the reward promised him for cursing Yishrael. 

2.   After not too long Balaam realized another way to get his reward from Balak the Moabite, was to deceive Yishrael into prostitutes and idolatry rather than curse them - (I suppose a way of getting them to curse themselves). Balak followed Balaam’s advice, and Yishrael fell into sin, worshiping Baal of Peor and committing fornication with Midianite women 25:1, as well as making sacrifices,  bowed down to, and ate with their gods 25:2. For this God plagued Yishrael and 24,000 men died. The plague stopped because Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest threw a javelin through a man of Yishrael who was with a Midianite women - HaShem stopped the plague at this point and honored Phinehas by giving him His covenant of peace, (Numbers 25:1–9; Deuteronomy 23:3–6). Rashi makes note that it is very well possilbe Phinehas "sought the vengeance of Joseph, his maternal grandfather, for it says, “And the Medanites sold him” (Gen. 37:36) (Sifrei Mattoth 34, Sotah 43a), the connections appear to check out, however it may be as simple as, “The one who began the mitzvah (Phinehas) by killing Cozbi the daughter of Zur, should finish it” (Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 3). 

3.    In some ways it is interesting that the holy articles and signal trumpets are to go to battle with Phinehas. Scholars don't easily agree that these refer to the ark of the covenant or even so much as to why. Phinehas wasn't High Priest and therefore it wasn't proper for him to carry the ark or where the ephod with the breastplate. There is only one other time in scripture that the articles or vessels are worded as 'Holy articles' and that is in 1 Chronicles 22:19, and here it is itemized separate from the ark of the covenant, as well as this the trumpets are not mentioned as being blown in the attack or victory of the war with the Midianites. Perhaps it was as simple as the Yishraelites going to battle with something tangable to remind them who their G-d was and that He was with them, or was it a statement even a declaration to the gods and deceit of Balaam who was known as loving the ways of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:15), to declare the G-d of the Yishrael's is Adonai.

Graeme Politanski

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