Friday, July 21, 2006

parshat Matot: Pinchas the Flying Priest

Another version of the flying Bilaam story can be found in Targum Yonatan. In this version, Pinchas also flies, utilizing a Divine Name. The Targum also equates Bilaam with Lavan and relates all the evil things Lavan/Balaam did to the Israelites. There are many texts and themes which contribute to this midrash, but I will only focus on one aspect here - the primary derivation of the details of Balaam's sins .

(Interesting to note, in terms of the previous related post (Bilaam the Flying Soothsayer), that Targum Yonatan renders the כְלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ to be the Urim veTumim rather than the tzitz.)

The pasuk states {Bemidbar 31:8}:

ז וַיִּצְבְּאוּ, עַל-מִדְיָן, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה; וַיַּהַרְגוּ, כָּל-זָכָר. 7 And they warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew every male.
ח וְאֶת-מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם, אֶת-אֱוִי וְאֶת-רֶקֶם וְאֶת-צוּר וְאֶת-חוּר וְאֶת-רֶבַע--חֲמֵשֶׁת, מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן; וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב. 8 And they slew the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian; Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
Tagum Yonatan "translates":

וית מלכי מדינאי קטלו על משרייתהון ית אוי וית רקם וית צור הוא בלק וית חור וית רבע חמשת מלכי מדין וית בלעם בן בעור קטלו בסייפא והוה כוין דחמא בלעם חייבא ית פינחס כהנה רדיף מן בתרוי עבד מלתא דקוסמין ופרח באויר שמיא. מן יד אידכר פינחס שמא רבא וקדישא ופרח בתרוי ואדחיה ברישיה ואחתיה. שלף סייפא ובעא למקטליה. פתח פומיה במילי תחנונין ואמר לפינחס אין תקיים ית נפשי משתבענא לך דכל יומין דאנא קיים לית אנא מלטיט ית עמך. עני ואמר ליה הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן ונחתת למצרים בגין למובדא זרעא. ומן בתר דנפקו ממצרים גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא. וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. וכיון דחמיתא דלא אהנין עובדך ולא קביל מימרא דיי מינך, אמליכת מלכא בישא ית בלק למקומא ית בנתיה בפרשת אורחתא למטעיא יתהון ונפלו בגין כן מנהון עשרין וארבעא אלפין. בגין כן לית אפשר תוב למקיימא ית נפשך. ומן יד שלף סייפיה מן תיקא וקטליה

A rough translation:

And the kings of the Midianites they killed on their camps - Evi, Rekem, Tzur - he is Balak, Chur, and Reva, the five kings of Midian. And Bilaam son of Beor they slew with a sword.

And it was, when Bilaam the guilty saw Pinchas the priest running after him, he performed a magical feat and flew in the air in the sky.

Immediately, Pinchas pronounced the Great and Holy Name and flew after him, and grabbed him by the head and brought him down(1) and was about to slay him.

He {=Bilaam} opened his mouth with words of supplication and said to Pinchas: If you let me live, I swear to you that as long as I live I will not curse your nation.

He {Pinchas} responded and said to him: Are you not Lavan the Aramean who wished to destroy our forefathe Yaakov? And you descended to Egypt to destroy the descendants. And after they left Egypt you incited(2) {to war} against them the wicked Amalek. And then you hired(3) yourself out so curse them. And when yuo saw that your actions did not help and Hashem did not accept your words, you counseled an evil counsel(4) to Balak to place his daughter at the crossroads to lead them astray, and because of this 24,000 of them died. Because of this, it is not possible anymore to spare your life.

And immediately, he drew his sword from its sheath and slew him.

My analsysis continues after these notes.

Translation Notes:
(1) I take ואחתיה as the aphel causative of חתי - thus, caused him to descend. This even though the preceding word ואדחיה (grabbed) seems to have the same form and the א there is a root letter.
(2) גריתא means to stir up, to incite, to attack
(3) אגרא is reward/hire. thus the reflexive איתגרתא איתגרא means to hire yourself out.
(4) I take מלכא בישא to mean evil advice rather than evil king Balak. After all we have the verb אמליכת.

Now on to a bit of analysis. Where are all these details of Bilaam's misdeeds coming from. To my mind, the key phrase which tips us off is הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן. This immediately calls to mind Arami Oved Avi, "a wandering Aramean was my father," from the parshat Bikurim in parshat Ki Tavo. Devarim 26:

ה וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
ו וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.
ז וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ. 7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.
ח וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל--וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.
ט וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
Most of the derasha comes from אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב, I think.

Classically, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי is interpreted to mean that Lavan the Aramean attempted to destroy my father. (Connections between Lavan and Bilaam have been and will be subjects of other blogposts.) So far we are in familar territory. But then, the derasha takes an unexpected turn:

וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה no longer means that Yaakov descended to Egypt, but rather that Lavan/Bilaam descended to Egypt. To flesh this out, see midrashim that list Bilaam as one of Pharaoh's three advisors, and the one who advised him to kill Israelite boys (see Sotah 11a).

וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט - the word וַיָּגָר is actually taken by this midrash twice. First, that when they left Egypt, he incited the evil Amalekites to attack them. Thus, גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא.

In parshat Balak, Balak and Moav are sore afraid of Israel because they are so many. Bemidbar 22:
ב וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי. 2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
ג וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם, מְאֹד--כִּי רַב-הוּא; וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel.
Note the word וַיָּגָר, "sore afraid," which probably influenced this midrashic link even more. But they were sore afraid -כִּי רַב-הוּא, because they were so many.

Therefore, Bilaam was there when they were mighty and numerous - וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. And what did he do? He hired himself out to curse them. Thus וַיָּגָר שָׁם. Thus וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. This is the second drash on וַיָּגָר.

The idea that he counseled Balak to send out his daughter, Cozbi bat Tzur (Balak), is based on several other texts which I am not going to digress to in this post (but which I have partially covered in previous posts - feel free to browse). But it takes us away from the Arami Oved Avi verse.

Finally, that because 24,000 Israelites died as a result of his advice, Pinchas has no choice but to slay him. Where does this come from?

I would suggest that it is possibly from here:
וְאֶת-מַלְכֵי מִדְיָן הָרְגוּ עַל-חַלְלֵיהֶם
and then
וְאֵת בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הָרְגוּ בֶּחָרֶב

or in sefer Yehoshua perek 13:
וְאֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר, הַקּוֹסֵם--הָרְגוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּחֶרֶב, אֶל-חַלְלֵיהֶם.

The חַלְלֵיהֶם is perhaps taken midrashically not to mean the Midianite slain, but rather on account of the Israelite corpses. After all, this was a battle לָתֵת נִקְמַת-ה בְּמִדְיָן.

1 comment:

Rentsy said...

Note also the midrash that Iyov was one of pharoh's counselers - the others being Yitro and Bilam

Note further how it is Bilam's idea to kill all the Jewish male babies.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin