Part 6 out of 7

wall, but only the giant Og who sat upon the wall with his feet
touching the ground below. [685] Considering Og's enormous
stature, Moses' mistake was pardonable, for as a grave-digger of
later times related, Og's thigh-bone alone measured more than
three parasangs. "Once," so records Abba Saul, "I hunted a stag
which fled into the thigh bone of a dead man. I pursued it and ran
along three parasangs of the thigh-bone, yet had not reached its
end." This thigh-bone, as was later established, was Og's. [686]

This giant never in all his days made use of a wooden chair or bed,
as these would have broken down beneath his weight, but sat upon
iron chairs and lay upon iron beds. He was not only of gigantic
build and strength, but of a breadth also that was completely out of
proportion even with his height, for his breadth was one half his
height, whereas the normal proportion of breadth to height is as
one to three. [687] In his youth Og had been a slave to Abraham,
who had received him as a gift from Nimrod, for Og is none other
than Eliezer, Abraham's steward. One day, when Abraham rebuked
him and shouted at him, Eliezer was so frightened that one of his
teeth fell out, and Abraham fashioned out of it a bed in which he
always slept. Og daily devoured a thousand oxen or an equal
number of other animals, and drank correspondingly, requiring
daily not less than a thousand measures of liquids. [688] He
remained in Abraham's service until Isaac's marriage, when
Abraham gave him his freedom as a reward for having undertaken
the labor of wooing Rebekah for his son, and of fetching her to his
house. God also rewarded him in this world, that this wicked wight
might not lay claim to a reward in the world to come. He therefore
made a king of him. [689] During his reign he founded sixty cities,
that he surrounded with high walls, the lowest of which was not
less than sixty miles in height. [690]

Moses now feared to wage war against Og, not only on account of
his giant strength and huge size, which Moses had now witnessed
with his own eyes, but he also thought: "I am only one hundred and
twenty years old, whereas he is more than five hundred. Surely he
could never have attained so great an age, had he not performed
meritorious deeds." [691] Moses also remembered that Og was the
only giant that had escaped the hand of Amraphel, and he
perceived in this a token of God's special favor toward Og. [692]
Moses feared, moreover, that Israel in the recent war against Sihon
might have committed sins, so that God would not now stand by
them. "The pious are always afraid of the consequences of sin, and
therefore do not rely upon the assurances God had made to them;"
hence Moses now feared to advance upon Og even though God
had promised him aid against his enemies. [693] God, however,
said to him: "What is thy hand, [694] his destruction has been
decreed since the moment when he looked with evil eyes upon
Jacob and his family when they arrived in Egypt." For even then
God had said to him: "O thou wicked knave, why dost thou look
upon them with all evil eye? Verily, thine eye shall burst, for thou
shalt fall into their hands." [695]

Og met his death in the following fashion. When he discovered
that Israel's camp was three parasangs in circumference, he said: "I
shall now tear up a mountain of three parasangs, and cast it upon
Israel's camp, and crush them." He did as he had planned, pulled
up a mountain of three parasangs, laid it upon his head, and came
marching in the direction of the Israelite camp, to hurl it upon
them. But what did God do? He caused ants to perforate the
mountain, so that is slipped from Og's head down upon his neck,
and when he attempted to shake it off, he teeth pushed out and
extended to left and right, and did not let the mountain pass, so
that he now stood there with the mountain, unable to throw it from
him. When Moses saw this, he took an axe twelve cubits long,
leaped ten cubits into the air, and dealt a blow to Og's ankle, which
caused the giant's death. [696]

This was the end of the last of the giants, who was not only last in
time, but also in significance, for despite his height and strength,
he was the most insignificant of the giants who perished in the
flood. [697]

With Og's death all his lands fell to the lot of the Israelites without
another sword's stroke, for God has so ordained it that al of Og's
warriors were with him at his encounter with Israel, and after
Israel had conquered these, only women and children remained in
all the land. Had Israel been obliged to advance upon every city
individually, they would never have finished, on account of the
number of the cities and the strength of the hosts of the Amorites.

Not alone Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, were such
giants and heroes, but all the Amorites. When Hadrian conquered
Jerusalem, he boasted of his victory, whereupon Rabba Johanan,
the son of Zakkai, said to hi: "Boast not of thy victory over
Jerusalem, for, had not God conquered it for thee, thou shouldst
never have gained it." He thereupon led Hadrian to a cave where
he showed him the corpses of the Amorites, each of which was
eighteen cubits, and said: "When we were worthy of victory, these
fell into our hands, but now, on account of our sins, dost thou rule
over us." [699]

The victory over Sihon and his hosts was as great as that over
Pharaoh and his hosts, and so was the victory over Og and his
hosts. Each of these victories was as important as that over the
thirty-one kings that Joshua later captured, and it would well have
behooved Israel to sing songs of praise to their Lord as after
Pharaoh's destruction. David later made good this omission, for he
intoned a song of praise in gratitude for the victory God had lent to
Israel over Sihon and Og. [700]

Without direct assistance from God these victories would not have
been possible, but He sent hornets upon them, and their destruction
was irrevocable. Two hornets pursued ever Amorite; one bit one
eye, the second the other eye, and the poison of these little
creatures consumed those bitten by them. [701] These hornets
remained on the east side of the Jordan, and did not pursue Israel's
march to the regions west of the Jordan, nevertheless they wrought
great havoc among the Canaanites of the region west of the Jordan.
The hornets stood on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and spat their
venom across to the opposite bank, so that the Canaanites that
were hit became blind and were disarmed. [702]

When God promised Moses to send an angel to Israel, he declined
the offer with the words: "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us
not up hence," whereupon God replied: "Thou complainest
because I desire to send only an angel to assist thee to conquer the
land. As truly as thou livest, I shall now send thee not even an
angel, but a hornet to destroy the enemies of Israel. It is, however,
for thy sake alone that I deliver the enemy into Israel's hands, and
not as if Israel deserved it through their own good deeds." [703]

Og's bed, fashioned out of ivory, that measured nine arms' length,
taking the giant's arm as a standard, [704] Og had preserved in the
Ammonite city Rabbah, for he knew that Israel would penetrate
neither to the land of the Ammonites nor of the Moabites, because
God had prohibited them from coming too close to Lot's
descendants. [705] He likewise forbade them to wage war with the
Edomites; in this way Esau, a son kind to his father Isaac, was
rewarded by not having his descendants, the Edomites, molested
by Israel. God said to Israel: "In this world ye shall have no sway
over the mountain Seir, Edom's realm, but in the future world,
when ye shall be released, then shall ye obtain possession of it.
Until then, however, beware of the sons of Esau, even when they
fear ye, much more so when ye shall dwell scattered among them."


As Abraham before his death spoke to his son Isaac, he to his son
Jacob, and Jacob in turn to his sons, words admonishing them to
walk in the ways of the Lord, so Moses also did not depart from
this world without previously calling Israel to account for their
sins, and admonishing them to observe the commandments of the
Lord. Moses' speech of admonition had a greater effect than the
revelation of the Decalogue upon Mount Sinai, for whereas Israel,
shortly after they had said on Sinai, "We shall do according as we
have heard," transgressed by worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses'
words of admonition had left a powerful impression upon them,
and he restored them to God and the Torah. God therefore said,
"As a reward to thee because thy words of exhortation have
brought Israel to follow Me, I shall designate these words as thine,
even though thou didst speak them only in execution of My

Moses did not, however, make his speech of exhortation to the
people until after the victory of Sihon and Og, for Moses thought:
"Were I to have called them to account before these victories, they
would have answered, 'He is trying to recall to us our sins because
he is unable to lead us into the promised land against Sihon and
Og, and he is seeking our sins as an excuse.'" But after Moses had
proven what he could do, he could safely venture to recall to the
people their sins. [707] He now assembled all classes of Israel, the
nobles as well as the common people, saying to them: "I will now
give you a severe rebuke for your sins, and if any one have
something to offer as an excuse, let him now advance it." In this
way he shut off the possibility of their saying later on, "Had we
heard the words of the son of Amram, we should have answered
each word fourfold and fivefold."

Moses now recounted the ten temptations with which they tempted
God: how at the Red Sea they had repented having followed Him,
and had even turned back three stations on the way to Egypt; how
even after the miracle that clove the Red sea for them, they had so
little faith in God as to say, "Just as at this spot we passed
unharmed through the Red Sea, so also did the Egyptians in
another part of it." At Marah and at Rephidim they tried God on
account of the dearth of water, and as they twice rebelled against
God on account of water, so also did they on account of manna.
They infringed upon the two laws God had given them in regard to
manna, storing it from one day to the next, and going to gather it
on the Sabbath, although God had strictly forbidden both. On
account of their lust for flesh also they twice transgressed,
murmuring for flesh at the same time as they received manna,
although manna completely satisfied their needs; and after God
had granted their wish and had sent them quails, they remains
content for a short time only, and then again demanded quails,
until God granted them that wish also. "But the worst of all,"
Moses told them, "was the worship of the Golden Calf. And not
only that, but again in Paran, misled by the spies, ye transgressed
in desiring to make an idol, and under its guidance to return to

