Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why the war with Midian before Moshe's death?

You can always count on Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz to be interesting. Though I don't always agree with what he says, he is exceptionally creative. Here, he takes note of the pasuk midway through Matos:
ב נְקֹם, נִקְמַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֵת, הַמִּדְיָנִים; אַחַר, תֵּאָסֵף אֶל-עַמֶּיךָ.2 'Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites; afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.'
Why this connection between the two? He makes the connection, on the basis of a midrash in Sanhedrin, concerning the story of Zimri and Pinchas at the end of Balak. The pasuk there read:
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.
And as Rashi comments,

Then an Israelite man came: The tribe of Simeon gathered around Zimri, who was their prince, and they said to him, “We have been sentenced to death, yet you sit there [and remain silent] etc.,” as it is related in [the chapter of] Elu hen hanisrafin’ (Sanh. 82a). והנה איש מבני ישראל בא: נתקבצו שבטו של שמעון אצל זמרי שהיה נשיא שלהם, אמרו לו אנו נדונין במיתה ואתה יושב וכו', כדאיתא באלו הן הנשרפין (סנהדרין דף פב א):
the Midianite woman: Cozbi the daughter of Zur (see verse 15). את המדינית: כזבי בת צור:
before the eyes of Moses: They said to him, “Moses, is this one forbidden or is she permitted? If you say it is forbidden, who permitted for you the daughter of Jethro…?” as is stated there (Sanh. 82a). לעיני משה: אמרו לו משה, זו אסורה או מותרת, אם תאמר אסורה, בת יתרו מי התירה לך וכו', כדאיתא התם:
while they were weeping: The law [that anyone cohabiting with a non-Jewish woman is to be executed by zealots] eluded him. [Therefore,] they all burst out weeping. At the incident of the golden calf Moses [successfully] confronted six hundred thousand as it says, “He ground it until it was powder…” (Exod. 32:20), yet here he appeared so helpless? However, [this happened] so that Phinehas should come and take what was due to him. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 20] והמה בוכים: נתעלמה ממנו הלכה כל הבועל ארמית קנאים פוגעים בו געו כלם בבכיה. בעגל עמד משה כנגש ששים רבוא, שנאמר (שמות לב כ) ויטחן עד אשר דק וגו' וכאן רפו ידיו, אלא כדי שיבא פינחס ויטול את הראוי לו:

Thus, there was this accusation regarding Tzipporah, raised by Zimri.

Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz writes:
"and He also said 'afterwards you will be gathered'. For absent this, they would have said that it was for this reason that they did not take revenge of Midian in Moshe's lifetime, for {they would say that} the complaint of Zimri was a valid complaint: who permitted you the daughter of Yisro? And therefore there was withheld {?} the strength to battle against them until he died. And this would be slander to Moshe. And therefore, they needed to take this revenge in his lifetime."
Indeed, Pinchas' killing of Zimri would not suffice to address this -- even though he was (as per the midrash) the son of another one who married Yisro's daughter. Moshe was stunned at the time, leading one to falsely believe there was something to the allegation. And though Pinchas was the one who led the war against the Midianites, he did so as the agent of Moshe and in Moshe's lifetime.


E-Man said...

Couldn't the answer just be simple. Moshe was to lead Bnei Yisroel up until Israel. Therefore, anything they did before Israel was to be led by Moshe. Attacking midyan was the last thing bnei yisroel did outside of eretz yisroel. So when G-D said attack midyan and then you will be gathered in, G-D was just telling Moshe that this was the last act that bnei Yisroel was going to do outside of Israel. But if you prefer Rav Yonatan Eibshitz to me then I will allow it.

joshwaxman said...

i like your answer. it makes sense.

i give Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz points for extreme creativity, though. his solutions are quite often intricate works of art, with the Biblical text as his canvas and midrashim as his paints...


E-Man said...

Personally, I don't understand how Moshe could have forgotten the halacha. Didn't G-D, just a few pasukim before tell him to kill everyone that was sinning? How could Moshe have then forgotten the halacha so quickly?

joshwaxman said...

on a peshat level, i would agree with you. but i would argue on a peshat level that Pinchas was just fulfilling Moshe's directive.

on the derash level, i think the argument would be as follows. moshe was only instructed about those who had joined to Baal Peor and worshiped Baal Peor via defecation, though of course they were led to this by the lewdness.

What eluded Moshe was not that halacha, that those who joined to Baal Peor should be killed. What eluded him was the answer to Zimri's question and challenge: "They said to him, “Moses, is this one forbidden or is she permitted? If you say it is forbidden, who permitted for you the daughter of Jethro…?”"

And the answer that eluded him about whether a Midianite woman was forbidden or permitted was what Pinchas "remembered." (Personally, I think there is a thematic message in this midrash...)


E-Man said...

How can you say pinchas was fulfilling Moshe's decree? Moshe only commanded the leaders of each tribe to kill the people in their own tribe.

Plus, what really makes no sense to me is that Moshe's wife was at the very least a convert. So a Midianite woman convert is fine.

Also, doesn't it seem like, at least from Rashi's explanation, that Zimri was doing the same sin that the other Shimonites were getting killed for? I mean, here they come complaining that he is doing nothing to protect them. Therefore, it must be he joined their cause and committed the same sin. Why would it make sense for him to go and commit a completely separate sin?

The way I understood it was Zimri was doing what everyone else did, he had relations and then did the Avoda Zara. This would seem the most logical, at least according to Rashi. No?

Sorry if I am bothering you with all these questions.

joshwaxman said...

you raise a number of good points, and i don't know that i'll be able to get to each one.

are we sure Moshe's wife was a convert? was there really conversion pre-mattan Torah?

in terms of Zimri (and in terms of midrash), some say that it had to be specifically while they were engaged in intercourse, or else Pinchas would have had to contend with a goel hadam for Zimri.

in terms of the peshat and whether pinchas was following Moshe's directive, it depends on how you read the psukim, i think.


E-Man said...

Why wouldn't Moshe's wife have the same status as the Eiruv Rav? She "became" Jewish before Matan Torah just like them, no?

I understand that Zimri and Cozbi were killed while engaged in intercourse. What I am saying is that intercourse seemingly played a role in the worship of Baal Peor for the Jews that worshipped Baal Peor, therefore, Pinchas was just fulfilling the command that G-D had put forth a few pasukim earlier. With this pshat, I think it is very hard to learn that the midrashim actually meant to teach us history, when they say Moshe forgot the halacha, as opposed to an idea that if a teacher forgets one can act in his place. But I agree, it depends on how you read the pasukim.

However, I think this is pashut pshat, that ZImri was killed for the same reason as G-D commanded Moshe to kill the other Jews. Otherwise, what was ZImris point in committing a completely unrelated act? Why no just desecrate shabbos, steal, or do another aveira?

E-Man said...

Thanks for all your help, btw


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