The Canaanites were not the only ones who did not enjoy their wealth and money, for a similar fate was decreed for Korah. He had been the treasurer of Pharaoh, and possessed treasures so vast that he employed three hundred white mules to carry the keys of his treasures: but "let not the rich man boast of his riches," for Korah through his sin lost both life and property. Korah had obtained possession of his riches in the following way: When Joseph, during the lean years, through the sale of grain amassed great treasures, he erected three great buildings, one hundred cubits wide, one hundred cubits long, and one hundred cubits wide, one hundred high, filled them with money and delivered them to Pharaoh, being too honest to leave even five silver shekels of this money to his children. Korah discovered one of these three treasuries. On account of his wealth he became proud, and his pride brought about his fall. He believed Moses had slighted him by appointing his cousin Elizaphan as chief of the Levite division of Kohathites. He said: "My grandfather had four sons, Amram, Ishar, Hebron, and Uzziel. Amram, as the firstborn, had privileges of which his sons availed themselves, for Aaron is high priest and Moses is king; but have not I, the son of Izhar, the second son of Kohath, the rightful claim to be prince of the Kohathites? Moses, however, passed me by and appointed Elizaphan, whose father was Uzziel, the youngest son of my grandfather. Therefore will I now stir up rebellion against Moses, and overthrow all institutions founded by him." Korah was far too wise a man to believe that God would permit success to a rebellion against Moses, and stand by indifferently, but the very insight that enabled him to look into the future became his doom. He saw with his prophetic eye that Samuel, a man as great as both Aaron and Moses together, would be one of his descendants; and furthermore that twenty-four descendants of his, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would compose psalms and sing them in the Temple. This brilliant future of his descendants inspired him with great confidence in his undertaking, for he thought to himself that God would not permit the father of such pious men to perish. His eye did not, however, look sharply enough into the future, or else he would also have known that his sons would repent of the rebellion against Moses, and would for this reason be deemed worthy of becoming the fathers of prophets and Temple singers, whereas he was to perish in this rebellion.
The names of this unfortunate rebel corresponded to his deed and to his end. He was called Korah, "baldness," for through the death of his horde he caused a baldness in Israel. He was the son of Izhar, "the heat of the noon," because he caused the earth to be made to boil "like the heat of noon;" and furthermore he was designated as the son of Kohath, for Kohath signifies "bluntness," and through his sin he made "his children's teeth be set on edge." His description as the son of Levi, "conduct," points to his end, for he was conducted to hell.
Korah, however, was not the only one who strove to overthrow Moses. With him were, first of all, the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who well deserve their names, for the one signifies, "transgressor of the Divine law," and the other, "the obdurate." There were, furthermore, two hundred fifty men, who by their rank and influence belonged to the most prominent people in Israel; among them even the princes of the tribes. In the union of the Reubenites with Korah was verified the proverb, "Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor." For Korah, one of the sons of Kohath, had his station to the south of the Tabernacle, and as the Reubenites were also encamped there, a friendship was struck up between them, so that they followed him in his undertaking against Moses.
The hatred Korah felt against Moses was still more kindled by his wife. When, after the consecration of the Levites, Korah returned home, his wife noticed that the hairs of his head and of his body had been shaved, and asked him who had done all this to him. He answered, "Moses," whereupon his wife remarked: "Moses hates thee and did this to disgrace thee." Korah, however, replied: "Moses shaved all the hair of his own sons also." But she said: "What did the disgrace of his own sons matter to him if he only felt he could disgrace thee? He was quite ready to make that sacrifice." As at home, so also did Korah fare with others, for, hairless as he was, no one at first recognized him, and when people at last discovered who was before them, they asked him in astonishment who had so disfigured him. In answer to their inquiries he said, "Moses did this, who besides took hold of my hands and feet to lift me, and after he had lifted me, said, 'Thou art clean.' But his brother Aaron he adorned like a bride, and bade him take his place in the Tabernacle." Embittered by what they considered as insult offered him by Moses, Korah and his people exclaimed: "Moses is king, his brother did he appoint as high priest, his nephews as heads of the priests, he allots to the priest the heave offering and many other tributes." Then he tried to make Moses appear ridiculous in the eyes of the people. Shortly before this Moses had read to the people the law of the fringes in the borders of their garments. Korah now had garments of purple made for the two hundred fifty men that followed him, all of whom were chief justices. Arrayed thus, Korah and his company appeared before Moses and asked him if they were required to attach fringes to the corners of these garments. Moses answered, "Yea." Korah then began this argument. "If," said he, "one fringe of purple suffices to fulfil this commandment, should not a whole garment of purple answered the requirements of the law, even if there be no special fringe of purple in the corners?" He continued to lay before Moses similar artful questions: "Must a Mezuzah be attached to the doorpost of the house filled with the sacred Books?" Moses answered, "Yea," Then Korah said: "The two hundred and seventy sections of the Torah are not sufficient, whereas the two sections attached to the door-post suffice!" Korah put still another question: "If upon a man's skin there show a bright spot, the size of half a bean, is he clean or is he unclean?" Moses: "Unclean." "And," continued Korah, "if the spot spread and cover all the skin of him, is he then clean or unclean?" Moses: "Clean." "Laws so irrational," said Korah, "cannot possibly trace their origin from God. The Torah that thou didst teach to Israel is not therefore God's work, but thy work, hence art thou no prophet and Aaron is no high priest!"
Then Korah betook himself to the people to incite them to rebellion against Moses, and particularly against the tributes to the priests imposes upon the people by him. That the people might now be in a position to form a proper conception of the oppressive burden to these tasks, Korah told them the following tale that he had invented: "There lived in my vicinity a widow with two daughters, who owned for their support a field whose yield was just sufficient for them to keep body and soul together. When this woman set out to plow her field, Moses appeared and said: 'Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.' When she began to sow, Moses appeared and said: 'Thou shalt not sow with divers seeds.' When the first fruits showed in the poor widow's field, Moses appeared and bade her bring it to the priests, for to them are due 'the first of all the fruit of the earth'; and when at length the time came for he to cut it down, Moses appeared and ordered her 'not wholly to reap the corners of the field, not to gather the gleanings of the harvest, but to leave them for the poor.' When she had done all that Moses had bidden her, and was about to thrash the grain, Moses appeared once more, and said: 'Give me the heave offerings, the first and the second tithes to the priest.' When at last the poor woman became aware of the fact that she could not now possibly maintain herself from the yield of the field after the deduction of all the tributes that Moses had imposed upon her, she sold the field and with the proceeds purchased ewes, in the hope that she might now undisturbed have the benefit of the wool as well as the younglings of the sheep. She was, however, mistaken. When the firstling of the sheep was born, Aaron appeared and demanded it, for the firstborn belongs to the priest. She had a similar experience with the wool. At shearing time Aaron reappeared and demanded 'the first of the fleece of the sheep,' which, according to Moses' law, was his. But not content with this, he reappeared later and demanded one sheep out of every ten as a tithe, to which again, according to the law, he had a claim. This, however, was too much for the long-suffering woman, and she slaughtered the sheep, supposing that she might now feel herself secure, in full possession of the meat. But wide of the mark! Aaron appeared, and, basing his claim on the Torah, demanded the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw. 'Alas!' exclaimed the woman, 'The slaughtering of the sheep did not deliver me out of thy hands! Let the meat then be consecrated to the sanctuary.' Aaron said, 'Everything devoted in Israel is mine. It shall then be all mine.' He departed, taking with him the meat of the sheep, and leaving behind him the widow and her daughters weeping bitterly. Such men," said Korah, concluding his tale, "are Moses and Aaron, who pass their cruel measures as Divine laws."
Pricked on by speeches such as these, Korah's horde appeared before Moses and Aaron, saying: "Heavier is the burden that ye lay upon us than was that of the Egyptians; and moreover as, since the incident of the spies, we are forced annually to offer as a tribute to death fifteen thousand men, it would have been better for us had we stayed in Egypt." They also reproached Moses and Aaron with an unjustified love of power, saying: "Upon Sinai all Israel heard the words of God, 'I am thy Lord.' Wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?" They knew no bounds in their attacks upon Moses, they accused him of leading an immoral life and even warned their wives to keep far from him. They did not, moreover, stop short at words, but tried to stone Moses, when at last he sought protection from God and called to Him for assistance. He said: "I do not care if they insult me or Aaron, but I insist that the insult of the Torah be avenged. 'If these men die the common death of all men,' I shall myself become a disbeliever and declare the Torah was not given by God."
Moses took Korah's transgression much to heart, for he thought to himself that perhaps, after the many sins of Israel, he might not succeed in obtaining God's pardon for them. He did not therefore have this matter decided immediately, but admonished the people to wait until the following day, having a lingering hope that Korah's horde, given time for calm reflection, might themselves perceive their sin to which an excess of drink might have carried them away. Hence he said to them: "I may not now appear before the Lord, for although He partakes of neither food nor drink, still He will not judge such actions of ours as we have committed after feasting and revelling. But 'to-morrow the Lord will show who are His.' Know ye now that just as God has set definite bounds in nature between day and night, between light and darkness, so also has He separated Israel from the other nations, and so also has he separated Aaron from the rest of Israel. If you can obliterate the boundary between light and darkness, then only you remove the boundary of separation between Israel and the rest, but not otherwise. Other nations have many religions, many priests, and worship in many temples, but we have one God, one Torah, one law, one altar, and one high priest, whereas ye are two hundred fifty men, each of whom is imbued with the desire of becoming the high priest, as I too should like to be high priest, if such a thing were possible. But to prove Aaron's claim to his dignity, 'this do; take you censers, Korah, and all his company; and put fire therein, and put incense upon them before the Lord to-morrow.' The offering of incense is the most pleasant offering before the Lord, but for him who hath not been called this offering holds a deadly poison, for it consumed Nadab and Abihu. But I exhort ye not to burden your souls with a deadly sin, for none but the man God will choose as high priest out of the number of you will remain alive, all others will pay with their lives at the offering of incense." These last words of Moses, however, far from restraining them, only strengthened Korah in his resolve to accomplish his undertaking, for he felt sure that God would choose him, and none other. He had a prophetic presentiment that he was destined to be the forefather of prophets and Temple singers, and for this reason thought he was specially favored by God.
When Moses perceived that Korah was irreclaimable, he directed the rest of his warning to those other Levites, the men of Korah's tribe, who, he feared, would join Korah in his rebellion. He admonished them to be satisfied with the honors God had granted them, and not to strive for priestly dignity. He concluded his speech with a last appeal to Korah to cause no schism in Israel, saying; "Had Aaron arbitrarily assumed the priestly dignity, you would do right to withstand his presumption, but it was God, whose attributes are sublimity, strength, and sovereignty, who clothed Aaron with this dignity, so that those who are against Aaron are in reality against God." Korah made no answer to all these words, thinking that the best course for him to follow would be to avoid picking an argument with so great a sage as Moses, feeling sure that in such a dispute he should be worsted and, contrary to his own conviction, be forced to yield to Moses.
Moses, seeing that is was useless to reason with Korah, sent a messenger to Dathan and Abiram, summoning them to appear before his court. He did this because the law required that the accused be summoned to appear before the judge, before the judgement may be passed upon him, and Moses did not wish these men to be punished without a hearing. These, however, made answer to the messenger sent by Moses, "We will not come up!" This shameless answer held an unconscious prophecy. They went not up, but, as their end showed, down, to hell. Not only, moreover, did they refuse to comply with Moses' demand, they sent the following message in answer to Moses: "Why dost thou set thyself up as master over us? What benefit didst thou bring to us? Thou didst lead us out of Egypt, a land 'like the garden of the Lord,' but hast not brought us to Canaan, leaving us in the wilderness where we are daily visited by the plague. Even in Egypt didst thou try to assume the leadership, just as thou doest not. Thou didst beguile the people in their exodus from Egypt, when thou didst promise to lead them to a land of milk and honey; in their delusion they followed thee and were disappointed. Now dost thou attempt to persuade us as thou didst persuade them, but thou shalt not succeed, for we will not come and obey thy summons."
The shamelessness of these two men, who declined even to talk about their transgression with Moses, aroused his wrath to the uttermost, for a man does get a certain amount of satisfaction out of discussing the dispute with this opponents, whereas he feels badly if he cannot discuss the matter. In his anger he said to God: "O Lord of the world! I well know that these sinners participated in the offerings of the congregation that were offered for all Israel, but as they have withdrawn themselves from the community, accept not Thou their share of the offering and let it not be consumed by the heavenly fire. It was I whom they treated so, I who took no money from the people for my labors, even when payment was my due. It is customary for anyone who works for the sanctuary to receive pay for his work, but I traveled to Egypt on my own ass, and took none of theirs, although I undertook the journey in their interests. It is customary for those that have a dispute to go before a judge, but I did not wait for this, and went straight to them to settle their disputes, never declaring the innocent guilty, or the guilty innocent."
When he now perceived that his words had no effect upon Korah and his horde, he concluded his words with a treat to the ring leaders: "Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou and they, and Aaron, to-morrow."
Korah spent the night before the judgement in trying to win over the people to his side, and succeeded in so doing. He went to all the other tribes, saying to them: "Do not think I am seeking a position of honor for myself. No, I wish only that this honor may fall to the lot of each in turn, whereas Moses is now king, and his brother high priest." On the following morning, all the people, and not Korah's original company alone, appeared before the Tabernacle and began to pick quarrels with Moses and Aaron. Moses now feared that God would destroy all the people because they had joined Korah, hence he said to God: "O Lord of the world! If a nation rebels against a king of flesh and blood because ten or twenty men have cursed the king or his ambassadors, then he sends his hosts to massacre the inhabitants of the land, innocent as well as guilty, for he is not able with certainty to tell which among them honored the king and which among them cursed him. But Thou knowest the thought of man, and what his heart and kidneys counsel him to do, the workings of Thy creatures' minds lie open before Thee, so that Thou knowest who had the spirit of each one.' Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?'" God hereupon said to Moses "I have heard the prayer for the congregation. Say then, to them, 'Get you up from about the Tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.'"
Moses did not immediately carry out these instructions, for he tried once again to warn Dathan and Abiram of the punishment impending upon them, but they refused to give heed to Moses, and remained within their tents. "Now," said Moses, "I have done all I could, and can do nothing more." Hence, turning to the congregation, he said: "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, that even in their youth deserved death as a punishment for their actions. In Egypt they betrayed the secret of my slaying an Egyptian: at the Red Sea it was they that angered God by their desire to return to Egypt; in Alush they broke the Sabbath, and now they trooped together to rebel against God. They now well deserve excommunication, and the destruction of all their property. 'Touch, therefore, nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.'"
The community obeyed the words of Moses and drew back from the dwellings of Dathan and Abiram. These, not at all cowed, were not restrained from their wicked intention, but stood at the doors of their tents, abusing and calumniating Moses. Moses hereupon said to God: "If these men die upon their beds like all men, after physicians have attended to them and acquaintances have visited them, then shall I publicly avow 'that the Lord hath not sent me' to do all these works, but that I have done them of mine own mind." God replied: "What wilt thou have Me do?" Moses: "If the Lord hath already provided the earth with a mouth to swallow them, it is well, if not, I pray Thee, do so now." God said: "Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee."
Moses was not the only one to insist upon exemplary punishment of the horde of Korah. Sun and Moon appeared before God, saying: "If Thou givest satisfaction to the son of Amram, we shall set out on our course around the world, but not otherwise." God, however, hurled lightnings after them, that they might go about their duties, saying to them: "You have never championed My cause, but not you stand up for a creature of flesh and blood." Since that time Sun and Moon have always to be driven to duty, never doing it voluntarily because they do not wish to look upon the sins of man upon earth.
God did not gainsay satisfaction of His faithful servant. The mouth of hell approached the spot upon which Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood, and the ground under their feet grew so precipitous that they were not able to stand upright, but rolled to the opening and went quickly into the pit. Not these wicked people alone were swallowed by the earth, but their possessions also. Even their linen that was the launderer's or a pin belonging to them rolled toward the mouth of the earth and vanished therein. Nowhere upon earth remained a trace of them or of their possessions, and even their names disappeared from the documents upon which they were written. They did not, however, meet an immediate death, but sank gradually into the earth, the opening of which adjusted itself to the girth of each individual. The lower extremities disappeared first, then the opening widened, and the abdomen followed, until in this way the entire body was swallowed. While they were sinking thus slowly and painfully, they continued to cry: "Moses is truth and his Torah is truth. We acknowledge that Moses is rightful king and true prophet, that Aaron is legitimate high priest, and that the Torah has been given by God. Now deliver us, O our teacher Moses!" These words were audible throughout the entire camp, so that all might be convinced of the wickedness of Korah's undertaking.
Without regard to these followers of Korah, who were swallowed up by the earth, the two hundred and fifty men who had offered incense with Aaron found their death in the heavenly fire that came down upon their offering and consumed them. But he who met with the most terrible form of death was Korah. Consumed at the incense offering, he then rolled in the shape of a ball of fire to the opening in the earth, and vanished. There was a reason for this double punishment of Korah. Had he received punishment by burning alone, then those who had been swallowed by the earth, and who had failed to see Korah smitten by the same punishment, would have complained about God's injustice, saying: "It was Korah who plunged us into destruction, yet he himself escaped it." Had he, on the other hand, been swallowed by the earth without meeting death by fire, then those whom the fire had consumed would have complained about God injustice that permitted the author of their destruction to go unpunished. Now, however, both those who perished by fire and those who were swallowed up by the earth witnessed their leader share their punishment.
This terrible death did not, however, suffice to atone for the sins of Korah and his company, for their punishment continues in hell. They are tortured in hell, and at the end of thirty days, hell again casts them up near to the surface of the earth, on the spot where they had been swallowed. Whosoever on that day puts his ear to the ground upon that spot hears the cry. "Moses is truth, and his Torah is truth, but we are liars." Not until after the Resurrection will their punishment cease, for even in spite of their grave sin they were not given over to eternal damnation.
For a time Korah and his company believed that they should never know relief from these tortures of hell, but Hannah's words encouraged them not to despair. In reference to them she announced the prophecy, "The Lord bringeth low, to Sheol, and lifteth up." At first they had no real faith in this prophecy, but when God destroyed the Temple, and sank its portals deep into the earth until they reached hell, Korah and his company clung to the portals, saying: "If these portals return again upward, then through them shall we also return upward." God hereupon appointed them as keepers of these portals over which they will have to stand guard until they return to the upper world.
God punished discord severely, for although the decree of Heaven does not otherwise punish any one below twenty years of age, at Korah's rebellion the earth swallowed alive even children that were only a day old-men, women, and children, all together. Out of all the company of Korah and their families only four persons escaped ruin, to wit: On, the son of Peleth, and Korah's three sons. As it was Korah's wife who through her inciting words plunged her husband into destruction, so to his wife does On owe his salvation. Truly to these two women applies the proverb: "Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her own hands." On, whose abilities had won him distinction far beyond that of his father, had originally joined Korah's rebellion. When he arrived home and spoke of it to his wife, she said to him: "What benefit shalt thou reap from it? Either Moses remains master and thou art his disciple, or Korah becomes master and thou art his disciple." On saw the truth of this argument, but declared that he felt it incumbent upon himself to adhere to Korah because he had given him his oath, which he could not now take back. His wife quieted him, however, entreating him to stay at home. To be quite sure of him, however, she gave him wine to drink, whereupon he fell into a deep sleep of intoxication. His wife now carried out her work of salvation, saying to herself: "All the congregation are holy, and being such, they will approach no woman whose hair is uncovered." She now showed herself at the door of the tent with streaming hair, and whenever one out of the company of Korah, about to go to On, saw the woman in this condition, he started back, and owing to this schemer husband had no part in the rebellion. When the earth opened to swallow Korah's company, the bed on which On still slept began to rock, and to roll to the opening in the earth. On's wife, however, seized it, saying: "O Lord of the world! My husband made a solemn vow never again to take part in dissensions. Thou that livest and endurest to all eternity canst punish him hereafter if ever he prove false to his vow." God heard her plea, and On was saved. She now requested On to go to Moses, but he refused, for he was ashamed to look into Moses' face after he had rebelled against him. His wife then went to Moses in his stead. Moses at first evaded her, for he wished to have nothing to do with women, but as she wept and lamented bitterly, she was admitted and told Moses all that had occurred. He now accompanied her to her house, at the entrance of which he cried: "On, the son of Peleth, step forth, God will forgive thee thy sins." It is with reference to this miraculous deliverance and to his life spent in doing penance that this former follower of Korah was called On, "the penitent," son of Peleth, "miracle." His true name was Nemuel, the son of Eliab, a brother of Dathan and Abiram.
More marvelous still than that of On was the salvation of Korah's three sons. For when the earth yawned to swallow Korah and his company, these cried: "Help us, Moses!" The Shekinah hereupon said: "If these men were to repent, they should be saved; repentance do I desire, and naught else." Korah's three sons now simultaneously determined to repent their sin, but they could not open their mouths, for round about them burned the fire, and below them gaped hell. God was, however, satisfied with their good thought, and in the sight of all Israel, for their salvation, a pillar arose in hell, upon which they seated themselves. There did they sit and sing praises and song to the Lord sweeter than ever mortal ear had heard, so that Moses and all Israel hearkened to them eagerly. They were furthermore distinguished by God in receiving from Him the prophetic gift, and they then announced in their songs events that were to occur in the future world. They said: "Fear not the day on which the Lord will 'take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it,' for the pious will cling to the Throne of Glory and will find protection under the wings of the Shekinah. Fear not, ye pious men, the Day of Judgement, for the judgement of sinners will have as little power over you as it had over us when all the others perished and we were saved."
After the death of the two hundred and fifty followers of Korah, who perished at the offering of incense, Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was ordered "to take up the censers out of the burning," in which the souls, not the bodies of the sinners were burned, that out of these brasen plates he made a covering for the altar. Eleazar, and not his father, the high priest, received this commission, for God said: "The censer brought death upon two of Aaron's sons, therefore let the third now fetch forth the censer and effect expiation for the sinners." The covering of the altar fashioned out of the brass of these censers was "to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to burn incense before the Lord." Such a one was not, however, to be punished like Korah and his company, but in the same way as Moses had once been punished by God, with leprosy. This punishment was visited upon king Uzziah, who tried to burn incense in the Temple, asserting that it was the king's task to perform the service before the King of all. The heavens hastened to the scene to consume him, just as the celestial fire had once consumed the two hundred and fifty men, who had wrongfully assumed the rights of priesthood; the earth strove to swallow him as it had once swallowed Korah and his company. But a celestial voice announced: "Upon none save Korah and his company came punishments like these, upon no others. This man's punishment shall be leprosy." Hence Uzziah became a leper.
Peace was not, however, established with the destruction of Korah and his company, for on the very day that followed the terrible catastrophe, there arose a rebellion against Moses, that was even more violent than the preceding one. For although the people were now convinced that nothing came to pass without the will of God, still they thought God was doing all this for Moses' sake. Hence they laid at his door God's violent anger against them, blaming not the wickedness of those who had been punished, but Moses, who, they said, had excited God's revengefulness against them. They accused Moses of having brought about the death of so many of the noblest among them as a punishment for the people, only that they might not again venture to call him to account, and that he might thereby ensure his brother's possession of the priestly office, since no one would hereafter covet it, seeing that on its account the noblest among them had met so terrible a fate. The kinsmen of those who had perished stirred the flame of resentment and spurred on the people to set a limit to Moses' love of power, insisting that the public welfare and the safety of Israel demanded such measures. These unseemly speeches and their unceasing, incorrigible perverseness brought upon them God's wrath to such a degree that He wanted to destroy them all, and bade Moses and Aaron go away from the congregation that He might instantly set about their ruin.
When Moses saw that "there was wrath gone out from the Lord, and the plague was begun," he called Aaron to him, saying: "Take thy censer and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them." This remedy against death Moses had learned from the Angel of Death himself at the time he was staying in heaven to receive the Torah. At that time he had received a gift from each one of the angels, and that of the Angel of Death had been the revelation of the secret that incense can hold him at bay. Moses, in applying this remedy, had in mind also the purpose of showing the people the injustice of their superstition concerning the offering of incense. They called it death-bearing because it had brought death upon Nadab and Abihu, as well as upon the two hundred and fifty followers of Korah. He now wished to convince them that it was this very incense that prevented the plague, and to teach them that it is sin that brings death. Aaron, however, did not know why he employed incense, and therefore said to Moses: "O my lord Moses, hast thou perchance my death in view? My sons were burned because they put strange fires into the censers. Shall I now fetch holy fire from the altar and carry it outside? Surely I shall meet death through this fire!" Moses replied: "Go quickly and do as I have bidden thee, for while thou dost stand and talk, they die." Aaron hastened to carry out the command given to him, saying: "Even if it be my death, I obey gladly if I can only serve Israel thereby."
The Angel of Death had meanwhile wrought terrible havoc among the people, like a reaper mowing down line after line of them, allowing not one of the line he touched to escape, whereas, on the other hand, not a single man died before he reached the row in which the man stood. Aaron, censer in hand, now appeared, and stood up between the ranks of the living and those of the dead, holding the Angel of Death at bay. The latter now addressed Aaron, saying: "Leave me to my work, for I have been sent to do it by God, whereas thou dost bid me stop in the name of a creature that is only of flesh and blood." Aaron did not, however, yield, but said: "Moses acts only as God commands him, and if thou wilt not trust him, behold, God and Moses are both in the Tabernacle, let us both betake ourselves thither." The Angel of Death refused to obey his call, whereupon Aaron seized him by force and, thrusting the censer under his face, dragged him to the Tabernacle where he locked him in, so that death ceased.
In this way Aaron paid off a debt to Moses. After the worship of the Golden Calf, that came to pass not without some guilt on Aaron's part, God had decreed that all four of Aaron's sons were to die, but Moses stood up between the living and the dead, and through his prayer succeeded in saving two out of the four. In the same way Aaron now stood up between the living and the dead to ward off from Israel the Angel of Death.
God in His kindness now desired the people once and for all to be convinced of the truth that Aaron was the elect, and his house the house of priesthood, hence he bade Moses convince them in the following fashion. Upon God's command, he took a beam of wood, divided it into twelve rods, bade every prince of a tribe in his own hand write his name on one of the rods respectively, and laid up the rods over night before the sanctuary. Then the miracle came to pass that the rod of Aaron, the prince of the tribe of Levi, bore the Ineffable Name which caused the rod to bloom blossoms over night and to yield ripe almonds. When the people, who all night had been pondering which tribe should on the morrow be proven by the rod of its prince to be the chosen one, betook themselves early in the morning to the sanctuary, and saw the blossoms and almonds upon the rod of Aaron, they were at last convinced that God had destined the priesthood for his house. The almonds, which ripen more quickly than any other fruit, at the same time informed them that God would quickly bring punishment upon those who should venture to usurp the powers of priesthood. Aaron's rod was then laid up before the Holy Ark by Moses. It was this rod, kings used until the time of the destruction of the Temple, when, in miraculous fashion, it disappeared. Elijah will in the future fetch it forth and hand it over to the Messiah.
Korah's rebellion took place during Israel's sojourn in Kadesh-Barnea, whence, a short time before, the spies had been sent out. They remained in this place during nineteen years, and then for as long a time wandered ceaselessly from place to place through the desert. When at last the time decreed by God for their stay in the wilderness was over, and the generation that God had said must die in the desert had paid its penalty for its sin, they returned again to Kadesh-Barnea. They took delight in this place endeared to them by long years of habitation, and settled down in the expectation of a cheerful and agreeable time. But the prophetess Miriam now dies, and the loss of the woman, who occupied a place as high as that of her brothers, Moses and Aaron, at once became evident in a way that was perceived by the pious as well as by the godless. She was the only woman who died during the march through the desert, and this occurred for the following reasons. She was a leader of the people together with her brothers, and as these two were not permitted to lead the people into the promised land, she had to share their fate. The well, furthermore, that had provided Israel with water during the march through the desert, had been a gift of God to the people as a reward for the good deeds of this prophetess, and as this gift had been limited to the time of the march through the desert, she had to die shortly before the entrance into the promised land.
Hardly had Miriam died, when the well also disappeared and a dearth of water set in, that all Israel might know that only owing to the merits of the pious prophetess had they been spared a lack of water during the forty years of the march. While Moses and Aaron were now plunged in deep grief for their sister's death, a mob of the people collected to wrangle with them on account of the dearth of water. Moses, seeing the multitudes of people approaching from the distance, said to his brother Aaron: "What may all these multitudes desire?" The other replied: "Are not the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kind-hearted people and the descendants of kind-hearted people? They come to express their sympathy." Moses, however, said: "Thou are not able to distinguish between a well-ordered procession and this motley multitude; were these people assembled in an orderly procession, they would move under the leadership of the rules of thousands and the rulers of hundreds, but behold, they move in disorderly troops. How then can their intentions be to console with us!"
The two brothers were not long to remain in doubt concerning the purpose of the multitude, for they stepped up to them and began to pick a quarrel with Moses, saying: "It was a heavy blow for us when fourteen thousand and seven hundred of our men died of the plague; harder still to bear was the death of those who were swallowed up by the earth, and lost their lives in an unnatural way; the heaviest blow of all, however, was the death of those who were consumed at the offering of incense, whose terrible end is constantly recalled to us by the covering of the altar, fashioned out of the brasen plates that came of the censers used by those unfortunate ones. But we bore all these blows, and even wish we had all perished simultaneously with them instead of becoming victims to the tortures of death by thirst."
At first they directed their reproaches against Moses alone, since Aaron, on account of his extraordinary love of peace and his kind-heartedness, was the favorite of the people, but once carried away by suffering and rage, they started to hurl their accusations against both of the brothers, saying: "Formerly your answer to us had always been that sorrows came upon us and that God did not stand by us because there were sinful and godless men among us. Now that we are 'a congregation of the Lord,' why have ye nevertheless led us to this poor place where there is not water, without which neither man nor beast can live? Why do not ye exhort God to have pity upon us since the well of Miriam had vanished with her death?"
"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast," and the fact that these people, so near to death, still considered the sufferings of their beasts shows that they were, notwithstanding their attitude toward Moses and Aaron, really pious men. And, in truth, God did not take amiss their words against Moses and Aaron, "for God holds no man accountable for that which he utters in distress." For the same reason neither Moses nor Aaron made reply to the accusations hurled against them, but hastened to the sanctuary to implore God's mercy for His people. They also considered that the holy place would shelter them in case the people meant to lay hands upon them. God actually did appear at once, and said to them: "Hasten from this place; My children die of thirst, and ye have nothing better to do than to mourn the death of an old woman!" He then bade Moses "to speak unto the rock that it may give forth water," but impressed upon them the command to bring forth neither honey nor oil out of the rock, but water only. This was to prove God's power, who can pour out of the rock not only such liquids as are contained in it, but water too, that never otherwise issues from a rock. He also ordered Moses to speak to the rock, but not to smite it with his rod. "For," said God, "the merits of them that sleep in the Cave of Machpelah suffice to cause their children to receive water out of the rock."
Moses then fetched out of the Tabernacle the holy rod on which was the Ineffable Name of God, and, accompanied by Aaron, betook himself to the rock to bring water out of it. On the way to the rock all Israel followed him, halting at any rock by the way, fancying that they might fetch water out of it. The grumblers now went about inciting the people against Moses, saying: "Don't you know that the son of Amram had once been Jethro's shepherd, and all shepherds have knowledge of the places in the wilderness that are rich in water? Moses will now try to lead us to such a place where there is water, and then he will cheat us and declare he had causes the water to flow out of a rock. If he actually is able to bring forth water out of rocks, then let him fetch it out of any one of the rocks upon which we fix." Moses could easily have done this, for God said to him: "Let them see the water flow out of the rock they have chosen," but when, on the way to the rock, he turned around and perceived that instead of following him they stood about in groups around different rocks, each group around some rock favored by it, he commanded them to follow him to the rock upon which he had fixed. They, however, said: "We demand that thou bring us water out of the rock we have chosen, and if thou wilt not, we do not care to fetch water out of another rock."
Throughout forty years Moses had striven to refrain from harshly addressing the people, knowing that if but a single time he lost patience, God would cause him to die in the desert. On this occasion, however, he was mastered by his rage, and shouted at Israel the words: "O ye madmen, ye stiffnecked ones, that desire to teach their teacher, ye that shoot upon your leaders with your arrows, do ye think that out of this rock that ye have chosen, we shall be able to bring forth water? I vow that I shall let water flow out of that rock only that I have chosen." He addressed these harsh words not to a few among Israel, but to all the people, for God had brought the miracle to pass that the small space in front of the rock held all Israel. Carried away by anger, Moses still further forgot himself, and instead of speaking to the rock as God had commanded him, he struck a rock chosen by himself. As Moses had not acted according to God's command, the rock did not at once obey, and sent forth only a few drops of water, so that the mockers cried: "Son of Amram, is this for the sucklings and for them that are weaned from the milk?" Moses now waxed angrier still, and for a second time smote the rock, from which gushed streams so mighty that many of his enemies me their death in the currents, and at the same time water poured out of all the stones and rocks of the desert. God here upon said to Moses: "Thou and Aaron believed Me not, I forbade you to smite the rock, but thou didst smite it; ye sanctified Me not in the eyes of the children of Israel because ye did not fetch water out of any one of the rocks, as the people wished; ye trespassed against Me when ye said, 'Shall we bring forth water out of this rock?' and ye acted contrary to My command because ye did not speak to the rock as I had bidden ye. I vow, therefore, that 'ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them,' and not until the Messianic time shall ye two lead Israel to the Holy Land." God furthermore said to Moses: "Thou shouldst have learned from the life of Ishmael to have greater faith in Me; I bade the well to spring up for him, even though he was only a single human being, on account of the merits of his father Abraham. How much more than hadst thou a right to expect, thou who couldst refer to the merits of the three Patriarchs as well as to the people's own, for they accepted the Torah and obeyed many commandments. Yea, even from thine own experience shouldst thou have drawn greater faith in My will to aid Israel. When in Rephidim thou didst say to Me, 'They be almost ready to stone me,' did not I not reply to thee, 'Why dost thou accuse My children? God with thy rod before the people, and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it.' If I wrought for them miracles such as these when they had not yet accepted the Torah, and did not yet have faith in Me, shouldst thou not have known how much more I would do for them now?"
God "taketh the wise in their own craftiness." He had long before this decreed that Moses die in the desert, and Moses' offense in Kadesh was only a pretext God employed that He might not seem to be unjust. But He gave to Moses himself the true reason why He did not permit him to enter the promised land, saying: "Would it perchance redound to thy glory if thou wert to lead into the land a new generation after thou hadst led out of Egypt the sixty myriads and buried them in the desert? People would declare that the generation of the desert has no share in future world, therefore stay with them, that at their head thou mayest after the Resurrection enter the promised land." Moses now said to God: "Thou hast decreed that I die in the desert like the generation of the desert that angered Thee. I implore Thee, write in Thy Torah wherefore I have been thus punished, that future generations may not say I had been like the generations of the desert." God granted this wish, and in several passages of the Scriptures set forth what had really been the offense on account of which Moses had been prohibited from entering the promised land. It was due only to the transgression at the rock in Kadesh, where Moses failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the children of Israel; and God was sanctified by allowing justice to take its course without respect of persons, and punishing Moses. Hence this place was called Kadesh, "sanctity," and En Mishpat, "fountain of justice," because on this spot judgement was passed upon Moses, and by this sentence God's name was sanctified.
As water had been the occasion for the punishment of Moses, God did not say that that which He had created on the second day of the creation "was good," for on that day He had created water, and that which brought about Moses' death was not good.
If the death doomed for Moses upon this occasion was a very severe punishment, entirely out of proportion to his offense, then still more so was the death destined for Aaron at the same time. For he had been guilty of no other offense than that of joining Moses at his transgression, and "who so joins a transgressor, is as bad as the transgressor himself." On this occasion, as usual, Aaron showed his absolute devotion and his faith in God's justice. He might have said, "I have not sinned; why am I to be punished?" but he conquered himself and put up no defense, wherefore Moses greatly praised him.
From Kadesh Moses sent ambassadors to the king of Edom, requesting him to permit Israel to travel through his territory. "For," thought Moses, "When our father Jacob with only a small troop of men planned to return to his father's house, which was not situated in Esau's possessions, he previously sent a messenger to him to ask his permission. How much more then does it behoove us, a people of great numbers, to refrain from entering Edom's territory before receiving his sanction to do so!"
Moses' ambassadors had been commissioned to bear the following message to the king of Edom: "From the time of our grandfather Abraham, there was a promissory note to be redeemed, for God had imposed it upon him that in Egypt his seed should be enslaved and tortured. It had been thy duty, as well as ours, to redeem this note, and thou knowest that we have done our duty whereas thou wert not willing. God had, as thou knowest, promised Abraham that those who had been in bondage in Egypt should receive Canaan for their possession as a reward. That land, therefore, is ours, who were in Egypt, and thou who didst shirk the redemption of the debt, hast now claim to our land. Let us then pass through thy land until we reach ours. Know also that the Patriarchs in their grave sympathized with our sufferings in Egypt, and whenever we called out to God He heard us, and sent us one of His ministering angels to lead us out of Egypt. Consider, then, that all thy weapons will avail thee naught if we implore God's aid, who will then at once overthrow thee and thy hosts, for this is our inheritance, and 'the voice of Jacob' never proves ineffectual. That thou mayest not, however, plead that our passage through thy land will bring thee only annoyances and no gain, I promise thee that although we draw drink out of a well that accompanies us on our travels, and are provided with food through the manna, we shall, nevertheless, by water and food from thy people, that ye may profit by our passage."
This was no idle promise, for Moses had actually asked the people to be liberal with their money, that the Edomites might not take them to be poor slaves, but might be convinced that in spite of their stay in Egypt, Israel was a wealthy nation. Moses also pledged himself to provide the cattle with muzzles during their passage through Edom, that they might do no damage to the land of the dwellers there. With these words he ended his message to the king of Edom: "To the right and to the left of thy land may we pillage and slaughter, but in accord with God's words, we may not touch thy possession." But all these prayers and pleadings of Moses were without avail, for Edom's answer was in the form of a threat: "Ye depend upon your inheritance, upon 'the voice of Jacob' which God answers, and I too shall depend upon my inheritance, 'the hand and sword of Esau.'" Israel now had to give up their attempt to reach their land through Edom's territory, not, however, through fear, but because God had prohibited them from bringing war upon the Edomites, even before they had heard from the embassy that Edom had refused them the right of passage.
The neighborhood of the godless brings disaster, as Israel was to experience, for they lost the pious Aaron on the boundary of Edom, and buried him on Mount Hor. The cloud that used to precede Israel, had indeed been accustomed to level all the mountains, that they might move on upon level ways, but God retained three mountains in the desert: Sinai, as the place of the revelation; Nebo, as the burial-place of Moses; and Hor, consisting of a twin mountain, as a burial-place for Aaron. Apart from these three mountains, there were none in the desert, but the cloud would leave little elevations on the place where Israel pitched camp, that the sanctuary might thereupon be set up.
Aaron died four months after the death of his sister Miriam, whereas Moses died nearly a year after his sister. Her death took place on the first day of Nisan, and that of Moses on the seventh day of Adar in the same year. Although the death of these three did not take place in the same month, God spoke of them saying, "And I cut off the three shepherds in one month," for He had determined upon their death in one month. It is God's way to classify people into related groups, and the death of these three pious ones was not determined upon together with hat of the sinful generation of wanderers in the desert, but only after this generations had died, was sealed the doom of the three. Miriam died first, and the same fate was decreed for her brothers as a consequence of her death.
Miriam's death plunged all into deep mourning, Moses and Aaron wept in their apartments and the people wept in the streets. For six hours Moses was ignorant of the disappearance of Miriam's well with Miriam's death, until the Israelites went to him, saying, "How long wilt thou sit here and weep?" He answered, "Shall I not weep for my sister, who had died?" They replied, "While thou are weeping for one soul, weep at the same time for us all." "Why?" asked he. They said, "We have no water to drink." Then he rose up from the ground, went out and saw the well without a drop of water. He now began to quarrel with them, saying, "Have I not told ye, 'I am not able to bear you myself alone'? Ye have rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, princes, chiefs, elders, and magnates, let these attend to your needs." Israel, however, said: "All rests with thee, for it is thou who didst lead us out of Egypt and brought 'us in unto this evil place; it is no place of seed or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.' If thou wilt give us water, it is well, if not, we shall stone thee." When Moses heard this, he fled from them and betook himself to the Tabernacle. There God said to him: "What ails thee?" and Moses replied: "O Lord of the world! Thy children want to stone me, and had I not escaped, they would have stoned me by now." God said: "Moses, how much longer wilt thou continue to calumniate My children? Is it not enough that at Horeb thou didst say, 'They be ready to stone me,' whereupon I answered thee, 'Go up before them and I will see whether they stone thee or not!' 'Take the rod and assemble the congregation, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water.'"
Moses now went to seek for the rock, followed by all Israel, for he did not know which was the rock out of which God had said water was to flow. For the rock out of which Miriam's well flowed vanished among the rest of the rocks in such a way that Moses was not able to distinguish it among the number. On the way they saw a rock that dripped, and they took up their places in front of it. When Moses saw that the people stood still, he turned around and they said to him: "How long wilt thou lead us on?" Moses: "Until I fetch ye forth water out of the rock." The people: "Give us water at once, that we may drink." Moses: "How long do ye quarrel? Is there a creature in all the world that so rebels against its Maker as ye do, when it is certain that God will give ye water out of a rock, even though I do not know which one that may be!" The people: "Thou wert a prophet and our shepherd during our march through the desert, and now thou sayest, 'I know not out of which rock God will give ye water.'"
Moses hereupon assembled them about a rock, saying to himself: "If I now speak to the rock, bidding it bring forth water, and it bring forth none, I shall subject myself to humiliation in the presence of the community, for they will say, 'Where is thy wisdom?'" Hence he said to the people: "Ye know that God can perform miracles for ye, but He hath hidden from me out of which rock He will let the water flow forth. For whenever the time comes that God wished a man not to know, then his wisdom and understanding are of no avail to him." Moses then lifted his rod and let it quietly slide down upon the rock which he laid it, uttering, as if addressing Israel, the words, "Shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?" The rock of its own accord now began to give forth water, whereupon Moses struck upon it with his rod, but then water no longer flowed forth, but blood. Moses hereupon said to God: "This rock brings forth no water," and God instantly turned to the rock with the question: "Why dost thou bring forth not water, but blood?" The rock answered: "O Lord of the world! Why did Moses smite me?" When God asked Moses why he had smitten the rock, he replied: "That it might bring forth water." God, however, said to Moses: "Had I bidden thee to smite the rock? I had only said, 'Speak to it.'" Moses tried to defend himself by saying, "I did speak to it, but it brought forth nothing." "Thou," God replied, "hast given Israel the instruction, 'In righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor'; why then, didst not thou judge the rock 'in righteousness,' the rock that in Egypt supported thee when out of it thou didst such honey? Is this the manner in which thou repayest it? Not only wert thou unjust to the rock, but thou didst also call My children fools. If then thou are a wise man, it does not become thee as a wise man to have anything further to do with fools, and therefore thou shalt not with them learn to know the land of Israel." At the same time God added, "Neither thou, nor thy brother, nor thy sister, shall set foot upon the land of Israel." For even in Egypt God had warned Moses and Aaron to refrain from calling the Israelites fools, and as Moses, without evoking a protest from Aaron, at the water of Kadesh, called them fools, the punishment of death was decreed for him and his brother. When God had informed Moses of the impending punishment due to him and his brother, He turned to the rock, saying: "Turn thy blood into water," and so it came to pass.
As a sign of especial favor God communicates to the pious the day of their death, that they may transmit their crowns to their sons. But God considered it particularly fitting to prepare Moses and Aaron for impending death, saying: "These two pious men throughout their lifetime did nothing without consulting Me, and I shall not therefore take them out of this world without previously informing them."
When, therefore, Aaron's time approached, God said to Moses: "My servant Moses, who hast been 'faithful in all Mine house,' I have an important matter to communicate to thee, but it weighs heavily upon Me." Moses: "What is it?" God: "Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against My word at the waters of Meribah." Moses replied: "Lord of the world! It is manifest and known before the Throne of Thy glory, that Thou art Lord of all the world and of Thy creatures that in this world Thou hast created, so that we are in Thy hand, and in Thy hand it lies to do with us as Thou wilt. I am not, however, fit to go to my brother, and repeat to him Thy commission, for he is older than I, and how then shall I presume to go up to my older brother and say, 'Go up unto Mount Hor and die there!'" God answered Moses: "Not with the lip shalt thou touch this matter, but 'take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor.' Ascend thou also with them, and there speak with thy brother sweet and gentle words, the burden of which will, however, prepare him for what awaits him. Later when ye shall all three be upon the mountain, 'strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son, and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.' As a favor to Me prepare Aaron for his death, for I am ashamed to tell him of it Myself."
When Moses heard this, there was a tumult in his heart, and he knew not what to do. He wept so passionately that his grief for the impending loss of his brother brought him to the brink of death himself. As a faithful servant of God, however, nothing remained for him to do, but to execute his Master's command, hence he betook himself to Aaron to the Tabernacle, to inform him of his death.
Now it had been customary during the forty years' march through the desert for the people daily to gather, first before the seventy elders, then under their guidance before the princes of the tribes, then for all of them to appear before Eleazar and Aaron, and with these to go to Moses to present to him their morning greeting. On this day, however, Moses made a change in this custom, and after having wept through the night, at the cock's crow summoned Eleazar before him and said to him: "Go and call to me the elders and the princes, for I have to convey to them a commission from the Lord." Accompanied by these men, Moses not betook himself to Aaron who, seeing Moses when he arose, asked: "Why hast thou made a change in the usual custom?" Moses: "God hath bidden me to make a communication to thee." Aaron: "Tell it to me." Moses: "Wait until we are out of doors." Aaron thereupon donned his eight priestly garments and both went out.
Now it had always been the custom for Moses whenever he went from his house to the Tabernacle to walk in the center, with Aaron at his right, Eleazar at his left, then the elders at both sides, and the people following in the rear. Upon arriving within the Tabernacle, Aaron would seat himself as the very nearest at Moses' right hand, Eleazar at his left, and the elders and princes in front. On this day, however, Moses changed this order; Aaron walked in the center, Moses at his right hand, Eleazar at his left, the elders and princes at both sides, and the rest of the people following.
When the Israelites saw this, they rejoiced greatly, saying: "Aaron now has a higher degree of the Holy Spirit than Moses, and therefore does Moses yield to him the place of honor in the center." The people loved Aaron better than Moses. For ever since Aaron had become aware that through the construction of the Golden Calf he had brought about the transgression of Israel, it was his endeavor through the following course of life to atone for his sin. He would go from house to house, and whenever he found one who did not know how to recite his Shema', he taught him the Shema'; if one did not know how to pray he taught him how to pray; and if he found one who was not capable of penetrating into the study of the Torah, he initiated him into it. He did not, however, consider his task restricted 'to establishing peace between God and man,' but strove to establish peace between the learned and the ignorant Israelites, among the scholars themselves, among the ignorant, and between man and wife. Hence the people loved him very dearly, and rejoiced when they believed he had now attained a higher rank than Moses.
Having arrived at the Tabernacle, Aaron now wanted to enter, but Moses held him back, saying: "We shall now go beyond the camp." When they were outside the camp, Aaron said to Moses: "Tell me the commission God hath given thee." Moses answered: "Wait until we reach the mountain." At the foot of the mountain Moses said to the people: "Stay here until we return to you; I, Aaron, and Eleazar will go to the top of the mount, and shall return when we shall have heard the Divine revelation." All three now ascended.
Moses wanted to inform his brother of his impending death, but knew not how to go about it. At length he said to him: "Aaron, my brother, hath God given anything into thy keeping?" "Yes," replied Aaron. "What, pray?" asked Moses. Aaron: "The altar and the table upon which is the shewbread hath He given into my charge." Moses: "It may be that He will now demand back from thee all that He hath given into thy keeping." Aaron: "What, pray?" Moses: "Hath He not entrusted a light to thee?" Aaron: "Not one light only but all seven of the candlestick that now burn in the sanctuary." Moses had, of course, intended to call Aaron's attention to the soul, "the light of the Lord," which God had given into his keeping and which He now demanded back. As Aaron, in his simplicity, did not notice the allusion, Moses did not go into further particulars, but remarked to Aaron: "God hath with justice called thee an innocent, simple-hearted man."
While they were thus conversing, a cave opened up before them, whereupon Moses requested his brother to enter it, and Aaron instantly acquiesced. Moses was now in a sad predicament, for, to follow God's command, he had to strip Aaron of his garments and to put them upon Eleazar, but he knew not how to broach the subject to his brother. He finally said to Aaron: "My brother Aaron, it is not proper to enter the cave into which we now want to descend, invested in the priestly garments, for they might there become unclean; the cave is very beautiful, and it is therefore possible that there are old graves in it." Aaron replied, "Thou art right." Moses then stripped his brother of his priestly garments, and put them upon Aaron's son, Eleazar.
As it would have been improper if Aaron had been buried quite naked, God brought about the miracle that, as soon as Moses took off one of Aaron's garments, a corresponding celestial garment was spread over Aaron, and when Moses had stripped him of all his priestly garments, he found himself arrayed in eight celestial garments. A second miracle came to pass in the stripping of Aaron's garments, for Moses was enabled to take off the undermost garments before the upper. This was done in order to satisfy the law that priests may never use their upper garments as undergarments, a thing Eleazar would have had to do, had Moses stripped off Aaron's outer garments first and with these invested his son.
After Eleazar had put on the high priest's garments, Moses and Aaron said to him: "Wait for us here until we return out of the cave," and both entered it. At their entrance they beheld a couch spread, a table prepared, and a candle lighted, while ministering angels surrounded the couch. Aaron then said to Moses: "How long, O my brother, wilt thou still conceal the commission God hath entrusted to thee? Thou knowest that He Himself, when for the first time He addressed thee, with His own lips declared of me, 'When he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.' Why, then, dost thou conceal the commission God hath entrusted to thee? Even if it were to refer to my death, I should take it upon myself with a cheerful countenance." Moses replied: "As thou thyself dost speak of death, I will acknowledge that God's words to me do concern thy death, but I was afraid to make it known to thee. But look now, thy death is not as that of the other creatures of flesh and blood; and not only is thy death a remarkable one, but see! The ministering angels have come to stand by thee in thy parting hour."
When he spoke of the remarkable death that awaited Aaron, Moses meant to allude to the fact that Aaron, like his sister Miriam and later Moses, was to die not through the Angel of Death, but by a kiss from God. Aaron, however, said: "O my brother Moses, why didst not thou make this communication to me in the presence of my mother, my wife, and my children?" Moses did not instantly reply to this question, but tried to speak words of comfort and encouragement to Aaron, saying: "Dost thou not know, my brother, that thou didst forty years ago deserve to meet thy death when thou didst fashion the Golden Calf, but then I stood before the Lord in prayer and exhortation, and saved thee from death. And now I pray that my death were as thine! For when thou diest, I bury thee, but when I shall die, I shall have no brother to bury me. When thou diest, thy sons will inherit thy position, but when I die, strangers will inherit my place." With these and similar words Moses encouraged his brother, until he finally looked forward to his end with equanimity.
Aaron lay down upon the adorned couch, and God received his soul. Moses then left the cave, which immediately vanished, so that none might know or understand how it had happened. When Eleazar saw Moses return alone, he said to him: "O my teacher, where is my father?" Moses replied: "He has entered Paradise." Then both descended from the mountain into the camp. When the people saw Moses and Eleazar return without Aaron, they were not at all in the mood to lend faith to the communication of Aaron's death. They could not at all credit that a man who had overcome the Angel of Death was now overcome by him. Three opinions were then formed among the people concerning Aaron's absence. Some declared that Moses had killed Aaron because he was jealous of his popularity; some thought Eleazar had killed his father to become his successor as high priest; and there was also some who declared that he had been removed from earth to be translated to heaven. Satan had so incited the people against Moses and Eleazar that they wanted to stone them. Moses hereupon prayed to God, saying: "Deliver me and Eleazar from this unmerited suspicion, and also show to the people Aaron's bier, that they may not believe him to be still alive, for in their boundless admiration for Aaron they may even make a God of him." God then said to the angels: "Lift up on high the bier upon which lies My friend Aaron, so that Israel may know he is dead and my not lay hand upon Moses and Eleazar." The angels did as they were bidden, and Israel then saw Aaron's bier floating in the air, while God before it and the angels behind intoned a funeral song for Aaron. God lamented in the words, "He entereth into peace; they rest in their beds, each one that walketh in his uprightness," whereas the angels said: "The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips: he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and did turn many away from iniquity."
When Israel beheld the funeral rites prepared in honor of Aaron by God and by the angels, they also prepared a funeral ceremony of thirty days in which all the people, men and women, adults and children, took part. This universal mourning had its foundation not only in Israel's emulation of the Divine mourning and of the ceremonies arranged by Moses and Eleazar, or in their wish to show their reverence for the deceased high priest, but first and foremost in the truth that the people deeply loved Aaron and deeply felt his death. They mourned for him even more than they did later for Moses; for the latter only a part of the people shed tears, but for Aaron, everyone. Moses, as a judge, was obliged to mete out justice to the guilty, so that he had enemies among the people, men who could not forget that he had pronounced them guilty in court. Moses, furthermore, was sometimes severe with Israel when he held up to them their sins, but never Aaron. The latter "loved peace and pursued peace, loved men and brought them near to the Torah. In his humility, he did not consider his dignity hurt by offering greetings first even to the lowliest, yes, he did not even fail in offering his greeting when he was certain that the man before him was wicked and godless. The lament of the angels for Aaron as one "who did turn many away from iniquity" was therefore well justified. This kindliness of his led many a sinner to reform, who at the moment when he was about to commit a sin thought to himself: "How shall I be able to lift up my eyes to Aaron's face? I, to whom Aaron was so kind, blush to do evil." Aaron recognized his especial task as that of the peace-maker. If he discovered that two men had fallen out, he hastened first to the one, then to the other, saying to each: "My son, dost thou not know what he is doing with whom thou hast quarreled? He beats at his heart, rends his garments in grief, and says, 'Woe is me! How can I ever again lift up my eyes and look upon my companion against whom I have acted so?'" Aaron would then speak to each separately until both the former enemies would mutually forgive each other, and as soon as they were again face to face salute each other as friends. If Aaron heard that husband and wife lived in discord, he would hasten to the husband, saying: "I come to thee because I hear that thou and thy wife live in discord, wherefore thou must divorce her. Keep in mind, however, that if thou shouldst in place of thy present wife marry another, it is very questionable if thy second wife will be as good as this one; for at your first quarrel she will throw up to thee that thou art a quarrelsome man, as was shown by thy divorce from thy first wife." Many thousands of unions were saved from impending rupture by the efforts and urgings of Aaron, and the sons born to the couples brought together anew usually received Aaron's name, owing, as they did, their existence to his intercession. Not less than eighty thousand youths bearing his name took part in the mourning for Aaron.
When Moses beheld the deep-felt sorrow of the heavenly beings and of men for Aaron, he burst into passionate weeping, and said: "Woe is me, that am now left all alone! When Miriam died, none came to show her the last marks of honor, and only I, Aaron, and his sons stood about her bier, wept for her, mourned her, and buried her. At Aaron's death, I and his sons were present at his bier to show him the last marks of honor. But alas! How shall I fare? Who will be present at my death? I have neither father nor mother, neither brother nor sister,-who then will weep for me?" God, however, said to him: "Be not afraid, Moses, I Myself shall bury thee amid great splendor, and just as the cave in which Aaron lied has vanished, that none may know the spot where Aaron is buried, so too shall no mortal know thy burial place. As the Angel of Death had no power over Aaron, who died 'by the kiss,' so shall the Angel of Death have no power over thee, and thou shalt die 'by the kiss.'" Moses grew calm at these words, knowing at last that he had his place among the blessed pious. Blessed are thy, for not only does God in person gather them to Him, but as soon as they are dead, the angels go joyously to meet them and with beaming faces go to greet them, saying, "Enter into peace."
When Moses and Eleazar returned from the mountain without Aaron, Israel said to Moses: "We shall not release thee from this spot until thou showest us Aaron, dead or alive." Moses prayed to God, and He opened the cave and all Israel saw within it Aaron, lying dead upon a bier. They instantly felt what they had lost in Aaron, for when they turned to look at the camp, they saw that the clouds of glory that had covered the site of the camp during their forty years' march had vanished. They perceived, therefore, that God had sent these clouds for Aaron's sake only, and hence, with Aaron's death, had caused them to vanish. These among Israel who had been born in the desert, having now, owing to the departure of the clouds of glory, for the first time beheld the sun and moon, wanted to fall down before them and adore them, for the clouds had always hidden the sun and the moon from them, and the sight of them made a most awful impression upon them. But God said to them: "Have I not commanded you in My Torah: 'Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves...lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, thou be drawn away and worship them, and serve them?' For it is God that led thee out of the furnace of Egypt, that thou mightest be the people of His inheritance."
The disappearance of the clouds of glory inspired Israel with terror, for now they were unaided against the attacks of enemies, whereas none had been able to enter into the camp of Israel while the clouds covered them. This fear was not, indeed, ungrounded, for hardly did Amalek learn that Aaron was dead and that the clouds of glory had vanished, when he at once set about harassing Israel. Amalek acted in accordance with the counsel his grandsire Esau had given him, for his words to his grandson had been: "In spite of all my pains, I did not succeed in killing Jacob, therefore be thou mindful of avenging me upon his descendants." "But how, alas!" said Amalek, "Shall I be able to compete with Israel?" Esau made answer: "Look well, and as soon as thou seest Israel stumble, leap upon them." Amalek looked upon this legacy as the guiding star of his actions. When Israel trespassed, saying with little faith, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" Amalek instantly appeared. Hardly had Israel been tempted by its spies wickedly to exclaim, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt," when Amalek was upon the scene to battle with Israel. In later times also Amalek followed this policy, and when Nebuchadnezzar moved to Jerusalem in order to destroy it, Amalek took up his position one mile away from the holy city, saying: "If Israel should conquer, I should declare that I had come to assist them, but should Nebuchadnezzar be victorious, then shall I cut off the flight of the fleeing Israelites." His hopes were realized, for Nebuchadnezzar was victorious, and standing at the crossway, he cut down the fleeing Israelites, and added insult to injury by hurling invectives against God and the people, and ridiculing them.
When, after Aaron's death, Amalek no longer considered Israel dangerous, since the clouds had disappeared, he instantly set about making war upon them. Amalek did not, however, go in open warfare against Israel, but tried through craft to attain what he dared not hope for in open warfare. Concealing their weapons in their garments, the Amalekites appeared in Israel's camp as if they meant to condole with them for Aaron's death, and the unexpectedly attacked them. Not content with this, the Amalekites disguised themselves in Canaanite costume and spoke the speech of the latter, so that the Israelites might not be able to tell if they had before them Amalekites, as their personal appearance seemed to show, or Canaanites, as their dress and speech indicated. The reason for this disguise was that Amalek knew that Israel had inherited the legacy from their ancestor Isaac that God always answered their prayer, hence Amalek said: "If we now appear as Canaanites, they will implore God to send them aid against the Canaanites, and we shall slay them." But all these wiles of Amalek were of no avail. Israel couched their prayer to God in these words: "O Lord of the world! We know not with what nation we are now waging war, whether with Amalek or with Canaan, but whichsoever nation it be, pray visit punishment upon it." God heard their prayer and, promising to stand by them, ordered them totally to annihilate their enemy, saying: "Although ye are now dealing with Amalek, do not treat him like Esau's other sons, against whom ye may not war, but try totally to destroy them, as if they were Canaanites." Israel acted according to this command, slaying the Amalekites in battle, and dedicating their cities to God. Amalek's only gain in this enterprise was that, at the beginning of the war, they seized a slave woman who had once belonged to them, but who later passed over into the possession of the Israelites.
For Israel this attack of Amalek had indeed serious consequences, for as soon as they perceived the approach of the enemy, they were afraid to continue the march to Palestine, being now no longer under the protection of the clouds, that vanished with Aaron's death; hence they determined to return to Egypt. They actually carried out part of this project by retreating eight stations, but the Levites pursued them, and in Moserah there arose a bitter quarrel between those who wanted to return to Egypt and the Levites who insisted upon the continuance of the march to Palestine. Of the former, eight tribal divisions were destroyed in this quarrel, five Benjamite, and one each of the Simeonite, Gadite, and Asherite divisions, while of the Levites one division was completely extirpated, and three others decimated in such a way that they did not recover until the days of David. The Levites were finally victorious, for even their opponents recognized that it had been folly on their part to desire to return to Egypt, and that their loss had been only a punishment because they had not arranged a mourning ceremony adequate to honor a man of Aaron's piety. They thereupon celebrated a grand mourning ceremony for Aaron in Moserah, and it is for this reason that people later spoke of this place as the place where Aaron died, because the great mourning rites took place there.
Owing to the king of Edom's refusal to permit Israel to pass through his land, they were obliged, at the very point when they believed themselves at the end of their march, to continue it, so as to go around the land of Edom. The people, weary of the many years' marches, now became peevish, saying: "We had already been close to the promised land, and now must turn about once more! It was the same with our fathers who, close to their goal, had to turn back and roam about for thirty-eight years. Thus will it be with us!" In their dejection they set about murmuring against God and Moses, "master and servant being to them as one." They complained that they were entirely thrown upon manna as a means of sustenance. This last mentioned complaint came from those in regard to whom God had vowed that they should never see the land which He had sworn unto the Patriarchs. These people could not bear the sight of the products of Palestine's soil, dying as soon as they beheld them. Now that they had arrived at the outskirts of the promised land, the merchants brought into the camp of the Israelites the native products, but these, unable to partake of them, still had to continue to gather sustenance exclusively from manna.
Then a voice sounding from the heavens became audible upon earth, making this announcement: "Come hither and behold, O ye men! Come hither and hearken, ye the serpent with the words, 'Dust shalt thou eat,' yet it complained not of its food. But ye, My people that I have led out of Egypt, for whom I caused manna to rain down from heaven, and quails to fly from the sea, and a spring to gush forth from the abyss, ye do murmur against Me on account of manna, saying, 'Our soul loatheth this light bread.' Let now the serpents come, that complained not, even though whatever food they ate tasted only of the dust, and let them bite those who murmur though they have a food that possesses every conceivable flavor. The serpent, which was the first creature to slander its Maker and was therefore punished, shall now punish this people, which, not profiting by the example of the serpent's punishment, blasphemes its Creator by declaring that the heavenly food that He sends them would finally bring them death." The very serpents that during the forty years' march had been burned by the cloud of glory and lay heaped up high round about the camp, these same serpents now bit the people so terribly that their poison burned the souls of those whom they attacked.
When Moses betook himself to those who had been bitten, hearing that they were too ill to come to him, they, conscious of their guilt, said to him: "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us." Such was the meekness of Moses, that he instantly forgave the people's transgression in regard to himself, and at once implored God's aid. God also, however, forgave their sin as soon as they had shown penitence, and thus set an example to man likewise to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
As a healing for those who had been bitten, God now bade Moses to make a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, that it might come to pass that every one who was bitten might look upon it and live. Moses did as he was bidden, and made a serpent of brass. As soon as he hurled it on high, it remained floating in the air, so that all might be able to look upon it. He mad the serpent brass, because in Hebrew Nahash signifies "snake" and Nehoshet, "brass"; hence Moses made the serpent of a substance that had a sound similar to that of the object fashioned out of it. It was not, however, the sight of the serpent of brass that brought with it healing and life; but whenever those who had been bitten by the serpents raised their eyes upward and subordinated their hearts to the will of the heavenly Father, they were healed; if they gave no thought to God, they perished.
Looking upon the serpent of brass brought about healing not only to those who had been bitten by serpents, but also to those who had been bitten by dogs or other animals. The cure of the latter was effected even more quickly than that of the former, for a casual glance sufficed for them, whereas the former were healed only after a long and insistent gaze.
The murmurs of the people, on account of which God sent upon them the serpents, took place in Zalmonah, a place where grew only thorns and thistles. Thence they wandered on to Punon, where God's punishment overtook them. In the following two stations also, in Oboth and Iye-abarim, they continued their hostile actions against God, who for this reason was full of wrath against them, and did not look upon them again with favor until they reached Arnon. God's favor was instantly shown during Israel's passage through the valley of Arnon, where He wrought for Israel miracles as great as those of yore at the passage through the Red Sea. This valley was formed by two lofty mountains that lay so close together that people upon the two summits of them could converse with one another. But in passing from one mountain to the other, one had to cover a distance of seven miles, having first to descend into the valley, and then again to ascend the other mountain. The Amorits, knowing that Israel should now have to pass through the valley, assembled in innumerable multitudes, and a part of them hid in the caves, of which there were many on the slopes of the mountain, while another part of them awaited Israel in the valley below, hoping to attack and destroy them unexpectedly from above and from below in their passage through the valley. God, however, frustrated this plan, bringing it to pass that Israel did not descend into the valley at all, but stayed above, through the following miracle. For whereas the mountain on the one side of the valley was full of caves, the other consisted entirely of pointed rocks; and God moved this rocky mountain so close up to the other, that the jutting rocks of the one entered into the caves of the other, and all the Amorites that were concealed within them were crushed.
It was the rocky mountain that was moved, and not the other, for this same rocky mountain was the beginning of the promised land, and at the approach of Israel from the other mountain, which was Moabite, the land leaped to meet them, for it awaited them most longingly.
An old proverb says: "If you give a piece of bread to a child, tell its mother about it." God, likewise, wanted Israel to know the great miracles He had accomplished for their sake, for they had no inkling of the attack the heathens had planned to make upon them. God therefore bade the well that had reappeared since their stay in Beeroth to flow past the caves and wash out parts of the corpses in great numbers. When Israel not turned to look upon the well, they perceived it in the valley of the Arnon, shining like the moon, and drawing corpses with it. Not until then did they discover the miracles that had been wrought for them. Not only did the mountains at first move together to let them pass, and then again move apart, but God saved them from great peril. They now intoned a song of praise to the well that revealed to them the great miracle.
When, at the passage through the Red Sea, Israel wanted to intone a song of praise, Moses did not let them do it alone, but first sang to them the song they were to sing to the Lord. For then Israel was young, and could only repeat what its teacher Moses sang before them, but when the nation reached Arnon, it was fully grown, after its forty years' march through the desert. Now the Israelites sang their own song, saying: "O Lord of the world! It behooves Thee to work miracles for us, whereas it is our duty to intone to Thee songs of praise." Moses had no part in the song of praise to the well, for the well had given occasion to his death in the desert, and no man can be expected to sing about his executioner. As Moses wanted have nothing to do with this song, God demanded that His own name also be not mentioned in it, acting in this instances like the king who was invited to a prince's table, but refused the invitation when he learned that his friend was not to be present at the feast. The song to the well was as follows: "This is the well that the Patriarchs of the world, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, have digged, the princes olden times have searched, the heads of the people, the lawgivers of Israel, Moses and Aaron, have made its water to run with their staves. In the desert Israel received it as a gift, and after they had received it, it followed Israel upon all their wanderings, to lofty mountains and deep valleys. Not until they came to the boundary of Moab did it disappear, because Israel did not observe the words of the Torah."
Israel sang a song to the well alone, and not to manna, because they had on several occasions railed against the heavenly food, and therefore God said: "I do not wish ye to find fault with manna, nor yet to have ye praise it now," and He would not permit them to sing a song of praise to manna.
The crushing of those concealed in the caves of the mountain at Arnon was only the beginning of the miracles God wrought for Israel during their conquest of the land. It was at Arnon, too, that Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and his people who, hardly a month after Aaron's death, rushed upon Israel, were completely destroyed by them. This Amorite king, and likewise Og, the king of Basham, were sons of Ahiah, whose father Shemhazai was one of the fallen angels. In accordance with his celestial origin Sihon was a giant who none could withstand, for he was of enormous stature, taller than any tower in all the world, his thigh-bone alone measuring eighteen cubits, according to the big cubit of that time. In spite of his huge size he was also fleet of foot, wherefore he was called Sihon, "foal," to indicate the celerity with which he moved, for his true name was Arad.
Moses was sorely afraid of waging war against this giant, but God put Sihon's and Og's guardian angels in chains, and then said to Moses: "Behold, I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land." For indeed after the angels of Sihon and his people had fallen, Moses had nothing more to fear, for his enemies were thus delivered into his hands. God assured Moses that "He would begin to put the dread of him and the fear of him upon the peoples that are under the whole heaven," by bidding the sun to stand still during his war against Sihon, that all the world might see that God battled for Moses.
Moses now asked if he might before waging war send ambassadors to Sihon to request him to permit Israel to pass through the land. God replied: "How now! I commanded thee, 'Rise up, contend with him in battle, begin to possess his land!' and thou wantest to send him messengers of peace?" Moses, however, replied: "I desire only to follow Thy example when Thou didst wish to lead Israel out of Egypt, and yet didst send me to Pharaoh with the message to let Israel, Thy people, pass out, even though Thou couldst have consumed all of Egypt with one flash of lightning. When Thou didst reveal the Torah, too, Thou didst offer it to the heathen nations for acceptance before giving it to Israel." God saw the justice of Moses' words, and commanded him never in the future to declare war upon a city before previously urging the people to surrender in peace.
Moses hereupon sent a missive to Sihon in which he requested him to permit Israel to pass through the land, promising him that he would see to it that the people should go along by the king's highway, so that he need have no cause to fear any deeds of violence upon married women, or seductions of girls. "We shall even," continued Moses, "pay for the water that is otherwise given freely, and likewise buy food-stuffs from thee at good prices." This letter to Sihon contained at its close, notwithstanding, the communication that the Israelites would bring war upon Sihon in case he did not permit them to pass through. Moses' assumption, however, that Sihon should permit Israel to pass through sounded in Sihon's ears like a summons to the keeper of a vineyard to permit one to harvest it. Sihon's answer therefore was as follows: "I and my brother Og receive tribute from all the other Canaanite kings to keep off their enemies from access to the land, and now you ask me to give you free access to Canaan!"
War between Sihon and Moses ensued, and ended in a brilliant victory for Israel. Sihon and his son, who equaled him in heroic strength, found their death in this fray. God had so brought it to pass that Israel had no need of laboriously waging war upon one city after another in Sihon's land, He had brought all the hosts of this Amorite king together into Heshbon. When this city therefore and the hosts within it were destroyed, all the rest of Sihon's land lay open before them. Israel's victory was all the more marvelous, because Heshbon was an exceptionally well fortified city, so that, had gnats been its inhabitants, it could not have been captured by mortal means, much less so when manned by the hero Sihon and his heroic warriors. This victory was made possible only by the fact that God visited them with convulsions so terrible that they rolled up and writhed in pain, unable to stand in the battle lines, so that Israel could cut them down while they were half dead from convulsive pains. God also drew masks over their faces, so that they could not see plainly, and taking one another for Israelites, slew their own people.
With the fall of Heshbon Israel came into possession of all the land of Sihon, with the exception of Jazer, and Moses therefore sent spies to that city. The men whom he sent there, Caleb and Phinehas, were not only capable warriors, but also pious men. They said: "Moses once sent spies who brought great misfortune upon all their generations, we will attack this city, trusting in God, and we are sure we shall not perish, because Moses has prayed for our welfare." They thereupon attacked Jazer, conquered it, and when upon the day after Moses had sent them out they returned to him, they informed him that they had conquered Jazer and slain its inhabitants.
The war with Sihon took place in the month of Elul. In the following month of Tishri they rested on account of the holy days, but immediately after these they set out to battle against Og. This king did not hasten to his brother's aid, although he was only one day's distance from him, for he felt sure Sihon could conquer Israel without his assistance. He erred in this, however, as in some other matters. In the war of the four kings against the five, it was Og who had brought to Abraham news of his nephew Lot's bondage, assuming that Abraham would surely hasten to his kinsman's aid, be killed in battle, and thus enable Og to get possession of the beautiful Sarah. God, however, leaves no man unrewarded or unpunished. To reward him for hastening with quick steps to advise Abraham of Lot's captivity, God granted him life for five hundred years, but he was eventually killed because it was only a wicked motive that had induced him to perform this service for Abraham. He did not, as he had hoped, gain Sarah, but was slain by her descendant Moses.
The battle against Og took place in Edrei, the outskirts of which Israel reached toward nightfall. On the following morning, however, barely at gray dawn, Moses arose and prepared to attack the city, but looking toward the city wall, he cried in amazement, "Behold, in the night they have built up a new wall about the city!" Moses did not see clearly in the misty morning, for there was no wall, but only the giant Og who sat upon the wall with his feet touching the ground below. Considering Og's enormous stature, Moses' mistake was pardonable, for as a grave-digger of later times related, Og's thigh-bone alone measured more than three parasangs. "Once," so records Abba Saul, "I hunted a stag which fled into the thigh bone of a dead man. I pursued it and ran along three parasangs of the thigh-bone, yet had not reached its end." This thigh-bone, as was later established, was Og's.
This giant never in all his days made use of a wooden chair or bed, as these would have broken down beneath his weight, but sat upon iron chairs and lay upon iron beds. He was not only of gigantic build and strength, but of a breadth also that was completely out of proportion even with his height, for his breadth was one half his height, whereas the normal proportion of breadth to height is as one to three. In his youth Og had been a slave to Abraham, who had received him as a gift from Nimrod, for Og is none other than Eliezer, Abraham's steward. One day, when Abraham rebuked him and shouted at him, Eliezer was so frightened that one of his teeth fell out, and Abraham fashioned out of it a bed in which he always slept. Og daily devoured a thousand oxen or an equal number of other animals, and drank correspondingly, requiring daily not less than a thousand measures of liquids. He remained in Abraham's service until Isaac's marriage, when Abraham gave him his freedom as a reward for having undertaken the labor of wooing Rebekah for his son, and of fetching her to his house. God also rewarded him in this world, that this wicked wight might not lay claim to a reward in the world to come. He therefore made a king of him. During his reign he founded sixty cities, that he surrounded with high walls, the lowest of which was not less than sixty miles in height.
Moses now feared to wage war against Og, not only on account of his giant strength and huge size, which Moses had now witnessed with his own eyes, but he also thought: "I am only one hundred and twenty years old, whereas he is more than five hundred. Surely he could never have attained so great an age, had he not performed meritorious deeds." Moses also remembered that Og was the only giant that had escaped the hand of Amraphel, and he perceived in this a token of God's special favor toward Og. Moses feared, moreover, that Israel in the recent war against Sihon might have committed sins, so that God would not now stand by them. "The pious are always afraid of the consequences of sin, and therefore do not rely upon the assurances God had made to them;" hence Moses now feared to advance upon Og even though God had promised him aid against his enemies. God, however, said to him: "What is thy hand, his destruction has been decreed since the moment when he looked with evil eyes upon Jacob and his family when they arrived in Egypt." For even then God had said to him: "O thou wicked knave, why dost thou look upon them with all evil eye? Verily, thine eye shall burst, for thou shalt fall into their hands."
Og met his death in the following fashion. When he discovered that Israel's camp was three parasangs in circumference, he said: "I shall now tear up a mountain of three parasangs, and cast it upon Israel's camp, and crush them." He did as he had planned, pulled up a mountain of three parasangs, laid it upon his head, and came marching in the direction of the Israelite camp, to hurl it upon them. But what did God do? He caused ants to perforate the mountain, so that is slipped from Og's head down upon his neck, and when he attempted to shake it off, he teeth pushed out and extended to left and right, and did not let the mountain pass, so that he now stood there with the mountain, unable to throw it from him. When Moses saw this, he took an axe twelve cubits long, leaped ten cubits into the air, and dealt a blow to Og's ankle, which caused the giant's death.
This was the end of the last of the giants, who was not only last in time, but also in significance, for despite his height and strength, he was the most insignificant of the giants who perished in the flood.
With Og's death all his lands fell to the lot of the Israelites without another sword's stroke, for God has so ordained it that al of Og's warriors were with him at his encounter with Israel, and after Israel had conquered these, only women and children remained in all the land. Had Israel been obliged to advance upon every city individually, they would never have finished, on account of the number of the cities and the strength of the hosts of the Amorites.
Not alone Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, were such giants and heroes, but all the Amorites. When Hadrian conquered Jerusalem, he boasted of his victory, whereupon Rabba Johanan, the son of Zakkai, said to hi: "Boast not of thy victory over Jerusalem, for, had not God conquered it for thee, thou shouldst never have gained it." He thereupon led Hadrian to a cave where he showed him the corpses of the Amorites, each of which was eighteen cubits, and said: "When we were worthy of victory, these fell into our hands, but now, on account of our sins, dost thou rule over us."
The victory over Sihon and his hosts was as great as that over Pharaoh and his hosts, and so was the victory over Og and his hosts. Each of these victories was as important as that over the thirty-one kings that Joshua later captured, and it would well have behooved Israel to sing songs of praise to their Lord as after Pharaoh's destruction. David later made good this omission, for he intoned a song of praise in gratitude for the victory God had lent to Israel over Sihon and Og.
Without direct assistance from God these victories would not have been possible, but He sent hornets upon them, and their destruction was irrevocable. Two hornets pursued ever Amorite; one bit one eye, the second the other eye, and the poison of these little creatures consumed those bitten by them. These hornets remained on the east side of the Jordan, and did not pursue Israel's march to the regions west of the Jordan, nevertheless they wrought great havoc among the Canaanites of the region west of the Jordan. The hornets stood on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and spat their venom across to the opposite bank, so that the Canaanites that were hit became blind and were disarmed.
When God promised Moses to send an angel to Israel, he declined the offer with the words: "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence," whereupon God replied: "Thou complainest because I desire to send only an angel to assist thee to conquer the land. As truly as thou livest, I shall now send thee not even an angel, but a hornet to destroy the enemies of Israel. It is, however, for thy sake alone that I deliver the enemy into Israel's hands, and not as if Israel deserved it through their own good deeds."
Og's bed, fashioned out of ivory, that measured nine arms' length, taking the giant's arm as a standard, Og had preserved in the Ammonite city Rabbah, for he knew that Israel would penetrate neither to the land of the Ammonites nor of the Moabites, because God had prohibited them from coming too close to Lot's descendants. He likewise forbade them to wage war with the Edomites; in this way Esau, a son kind to his father Isaac, was rewarded by not having his descendants, the Edomites, molested by Israel. God said to Israel: "In this world ye shall have no sway over the mountain Seir, Edom's realm, but in the future world, when ye shall be released, then shall ye obtain possession of it. Until then, however, beware of the sons of Esau, even when they fear ye, much more so when ye shall dwell scattered among them."
As Abraham before his death spoke to his son Isaac, he to his son Jacob, and Jacob in turn to his sons, words admonishing them to walk in the ways of the Lord, so Moses also did not depart from this world without previously calling Israel to account for their sins, and admonishing them to observe the commandments of the Lord. Moses' speech of admonition had a greater effect than the revelation of the Decalogue upon Mount Sinai, for whereas Israel, shortly after they had said on Sinai, "We shall do according as we have heard," transgressed by worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses' words of admonition had left a powerful impression upon them, and he restored them to God and the Torah. God therefore said, "As a reward to thee because thy words of exhortation have brought Israel to follow Me, I shall designate these words as thine, even though thou didst speak them only in execution of My command."
Moses did not, however, make his speech of exhortation to the people until after the victory of Sihon and Og, for Moses thought: "Were I to have called them to account before these victories, they would have answered, 'He is trying to recall to us our sins because he is unable to lead us into the promised land against Sihon and Og, and he is seeking our sins as an excuse.'" But after Moses had proven what he could do, he could safely venture to recall to the people their sins. He now assembled all classes of Israel, the nobles as well as the common people, saying to them: "I will now give you a severe rebuke for your sins, and if any one have something to offer as an excuse, let him now advance it." In this way he shut off the possibility of their saying later on, "Had we heard the words of the son of Amram, we should have answered each word fourfold and fivefold."
Moses now recounted the ten temptations with which they tempted God: how at the Red Sea they had repented having followed Him, and had even turned back three stations on the way to Egypt; how even after the miracle that clove the Red sea for them, they had so little faith in God as to say, "Just as at this spot we passed unharmed through the Red Sea, so also did the Egyptians in another part of it." At Marah and at Rephidim they tried God on account of the dearth of water, and as they twice rebelled against God on account of water, so also did they on account of manna. They infringed upon the two laws God had given them in regard to manna, storing it from one day to the next, and going to gather it on the Sabbath, although God had strictly forbidden both. On account of their lust for flesh also they twice transgressed, murmuring for flesh at the same time as they received manna, although manna completely satisfied their needs; and after God had granted their wish and had sent them quails, they remains content for a short time only, and then again demanded quails, until God granted them that wish also. "But the worst of all," Moses told them, "was the worship of the Golden Calf. And not only that, but again in Paran, misled by the spies, ye transgressed in desiring to make an idol, and under its guidance to return to Egypt."
Moses then pointed out to them that it was owing to their sin that they had strayed about in the desert for forty years, for otherwise God would have brought them to Palestine on the same day as He had led them out of Egypt. He not only reproached Israel with the sins they had committed against God, but also with the evil they had worked Moses himself, mentioning how they had thrown their infants into his lap, saying, "What food hast thou for these?" On this occasion it was evident how good and pious a nation was that before Moses, for all the sins he enumerated to them had been committed not by them, but by their fathers, all of whom had in the meantime died, yet they were silent, and made no answer to this severe reprimand their leader gave them. Moses did not, however, merely admonish the people to walk in the ways of the Lord, but he said to Israel: "I am near to death, Whosoever hath learned from me a verse, a chapter, or a law, let him come to me and learn it anew," whereupon he repeated all the Torah, and that, too, in the seventy languages of the world, that not Israel alone but all the heathen peoples, too, might hear the teachings of God.
"God allows nothing to stay unrewarded, not even a respectable word remains without its reward." The older of Lot's two daughters had called her son that was conceived in guilt, Moab, "by the father," whereas the younger, for the sake of decency, called her son Ammon, "son of my people," and she was rewarded for her sense of propriety. For when Moses wanted to overrun the descendants of Lot with war, God said to him: "My plans differ from thine. Two doves shall spring from this nation, the Moabite Ruth and the Ammonite Naomi, and for this reason must these two nations be spared."
The treatment God bade Israel accord to these two nations was not, however, uniform. In regard to Moab, God said, "Vex not Moab, neither contend with them in battle," which portended that Israel was not to wage war against the Moabites, but that they might rob them or reduce them to servitude. In regard to the sons of Ammon, on the other hand, God forbade Israel to show these descendants of Lot's younger daughter even the slightest sign of hostility, or in any way to alarm them, so that Israel did not even show themselves in battle array to the Ammonites.
Israel's hostile, though not warlike, attitude toward Moab inspired these people and their kings with great fear, so much so that they seemed to be strangers in their own land, fearing as they did that they should have to fare like the Egyptians; for the Israelites had come to Egypt as strangers, but had in time possessed themselves of the land so that the Egyptians had to rent their dwelling-places from them. Their fear was still further increased by their belief that Israel would pay no attention to God's command to them not to wage war against Lot's descendants. This assumption of theirs was based on the fact the Israel had taken possession of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og, even though these had originally been part of Ammon's and Moab's possessions. Heshbon, Sihon's capital city, had formerly belonged to Moab; but the Amorites, thanks to Balaam and his father Beor's support, had taken from Moab these and some other regions. The Amorites had hired these two sorcerers to curse Moab, with the result that the Moabites were miserably defeated in the war against Sihon. "Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh!" These and similar utterances were the ominous words that Balaam and his father employed against Moab. Chemosh was a black stone in the form of a woman, that the Moabites worshipped as their god.
As part of Moab passed into Sihon's possession so did a part of Ammon fall into Og's hands, and because Israel had appropriated these land, the Moabites feared they would filch from them all their land. In great alarm they therefore gathered together in their fastnesses, in which they knew themselves to be safe from Israel's attacks. Their fear was in reality quite without foundation, for Israel never dreamed of transgressing God's command by waging war upon Lot's descendants. They might without compunction keep the former provinces of Moab and Ammon because they took them not from these, but from Sihon and Og, who had captured them.
At this time the king of Moab was Balak, who was formerly a vassal of Sihon, and in that capacity was known as Zur. After Sihon's death he was chosen king, though he was not worthy of a rank so high. Favored by fortune, he received royal dignity, a position that his father had never filled. Balak was a fitting name for this king, for he set about destroying the people of Israel, wherefore he was also called the son of Zippor, because he flew as swiftly as a bird to curse Israel. Balak was a great magician, who employed for his sorcery the following instrument. He constructed a bird with its feet, trunk, and head of gold, its mouth of silver, and its wings of bronze, and for a tongue he supplied it with the tongue of the bird Yadu'a. This bird was now placed by a window where the sun shone by day and the moon by night, and there it remained for seven days, throughout which burnt offerings were offered before it, and ceremonies performed. At the end of this week, the bird's tongue would begin to move, and if pricked by a golden needle, would divulge great secrets. It was this bird that had imparted to Balak all his occult lore. One day, however, a flame that suddenly leaped up burned the wings of this bird, which greatly alarmed Balak, for he thought that Israel's proximity had destroyed his instrument of sorcery.
The Moabites now perceiving that Israel conquered their enemies by supernatural means said, "Their leader had been bred in Midian, let us therefore inquire of the Midianites about his characteristics." When the elders of Midian were consulted, they replied, "His strength abides in his mouth." "Then," said the Moabites, "we shall oppose to him a man whose strength lies in his mouth as well," and the determined to call upon Balaam's support. The union of Moab and Midian establishes the truth of the proverb: "Weasel and Cat had a feast of rejoicing over the flesh of the unfortunate Dog." For there had always been irreconcilable enmity between Moab and Midian, but they united to bring ruin upon Israel, just as Weasel and Cat had united to put an end to their common enemy Dog.
Legends of the Jews [Table of Contents]
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