Questions and Suggested Answers

Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz

Question 1

...and Balaam the son of Beor, they slew with the sword (31-8)

Rashi - He came against Israel exchanging his craft (the sword) for their craft (the mouth) for they conquer only through their mouth, through prayer and petition and he came and utilized their craft to curse them with his mouth. They also came against him and exchanged their craft for the craft of the nations who came with the sword as it is written “And by your sword shall you live” (Genesis 28-40).
The author of Nefesh Hager (a commentary on Onkolos) asks - What difficulty did Rashi see in the text which necessitated the above comment?


Rav Mordechai Zvi Levenstein, the author of Nefesh Hager, provides a very incisive answer to his question: In the Humash, whenever a non-Jew carries out a killing, the Torah uses the work “B’herev” - with the sword. Whenever an Israelite brandishes a sword, the Torah’s wording is “l’fi herev” - by the mouth of the sword. There is only one exception - in our verse - Balaam was killed by the Israelites “Be’harev”. Thus Rashi makes his point that in waging war against Balaam, they acted with the vehemence of the nations - showing no mercy or hesitation - as would be connoted in the usual expression “l’fi herev”.


Question 2

What is the syntactical structure of Chapter 33-53 according to the explanations of Rashi and Nahmanides cited above?


According to Rashi the verb “ve’horashtem” is a condition for the second verb “and dwell therein”. The vav in Vi’shavtem is to be viewed as vav consecutive rather than vav conversive. Thus the vav reveals the end result if the precondition is fulfilled.

According to Nahmanides the whole verse is a command and the vav of vi’shavtem is vav conversive - (it changes the tense of the verb “to dwell” from past to future). Thus, according to Nahmanides, the two verbs are to be hyphenated as a command: You must inherit the land and at the same time dwell within it.


Question 3

What prompted Rashi to add at the end of this comment “otherwise you will not be able to exist there” though there is no hint in the text for his statement?


Since driving out the inhabitants of the land is the condition to enable you to live there, Rashi adds his words to complete the duality of a stated condition; i.e. the eventuality if the condition exists or if not. Moshe, in setting the condition for the tribes of Reuben and Gad in Parashat Mattot, also formulates it in this dual manner.


Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem





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08 Sep 2005 / 4 Elul 5765 0