Sunday, August 20th, 2017

Parashat Korach: Moshe at a Loss for Words? by Yaakov Bieler

June 18, 2012 by  
Filed under New Posts

For once, Moshe and Aharon are silent before a Divine Threat to Destroy the Jewish people.

In Parashat Korach we encounter an intriguing radical departure from the standard pattern of behavior that Jewish biblical leaders up until this point have regularly undertaken. The rebels who challenged the legitimacy of Aharon’s position as Kohen Gadol (High Priest), die supernaturally, attesting to the unjustness of their cause, just as Moshe had predicted.[1] The fire pans with which some of Korach’s now-deceased followers offered incense, have been incorporated into the outer altar to permanently commemorate the incident.[2]

One would expect that these very visible manifestations of HaShem’s Displeasure with the dissidents should result in totally quashing complaints and grumblings among the Jewish people, at least for a short time. However, not even a day goes by before Moshe and Aharon are once again subject to harsh accusations and even an implied physical threat.

BaMidbar 17:6-8

And the next day, “Kol” (all) of the congregation of Israel complained about Moshe and Aharon saying, “You have killed the people of HaShem.”

And it came to pass when the congregation had gathered in order to confront Moshe and Aharon, they turned to the Tent of Meeting, and behold the Cloud had covered it,[3] and there appeared the Glory of HaShem.

And Moshe and Aharon came to the front of the Tent of Meeting.

At this point, as had happened on so many previous occasions,[4] HaShem Indicates to the leaders of the Jewish people that He is Preparing to Destroy the people because of their continued obstinacy and bad acts. However, whereas in the past,   Avraham and Moshe proceed to make impassioned pleas on behalf of the threatened multitudes once informed by HaShem of what He Intends,[5] in this case, no such prayers or supplications are explicitly forthcoming on the parts of Moshe and Aharon.

BaMidbar 17:9-10

And God Spoke to Moshe saying:

Rise up from the midst of this congregation, and I will Consume them in an instant. And they (Moshe and Aharon) fell upon their faces.

This time, instead of rising to the threatened people’s defense, Moshe appears to accept the inevitability of a devastating plague killing at least some of the Jewish people, and at best, hopes to stop it at a relatively early point by instructing Aharon to engage in a type of sacrifice, ironically the same sacrifice which led to the deaths of the 250 allies of Korach, whom Moshe is being accused of murdering.

BaMidbar 17:11

And Moshe said to Aharon: “Take the fire pan and place upon it a glowing coal from upon the altar, and place incense and walk quickly among the congregation and atone on their behalves, because Anger has gone out from before HaShem and the plague has begun.

Such a reaction—or lack thereof—on the part of Moshe, appears out of character.

If we assume that Moshe’s personality was such that he naturally was drawn to intervene when someone was in trouble, as illustrated early on in his life while still in Egypt and then in Midyan,[6] we could wonder what sort of fundamental change might  he have undergone that causes him to no longer be ready to defend those threatened by danger.

The question appears to be deepened further when we recognize that on the day before the incident recorded in 17:6 ff. Moshe and Aharon had powerfully responded to a Divine Threat against the people as a whole[7] with a cogent defense:

BaMidbar 16:20-22

And HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying:

Separate from the midst of this congregation and I will Consume them in an instant!

And they (Moshe and Aharon) fell on their faces, and they said: HaShem, the God of all of the souls in all flesh, one person sins and You will Unleash Your Anger against the entire congregation?

What happened between the day before and today that caused Moshe to be transformed from a proactive advocate into a relatively[8] passive bystander?

The non-reaction is also not in keeping with the Divine Training that both Avraham and Moshe   had received.

The specific instance recorded in BaMidbar 17 is not only difficult from the perspective of what takes place in BaMidbar 16, but also because it is HaShem Himself Who deliberately Trains both Avraham and Moshe to debate with Him in every such circumstance, when masses of people are threatened by Divine Destruction.

With respect to Avraham, the Tora quotes HaShem as reflectively justifying notifying His Prophet of what is intended for Sodom and Amora before He Discloses the Divine Plan to him.

