Sunday, July 19, 2020

Was the nasi position hereditary?

No less than three different lists of nesiim appear in the book of Bemidbar.

In Bemidbar 2-7, the twelve tribal leaders are listed.

In Bemidbar 13, the twelve spies are listed, and described as nesiim. However, it would not make sense to send the tribal leader on an unofficial mission to hostile territory, so we may presume these were prominent people, but not the official leaders of each tribe. Indeed, the names all differ from Bemidbar 2-7.

In Bemidbar 34, the twelve tribal leaders are listed again. Once again, these names differ from the previous lists (Kalev ben Yefuneh was a spy and now is a leader; I have not checked closely, but I think he's the only overlap).

It makes sense that the names in Bemidbar 34 differ from Bemidbar 13, since the spies except Yehoshua and Kalev all died. It also makes sense that the names in Bemidbar 34 differ from Bemidbar 2-7, since 38 years have passed and the previous generation of leaders have all died.

What is noteworthy, though, is that the fathers of each leader in Bemidbar 34 are not the same as the names in Bemidbar 2-7. That suggests that the position of tribal nasi was not hereditary at this time.

Peor and the golden calf

After the war with Midian, God commanded to divide the captive people and animals between the warriors, the people, the Levites, and a "terumah for Hashem" to the kohanim. However, the non-living spoils did not need to be divided (Bemidbar 31:53). Nevertheless, the princes decided on their own to offer the captured gold to the mishkan. Why did they do this, and why only the gold?

The war with Midian was in retaliation for Midian's role in the Baal Peor episode. This episode was very similar to the golden calf episode. Both involved idolatry as well as dissolute behavior. Both had a plague break out as punishment. In both the uncorrupted religious leaders (Moshe and Pinchas) had people killed.

With the golden calf, the people took their gold and decided to make it into an idol. I think that when the princes here dedicated their gold to the mishkan, they were making a statement: "This time is not like the previous time. This time, we are not using our gold to make an idol, instead we are using it to serve God. The people sinned, but now we are taking responsibility and fixing that ourselves."

(As I wrote in the past, I think with the Golden Calf too the people eventually made a gesture of repentance.)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The structure of Emet veEmunah

Ever since my childhood I have appreciated the Koren siddur's typesetting of Emet veYetziv:

Without adding a word, it makes clear the structure of the blessing, in which the word "Emet" is repeated - just as we repeat it at the end of the Shema - so that all the various truths we assert in the blessing appear as expansions of the kabbalat ol machut shamayim of the shema.

It seems to me now that a somewhat similar structure exists in Emet veEmunah, the evening blessing which parallels Emet veYetziv. It goes as follows:

The core of the blessing consists of a series of ten very poetic lines. Each consists of two phrases which repeat the same theme (similar to the parallelism which is common in Biblical poetic verses). In many of the lines, there is a rhyme between the endings of the two phrases. For eight of these lines in a row, the first letter of the line is "heh", in reference to God.

Before these ten lines, we have a declaration that everything in the ten lines is true. After these ten lines, we quote the Biblical praises of God which are also in Emet veYetziv (my hypothesis is that these are here to satisfy the requirement of "arranging one's praise of God and only then praying" (Brachot 32a), with "prayer" meaning the Amidah.

One might ask why exactly there are ten of these lines. An interesting speculation is that they are meant to parallel the Ten Commandments, which begin "I am Hashem your God who took you out of the land of Egypt". Similarly here, there are ten statements, beginning with acceptance of God and continuing to describe exactly how we were taken out of Egypt.