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(Torah Portion Matos) Finish Off the Job

The Midyonite women seduced many Jewish men to sin and as a result 24,000 Jewish men from the tribe of Shimon died in a plague. In this week’s portion G-d instructed Moshe to take revenge by waging war against the Midyonites.

Moshe communicated G-d’s wishes to the people and appointed his great nephew Pinchos to lead the war. Moshe did not participate in this battle as he did, for example, when the Amalekites attacked the Jewish nation.

A reason given is because Moshe when he fled from Egypt took refuge in Midyan. In Midyan Moshe met his wife Tzipora and his father in law Yisro. Moshe therefore felt it improper to fight in a war against the people who benefitted him. There is an opinion that after Yisro visited the Jews in the desert, he returned to Midyan. If so what happened to Yisro during this war?

The Medrash relates that the land of Midyan to where Moshe fled and where Yisro resided was close to Egypt (southern Jordan). This was not the Midyan that the Jews were fighting. However, there was another nation called Midyan which was positioned further north closer to where the Jews were when they entered the land of Israel (Syria).

This raises the question, if these Midyanites were a different people why did Moshe feel that he should not fight against them?

An answer offered: Moshe felt that although he was not taking revenge against the inhabitants of the Land of Miydan, per se, still, since these people called themselves Midyanites and related to them, he felt it would be ungrateful to be involved in this war.

Another reason Moshe wanted Pinchas to lead the war against the Midyanites was because he felt that Pinchas, who was instrumental in stopping the plague should be the one to finish off the job.

The following is the background of the key players in the conflicts the Torah discusses as the Jews approached Israel.

The Midyanites were descendants of Midyan who first appears in the Torah when it states the children born to Avraham from his second wife, Keturah. Like Avraham’s son Yishmael, the children from Keturah did not have the status of Israelites. Interestingly, the Midyanim were involved when Yosef was sold by his brothers.

Balak the King of Moav who hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews, descended from Avraham’s nephew Lot. Lot had an incestuous relationship with his daughters and the child born to the eldest daughter was named Moav.

Our tradition teaches us that Bilaam was a descendant of Yaacov’s hateful father in law, Lavan.

When G-d instructed the Jews to take revenge on the Midyanites, He instructed them not to go to war against the Moavites. Two reasons are offered.

The location of the Moavites, made them concerned about an attack by the Jews (which was not true). By hiring Bilaam to curse the Jews it was a strategic defense effort from their vantage point. Therefore G-d instructed the Jews to leave them alone.

However, the Midyanites were located out of the range of the Jews’ travels and were in no danger of being attacked. They caused the Jews to sin only because of true hatred. G-d therefore commanded the Jews to wage war against the Midyanites.

In fact, traditionally, the Midyanites and Moavites were arch enemies, yet they joined together finding common ground in their hatred of the Jews.

A second reason why the Moavites were left alone is because G-d knew that a righteous convert, Ruth (King David’s great grandmother), would emerge from Moav. For her sake and for securing the destiny of the Davidic Dynasty, G-d commanded that the Jews leave the Moavites alone.

As you can see, the conflicts the Jews have with their enemies, borne through their extreme hatred towards us, has been around throughout history. The world has become advanced in technology, architecture, medicine and fashion, yet regarding hatred nothing has changed. We can see today that it is still the same! Their weapons change and have become more advanced, however, our most potent weapon remains the same –our calling out for help from the Almighty through our prayers!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and enjoyable Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family
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