Part 5 out of 7

should have to obey him even if he bade us ascend to heaven upon
ladders!" [526] These words of Caleb were heard by all the people,
for his words were so mighty that they could be heard twelve miles
off. It was this same powerful voice that had saved the life of the
spies. For when the Canaanites first took note of them and
suspected them of being spies, the three giants, Ahiman, Sheshai,
and Talmai pursued them and caught up with them in the plain of
Judea. When Caleb, hidden behind a fence, saw that the giants
were at their heels, he uttered such a shout that the giants fell
down in a swoon because of the frightful din. When they had
recovered, the giants declared that they had pursued the Israelites
not because of the fruits, but because they had suspected them of
the wish to burn their cities. [527]

Caleb's mighty voice did not, however, in the least impress the
people or the spies, for the latter, far from retracting their previous
statements, went so far as to say: "We be not able to go up against
the people; for they are stronger than we, they are so strong that
even God can not get at them. The land through which we had
gone to search it is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof
through disease; and all the people that we saw in it are men of
wicked traits. And here we saw men upon sight of whom we
almost swooned in fright, the giants, the sons of Anak, which come
of giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we
were in their sight." [528] At these last words, God said: "I have
not objection to your saying, 'We were in our own sight as
grasshoppers,' but I take it amiss if you say, 'And so we were in
their sight,' for how can you tell how I made you appear in their
sight? How do you know if you did not appear to them to be
angels?" [529]


The words of the spies were heard by willing ears. The people
believed them implicitly, and when called to task by Moses,
replied: "O our teacher Moses, if there had been only two spies or
three, we should have had to give credence to their words, for the
law tells us to consider the testimony of even two as sufficient,
whereas in this case there are fully ten! [530] Our brethren have
made us faint of heart. Because the Lord hated us, He hath brought
us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the
Amorites, to destroy us." By these words the Israelites revealed
that they hated God, and for this reason did they believe that they
were hated by Him, for "whatever a man wisheth his neighbor,
doth he believe that his neighbor wisheth him." They even tried to
convince Moses that God hated them. They said: "If an earthly
king has two sons and two fields, on watered by a river, and the
other dependent upon rains, will he not five the one that is watered
by the river to his favorite son, and give the other, less excellent
field to his other son? God led us out of Egypt, a land that is not
dependent upon rain, only to give us the land of Canaan, which
produces abundantly only if the rains fall." [531]

Not only did the spies in the presence of Moses and Aaron voice
their opinion that is was not advisable to attempt conquering
Palestine, but they employed every means of inciting the people
into rebellion against Moses and God. On the following evening
every one of them betook himself to his house, donned his
mourning cloths, and began to weep bitterly and to lament. Their
housemates quickly ran toward them and in astonishment asked
their reason for these tears and lamentations. Without interrupting
their wailings, they answered" "Woe is me for ye, my sons, and
woe is me for ye, my daughters and daughters-in-law, that are
doomed to be dishonored by the uncircumcised and to be given as
a prey to their lusts. These men that we have beheld are not like
unto mortals. Strong and mighty as angels are they; one of them
might well slay a thousand of us. How dare we look into the iron
faces of men so powerful that a nail of theirs is sufficient to stop
up a spring of water!" At these words all the household, sons,
daughters, and daughters-in-law, burst into tears and loud
lamentations. Their neighbors came running to them and joined in
the wails and sobs until they spread throughout all the camp, and
all the sixty myriads of people were weeping. When the sound of
their weeping reached heaven, God said: "Ye weep to-day without
a cause, I shall see to it that in the future ye shall have a cause to
weep on this day." It was then that God decreed to destroy the
Temple on the ninth day of Ab, the day on which Israel in the
wilderness wept without cause, so that this day became forever a
day of tears. [532]

The people were not, however, content with tears, they resolved to
set up as leaders in place of Moses and Aaron, Dathan and
Abiram, and under their guidance to return to Egypt. [533] But
worse than this, not only did they renounce their leader, but also
their God, for they denied Him and wished to set up and idol for
their God. [534] Not only the wicked ones among them such as the
mixed multitude demurred against Moses and Aaron, but those
also who had heretofore been pious, saying: "Would to God that
we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would to God we had died in
this wilderness!"
When Joshua and Caleb heard these speeches of the people
teeming with blasphemy, they rent their garments and tried to
restrain the people from their sinful enterprise, exhorting them
particularly to have fear of the Canaanites, because the time was at
hand when God had promised Abraham to give the land of Canaan
to his descendants, and because there were no pious men among
the inhabitants of the land for whose sake God would have been
willing to leave it longer in their possession. They also assured the
people that God had hurled from heaven the guardian angel of the
inhabitants of Palestine, so that they were now impotent. [535] The
people, however, replied: "We do not believe you; the other spies
have our weal and woe more at heart than you." [536] Nor were
the admonitions of Moses of more avail, even though he brought
them a direct message from God to have no fear of the Canaanites.
In vain did he say to them, "He who wrought all those miracles for
you in Egypt and during your stay in the wilderness will work
miracles for you as well when you will enter the promised land.
Truly the past ought to inspire you with trust in the future." The
only answer the people had to this was, "Had we heard this report
of the land from strangers, we should not have given it credit, but
we have heard it from men whose sons are our sons, and whose
daughters are our daughters." [537] In their bitterness against their
leaders they wanted to lay hands upon Moses and Aaron,
whereupon God sent His cloud of glory as a protection to them,
under which they sought refuge. But far from being brought to a
realization of their wicked enterprise by this Divine apparition,
they cast stones at the cloud, hoping in this way to kill Moses and
Aaron. This outrage on their part completely wore out God's
patience, and He determined upon the destruction of the spies, and
a severe punishment of the people misled by them. [538]


God now appeared to Moses, bidding him convey the following
words to the people: "You kindle My anger on account of the very
benefits I conferred upon you. When I clove the sea for you that
you might pass through, while the Egyptians stuck in the loam at
its bottom, you said to one another, 'In Egypt we trod loam, and He
led us out of Egypt, only that we might again tread it.' I gave you
manna as food, which made you strong and fat, but you, perceiving
of it, said: 'How comes it to pass that twenty days a human being
dies if after four or five days he does not excrete food he had
taken. Surely we are doomed to die.' When the spies came to
Palestine, I arranged it so that as soon as they entered the city its
king or governor dies, in order that the inhabitants, occupied with
the burial of their ruler, might not take account of the spies'
presence and kill them. Instead of being thankful for this, the spies
returned and reported, 'The land through which we have gone to
search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof.' To you I
gave the Torah; for your sake I said to the Angel of Death,
'Continue to hold sway over the rest of the world, but not over this
nation that I have chosen as My people.' Truly I had hopes that
after all this you would sin no more, and like Myself and the
angels would live eternally, without ever tasting death. You,
however, in spite of the great opportunity that I offered you,
conducted yourselves like Adam. Upon him also did I lay a
commandment, promising him life eternal on condition he
observed it, but he brought ruin upon himself by trespassing My
commandment and eating of the tree. To him I said, 'Dust thou art,
and unto dust shalt thou return.' Similar was My experience with
you. I said, 'You are angels,' but you conducted yourselves like
Adam in your sins, and hence like Adam you must die. I had
thought and hoped you would follow example of the Patriarchs,
but you act like the inhabitants of Sodom, who in punishment for
their sins were consumed by fire." [539] "If," continued God,
turning to Moses, "they suppose that I have need of swords or
spears to destroy them, they are mistaken. As through the word I
created the world, so can I destroy the world by it, which would be
a proper punishment for them. As through their words and their
talk they angered Me, so shall the word kill them, and thou shalt
be their heir, for 'I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier
than they.'" [540]
Moses said: "If the chair with three legs could not withstand the
moment of Thy wrath, how then shall a chair that have but one leg
endure? Thou are about to destroy the seed of the three Patriarchs;
how then may I hope that my seed is to fare better? This is not the
only reason for which Thou shouldst preserve Israel, as there are
other considerations why Thou shouldst do so. Were Thou to
destroy Israel, the Edomites, Moabites, and all the inhabitants of
Canaan would say [541] that Thou hadst done this only because
Thou wert not able to maintain Thy people, and therefore Thou
didst destroy them. These will furthermore declare that the gods of
Canaan are mightier than those of Egypt, that Thou hadst indeed
triumphed over the river gods of Egypt, but that Thou wert not the
peer of the rain gods of Canaan. Worse even than this, the nations
of the world will accuse Thee of continuous cruelty, saying, 'He
destroyed the generation of the flood through water; He rased to
the ground the builders of the tower, as well as the inhabitants of
Sodom; and no better then theirs was the fate of the Egyptians,
whom He drowned in the sea. Now He hath also ruined Israel
whom He had called, 'My firstborn son,' like Lilith who, when she
can find no strange children, slays her own. So did He slay His
own son." [542] Moses furthermore said: "Every pious man makes
a point of cultivating a special virtue. Do Thou also in this instance
bring Thy special virtue to bear." God: "And what is My special
virtue?" Moses: "Long-suffering, love, and mercy, for Thou art
wont to be long-suffering with them that kindle Thy wrath, and to
have mercy for them. In Thy very mercy is Thy strength best
shown. Mete out to Thy children, then, justice in small measure
only, but mercy in great measure." [543]

Moses well knew that mercy was God's chief virtue. He
remembered that he had asked God, when he interceded for Israel
after their sin of the Golden Calf, "Pray tell me by what attribute of
Thine Thou rulest the world." God answered: "I rule the world
with loving-kindness, mercy, and long-suffering." "Can it be," said
Moses, "that Thy long-suffering lets sinners off with impunity?"
To this question Moses had received no answer, hence he felt he
might now say to God: "Act now as Thou didst then assent. [544]
Justice, that demands the destruction of Israel, is on one side of the
scales, but it is exactly balance by my prayer on the other side. Let
us now see how the scales will balance." God replied: "As truly as
thou livest, Moses, thy prayer shall dip the scales to the side of
mercy. For thy sake must I cancel My decision to annihilate the
children of Israel, so that the Egyptians will exclaim, 'Happy the
servant to whose wish his master defers.' I shall, however, collect
My debt, for although I shall not annihilate Israel all at once, they
shall make partial annual payments during the following forty
years. Say to them, 'Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness;
and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole
number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured
against Me. And your children shall be wanderers in the
wilderness forty years, and shall bear you whoredoms, until your
carcasses be consumed in the wilderness.'" [545]

This punishment was not, however, as severe as it might appear,
for none among them died below the ages of sixty, whereas those
who had at the time of the exodus from Egypt been either below
twenty or above sixty were entirely exempt from this punishment.
Besides only such were smitten as had followed the counsel of the
spies, whereas the others, and the Levites and the women were
exempt. [546] Death, moreover, visited the transgressors in such
fashion that they were aware it was meant as punishment for their
sins. Throughout all the year not one among them died. On the
eighth day of the month of Ab, Moses would have a herald
proclaim throughout the camp, "Let each prepare his grave." They
dug their graves, and spent there the following night, the same
night on which, following the counsel of the spies, they had
revolted against God and Moses. In the morning a herald would
once more appear and cry: "Let the living separate themselves
from the dead." Those that were still alive arose, but about fifteen
thousand of them remained dead in their graves. After forty years,
however, when the herald repeated his customary call the ninth
day of Ab, all arose, and there was not a single dead man among
them. At first they thought they had made a miscalculation in their
observation of the moon, that is was not the ninth day of Ab at all,
and that this was the reason why their lives had been spared.
Hence they repeated their preparations for death until the fifteenth
day of Ab. Then the sight of the full moon convinced them that the
ninth day of Ab had gone by, and that their punishment had been
done away with. In commemoration of the relief from this
punishment, they appointed the fifteenth day of Ab to be a holy
day. [547]


Although God had now cancelled His resolution to annihilate
Israel, He was not yet quite reconciled with them, and they were
out of favor during the following years of their march through the
desert, as was made evident by several circumstances. During
these years of disfavor the north wind did not blow, with the result
that the boys who were born in the desert could not be
circumcised, as the absence of the wind produced and excessively
high temperature, a condition that made it very dangerous for the
young boys to have this operation performed upon them. [548] As
the law, however, prohibits the offering of the paschal lamb unless
the boys have been circumcised, Israel could not properly observe
the feast of Passover after the incident of the spies. [549] Moses
also felt the effects of the disfavor, for during this time he received
from God none but the absolutely essential directions, and no other
revelations. This was because Moses, like all other prophets,
received this distinction only for the sake of Israel, and when Israel
was in disgrace, God did not communicate with him
affectionately. [550] Indeed Moses' fate, to die in the desert
without entering the promised land, had been decreed
simultaneously with the fate of the generation led by him out of
Egypt. [551]

But the most terrible punishment of all fell upon the spies who,
with their wicked tongues, had brought about the whole disaster.
God repaid them measure for measure. Their tongues stretched to
so great a length that they touched the navel; and worms crawled
out of their tongues, and pierced the navel; in this horrible fashion
these men died. [552] Joshua and Caleb, however, who had
remained true to God and had not followed the wicked counsel of
their colleagues, were not only exempted from death, but were
furthermore rewarded by God, by receiving in the Holy Land the
property that had been allotted to the other spies. [553] Caleb was
forty years of age at the time when he was sent out as a spy. He
had married early, and at the age of ten had begot a son, still at the
age of eighty-five he was sturdy enough to enjoy his possession in
the Holy Land. [554]

God's mercy is also extended to sinners, hence He bade Moses say
to the people: "The Amalekites and the Canaanites are now
dwelling in the valley, to-morrow turn you, and get you into the
wilderness by the way of the Red Sea." God did this because He
had firmly resolved, in the event of a war between Israel and the
inhabitants of Palestine, not to aid the former. Knowing that in this
cast their annihilation was sure, He commanded them to make no
attempt to enter the land by force. [555] "It had been My
intention," said God, "to exalt you, but now if you were to attempt
to make war upon the inhabitants of Palestine, you would suffer
humiliation." The people did not, however, hearken to the words
of God that Moses communicated to them, and all at once formed
in battle array in order to advance against the Amorites. They
thought that after they had confessed their sin of having been
misled by the spies, God would stand by them in their battles, so
they said to Moses: "Surely these few drops have not filled the
bucket." Their transgression against God seemed to them only a
peccadillo that had long since been forgiven. They were, however,
mistaken. Like bees the enemies swarmed down upon them, and
whereas these had in former times fallen dead of fright upon
hearing the names of the Israelites, now a blow from them sufficed
to kill the Israelites. Their attempt to wage war without the Holy
Ark in their midst proved a miserable failure. Many of them, and
Zelophehad among these, met their death, and as many others
returned to camp covered with wounds. The wailing and weeping
of the people was of no avail, God persisted in His resolve, and
they brought upon themselves grave punishment for this new proof
of disobedience, for God said to Moses: "If I were to deal with
them now in accordance with strict justice, they should never enter
the land. After a while, however, I shall let them 'possess the land,
which I sware unto their fathers to give unto them.'" [556]

In order to comfort and encourage Israel in their dejection, Moses
received directions to announce the law of sacrifices, and other
precepts laid down for the life in the Holy Land, that the people
might see that God did not mean to be angry with them forever.
When Moses announced the laws to them, a dispute arose between
the Israelites and the proselytes, because the former declared that
they alone and not the others were to make offerings to God in His
sanctuary. God hereupon called Moses, and said to him: "Why do
these always quarrel one with another?" Moses replied: "Thou
knowest why." God: "Have I not said to thee, 'One law and one
ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger that sojourneth with
you?'" [557]

Although the forty years' march through the desert was a
punishment for the sin of Israel, still it had one advantage. At the
time when Israel departed from Egypt, Palestine was in poor
condition; the trees planted in the time of Noah were old and
withered. Hence God said: "What! Shall I permit Israel to enter an
uninhabitable land? I shall bid them wander in the desert for forty
years, that the Canaanites may in the meantime fell the old trees
and plant new ones, so that Israel, upon entering the land, may find
it abounding in plenty." So did it come to pass, for when Israel
conquered Palestine, they found the land not only newly
cultivated, [558] but also filled to overflowing with treasures. The
inhabitants of this land were such misers that they would not
indulge in a drop of oil for their gruel; if an egg broke, they did not
use it, but sold it for cash. The hoardings of these miserly
Canaanites God later gave to Israel to enjoy and to use. [559]


The Canaanites were not the only ones who did not enjoy their
wealth and money, for a similar fate was decreed for Korah. He
had been the treasurer of Pharaoh, and possessed treasures so vast
that he employed three hundred white mules to carry the keys of
his treasures: but "let not the rich man boast of his riches," for
Korah through his sin lost both life and property. Korah had
obtained possession of his riches in the following way: When
Joseph, during the lean years, through the sale of grain amassed
great treasures, he erected three great buildings, one hundred
cubits wide, one hundred cubits long, and one hundred cubits
wide, one hundred high, filled them with money and delivered
them to Pharaoh, being too honest to leave even five silver shekels
of this money to his children. Korah discovered one of these three
treasuries. On account of his wealth he became proud, and his
pride brought about his fall. [560] He believed Moses had slighted
him by appointing his cousin Elizaphan as chief of the Levite
division of Kohathites. He said: "My grandfather had four sons,
Amram, Ishar, Hebron, and Uzziel. Amram, as the firstborn, had
privileges of which his sons availed themselves, for Aaron is high
priest and Moses is king; but have not I, the son of Izhar, the
second son of Kohath, the rightful claim to be prince of the
Kohathites? Moses, however, passed me by and appointed
Elizaphan, whose father was Uzziel, the youngest son of my
grandfather. Therefore will I now stir up rebellion against Moses,
and overthrow all institutions founded by him." Korah was far too
wise a man to believe that God would permit success to a rebellion
against Moses, and stand by indifferently, but the very insight that
enabled him to look into the future became his doom. He saw with
his prophetic eye that Samuel, a man as great as both Aaron and
Moses together, would be one of his descendants; and furthermore
that twenty-four descendants of his, inspired by the Holy Spirit,
would compose psalms and sing them in the Temple. This brilliant
future of his descendants inspired him with great confidence in his
undertaking, for he thought to himself that God would not permit
the father of such pious men to perish. His eye did not, however,
look sharply enough into the future, or else he would also have
known that his sons would repent of the rebellion against Moses,
and would for this reason be deemed worthy of becoming the
fathers of prophets and Temple singers, whereas he was to perish
in this rebellion. [561]

The names of this unfortunate rebel corresponded to his deed and
to his end. He was called Korah, "baldness," for through the death
of his horde he caused a baldness in Israel. He was the son of
Izhar, "the heat of the noon," because he caused the earth to be
made to boil "like the heat of noon;" and furthermore he was
designated as the son of Kohath, for Kohath signifies "bluntness,"
and through his sin he made "his children's teeth be set on edge."
His description as the son of Levi, "conduct," points to his end, for
he was conducted to hell. [562]

Korah, however, was not the only one who strove to overthrow
Moses. With him were, first of all, the Reubenites, Dathan and
Abiram, who well deserve their names, for the one signifies,
"transgressor of the Divine law," and the other, "the obdurate."
There were, furthermore, two hundred fifty men, who by their rank
and influence belonged to the most prominent people in Israel;
among them even the princes of the tribes. In the union of the
Reubenites with Korah was verified the proverb, "Woe to the
wicked, woe to his neighbor." For Korah, one of the sons of
Kohath, had his station to the south of the Tabernacle, and as the
Reubenites were also encamped there, a friendship was struck up
between them, so that they followed him in his undertaking against
Moses. [563]

The hatred Korah felt against Moses was still more kindled by his
wife. When, after the consecration of the Levites, Korah returned
home, his wife noticed that the hairs of his head and of his body
had been shaved, and asked him who had done all this to him. He
answered, "Moses," whereupon his wife remarked: "Moses hates
thee and did this to disgrace thee." Korah, however, replied:
"Moses shaved all the hair of his own sons also." But she said:
"What did the disgrace of his own sons matter to him if he only
felt he could disgrace thee? He was quite ready to make that
sacrifice." [564] As at home, so also did Korah fare with others,
for, hairless as he was, no one at first recognized him, and when
people at last discovered who was before them, they asked him in
astonishment who had so disfigured him. In answer to their
inquiries he said, "Moses did this, who besides took hold of my
hands and feet to lift me, and after he had lifted me, said, 'Thou art
clean.' But his brother Aaron he adorned like a bride, and bade him
take his place in the Tabernacle." Embittered by what they
considered as insult offered him by Moses, Korah and his people
exclaimed: "Moses is king, his brother did he appoint as high
priest, his nephews as heads of the priests, he allots to the priest
the heave offering and many other tributes." [565] Then he tried to
make Moses appear ridiculous in the eyes of the people. Shortly
before this Moses had read to the people the law of the fringes in
the borders of their garments. Korah now had garments of purple
made for the two hundred fifty men that followed him, all of
whom were chief justices. Arrayed thus, Korah and his company
appeared before Moses and asked him if they were required to
attach fringes to the corners of these garments. Moses answered,
"Yea." Korah then began this argument. "If," said he, "one fringe
of purple suffices to fulfil this commandment, should not a whole
garment of purple answered the requirements of the law, even if
there be no special fringe of purple in the corners?" He continued
to lay before Moses similar artful questions: "Must a Mezuzah be
attached to the doorpost of the house filled with the sacred
Books?" Moses answered, "Yea," Then Korah said: "The two
hundred and seventy sections of the Torah are not sufficient,
whereas the two sections attached to the door-post suffice!" Korah
put still another question: "If upon a man's skin there show a bright
spot, the size of half a bean, is he clean or is he unclean?" Moses:
"Unclean." "And," continued Korah, "if the spot spread and cover
all the skin of him, is he then clean or unclean?" Moses: "Clean."
"Laws so irrational," said Korah, "cannot possibly trace their origin
from God. The Torah that thou didst teach to Israel is not therefore
God's work, but thy work, hence art thou no prophet and Aaron is
no high priest!" [566]


Then Korah betook himself to the people to incite them to
rebellion against Moses, and particularly against the tributes to the
priests imposes upon the people by him. That the people might
now be in a position to form a proper conception of the oppressive
burden to these tasks, Korah told them the following tale that he
had invented: "There lived in my vicinity a widow with two
daughters, who owned for their support a field whose yield was
just sufficient for them to keep body and soul together. When this
woman set out to plow her field, Moses appeared and said: 'Thou
shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.' When she began to
sow, Moses appeared and said: 'Thou shalt not sow with divers
seeds.' When the first fruits showed in the poor widow's field,
Moses appeared and bade her bring it to the priests, for to them are
due 'the first of all the fruit of the earth'; and when at length the
time came for he to cut it down, Moses appeared and ordered her
'not wholly to reap the corners of the field, not to gather the
gleanings of the harvest, but to leave them for the poor.' When she
had done all that Moses had bidden her, and was about to thrash
the grain, Moses appeared once more, and said: 'Give me the heave
offerings, the first and the second tithes to the priest.' When at last
the poor woman became aware of the fact that she could not now
possibly maintain herself from the yield of the field after the
deduction of all the tributes that Moses had imposed upon her, she
sold the field and with the proceeds purchased ewes, in the hope
that she might now undisturbed have the benefit of the wool as
well as the younglings of the sheep. She was, however, mistaken.
When the firstling of the sheep was born, Aaron appeared and
demanded it, for the firstborn belongs to the priest. She had a
similar experience with the wool. At shearing time Aaron
reappeared and demanded 'the first of the fleece of the sheep,'
which, according to Moses' law, was his. But not content with this,
he reappeared later and demanded one sheep out of every ten as a
tithe, to which again, according to the law, he had a claim. This,
however, was too much for the long-suffering woman, and she
slaughtered the sheep, supposing that she might now feel herself
secure, in full possession of the meat. But wide of the mark! Aaron
appeared, and, basing his claim on the Torah, demanded the
shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw. 'Alas!' exclaimed the
woman, 'The slaughtering of the sheep did not deliver me out of
thy hands! Let the meat then be consecrated to the sanctuary.'
Aaron said, 'Everything devoted in Israel is mine. It shall then be
all mine.' He departed, taking with him the meat of the sheep, and
leaving behind him the widow and her daughters weeping bitterly.
Such men," said Korah, concluding his tale, "are Moses and Aaron,
who pass their cruel measures as Divine laws." [567]

Pricked on by speeches such as these, Korah's horde appeared
before Moses and Aaron, saying: "Heavier is the burden that ye lay
upon us than was that of the Egyptians; and moreover as, since the
incident of the spies, we are forced annually to offer as a tribute to
death fifteen thousand men, it would have been better for us had
we stayed in Egypt." They also reproached Moses and Aaron with
an unjustified love of power, saying: "Upon Sinai all Israel heard
the words of God, 'I am thy Lord.' Wherefore then lift ye up
yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?" [568] They knew
no bounds in their attacks upon Moses, they accused him of
leading an immoral life and even warned their wives to keep far
from him. [569] They did not, moreover, stop short at words, but
tried to stone Moses, [570] when at last he sought protection from
God and called to Him for assistance. He said: "I do not care if
they insult me or Aaron, but I insist that the insult of the Torah be
avenged. 'If these men die the common death of all men,' I shall
myself become a disbeliever and declare the Torah was not given
by God." [571]


Moses took Korah's transgression much to heart, for he thought to
himself that perhaps, after the many sins of Israel, he might not
succeed in obtaining God's pardon for them. He did not therefore
have this matter decided immediately, but admonished the people
to wait until the following day, having a lingering hope that
Korah's horde, given time for calm reflection, might themselves
perceive their sin to which an excess of drink might have carried
them away. Hence he said to them: "I may not now appear before
the Lord, for although He partakes of neither food nor drink, still
He will not judge such actions of ours as we have committed after
feasting and revelling. But 'to-morrow the Lord will show who are
His.' [572] Know ye now that just as God has set definite bounds in
nature between day and night, between light and darkness, so also
has He separated Israel from the other nations, and so also has he
separated Aaron from the rest of Israel. If you can obliterate the
boundary between light and darkness, then only you remove the
boundary of separation between Israel and the rest, but not
otherwise. Other nations have many religions, many priests, and
worship in many temples, but we have one God, one Torah, one
law, one altar, and one high priest, whereas ye are two hundred
fifty men, each of whom is imbued with the desire of becoming
the high priest, as I too should like to be high priest, if such a thing
were possible. But to prove Aaron's claim to his dignity, 'this do;
take you censers, Korah, and all his company; and put fire therein,
and put incense upon them before the Lord to-morrow.' The
offering of incense is the most pleasant offering before the Lord,
but for him who hath not been called this offering holds a deadly
poison, for it consumed Nadab and Abihu. But I exhort ye not to
burden your souls with a deadly sin, for none but the man God will
choose as high priest out of the number of you will remain alive,
all others will pay with their lives at the offering of incense."
These last words of Moses, however, far from restraining them,
only strengthened Korah in his resolve to accomplish his
undertaking, for he felt sure that God would choose him, and none
other. He had a prophetic presentiment that he was destined to be
the forefather of prophets and Temple singers, and for this reason
thought he was specially favored by God.

When Moses perceived that Korah was irreclaimable, he directed
the rest of his warning to those other Levites, the men of Korah's
tribe, who, he feared, would join Korah in his rebellion. He
admonished them to be satisfied with the honors God had granted
them, and not to strive for priestly dignity. He concluded his
speech with a last appeal to Korah to cause no schism in Israel,
saying; "Had Aaron arbitrarily assumed the priestly dignity, you
would do right to withstand his presumption, but it was God,
whose attributes are sublimity, strength, and sovereignty, who
clothed Aaron with this dignity, so that those who are against
Aaron are in reality against God." Korah made no answer to all
these words, thinking that the best course for him to follow would
be to avoid picking an argument with so great a sage as Moses,
feeling sure that in such a dispute he should be worsted and,
contrary to his own conviction, be forced to yield to Moses.

Moses, seeing that is was useless to reason with Korah, sent a
messenger to Dathan and Abiram, [573] summoning them to
appear before his court. He did this because the law required that
the accused be summoned to appear before the judge, before the
judgement may be passed upon him, and Moses did not wish these
men to be punished without a hearing. [574] These, however,
made answer to the messenger sent by Moses, "We will not come
up!" This shameless answer held an unconscious prophecy. They
went not up, but, as their end showed, down, to hell. Not only,
moreover, did they refuse to comply with Moses' demand, they
sent the following message in answer to Moses: "Why dost thou
set thyself up as master over us? What benefit didst thou bring to
us? Thou didst lead us out of Egypt, a land 'like the garden of the
Lord,' but hast not brought us to Canaan, leaving us in the
wilderness where we are daily visited by the plague. Even in Egypt
didst thou try to assume the leadership, just as thou doest not.
Thou didst beguile the people in their exodus from Egypt, when
thou didst promise to lead them to a land of milk and honey; in
their delusion they followed thee and were disappointed. Now dost
thou attempt to persuade us as thou didst persuade them, but thou
shalt not succeed, for we will not come and obey thy summons."

The shamelessness of these two men, who declined even to talk
about their transgression with Moses, aroused his wrath to the
uttermost, for a man does get a certain amount of satisfaction out
of discussing the dispute with this opponents, whereas he feels
badly if he cannot discuss the matter. In his anger he said to God:
"O Lord of the world! I well know that these sinners participated in
the offerings of the congregation that were offered for all Israel,
but as they have withdrawn themselves from the community,
accept not Thou their share of the offering and let it not be
consumed by the heavenly fire. It was I whom they treated so, I
who took no money from the people for my labors, even when
payment was my due. It is customary for anyone who works for the
sanctuary to receive pay for his work, but I traveled to Egypt on
my own ass, and took none of theirs, although I undertook the
journey in their interests. It is customary for those that have a
dispute to go before a judge, but I did not wait for this, and went
straight to them to settle their disputes, never declaring the
innocent guilty, or the guilty innocent."

When he now perceived that his words had no effect upon Korah
and his horde, he concluded his words with a treat to the ring
leaders: "Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou and
they, and Aaron, to-morrow."

Korah spent the night before the judgement in trying to win over
the people to his side, and succeeded in so doing. He went to all
the other tribes, saying to them: "Do not think I am seeking a
position of honor for myself. No, I wish only that this honor may
fall to the lot of each in turn, whereas Moses is now king, and his
brother high priest." On the following morning, all the people, and
not Korah's original company alone, appeared before the
Tabernacle and began to pick quarrels with Moses and Aaron.
Moses now feared that God would destroy all the people because
they had joined Korah, hence he said to God: "O Lord of the
world! If a nation rebels against a king of flesh and blood because
ten or twenty men have cursed the king or his ambassadors, then
he sends his hosts to massacre the inhabitants of the land, innocent
as well as guilty, for he is not able with certainty to tell which
among them honored the king and which among them cursed him.
But Thou knowest the thought of man, and what his heart and
kidneys counsel him to do, the workings of Thy creatures' minds
lie open before Thee, so that Thou knowest who had the spirit of
each one.' Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the
congregation?'" God hereupon said to Moses [576] "I have heard
the prayer for the congregation. Say then, to them, 'Get you up
from about the Tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.'" [577]

Moses did not immediately carry out these instructions, for he
tried once again to warn Dathan and Abiram of the punishment
impending upon them, but they refused to give heed to Moses, and
remained within their tents. "Now," said Moses, "I have done all I
could, and can do nothing more." Hence, turning to the
congregation, he said: [578] "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of
these wicked men, that even in their youth deserved death as a
punishment for their actions. In Egypt they betrayed the secret of
my slaying an Egyptian: at the Red Sea it was they that angered
God by their desire to return to Egypt; in Alush they broke the
Sabbath, and now they trooped together to rebel against God. They
now well deserve excommunication, and the destruction of all
their property. 'Touch, therefore, nothing of theirs, lest ye be
consumed in all their sins.'" [579]

The community obeyed the words of Moses and drew back from
the dwellings of Dathan and Abiram. These, not at all cowed, were
not restrained from their wicked intention, but stood at the doors
of their tents, abusing and calumniating Moses. Moses hereupon
said to God: "If these men die upon their beds like all men, after
physicians have attended to them and acquaintances have visited
them, then shall I publicly avow 'that the Lord hath not sent me' to
do all these works, but that I have done them of mine own mind."
God replied: "What wilt thou have Me do?" Moses: "If the Lord
hath already provided the earth with a mouth to swallow them, it is
well, if not, I pray Thee, do so now." God said: "Thou shalt decree
a thing, and it shall be established unto thee." [580]

Moses was not the only one to insist upon exemplary punishment
of the horde of Korah. Sun and Moon appeared before God,
saying: "If Thou givest satisfaction to the son of Amram, we shall
set out on our course around the world, but not otherwise." God,
however, hurled lightnings after them, that they might go about
their duties, saying to them: "You have never championed My
cause, but not you stand up for a creature of flesh and blood."
Since that time Sun and Moon have always to be driven to duty,
never doing it voluntarily because they do not wish to look upon
the sins of man upon earth.


God did not gainsay satisfaction of His faithful servant. The mouth
of hell approached the spot upon which Dathan, Abiram, and their
families stood, [581] and the ground under their feet grew so
precipitous that they were not able to stand upright, but rolled to
the opening and went quickly into the pit. Not these wicked people
alone were swallowed by the earth, but their possessions also.
Even their linen that was the launderer's or a pin belonging to them
rolled toward the mouth of the earth and vanished therein. [582]
Nowhere upon earth remained a trace of them or of their
possessions, and even their names disappeared from the
documents upon which they were written. [583] They did not,
however, meet an immediate death, but sank gradually into the
earth, the opening of which adjusted itself to the girth of each
individual. The lower extremities disappeared first, then the
opening widened, and the abdomen followed, until in this way the
entire body was swallowed. While they were sinking thus slowly
and painfully, they continued to cry: "Moses is truth and his Torah
is truth. We acknowledge that Moses is rightful king and true
prophet, that Aaron is legitimate high priest, and that the Torah has
been given by God. Now deliver us, O our teacher Moses!" These
words were audible throughout the entire camp, so that all might
be convinced of the wickedness of Korah's undertaking. [584]

Without regard to these followers of Korah, who were swallowed
up by the earth, the two hundred and fifty men who had offered
incense with Aaron found their death in the heavenly fire that
came down upon their offering and consumed them. But he who
met with the most terrible form of death was Korah. Consumed at
the incense offering, he then rolled in the shape of a ball of fire to
the opening in the earth, and vanished. There was a reason for this
double punishment of Korah. Had he received punishment by
burning alone, then those who had been swallowed by the earth,
and who had failed to see Korah smitten by the same punishment,
would have complained about God's injustice, saying: "It was
Korah who plunged us into destruction, yet he himself escaped it."
Had he, on the other hand, been swallowed by the earth without
meeting death by fire, then those whom the fire had consumed
would have complained about God injustice that permitted the
author of their destruction to go unpunished. Now, however, both
those who perished by fire and those who were swallowed up by
the earth witnessed their leader share their punishment. [585]

This terrible death did not, however, suffice to atone for the sins of
Korah and his company, for their punishment continues in hell.
They are tortured in hell, and at the end of thirty days, hell again
casts them up near to the surface of the earth, on the spot where
they had been swallowed. Whosoever on that day puts his ear to
the ground upon that spot hears the cry. "Moses is truth, and his
Torah is truth, but we are liars." Not until after the Resurrection
will their punishment cease, for even in spite of their grave sin
they were not given over to eternal damnation.

For a time Korah and his company believed that they should never
know relief from these tortures of hell, but Hannah's words
encouraged them not to despair. In reference to them she
announced the prophecy, "The Lord bringeth low, to Sheol, and
lifteth up." At first they had no real faith in this prophecy, but
when God destroyed the Temple, and sank its portals deep into the
earth until they reached hell, Korah and his company clung to the
portals, saying: "If these portals return again upward, then through
them shall we also return upward." God hereupon appointed them
as keepers of these portals over which they will have to stand
guard until they return to the upper world. [586]


God punished discord severely, for although the decree of Heaven
does not otherwise punish any one below twenty years of age, at
Korah's rebellion the earth swallowed alive even children that
were only a day old - men, women, and children, all together.
[587] Out of all the company of Korah and their families only four
persons escaped ruin, to wit: On, the son of Peleth, and Korah's
three sons. As it was Korah's wife who through her inciting words
plunged her husband into destruction, so to his wife does On owe
his salvation. Truly to these two women applies the proverb:
"Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it
down with her own hands." On, whose abilities had won him
distinction far beyond that of his father, had originally joined
Korah's rebellion. When he arrived home and spoke of it to his
wife, she said to him: "What benefit shalt thou reap from it? Either
Moses remains master and thou art his disciple, or Korah becomes
master and thou art his disciple." On saw the truth of this
argument, but declared that he felt it incumbent upon himself to
adhere to Korah because he had given him his oath, which he
could not now take back. His wife quieted him, however,
entreating him to stay at home. To be quite sure of him, however,
she gave him wine to drink, whereupon he fell into a deep sleep of
intoxication. His wife now carried out her work of salvation,
saying to herself: "All the congregation are holy, and being such,
they will approach no woman whose hair is uncovered." She now
showed herself at the door of the tent with streaming hair, and
whenever one out of the company of Korah, about to go to On, saw
the woman in this condition, he started back, and owing to this
schemer husband had no part in the rebellion. When the earth
opened to swallow Korah's company, the bed on which On still
slept began to rock, and to roll to the opening in the earth. On's
wife, however, seized it, saying: "O Lord of the world! My
husband made a solemn vow never again to take part in
dissensions. Thou that livest and endurest to all eternity canst
punish him hereafter if ever he prove false to his vow." God heard
her plea, and On was saved. She now requested On to go to Moses,
but he refused, for he was ashamed to look into Moses' face after
he had rebelled against him. His wife then went to Moses in his
stead. Moses at first evaded her, for he wished to have nothing to
do with women, but as she wept and lamented bitterly, she was
admitted and told Moses all that had occurred. He now
accompanied her to her house, at the entrance of which he cried:
"On, the son of Peleth, step forth, God will forgive thee thy sins."
It is with reference to this miraculous deliverance and to his life
spent in doing penance that this former follower of Korah was
called On, "the penitent," son of Peleth, "miracle." His true name
was Nemuel, the son of Eliab, a brother of Dathan and Abiram.

More marvelous still than that of On was the salvation of Korah's
three sons. For when the earth yawned to swallow Korah and his
company, these cried: "Help us, Moses!" The Shekinah hereupon
said: "If these men were to repent, they should be saved;
repentance do I desire, and naught else." Korah's three sons now
simultaneously determined to repent their sin, but they could not
open their mouths, for round about them burned the fire, and
below them gaped hell. [589] God was, however, satisfied with
their good thought, and in the sight of all Israel, for their salvation,
a pillar arose in hell, upon which they seated themselves. There
did they sit and sing praises and song to the Lord sweeter than ever
mortal ear had heard, so that Moses and all Israel hearkened to
them eagerly. They were furthermore distinguished by God in
receiving from Him the prophetic gift, and they then announced in
their songs events that were to occur in the future world. They
said: "Fear not the day on which the Lord will 'take hold of the
ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it,' for the pious
will cling to the Throne of Glory and will find protection under the
wings of the Shekinah. Fear not, ye pious men, the Day of
Judgement, for the judgement of sinners will have as little power
over you as it had over us when all the others perished and we
were saved." [590]


After the death of the two hundred and fifty followers of Korah,
who perished at the offering of incense, Eleazar, the son of Aaron,
was ordered "to take up the censers out of the burning," in which
the souls, not the bodies of the sinners were burned, [591] that out
of these brasen plates he made a covering for the altar. Eleazar,
and not his father, the high priest, received this commission, for
God said: "The censer brought death upon two of Aaron's sons,
therefore let the third now fetch forth the censer and effect
expiation for the sinners." [592] The covering of the altar
fashioned out of the brass of these censers was "to be a memorial
unto the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, which is not
of the seed of Aaron, come near to burn incense before the Lord."
Such a one was not, however, to be punished like Korah and his
company, but in the same way as Moses had once been punished
by God, with leprosy. This punishment was visited upon king
Uzziah, who tried to burn incense in the Temple, asserting that it
was the king's task to perform the service before the King of all.
The heavens hastened to the scene to consume him, just as the
celestial fire had once consumed the two hundred and fifty men,
who had wrongfully assumed the rights of priesthood; the earth
strove to swallow him as it had once swallowed Korah and his
company. But a celestial voice announced: "Upon none save Korah
and his company came punishments like these, upon no others.
This man's punishment shall be leprosy." Hence Uzziah became a
leper. [593]

Peace was not, however, established with the destruction of Korah
and his company, for on the very day that followed the terrible
catastrophe, there arose a rebellion against Moses, that was even
more violent than the preceding one. For although the people were
now convinced that nothing came to pass without the will of God,
still they thought God was doing all this for Moses' sake. Hence
they laid at his door God's violent anger against them, blaming not
the wickedness of those who had been punished, but Moses, who,
they said, had excited God's revengefulness against them. They
accused Moses of having brought about the death of so many of
the noblest among them as a punishment for the people, only that
they might not again venture to call him to account, and that he
might thereby ensure his brother's possession of the priestly office,
since no one would hereafter covet it, seeing that on its account the
noblest among them had met so terrible a fate. The kinsmen of
those who had perished stirred the flame of resentment and
spurred on the people to set a limit to Moses' love of power,
insisting that the public welfare and the safety of Israel demanded
such measures. [594] These unseemly speeches and their
unceasing, incorrigible perverseness brought upon them God's
wrath to such a degree that He wanted to destroy them all, and
bade Moses and Aaron go away from the congregation that He
might instantly set about their ruin.

When Moses saw that "there was wrath gone out from the Lord,
and the plague was begun," he called Aaron to him, saying: "Take
thy censer and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense
thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make
atonement for them." This remedy against death Moses had
learned from the Angel of Death himself at the time he was staying
in heaven to receive the Torah. At that time he had received a gift
from each one of the angels, and that of the Angel of Death had
been the revelation of the secret that incense can hold him at bay.
[595] Moses, in applying this remedy, had in mind also the
purpose of showing the people the injustice of their superstition
concerning the offering of incense. They called it death-bearing
because it had brought death upon Nadab and Abihu, as well as
upon the two hundred and fifty followers of Korah. He now wished
to convince them that it was this very incense that prevented the
plague, and to teach them that it is sin that brings death. [596]
Aaron, however, did not know why he employed incense, and
therefore said to Moses: "O my lord Moses, hast thou perchance
my death in view? My sons were burned because they put strange
fires into the censers. Shall I now fetch holy fire from the altar and
carry it outside? Surely I shall meet death through this fire!" Moses
replied: "Go quickly and do as I have bidden thee, for while thou
dost stand and talk, they die." Aaron hastened to carry out the
command given to him, saying: "Even if it be my death, I obey
gladly if I can only serve Israel thereby." [597]

The Angel of Death had meanwhile wrought terrible havoc among
the people, like a reaper mowing down line after line of them,
allowing not one of the line he touched to escape, whereas, on the
other hand, not a single man died before he reached the row in
which the man stood. Aaron, censer in hand, now appeared, and
stood up between the ranks of the living and those of the dead,
holding the Angel of Death at bay. The latter now addressed
Aaron, saying: "Leave me to my work, for I have been sent to do it
by God, whereas thou dost bid me stop in the name of a creature
that is only of flesh and blood." Aaron did not, however, yield, but
said: "Moses acts only as God commands him, and if thou wilt not
trust him, behold, God and Moses are both in the Tabernacle, let
us both betake ourselves thither." The Angel of Death refused to
obey his call, whereupon Aaron seized him by force and, thrusting
the censer under his face, dragged him to the Tabernacle where he
locked him in, so that death ceased. [598]

In this way Aaron paid off a debt to Moses. After the worship of
the Golden Calf, that came to pass not without some guilt on
Aaron's part, God had decreed that all four of Aaron's sons were to
die, but Moses stood up between the living and the dead, and
through his prayer succeeded in saving two out of the four. In the
same way Aaron now stood up between the living and the dead to
ward off from Israel the Angel of Death. [599]

God in His kindness now desired the people once and for all to be
convinced of the truth that Aaron was the elect, and his house the
house of priesthood, hence he bade Moses convince them in the
following fashion. Upon God's command, he took a beam of wood,
divided it into twelve rods, bade every prince of a tribe in his own
hand write his name on one of the rods respectively, and laid up
the rods over night before the sanctuary. Then the miracle came to
pass that the rod of Aaron, the prince of the tribe of Levi, bore the
Ineffable Name which caused the rod to bloom blossoms over
night and to yield ripe almonds. When the people, who all night
had been pondering which tribe should on the morrow be proven
by the rod of its prince to be the chosen one, betook themselves
early in the morning to the sanctuary, and saw the blossoms and
almonds upon the rod of Aaron, they were at last convinced that
God had destined the priesthood for his house. The almonds,
which ripen more quickly than any other fruit, at the same time
informed them that God would quickly bring punishment upon
those who should venture to usurp the powers of priesthood.
Aaron's rod was then laid up before the Holy Ark by Moses. It was
this rod, kings used until the time of the destruction of the Temple,
when, in miraculous fashion, it disappeared. Elijah will in the
future fetch it forth and hand it over to the Messiah. [600]


Korah's rebellion took place during Israel's sojourn in
Kadesh-Barnea, whence, a short time before, the spies had been
sent out. They remained in this place during nineteen years, and
then for as long a time wandered ceaselessly from place to place
through the desert. [601] When at last the time decreed by God for
their stay in the wilderness was over, and the generation that God
had said must die in the desert had paid its penalty for its sin, they
returned again to Kadesh-Barnea. They took delight in this place
endeared to them by long years of habitation, and settled down in
the expectation of a cheerful and agreeable time. But the
prophetess Miriam now dies, and the loss of the woman, who
occupied a place as high as that of her brothers, Moses and Aaron,
at once became evident in a way that was perceived by the pious as
well as by the godless. She was the only woman who died during
the march through the desert, and this occurred for the following
reasons. She was a leader of the people together with her brothers,
and as these two were not permitted to lead the people into the
promised land, she had to share their fate. The well, furthermore,
that had provided Israel with water during the march through the
desert, had been a gift of God to the people as a reward for the
good deeds of this prophetess, and as this gift had been limited to
the time of the march through the desert, she had to die shortly
before the entrance into the promised land.

Hardly had Miriam died, when the well also disappeared and a
dearth of water set in, that all Israel might know that only owing to
the merits of the pious prophetess had they been spared a lack of
water during the forty years of the march. [602] While Moses and
Aaron were now plunged in deep grief for their sister's death, a
mob of the people collected to wrangle with them on account of
the dearth of water. Moses, seeing the multitudes of people
approaching from the distance, said to his brother Aaron: "What
may all these multitudes desire?" The other replied: "Are not the
children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kind-hearted people and the
descendants of kind-hearted people? They come to express their
sympathy." Moses, however, said: "Thou are not able to
distinguish between a well-ordered procession and this motley
multitude; were these people assembled in an orderly procession,
they would move under the leadership of the rules of thousands
and the rulers of hundreds, but behold, they move in disorderly
troops. How then can their intentions be to console with us!" [603]

The two brothers were not long to remain in doubt concerning the
purpose of the multitude, for they stepped up to them and began to
pick a quarrel with Moses, saying: "It was a heavy blow for us
when fourteen thousand and seven hundred of our men died of the
plague; harder still to bear was the death of those who were
swallowed up by the earth, and lost their lives in an unnatural way;
the heaviest blow of all, however, was the death of those who were
consumed at the offering of incense, whose terrible end is
constantly recalled to us by the covering of the altar, fashioned out
of the brasen plates that came of the censers used by those
unfortunate ones. But we bore all these blows, and even wish we
had all perished simultaneously with them instead of becoming
victims to the tortures of death by thirst." [604]

At first they directed their reproaches against Moses alone, since
Aaron, on account of his extraordinary love of peace and his
kind-heartedness, was the favorite of the people, but once carried
away by suffering and rage, they started to hurl their accusations
against both of the brothers, saying: "Formerly your answer to us
had always been that sorrows came upon us and that God did not
stand by us because there were sinful and godless men among us.
Now that we are 'a congregation of the Lord,' why have ye
nevertheless led us to this poor place where there is not water,
without which neither man nor beast can live? Why do not ye
exhort God to have pity upon us since the well of Miriam had
vanished with her death?" [605]

"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast," and the fact that
these people, so near to death, still considered the sufferings of
their beasts shows that they were, notwithstanding their attitude
toward Moses and Aaron, really pious men. And, in truth, God did
not take amiss their words against Moses and Aaron, "for God
holds no man accountable for that which he utters in distress." For
the same reason neither Moses nor Aaron made reply to the
accusations hurled against them, but hastened to the sanctuary to
implore God's mercy for His people. They also considered that the
holy place would shelter them in case the people meant to lay
hands upon them. God actually did appear at once, and said to
them: "Hasten from this place; My children die of thirst, and ye
have nothing better to do than to mourn the death of an old
woman!" [606] He then bade Moses "to speak unto the rock that it
may give forth water," but impressed upon them the command to
bring forth neither honey nor oil out of the rock, but water only.
This was to prove God's power, who can pour out of the rock not
only such liquids as are contained in it, but water too, that never
otherwise issues from a rock. He also ordered Moses to speak to
the rock, but not to smite it with his rod. "For," said God, "the
merits of them that sleep in the Cave of Machpelah suffice to
cause their children to receive water out of the rock." [607]

Moses then fetched out of the Tabernacle the holy rod on which
was the Ineffable Name of God, and, accompanied by Aaron,
betook himself to the rock to bring water out of it. [608] On the
way to the rock all Israel followed him, halting at any rock by the
way, fancying that they might fetch water out of it. The grumblers
now went about inciting the people against Moses, saying: "Don't
you know that the son of Amram had once been Jethro's shepherd,
and all shepherds have knowledge of the places in the wilderness
that are rich in water? Moses will now try to lead us to such a
place where there is water, and then he will cheat us and declare
he had causes the water to flow out of a rock. If he actually is able
to bring forth water out of rocks, then let him fetch it out of any
one of the rocks upon which we fix." Moses could easily have
done this, for God said to him: "Let them see the water flow out of
the rock they have chosen," but when, on the way to the rock, he
turned around and perceived that instead of following him they
stood about in groups around different rocks, each group around
some rock favored by it, he commanded them to follow him to the
rock upon which he had fixed. They, however, said: "We demand
that thou bring us water out of the rock we have chosen, and if
thou wilt not, we do not care to fetch water out of another rock."


Throughout forty years Moses had striven to refrain from harshly
addressing the people, knowing that if but a single time he lost
patience, God would cause him to die in the desert. On this
occasion, however, he was mastered by his rage, and shouted at
Israel the words: "O ye madmen, ye stiffnecked ones, that desire to
teach their teacher, ye that shoot upon your leaders with your
arrows, do ye think that out of this rock that ye have chosen, we
shall be able to bring forth water? [610] I vow that I shall let water
flow out of that rock only that I have chosen." He addressed these
harsh words not to a few among Israel, but to all the people, for
God had brought the miracle to pass that the small space in front
of the rock held all Israel. Carried away by anger, Moses still
further forgot himself, and instead of speaking to the rock as God
had commanded him, he struck a rock chosen by himself. [611] As
Moses had not acted according to God's command, the rock did
not at once obey, and sent forth only a few drops of water, so that
the mockers cried: "Son of Amram, is this for the sucklings and for
them that are weaned from the milk?" Moses now waxed angrier
still, and for a second time smote the rock, from which gushed
streams so mighty that many of his enemies me their death in the
currents, and at the same time water poured out of all the stones
and rocks of the desert. [612] God here upon said to Moses: "Thou
and Aaron believed Me not, I forbade you to smite the rock, but
thou didst smite it; ye sanctified Me not in the eyes of the children
of Israel because ye did not fetch water out of any one of the rocks,
as the people wished; ye trespassed against Me when ye said,
'Shall we bring forth water out of this rock?' and ye acted contrary
to My command because ye did not speak to the rock as I had
bidden ye. I vow, therefore, that 'ye shall not bring this assembly
into the land which I have given them,' and not until the Messianic
time shall ye two lead Israel to the Holy Land." [613] God
furthermore said to Moses: "Thou shouldst have learned from the
life of Ishmael to have greater faith in Me; I bade the well to
spring up for him, even though he was only a single human being,
on account of the merits of his father Abraham. How much more
than hadst thou a right to expect, thou who couldst refer to the
merits of the three Patriarchs as well as to the people's own, for
they accepted the Torah and obeyed many commandments. Yea,
even from thine own experience shouldst thou have drawn greater
faith in My will to aid Israel. When in Rephidim thou didst say to
Me, 'They be almost ready to stone me,' did not I not reply to thee,
'Why dost thou accuse My children? God with thy rod before the
people, and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water
out of it.' If I wrought for them miracles such as these when they
had not yet accepted the Torah, and did not yet have faith in Me,
shouldst thou not have known how much more I would do for
them now?" [614]

God "taketh the wise in their own craftiness." He had long before
this decreed that Moses die in the desert, and Moses' offense in
Kadesh was only a pretext God employed that He might not seem
to be unjust. But He gave to Moses himself the true reason why He
did not permit him to enter the promised land, saying: "Would it
perchance redound to thy glory if thou wert to lead into the land a
new generation after thou hadst led out of Egypt the sixty myriads
and buried them in the desert? People would declare that the
generation of the desert has no share in future world, therefore stay
with them, that at their head thou mayest after the Resurrection
enter the promised land." [615] Moses now said to God: "Thou
hast decreed that I die in the desert like the generation of the desert
that angered Thee. I implore Thee, write in Thy Torah wherefore I
have been thus punished, that future generations may not say I had
been like the generations of the desert." God granted this wish, and
in several passages of the Scriptures set forth what had really been
the offense on account of which Moses had been prohibited from
entering the promised land. [616] It was due only to the
transgression at the rock in Kadesh, where Moses failed to sanctify
God in the eyes of the children of Israel; and God was sanctified
by allowing justice to take its course without respect of persons,
and punishing Moses. Hence this place was called Kadesh,
"sanctity," and En Mishpat, "fountain of justice," because on this
spot judgement was passed upon Moses, and by this sentence
God's name was sanctified. [617]

As water had been the occasion for the punishment of Moses, God
did not say that that which He had created on the second day of the
creation "was good," for on that day He had created water, and that
which brought about Moses' death was not good. [618]

If the death doomed for Moses upon this occasion was a very
severe punishment, entirely out of proportion to his offense, then
still more so was the death destined for Aaron at the same time.
For he had been guilty of no other offense than that of joining
Moses at his transgression, and "who so joins a transgressor, is as
bad as the transgressor himself." On this occasion, as usual, Aaron
showed his absolute devotion and his faith in God's justice. He
might have said, "I have not sinned; why am I to be punished?" but
he conquered himself and put up no defense, wherefore Moses
greatly praised him. [619]


From Kadesh Moses sent ambassadors to the king of Edom,
requesting him to permit Israel to travel through his territory.
"For," thought Moses, "When our father Jacob with only a small
troop of men planned to return to his father's house, which was not
situated in Esau's possessions, he previously sent a messenger to
him to ask his permission. How much more then does it behoove
us, a people of great numbers, to refrain from entering Edom's
territory before receiving his sanction to do so!"

Moses' ambassadors had been commissioned to bear the following
message to the king of Edom: "From the time of our grandfather
Abraham, there was a promissory note to be redeemed, for God
had imposed it upon him that in Egypt his seed should be enslaved
and tortured. It had been thy duty, as well as ours, to redeem this
note, and thou knowest that we have done our duty whereas thou
wert not willing. God had, as thou knowest, promised Abraham
that those who had been in bondage in Egypt should receive
Canaan for their possession as a reward. That land, therefore, is
ours, who were in Egypt, and thou who didst shirk the redemption
of the debt, hast now claim to our land. Let us then pass through
thy land until we reach ours. [620] Know also that the Patriarchs in
their grave sympathized with our sufferings in Egypt, and
whenever we called out to God He heard us, and sent us one of His
ministering angels to lead us out of Egypt. Consider, then, that all
thy weapons will avail thee naught if we implore God's aid, who
will then at once overthrow thee and thy hosts, for this is our
inheritance, and 'the voice of Jacob' never proves ineffectual. [621]
That thou mayest not, however, plead that our passage through thy
land will bring thee only annoyances and no gain, I promise thee
that although we draw drink out of a well that accompanies us on
our travels, and are provided with food through the manna, we
shall, nevertheless, by water and food from thy people, that ye may
profit by our passage."

This was no idle promise, for Moses had actually asked the people
to be liberal with their money, that the Edomites might not take
them to be poor slaves, but might be convinced that in spite of
their stay in Egypt, Israel was a wealthy nation. Moses also
pledged himself to provide the cattle with muzzles during their
passage through Edom, that they might do no damage to the land
of the dwellers there. With these words he ended his message to
the king of Edom: "To the right and to the left of thy land may we
pillage and slaughter, but in accord with God's words, we may not
touch thy possession." But all these prayers and pleadings of
Moses were without avail, for Edom's answer was in the form of a
threat: "Ye depend upon your inheritance, upon 'the voice of Jacob'
which God answers, and I too shall depend upon my inheritance,
'the hand and sword of Esau.'" Israel now had to give up their
attempt to reach their land through Edom's territory, not, however,
through fear, but because God had prohibited them from bringing
war upon the Edomites, even before they had heard from the
embassy that Edom had refused them the right of passage.

The neighborhood of the godless brings disaster, as Israel was to
experience, for they lost the pious Aaron on the boundary of
Edom, and buried him on Mount Hor. The cloud that used to
precede Israel, had indeed been accustomed to level all the
mountains, that they might move on upon level ways, but God
retained three mountains in the desert: Sinai, as the place of the
revelation; Nebo, as the burial-place of Moses; and Hor, consisting
of a twin mountain, as a burial-place for Aaron. Apart from these
three mountains, there were none in the desert, but the cloud
would leave little elevations on the place where Israel pitched
camp, that the sanctuary might thereupon be set up. [622]


Aaron died four months after the death of his sister Miriam,
whereas Moses died nearly a year after his sister. Her death took
place on the first day of Nisan, and that of Moses on the seventh
day of Adar in the same year. Although the death of these three did
not take place in the same month, God spoke of them saying, "And
I cut off the three shepherds in one month," for He had determined
upon their death in one month. [623] It is God's way to classify
people into related groups, and the death of these three pious ones
was not determined upon together with hat of the sinful generation
of wanderers in the desert, but only after this generations had died,
was sealed the doom of the three. [624] Miriam died first, and the
same fate was decreed for her brothers as a consequence of her

Miriam's death plunged all into deep mourning, Moses and Aaron
wept in their apartments and the people wept in the streets. For six
hours Moses was ignorant of the disappearance of Miriam's well
with Miriam's death, until the Israelites went to him, saying, "How
long wilt thou sit here and weep?" He answered, "Shall I not weep
for my sister, who had died?" They replied, "While thou are
weeping for one soul, weep at the same time for us all." "Why?"
asked he. They said, "We have no water to drink." Then he rose up
from the ground, went out and saw the well without a drop of
water. He now began to quarrel with them, saying, "Have I not told
ye, 'I am not able to bear you myself alone'? Ye have rulers of
thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens,
princes, chiefs, elders, and magnates, let these attend to your
needs." Israel, however, said: "All rests with thee, for it is thou
who didst lead us out of Egypt and brought 'us in unto this evil
place; it is no place of seed or of figs, or of vines, or of
pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.' If thou wilt give
us water, it is well, if not, we shall stone thee." When Moses heard
this, he fled from them and betook himself to the Tabernacle.
There God said to him: "What ails thee?" and Moses replied: "O
Lord of the world! Thy children want to stone me, and had I not
escaped, they would have stoned me by now." God said: "Moses,
how much longer wilt thou continue to calumniate My children? Is
it not enough that at Horeb thou didst say, 'They be ready to stone
me,' whereupon I answered thee, 'Go up before them and I will see
whether they stone thee or not!' 'Take the rod and assemble the
congregation, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the
rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water.'"

Moses now went to seek for the rock, followed by all Israel, for he
did not know which was the rock out of which God had said water
was to flow. [625] For the rock out of which Miriam's well flowed
vanished among the rest of the rocks in such a way that Moses was
not able to distinguish it among the number. [626] On the way they
saw a rock that dripped, and they took up their places in front of it.
When Moses saw that the people stood still, he turned around and
they said to him: "How long wilt thou lead us on?" Moses: "Until I
fetch ye forth water out of the rock." The people: "Give us water at
once, that we may drink." Moses: "How long do ye quarrel? Is
there a creature in all the world that so rebels against its Maker as
ye do, when it is certain that God will give ye water out of a rock,
even though I do not know which one that may be!" The people:
"Thou wert a prophet and our shepherd during our march through
the desert, and now thou sayest, 'I know not out of which rock God
will give ye water.'"

Moses hereupon assembled them about a rock, saying to himself:
"If I now speak to the rock, bidding it bring forth water, and it
bring forth none, I shall subject myself to humiliation in the
presence of the community, for they will say, 'Where is thy
wisdom?'" Hence he said to the people: "Ye know that God can
perform miracles for ye, but He hath hidden from me out of which
rock He will let the water flow forth. For whenever the time comes
that God wished a man not to know, then his wisdom and
understanding are of no avail to him." Moses then lifted his rod
and let it quietly slide down upon the rock which he laid it,
uttering, as if addressing Israel, the words, "Shall we bring you
forth water out of this rock?" The rock of its own accord now
began to give forth water, whereupon Moses struck upon it with
his rod, but then water no longer flowed forth, but blood. Moses
hereupon said to God: "This rock brings forth no water," and God
instantly turned to the rock with the question: "Why dost thou
bring forth not water, but blood?" The rock answered: "O Lord of
the world! Why did Moses smite me?" When God asked Moses
why he had smitten the rock, he replied: "That it might bring forth
water." God, however, said to Moses: "Had I bidden thee to smite
the rock? I had only said, 'Speak to it.'" Moses tried to defend
himself by saying, "I did speak to it, but it brought forth nothing."
"Thou," God replied, "hast given Israel the instruction, 'In
righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor'; why then, didst not
thou judge the rock 'in righteousness,' the rock that in Egypt
supported thee when out of it thou didst such honey? Is this the
manner in which thou repayest it? Not only wert thou unjust to the
rock, but thou didst also call My children fools. If then thou are a
wise man, it does not become thee as a wise man to have anything
further to do with fools, and therefore thou shalt not with them
learn to know the land of Israel." [627] At the same time God
added, "Neither thou, nor thy brother, nor thy sister, shall set foot
upon the land of Israel." For even in Egypt God had warned Moses
and Aaron to refrain from calling the Israelites fools, and as
Moses, without evoking a protest from Aaron, at the water of
Kadesh, called them fools, the punishment of death was decreed
for him and his brother. [628] When God had informed Moses of
the impending punishment due to him and his brother, He turned
to the rock, saying: "Turn thy blood into water," and so it came to
pass. [629]


As a sign of especial favor God communicates to the pious the day
of their death, that they may transmit their crowns to their sons.
But God considered it particularly fitting to prepare Moses and
Aaron for impending death, saying: "These two pious men
throughout their lifetime did nothing without consulting Me, and I
shall not therefore take them out of this world without previously
informing them." [630]

When, therefore, Aaron's time approached, God said to Moses:
"My servant Moses, who hast been 'faithful in all Mine house,' I
have an important matter to communicate to thee, but it weighs
heavily upon Me." Moses: "What is it?" God: "Aaron shall be
gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which
I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against
My word at the waters of Meribah." Moses replied: "Lord of the
world! It is manifest and known before the Throne of Thy glory,
that Thou art Lord of all the world and of Thy creatures that in this
world Thou hast created, so that we are in Thy hand, and in Thy
hand it lies to do with us as Thou wilt. I am not, however, fit to go
to my brother, and repeat to him Thy commission, for he is older
than I, and how then shall I presume to go up to my older brother
and say, 'Go up unto Mount Hor and die there!'" God answered
Moses: "Not with the lip shalt thou touch this matter, but 'take
Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor.'
Ascend thou also with them, and there speak with thy brother
sweet and gentle words, the burden of which will, however,
prepare him for what awaits him. Later when ye shall all three be
upon the mountain, 'strip Aaron of his garments, and put them
upon Eleazar his son, and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people,
and shall die there.' [631] As a favor to Me prepare Aaron for his
death, for I am ashamed to tell him of it Myself." [632]

When Moses heard this, there was a tumult in his heart, and he
knew not what to do. He wept so passionately that his grief for the
impending loss of his brother brought him to the brink of death
himself. As a faithful servant of God, however, nothing remained
for him to do, but to execute his Master's command, hence he
betook himself to Aaron to the Tabernacle, to inform him of his

Now it had been customary during the forty years' march through
the desert for the people daily to gather, first before the seventy
elders, then under their guidance before the princes of the tribes,
then for all of them to appear before Eleazar and Aaron, and with
these to go to Moses to present to him their morning greeting. On
this day, however, Moses made a change in this custom, and after
having wept through the night, at the cock's crow summoned
Eleazar before him and said to him: "Go and call to me the elders
and the princes, for I have to convey to them a commission from
the Lord." Accompanied by these men, Moses not betook himself
to Aaron who, seeing Moses when he arose, asked: "Why hast thou
made a change in the usual custom?" Moses: "God hath bidden me
to make a communication to thee." Aaron: "Tell it to me." Moses:
"Wait until we are out of doors." Aaron thereupon donned his eight
priestly garments and both went out.

Now it had always been the custom for Moses whenever he went
from his house to the Tabernacle to walk in the center, with Aaron
at his right, Eleazar at his left, then the elders at both sides, and the
people following in the rear. Upon arriving within the Tabernacle,
Aaron would seat himself as the very nearest at Moses' right hand,
Eleazar at his left, and the elders and princes in front. On this day,
however, Moses changed this order; Aaron walked in the center,
Moses at his right hand, Eleazar at his left, the elders and princes
at both sides, and the rest of the people following.

When the Israelites saw this, they rejoiced greatly, saying: "Aaron
now has a higher degree of the Holy Spirit than Moses, and
therefore does Moses yield to him the place of honor in the
center." The people loved Aaron better than Moses. [633] For ever
since Aaron had become aware that through the construction of the
Golden Calf he had brought about the transgression of Israel, it
was his endeavor through the following course of life to atone for
his sin. He would go from house to house, and whenever he found
one who did not know how to recite his Shema', he taught him the
Shema'; if one did not know how to pray he taught him how to
pray; and if he found one who was not capable of penetrating into
the study of the Torah, he initiated him into it. [634] He did not,
however, consider his task restricted 'to establishing peace
between God and man,' but strove to establish peace between the
learned and the ignorant Israelites, among the scholars themselves,
among the ignorant, and between man and wife. [635] Hence the
people loved him very dearly, and rejoiced when they believed he
had now attained a higher rank than Moses.

Having arrived at the Tabernacle, Aaron now wanted to enter, but
Moses held him back, saying: "We shall now go beyond the camp."
When they were outside the camp, Aaron said to Moses: "Tell me
the commission God hath given thee." Moses answered: "Wait
until we reach the mountain." At the foot of the mountain Moses
said to the people: "Stay here until we return to you; I, Aaron, and
Eleazar will go to the top of the mount, and shall return when we
shall have heard the Divine revelation." All three now ascended.


Moses wanted to inform his brother of his impending death, but
knew not how to go about it. At length he said to him: "Aaron, my
brother, hath God given anything into thy keeping?" "Yes," replied
Aaron. "What, pray?" asked Moses. Aaron: "The altar and the table
upon which is the shewbread hath He given into my charge."
Moses: "It may be that He will now demand back from thee all that
He hath given into thy keeping." Aaron: "What, pray?" Moses:
"Hath He not entrusted a light to thee?" Aaron: "Not one light only
but all seven of the candlestick that now burn in the sanctuary."
Moses had, of course, intended to call Aaron's attention to the soul,
"the light of the Lord," which God had given into his keeping and
which He now demanded back. As Aaron, in his simplicity, did not
notice the allusion, Moses did not go into further particulars, but
remarked to Aaron: "God hath with justice called thee an innocent,
simple-hearted man."

While they were thus conversing, a cave opened up before them,
whereupon Moses requested his brother to enter it, and Aaron
instantly acquiesced. Moses was now in a sad predicament, for, to
follow God's command, he had to strip Aaron of his garments and
to put them upon Eleazar, but he knew not how to broach the
subject to his brother. He finally said to Aaron: "My brother Aaron,
it is not proper to enter the cave into which we now want to
descend, invested in the priestly garments, for they might there
become unclean; the cave is very beautiful, and it is therefore
possible that there are old graves in it." Aaron replied, "Thou art
right." Moses then stripped his brother of his priestly garments,
and put them upon Aaron's son, Eleazar. [636]

As it would have been improper if Aaron had been buried quite
naked, God brought about the miracle that, as soon as Moses took
off one of Aaron's garments, a corresponding celestial garment was
spread over Aaron, and when Moses had stripped him of all his
priestly garments, he found himself arrayed in eight celestial
garments. A second miracle came to pass in the stripping of
Aaron's garments, for Moses was enabled to take off the
undermost garments before the upper. This was done in order to
satisfy the law that priests may never use their upper garments as
undergarments, a thing Eleazar would have had to do, had Moses
stripped off Aaron's outer garments first and with these invested
his son. [637]

After Eleazar had put on the high priest's garments, Moses and
Aaron said to him: "Wait for us here until we return out of the
cave," and both entered it. At their entrance they beheld a couch
spread, a table prepared, and a candle lighted, while ministering
angels surrounded the couch. Aaron then said to Moses: "How
long, O my brother, wilt thou still conceal the commission God
hath entrusted to thee? Thou knowest that He Himself, when for
the first time He addressed thee, with His own lips declared of me,
'When he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.' Why, then, dost
thou conceal the commission God hath entrusted to thee? Even if it
were to refer to my death, I should take it upon myself with a
cheerful countenance." Moses replied: "As thou thyself dost speak
of death, I will acknowledge that God's words to me do concern
thy death, but I was afraid to make it known to thee. But look now,
thy death is not as that of the other creatures of flesh and blood;
and not only is thy death a remarkable one, but see! The
ministering angels have come to stand by thee in thy parting hour."

When he spoke of the remarkable death that awaited Aaron, Moses
meant to allude to the fact that Aaron, like his sister Miriam and
later Moses, was to die not through the Angel of Death, but by a
kiss from God. [639] Aaron, however, said: "O my brother Moses,
why didst not thou make this communication to me in the presence
of my mother, my wife, and my children?" Moses did not instantly
reply to this question, but tried to speak words of comfort and
encouragement to Aaron, saying: "Dost thou not know, my brother,
that thou didst forty years ago deserve to meet thy death when thou
didst fashion the Golden Calf, but then I stood before the Lord in
prayer and exhortation, and saved thee from death. And now I pray
that my death were as thine! For when thou diest, I bury thee, but
when I shall die, I shall have no brother to bury me. When thou
diest, thy sons will inherit thy position, but when I die, strangers
will inherit my place." With these and similar words Moses
encouraged his brother, until he finally looked forward to his end
with equanimity.

Aaron lay down upon the adorned couch, and God received his
soul. Moses then left the cave, which immediately vanished, so
that none might know or understand how it had happened. When
Eleazar saw Moses return alone, he said to him: "O my teacher,
where is my father?" Moses replied: "He has entered Paradise."
Then both descended from the mountain into the camp. [640]
When the people saw Moses and Eleazar return without Aaron,
they were not at all in the mood to lend faith to the communication
of Aaron's death. They could not at all credit that a man who had
overcome the Angel of Death was now overcome by him. Three
opinions were then formed among the people concerning Aaron's
absence. Some declared that Moses had killed Aaron because he
was jealous of his popularity; some thought Eleazar had killed his
father to become his successor as high priest; and there was also
some who declared that he had been removed from earth to be
translated to heaven. Satan had so incited the people against Moses
and Eleazar that they wanted to stone them. Moses hereupon
prayed to God, saying: "Deliver me and Eleazar from this
unmerited suspicion, and also show to the people Aaron's bier, that
they may not believe him to be still alive, for in their boundless
admiration for Aaron they may even make a God of him." God
then said to the angels: "Lift up on high the bier upon which lies
My friend Aaron, so that Israel may know he is dead and my not
lay hand upon Moses and Eleazar." The angels did as they were
bidden, [641] and Israel then saw Aaron's bier floating in the air,
while God before it and the angels behind intoned a funeral song
for Aaron. God lamented in the words, "He entereth into peace;
they rest in their beds, each one that walketh in his uprightness,"
whereas the angels said: "The law of truth was in his mouth, and
unrighteousness was not found in his lips: he walked with Me in
peace and uprightness, and did turn many away from iniquity."


When Israel beheld the funeral rites prepared in honor of Aaron by
God and by the angels, they also prepared a funeral ceremony of
thirty days in which all the people, men and women, adults and
children, took part. [642] This universal mourning had its
foundation not only in Israel's emulation of the Divine mourning
and of the ceremonies arranged by Moses and Eleazar, or in their
wish to show their reverence for the deceased high priest, but first
and foremost in the truth that the people deeply loved Aaron and
deeply felt his death. They mourned for him even more than they
did later for Moses; for the latter only a part of the people shed
tears, but for Aaron, everyone. Moses, as a judge, was obliged to
mete out justice to the guilty, so that he had enemies among the
people, men who could not forget that he had pronounced them
guilty in court. Moses, furthermore, was sometimes severe with
Israel when he held up to them their sins, but never Aaron. The
latter "loved peace and pursued peace, loved men and brought
them near to the Torah. In his humility, he did not consider his
dignity hurt by offering greetings first even to the lowliest, yes, he
did not even fail in offering his greeting when he was certain that
the man before him was wicked and godless. The lament of the
angels for Aaron as one "who did turn many away from iniquity"
was therefore well justified. This kindliness of his led many a
sinner to reform, who at the moment when he was about to commit
a sin thought to himself: "How shall I be able to lift up my eyes to
Aaron's face? I, to whom Aaron was so kind, blush to do evil."
Aaron recognized his especial task as that of the peace-maker. If
he discovered that two men had fallen out, he hastened first to the
one, then to the other, saying to each: "My son, dost thou not know
what he is doing with whom thou hast quarreled? He beats at his
heart, rends his garments in grief, and says, 'Woe is me! How can I
ever again lift up my eyes and look upon my companion against
whom I have acted so?'" Aaron would then speak to each
separately until both the former enemies would mutually forgive
each other, and as soon as they were again face to face salute each
other as friends. If Aaron heard that husband and wife lived in
discord, he would hasten to the husband, saying: "I come to thee
because I hear that thou and thy wife live in discord, wherefore
thou must divorce her. Keep in mind, however, that if thou
shouldst in place of thy present wife marry another, it is very
questionable if thy second wife will be as good as this one; for at
your first quarrel she will throw up to thee that thou art a
quarrelsome man, as was shown by thy divorce from thy first
wife." Many thousands of unions were saved from impending
rupture by the efforts and urgings of Aaron, and the sons born to
the couples brought together anew usually received Aaron's name,
owing, as they did, their existence to his intercession. Not less than
eighty thousand youths bearing his name took part in the mourning
for Aaron. [643]

When Moses beheld the deep-felt sorrow of the heavenly beings
and of men for Aaron, he burst into passionate weeping, and said:
"Woe is me, that am now left all alone! When Miriam died, none
came to show her the last marks of honor, and only I, Aaron, and
his sons stood about her bier, wept for her, mourned her, and
buried her. At Aaron's death, I and his sons were present at his bier
to show him the last marks of honor. But alas! How shall I fare?
Who will be present at my death? I have neither father nor mother,
neither brother nor sister, - who then will weep for me?" God,
however, said to him: "Be not afraid, Moses, I Myself shall bury
thee amid great splendor, and just as the cave in which Aaron lied
has vanished, that none may know the spot where Aaron is buried,
so too shall no mortal know thy burial place. As the Angel of
Death had no power over Aaron, who died 'by the kiss,' so shall the
Angel of Death have no power over thee, and thou shalt die 'by the
kiss.'" Moses grew calm at these words, knowing at last that he had
his place among the blessed pious. Blessed are thy, for not only
does God in person gather them to Him, but as soon as they are
dead, the angels go joyously to meet them and with beaming faces
go to greet them, saying, "Enter into peace." [644]


When Moses and Eleazar returned from the mountain without
Aaron, Israel said to Moses: "We shall not release thee from this
spot until thou showest us Aaron, dead or alive." Moses prayed to
God, and He opened the cave and all Israel saw within it Aaron,
lying dead upon a bier. They instantly felt what they had lost in
Aaron, for when they turned to look at the camp, they saw that the
clouds of glory that had covered the site of the camp during their
forty years' march had vanished. They perceived, therefore, that
God had sent these clouds for Aaron's sake only, and hence, with
Aaron's death, had caused them to vanish. These among Israel who
had been born in the desert, having now, owing to the departure of
the clouds of glory, for the first time beheld the sun and moon,
wanted to fall down before them and adore them, for the clouds
had always hidden the sun and the moon from them, and the sight
of them made a most awful impression upon them. But God said to
them: "Have I not commanded you in My Torah: 'Take ye therefore
good heed unto yourselves...lest thou lift up thine eyes unto
heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars,
even all the host of heaven, thou be drawn away and worship them,
and serve them?' For it is God that led thee out of the furnace of
Egypt, that thou mightest be the people of His inheritance." [645]

The disappearance of the clouds of glory inspired Israel with
terror, for now they were unaided against the attacks of enemies,
whereas none had been able to enter into the camp of Israel while
the clouds covered them. This fear was not, indeed, ungrounded,
for hardly did Amalek learn that Aaron was dead and that the
clouds of glory had vanished, when he at once set about harassing
Israel. [646] Amalek acted in accordance with the counsel his
grandsire Esau had given him, for his words to his grandson had
been: "In spite of all my pains, I did not succeed in killing Jacob,
therefore be thou mindful of avenging me upon his descendants."
"But how, alas!" said Amalek, "Shall I be able to compete with
Israel?" Esau made answer: "Look well, and as soon as thou seest
Israel stumble, leap upon them." Amalek looked upon this legacy
as the guiding star of his actions. When Israel trespassed, saying
with little faith, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" Amalek instantly
appeared. Hardly had Israel been tempted by its spies wickedly to
exclaim, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt,"
when Amalek was upon the scene to battle with Israel. In later
times also Amalek followed this policy, and when
Nebuchadnezzar moved to Jerusalem in order to destroy it,
Amalek took up his position one mile away from the holy city,
saying: "If Israel should conquer, I should declare that I had come
to assist them, but should Nebuchadnezzar be victorious, then shall
I cut off the flight of the fleeing Israelites." His hopes were
realized, for Nebuchadnezzar was victorious, and standing at the
crossway, he cut down the fleeing Israelites, and added insult to
injury by hurling invectives against God and the people, and
ridiculing them.

When, after Aaron's death, Amalek no longer considered Israel
dangerous, since the clouds had disappeared, he instantly set about
making war upon them. Amalek did not, however, go in open
warfare against Israel, but tried through craft to attain what he
dared not hope for in open warfare. Concealing their weapons in
their garments, the Amalekites appeared in Israel's camp as if they
meant to condole with them for Aaron's death, and the
unexpectedly attacked them. Not content with this, the Amalekites
disguised themselves in Canaanite costume and spoke the speech
of the latter, so that the Israelites might not be able to tell if they
had before them Amalekites, as their personal appearance seemed
to show, or Canaanites, as their dress and speech indicated. The
reason for this disguise was that Amalek knew that Israel had
inherited the legacy from their ancestor Isaac that God always
answered their prayer, hence Amalek said: "If we now appear as
Canaanites, they will implore God to send them aid against the
Canaanites, and we shall slay them." But all these wiles of Amalek
were of no avail. Israel couched their prayer to God in these words:
"O Lord of the world! We know not with what nation we are now
waging war, whether with Amalek or with Canaan, but
whichsoever nation it be, pray visit punishment upon it." [647]
God heard their prayer and, promising to stand by them, ordered
them totally to annihilate their enemy, saying: "Although ye are
now dealing with Amalek, do not treat him like Esau's other sons,
against whom ye may not war, but try totally to destroy them, as if
they were Canaanites." Israel acted according to this command,
slaying the Amalekites in battle, and dedicating their cities to God.
[648] Amalek's only gain in this enterprise was that, at the
beginning of the war, they seized a slave woman who had once
belonged to them, but who later passed over into the possession of
the Israelites. [649]

For Israel this attack of Amalek had indeed serious consequences,
for as soon as they perceived the approach of the enemy, they were
afraid to continue the march to Palestine, being now no longer
under the protection of the clouds, that vanished with Aaron's
death; hence they determined to return to Egypt. They actually
carried out part of this project by retreating eight stations, but the
Levites pursued them, and in Moserah there arose a bitter quarrel
between those who wanted to return to Egypt and the Levites who
insisted upon the continuance of the march to Palestine. Of the
former, eight tribal divisions were destroyed in this quarrel, five
Benjamite, and one each of the Simeonite, Gadite, and Asherite
divisions, while of the Levites one division was completely
extirpated, and three others decimated in such a way that they did
not recover until the days of David. The Levites were finally
victorious, for even their opponents recognized that it had been
folly on their part to desire to return to Egypt, and that their loss
had been only a punishment because they had not arranged a
mourning ceremony adequate to honor a man of Aaron's piety.
They thereupon celebrated a grand mourning ceremony for Aaron
in Moserah, and it is for this reason that people later spoke of this
place as the place where Aaron died, because the great mourning
rites took place there. [650]


Owing to the king of Edom's refusal to permit Israel to pass
through his land, they were obliged, at the very point when they
believed themselves at the end of their march, to continue it, so as
to go around the land of Edom. The people, weary of the many
years' marches, now became peevish, saying: "We had already
been close to the promised land, and now must turn about once
more! It was the same with our fathers who, close to their goal,
had to turn back and roam about for thirty-eight years. Thus will it
be with us!" [651] In their dejection they set about murmuring
against God and Moses, "master and servant being to them as one."
They complained that they were entirely thrown upon manna as a
means of sustenance. This last mentioned complaint came from
those in regard to whom God had vowed that they should never see
the land which He had sworn unto the Patriarchs. These people
could not bear the sight of the products of Palestine's soil, dying as
soon as they beheld them. Now that they had arrived at the
outskirts of the promised land, the merchants brought into the
camp of the Israelites the native products, but these, unable to
partake of them, still had to continue to gather sustenance
exclusively from manna. [652]

Then a voice sounding from the heavens became audible upon
earth, making this announcement: "Come hither and behold, O ye
men! Come hither and hearken, ye the serpent with the words,
'Dust shalt thou eat,' yet it complained not of its food. But ye, My
people that I have led out of Egypt, for whom I caused manna to
rain down from heaven, and quails to fly from the sea, and a spring
to gush forth from the abyss, ye do murmur against Me on account
of manna, saying, 'Our soul loatheth this light bread.' Let now the
serpents come, that complained not, even though whatever food
they ate tasted only of the dust, and let them bite those who
murmur though they have a food that possesses every conceivable
flavor. [653] The serpent, which was the first creature to slander
its Maker and was therefore punished, shall now punish this
people, which, not profiting by the example of the serpent's
punishment, blasphemes its Creator by declaring that the heavenly
food that He sends them would finally bring them death." The very
serpents that during the forty years' march had been burned by the
cloud of glory and lay heaped up high round about the camp, these
same serpents now bit the people so terribly that their poison
burned the souls of those whom they attacked. [654]

When Moses betook himself to those who had been bitten, hearing
that they were too ill to come to him, [655] they, conscious of their
guilt, said to him: "We have sinned, because we have spoken
against the Lord and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that He take
away the serpents from us." Such was the meekness of Moses, that
he instantly forgave the people's transgression in regard to himself,
and at once implored God's aid. God also, however, forgave their
sin as soon as they had shown penitence, and thus set an example
to man likewise to grant forgiveness when it is requested.

As a healing for those who had been bitten, God now bade Moses
to make a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, that it might
come to pass that every one who was bitten might look upon it and
live. Moses did as he was bidden, and made a serpent of brass. As
soon as he hurled it on high, it remained floating in the air, so that
all might be able to look upon it. [656] He mad the serpent brass,
because in Hebrew Nahash signifies "snake" and Nehoshet,
"brass"; hence Moses made the serpent of a substance that had a
sound similar to that of the object fashioned out of it. [657] It was
not, however, the sight of the serpent of brass that brought with it
healing and life; but whenever those who had been bitten by the
serpents raised their eyes upward and subordinated their hearts to
the will of the heavenly Father, they were healed; if they gave no
thought to God, they perished. [658]

Looking upon the serpent of brass brought about healing not only
to those who had been bitten by serpents, but also to those who
had been bitten by dogs or other animals. The cure of the latter
was effected even more quickly than that of the former, for a
casual glance sufficed for them, whereas the former were healed
only after a long and insistent gaze. [659]


The murmurs of the people, on account of which God sent upon
them the serpents, took place in Zalmonah, a place where grew
only thorns and thistles. Thence they wandered on to Punon, where
God's punishment overtook them. [660] In the following two
stations also, in Oboth and Iye-abarim, they continued their hostile
actions against God, who for this reason was full of wrath against
them, and did not look upon them again with favor until they
reached Arnon. [661] God's favor was instantly shown during
Israel's passage through the valley of Arnon, where He wrought for
Israel miracles as great as those of yore at the passage through the
Red Sea. This valley was formed by two lofty mountains that lay
so close together that people upon the two summits of them could
converse with one another. But in passing from one mountain to
the other, one had to cover a distance of seven miles, having first
to descend into the valley, and then again to ascend the other
mountain. The Amorits, knowing that Israel should now have to
pass through the valley, assembled in innumerable multitudes, and
a part of them hid in the caves, of which there were many on the
slopes of the mountain, while another part of them awaited Israel
in the valley below, hoping to attack and destroy them
unexpectedly from above and from below in their passage through
the valley. God, however, frustrated this plan, bringing it to pass
that Israel did not descend into the valley at all, but stayed above,
through the following miracle. For whereas the mountain on the
one side of the valley was full of caves, the other consisted entirely
of pointed rocks; and God moved this rocky mountain so close up
to the other, that the jutting rocks of the one entered into the caves
of the other, and all the Amorites that were concealed within them
were crushed.

It was the rocky mountain that was moved, and not the other, for
this same rocky mountain was the beginning of the promised land,
and at the approach of Israel from the other mountain, which was
Moabite, the land leaped to meet them, for it awaited them most

An old proverb says: "If you give a piece of bread to a child, tell its
mother about it." God, likewise, wanted Israel to know the great
miracles He had accomplished for their sake, for they had no
inkling of the attack the heathens had planned to make upon them.
God therefore bade the well that had reappeared since their stay in
Beeroth to flow past the caves and wash out parts of the corpses in
great numbers. When Israel not turned to look upon the well, they
perceived it in the valley of the Arnon, shining like the moon, and
drawing corpses with it. Not until then did they discover the
miracles that had been wrought for them. Not only did the
mountains at first move together to let them pass, and then again
move apart, but God saved them from great peril. They now
intoned a song of praise to the well that revealed to them the great
miracle. [662]

When, at the passage through the Red Sea, Israel wanted to intone
a song of praise, Moses did not let them do it alone, but first sang
to them the song they were to sing to the Lord. For then Israel was
young, and could only repeat what its teacher Moses sang before
them, but when the nation reached Arnon, it was fully grown, after
its forty years' march through the desert. Now the Israelites sang
their own song, saying: "O Lord of the world! It behooves Thee to
work miracles for us, whereas it is our duty to intone to Thee songs
of praise." Moses had no part in the song of praise to the well, for
the well had given occasion to his death in the desert, and no man
can be expected to sing about his executioner. As Moses wanted
have nothing to do with this song, God demanded that His own
name also be not mentioned in it, acting in this instances like the
king who was invited to a prince's table, but refused the invitation
when he learned that his friend was not to be present at the feast.
[663] The song to the well was as follows: "This is the well that
the Patriarchs of the world, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, have
digged, the princes olden times have searched, the heads of the
people, the lawgivers of Israel, Moses and Aaron, have made its
water to run with their staves. In the desert Israel received it as a
gift, and after they had received it, it followed Israel upon all their
wanderings, to lofty mountains and deep valleys. Not until they
came to the boundary of Moab did it disappear, because Israel did
not observe the words of the Torah." [664]

Israel sang a song to the well alone, and not to manna, because
they had on several occasions railed against the heavenly food, and
therefore God said: "I do not wish ye to find fault with manna, nor
yet to have ye praise it now," and He would not permit them to
sing a song of praise to manna. [665]


The crushing of those concealed in the caves of the mountain at
Arnon was only the beginning of the miracles God wrought for
Israel during their conquest of the land. It was at Arnon, too, that
Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and his people who, hardly a
month after Aaron's death, rushed upon Israel, were completely
destroyed by them. [666] This Amorite king, and likewise Og, the
king of Basham, were sons of Ahiah, whose father Shemhazai was
one of the fallen angels. [667] In accordance with his celestial
origin Sihon was a giant who none could withstand, for he was of
enormous stature, taller than any tower in all the world, his
thigh-bone alone measuring eighteen cubits, according to the big
cubit of that time. [668] In spite of his huge size he was also fleet
of foot, wherefore he was called Sihon, "foal," to indicate the
celerity with which he moved, for his true name was Arad. [669]

Moses was sorely afraid of waging war against this giant, but God
put Sihon's and Og's guardian angels in chains, and then said to
Moses: "Behold, I have begun to deliver up Sihon and his land
before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land."
For indeed after the angels of Sihon and his people had fallen,
Moses had nothing more to fear, for his enemies were thus
delivered into his hands. [670] God assured Moses that "He would
begin to put the dread of him and the fear of him upon the peoples
that are under the whole heaven," by bidding the sun to stand still
during his war against Sihon, that all the world might see that God
battled for Moses. [671]

Moses now asked if he might before waging war send ambassadors
to Sihon to request him to permit Israel to pass through the land.
God replied: "How now! I commanded thee, 'Rise up, contend with
him in battle, begin to possess his land!' and thou wantest to send
him messengers of peace?" Moses, however, replied: "I desire only
to follow Thy example when Thou didst wish to lead Israel out of
Egypt, and yet didst send me to Pharaoh with the message to let
Israel, Thy people, pass out, even though Thou couldst have
consumed all of Egypt with one flash of lightning. When Thou
didst reveal the Torah, too, Thou didst offer it to the heathen
nations for acceptance before giving it to Israel." God saw the
justice of Moses' words, and commanded him never in the future
to declare war upon a city before previously urging the people to
surrender in peace. [672]

Moses hereupon sent a missive to Sihon in which he requested him
to permit Israel to pass through the land, promising him that he
would see to it that the people should go along by the king's
highway, so that he need have no cause to fear any deeds of
violence upon married women, or seductions of girls. [673] "We
shall even," continued Moses, "pay for the water that is otherwise
given freely, and likewise [674] buy food-stuffs from thee at good
prices." [675] This letter to Sihon contained at its close,
notwithstanding, the communication that the Israelites would bring
war upon Sihon in case he did not permit them to pass through.
Moses' assumption, however, that Sihon should permit Israel to
pass through sounded in Sihon's ears like a summons to the keeper
of a vineyard to permit one to harvest it. Sihon's answer therefore
was as follows: "I and my brother Og receive tribute from all the
other Canaanite kings to keep off their enemies from access to the
land, and now you ask me to give you free access to Canaan!"

War between Sihon and Moses ensued, and ended in a brilliant
victory for Israel. [676] Sihon and his son, who equaled him in
heroic strength, found their death in this fray. [677] God had so
brought it to pass that Israel had no need of laboriously waging
war upon one city after another in Sihon's land, He had brought all
the hosts of this Amorite king together into Heshbon. When this
city therefore and the hosts within it were destroyed, all the rest of
Sihon's land lay open before them. Israel's victory was all the more
marvelous, because Heshbon was an exceptionally well fortified
city, so that, had gnats been its inhabitants, it could not have been
captured by mortal means, much less so when manned by the hero
Sihon and his heroic warriors. [678] This victory was made
possible only by the fact that God visited them with convulsions so
terrible that they rolled up and writhed in pain, unable to stand in
the battle lines, so that Israel could cut them down while they were
half dead from convulsive pains. [679] God also drew masks over
their faces, so that they could not see plainly, and taking one
another for Israelites, slew their own people. [680]

With the fall of Heshbon Israel came into possession of all the land
of Sihon, with the exception of Jazer, and Moses therefore sent
spies to that city. The men whom he sent there, Caleb and
Phinehas, were not only capable warriors, but also pious men.
They said: "Moses once sent spies who brought great misfortune
upon all their generations, we will attack this city, trusting in God,
and we are sure we shall not perish, because Moses has prayed for
our welfare." They thereupon attacked Jazer, conquered it, and
when upon the day after Moses had sent them out they returned to
him, they informed him that they had conquered Jazer and slain its
inhabitants. [681]


The war with Sihon took place in the month of Elul. In the
following month of Tishri they rested on account of the holy days,
but immediately after these they set out to battle against Og. [682]
This king did not hasten to his brother's aid, although he was only
one day's distance from him, for he felt sure Sihon could conquer
Israel without his assistance. [683] He erred in this, however, as in
some other matters. In the war of the four kings against the five, it
was Og who had brought to Abraham news of his nephew Lot's
bondage, assuming that Abraham would surely hasten to his
kinsman's aid, be killed in battle, and thus enable Og to get
possession of the beautiful Sarah. God, however, leaves no man
unrewarded or unpunished. To reward him for hastening with
quick steps to advise Abraham of Lot's captivity, God granted him
life for five hundred years, but he was eventually killed because it
was only a wicked motive that had induced him to perform this
service for Abraham. He did not, as he had hoped, gain Sarah, but
was slain by her descendant Moses. [684]

The battle against Og took place in Edrei, the outskirts of which
Israel reached toward nightfall. On the following morning,
however, barely at gray dawn, Moses arose and prepared to attack
the city, but looking toward the city wall, he cried in amazement,
"Behold, in the night they have built up a new wall about the city!"
Moses did not see clearly in the misty morning, for there was no


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