Beraishit 18:17-19

And HaShem Said:[9] Can/Should I Conceal from Avraham that which I am Doing?

And Avraham is destined to be a great and mighty nation and all of the nations of the earth will use him as a model for blessing.

Because I Know him, that he is committed to commanding his offspring and his household who come after him, and they will observe the Way of HaShem to do righteousness and justice, in order that HaShem will Bring to Avraham that of which He Spoke to him.[10]

HaShem’s Question would appear to be rhetorical—of course HaShem could and usually does Keep Avraham, and anyone else for that matter, “in the dark” about any Divine Plan.[11] It would appear that far more is not known about how HaShem Conducts the affairs of the world, than is known, as expressed in Devarim 29:28, “The hidden things are to HaShem our God, while the obvious/revealed things are to ourselves and our offspring forever in order to carry out all of the words of this Tora.” Consequently, when HaShem deliberately Chooses to inform someone of what is planned, particularly when it is destructive in nature, it would seem logical that He is Doing so in order to elicit a response of a plea for mercy.

In Moshe’s case, not only do the Rabbis understand that HaShem encourages him to dispute a decree of wholesale death, but that he is even given a specific text of the argument to be used in defense of the people. Following the sin of the Golden Calf, HaShem Says to Moshe:

Shemot 32:10

And now leave Me alone and I will Vent My Anger upon them and I will Consume them and I will Make you into a great nation.

RaShI

We still have not heard that Moshe prayed on their behalf (that it should be necessary for HaShem to Tell him to stop—see Devarim 3:23-26 for an example where HaShem responds to Moshe’s prayer on his own behalf, and Tells him to stop praying), and He Says, “Leave me alone”? But rather here He Opened for him (Moshe) an opening and Made known to him that the matter depended upon him, i.e., that if he prayed on their behalves, He would not Destroy them.

Shemot 33:19

And He Said: I will Cause to pass before you (Moshe) all of My Goodness, and I will Call out in the Name of HaShem before you, and I will be Gracious to whomever I will be Gracious, and I will be Merciful to whomever I will be Merciful.

RaShI

The moment has arrived when you will see My Glory to the extent that I will Allow you to see, because I Wish to and Must Teach you the order of prayer. When you requested mercy on behalf of the Jewish people, you mentioned the merits of the Forefathers (Shemot 32:13). This implies that you believe that should the merits of the Forefathers be exhausted, there will cease to be any hope. Therefore I will Cause to pass all of the attributes of My Goodness before you (Shemot 34:6-7) on the boulder, and you will be hidden in the cave. And I will Call upon the Name of HaShem before you. This is in order to teach you the manner in which you will request mercy even when the merits of the Forefathers are used up. And in the manner that you see Me enveloped and reciting the 13 Divine Attributes, teach the Jewish people to do the same.

Only a few chapters prior to Parashat Korach, Moshe precisely followed the “script” that HaShem provided for him in Shemot, when confronted with HaShem’s Anger in response to the sin of the spies. Rather than mentioning the promises that had been made to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, i.e., “the merits of the Forefathers”, as he had following the sin of the Golden Calf (Shemot 32:13), Moshe substitutes the Thirteen Divine Attributes, as per HaShem’s Instructions.

BaMidbar 14:17-18

And now, let the Power of HaShem be increased as You have Spoken, Saying: “HaShem, Slow to anger and Possessing great kindness, Who Forgives inadvertent and deliberate transgressions, and Declares innocence; but does not always Declare innocence. Who Visits the sins of the fathers upon the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.” (Compare these verses with Shemot 34:6-7).[12]

According to one view, only the day before Moshe had been directed to pray on behalf of Korach and his followers. So why doesn’t he do so on the next day?

And in Parashat Korach itself, one commentator understands how HaShem once again is strongly hinting to Moshe that he must attempt to oppose the destruction of the Jewish people that He has just Threatened.

BaMidbar 16:20-21

And HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying:

Separate from the midst of this congregation and I will Consume them in an instant!

