Friday, June 29, 2007

Balak/Pinchas: Why Isn't Zimri Identified by Name Initially?

So asks Rabbi Goldwicht in his weekly parsha email:
The end of Parashat Balak deals with the sin of B'nei Yisrael with the women of Moav. The Torah tells us that Pinchas took a spear in his hand and impaled Zimri ben Salu, the nassi of shevet Shimon, together with the Midianite woman with whom he was committing his sin. It is noteworthy that Zimri is not identified by name in Parashat Balak, but rather as an anonymous "ish Yisrael." He is named only in Parashat Pinchas. Why does the Torah leave Zimri anonymous during its telling of the actual incident, identifying him only in the next parasha?
It is a good question. He gives an answer:
In fact, so joined were B'nei Yisrael to Ba'al Pe'or and the women of Moav that even the nassi of shevet Shimon was completely nullified to Midianite princess, completely losing his unique identity. Only afterwards does the Torah identify him by name, in order to emphasize the degree to which B'nei Yisrael were attached to Ba'al Pe'or .
and deduces homiletic points from this. However, it is not just Zimri who is not identified by name. Kozbi bat Tzur is also pointedly not referred to by name in parshat Balak. She is only referred to as "a Midianitish woman." That is, in Bemidbar 25:6-8:
ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.
ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.
ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
and then in the beginning of parshat Pinchas, we read {Bemidbar 25:14-15}:
יד וְשֵׁם אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה, אֲשֶׁר הֻכָּה אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית--זִמְרִי, בֶּן-סָלוּא: נְשִׂיא בֵית-אָב, לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי. 14 Now the name of the man of Israel that was slain, who was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a fathers' house among the Simeonites.
טו וְשֵׁם הָאִשָּׁה הַמֻּכָּה הַמִּדְיָנִית, כָּזְבִּי בַת-צוּר: רֹאשׁ אֻמּוֹת בֵּית-אָב בְּמִדְיָן, הוּא. {פ} 15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a fathers' house in Midian. {P}
Indeed, this pattern of narrative with anonymous characters followed by identification of parties is not unknown in Scriptures. We have encountered it at least two other times (specifically examples 1 and 2 below):

1) In Moshe's birth, for that first perek {Shemot 2}, it is "a man from the house of Levi," "a daughter of {perhaps the tribe of} Levi," "the daughter of Pharaoh," "the boy," and "his sister." Only later do we find out names. In the previous perek, the midwives are referred to as midwives, though there they are identified by name at the forefront. And when Moshe intervenes, it is to save an unnamed Israelite slave from an unnamed Egyptian taskmaster.

2) When the servant of Avraham goes to find a wife for Yitzchak, no names are given for a while, but just relationships. (Thus it is not farfetched to claim that this "servant of Avraham" is in fact Eliezer, based on other textual cues, though it is not required.)

See this post where I discuss this and the case of Moshe in more detail.

3) In Bereishit 3, it is "the man" and "his wife," and names only come later.

There are often stylistic and text-internal reasons for this, as I have argued in the past.

What could be motivating it in this instance, aside from homiletic concerns? Well, we could say that this shows that in acting zealously for Hashem, Pinchas disregarded class and social importance, so this information is missing initially. Then we are told later to teach that he so disregarded it.

Or, since this act was widespread, as the perek begins:
א וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּשִּׁטִּים; וַיָּחֶל הָעָם, לִזְנוֹת אֶל-בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב. 1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab.
perhaps at the time of the sin and punishment, no names or positions were given, so as to make this case a representative example.

We might have omitted names to lay particular stress to the national identity of Cozbi as "a Midianitish woman" to anticipate better the next topic,
יז צָרוֹר, אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִים; וְהִכִּיתֶם, אוֹתָם. 17 'Harass the Midianites, and smite them;
יח כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, בְּנִכְלֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר-נִכְּלוּ לָכֶם עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וְעַל-דְּבַר כָּזְבִּי בַת-נְשִׂיא מִדְיָן, אֲחֹתָם, הַמֻּכָּה בְיוֹם-הַמַּגֵּפָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר. 18 for they harass you, by their wiles wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague in the matter of Peor.'
as a Midianite act and not as the act of a single individual.

The midrash also grapples with this issue. Thus, it discusses the why of repeatedly giving Pinchas's genealogy, because people were saying "look at this nobody, whose maternal grandfather {Yitro} fattened calves for idolatry, who did this to such a high-ranking person." (Pinchas's father, Elezear, married a daughter of "Putiel," interpreted as "who fattened calves for deities.") This is in reaction to noticing the later focus on rank.

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