Monday, July 25, 2022

Parashat Matot/Masei: Why take revenge on the *Midianites?*

From Matot:


וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם מֹשֶׁ֑ה הַֽחִיִּיתֶ֖ם כׇּל־נְקֵבָֽה׃ Moses said to them, “You have spared every female!

הֵ֣ן הֵ֜נָּה הָי֨וּ לִבְנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בִּדְבַ֣ר בִּלְעָ֔ם לִמְסׇר־מַ֥עַל בַּיהֹוָ֖ה עַל־דְּבַר־פְּע֑וֹר וַתְּהִ֥י הַמַּגֵּפָ֖ה בַּעֲדַ֥ת יְהֹוָֽה׃ Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against יהוה in the matter of Peor, so that יהוה’s community was struck by the plague.


But here’s the E source text from Parashat Balak, from Numbers 24:25:


וַיָּ֣קׇם בִּלְעָ֔ם וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ וַיָּ֣שׇׁב לִמְקֹמ֑וֹ וְגַם־בָּלָ֖ק הָלַ֥ךְ לְדַרְכּֽוֹ׃ {פ}
Then Balaam set out on his journey back home; and Balak also went his way.


This is followed immediately by the story of the Moabite women seducing the Israelite men into worshipping Baal Peor, from the J source:



וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּשִּׁטִּ֑ים וַיָּ֣חֶל הָעָ֔ם לִזְנ֖וֹת אֶל־בְּנ֥וֹת מוֹאָֽב׃ While Israel was staying at Shittim, the menfolk profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women,

וַתִּקְרֶ֣אןָ לָעָ֔ם לְזִבְחֵ֖י אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֑ן וַיֹּ֣אכַל הָעָ֔ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲו֖וּ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶֽן׃ who invited the menfolk to the sacrifices for their god. The menfolk partook of them and worshiped that god.

וַיִּצָּ֥מֶד יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְבַ֣עַל פְּע֑וֹר וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֥ף יְהֹוָ֖ה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and יהוה was incensed with Israel.

Notice that there is no mention of Bil’am here.

Then one Midianite woman and one Israelite man had sex in a propriety-defying manner, and Pinchas killed them.  This is from the P source, and it doesn’t mention either Bil’am or Baal Peor!

So why were the Midianite women accused of luring the Israelite men into worshipping Baal Peor, and why were they the targets of genocide and enslavement, rather than the Moabites?  And who cooked up the charge of incitement to worship Baal Peor against Bil’am?

What was the Israelite men's sin:  sexual licentiousness or pagan worship?  The Torah can't make up its mind.


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