Alshich[13]

In order that Moshe and Aharon would not be swept up in the punishment to be meted out to Korach and his followers, it was unnecessary for them to physically separate from them, just as it was unnecessary for the sons of Korach to separate in order that they would not die.[14]

But rather (by means of this Command), the Holy One, blessed be He, Desired that Moshe and Aharon would ask for mercy on behalf of the entire congregation so that they would not be destroyed. It is for this reason that He Said, “Separate from the midst of this congregation and I will Consume them in an instant!” so that Moshe and Aharon would say to themselves: Is it so that we will not be swept up in the punishment to be meted out to Korach and his followers that He has Said this to us? That is impossible! And furthermore, why is He Informing us that He Intends to destroy them? (See the discussion above regarding Beraishit 18:17-19.) The only reason must be so that we will ask for mercy for them, i.e., if one person sins, that should not result in Divine Wrath being directed at the entire congregation. Consequently, “They fell on their faces”.

According to this approach, emphasizing how HaShem expects a Jewish leader to little more than invoke a spiritual formula in order to win a reprieve for the people, Moshe did not have to necessarily be personally invested in standing up in defense of the people at this point, as long as he just said/”davened”  the “right thing”. So why didn’t he do this in BaMidbar 17:11?

Did Moshe’s speech difficulties that he had invoked prior to going down to Egypt,[15] reemerge at this point?

One commentator who wonders about Moshe’s failure to pray is the Ba’al HaTurim. He invokes a passage from the Talmud in order to suggest a means by which what takes place can be understood.

Ba’al HaTurim on BaMidbar 16:21.

“…And they fell on their faces.”

And they (Moshe and Aharon) did not pray as before, because the prayer was not “Shegura” (flowing, comfortable) in their mouths. It is for this reason that it is said, (17:11) “…For ‘Ketzef’ (wrath) has gone out from the Lord…”, as R. Chanina ben Dosa said, (Berachot 34b)  when he would  pray for the ill, “If my prayer did not flow from my mouth, I know that the prayer has not been accepted.”[16]

Ba’al HaTurim’s comparison of Moshe to R. Chanina ben Dosa with regard to prayer could be understood as attributing to Moshe extreme spiritual powers, an assumption that is not unreasonable considering Moshe’s unique relationship with HaShem throughout his life.[17] Just as the Talmud is replete with stories about R. Chanina ben Dosa’s exceptional holiness,[18] particularly when it comes to prayer,[19] Moshe too helps through prayer to eventually cure his sister Miriam when she is stricken with the metaphysical illness of Tzora’at.[20] Consequently, if Moshe finds himself unable to pray for the people, a strict comparison with R. Chanina ben Dosa’s prayers for the ill would suggest that in this instance HaShem does not Want Moshe to pray for the people, because He does not Want them to be spared totally from some sort of Divine Punishment. In contrast to other instances cited, even what transpired just the day before, HaShem has already Rejected out of hand that mercy be extended to the Jewish people, and therefore will not Allow Moshe to attempt to intervene, as He had Taught him to do in the past.

Could Moshe have encountered a psychological barrier to his intervening on behalf of these sinners?

However, it is also possible to consider Ba’al HaTurim’s insight that Moshe simply could not get the words out fast enough, independent of the comparison with R. Chanina ben Dosa, i.e., Moshe was unable to enunciate a prayer, not due to the hopelessness of Bnai Yisrael’s spiritual state and HaShem’s Unwillingness to spare them this time from the adverse effects of the Divine Plague  but rather because of some sort of deep personal reservation on Moshe’s part against intervening on the people’s behalf. While Moshe’s incapability to find words quickly enough in order to head off the plague via prayer could have been the result of fatigue, stress or emotional upheaval, there is also the possibility that his inability to defend them had a “Freudian” basis. Could it have been that Moshe simply no longer felt the same about the Jewish people to the extent that he could advocate for them unreservedly and with passion, even if all that was required was some sort of formulaic recitation? Could a line have been crossed by the Jews during the course of their most recent transgressions whereby whatever it had taken for Moshe to confront HaShem after the sin of the spies and argue for the forgiving of the people, was no longer available to him? Did the outward symptom of his ambivalence over what to do immediately, represent inner doubt or even turmoil with respect to his relationship with his fellow Jews?

