The man whom the Moabites and Midianites believed to be Moses' peer was none other than Laban, Israel's arch-enemy, who in olden days had wanted to root out entirely Jacob and all his family, and who had later on incited Pharaoh and Amalek against the people of Israel to bring about their destruction. Hence, too, the name Balaam, "Devourer of Nations," for he was determined to devour the nation of Israel. Just at this time Balaam was at the zenith of his power, for his curse had brought upon the Moabites their defeat at the hands of Sihon, and his prophecy that his compatriot Balak should wear the royal crown had just been fulfilled, so that all the kings sent ambassadors to seek advice from him. He had gradually developed from an interpreter of dreams to a sorcerer, and had not attained the still greater dignity of prophet, thus even surpassing his father, who had indeed been prophet too, but not so notable a one as his son.
God would permit the heathens to have no ground for exculpation, for saying in the future world, "Thou hadst kept us far from Thee." To them, as well as to Israel, he gave kings, sages, and prophets; but whereas the former showed themselves worthy of their high trust, the latter proved themselves unworthy of it. Both Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar were rulers over all the world: the former built the Temple and composed many hymns and prayers, the latter destroyed the Temple and cursed and blasphemed the Lord, saying, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High." Both David and Haman received great treasures from God, but the former employed them to secure a site for God's sanctuary, whereas the latter with his tried to destroy the whole nation. Moses was Israel's prophet, and Balaam was prophet of the heathens: but how great a contrast between these two! Moses exhorted his people to keep from sin, whereas Balaam counseled the nations to give up their moral course of life and to become addicted to lewdness. Balaam was also different from the Israelite prophet in his cruelty. They had such pity for the nations that misfortune among the heathens caused them suffering and sorrow, whereas Balaam was so cruel that he wanted to destroy an entire nation without any cause.
Balaam's course of life and his actions show convincingly why God withdrew from the heathen the gift of prophecy. For Balaam was the last of the heathen prophets. Shem had been the first whom God had commissioned to communicate His words to the heathens. This was after the flood, when God said to Shem: 'Shem, had My Torah existed among the previous ten generations, I suppose I should not have destroyed the world by the flood. Go now, announce to the nations of the earth My revelations, ask them if they will not accept My Torah." Throughout four hundred years did Shem go about as a prophet, but the nations of the earth did not heed him. The prophets that labored after him among the heathens were Job and his four friends, Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, and Elihu, as well as Balaam, all of whom were descendants of Nahor, Abraham's brother, from his union with Milcah. In order that the heathens might not say, "Had we had a prophet like Moses, we should have received the Torah," God gave them Balaam as a prophet, who in no way was inferior to Moses either in wisdom or in the gift of prophecy. Moses was indeed the greatest prophet among the Israelites, but Balaam was his peer among the heathens. But although Moses excelled the heathen prophet in that God called him without any previous preparation, whereas the other could obtain Divine revelations only through sacrifices, still Balaam had one advantage over the Israelite prophet. Moses had to pray to God "to shew him His ways," whereas Balaam was the man who could declare of himself that he "knew the knowledge of the Most High." But because, in spite of his high prophetic dignity, Balaam had never done anything good or kind, but through his evil tongue had almost destroyed all the world, God vowed a vow to His people that He would never exchange them for any other people or nation, and that He would never permit them to dwell in any land other than Palestine.
Balak now sent messengers to Balaam with the following message: "Think not that I ask thy help against Israel exclusively in my own interests, and that thou canst expect from me alone honor and rewards for thy service, but rest assured that all nations will then honor thee, that Canaanites as well as Egyptians will cast themselves at thy feet when thou shalt have destroyed Israel. This people that hath gone out of Egypt hath covered with earth Sihon and Og, the eyes that guarded the whole land, and now they are about to destroy us as well. They are not, indeed, greater heroes than we, nor are their host more numerous than ours, but they conquer as soon as they open their lips in prayer, and that we cannot do. Try now to see if I may not gradually become their master, so that I may at least lead a certain per cent of them to destruction, be it only a twenty-fourth part of them."
Balak himself was even a greater magician and soothsayer than Balaam, but he lacked the gift of properly grasping prophetic observations. He knew through his sorcery that he was to be the cause of the death of twenty-four thousand Israelites, but he did not know in what way Israel was to suffer so great a loss, hence he requested Balaam to curse Israel, hoping by this curse to be able to restrain Israel from entering the Holy Land.
Balak's messengers to Balaam consisted of the elders of Moab and Midian. The latter were themselves great magicians, and by their art established the truth, that should Balaam obey Balak's summons, their mission against Israel would be successful, but should he hesitate even for a moment to follow them, nothing was to be expected from him. When they now reached Balaam and he bade them stay over night to await his answer, the elders of Midian instantly returned, for they knew that they had now nothing to expect from him. They said: "Is there such a father as hates his son? God is the father of Israel, He loves them. Shall He now, owing to a curse from Balaam turn His love into hatred?" Indeed, had the matter depended on Balaam's wishes, he would doubtless instantly have acquiesced and followed Balak's summons, for he hated Israel more than Balak, and was much pleased with the commission of the Moabite king. The elders that Balak had sent had besides in their possession all needful instruments of magic, so that Balaam might have no excuse for not instantly following them, but Balaam had, of course, to bide his time and first find out if God would permit him to go to Balak, hence he bade the Moabite messengers stay over night, because God never appears to heathen prophets save at night. As Balaam expected, God appeared by night and asked Balaam, "Who are these people with thee?"
Balaam was one of the three men whom God put to the test and who miserably failed to pass it. When God appeared to Cain and asked, "Where is Abel thy brother?" he tried to deceive God. He should have replied, "Lord of the world! What is hidden and what is open, both alike are known to Thee. Why then dost Thou inquire after my brother?" But instead of this he replied, "I know not. Am I my brother's keeper?" God therefore said to him: "Thou hast spoken thin own sentence. The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground, and now cursed art thou." Hezekiah acted like Cain when the messengers from the king of Babylon came to him, and Isaiah the prophet asked him, "What said these men? And from whence came they unto thee?" Hezekiah should have answered, "Thou art a prophet of God, why dost thou ask me?" But instead of giving this answer, he replied haughtily and boastfully, "They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon." On account of this haughty answer Isaiah announced to the king this prophecy: "Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house shall be carried to Babylon; and of thy sons that shall issue from thee, they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
The scoundrel Balaam, too, should have made answer to God's question, "What men are these with thee?" by saying, "Lord of the world! Everything lies open before Thee, and nothing is hidden from Thee, why then dost Thou ask me?" But he, on the other hand, made quite a different answer and started to boast, saying to God: "Although Thou dost not distinguish me, and dost not spread my fame over the world, still the kings seek me: Balak, the king of Moab, hath sent to ask me to curse Israel." Then God said, "Because thou speakest thus, thou shalt not curse the people," and added, "O thou wicked rascal! I said of Israel, He that toucheth them, toucheth the apple of My eye,' and yet thou wishest to touch them and curse them! Therefore shall thine eye be blinded." Thus Balaam became blind of one eye, as he had already been lame of one foot. Balaam now perceiving that God did not wish him to curse Israel said, "If it be so, then I shall bless them." God: "They have not need of thy blessing, for they are blessed." God said to Balaam as one says to a bee: "Neither thy honey nor thy sting."
On the following morning Balaam gave the elders of Moab his answer, saying that he would not follow Balak's call, but not betraying to them the truth, that God hat forbidden him to curse Israel. He said instead, "God said to me, 'Go not with these men, for that would be beneath thy dignity, but await nobler ambassadors.'" Balaam's plan was to insult Balak, so that he should send no further messengers to him, and no one might discover that he could accomplish nothing beyond the word of God. His expectations, however, were disappointed. The ambassadors in their turn, not quite painstaking in their representation of the truth, told their king that Balaam considered it beneath his dignity to appear in their escort, making no mention of God, but speaking as if the refusal came simply and exclusively from Balaam.
Balak thereupon sent more honorable ambassadors to Balaam, until he was at last obliged to admit that he could undertake nothing against God's command. Even then, it is true, he did not admit that his acceptance or refusal of Balak's invitation depended entirely upon God, but declared that he could, if he wished, do as he chose, but did not choose to transgress God's prohibition. In his second embassy Balak promised Balaam more for his service than he had offered him the first time. Balaam's answer was as follows: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God." These words characterize the man, who had three bad qualities: a jealous eye, a haughty spirit, and a greedy soul. His jealousy was the reason why he wanted to curse Israel, whom he envied for their good fortune; in his haughtiness, he told the first messengers the falsehood that God would not let him go with them because it would be beneath his dignity; and his avarice was expressed in his answer to the second embassy in which he not only surreptitiously mentioned Balak's gold and silver, but spoke his mind by explaining to them that their master could not adequately compensate him for his service, saying, "If Balak were to hire hosts against Israel, his success would still be doubtful, whereas he should be certain of success if he hired me!"
He did not, however, give even the second embassy a decisive answer, but said to them also, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now therefore I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will speak unto me more." These words of his held unconscious prophecies: "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord," was as much as to say that he could not put the blessings of God to Israel to naught. "Tarry ye also here this night," contained the prophecy that this second embassy would be as much disappointed as the first, for although Balaam accompanied the second messengers, still he had no power to curse Israel, but only to bless them. Finally, the words, "What the Lord will speak unto me more," held a prediction that God would bestow even more benedictions upon the Israelites through him.
"God permits man to go upon the way he chooses to go." When God appeared to Balaam the first time he said to him, "Thou shalt not go with them;" but when Balaam still did not relinquish his desire to go to Balak, God would not interfere. Hence, at His second appearance, God said to Balaam, "If the men be come to call thee, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do."
"Audacity prevails even before God." Balaam's steadfast insistence upon his wish wrested from God his consent to Balaam's journey to Moab. He warned him of its consequences, saying to him: "I take no pleasure in the destruction of sinners, but if thou are bound to go to thy destruction, do so! Whosoever leads righteous men astray upon an evil way, will fall into the ditch of his own digging!" Balaam was misled by God's behavior toward him, and thus plunged into destruction. When God first appeared to him and asked him, "What men are these with thee?" this blasphemer thought: "God know them not. It seems clear that there are times when He is not aware of what goes on, and I shall now be able to do with His children as I wish." Balaam was misled by God because he had with his words seduced to unchastity people who had up to his time lived in purity. God's apparent change of decision, that first prohibited him from going to Balak, and then permitted him to do so, completely bewildered him, so that he thought, "God at first said to me, 'Go thou not with them,' but the second time He said, 'Go with them.' So too will He change His words, 'Curse them not,' into 'Curse them.'" Just as Balaam was confused by God, so too were the magicians that Balak had sent to him. At the first visit these had through their magic lore established that he would accept Balak's invitation, but God made him decline it; at the second time, on the other hand, they established that he would not accept the invitation, and God made him obey their summons.
Balaam could hardly await the morning, rejoicing no less than Balak's messengers at God's consent to his journey to Balak, and still hoping that he might succeed in bringing disaster upon Israel. In his haste to set out, he himself saddled his ass although he did not lack servants, whereupon God said: "O thou villain, their ancestor Abraham forestalled thee, for he too rose up early in the morning and in person saddled his ass to lead Isaac to sacrifice in fulfillment of the command that had reached him."
The ass that Balaam took with him had been created on the sixth day of the creation. He had received it as a gift from Jacob, that he might not give evil counsel to Pharaoh concerning Jacob's children. It was upon his advice, nevertheless, that Pharaoh forced the Israelites to make bricks. He took his two sons, Jannes and Jambres, for it behooves a noble man always to have at least two companions upon any journey that he undertakes.
Although God had now granted him permission to go on the journey, still His wrath was kindled when he set out. God said, "Behold, this man! He knows that I read each man's heart, and knows also that he departeth only to curse Israel." This wickedness on his part had the result that even the Angel of Mercy turned against him as an enemy, standing in his way. At first the ass alone perceived the angel, and not Balaam, for God has so arranged it that human beings may not perceive the angels that surround them or else they would through terror lose their reason. The ass, on the other hand, instantly perceived the angel. He at first stood in her way as she was in the middle of the road, so that she could turn aside on both sides; then she perceived him when the road narrowed, and she could turn to one side only; and finally she reached a spot where there was no road at all to which she could turn either on this side or on that. This was to teach Balaam the following lesson: if he wished to curse Abraham's children, he should have leeway on both sides, Ishmael's children and Keturah's children; if he wanted to curse Isaac's children, one side would still be open to him, Esau's children; but if he wanted to curse Jacob's children, he should never bring it to pass, for they are protected on both sides, on the one hand by Abraham and Isaac, on the other by Jacob and Levi, while God watches over them from above. "The wall on this side, and on that side," through which place he had to pass, were furthermore to indicate to him that he could not become master over Israel, who have in their possession the tables of the law, "that were written on both their sides." When the ass reached the wall that Jacob and Laban had erected as a token that they "would never pass over it for harm," she thrust her feet against it, to punish him for having broken his agreement with Jacob.
Balaam, who had with blows attempted to make the ass walk straight ahead, flew into a rage when she lay down altogether and would not budge from the spot, so that he smote her all the more. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and permitted her to use speech, a gift that she had possessed ever since her creation, but had not until then used. She said, "What have I done unto thee, that thou has smitten me these three times?" The first words of the ass were so chosen as to call Balaam's attention to the wickedness and uselessness of his undertaking against Israel; "Three times" was to remind him that he wished to curse a nation that "three times" in every year arranged pilgrimages to the Lord. The ass's speech was altogether to serve as a warning to Balaam to beware of his mouth, and not to curse Israel. The ass, through her speaking, was to instruct him that the mouth and the tongue are in God's hand.
Balaam answered the ass in the language in which she had addressed him, in Hebrew, which he did not, however, speak fluently. He said, "Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now I had killed thee." The ass thereupon replied, "Thou canst not kill me save with a sword in thy hand; how then wilt thou destroy an entire nation with thy mouth!" Balaam was silent, knowing no reply. The ass did not only make him ridiculous in the eyes of the elders of Moab that accompanied him, but she also exposed him as a liar. For when the ambassadors asked him why he had not chosen a horse rather than an ass for his journey, he answered that his saddle horse was in the pasture. Then the ass interrupted him, saying, "Am not I thine ass upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long?" Balaam: "I use thee as a beast of burden, but not for the saddle." The ass: "Nay, upon me has thou ridden since thine earliest day, and thou hast always treated me with as much affection as a man treats his wife." Balaam had now to admit that the ass had spoken the truth.
Balak's princes were much amazed at this extraordinary miracle, but the ass died the moment she had spoken what she had to say. God did this for two reasons, firstly because He feared that the heathens might worship this ass were she to stay alive; and secondly because God wanted to spare Balaam the disgrace of having people point to his ass and say, "This is she that worsted Balaam." By this action it can be seen how highly God prizes the honor or pious men, if He even sought to spare the honor of this villain. It is out of consideration to mankind, also, that God has closed the mouth of animals, for were they to speak, man could not well use them for his service, since the ass, the most stupid of all animals, when she spoke, confounded Balaam, the wisest of the wise.
While all this was going on, Balaam still did not perceive that God's angel stood before him. God meant to show him that in His hand is not only the tongue of man, but his eye as well, so that as long as He chooses, man will fail to see what is directly before his nose. But God suddenly permitted Balaam to see the angel with a sword drawn in his hand, and Balaam fell flat on his face. For, being uncircumcised, Balaam might not listen to the words of God or of an angel, standing erect; hence, upon perceiving the angel, who instantly began to address him, Balaam cast himself upon the ground. The sword in the angel's hand did not signify that he meant to strike Balaam, for a breath from his mouth would have sufficed to kill myriads, but it was to point out the following truth to Balaam: "The mouth was given to Jacob, but to Esau and to the other nations, the sword. Thou are about to change thy profession, and to go out against Israel with his own weapon, and therefore shalt thou find death through the sword that is thy own weapon."
The angel now said to Balaam: "If I have been commissioned to demand restitution from thee for the injustice thou hast offered to the ass, that can show neither meritorious deeds of her own nor of her fathers, how much the more must I stand up as the avenger of an entire nation, that have their own merits and can refer to the merits of their fathers. But to return to the ass, why didst thou smite her, that turned from the road only because she saw me and was frightened?" Balaam was a shrewd sinner, for he knew that Divine punishment could be averted only by penitence, and that the angels have no power to touch a man who, after sinning, says, "I have sinned." Hence he said to the angel, "I have sinned," but added, "I did not set out until God said to me, 'Rise up, go with them;' and now thou sayest to me, 'Return.' But this is the Lord's way. Did He not also at first tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, and then He caused an angel to call out to him, 'Lay not thine hand upon the lad?' It is His custom first to give a command, and the through an angel to recall it. So also did He indeed say to me, 'Go with them;' but if it displeaseth thee, I shall turn back." The angel replied: "All that I have done was to thy advantage, but if thou are bound to plunge into destruction, do so, go with these people, but destruction is decreed for all of you. Think not, however, that thou shalt do as thou wilt, for thou shalt have to say what I desire thee to speak, and to restrain what I wish to remain unuttered."
In spite of the warnings he had received from God and the angel, he was not to be restrained from taking this fatal step, but in his hatred toward Israel still cherished the hope that he should succeed in obtaining God's consent to curse Israel, and he continued his journey in this happy expectation.
Whensoever God wished to humble an evil-doer, He at first exalts him, to fill him with pride. So too He humbled Balaam after exalting him, for at first Balak had sent princes of little distinction to him, whereupon God said to him, "Thou shalt not go with them." When, however, he sent many renowned princes to him, God said to Balaam, "Go with them," but this journey brought him nothing but humiliation and ruin, for he fared in accordance with the proverb, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." God does this so that men might not say, "Whom hath God destroyed? Surely not that insignificant person," hence God exalts sinners before their fall.
When Balaam approached the Moabite boundaries, he sent messengers to Balak to announce his arrival, and Balak went forth to his country's border to meet him. Pointing to the boundary lines, Balak said to Balaam: "These have been fixed since Noah's days, that no nation might push into the realm of another, but Israel set out to destroy the boundaries, as their attitude toward Sihon and Og shows, into whose kingdoms they entered." He then greeted him with the words: "Did I not twice sent unto thee to call thee? Wherefore camest not thou unto me? Am I not able indeed to promote thee to honor?" Balak unconsciously uttered a prophecy, for in truth Balaam went hence in disgrace and dishonor, and not covered with glory, as he could not fulfil the other's wish to curse Israel. It should now have been Balaam's duty, had he really desired to be of service to the king of Moab, to say to him, "Why dost thou attempt to do what will bring thee misfortune, and finally utter ruin?" But he spoke quite differently instead, boastfully bragging with his gift of prophecy, pointing out that he was the last prophet among the heathens. "And," continued he, "I, the last prophet among the heathens, shall thus counsel thee. The ancestor of that nation erected to God an altar upon which, thrice annually, he offered up seven oxen and seven rams; do thou, then, erect seven altars, and offer up on each seven oxens and seven rams." God laughed when he heard this counsel, saying: "Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?"
Balak led his guest from the border-line to the interior of the land, taking pains to show him great multitudes of the people, having bazaars erected for that purpose. Pointing to these multitudes, among which there were also may children, Balak said, "Look thou, how Israel plan to destroy these multitudes of people that have done them no injury."
Balak slew for Balaam's welcome one ox and one sheep, proving the proverb, "The pious promise little and do much, the wicked promise much and do little." Balak had sent word to Balaam, saying, "I will promote thee unto very great honor;" yet when he arrived, he offered him for food only one ox and one sheep. Suppressing his rage, Balaam thought, "Is that all that he offers me! He will have to pay for this to-morrow," for he instantly determined to have him offer up many sacrifices on the following day to punish him for having treated him in so niggardly a fashion.
On the following morning Balak took Balaam and brought him upon into the high places of Baal. For Balak was even a greater magician and soothsayer than Balaam, who allowed himself like a blind man to be led by him. He led him to this spot because through his magic lore he knew that Israel was to suffer a great misfortune upon the heights of Baalpeor, and he thought it was to be Balaam's curse that would effect this disaster upon them. The relation of these two men to each other was like that between two men, one of whom has a knife in his hand, but does not know what part of the body to strike for slaughter, and the other knows the part of the body, but has no knife. Balak knew the place where disaster awaited Israel, but did not know how it was to be brought about, whereas Balaam knew how evil is conjured up, but did not know the places set for disaster, to which Balak had to lead him. Balaam's superiority over Balak and the other magicians lay in this, that he could accurately determine the moment in which God is wrathful, and it was for this reason that his curse was always effective because he knew how to curse at the very instant of God's anger. It is true that God is angry for one instant every day, to wit, during the third hour of the day, when the kings with crowns upon their head worship the sun, but this moment is of infinitesimally short duration. Fully eighty-five thousand and eighty-eight such moments make an hour, so that no mortal save Balaam had ever been able to fix that moment, although this point of time has its outward manifestations in nature, for while it lasts, the cock's comb becomes absolutely white, without even the smallest stripe of red. God's love for Israel, however, is so great that during the time that Balaam prepared to curse Israel, He did not wax angry at all, so that Balaam waited in vain for the moment of wrath.
Balaam now tried to obtain God's consent for Israel's curse through sacrifices, and hence bade Balak erect seven altars upon the high place of Baal, corresponding to the seven altars that since Adam had been erected by seven pious men, to wit: Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. When the altars had been erected, he said to God: "Why didst Thou favor these people, if not for the sacrificed that they offered Thee? Were it not better for Thee to be adored by seventy nations than by one?" But the Holy Spirit answered, "'Better is a dry morsel and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices and strife.' Dearer to Me is a dry offering of meal than all these many flesh offerings by which thou strivest to stir up strife between Me and Israel."
Now was Balaam's fate decided, for by his conduct he put himself into direct opposition to God, and hence his destruction was decreed, and from that moment the holy spirit of prophecy left him and he was nothing more than a magician. For Israel's sake, however, God granted him the honor of His revelation, but He did so grudgingly, as one loathes to touch an unclean thing. Hence He would not permit Balaam to come to Him, but rather appeared to Balaam. God's different treatment of Balaam and of Moses at the revelation is evident, for whereas the latter betook himself to the sanctuary to hear God's words, the former received God's revelation at any place whatsoever. It characterizes God's attitude toward them. Two men once knocked at a magnate's door, the one being a friend, who had a request to make, and the other a leprous beggar. The magnate said, "Let my friend enter, but I shall send the beggar's alms to the door, that he may not enter and pollute my palace." God called Moses to Him, whereas He did not desire Balaam to come to Him, but betook Himself there.
He found Balaam at the seven altars that he had erected, and said to him, "What doest thou here?" whereupon Balaam answered, "I have erected for Thee as many altars as the three fathers of Israel, and I have offered upon them bullocks and rams." God, however, said to him: "'Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.' Pleasanter to Me is the meal of unleavened bread and herbs that the Israelites took in Egypt, than the bullocks that thou offerest out of enmity. O thou knave, if I wished for offerings, I should order Michael and Gabriel to bring them to Me, thou are mistaken if thou believest that I should accept offerings from the nations of the world, for I have vowed a vow to accept such from Israel alone." God thereupon handed him over to an angel who entered and settled in his throat, and would not permit Balaam to speak when he wanted to curse Israel.
Balaam now turned back to Balak, who awaited him with his princes. He now wanted to begin to curse Israel, but his mouth, far from being able to utter the words, was on the contrary compelled to praise and bless Israel. He said: "I found myself upon the high places, in company with the Patriarchs, and thou, Balak, hast cast me down from the heights; through thee did I lose the gift of prophecy. Both of us are ungrateful men if we wish to undertake evil against Israel, for, had it not been for their father Abraham, for whose sake God saved Lot out of the ruin of the cities, there should not be no Balak, for thou are one of Lot's descendants. And had it not been for Jacob, I, Laban's descendant, should not now be on earth, for no sons were born unto Laban until after Jacob had come into his house. Thou didst bring me out of Aram to curse Israel, but it was this land that their father Abraham left, laden with blessings, and it was this land also that their father Jacob entered, laden with blessings. Shall now a curse come upon them from this land? How can I curse them if he that curseth them bringeth a curse upon himself? Thou, moreover, wishest me even to curse Jacob. Hadst thou urged me to curse a nation that were only the descendants of Abraham or of Isaac, I might have been able to do so; but to curse Jacob's descendants is as bad as if a man were to come to a king and say to him, 'The crown that thou wearest upon thy head is worthless.' Would such a man be permitted to live? 'The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.' 'In Israel,' said the Lord, 'will I be glorified.' How now should I curse them? How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed? Even when they have been worthy of a curse, they have not been cursed. When Jacob went in to receive the blessings, he went in through craft and said to his father, 'I am Esau, thy firstborn.' Doth not he deserve a curse out of whose mouth issueth a lie? Yet, far from being cursed, he was even blessed. Ordinarily a legion that stirs up sedition against their king is declared guilty by death, but Israel had denied God, saying, 'These be thy gods, O Israel.' Should they not then have been destroyed? God, however, did not even at that moment withdraw from them His love, but left to them the clouds of glory, manna, and the well, even after they had adored the Calf. Howsoever often they sinned and God threatened them with a curse, still He did not say that He would bring it upon them, whereas in His promises of blessings He always tells them that He Himself would send them upon Israel. How shall I curse when God doth not curse!
"Israel is a nation of whom God thought even before the creation of the world. It is the rock upon which the world is founded. For, when God was considering the scheme of the creation, He thought, 'How can I create the world if the idolatrous generation of Enosh and the generation of the flood will arouse My anger?' He was about to desist from the creation of the world, when He saw before Him Abraham's form, and He said, 'Now I have a rock upon which I can build, one upon which I can found the world.' How, too, should I curse this nation that are protected and surrounded by the merits of the Patriarchs and the wives of the Patriarchs as if by lofty mountains and steep hills, so that if Israel sin, God forgives them as soon as Moses prays to Him to be mindful of the Patriarchs!
"I was in error when I believed Israel could be easily attacked, but now I know that they have taken deep root in the earth, and cannot be uprooted. God forgives them many sins out of consideration for their having preserved the token of the Abrahamic covenant; and as powerless as I am to curse them alone, just as powerless am I to curse them together with another nation, for 'it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.' Israel is distinguished from all other nations by their custom, by their food, by the token of the covenant upon their bodies, and by the token upon their doorposts, wherefore God doth not judge them at the same time with other nations, for He judges the latter in the darkness of the night, but the former in bright daylight. Israel is a separate people, alone they enjoy the blessings God gives them, no other nation rejoices with Israel. So too in the Messianic time Israel will quite alone rejoice in delights and pleasures, whereas in the present world it may also partake of the universal welfare of the nations.
"I am not able to accomplish anything against a nation that zealously fulfils God's commandments, and that owes its existence to the devotion with which the wives of the Patriarchs obeyed the commandments of God. 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!'" Balaam in these words spoke an unconscious prophecy, to wit, that he should be entitled to participate in the fate of the righteous, to his share in the future world, if he died the death of the righteous, a natural death, but not otherwise. He died, however, a violent death, and thus lost his share in the future world.
When Balak saw that Balaam, instead of cursing, praised and exalted Israel, he led him to the top of Pisgah, hoping that he might there succeed in cursing Israel. By means of his sorcery, Balak had discovered that Pisgah was to be a place of misfortune for Israel, hence he thought the Balaam would there utter his curse against Israel. He was, however, mistaken; the disaster that there awaited Israel was the death of their leader Moses, who died there, and God refused to grant Balaam's wish on this spot also.
God indeed appeared to Balaam, but what He said to him was: "Go again unto Balak, and bless Israel." Balaam now did not wish to return to Balak at all, to disappoint him a second time, but God compelled him to return to Balak and communicate to him the blessings of Israel. Balaam now turned back to Balak, whom he found standing by his burnt offering. But whereas on the first occasion the king had awaited Balaam, surrounded by all his princes, Balaam now saw only a few notables surrounding Balak. Most of the princes had deserted their king without awaiting Balaam, for they expected nothing further from him after the first disappointment he had caused them. Balak as well did not now receive him as kindly, but mockingly asked, "What hath the Lord spoken?" hinting in this way that Balaam was unable to say what he wished, but only what God willed.
Balaam replied to these scornful words of Balak: "Rise up, Balak. Thou mayest not be seated when God's words are spoken. God is not like a man of flesh and blood, that makes friends and disowns them, as soon as he finds such as are better than they. God is not so, for He doth not cancel the vow He had made to the Patriarchs, for He promised to bestow Canaan upon their descendants, and He fulfilleth His promise. He always fulfils what He hath promised to Israel, but allows the evil with which He threatens them to be unfulfilled as soon as they repent them of their sins. God sees not their sins, but He seeth their good deeds. Thou, Balak, sayest to me, 'Come, curse Jacob for me,' but a thief can enter a vineyard that hath a keeper only if the keeper sleeps, but 'He that keepeth Israel neither sleepeth nor slumbereth,' and how then can I enter their vineyard? If, however, thou dost think that I cannot harm Israel on account of Moses, who is their keeper, know then that his successor will be as invincible as he, for through the sound of trumpets he will overthrow the walls of Jericho.
"Thou, Balak, furthermore sayest, 'A people hath gone forth out of Egypt,' but they have not only gone forth, 'God brought them forth out of Egypt,' who combines in Himself the powers of the angels and of the invisible demons. Swift as the flight of a bird doth fortune as well as misfortune come upon Israel; if they sin, God suddenly plunges them down, but if they act well in the sight of the Lord, God exalts them as quickly as a cloud. Thou, Balak, hast repeatedly tried to discover in what spot thou shouldst be able to work them woe, but they will have nothing to do with sorceries, they baffle and put to naught the sorceries and prophecies of other nations by their pious deeds. When they set forth into battle, they practice no magic, but the high priest, clad in the Urim and Tummin, consults God about the outcome of the battle. There will even be a time when Israel will sit before the Lord like a pupil before his master, and will receive the revelation of the secrets of the Torah from him, so that even the angels will consult Israel concerning the secrets revealed to them by God, for the angels are not permitted to approach God as closely as the Israelites in the Messianic time.
"There is not indeed upon the earth a nation like Israel. The last thing they do before going to sleep is to devote themselves to the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of its laws, and this also is their first occupation upon awakening. As soon as they arise, they recite the Shema' and adore God, and not until after they have done this, do they go about their business. If evil spirits come to attack them, or if disaster threatens them, they worship their God, and as soon as they utter the words, 'The Lord our God is one Lord,' the harmful spirits become powerless against them and whisper after them the words, 'Praised be the Name of the Glory of His Kingdom, for ever and ever.' When at night they retire, they against recite the Shema', whereupon the angels of the day pass on the trust of guarding them to the angels of night, and when, upon awakening they again worship their Lord, the angels of the night again pass them on to be guarded by the angels of day."
When Balak for the second time saw that Balaam, instead of cursing, blessed Israel, he brought him to the top of Peor, thinking that peradventure it would please God to have him curse them from thence. For by his sorcery Balak had discovered that a great disaster was to fall upon Israel on the top of Peor, and thought that this disaster might be their curse from Balaam. He was, however, mistaken in this supposition, for the disaster in that spot was none other than Israel's sin with the daughters of Moab, and God's punishment for this.
Balaam, on the other hand, made no further attempts to induce God to curse Israel, but thought he might be able to bring misfortune upon Israel by enumerating the sins they had committed in the desert, and in this way to conjure up God's wrath against them. But the desert had also been the place where Israel had accepted the Torah, hence the mention of the desert called up God's love instead of His wrath. Balaam himself, when he let his eyes wander over the camp of Israel, and perceived how their tents were so pitched that no one might see what was going on in the homes of the others, found himself compelled to burst into praises of Israel; and, under the inspiration of the prophetic spirit, the curses he had intended to speak were changed in his mouth into blessings, and he spoke of the extent and importance of the kingdom of Israel. But whereas Moses blessed his people in a low, quiet voice, Balaam spoke his words of blessing in a very loud voice, so that all the other nations might hear and out of envy make war upon Israel. Balaam's blessings were therefore accounted to him not as blessings, but as curses. God said: "I have promised Abraham, 'And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse,' hence will I account Balaam's blessings as curses." And indeed all of Balaam's blessing later turned to curses, except his blessing that houses of teaching and of prayer should never be missing among Israel.
The words that Balaam announced were heard by all the inhabitants of the earth, such power did God lend to his voice, for He knew that at some future time there would be a man born of woman who would pass himself for a god and would mislead all the world. Hence God permitted all the world to hear Balaam's words, that said: "God is not a man, and the man that passeth himself for God lieth. But he that will mislead the world by declaring that he will disappear for a time and then reappear will promise what he can never fulfil. Woe then to that nation that will lend ear to the man who will pass himself for God." Balaam furthermore announced the events that would come to pass at the time of David's sovereignty; and also what will happen at the end of days, in the time of Messiah, when Rome and all other nations will be destroyed by Israel, excepting only the descendants of Jethro, who will participate in Israel's joy and sorrows. Yea, the Kenites are to be the ones to announce to Israel the arrival of the Messiah, and the sons of the Kenite Jonadab are to be the first at the time of the Messiah to bring offerings at the Temple and to announce to Jerusalem its deliverance. This was Balaam's last prophecy. After this, the prophetic spirit left Balaam, and God in this way granted Moses' wish to reserve the gift of prophecy as a special distinction to Israel. Balaam was the last prophet of the nations.
Although Balaam had not been able to fulfil Balak's wish and curse Israel, still he did not leave him before giving him advice as to how he might bring ruin to Israel, saying: "The God of this people loathes unchastity; but they are very eager to possess linen garments. Pitch tents, then, and at their entrances have old women offer these articles for sale. Induce them in this way to enter the interior of the tents where they will be surprised by young harlots, who will seduce them to unchastity, so that God may punish them for their sin."
"Throw the stick up in the air it will always return to its original place." The Moabite nation that owes its existence to the illegal relations of Lot with his daughter could not deny its origin, and followed Balaam's counsel to tempt Israel to unchastity. They pitched tents, filled them with pretty women, whom they provided with valuable things, and had old women take up their posts at the doors of the tents, whose task it was to lure the passing Israelites into the interior. If an Israelite passed to buy something of the Moabites, the old women at the entrance to the tent would thus address him, "Dost thou not wish to buy linen garments that were made in Bet-Shan?" Then they would show him a sample of the goods, and name the price, and finally add, "Go within, and thou wilt see wares still more beautiful." If he went within, he was received by a young woman who was richly adorned and perfumed, who would at first set for him a price much lower than the value of the goods, and then invite him to do as if he were at home, and to choose the article he liked best. While he sat there, he was treated with wine, and the young woman invited him to drink with the words: "Why do we love ye while you hate us? Are we not all descendants of one man? Was not Terah our ancestor as much as yours? If thou wilt not eat of our sacrifices or what we have cooked, here are calves and fowl that thou mayest slaughter in accordance with thy law." But as soon as the Israelite had allowed himself to be persuaded to drink, he was absolutely in the hands of the shameless woman. Intoxicated with wine, his passion for the woman was soon kindled, but she agreed to satisfy his desires only after he had first worshipped Peor, the god of the Moabites. Now the worship of this idol consisted in nothing else than the complete baring of the body, hence the Israelites, seeing no evil in it, declared themselves willing to follow the summons of the Moabite women; and in this way they were seduced both to unchastity and to idolatry by the Moabite women. At first the men were ashamed and committed this whoredom with the Moabite women in secret, but they soon lost this feeling of shame and betook themselves two by two to their lewd actions.
Israel's moral degeneration is to be partly explained by this, that the place where they found themselves was apt to tempt them to lewdness. For there are springs whose waters have various effects upon those who partake of them. One kind of water strengthens, another weakens; one makes beautiful, another makes ugly; one makes chaste, another brings about lewdness. Now there was in Shittim, where the Israelites then dwelt, the "Well of Lewdness," out of which the inhabitants of Sodom had erstwhile fetched water, but from which, since the destruction of the sinful cities, no one had drunk, and for this reason the people had until then been chaste. But Israel, as soon as they tasted of this water, gave up their chaste manner of life. This disastrous spring will lose its force only in the Messianic time when God will cause it to dry up.
When the people's shamelessness became more and more widespread, God commanded Moses to appoint judges to punish the sinners, and as it was difficult to discover these through the agency of witnesses, God marked them by causing the cloud of glory that lay spread over the camp of Israel to disappear from the sinners. Those that were not covered by the cloud of glory were thus clearly marked as sinners. God appointed as judges and executioners the seven myriads eight thousand six hundred officers of the people, giving them the order that each of them execute two sinners. These carried out Moses' command and stoned the sinners, whose corpses then hung upon the gallows for a few minutes. This was the legal punishment, for these sinners had not only committed whoredom with the women of Moab, but had worshipped the Moabit idol Peor; and idolatry is punishable with death by stoning.
While the judges administered their stern offices, the tribe of Simeon approached their prince, Zimri, and said to him, "People are being executed, and thou sittest still as if nothing were going on." He thereupon took with him twenty-four thousand men, and betook himself to Cozbi, Balak's daughter, and without considering God or men, he requested her in the presence of many people to yield herself to him, to satisfy his evil desires. Now Balak had ordered his daughter Cozbi to employ her beauty only for the sake of enticing Moses, thinking, "Whatever evil may be decreed by God against Israel, Moses will be brought to naught, but if my daughter should succeed in seducing him to sin, then all Israel will be in my hand." Hence Cozbi said to Zimri: "My father ordered me to be obedient to the wishes of Moses alone, and to none other; for he is a king, and so is my father, and a king's daughter is fit for none but a king." Zimri, however, replied: "I am a greater man the Moses, for he is chief only of the third tribe of Israel, whereas I am prince of the tribe of Simeon, the second of the Israelite tribes, and if thou wilt, I will convince thee that I am a greater man than Moses, for I will take thee to myself in his presence, without paying attention to his prohibition."
Zimri then seized Cozbi by the locks of her hair, and brought her before Moses, whom he then addressed as follows: "Tell me, son of Amram, is this woman permitted me, or is she forbidden me?" Moses said, "She is forbidden to thee." Zimri answered: "Art thou really the faithful expounder of the Torah, whose reliability God praised with the words, 'He is faithful in all Mine house?' How then canst thou assert that she is forbidden me, for then thy wife would be forbidden to thee, for she is a Midianite like this woman, and this one is a noble woman of a noble family, whereas thy wife is the daughter of an idolatrous priest." At those words, Moses, Eleazar, and the elders began to weep, for they knew not how to make answer to Zimri's insolent words, nor what they could do to restrain this sinner from the accomplishment of his sin. God said to Moses: "Where is thy wisdom? Thou didst need to utter only one word, and Korah and all his company were swallowed by the earth. Canst thou now do nothing better than to weep?" The Holy Spirit exclaimed at Moses' perplexity and silence, "The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep."
God, who calls the pious to strict account, punished Moses for the lack of decision that he displayed on this occasion, by leaving his burial-place unknown to mankind. While Moses and other pious men were irresolute and deliberated whether or not Zimri deserved death, Phinehas said to Moses: "O my great-uncle, didst thou not teach me, when thou didst return from Mount Sinai, that is was the zealot's task for the sake of God's law to slay those who commit unchastity with non-Jewish women?" Phinehas took the liberty of pointing out the law to his teacher Moses who had forgotten it, because, "when God's name is profaned, no man should consider the respect due to a teacher," wherefore Phinehas thought now only of establishing God's law, and in doing this it was necessary to recall it to Moses' mind. Moses indeed did not take it all amiss, but said to Phinehas, "Let the reader of the letter be its bearer also," words by which he called upon Phinehas himself to visit punishment upon the sinners.
Phinehas was now for a time in doubt whether he should dare to punish the sinners, for it was to be expected that he would eventually meet his death in this way, being one against two, Zimri and his mistress Cozbi. When, however, the plague that God had sent upon Israel on account of their sins spread more and more rapidly, Phinehas determined to risk his life in trying to kill the sinners. "For," said he to himself, "the horse goes willingly into battle, and is ready to be slain only to be of service to its master. How much more does it behoove me to expose myself to death in order to sanctify God's name!" He found himself all the more impelled to act thus because he could not well leave the punishment of the sinners to others. He said: "The tribe of Reuben can effect nothing in this instance, because their grandsire Reuben was himself suspected of an unchaste action; nothing is to be expected from the tribe of Simeon, for it follows the sinful example of its prince Zimri; the tribe of Judah cannot well be of use in this matter, because their grandsire Judah committed unchastity with his daughter-in-law Tamar; Moses himself is doomed to impotence because his wife Zipporah is a Midianite woman. Hence there remains nothing but for me to interpose."
Phinehas now, prepared at the risk of his own life to punish Zimri for his sin, left the house of teaching where he had until now debated the case of Zimri with Moses and all other pious men, and had himself provided with a lance, having none with him because no armed man may enter a house of teaching. That his weapon might not betray him, he detached the upper iron part of the lance and hid it in his bosom, and leaned upon the wooden shaft as if it were a staff. When he reached the house where Zimri and Cozbi were giving extravagant play to their passions, the people said to him, "Whence, Phinehas, and whither?" He replied, "Do ye not know that the tribe of Levi is always to be found where the tribe of Simeon is?" Then they permitted him to enter the house, but said, "It seems that even the Pharisees now permit intercourse with the heathen women." When Phinehas had entered, he drew his lance, "and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly."
Phinehas's fear that these two might attack him was not realized, for God performed no less than twelve miracles for Phinehas, which not only made it impossible for the sinners to attack him, but also showed the people that his action found favor in the sight of the Lord. The first miracle was that an angel would not allow the sinful couple to separate when Phinehas surprised them; the second miracle was that the angel stopped their mouths so that they could not cry out for help; the third miracle was that Phinehas's lance struck the man's and the woman's pudenda; the fourth miracle was that the upper, iron part of the lance extended, so that Phinehas could at one thrust pierce the man as well as the woman; the fifth miracle was that Phinehas's arm was sufficiently strong to lift both upon the point of his lance; the sixth miracle was that the wooden shaft of the lance sustained the weight of two persons; the seventh miracle was that the two bodies remained poised upon the lance and did not fall off; the eighth miracle was that the angel turned the shameless pair around, so that all might see that Phinehas had surprised them in flagranti; the ninth miracle was that no blood flowed from them although they had been thrust through, or else Phinehas would have been polluted; the tenth miracle was that the shameless couple did not give up the ghost so long as Phinehas bore them upon the point of his lance, as he would otherwise have been polluted by their corpses; the eleventh miracle was that the angel raised the doorposts of the room so that Phinehas might pass through with the sinners upon the point of his lance, and the twelfth miracle was that when the tribe of Simeon prepared to avenge Prince Zimri's death upon Phinehas, the angel sent a plague upon them, so that they were impotent against him.
Phinehas was not, however, content with having punished the sinners, but tried also to reconcile God with Israel. He threw the two dead bodies upon the ground, saying to God, "Why, alas! Hast Thou on account of the sins of these two slain twenty-four thousand Israelites!" For this was the number that had been snatched away by the plague that God had sent upon Israel for their sins. The angels now wanted to plunge Phinehas into death for his bold words, but God bade them desist, saying, "Leave him in peace, he is a zealot, the son of a zealot, and an appeaser of wrath, the son of an appeaser of wrath."
While God expressed His entire satisfaction with Phinehas's act, if found many adversaries among Israel, who would scornfully call after him, "Behold, this man, the grandson of one who fattened calves to offer them up to an idol, daring to slay a prince among Israel!" This spiteful remark referred to the fact that Phinehas was descended on his mother's side not only from Joseph, but from Jethro also who, before his conversion to Judaism, had been a priest of idols. God therefore said to Moses, "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hast turned My wrath away from the children of Israel, hence I offer him My greeting of peace, for it was he who, zealous for My sake, preserved the seed of Abraham." The reason God designated Phinehas as the son of Eleazar and the grandson of Aaron was that He wanted to stop the mouths of Phinehas's detractors, who pretended that he was nothing but a grandson of the heathen priest Jethro, ignoring the fact that he was at the same time the grandson of Aaron, the high priest before the Lord. God was not content with the greeting of peace, but bade Moses tell Phinehas: "With thy mouth hast thou defended Israel, therefore as thy priest's portion shalt thou receive the jawbone of animals; with thy lance didst thou aim at the bellies of the shameless couple, hence shalt thou receive the bellies of the animals; and as with thy arm thou didst labor to slay the sinners, so for thy portion shalt thou receive the shoulder of the animals. As, moreover, thou didst strive to make peace among mankind, so shalt thou bestow the priestly blessing upon My children, and bless them with peace." As a reward for his pious deed Phinehas was appointed by God as a priest with all the rights of priesthood, that enabled him to lay claim to the twenty-four tributes to priests.
But the highest reward to Phinehas was that God granted him everlasting priesthood. For Phinehas is none other than the prophet of Elijah. His task it is to make atonement for Israel, and without tasting of death, he constantly discharges the duties of his everlasting priesthood until the resurrection of the dead, offering up daily two sacrifices for the children of Israel, and upon the skins of these animals recording the events of each day. God furthermore said to Phinehas: "Thou hast in this world established peace between Me and Israel; in the future world also shalt thou establish peace between Me and them." He was therefore destined to be the forerunner of the Messiah to establish before his coming peace on earth.
When Israel addicted themselves to an immoral life at shittim, the nations of the world rejoiced greatly, for they knew that God had distinguished Israel before all other nations, and had given them the Torah, only because their life had been moral. "Now," said they, "the crown has been taken from Israel's head, their pride is departed, for now they are no better then we." God, however, raised up Israel from their fall by sending the plague upon the sinners at Shittim, and thus purified Israel from them, so that they could again, as of yore, be proud of their family purity, through which they had been distinguished from all other nations.
God therefore ordered them to take a census, to show in this way that Israel remained true to the traditions of their ancestor Abraham by keeping their family life pure. This census showed that several tribes had lost entire divisions since the time that passed between the entrance of Israel into Egypt, and their entrance into the promised land. Among the tribes that had perished were such as had already lost their lives in Egypt, those, namely, who had died during the days of darkness because they were such sinners that they did not want to leave Egypt. But heaviest of all were the losses in the tribes of Benjamin and of Simeon, for in the battle between the Levites and the other tribes after Aaron's death, when the latter, for fear of the Canaanites, wanted to return to Egypt, the Benjamites lost no less than seven divisions. All of the twenty-four thousand men that died from the plague at Shittim belonged, however, to the tribe of Simeon which, at the end of the march through the desert, had dwindles down to less than half its number. The tribe of Dan, on the other hand, had turned out to be very fruitful, for whereas at the entrance of Egypt it had consisted of only one division, it later exceeded in number all the other tribes, except the tribe of Judah.
But there was another purpose beside that of establishing Israel's family purity in taking the census at Arbot-Moab. For when God at the exodus from Egypt put his people into Moses' hands, He entrusted them to him after having counted them, and not when Moses was about to depart from this world, he wanted to return the flock that God had entrusted to him, truly numbered, into God's hand.
After the number of the nation had been determined, God ordered Moses to divide the promised land among them according to their numbers. Jacob had indeed upon his death-bed determined what parts of the land were to fall to the lot of each tribe, but in order that the tribes might not quarrel among themselves, God decreed that the assignments be made by lot. After the conquest of the land Joshua and Eleazar saw to the drawing of lots. On this occasion the miracle came to pass that whenever Eleazar drew a lot from the urn, the lot itself announced the words, "I am the lot of Thus-and-So." In this way was avoided the possibility of having the malcontents declare that Eleazar had, at the drawing of lots, been partial to his friends and had assigned to them the lots they wished for.
When Zelophehad's daughters, that had lived piously and wisely like their father and their ancestors, heard that the land was being divided among the male members of the tribe, but not among the female, they took counsel together, discussing what they could do, so that they might not find themselves come out empty-handed. They said: "God's love is not like the love of a mortal father; the latter prefers his sons to his daughters, but He that created the world extends His love to women as well as to men, 'His tender mercies are over all His works.'" They now hoped that God would take pity on them and give them their share of the promised land, which they loved with as great devotion as their grandsire Joseph, who had upon his death-bed exhorted his children to transfer his body to the Holy Land.
Being wise and learned, they waited for a propitious time to lay their case before Moses, and opportunity which they found when Moses in house of teaching recited the law concerning the levirate marriage. They now advanced and said: "If we are as good as our brothers, then do we lay claim to our father's inheritance, and to his share of the land; but if we are not to be considered as sons, then should our mother have to marry her brother-in-law, as our father has left no issue, since we do not count." They furthermore pointed out that their father had been neither one of the spies nor one of Korah's followers, who had, owing to their sins, lost claim to their share of the land, but that he had found his death when a number of men, in spite of Moses' warnings, had presumed to storm the mountain occupied by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. "Had our father," continued they, "left behind him a son, and the latter were now also dead, then should we lay no claim to inheritance if this son had left a living child, were it even a daughter; but as we are our father's only descendants, give us, we pray, 'a possession among the brethren of our father.'"
The fervent longing of these women to have a share in the Holy Land shows how much better and more pious were the women of this generation than the men. The latter said, "Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt," whereas the women said, "Give us a possession among the brethren of our father." But not only during the rebellion that was kindled by the spies did the women remain true to Moses and to their God, but on other occasions also it was they who tried to build up what the men had torn down. at the worship of the Golden Calf, too, they tried to restrain the men from sin, hence it was the men only that had to die in the desert because they had been tempted to rebellion by the spies, whereas the women entered into the promised land. Among them also there was even to be found a woman as old as Jochebed-the daughter of Levi by his union with Otah-who survived her sons Moses and Aaron, as well as her daughter Miriam, and who was permitted to enter the promised land at the age of two hundred and fifty years.
The daughters of Zelophehad did not bring their request directly to Moses, but at first urged their plea before the lowest officers, the captains of tens. These, however, said: "This is an important matter since it touches upon laws of inheritance, hence it does not become us to decide this matter; greater men than we must settle it." Hence they sent them to the captains of fifties. When these saw that out of consideration for them the captains of tens would not pass judgement, they sent the daughters of Zelophehad on to the captains of hundreds, that were their superiors. But these too, out of consideration for the higher judges, would not settle this matter, and so the daughters of Zelophehad came to the captains of thousands, who sent them to the princes of the tribes, until they came at last to the highest authority, to Moses. Now Moses might well have decided this case without further ado, but in his meekness he thought, "There is still a higher authority than I, to wit, God," and he bade them await God's judgement. The answer that he received from God was as follows: "The daughters of Zelophehad have the law on their side, for what they desire is in accordance with the law that was written in heaven by Me; give them therefore their father's inheritance, and also two parts of their grandfather Hepher's possessions, for their father Zelophehad was his firstborn and was therefore entitled to a double share."
The daughters of Zelophehad, who in spite of their years-the youngest of them had attained forty-had not yet been married, now entered into wedlock, and according to God's bidding that Moses communicated to them, they married their uncle's sons, although they were free to marry whomsoever they chose.
"God works good through the good, and evil through the evil." The chapter of the laws of God that was published by Moses as an addition to the incident of Zelophehad's daughters would have been given without them also, but God rewarded these women for their piety by making them the direct occasion of this chapter of the law. At the same time this case of these women was to teach several lessons to Moses. He who, since he had been made God's messenger to the people, had lived apart from his wife was not to grow too conceited on account of the sacrifice he had made to his sacred calling; hence in the last year of his life there appeared before him the daughters of Zelophehad, who of their own accord had not married because they had not found mates that they considered suitable. Then, too, Moses could not answer the legal question that the daughters of Zelophehad had presented to him, and had to ask God's counsel, which was a second lesson to Moses. At the appointment of the elders, Moses earnestly told them, "The cause that is too hard for ye, bring to me, and I will hear it," and in punishment of these boastful words God so brought it to pass that he could give no answer to this request of the women, whereupon God said to him, "Didst not thou say, 'the cause that is too hard for ye, bring it to me?' and now thou canst not properly settle this legal question of the women."
A similar punishment for a similar offense was visited upon David who, well aware of his erudition, said, "The laws of the Torah do I grasp as easily and as quickly as songs." God then said, "As truly as thou livest, thou shalt hereafter forget a Biblical law that even the school children know." So, too, it came to pass that when he had the Holy Ark fetched from Gibeah to Zion, he forgot the Biblical instruction that the Ark may be carried only upon the shoulder, and had it lifted upon a wagon. Then occurred the miracle that the Ark leaped of itself into the air, whereas the oxen that pulled the wagon fell down, whereupon Uzzah, to whom the transportation of the Ark had been entrusted, stretched out his hand to prevent the Ark from falling and himself fell dead upon the ground, for "a sin that is committed is ignorance of the law is accounted as if it had been intentional." Uzzah should have been mindful of the law that the Ark was not to be lifted upon a cart, hence his punishment. God thereupon said to David, "Didst thou not say, 'Thy statutes have been my songs?' and thou hast not even mastered the words of the Bible, 'Unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonged unto them; they bare it upon their shoulders.'"
When Moses heard God's decision in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, which turned out in their favor so that they inherited their father's property, he thought, "This s a propitious time to urge a plea before the Lord, for if daughters are to inherit their father, then must my sons inherit my office." He then began to pray to God that his successors, who, he hoped, were also to be his descendants, might be worthy leaders of their people. He said: "O my Lord, before whom come the spirits of all human beings, so that Thou knowest the spirit of each-whose spirit is proud, and whose spirit is meek; whose spirit is patient and whose spirit is restive; mayest Thou set over Thy community a man who is gifted with strength, with wisdom, with beauty, and with decorum, so that his conduct may not give offense to the people. O Lord of the world! Thou knowest each man's views, and knowest that each man has a view of his own, hence, as I am about to depart from this world, I pray Thee, appoint a leader over them that will know how to deal with each man according to his views."
Moses, being a truly pious man, thought when he saw his end approach, not of himself, but of the welfare of the community, for whom he implored a good and worthy leader. Hence he furthermore said to God: "Let not my successor share my fate, for although I accepted the guidance of the people only after long hesitation, owing to Thy urgings and requests, still I shall not be permitted to lead them into the promised land. Mayest Thou then deal differently with my successor than Thou hast dealt with me, and permit him not only to lead the people in the desert, but to take them into the promised land. He, however, shall be a man 'which may go out before them,' who, unlike the kings of the heathens, that sent their legions to war but themselves remain at home, shall himself lead Israel to war. But he shall also be a man 'which may come in before them;' may it be granted him to see the number of those returning from war no less than that of those going into war. O Lord of the world!" continued Moses, "Thou hast led Israel out of Egypt, not to punish them for their sins, but to forgive them, and Thou hast not led them out of Egypt that they may be without leaders, but that they may indeed have leaders. I insist, therefore, that Thou shouldst tell me whether or not Thou wilt grant them a leader."
This is one of the five occasions upon which Moses implored God to give him an answer to his question. When he saw that his appearance before Pharaoh only occasioned him to bring greater and greater cruelties upon Israel, he said to God, "Tell me if Thou wilt now deliver them, or not." He also demanded God's answer to the question, "Shall I now fall into their hands or not?" when at Rephindim, on account of the dearth of water, he was threatened by the people. The third occasion was when he prayed to God for Miriam's recovery, and said, "Tell me, wilt Thou heal her or not?" And lastly when, after long and fervent prayer, he asked God whether he should be permitted to enter into the Holy Land, he said, "Let me know if I am to enter the Holy Land or not."
God fulfilled this wish of Moses, saying: "Thou hast now requested to be informed concerning thy immediate successor. I shall do more than this, and show thee all the judges and prophets that I will allow to arise for My children from not on to the resurrection of the dead." Then He showed Moses his successor Joshua, his successor's successor, Othniel, and all the other judges and prophets. Then God added these words: "Of all these that I have shown thee, each will have his individual spirit and his individual knowledge, but such a man as thou now wishest for thy successor, whose spirit is to embrace in itself the spirits of sixty myriads of Israel, so that he may speak to each one of them according to his understanding, such a man as this will not arise until the end of time. The Messiah will be inspired with a spirit that in itself will embrace the spirits of all mankind.
But now, concerning thy immediate successor, know then that he that watcheth the fig tree shall eat of its fruits, and he that waiteth upon his master will be promoted to honor, and thy sons shall not inherit the leadership because they concerned themselves little with the Torah. Joshua shall be thy successor, who served thee with devotion and showed thee great veneration, for at morn and eve he put up the benches in thy house of teaching and spread the carpets over them; he served thee as far as he was able, and Israel shall now know that he will therefore receive his reward. Take then Joshua, a man such as thou didst wish as a successor, whom thou hast proven, and who knows how to deal with people of every tendency, 'and lay thy hand upon him.' Give him an opportunity, while thou art still alive, to speak in public and to pronounce the law, so that Israel may not after thy death contemptuously say of thy successor, 'As long as his teacher was alive, he dared not pronounce judgement, and now he wishes to do so!' Although Joshua, who is not of thy kin, is to be thy successor, I shall nevertheless be mindful of the law that 'no inheritance shall remove from one tribe to another tribe,' for the dignity of leadership is to be reserved for thy family; Joshua 'shall stand even before Eleazar the priest, thy brother's son, who shall ask counsel for him according to the judgement of the Urim.'"
After Moses in kindly words had induced Joshua to accept the leadership after his death, pointing out to him the great rewards that in the future world await the leaders of Israel, 'he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation,' that all might thereafter acknowledge him as his successor. He then bade Joshua, who had been sitting on the floor like all the rest, rise and set himself upon a bench beside him. Joshua seated himself with the words, "Blessed be the Lord that hath through Moses bestowed the Torah upon Israel." Moses honored Joshua furthermore by interrupting his discourse as soon as Joshua enter the house of teaching, and resuming it only when he had taken his seat. Moses also bade a herald proclaim throughout the camp, "This man Joshua is worthy of being appointed by God as His shepherd."
Moses distinguished Joshua not because God had ordered him to do so, but because he was sincerely glad to pass his dignity on to him, just as a father is glad to leave his possessions to his son. So, too, whereas God had bidden Moses to lay only one hand upon Joshua's head and in this way put his honor upon him, Moses fulfilled God's command by laying both his hands upon Joshua, and by this action bestowed upon him not only insight and understanding, but also a radiant countenance like that of Moses, from whose face issued rays like those of the sun. In giving all these qualities to Joshua, Moses lost nothing. Moses' wisdom was like a torch, whereas Joshua's may be compared to a candle only, and just as a torch loses none of its intensity if a candle is lighted therefrom, so little was Moses' wisdom diminished by the wisdom he gave to Joshua. The rays, too, that emanated from Joshua's countenance were weaker than those from Moses', and not until the crossing of the Jordan did they attain their full intensity, so that upon beholding them, "the people feared him as they feared Moses."
Joshua's appointment by God as Moses' successor had been Moses' most cherished wish, but he had not ventured to give expression to it, for he was mindful of the punishment God had sent over him when he had entreated Him to sent Aaron instead of himself to deliver Israel out of Egypt, and from that time he feared to make any proposals whatsoever to God. He was like the child who had once been burned by a coal, and the seeing a brightly sparkling jewel, took it to be a burning coal, and dared not touch it.
After Moses had announced Joshua as his successor before all the congregation, he disclosed to him that the course of his own life was run, and that he would now depart to his fathers. At his inheritance he gave to Joshua a book of prophecy, which Joshua was to anoint with cedar-oil, and in an earthen vessel to lay upon the spot that from the creation of the world God had created for it, so that His name might there be invoked. This book contained in brief outline the history of Israel from the entrance into the promised land to the establishment of God's kingdom upon earth, when, in wrath and indignation on account of His children, the Lord will rise from His Throne of power and proceed from His holy dwelling.
When Joshua heard the words of Moses as they are written in his Holy Scriptures, he rent his garments and fell at Moses' feet, who, himself in tears, yet comforted him. Joshua, however, said: "How canst thou comfort me concerning the bitter word that thou hast spoken, which abound in sobs and tears, that thou are to depart from thy people? What place will receive thee? What monument will point to thy grave? Or who will dare to remove thy corpse from one place to another as if it were an ordinary mortal's? All dying men receive a grave upon earth according to their rank, but thy grave extends from sunrise to sunset, from South to North; all the world is thy tomb. Thou goest. Who not, O master, shall care for this people? Who shall take pity upon them and be a guide upon their way? Who shall pray for them incessantly, that I may lead them into the land of their fathers? How shall I provide food for them according to their wish, or drink according to their desire? From the beginning they numbered sixty myriads, and now, thanks to thy prayers, they have greatly multiplied. Whence shall I draw insight and understanding to give them judgement and counsel? Even the kings of the Amorites, hearing that we desire to attack them, will say, 'Let us not set out against them, for there is now no longer among them the many-sided, incomprehensible and sacred spirit, worthy of the Lord, the ever-faithful master of the word, the Divine prophet of all the world, the most consummate master of this age. If now our enemies once more transgress before the Lord, they will have no defender to offer up prayers for them before God, as Moses had done, the great messenger who at all hours of the day kneeled down and prayed, lifting up his eyes to Him who rules all the world, and constantly reminding Him of His covenant with the Patriarchs, and appeasing Him with invocation.' For thus will the Amorites speak saying, 'He is no longer among them; arise then and let us wipe them from the face of the earth.' But what then, O my lord Moses, will become of this people?"
When Joshua has spoken these words, he cast himself once more at Moses' feet. Moses seized his hand, raised him to a seat before them, and answered him, saying: "Do not underestimate thyself, O Joshua, but be light of heart, and pay heed to my words. All the nations that dwell in the universe hath God created, and us also. Them and us did He foresee from the beginning of the creation of the universe even unto the end of the world, and He overlooked nothing, even down to the smallest, but He at the same time foresaw and foredoomed everything. All that was to happen in this universe did God foresee and foredoom, and lo! it cometh to pass. He appointed me for them and for their sins, that for them I might make prayer and exhortation. Not for my fitness or my strength was I chosen, but only through the grace of His mercy and His long-suffering. For I assure thee, Joshua, not on account of the excellence of this people wilt thou destroy the heathens; all the fastnesses of heaven and the foundations of the universe were created and approved by God, and are beneath the ring of His right hand. Those, therefore, that maintain and fulfil God's commandments thrive and prosper, but those who sin and neglect the commandments will now receive the promised possessions, and will be punished by the heathens with many plagues. But that He should wholly destroy or abandon them is impossible, for God will step forth, who foresaw everything even to eternity, and whose covenant is firmly founded, in accordance with the oath which He swore to the Patriarchs. Then the hands of the angel will be filled and he will be appointed chief, and he will forthwith avenge them of their enemies."
Balaam's prophecy, "He shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain," was very quickly fulfilled. Shortly before his death, before he lay down to everlasting sleep, it was granted Moses to rejoice in the death of Balaam and the five Midianite kings allied to him. Israel's sinful profanation at Shittim, occasioned by Balaam's wicked advice, sorely smote Moses' heart. God had appointed Moses as lord of the angels, who through fire and cloud had to step aside to make room for him and let him pass, yea, at his appearance they rose from their seats to do him honor. As he had power over the angels, so too did he rule the sea, which he clove at will and then commanded to resume its former guise, and the treasures of hail, which he employed to sent hail over the Egyptians. Now this man, who was sovereign over the angels and over the forces of nature, could only weep when Israel committed whoredom with the daughters of Moab and Midian. To comfort Moses, God now said: "As truly as thou livest, thou shalt not depart out of this world until thou shalt have avenged those who tempted Israel to sin. 'Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.'" God at the same time reproached Moses for his despair and lack of energy at Shittim, saying: "When all the tribes of Israel, save the tribe of Levi, were against thee, thou didst not then lack courage to stand up against all the people on account of the worship of the Golden Calf; how much more then at Shittim, when all Israel save only one tribe, the tribe of Simeon, were on thy side, shouldst thou have proven thyself sufficiently strong to keep back the sinners from their sin!" When Moses received the command to wage war upon the people that had tempted Israel to sin, he said to God: "Yesterday didst Thou say to me, 'Vex not Moab,' and now Thou sayest, 'Avenge the children of Israel.'" God, however, replied: "When I said, 'Vex not Moab,' I named these people after their grandsire, the son of Lot, but not that through their own fault they have lost the claim to kind treatment from Israel, I shall no longer think of their grandsire Abraham's kinsman, but shall call them Midianim, 'they that lost their claim.'"
Lot's descendants now not only had no further claims to exemption, but a command was given to Moses to treat them with still greater hostility than the other nations. Until then it had been Israel's duty not to fight against a city of the heathens unless they had first proclaimed peace to it and the heathens had refused to accept it, but now they were instantly to proceed to hostility; and whereas they had formerly been prohibited from destroying the trees that surrounded a city, they were now ruthlessly to destroy all that lay in their path. This wrath of God against those who had tempted Israel to sin was justified, for "the tempter to sin is him of this world alone, but he that tempts another deprives him of this world and the world beyond." Two nations, the Egyptians and the Edomites, attacked Israel with the sword, but God nevertheless said, " Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian." The Moabites and Ammonites, on the other hand, tempted Israel to sin, hence God's word concerning them was as follows: "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation."
Israel received the command to make war upon the Midianites at the same time as that to fight the Moabites, but whereas Moses at once waged war against Midian, it was not until David's time that a relentless war was waged against Moab. There was several reasons why the Midianites were to receive their punishment before the Moabites. Firstly, Moab's hatred against Israel was not quite without foundation, for although the Israelites had not attacked them in war, still they had inspired them with great fear by pillaging the Moabite region, hence the Moabites tried by every means to be rid of Israel. Midian, on the other hand, had no cause for undertaking hostilities against Israel, and yet they not only joined the Moabites, but outdid them in their hatred against Israel. Furthermore Moab wanted to kill Israel, but Midian wanted to tempt them to sin, which is worse than death. The delay in punishing Moab also corresponded in other ways to God's plan, for the Moabite Ruth was destined to become the mother of the dynasty of David, hence God said to Israel: "Wait yet a while in this matter of the war against the Moabites: I have lost something valuable among them. As soon as I have found it, ye shall avenge yourselves of them."
God indicated that the war against Midian would be Moses' last in these words, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people." The connection between the war and Moses' death is as follows. When God announced to Moses that he was to die on this side of the Jordan, Moses implored God with the words: "O Lord of the world! Is it right that death should so soon overtake me, that have seen Thy ways, Thy actions, and Thy path?" God replied, saying: "Moses, if a long life were better for men, surely I should not then have permitted thy ancestors to taste of death; but it is better for thee if thou are taken from this world than if thou wert to remain in it." Moses was not, however, satisfied with this answer from God, whereupon God said: "Well then, thou mayest live many years longer, yea, thou shalt live even to a thousand years, but know thou that Israel will not then conquer their foes, and that Midian will not be brought under their yoke." In this way was Moses made to yield by God, for he thought, "Whether I die to-day or to-morrow matters little, for death will come to me at last. I would rather see Israel conquer their foes and bring Midian under their yoke than that I should live longer." God therefore bade Moses avenge Israel of the Midianites, if he was thereupon ready to die.
Moses then thought: "I know that if I were now to go into battle against the Midianites, the people would declare that I wished for my own death, since God made it dependent upon the punishing of the Midianites, and my life is assured me as long as ever I wish to put it off." This consideration did not, however, determine him, for, fully aware that his enterprise of war would hasten his death, he nevertheless set about the execution of this war as soon as God commanded him. Wherever the execution of a Divine command, or the possibility of furthering Israel's cause was concerned, Moses gave no thought to himself, even though it touched his life. Not so Joshua. When he came to Canaan, he thought: "If I wage an incessant war upon the Canaanites, I shall certainly die as soon as I shall have conquered them, for Moses also died immediately after his conquest of Midian." He therefore proceeded very slowly in his conquest of the Holy Land, so that he might be sure of a long life. But, "however many thought there may be in man's heart, God's words prevails," and whereas Joshua hoped to become very aged, he died ten years before the time God had originally allotted to him, for, although he would otherwise have attained his master's age, he now died at the age of a hundred and ten.
Whereas Moses, disregarding the expected consequences of the war upon himself, gladly went into battle, Israel did not want to obey his summons to war. The people of whom Moses had on one occasion said, "They be almost ready to stone me," when they now learned that their leader Moses was to die at the end of this war, tried to evade it, saying that they preferred to forego impending victory rather than to lose their leader, and each one hid himself, so as not to be picked out for this war. God therefore bade Moses cast lots to decide their going into battle, and those whose lots were drawn had to follow the call to arms even against their will. Moses' summons to battle was as follows: "Arm ye men from among you for the war, to execute the Lord's vengeance on Midain." Moses spoke of the Lord's revenge, whereas God designated this war against Midian as Israel's revenge. For Moses said to God: "Lord of the world! If we had worshipped the stars and planets, the Midianites should not have hated us, they hate us only on account of the Torah and the commandments that Thou hast given us, hence must Thou avenge Thyself of them."
Moses did not in person lead the war against Midian, for he was mindful of the proverb, "Cast no stone into the well from which thou hast drawn water," and he who as a fugitive from Egypt had sought refuge in Midian, did not wish to make war upon that land. He relinquished the leadership of the people to Phinehas, for "he that beginneth a good deed shall also complete it," and it was Phinehas who had begun God's war against the Midianites by slaying the princess Cozbi, Zimri's mistress, hence the task of completing this war fell to his lot. Phinehas, as a descendant of Joseph, had, moreover, a special reason for wishing to take revenge upon the Midianites, as those had been Midianites who had sold Joseph as a slave in Egypt.
The forces under Phinehas's command consisted of thirty-six thousand men, one third to take active part in battle, one third to guard the baggage, and one third to pray, whose duty it was in the course of battle to implore God to lend victory to the warriors of Israel. Moses passed on to Phinehas not only the Holy Ark, which Israel always takes into battle, but also the Urim and Tummim, that he might, if necessary, consult God. Outside of this Phinehas also received the gold plate of the mitre from the high priest's forehead, for Moses said to him: "The knave Balaam will by means of his sorceries fly into the air, and will even enable the five Midianite kings to fly with him, therefore shall ye hold up to them the plate of pure gold upon which is engraved God's name, and they will fall to earth." They did as Moses commanded, and truly Balaam and the five kings fell to earth. They then executed Balaam according to the four forms prescribed by the Jewish laws. They hanged him, kindled a fire beneath the gallows, struck off his head with a sword, and then dropped him from the gallows into the fire below. Although Israel undertook the war against Midian upon God's bidding, to take vengeance for the wrong that had been done them, still their method of warfare was most humane. They attacked the cities of the Midianites from three sides only, so as not entirely to cut off flight. Victory was on the side of Israel, into whose possession fell the cities with all their temples, idols, and palaces. The same fate overtook all the five kings of Midian. All were slain alike just as all had made a common cause of the wish to destroy Israel. Balaam who had come to Midian from his home in Mesopotamia in order to receive his reward for his counsel not to fight Israel, but to tempt them to sin, instead of a reward, met with death at the hands of the Jews.
This arch-magician at first tried to escape Israel's power by sorcery. For when he saw Phinehas and the leaders of the hosts of Israel, he flew into the air, a feat which he accomplished by magic arts, but particularly through the assistance of his wizard sons, Jannes and Jambres. At the sight of Balaam flying high in the air, Phinehas shouted to his army, "Is there any one among us who is able to fly after this villain?" The Danite Zaliah, a past master in the art of sorcery, followed this summons, and flew high into the air. Balaam, however, surpassed him, and took a path in the air on which Zaliah could not follow, and after the former had soared through five different layers of air, he had quite vanished from Zaliah's ken, who knew not what to do. Phinehas, however, came to his aid. By means of a magical invocation he dispelled the clouds that covered Balaam, and then Zaliah forced Balaam to descend to earth and appear before Phinehas. He began to implore Phinehas to spare his life, promising never again to try to curse Israel, but Phinehas replied: "Art not thou the Aramean Laban who tried to destroy our father Jacob? Then thou didst pass on to Egypt to destroy Jacob's seed, and when they removed from Egypt thou didst incite the wicked Amalek to harass us, and not thou didst attempt to curse Israel. But when thou sawest that thy endeavor to curse them was without avail, since God would not hear thee, thou gavest Balak the despicable advice to deliver up the daughters of his land to prostitution, and thereby to tempt Israel to sin, and wert in part successful, for twenty-four thousand Israelites died in consequence of their sin with the daughters of Moab. In vain therefore dost thou plead that thy life by spared." He then ordered Zaliah to kill Balaam, admonishing him, however, to be sure not to kill him through the holy name of God, as it does not befit so great a sinner to meet his death in such a way. Zaliah now tried in vain to kill Balaam, for through his magic wiles he was proof against every weapon, until Phinehas at last gave Zaliah a sword on both sides of which was engraved a serpent, with the words, "Kill him with that to which he belongs-through this he will die," and with this sword Balaam was killed.
His corpse was not buried, but his bones rotted, and from then arose several species of harmful snakes, that bring disaster to human beings; and even the worms that devoured his flesh were turned into snakes. The magicians made use of these snakes for three different types of enchantment, for the heads, the bodies, and the tails, had each a different effect. One of the questions that the Queen of Sheba put to Solomon was how to withstand these three different kinds of enchantment, and the wise king knew even this secret, which he then imparted to her.
After the close of the campaign against Midian, the warriors returned with rich spoils to the camp of Israel, but they were such pious and honorable men that they did not lay claim to the booty, but rendered it all up, so that it might be impartially divided among all. As there were honest and conscientious in their relations between man and man, so likewise were they very strict in their observance of religious statutes. Throughout the time of war not a single one of them neglected even the slightest religious ceremony, were it only to put on the phylactery of the forehead before that of the arm. But they were especially careful never again to be tempted by the Midianite women. If they entered a house to take its treasures from it, they did so in pairs, one blackening the faces of the women, and the other seizing their ornaments. In vain would the Midianite women cry, "Are we not creatures of God, that ye treat us thus?" whereupon the Israelites would say, "Were not ye the cause that so many of us found their death?" Justly therefore could these pious men say to Moses: "Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and not one among us had committed a sin or an unchaste action. We have therefore brought the Lord's oblation to make atonement for our souls." Moses thereupon said in surprise, "Ye contradict yourselves, what need of atonement is there if no man among you is guilty of sin?" They replied: "It is true, our teacher Moses, two by two did we approach the women, one blackening their faces, and the other taking off their ear-rings, but even though we committed no sin with the Midianite women, still the heat of passion was kindled in us when we took hold of the women, and therefore by an offering do we seek to make atonement." Moses thereupon set out to praise them, saying: "Even the common men among you are filled with good and pious deeds, for a man that was under conditions that enabled him to sin, but controlled himself, had done a pious deed, not to speak of the pious and chaste men among you whose pious deeds are legion."
As among those who had been slain in Midian there was a Jewish apostate, the warriors were polluted, and hence might not enter the camp, but had to stay without. Moses in his meekness did not, however, wait for them to come to him, but hastened to them. When, however, he heard that they had killed only the men but not the women, his wrath was kindled against the leaders of the army, for, "Upon the leaders falls the blame for the faults of the people." He reproached them, pointing out to them that it had been the women who really had brought disaster upon Israel at Shittim. But Phinehas replied: "Our teacher Moses, we acted according to thy instructions, thou didst bid us only 'avenge ourselves of the Midianites,' but madest not mention of the women of Midian." Moses then ordered them to execute all the women of the Midianites that were ripe for marriage, but to spare the young girls. In order to determine the difference in age, all were led past the gold plate of the mitre on the high priest's forehead, and this had the effect of making those who had been doomed to death grow pale.
In punishment for Moses' outburst of anger God caused him to forget to communicate to the soldiers outside the camp the laws of purification. These were then announced by Eleazar, Aaron's son. It was not, however, proper for him to pronounce a law in the presence of his teacher Moses, and he was accordingly punished for his lack of reverence to his teacher Moses. God had previously said that whenever Joshua wanted to inquire of God, he was "to stand before Eleazar the priest, and inquire of him by judgement of the Urim and Tummin." But this did not come about. In all his long career, Joshua had no need of asking Eleazar's counsel, so that the latter lost the honor that had been intended from him.
The occasion that led to the war against Midian had been Israel's seduction by the Midianite women, but these had succeeded only by having first intoxicated the sinners with wine. Phinehas, to make sure that this might not be repeated in the future, put the earthly as well as the heavenly ban upon all those who should drink the wine of the heathens, for the latter used it only as libations to their idols and for immoral purposes. In pronouncing this ban, he called upon the Ineffable Name and upon the holy writing of the two tables against its transgressors.
God gave three gifts to the world, wisdom, strength and wealth. If they come from God, they are a blessing, otherwise they bring ruin. The world had two great sages, Balaam among the Gentiles, and Ahithophel among the Jews, but both of these, on account of their wisdom, lost this world as well as the world beyond. There were two great heroes in the world, Samson in Israel, and Goliath among the Gentiles, but both met death on account of their strength. There were two wealthy men in the world, Korah among the Jews, and Haman among the Gentiles, and both perished on account of their wealth. A similar fate overtook the two and a half tribes that stayed on the hither side of the Jordan. These had grown very rich in cattle through the spoils of the Midianites, and therefore preferred the pasture land on the hither side of the Jordan as their inheritance. But later on their wealth brought them destruction, because, choosing on their brethren, they were afterwards the first that were driven from their dwelling place into exile.
How intent these people were upon their possessions is shown in the words with which they presented their wish to Moses, saying, "We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones," showing that they rated the cattle higher than their children, for they thought of the animals before they considered their children. Moses did not indeed call them to account for this, but showed them in unmistakable words that it was their duty first to consider men and then animals, by saying in his reply to these tribes, "Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep."
The land which these tribes had selected was indeed of great excellence, as even the names of the cities indicate. One was called Ataroth, "garlanded with fruits;" a second, Dibon, "flowing with honey;" a third, Jazer, "help," for its possession was a great help to those who owned it. These other cities in this region that were names on account of the excellence of the soil were: Nimrah, "gaily colored," for the ground of this city was gaily colored with fruits; Sebam, "perfume," whose fruits scattered a fragrance like perfume; and Nebo, "produce," because it was distinguished for its excellent product. This last mentioned city, like Baalmeon, did not retain its name when it passed into Israel's possession, for they wanted to have not cities that bore the names of idols, and therefore gave them new names. Many another town as well received a new name from the Israelites, just as Nobah gave his own name to the city of Kenath that he had gained by arms, hoping in this way to immortalize his name, for he had no children. His name was, however, not preserved in this way, for after the death of the conqueror, the old name of Kenath returned again.
It was among the possessions of these two and a half tribes also that Moses shortly before his death founded the cities of refuge. Moses in this instance illustrates the proverb, "Whosoever loves pious deeds, never has enough of them." Although God had told Moses that he would never cross to the other side of the Jordan, he still insisted upon at least determining the site for the asylum in the region of the East Jordan. God gave Moses the law concerning the cities of refuge in accordance with Israel's wish. For the people said to God: "Lord of the world! Thou didst promise us a long course of life as a reward for fulfilling the commandments, but supposing now that a man hath slain another unintentionally, and the avenger of the blood slays him, he will die before his time." God then said to Moses: "As truly as thou livest, they speak wisely. Appoint therefore several cities for cities of refuge, 'that the manslayer might flee thither, which slayeth his neighbor unawares.'" Moses rejoiced greatly at this statute, and instantly set about its execution, for "he that hath tasted of a food knoweth its flavor," and Moses who had erstwhile been obliged to flee on account of having slain an Egyptian, knew the feelings of the man who is pursued on account of a manslaughter that he had committed unawares.
When God in wrath against Moses and Aaron vowed, "Therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them," Moses forbore to implore God to do away with this sentence, acting in accordance with the percept, "Do not attempt to dissolve thy neighbor's vow in the moment he hath made it." Moses waited forty years before he approached God with the request to permit him to enter the promised land with Israel. This occurred when he had received God's command to appoint Joshua as his successor, for he now perceived that God had actually resolved to execute His sentence. For although God had ten times decreed that Moses was to die in the desert, still Moses had not troubled much about it, even when the resolution had been sealed in the heavenly court. He thought: "How often did Israel sin, and yet, when I prayed for them, He annulled the punishment He had decreed; surely God should accept my prayer, if I-a man who never sinned-should pray to Him." Moses had also a special reason for assuming that God had changed His determination concerning him, and would not permit him to enter the promised land, for he had been permitted to enter the part of Palestine lying on this side of the Jordan, the land of Sihon and of Og, and from this he reasoned that God had not irrevocably decreed punishment for him, and that it might therefore now be recalled He was strengthened in this assumption by the fact that after the conquest of the east-Jordanic region God revealed to him the instructions as to how the land was to be divided, and it seemed to him as if he were in person to carry out these instructions. He was, however, mistaken, for shortly after these laws had been revealed to him, God informed him that he was to look upon the promised land from Mount Abarin, as he should never enter it.
When God saw that Moses was not much concerned about the impending punishment, He sealed the command He had issued against him, and swore by His Ineffable Name that Moses should not march into the land. Moses thereupon put on sackcloth, threw himself upon the ashes, and prayed not less than fifteen hundred prayers for the annulment of the Divine resolve against him. He drew a circle about himself, stood in the center of it, and said, "I will not move from this spot until judgement shall have been suspended." Heaven and earth, as well as all the forms of creation, trembled and said, "Perhaps it is God's wish to destroy this world, to create a new universe." But a voice sounded from heaven and said: "God's wish to destroy the world has not yet come, the commotion in nature is due to this that 'in God's hand is the soul of all living things and the spirit of all flesh,' even the spirit of the man Moses, whose end is not at hand."
God then bade them proclaim in heaven, and in all the celestial courts of justice, that they should not accept Moses' prayers, and that no angel was to carry Moses' prayer to Him, because Moses' doom of death had been sealed by Him. God quickly called before Him the Angel Akraziel, who is the celestial herald, and bade him proclaim the following in heaven: "Descend at once and lock every single gate in heaven, that Moses' prayer may not ascend into it." Then, at Moses' prayer, trembled heaven and earth, all the foundations thereof and the creatures therein, for his prayer was like a sword that slashed and rends, and can in no wise be parried, for in it was the power of the Ineffable Name that Moses had learned from his teacher Zagzagel, the teacher and scribe of the celestial beings. But when the Galgalim and Seraphim saw that God did not accept Moses' prayer, and without taking consideration of him did not grant his prayer for longer life, they all opened their mouths, saying: "Praised be the glory of the Lord from its place, for there is no injustice before Him, no forgetfulness, no respect of persons toward the small or the great."
Moses began his long but fruitless prayer by saying: "Lord of the world! Consider how much I had to bear for the sake of Israel until they became the people of Thy claim and of Thy possession. I suffered with them, shall I not then take part in their rejoicing? Look Thou, by forbidding me to enter the promised land, Thou givest the lie to Thy Torah, for it says, 'In his day thou shalt give the laborer his hire.' Where, then, is my hire for the forty years during which I labored for the sake of Thy children, and for their sake suffered much sorrow in Egypt, in the desert, and at the giving of the Torah and the commandments? With them I suffered pain, shall not I behold their good fortune as well? But Thou tellest me that I may not cross the Jordan! All the time that we were in the desert I could not sit quietly in the academy, teaching and pronouncing judgement, but not that I should be able to do so, Thou tellest me that I may not."
He continued: "May the mercy in Thee precede Thy justice, so that my prayer may be answered, for I well know that 'there is no mercy in justice,' Thou Thyself didst tell me when I asked Thee how Thou didst conduct the world, 'I owe nothing to any creature, and what I do for them is a free gift on My part,' therefore as a free gift, grant now my prayer to me. Thou Thyself didst point out to me that it is Thy desire that people should pray to Thee to cancel punishment that was laid upon them. When Israel committed that terrible sin, the worship of the Golden Calf, Thou didst say to me, 'Let Me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven.' I then thought, 'Who can restrain God, that He should say, "Let Me?" It is plain that He desires me to pray for His children;' and I prayed, and was answered. The prayer of the individual for the community was answered, but not so the prayer of the community for the one individual! Is it because I called Israel, 'rebels?' But in this I only followed Thy example, for Thou too didst call them, 'the sons of rebellion.'
"Thou didst call me, as well as Leviathan, thy servant; I sent up prayers to Thee, and Leviathan likewise, and him didst Thou answer, for Thou madest a covenant with him that Thou keepest, but the covenant that Thou madest with me Thou breakest, for Thou didst say, 'Die in the mount whither thou goest up.' In the Torah Thy words are: 'If the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto the judges; and he shall serve him for ever.' I implore Thee now, 'hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.' Thou are not in the position of a judge of flesh and blood who, when granting a prayer, has to consider that he may be compelled by his superior to repeal his answer, Thou canst do what Thou wilt, for where on earth or in heaven is there one so mighty that he can do such deed as Thine in Egypt, or who can perform such mighty deeds as Thou didst at the Red Sea? I pray Thee, therefore, let me behold the land that, in spite of the slander of the spies, I praised, and Jerusalem and the Temple also.
"When, in answer to the proposition Thou madest me to go into Egypt and deliver Israel, I said, 'I can not do it, for I made a vow to Jethro never to leave him,' Thou didst release me from that vow. O Lord of the world! As then Thou didst absolve me of my vow, saying, 'Go, return into Egypt,' so do Thou now absolve Thyself from Thy vow, and permit me to enter the land of Israel." Then God answered: "Thou hast a master to absolve thee from thy vow, but I have no master." Moses then said: "Thy judgement against me reads that I shall not as king enter the promised land, for to me and to Aaron Thou didst say, "Ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.' Permit me then, at least, to enter it as a common citizen." "That," said the Lord, "is impossible. The king shall not enter it degraded to the rank of a common citizen." "Well, then," said Moses, "if I may not even go into the land as a common citizen, let me at least enter into the promised land by the Paneas Grotto, that runs from the east bank to the west bank of the Jordan." But this request, too, God denied him, saying, "Thou shalt not go from this bank of the Jordan to the other." "If this request also is to be denied me," begged Moses, "grant me at least that after my death my bones may be carried to the other side of the Jordan." But God said, "Nay, not even thy bones shall cross the Jordan." "O Lord of the world!" exclaimed Moses, "If Joseph's bones were permitted to be carried into the promised land, why not mine?" God replied, "Whosoever acknowledges his country shall be buried therein, but whosoever does not acknowledge his country shall not be buried therein. Joseph pledged allegiance to his country when he said, 'For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews,' and therefore also does he deserve to have his bones brought to the land of Israel, but thou didst in silence hear the daughters of Jethro say to their father, 'An Egyptian delivered us out of the hands of the shepherds,' without correcting them by saying, 'I am a Hebrew;' and therefore shall not even thy bones be brought into the land of Israel."
Moses furthermore said to God: "O Lord of the world! With the word, 'Behold' did I begin Thy praise, saying, 'Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's' and with that very world, 'Behold,' dost thou seal my death, saying, 'Behold, thy days approach that thou must die.'" God replied to this: "A wicked man in his envy sees only the profits, but not the expenditures of his neighbor. Dost thou not recall that when I wanted to send thee to Egypt, thou didst also decline My request with the word, 'Behold,' saying, 'Behold, they will not believe me.' Therefore did I say, 'Behold, thy days approach that thou must die.'" "As furthermore," continued God, "thou didst say to the sons of Levi when they asked thy forgiveness, 'Enough, ye take too much upon ye, ye sons of Levi,' so too shall I answer thy prayer for forgiveness, 'Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter.'"
"O Lord of the world!" again pleaded Moses, "Wilt not Thou recall the time when thou didst say to me, 'Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt.' Let them be led by me into their land as I led them out of the land of bondage." But to this also God found a reply: "Moses, wilt not thou recall the time when thou didst say to Me, 'O my Lord, send, I pray Thee by the hand of him whom Thou wild send?' 'With the measure that a man uses, shall measure be given him.' I announce death to thee with the word, 'Behold,' saying 'Behold, thy days approach that thou must die,' because I wanted to point out to thee that thou diest only because thou are a descendant of Adam, upon whose sons I had pronounced death with the word, 'Behold,' saying to the angels: 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.'"
Moses then said, "O Lord of the world! To the first man didst Thou give a command that could easily be obeyed, and yet he disobeyed it, and thereby merited death; but I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments." God: "Behold, Abraham also, who sanctified My name in the world, died." Moses: "Yea, but from Abraham issued Ishmael, whose descendants arouse thy anger." God: "Isaac, also, who laid his neck upon the altar to be offered as a sacrifice to Me, died." Moses: "But from Isaac issued Esau who will destroy the Temple and burn Thy house." God: "From Jacob issued twelve tribes that did not anger Me, and ye he died." Moses: "But he did not ascend into heaven, his feet did not tread the clouds, Thou didst not speak with him face to face, and he did not receive the Torah out of Thy hand." God: "'Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter,' speak not many words, for only 'a fool multiplieth words.'" Moses: "O Lord of the world! Future generations will perchance say, 'Had not God found evil in Moses, He would not have taking him out of the world.'" God: "I have already written in My Torah, 'And there hath not arisen since a prophet in Israel like unto Moses.'" Moses: "Future generations will perhaps say that I had probably acted in accordance with Thy will in my youth, while I was active as a prophet, but that in my old age, when my prophetic activities ceased, I no longer did Thy will."
Moses: "Lord of the world! Let me, I pray, enter into the Land, live there two or three years, and then die." God: "I have resolved that thou shalt not go there." Moses: "If I may not enter it in my lifetime, let me reach it after my death." God: "Nay, neither dead nor alive shalt thou go into the land." Moses: "Why this wrath against me?" God: "Because ye sanctified Me not in the midst of the children of Israel." Moses: "With all Thy creatures dost Thou deal according to Thy quality of mercy, forgiving them their sins, once, twice, and thrice, but me Thou wilt not forgive even one single sin!" God: "Outside of this sin of which thou are aware, thou hast committed six other sins with which I have not until now reproached thee. At the very first, when I appeared to thee, thou didst say, 'O my Lord, send I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send,' and didst refuse to obey My command to go to Egypt. Secondly thou didst say, 'For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath evil entreated this people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all,' accusing Me thereby of having only harmed Israel, instead of aiding them. Thirdly didst thou say, 'If these men die the common death of all men, then the Lord hath not sent me,' so that thou didst arouse doubts among Israel if thou wert really My ambassador. Fourthly didst thou say, 'But if the Lord make a new thing,' doubting if God could do so. Fifthly didst thou say to Israel, 'Hear now, ye rebels,' and in this way didst insult My children. Sixthly didst thou say, 'And behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men.' Were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israel's fathers, perchance sinful men, that thou didst thus address their children?" Moses: "I only followed Thy example, for Thou, too, didst say, 'The censers of these sinners.'" God: "But I did not characterize their fathers as sinners."
Moses: "O Lord of the world! How often did Israel sin before Thee, and when I begged and implored mercy for them, Thou forgavest them, but me Thou wilt not forgive! For my sake Thou forgavest the sins of sixty myriads, and not thou wilt not forgive my sin?" God: "The punishment that is laid upon the community is different from the punishment that is laid upon the individual, for I am not so severe in my treatment of the community as I am in dealing with an individual. But know, furthermore, that until now fate had been in thy power, but now fate is no longer in thy power." Moses: "O Lord of the world! Rise up from the Throne of Justice, and seat Thyself upon the Throne of Mercy, so that in Thy mercy, Thou mayest grant me life, during which I may atone for my sins by suffering that Thou shalt bring upon me. Hand me not over to the sword of the Angel of Death. If Thou wild grant my prayer, then shall I sound Thy praises to all the inhabitants of the earth; I do not wish to die, 'but live and declare the works of the Lord.'" God replied: "'This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter into it,' this is the gate into which the righteous must enter as well as other creatures, for death had been decreed for man since the beginning of the world."
Moses, however, continued to importune God, saying: "With justice and with mercy hast Thou created the world and mankind, may mercy now conquer justice. In my youth Thou didst begin by showing me Thy power in the bush of thorns, and now, in my old age, I beseech Thee, treat me not as an earthly king treats his servant. When a king of flesh and blood had a servant, he loves him as long as he is young and strong, but casts him off when he is grown old. But Thou, 'cast me not off in the time of old age.' Thou didst show Thy power at the revelation of the Ten Commandments, and thy strong hand in the ten plagues that Thou didst bring upon Egypt. Thou didst create everything, and in Thy hand doth it lie to kill and to give life, there is none who can do these works, nor is there strength like Thine in the future world. Let me then proclaim Thy majesty to the coming generations, and tell them that through me Thou didst cleave the Red Sea, and give the Torah to Israel, that throughout forty years Thou didst cause manna to rain from heaven for Israel, and water to rise from the well." For Moses thought that if his life were spared, he should be able everlastingly to restrain Israel from sin and to hold them forever in faith to the one God. But God said: "' Let it suffice thee.' If thy life were to be spared, men should mistake thee, and make a god of thee, and worship thee." "Lord of the world!" replied Moses, "Thou didst already test me at the time when the Golden Calf was made and I destroyed it. Why then should I die?" God: "Whose son art thou?" Moses: "Amram's son." God: "And whose son was Amram?" Moses: "Izhar's son." God: "And whose son was he?" Moses: "Kohath's son." God: "And whose son was he?" Moses: "Levi's son." God: "And from whom did all of these descend?" Moses: "From Adam." God: "Was the life of any one of these spared?" Moses: "They all died." God: "And thou wishest to live on?" Moses: "Lord of the world! Adam stole the forbidden fruit and ate of it, and it was on this account that Thou didst punish him with death, but did I ever steal aught from Thee? Thou Thyself didst write of me, 'My servant Moses, who is faithful in all Mine house.'" God: "Art thou worthier than Noah?" Moses: "Yes; when Thou sentest the flood over his generation he did not beg Thy mercy for them, but I did say to Thee, 'Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.'"
God: "Was it I perchance, that counseled thee to slay the Egyptian?" Moses: "Thou didst slay all the firstborn of Egypt, and shall I die on account of one single Egyptian that I slew?" God: "Art thou perchance My equal? I slay and restore to life, but canst thou perchance revive the dead?"
That Moses might not take his approaching end too much to heart, God tried to comfort him by pointing out to him that in his lifetime he had received such distinctions from his Creator as no man before him, and that still greater distinctions awaited him in the future world. God said: "Dost not thou remember the great honor I showed thee? Thou didst say to Me, 'Arise,' and I arose; thou saidst, 'Turn about,' and I turned about; for thy sake too did I invert the order of heaven and earth, for the order of heaven it is to send down dew and rain, and earth's order is it to produce bread, but thou didst say to Me, 'I do not wish it so, but bid heaven to send down bread, and earth to bring forth water,' and I acted in accordance with thy wish; I caused bread to rain from heaven, and the well 'sprung up.' Thou didst say, 'If the Lord make a new thing, and the ground open her mouth, and swallow them up, then ye shall understand that the Lord hath sent me,' and I fulfilled thy wish, and it swallowed them. I had also spoken, 'He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed,' but when Israel sinned with the Golden Calf and I meant to deal with them according to My words, thou wouldst not let Me, saying: 'Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people,' and I forgave them as thou didst ask Me. More than this, the Torah is named after Me, it is the Torah of the Lord, but I named it after Thy name, saying, 'It is the Torah of My servant Moses.' The children of Israel also are named after Me, 'for unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants,' but I called them after thy name. I distinguished thee still more, for just as there is neither food nor drink for Me, so also didst thou stay in heaven forty days and forty nights, and in all that time, 'didst neither eat bread, nor drink water.' I am God, and see, 'I made thee a god to Pharaoh;' I have prophets, and thou hast a prophet, for I said to thee, 'and Aaron, thy brother, shall be thy prophet.' Again, no being may see Me, and thee too did I make so that 'the people were afraid to come nigh thee,' and as I said to thee, 'thou shalt see My back: but My face shall not be seen,' so too did the people see the back of thee. I glorified the Torah with twenty-two letters, and with all these letters did I glorify thee. I sent thee to Pharaoh, and thou didst lead Israel out of Egypt; through thee did I bestow the Sabbath upon Israel, and the law of circumcision; I gave thee the Ten Commandments, I covered thee with the cloud, I gave thee the two tables of stone, which thou didst break; I made thee unique in the world; I gave thee the Torah as an inheritance, and honored thee more than all the seventy elders."
Moses had to acknowledge that extraordinary marks of honor had been his. He said: "Lord of the world! Thou didst set me on high, and didst bestow upon me so many benefits that I cannot enumerate one of a thousand, and all the world knows how Thou didst exalt me and honor me, and all the world knows as well that Thou art the One God, the only One in Thy world, that there is none beside Thee, and that there is nothing like Thee. Thou didst create those above and those below, Thou art the beginning and the end. Who can enumerate Thy deeds of glory? Do one of these, I beseech Thee, that I may pass over the Jordan." God said: "'Let it suffice, speak no more unto Me of this matter.' It is better for thee to die here, than that thou shouldst cross the Jordan and die in the land of Israel. There in a tomb fashioned by men, on a bier made by men, and by the hands of men wouldst thou be buried; but now shalt thou be buried in a tomb fashioned by God, on a bier made by God, and shalt be buried by the hands of God. O My son Moses, much honor had been stored up for thee in the future world, for thou wilt take part in all the delights of Paradise, where are prepared three hundred and ten worlds, which I have created for every pious man that through love of Me devoted himself to the Torah. And as in this world I appointed thee over the sixty myriads of Israel, so in the future world shall I appoint thee over the fifty-five myriads of pious men. Thy days, O Moses, will pass, when thou art dead, but thy light will not fade, for thou wilt never have need of the light of sun or moon or stars, nor wilt thou require raiment or shelter, or oil for thy head, or shoes for thy feet, for My majesty will shine before thee, My radiance will make thy face beam, My sweetness will delight thy palate, the carriages of My equipage shall serve as vehicles for thee, and one of My many scepters upon which is engraved the Ineffable Name, one that I had employed in the creation of the world, shall I give to thee, the image of which I had already given thee in this world."
When Moses saw that God lent no ear to his prayers, he sought to invoke God's mercy through the pleadings of others. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." So long as the course of Moses' days had not yet been run, everything was in his power, but when his time was over, he sought for some one to appeal to God's mercy for him. He now betook himself to Earth and said: "O Earth, I pray thee, implore God's mercy for me. Perhaps for thy sake will He take pity upon me and let me enter into the land of Israel." Earth, however, replied: "I am 'without form and void,' and then too I shall son 'wax old like a garment.' How then should I venture to appear before the King of kings? Nay, thy fate is like mine, for 'dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.'"
Moses hastened to Sun and Moon, and implored them to intercede for him with God, but they replied: "Before we pray to God for thee, we must pray for ourselves, for 'the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed.'"
Moses then took his request to the Stars and the Planets, but these, too, replied: "Before we venture to plead for thee, we must plead for ourselves, for 'all the host of heaven shall be dissolved.'"
Moses then went to the Hills and the Mountains, beseeching them, "Pray appeal to God's mercy for me," and they, too, replied: "We too have to implore God's mercy for ourselves, for He said, 'The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed.'"
He then laid his plea before Mount Sinai, but the latter said: "Didst thou not see with thine eyes and record in the Torah that, 'Mount Sinai was altogether in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in a fire?' How then shall I approach the Lord?"
He then went to the Rivers, and sought their intercession before the Lord, but they replied: "'The Lord made a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters.' We cannot save ourselves out of His hand, and how then should we aid thee?"
Then he went to the Deserts, and to all the Elements of Nature, but in vain sought to secure their aid. Their answer was : "All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and turn to dust again."
The Great Sea was the last to which he brought his request, but it replied: "Son of Amram, what ails thee today? Art not thou the son of Amram that erstwhile came to me with a staff, beat me, and clove me into twelve parts, while I was powerless against thee, because the Shekinah accompanied thee at thy right hand? What has happened, then, that thou comest before me now pleading?" Upon being reminded of the miracles that he had accomplished in his youth, Moses burst into tears and said, "Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me!" And turning to the sea, he made answer: "In those days, when I stood beside thee, I was king of the world, and I commanded, but not I am a suppliant, whose prayers are unanswered."
When Moses perceived the Heaven and Earth, Sun and Moon, Stars and Planets, Mountains and Rivers turned a deaf ear to his prayers, he tried to implore mankind to intercede for him before God. He went first to his disciple Joshua, saying: "O my son, be mindful of the love with which I treated thee by day and by night, teaching thee mishnah and halakah, and all arts and sciences, and implore now for my sake God's mercy, for perhaps through thee He may take pity upon me, and permit me to enter the land of Israel." Joshua began to weep bitterly, and beat his palms in sorrow, but when he wanted to begin to pray, Samael appeared and stopped his mouth, saying, "Why dost thou seek to oppose the command of God, who is 'the Rock, whose work is perfect, and all whose ways are judgement?'" Joshua then went to Moses and said, "Master, Samael will not let me pray." At these words Moses burst into loud sobs, and Joshua, too, wept bitterly.
Moses then went to his brother's son, Eleazar, to whom he said: "O my son, be mindful of the days when God was angry with thy father on account of the making of the Golden Calf, and I save him through my prayer. Pray now thou to God for me, and perhaps God will take pity upon me, and let me enter into the land of Israel." But when Eleazar, in accordance with Moses' wish, began to pray, Samael appeared and stopped his mouth, saying to him, "How canst thou think of disregarding God's command?" Then Eleazar reported to Moses that he could not pray for him.
He now tried to invoke Caleb's aid, but him, too, Samael prevented from praying to God. Moses then went to the seventy elders and the other leaders of the people, he even implored every single man among Israel to pray for him, saying: "Remember the wrath which the Lord nursed against your fathers, but I brought it to pass that God relinquished His plan to destroy Israel, and forgave Israel their sins. Now, I pray ye, betake yourselves to the sanctuary of God and exhort His pity for me, that He may permit me to enter into the land of Israel, for 'God never rejects the prayer of the multitude.'"
When the people and their leaders heard these words of Moses, they broke out into mournful weeping, and in the Tabernacle with bitter tears they entreated God to answer Moses' prayer, so that their cries rose even to the Throne of Glory. But then one hundred and eighty four myriads of angels under the leadership of the great angels Zakun and Lahash descended and snatched away the words of the suppliants, that they might not reach God. The angel Lahash indeed tried to restore to their place the words which the other angels had snatched away, so that they might reach God, but when Samael learned of this, he fettered Lahash with chains of fire and brought him before God, where he received sixty blows of fire and was expelled from the inner chamber of God because, contrary to God's wish, he had attempted to aid Moses in the fulfillment of his desire. When Israel now saw how the angels dealt with their prayers, they went to Moses and said, "The angels will not let us pray for thee."
When Moses saw that neither the world nor mankind could aid him, he betook himself to the Angel of the Face, to whom he said, "Pray for me, that God may take pity upon me, and that I may not die." But the angel replied: "Why, Moses, dost thou exert thyself in vain? Standing behind the curtain that is drawn before the Lord, I heard that thy prayer in this instance is not to be answered." Moses now laid his hand upon his head and wept bitterly, saying, "To whom shall I now go, that he might implore God's mercy for me?"
God was now very angry with Moses because he would not resign himself to the doom that had been sealed, but His wrath vanished as soon as Moses spoke the words: "The Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." God now said kindly to Moses: "I have registered two vows, one that thou are to die, and the second that Israel is to perish. I cannot cancel both vows, if therefore thou choosest to live, Israel must be ruined." "Lord of the world!" replied Moses, "Thou approachest me artfully; Thou seizest the rope at both ends, so that I myself must now say, 'Rather shall Moses and a thousand of his kind perish, than a single soul out of Israel!' But will not all men exclaim, 'Alas! The feet that trod the heavens, the face that beheld the Face of the Shekinah, and the hands that received the Torah, shall not be covered with dust!'" God replied: "Nay, the people will say: ' If a man like Moses, who ascended into heaven, who was peer of the angels, with whom God spoke face to face, and to whom He gave the Torah-if such a man cannot justify himself before God, how much less can an ordinary mortal of flesh and blood, who appears before God without having done good deeds or studied the Torah, justify himself?' I want to know," He added, "why thou are so much aggrieved at thy impending death." Moses: "I am afraid of the sword of the Angel of Death." God: "If this is the reason then speak no more in this matter, for I will not deliver thee into his hand." Moses, however, would not yield, but furthermore said, "Shall my mother Jochebed, to whom my life brought so much grief, suffer sorrow after my death also?" God: "So was it in My mind even before I created the world, and so is the course of the world; every generation has its learned men, every generation has its leaders, every generation has its guides. Up to now it was thy duty to guide the people, but not the time it ripe for thy disciple Joshua to relieve thee of the office destined for him."
Moses now said to himself: "If God has determined that I may not enter the land of Israel, and I am thus to lose the reward for the many precepts that may be observed only in the Holy Land, for no other reason than because the time has come for my disciple Joshua to go to the front of Israel and lead them into the land, then were it better for me to remain alive, to enter the land, and relinquish to Joshua the leadership of the people." What now did Moses do? From the first day of Shebat to the sixth of Adar, the day before his death, he went and served Joshua from morning until evening, as a disciple his mater. These thirty-six days during which Moses served his former disciple corresponded to the equal number of years during which he had been served by Joshua.
The way in which Moses ministered to Joshua was as follows. During the period he arose at midnight, went to Joshua's door, opened it with a key, and taking a shirt from which he shook out the dust, laid it near to Joshua's pillow. He then cleaned Joshua's shoes and placed them beside the bed. Then he took his undergarment, his cloak, his turban, his golden helmet, and his crown of pearls, examined them to see if they were in good condition, cleaned and polished them, arranged them aright, and laid them on a golden chair. He then fetched a pitcher of water and a golden basin and placed them before the golden chair, so to wash himself. He then caused Joshua's rooms, which he furnished like his own, to be swept and put into order, the ordered the golden throne to be brought in, which he covered with a linen and a woolen cloth, and with other beautiful and costly garments, as in the custom with kings. After all these preparations had been made, he bade the herald proclaim: "Moses stands at Joshua's gate and announces that whosoever wishes to hear God's word should betake himself to Joshua, for he, according to God's word, is the leader of Israel."
When the people heard the herald, they trembled and shook, and pretended to have a headache, so that they might not have to go to Joshua. Every one of them said, in tears, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!" But a voice from heaven resounded, crying, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him," and Earth, too, opened her mouth, and said, "I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken." While the people refused to lend ear to the herald's summons, the elders of Israel, the leaders of the troops, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of thousands, of hundreds, and of tens appeared at Joshua's tent, and Moses assigned to each his place according to his rank.
In the meantime approached the hour when Joshua was wont to arise, whereupon Moses entered his room and extended his hand to him. When Joshua saw that Moses served him, he was ashamed to have his master minister to him, and taking the shirt out of Moses' hand, and dressing himself, trembling, he cast himself to Moses' feet and said: "O my master, be not the cause wherefore I should die before half my time is done, owing to the sovereignty God has imposed upon me." But Moses replied: "Fear not, my son, thou sinnest not if thou are served by me. With the measure wherewith thou didst mete out to me, do I mete out to thee; as with a pleasant face thou didst serve me, so shall I serve thee. It was I that taught thee, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' and also, 'Let thy pupil's honor be as dear to thee as thine own.'" Moses did not rest until Joshua seated himself upon the golden chair, and then Moses served Joshua, who still resisted, in every needful way. After he was through with all this, he laid upon Joshua, who still resisted, his rays of majesty, which he had received from his celestial teacher Zagzagel, scribe of the angels, at the close of his instruction in all the secrets of the Torah.
When Joshua was completely dressed and ready to go out, they reported to him and to Moses that all Israel awaited them. Moses thereupon laid his hand upon Joshua to lead him out of the tent, and quite against Joshua's wish insisted upon giving precedence to him as they stepped forth. When Israel saw Joshua precede Moses, they all trembled, arose, and made room for these two to proceed to the place of the great, where stood the golden throne, upon which Moses seated Joshua against his will. All Israel burst into tears when they saw Joshua upon the golden throne, and he said amid tears, "why all this greatness and honor to me?"
In this way did Moses spend the time from the first day of Shebat to the sixth of Adar, during which time he expounded the Torah to the sixty myriads of Israel in seventy languages.
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