Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bnos Moav

Rashi writes (25:1) that it was Bilam who advised Moav that the Jewish people would be susceptible to the temptation of znus and instigated this form of attack. 

What elicited this comment of Rashi?

Mizrachi explains that we find in general that Bnei Yisrael were careful not to engage in znus.  Rashi in parshas Emor (24:11) writes that the Torah reveals the identity of the mekalel's mother because she was the only one in Mitzrayim who was mizaneh.  Rashi in next week's parsha (26:5) again writes that while the Egyptians were able to enslave us and force us to work, they were unable to force our women into having any relationship with them.  So how suddenly did things fall apart in this episode with Bnos Moav? It must be that there was some outside influence that pushed Moav at us -- namely, the plot of Bilam.

Gur Aryeh adds that Rashi's comment may have been prompted by a textual issue.  The Torah specifies that it was the "bnos Moav" who were mizaneh.  If this was a case of simple lust, then any / all women should have been involved -- not only the bnos.  It must be that what happened was not the result of normal temptation alone, but rather was a deliberate plot -- the bnos alone were directed to purposefully go out to Bnei Yisrael and instigate trouble.

The two approaches may reflect a larger methodological question.  Does Rashi comment only when there is a particular textual point that needs explanation, or is Rashi interested in larger issues like motivation, morals, etc. that have to do with the story as a whole?

Be that as it may, al pi pashtus perhaps one might say that in Mitzrayim the relationship of master to slave that existed between the Egyptians and Bnei Yisrael served as a deterrent to znus, at least any that might have been initiated by a Jew.  For a lowly slave to dream of having a relationship with beyond their social station would have been unthinkable.  However, fast forward 40 years and in our parsha we are speaking about a Bnei Yisrael that is a free nation, a people that has flexed it's muscles against Sichon and Og and can compete with anyone.  Under those circumstances, the temptation to become involved in illicit relationships with members of other nations, now seen as peers on the world stage, is far more dangerous.

The lesson for our times is obvious.


  1. "a textual issue"

    the final verse in perek 24 includes the seemingly needless word 'vayeilech' to describe Bilam's movements, though he 'rose and returned to his place' would suffice. this extra word matches 'halach', describing Balak, in the second part of the verse: Bilam walked/went* alongside Moav's king so as to impart to him his eitzah tovah...

    *said the malach ha'maves to Bilam: walk before me and be (hees'ha'leich l'fanei ve'yei) insidious...

  2. It seems to me that the intended lesson of that Medrash is that Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim, despite their low ruchniyusdikkeh madreiga, had remained chaste. The mussar haskeil is to remind us of our natural tzniyus, and to make pritzus not only a bad choice, but easily avoidable. Knowing that your people have the gevuras hanefesh to resist makes you more resistant. Your suggestion that the tzniyus in Mitzrayim was due to their fear and low self esteem seems to work at cross purposes. But I agree that power is an aphrodisiac and that is certainly something important to remember, particularly in our day when Boruch Hashem so many young people find themselves suddenly rich and successful. Have you seen the latest crop of houses in the Ir HaTorah? Amazing. Far beyond Lawrence and Teaneck. Boruch Hashem.

    1. consider the numbers involved in avodah zarah. according to Rashi and the maskana in the Ramban it was over one-quarter of the shishim ribo. [I have no proof, but it seems that more were mezaneh than went on to avodah zarah; i.e., nobody went to avodah zarah directly] Not so simple, then, to avoid znus.

  3. And stay tuned for Dovid Lichtenstein's show. He taped a conversation with me last night about some silly little topic I had written about on the blog thirteen years ago. I don't listen to the show (it's not on Naki Radio,) but if you do, that's me. I agreed to do it because the last time I was on TV was in 1963, and I thought it might be fun.