Thursday, June 25, 2015

when did the battle in Chormah take place?

It has been another busy week with not much time to think about the parsha, so apologies for having little to say. 

In a few brief pesukim the Torah relates how the Canaani king of Arad waged war against Bnei Yisrael, and after taking hostages, was defeated.  The land in which this battle took place was renamed Chormah (21:1-3).

Interestingly, we find a nearly parallel story in Sefer Shoftim (ch 1):

 וּבְנֵי קֵינִי- חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה עָלוּ מֵעִיר הַתְּמָרִים אֶת-בְּנֵי יְהוּדָה מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה אֲשֶׁר בְּנֶגֶב עֲרָד וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיֵּשֶׁב אֶת-הָעָם:
וַיֵּלֶךְ יְהוּדָה אֶת-שִׁמְעוֹן אָחִיו וַיַּכּוּ אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי יוֹשֵׁב צְפַת וַיַּחֲרִימוּ אוֹתָהּ וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שֵׁם-הָעִיר חָרְמָה:

Again, we have a battle waged against the Canaani, the place is named Arad, the enemy is defeated and the conquered territory is named Chormah.

Didn't that already happen in Moshe's days? 

One possibility is that the conquest of the Canaani was started in Moshe's time, and some of the territory ('shem ha'makom')was named Chormah.  Eventually the war was completed later in history and the particular city that closed the event was given the same name ('shem ha'ir'). 

Ramban offers that as a second possibility, but first comments as follows:

והשלים עוד בכאן לספר, כי החרימו ישראל גם את עריהם אחרי בואם בארץ כנען אחרי מות יהושע לקיים את נדרם אשר נדרו ויקראו שם הערים חרמה. והוא מה שנאמר בספר שופטים (א טז): ובני קיני חותן משה עלו מעיר התמרים את בני יהודה מדבר יהודה אשר בנגב ערד, ושם כתוב (פסוק יז): וילך יהודה את שמעון אחיו ויכו את הכנעני יושב צפת ויחרימו אותה ויקרא את שם העיר חרמה, ושם נשלם הנדר הזה.
אבל השלים הכתוב להזכיר העניין בכאן,

According to this approach, the Torah is referring to that very same event that occurred later in Sefer Shoftim in order to bring the story here to its conclusion. 

How can the Torah reference a historical event that was yet to happen?  Ibn Ezra comments as follows:

ורבים אמרו:
כי זאת הפרשה יהושע כתבה ...ומצאו שבני יהודה קראו שם המקום חרמה,

This is one of the places where Ibn Ezra throws out the possibility of pesukim in the Torah being written later in history by people other than Moshe.

Abarbanel puts two and two together and writes that although Ramban didn't spell it out because he didn't want us to choke on a chicken bone or on the cholent, but he must have believed that this pasuk was added at a later point in history in order to complete the story.

Wow!  Two Rishonim who hold that a pasuk was not written by Moshe Rabeinu!

Or maybe not.  Let me quote the rest of the Ibn Ezra:

 ולא אמרו כלום כי אותו המקום יקרא בתחלה צפת וזה מלך ערד והאמת שני מקומות ורבים במקרא כמו הם

The place referenced in Shoftim south of the lands of Arad is called Tzefat and later the name is changed to Chormah.  That's a different place than the land of Arad itself, which our parsha is speaking about, and which happens to share the same name Chormah.  Ibn Ezra rejects out of hand the possibility that this pasuk was added later.  (If you hold on the basis of Ibn Ezra's comment to the last 12 pesukim in the Torah and a few other hints that Ibn Ezra did in fact have no problem with the idea that someone other than Moshe added pesukim to the Torah, the question you have to address is why he takes such issue with that idea here.)

Rav Chavel in his footnotes to Ramban rejects the Abarbanel's conclusion and suggests that there is no proof simply from the fact that Ramban sees a pasuk as referring to a later historical event that it was written then.  Perhaps Moshe wrote it to complete the story based on what he foresaw through nevuah. 

