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Parsha Notes: Balaq and Pin’has

July 7, 2014

1. Why does the story of Balaq’s attempt to curse Israel interrupt the narrative of the Jews’ travels to the Holy Land? To teach the following: In the previous parasha, we read about how Sihon and Og attempted to destroy Israel using the traditional, violent method. They failed. Then Balaq and Balaam tried to use the supernatural against Israel. They also failed. But, they did have a measure of success using the “fraternize-with-the-Jews-and-get-them-to-sin” method they employed at the end of our parasha. Sometimes, when the enemy uses friendship, it can be the most potent weapon.

2. Numbers 26:1 introduces the second census. This verse is special in that it has a paragraph break right in the middle. Most paragraph breaks throughout the Bible are between individual verses, although breaks within verses   are more frequent in the book of Samuel.

And it came to pass after the plague, {P}
that the LORD spoke unto Moses and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying:

The second half of the verse would appear the same way, word for word, with the same exact cantillational structure, had the first half of the verse not been there to begin with. (There are many other verses throughout the Torah that exhibit this pattern.) This is because the entire parasha of Balaq, which describes Balaq and Balaam’s attempt to destroy Israel, and the first paragraphs of Pin’has were a single digression from the narrative that ended Huqqath, with the Israelites reaching the plains of Moab opposite Jericho, their final station in the wilderness before entering Canaan. This digression consists of Balaq and Balaam’s attempts to curse the Israelites, then Israel’s sin at Shittim, Pin’has’s zealotry, and all the consequences thereof: The covenant of peace, the count of those who died, and the command to punish Midian. Once that is wrapped up, the Torah writes, “It came to pass after the plague,” which rightfully and structurally belongs with the preceding paragraph, to introduce the next half of the verse, “The Lord spoke unto Moses…”, which would have been written regardless of the preceding events, because it was necessary to organize the army for the conquest and division of the land.

3. In Numbers 26, the tribes are listed as being divided into subfamilies. The Rishonim struggled to find a rule for determining which children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the patriarchs were chosen to head families. According to the Maimonidean system, that when the sages offer many insufficient answers it means that there is no answer, we can say that the familial divisions are just the way it worked out, for no reason in particular. That is, the members of each tribe decided among themselves.

4. Numbers 26:42-43:

These are the sons of Dan after their families: of Shuham, the family of the Shuhamites. These are the families of Dan after their families. All the families of the Shuhamites, according to those that were numbered of them, were sixty and four thousand and four hundred.

Case in point: The larger-than-average tribe of Dan was formed of only one family! I saw a clever vort that says that indeed, although Dan had only one son, earlier called Hushim and here Shuham, he nevertheless had a large tribe, whereas Benjamin, who had ten sons, ended up having a relatively small tribe. Kind of like the tortoise and the hare.

However, we later read about how the tribe of Dan eventually had to abandon the coastal section of their portion. Judges 1:34:

And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill-country; for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley.

And in Judges 18 the tribe eventually went to seek more territory in the north.

It so happens that in the modern era, the region known as Gush Dan, or the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, is, according to Wikipedia, “the largest metropolitan area in Israel and has an estimated population of 3,464,100 residents, 95% of whom (3,286,500) are Israeli Jews. It houses about 42% of Israel’s population,” making it the largest concentration of Jews in the history of the world, thus showing that the tribe of Dan did receive a portion suitable for its population, but because of the natives that they allowed to stay there, they did not succeed in holding on to it.


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