The actions by the Jewish people that might have led to Moshe losing his motivation to defend them before HaShem.

Here is a listing of the various accusations that the Jewish people brought to bear against Moshe during the period of Moshe’s leadership, contained in the books of Shemot and BaMidbar, along with Moshe’s responses:

a.  Shemot 5:21 “…You have spoiled our reputations in the eyes of Pharoah

and placed a sword in their (the Egyptians’) hands to kill us.”

5:22 “…Why have You Done evil with this people? Why have You Sent me? From the time that You have Sent me to Pharoah to speak in Your Name, evil has befallen this people and You surely have not Saved them.”

b.  Shemot 14:11-12 “…Were there insufficient graves in Egypt that you took us out in order to die in the desert? What have you done to us to take us out of Egypt? This is exactly what I said to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians’, since it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”

14:15 (Since HaShem Says to Moshe, “…Why are you screaming/praying to Me…” it is implied that some prayer was being offered, although we are not made privy to the words of this prayer.)

c.   Shemot 15:24 “…What can we drink?”

15:25 “And he cried out/prayed to HaShem…” (Once again we read that Moshe prayed without being told exactly what he said.)

d.   Shemot 16:3 “…If only HaShem had Caused us to die in Egypt while we were sitting upon the fleshpots, when we ate bread to the point of satiation. For you took us into this desert to kill this entire congregation by means of famine.”

(There is no indication of a prayer on Moshe’s part this time; only HaShem’s informing the Jewish leadership of what He Intends to do in order that food will be provided to the people.)

e.   Shemot 17:2-3 “…Give us water so that we can drink…Why did you take us out of Egypt? To kill me, my children and my herds by thirst?”

17:4 “And Moshe cried out to HaShem, ‘What can I do for/with(?) this people? In a short time they will stone me.’” (This would appear to be less of a prayer on behalf of the people, as much as a prayer on behalf of Moshe himself.)

f.   BaMidbar 14:2 “…If only we had died either in Egypt or in this desert. If only we had died. Why did HaShem Bring us to this desert in order to die? Our wives and children will be disparaged. It would be better for us to return to Egypt. (14:10 attributes to the people the intention to stone Moshe and Aharon, out of their fears and frustration arising from the report of the spies.)

14:5 (No specific prayer is mentioned, but the fact that Moshe and Aharon “fall on their faces before the entire congregation of the Children of Israel” suggests that some sort of supplication was taking place. However, by defining the object of the “falling on the face” as the people rather than HaShem, it is possible that the action was directed at them, imploring them to reconsider their negative attitudes, as opposed to a prayer to HaShem. Of course, it must be noted that eventually, when HaShem Tells Moshe in BaMidbar 13:11-12 that He Intends to destroy the people in its entirety, Moshe rises eloquently to their defense in 13:13 ff.)

g.  BaMidbar 16:3 “…You have too much. This entire congregation, it is all holy and HaShem is in its midst. Why have you exalted yourselves above the congregation of HaShem?”

16:4 Moshe falls on his face, suggesting a prayer to HaShem, but without specific words.

h.  BaMidbar 16:13-14 “…Is it a small thing that you have caused us to go up out of a land flowing with milk and honey in order to kill us in the desert? And you wish to rule over us as well? And you haven’t even brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey nor have you caused us to inherit a land of fields and vineyards…” (Although these are the specific words of Datan and Aviram, as opposed to the words attributed to the entire congregation, as in 16:3 above, nevertheless it is highly likely that these sentiments were shared by a wide number of individuals, if not the masses.)

