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Numbers Rabbah

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Numbers Rabbah (or Bamidbar Rabbah in Hebrew) is a religious text holy to classical Judaism. It is a midrash comprising a collection of ancient rabbinical homiletic interpretations of the book of Numbers (Bamidbar in Hebrew).

In the first printed edition of the work (Constantinople, 1512), it is called Bamidbar Sinai Rabbah. Nahmanides (1194–c. 1270) and others cite it frequently by the same name. It is the latest component of Midrash Rabbah on the Torah, and as such was unknown to Nathan ben Jehiel (c. 1035–1106), Rashi (1040–1105), and Yalkut Shimoni.

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  • ✪ Dr Maurice Mizrahi - Was the prophet Balaam good or bad? (Balak)

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Dr Maurice M. Mizrahi B”H D’var Torah on Balak Was the prophet Balaam good or bad? In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we learn that Balak, the king of Moab, is afraid of the Israelites, who are numerous and physically close. So, three times Balak sends emissaries to enlist Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet, to curse Israel. Balaam refuses the first two times, saying that God has already blessed Israel. But the third time he accepts and follow them. King Balak then shows him Israel from three different "angles". Each time Balaam blesses Israel, against his will, and predicts victory for them. This is what Balaam says, in the Torah: [Balaam said: Even] if [King] Balak gave me his house, full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of the Lord, and do either good or evil on my own. Only what the Lord speaks can I speak. [Num. 24:13] How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! They extend like streams, like gardens by the river, like aloes which the Lord planted, like cedars by the water. Water will flow from his wells, and his seed shall have abundant water. His king shall be raised over Agag, and his kingship exalted. God, Who has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness, shall consume the nations that are his adversaries…Those who bless you shall be blessed, and those who curse you shall be cursed. [Num. 24: 5-9] How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered?.. [Israel] is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations. Who [can count] the dust of Jacob or the number of the seed of Israel?.. [Num. 23:8-10] There shall shoot forth a star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth. Edom shall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, and Israel shall triumph. [Num. 24:17-18] The Talmudic interpretation of "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob!" is that Balaam saw that the entrances of the tents were not facing each other [for privacy]. [Bava Batra 60a] The Midrashic interpretation of the line “[Israel] is a nation that will dwell alone” is: When Israel rejoices, no other nation rejoices with them... And when the [other] nations prosper, Israel will prosper with them… [Tanchuma Balak 12, Num. Rabbah 20:19] Maimonides interprets the line “There shall shoot forth a star out of Jacob” to refer to King David, and the line “And a scepter shall rise out of Israel” to the future Messiah, a descendant of King David. [Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11-12] On his way to King Balak, Balaam's ass sees an angel with a sword blocking his way and gets off the road. Balaam never sees it, strikes the ass every time, and brings him back to the road. Finally the ass speaks and asks Balaam why he is hitting him. Keli Yakar, 17th-century commentator from Prague, writes: This was to impress upon Balaam that he should not feel proud that he has been given the gift of prophecy. If it suits God's purposes, even an ass will see angels and make speeches. [Keli Yakar (Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz)] God then comes to Balaam and asks him: Who are these men with you? [Num. 22:9] The Midrash comments: That villain [Balaam] thought: [God] does not know them! There are times, then, when [God] does not know what is going on, and so I shall do with His children all that I please. [God is not omniscient, so I will find a time when I am able to curse, and God will not realize it.] [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 5, Num. Rabbah 20:9] Now, let’s step back and ask the question: Who was Balaam? The Talmud tells us that Balaam was one of “the seven prophets who prophesied to the [non-Jews]”. [The other six were: Balaam's father, Beor; Job; and Job's four friends.] [Bava Batra 15b] The Midrash adds: God raised up Moses for Israel and Balaam for the peoples of the world. [Num. R. 20:1; Tanhuma Balak 1] and tells us that Balaam was greater than Moses in many respects: [The Torah says:] And there has not arisen since, in Israel, a prophet [like Moses] [Deut. 34:10]. In Israel there had not arisen one like him, but there had arisen one like him among the nations of the world. This was in order that the nations of the world might have no excuse for saying: If we had possessed a prophet like Moses, we would have worshipped the Holy One, blessed be He. What prophet did they have that was like Moses? Balaam the son of Beor. There was a difference, however, between the prophecy of Moses and that of Balaam... -Moses did not know who was speaking with him, while Balaam knew... -Moses did not know when the Holy One, blessed be He, would speak with him, while Balaam knew… -Moses did not know what the Holy One, blessed be He, would speak to him about, while Balaam knew… -Moses could not speak with [God] whenever he pleased, but Balaam could… [Numbers Rabbah 14:20] Also that: -Balaam knew the exact time of God's anger. [Avoda Zar. 4a–b; Sanh. 105b] [Berachot 7a] This is what allowed his curses to be effective. The Talmud makes clear Balaam’s prophecies are included in the Torah: Moses wrote his own book [Deuteronomy], and the parts dealing with Balaam [Num. 23-24] and the Book of Job... [Bava Batra 14b] There is an extra-biblical reference to Balaam. In 1967, a plaster was discovered in Tell Deir ‘Alla, in Jordan, in a language similar to biblical Hebrew, dated about the 8th century BCE, with an inscription bearing the name of blʿm br bʿr: “Balaam, son of Beor”. He is referred to as “a divine seer” [’zh < lhn], who dreamt that the gods told him of an impending disaster that would devastate the land. He then tells the people about it, and is viewed as an heroic figure, who tried to save his people and the land. Now we can turn to our central question: Should the prophet Balaam be considered good or bad? Here is some evidence that he was good: -First, Balaam obeyed God, and made clear he would not depart from what God told him to say. In the Book of Micah, Balaam's role is interpreted as a sign of God's providence over his people. [Micah 6:5] -Second, Balaam may have had bad thoughts, but one is judged by actions, not thoughts. -Third, Balaam’s is the only prayer in the Jewish liturgy written by a non-Jew: Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael! How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! [Num. 24: 5] But here is evidence that Balaam was bad: -First, the Talmud says so: Balaam was a rasha, a wicked one [Berachot 7a; Taanit 20a; Numbers Rabbah 20:14]. An evil eye, a haughty spirit, and a proud soul, are the marks of the disciples of "Balaam the Wicked". [Avot, 5:19] -Second, God protected Israel by not allowing Balaam to curse them, and implies that Balaam intended to do just that. The Book of Joshua says: [God said:] Balak… sent Balaam to curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam. Therefore, he blessed you. So I saved you from his hand. [Joshua 24:9-10] -Third, the Midrash says that [Balaam] wished to uproot an entire people for naught and for no reason. [Num. R. 20:1; Tanhuma Balak 1] and advised Balak on how to destroy them. The Talmud concludes that this caused the Holy Spirit to depart from the Gentiles, and since then prophecy existed only in Israel. [Bava Batra 15b] -Fourth, the Talmud says that Balaam was one of Pharaoh’s counselors, along with Jethro and Job. His advice was that the male Israelite children should be cast into the Nile. [Sanhedrin 106a]. [Eventually Balaam was killed; Jethro argued against harming Israel and was rewarded; Job was silent and was punished.] -Fifth, Balaam led Israel to worship Baal Peor. That episode follows the account of Balaam’s blessing in the Torah [Numbers 31:8,16]: Balaam arose, went, and returned home, and Balak went on his way. Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of the Moabites. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and prostrated themselves to their gods. Israel became attached to Baal Peor, and the anger of the Lord flared against Israel. [Num. 24:25, 25:1-3] Behold, [the women] caused the people of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor… [Num. 31:16, emphasis mine] -Sixth, the Torah implies that because Balaam had been retained by King Balak of Moab, to curse Israel, God prohibited the conversion to Judaism of Ammonite and Moabite men. The Torah says: An Ammonite or Moabite [masculine] shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord…forever; because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when you came out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing to you, because the Lord your God loved you. [Deuteronomy 23:4–6. See also Neh. 13:2] -Seventh, Balaam was killed fighting the Israelites, together with the kings of Midian, during the war against the Midianites: They also slew with the sword Balaam ben Beor. [Num. 31:8] -Eighth, Balaam was demoted. He is referred to as ha-qôsem (“the diviner”) in the Book of Joshua. [Joshua 13:22] The Talmud comments: [It says in Joshua: The children of Israel also slew with the sword] Balaam ben Beor, the soothsayer. A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! Rabbi Yochanan said: At first he was a prophet, but later he [was demoted to] soothsayer [as punishment for wishing to curse Israel]. [Sanh. 106a] -Ninth, he was mean to that poor ass. -And tenth, what he wanted to say was bad, even though God made him say the opposite: Rabbi Yochanan said: From the blessings of that wicked man [Balaam] you may learn his intentions. [Every blessing is the opposite of the curse he wanted to utter.] Thus he wished to curse them -That they [the Israelites] should not possess any synagogues or school-houses. [This is deduced from] “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob.” [Num. 24:5]; -That the Shechinah should not rest upon them: [Deduced from] “And your dwelling places, O Israel [mishkenotecha, or tabernacles]” [Num. 24:5]; -That their kingdom should not endure. [Deduced from] “They extend like streams.” [Num. 24:6]; -That they might have no olive trees and vineyards. [Deduced from] “As gardens by the river’s side.” [Num. 24:6]; -That their odor might not be fragrant. [Deduced from] “As the trees of aloes which the Lord has planted.” [Num. 24:6]; -That their kings might not be tall. [Deduced from] “And as cedar trees beside the waters.” [Num. 24:6]; -That they might not have a king the son of a king. [Deduced from] “He shall pour the water out of his buckets.” [Num. 24:7]; -That their kingdom might not rule over other nations. [Deduced from] “And his seed shall be in many waters.” [Num. 24:7]; -That their kingdom might not be strong. [Deduced from] “And his king shall be higher than Agag.” [Num. 24:7]; -That their kingdom might not be awe-inspiring. [Deduced from] “And his kingdom shall be exalted.” [Num. 24:7] [Yet] Rabbi Abba bar Kahana [noted]: All [these blessings eventually] reverted to a curse, [Balaam’s intention was fulfilled with the fall of the house of David, the destruction of the Temple, and the Exile] except the synagogues and schoolhouses, for it is written, But the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. [Deut. 23:6.] The curse, but not the curses. [Only one curse was permanently turned into a blessing: that concerning synagogues and schoolhouses, as these never disappeared from Israel.] [Sanhedrin 105b] There is an implication here that the “feelings” of a prophet matter, even if his words belie them. Ultimately, Balaam had the free will to do as he pleased, except in cursing whom God had blessed, because the words of a prophet are fulfilled. But one may ask: Why did God first tell Balaam that He disapproved of his trip, yet let him go and try to curse Israel, then eventually prevented him from doing so? Why not just stop Balaam right away? The Talmud answers: Free will: One is allowed to follow the road he wishes to follow. [For example], it is written, “God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them,’” [Num. 22:12] [but Balaam clearly wanted to go with them, so] then it is written, “If the men came to call you, rise up and go with them.” [Num. 22:20] [Makkot 10b] Balaam had a complex personality, to be sure, but he was clearly more bad than good. Shabbat shalom.

