Sunday, June 30, 2013

Israel and Israeliness

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל-מֹשֶׁה: עֲלֵה אֶל הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה, וּרְאֵה אֶת הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְרָאִיתָה אֹתָהּ, וְנֶאֱסַפְתָּ אֶל עַמֶּיךָ גַּם אָתָּה, כַּאֲשֶׁר נֶאֱסַף אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ. כַּאֲשֶׁר מְרִיתֶם פִּי בְּמִדְבַּר צִן, בִּמְרִיבַת הָעֵדָה, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי בַמַּיִם לְעֵינֵיהֶם: הֵם מֵי מְרִיבַת קָדֵשׁ מִדְבַּר צִן.
וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה' לֵאמֹר: יִפְקֹד ה' אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר, אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה. אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם, וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם, וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם, וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם; וְלֹא תִהְיֶה עֲדַת ה', כַּצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר אֵין לָהֶם רֹעֶה.
(במדבר כז יב-יז)

The phrase "vaydaber hashem el moshe lemor" is common throughout the Torah. Here, I believe, is the only time we have the reverse phrasing: "vaydaber moshe el hashem lemor". This is noteworthy because "vaydaber" is generally understood to mean a harsh statement or a command (see for example Shemot 6:2 and Bamidbar 32:25-27). It makes sense for God to command human beings. But since when do human beings command God?

Let us explain this in terms of the larger context. Moshe's behavior is a perfect example of what we would now call Israeli chutzpah. He makes harsh demands of his superior - with the understanding that his proposals are for the good of the superior rather than himself, and that his honesty and directness indicate respect for a superior who is capable of accepting criticism.

As we see, Moshe was not permitted to enter the land of Israel. But perhaps, as a consolation prize, he was allowed to become an Israeli. :)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Rahav and Pesach

The following is so obvious that someone must have written it before, but a very cursory search did not find anything, so I decided to write it up myself too.

The haftarah for parshat Shelach tells of a successful spying mission - when two spies sent by Yehoshua infiltrated the city of Yericho, visited a woman named Rahav, and returned with the report that the conquest was inevitable.

In return for Rahav's help, she and her family were saved from the city's ensuing destruction. The circumstances of their protection are interesting:
  • Rahav was to be saved, along with whatever family members were in her house. (2:18)
  • If any of them left the house, they would be killed. (2:19)
  • Rahav was to put a red thread on her window to signal that the inhabitants should be protected. (2:18)
  • When the spies left Rahav, to avoid their pursuers, she advised them to head for the mountain and stay there for three days. (2:16)
These circumstances are extremely reminiscent of an earlier event - the Israelites' protection from the 10th plague in Egypt:
  • The Israelites slaughtered the Pesach sacrifice - one per family. (Shemot 12:3)
  • They were not to leave the house until the plague was over (12:22)
  • They were to smear the (red) blood on the doorposts of their house to indicate they should be protected.
  • The plague was punishment for Pharaoh's refusal to allow a three-day journey perform a sacrifice at "God's Mountain" (3:12)
Evidently, Rahav's procedure is supposed to suggest the Pesach sacrifice. In general, this sacrifice is a symbol of the national covenant as members of God's people (see i.e. Bamidbar 9:7, and the connection between Pesach and circumcision). With Rahav having performed a procedure so similar to korban pesach, it is no surprise Chazal say she converted to Judaism (and in fact married Yehoshua).