16:15 “And Moshe was exceedingly angry. And he said to HaShem, “Do not Accept their sacrifice…” (Not only is this not a prayer in defense of the people, but it is a specific call for Divine Vengeance and Retribution against the obstinate stance of at least a segment of the people.)

i.   BaMidbar 17:6 “…You have killed the people of HaShem.”[21]

One approach for understanding this apparent inconsistency on Moshe’s part, would be to suggest that in light of Moshe and Aharon’s having defended the people on the previous day (16:20-22), and all the thanks that they get is further recriminations (17:6), Moshe arrives at the conclusion that at least this time, there is no point in further challenging HaShem’s Decree. The Jews have demonstrated by their ongoing recalcitrance that they will only learn “the hard way” to correct their outlook and behavior. In all other instances of complaints followed by defense, a significant amount of time elapses and Moshe could therefore rationalize that the newly-freed slaves are fickle and therefore require intercessions again and again to try to reform them into the type of nation that HaShem Intends. But when yesterday’s lesson is lost on today’s behavior, could Moshe have simply stepped back and allowed events to take their Divinely-Intended course?

Perhaps it was something that the Jews had said this time.

An alternate approach would focus attention not upon the fact that the Jews complained yet again, but rather what it was that they specifically said on this occasion. While the people had previously stated in various forms that the Exodus from Egypt orchestrated by Moshe was going to result in the deaths of the Jews in general, they had never before accused him of being responsible for actually killing a particular group of individuals, let alone leaders of the tribes (BaMidbar 16:2). The initial culture shock of going from Egypt into the desert could account for many of the earlier complaints that Moshe managed to avoid taking personally. But when the later attacks become exceedingly personal, they appear to unduly disconcert and frustrate him. Furthermore, it is one thing to be suspected of nepotism in terms of elevating to positions of status and authority one’s family and friends; it is entirely another matter when you are accused of craftily murdering those who may be competing with you for positions of leadership. Although having Aharon use the same incense that caused the deaths of the 250 to cause the plague to cease, allows the people to recognize Aharon’s appropriateness for the job of Kohen Gadol, as well as the benevolent side of the incense offering, Moshe may have had trouble advocating on behalf of the Jewish people after having his moral integrity so roundly attacked.[22]

Conclusion.

While nothing excuses people from unfairly and insensitively impugning their leaders’ virtues and values, being able to absorb such barbs and criticisms “goes with the territory” of leading others. There are going to be unpleasant moments, and the degree to which those making the attacks can eventually be conciliatory and those who bear the brunt of the negative false comments can bounce back and put the regrettable events behind them, will determine whether an organization or community can “move on” or become inured in recriminations, negativity and bad feeling. One can only feel deep compassion for someone who clearly sacrificed so much, only to be finally treated so disrespectfully. Moshe’s failure to pray after being accused of murder may constitute a relatively subtle insight into the text, but one that is of great significance for all of us involved in interactions with others, whether on the leadership or constituent level.


[1] a) BaMidbar 16:16-30 Moshe sets the stage for the manner of Divine Punishment to be meted out to  the rebels; b) 16:31-33 Korach, his chief followers and their families are swallowed up by the earth; c) 16:35 the 250 men who offered up incense in a quest for higher positions as Kohanim are consumed by fire.

[2] 17:1-5. It is curious that the implements for sacrifice employed by the individuals who challenged Moshe’s authority, which in effect constituted also challenging HaShem’s Authority—if Korach and his followers believed that Moshe was carrying out HaShem’s Will, they would never have mounted their challenge—should become a permanent part of one of the holiest aspects of the Mishkan, i.e., the outer altar upon which all animal, grain and wine sacrifices were offered. RaMBaN suggests that while the intent of the rebels was not pure, since they nevertheless precisely carried out Moshe’s orders in BaMidbar 16:16-17, the vessels became as sanctified as any used by Kohanim within legitimate contexts. However, it would seem to me that a more subtle and interesting religious dimension is being reflected in the incorporation of the fire pans into the altar. Although the Mishna in Avot 5:17 categorizes the dispute engaged in by Korach and his followers as a disagreement that was not LeSheim Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven, i.e., ulterior rather than idealistic and spiritual motives underlay the conflict), perhaps a distinction can be drawn between Korach, Datan, Aviram and Ohn ben Peles (16:1) [see http://text.rcarabbis.org/parashat-korach-the-disappearing-act-of-ohn-ben-peles-by-yaakov-bieler/ for an extensive discussion of the fate of Ohn ben Peles] on the one hand, and the rest of the rebels (16:2) on the other. While it does appear from 16:3, 5 that the entire group challenges Moshe and therefore should be categorized as equally culpable, the fact that Moshe specifically addresses only Korach (16:8) and Datan and Aviram (16:12) may suggest that there was a difference in intent between the leadership and the mass of followers. If the 250 dissidents honestly believed that what they were doing was in the interests of establishing the truth, as misguided as they may have ended up being, could they nevertheless be given credit for acting LeSheim Shamayim? Whereas the concept of Aveira LeShmah (a transgression for the sake of HaShem) usually is treated as a virtuous act, assuming that the perpetrator is completely above reproach, as in the cases of Yael (Shoftim 4:17-22; 5:24; Horiyot 10b) and Esther (Sanhedrin 74b), can there be a middle category as well, i.e., where the transgressors are held accountable for their sins, but their positive religious intent is acknowledged, in this case by taking the implements that they used and creating a permanent monument from them as part of the Mishkan? This line of thought would align the 250 followers of Korach with Nadav and Avihu, who while also consumed by a Divine Fire, are described as HaShem’s “Holy Ones”—(VaYikra 10:3 “…This is what HaShem Meant when He Said, ‘By those who are close to Me will I be Sanctified, and in front of the entire nation will I be Revered’…”

[3] For a discussion of the significance of Divine Clouds during the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert, see http://text.rcarabbis.org/%e2%80%9ci%e2%80%99ve-looked-at-clouds-from-both-sides-now%e2%80%9d-by-yaakov-bieler/

[4] See for example, Beraishit 18:17ff.; Shemot 32:7 ff.; BaMidbar 14:11 ff.

[5] The reason given for why Noach is not to be considered in the same category with the likes of Avraham and Moshe, is because upon being told that HaShem’s Intention was to destroy the entire world with the exception of Noach’s immediate family, Noach accepted this decree and voiced no protest. In the words of Beit Elokim, Sha’ar HaTefilla, Chapt. 12: “…It seems that the leaders of the generation are obligated to pray for the welfare of their contemporaries. Since the Tzaddik (righteous individual) is the foundation of the universe, it is appropriate for him to pray that the inhabitants of the universe continue to exist, that they have the merit to live during his lifetime. This is a major responsibility for Tzaddikim, as we see in the case of Noach, where the flood is directly associated with him (Yeshayahu 54:9 “Because this is to Me the ‘Flood of Noach’ since I Swore that I would not Bring a ‘Flood of Noach’ again onto the earth so too I Swore not to be wrath with you and to be angry with you”) because he did not pray on their behalf. (The implication is, that had Noach prayed, perhaps the flood could have been avoided. If that is the case, then his lack of prayer could indirectly be blamed for the coming of the flood. However, the simple meaning of the verse in Yeshayahu is that since the flood took place during Noach’s lifetime and he was the key survivor from it, it is associated with him, not because it was in any way his fault, but rather merely because it was contemporaneous with him. The Ba’alei Mussar [those that seek to provide moral direction to the Jewish people] have chosen to give the phrase a more homiletical meaning.)

A similar point can be made with regard to the story of Yona. While initially, Yona did all that he could in order not to be sent to Ninveh and deliver a warning of impending doom, eventually he accepts his fate and carries out his mission. While his reticence to go in the first place could be interpreted as a desire to prevent the catastrophe from occurring—if the people are not warned, they cannot be justifiably punished, as determined by the rule, “One cannot punish unless one first warns”—Sanhedrin 56b, the more traditional Rabbinic view contends that Yona was afraid that the non-Jewish inhabitants of Ninveh would repent, and their acceptance of God’s Will would create an unfavorable contrast with the Jews who continued to be recalcitrant. What does not appear in the story is any attempt on Yona’s part to try to talk HaShem out of destroying the Ninvites altogether.

[6] See Shemot 2:11-12, 13-14, 17.