Contents

Relation to Tanchuma

Numbers Rabbah consists of two parts, which are of different origin and extent. The first portion, sections 1–14 (on Torah portions Bamidbar and Naso) — almost three-quarters of the whole work — contains a late homiletic commentary upon Numbers 1–7. The second part, sections 15–33, reproduces the Midrash Tanchuma from Numbers 8 almost word for word. Midrash Tanchuma generally covered in each case only a few verses of the text and had regular formulas of conclusion. The second portion of Numbers Rabbah follows closely those readings of the Tanchuma that appear in the oldest edition. M. Beneviste drew attention as early as 1565 to the fact that Tanchuma and Numbers Rabbah are almost identical from the section Behaalotecha onward. Solomon Buber gave a list of the variations between the two. Passages drawn from the Pesikta Rabbati are found exclusively in the first or later part of this Midrash. This is true also, with the exception of the interpretation of the numerical value of the Hebrew word for fringes, of the other passages pointed out by Leopold Zunz as originating with later, and notably French, rabbis. This numerical interpretation of “fringes” forms a part of a passage, also otherwise remarkable, at the end of the section on Korach (18:21), which, taken from Numbers Rabbah, was interpolated in the first printed edition of the Tanchuma as early as 1522, but is absent from all the manuscripts. Another long passage (18:22) which belongs to the beginning of Chukat, as in Tanchuma, is erroneously appended in the editions to the section on Korach.