Abarbanel himself suggests that we are dealing with two separate and very different battles.  In the time of Moshe the Canaani tribes left their land in order to go out and wage war against Bnei Yisrael.  The episode in Shoftim is a different battle that took place when Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael and fought that Canaani tribe on its home turf.  If Abarbanel is right, then we understand on a pshat level why Chazal (quoted by Rashi) identify this Canaani as Amalek.  Just as Amalek went out to fight against Bnei Yisrael even though they were not under attack, so too, these Canaani people went out from their home territory and picked a fight that was unnecessary.  This point may also help answer the Ohr haChaim's question of why we don't find any reaction of fear or worry on the part of Bnei Yisrael even though a captive was taken (he does not see the tefilah and neder as a sign of fear) even though when Yehoshua loses a small number of men in the battle of Ai he is worried.  (It's interesting that Ohr haChaim reads the news of even one isolated capture of a hostage as cause for alarm.  Many other meforshim, e.g. see Seforno, Ramban, take the opposite view and read it as a positive outcome -- a war was waged and no one was killed, no one but one isolated maidservant was taken captive. Bnei Yisrael must have been doing something right.)  This difference is this battle was not a battle waged for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael; it was similar in nature to the fight against Amalek, outside the boundaries of the land.  Failing to win a war for the sake of yerushas ha'aretz, a milchemes mitzvah backed by Hashem's promise to deliver the land, was taken to be a far more serious event.  (On a parenthetical note, in a post to Shlach I mentioned a Noam Elimelech that "Negev" alludes to chochmah, as 'kol harotzeh l'hachkim yadrim.'  I didn't look to see if anyone says it, but maybe the identification of Canaani as Amalek because they come from the Negev is not so much a geographical point, but rather alludes to the idea that the seven nations of Canaan represent the seven midos, while Amalek is an enemy on a higher plane of negative chochmah.)

One final point on the captive taken and the issue of smichus haparshiyos between this episode and the death of Aharon: at first glance the connection is that it was Aharon's death (and the loss of the ananei ha'kavod) which emboldened the Canaani to attack.  The Ralbag, however, adds a positive lesson: it  was the merit of the proper mourning of Aharon that led to Bnei Yisrael being rewarded with such a resounding victory.  Some people are crippled by loss; proper mourning means being inspired to overcome obstacles and achieve greater things.  I would like to connect this idea to the message of the one captive taken.  It's a strange thing -- if we look at events the way other nations look at events, then the meforshim who see the loss of only one captive as a resounding victory are right.  What other nation would think of the loss of just one person taken captive as a tragedy given the potential for far greater calamity during war?  Yet Klal Yisrael doesn't think like that.  To this very day we as a nation cry for even a single solider that the enemy takes from us.  If it doesn't bother us, we have to ask the Ohr haChaim's question of why not.  Where does that attitude come from?  I would like to suggest that it comes from Aharon.  The reason Aharon was mourned by 'kol beis Yisrael' is because it was perceived that he cared for 'kol beis Yisrael' -- not just as a nation, but for each individual.  Aharon was now gone.  How would Klal Yisrael react when just one 'minor' person was taken captive?  The message of the victory at Chormah is that Aharon's legacy continued and was absorbed by the nation.  Each individual counts.


  1. Instead of saying the Torah is telling the future or moshe didn't write something in the Torah, Why can't we say shoftim is repeating cause it's some type of concuring of eretz yisrael?

    How would the ralbag work with Miriam's death?

    1. >>>Why can't we say shoftim is repeating cause it's some type of concuring of eretz yisrael?

      Because it would mean that pasuk has no relationship to anything else in the context it is placed in. It is one thing to say a pasuk that concludes an episode speaks of the future; it's another thing to say a pasuk in the middle of the story is out of sequence.

      >>>How would the ralbag work with Miriam's death?

      Not sure what you mean. The mourning for Aharon exceeded even that of the mourning for Moshe, and certainly that of Miriam, so there was a special zechus accrued because of it. I left out of the post another point of Ralbag. He attributes the taking of the captive to the 'roshem' created by the death of a tzadik, and in that regard, he mentions the same is true with respect to Miriam's death as well. There were negative consequences suffered. He just adds that the positive gain in the zechus or mourning Aharon outweighed the negative.