[7] Moshe and Aharon’s defense, (6:22) “…One person (Korach) sins and You will Unleash Your Anger against the entire congregation?” was clearly not intended to protect the rebels themselves.

[8] Moshe does direct Aharon to take incense and stand in the midst of the people in order to quell the plague. However by this time 14,700 had already died (17:11-15).

[9] The Tora does not identify a listener for HaShem’s Comments, implying that this is an “inner” thought of which the reader is being made aware.

[10] This would appear to be a reference to the promises made by HaShem to Avraham in the “Covenant between the Pieces”—Beraishit 15:13-21.

[11] Contrary to common belief, a Jewish prophet does not know comprehensively everything that will happen in the future, but rather only that which HaShem Allows him to know. Consequently, e.g., Moshe is unaware of the outcome of sending the spies before they return with their report, even though the language at the beginning of Parashat Shelach suggests that HaShem Authorizes the mission (BaMidbar 13:1), just as he is unaware of the consequences of his striking the rock in order to extract water in BaMidbar 20:1 ff. Therefore, had HaShem Chosen not to tell Avraham about the mission of the two angels that had visited him, Avraham would have found out only after the fact. Telling him beforehand could have had only one intent—to get Avraham to respond and attempt to defend the Sodomites.

[12] Shemot 34:6-7

And the LORD Passed by before him, and Proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, God, Merciful and Gracious, Long-suffering, and Abundant in Goodness and Truth; Keeping Mercy unto the thousandth generation, Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means Clear the guilty; Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’

[13] Quoted in Nechama Leibowitz, Gilyanot LeIyun BeParshat HaShavua, 5720, Section 3.

[14] See BaMidbar 26:10-11.

[15] Shemot 4:10.

[16] Yad Yosef, a commentary in Ein Yaakov on Berachot 34b, quotes MaHaRaM Shiff to the effect that a support for R. Chanina ben Dosa’s idea can be derived from Shir HaShirim 4:3—“Your lips are like a thread of scarlet…”Just like the red thread (that hung from various parts of the Tabernacle/Temple—see Rosh HaShana 31b) would turn white on Yom HaKippurim once the scapegoat was thrown from the mountain (as an indication of the sins of the Jewish people being forgiven by HaShem), and thereby reveal that which would be Decreed from Above regarding the atonement for one’s sins, so too your lips, i.e., the lips make known in terms of whether the prayer flows…

[17] In BaMidbar 12:8 HaShem Himself describes Moshe’s lofty spiritual status.

[18] See e.g., Shabbat 112b (R.Ch.b.D.’s donkey); Ta’anit 25a (R.Ch.b.D.’s goats); Yevamot 121b (R.Ch.b.D.’s powers regarding knowing the status of an individual in danger).

[19] See e.g., Berachot 34b (R.Ch.b.D.’s successful praying for a cure for R. Yochanan ben Zakai’s ill child) and Yoma 53b (R.Ch.b.D.’s prayers controlling rain).

[20] BaMidbar 12:13. Although Miriam is not immediately cured, as reflected in HaShem’s Explanation to Moshe in 12:14, nevertheless, it is possible that had Moshe not prayer on her behalf, her malady would have lasted that much longer, if not indefinitely.

[21] Several commentators explain the people’s attack on Moshe with respect to the deaths of the 250 followers of Korach as based upon the perception that had a different sacrifice been chosen as the determinant of who was HaShem’s Chosen Leader, those who were not chosen would not have necessarily died; however, due to the exceptionally holy nature of the incense offering, unauthorized sacrifices would inevitably result in the deaths of those attempting to offer them. Of course, Moshe had nothing to do with the nature of the trial since it was HaShem Who not only Chose Aharon to serve as High Priest, but also how this was to be publicly demonstrated, and therefore bears no responsibility in any way.

[22] Alan Mansfield suggests that perhaps this is the intention of the usage of the verb “Heiromu” (cause yourselves to rise up/above) in 17:10, i.e., HaShem is Commanding Moshe and Aharon to resist allowing the personal attacks to “get to them”. Unfortunately human nature is such that this is easier said than done.

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