The legal discussion on Numbers 8:1 at the beginning of the second part is cut down to its concluding passage. A Paris manuscript contains the exordium complete with its customary formula, as usual in Tanchuma, using a formula that reappears throughout this portion of Numbers Rabbah.

Synagogue recitation

The portions of Numbers to which there are Tanchuma homilies in this portion of Numbers Rabbah were intended for public worship according to the divisions of the cycle of the Torah portions and the Pesikta. The variations existing in the division into Torah portions probably explain why some of the old Torah portions appear in Numbers Rabbah without these homilies in some sections, while such homilies or at least fragments of them are appended to other passages. In this portion of Numbers Rabbah, as in its source, the Tanchuma, the collected homilies have been considerably metamorphosed and disjointed. Many are quite fragmentary, and others discursive. Although the marking of the Torah portions at their beginnings and in marginal superscriptions is a departure in the Venice edition, the sections of the second part are indicated according to the usual notation of the Torah portions. With the exception of sections 16 and 17, which belong to Shlach each section contains a Torah portion of the one-year cycle, which was already recognized when Numbers Rabbah was compiled. There are even Tanchuma Midrashim extant with divisions according to the Torah portions, while the Tanchuma, in its earliest editions, is alone in using the original arrangement based on the Torah portion cycle. In Numbers Rabbah, the divisions according to separate homilies are no longer recognizable.

Authorship

Since the second part of Numbers Rabbah, additions excepted, is derived from the Tanchuma Midrashim, the question arises whether it and part 1 (sections 1–14) should be ascribed to one author. It is improbable that the author of the comparatively late commentary on the Torah portions Bamidbar and parashah Naso — supposing that the Midrash on these two is the work of a single author — should have deliberately rounded out this incomplete work with the Midrash Tanchuma. According to Epstein, some unknown author wrote the Midrash upon the Torah portion Bamidbar to complete the Sifre, which commences with Numbers 1:1, another then continued it with the commentary on Naso, and in order to complete the work for the remainder of Numbers, the commentary for the remaining Torah portions was drawn from Tanchuma. It must also be mentioned that a manuscript in the Paris National Library, dating from the year 1291, contains only the Torah portion Bamidbar, while the Munich manuscript dated 1418 covers only this and Naso.

Even the first part contains much that is taken from the Tanchuma, but, as Zunz wrote, "a copious stream of new Haggadah swallows the Midrash drawn from this source and entirely obscures the arrangement of the Yelamdenu." In the Torah portion Bamidbar, the outer framework of the original composition is still recognizable. There are five sections, containing five homilies or fragments, taken from the Tanchuma on Numbers 1:1, 2:1, 3:14, 3:40, and 4:17, which are expanded by some very discursive additions. As Tanchuma only addresses the first verses of each chapter, no doubt the author's intention was to supply homiletic commentary to the others. But in the section on Naso, which is more than three times the volume of that preceding, there are long passages that have no relation to the Tanchuma homilies, based as they are upon the Torah reading cycle, and commencing in Naso with Numbers 5:11. Sections 6, 7, 8, and 10, which, like the other lengthy sections in which the material derived from the Tanchuma are overwhelmed in a flood of new homiletic interpretations, show even more clearly the endeavor to supply homilies and continuous expositions for all sections of Naso. Zunz wrote: "Instead of the brief explanations or allegories of the ancients, instead of their uniform citation of authorities, we have here compilations from halakic and haggadic works, intermingled with artificial and often trivial applications of Scripture, and for many pages continuously we find no citation of any source whatever." The industry and skill of the unknown author of this fragmentary work was nonetheless remarkable. The author, for example in sections 13 and 14 on Numbers 7, gave a different interpretation to each one of the twelve passages enumerating the offerings of princes of the tribes — identical in all but the name of the prince in the Biblical text.

Approximate date

This portion of the Numbers Rabbah shows all the marks of the late haggadic age. There is much which can be referred to Rabbi Moses ha-Darshan (11th Century), and which reveals a connection with Midrash Tadshe. The work is, according to Zunz, hardly older than the 12th Century. The Encyclopaedia Judaica also dates it to the 12th Century.

References

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Bemidbar Rabbah". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 October 2019, at 17:08
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