Moses then pointed out to them that it was owing to their sin that
they had strayed about in the desert for forty years, for otherwise
God would have brought them to Palestine on the same day as He
had led them out of Egypt. He not only reproached Israel with the
sins they had committed against God, but also with the evil they
had worked Moses himself, mentioning how they had thrown their
infants into his lap, saying, "What food hast thou for these?" [708]
On this occasion it was evident how good and pious a nation was
that before Moses, for all the sins he enumerated to them had been
committed not by them, but by their fathers, all of whom had in
the meantime died, yet they were silent, and made no answer to
this severe reprimand their leader gave them. [709] Moses did not,
however, merely admonish the people to walk in the ways of the
Lord, but he said to Israel: "I am near to death, Whosoever hath
learned from me a verse, a chapter, or a law, let him come to me
and learn it anew," whereupon he repeated all the Torah, [710] and
that, too, in the seventy languages of the world, that not Israel
alone but all the heathen peoples, too, might hear the teachings of
God. [711]


"God allows nothing to stay unrewarded, not even a respectable
word remains without its reward." The older of Lot's two daughters
had called her son that was conceived in guilt, Moab, "by the
father," whereas the younger, for the sake of decency, called her
son Ammon, "son of my people," and she was rewarded for her
sense of propriety. For when Moses wanted to overrun the
descendants of Lot with war, God said to him: "My plans differ
from thine. Two doves shall spring from this nation, the Moabite
Ruth and the Ammonite Naomi, and for this reason must these two
nations be spared."

The treatment God bade Israel accord to these two nations was not,
however, uniform. In regard to Moab, God said, "Vex not Moab,
neither contend with them in battle," which portended that Israel
was not to wage war against the Moabites, but that they might rob
them or reduce them to servitude. In regard to the sons of Ammon,
on the other hand, God forbade Israel to show these descendants of
Lot's younger daughter even the slightest sign of hostility, or in any
way to alarm them, so that Israel did not even show themselves in
battle array to the Ammonites. [712]

Israel's hostile, though not warlike, attitude toward Moab inspired
these people and their kings with great fear, so much so that they
seemed to be strangers in their own land, fearing as they did that
they should have to fare like the Egyptians; for the Israelites had
come to Egypt as strangers, but had in time possessed themselves
of the land so that the Egyptians had to rent their dwelling-places
from them. Their fear was still further increased by their belief that
Israel would pay no attention to God's command to them not to
wage war against Lot's descendants. This assumption of theirs was
based on the fact the Israel had taken possession of the kingdoms
of Sihon and Og, even though these had originally been part of
Ammon's and Moab's possessions. [713] Heshbon, Sihon's capital
city, had formerly belonged to Moab; but the Amorites, thanks to
Balaam and his father Beor's support, had taken from Moab these
and some other regions. The Amorites had hired these two
sorcerers to curse Moab, with the result that the Moabites were
miserably defeated in the war against Sihon. "Woe to thee, Moab!
Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh!" These and similar
utterances were the ominous words that Balaam and his father
employed against Moab. [714] Chemosh was a black stone in the
form of a woman, that the Moabites worshipped as their god. [715]

As part of Moab passed into Sihon's possession so did a part of
Ammon fall into Og's hands, and because Israel had appropriated
these land, the Moabites feared they would filch from them all
their land. In great alarm they therefore gathered together in their
fastnesses, in which they knew themselves to be safe from Israel's
attacks. [716] Their fear was in reality quite without foundation,
for Israel never dreamed of transgressing God's command by
waging war upon Lot's descendants. They might without
compunction keep the former provinces of Moab and Ammon
because they took them not from these, but from Sihon and Og,
who had captured them. [717]

At this time the king of Moab was Balak, who was formerly a
vassal of Sihon, and in that capacity was known as Zur. After
Sihon's death he was chosen king, though he was not worthy of a
rank so high. Favored by fortune, he received royal dignity, a
position that his father had never filled. [718] Balak was a fitting
name for this king, for he set about destroying the people of Israel,
wherefore he was also called the son of Zippor, because he flew as
swiftly as a bird to curse Israel. [719] Balak was a great magician,
who employed for his sorcery the following instrument. He
constructed a bird with its feet, trunk, and head of gold, its mouth
of silver, and its wings of bronze, and for a tongue he supplied it
with the tongue of the bird Yadu'a. This bird was now placed by a
window where the sun shone by day and the moon by night, and
there it remained for seven days, throughout which burnt offerings
were offered before it, and ceremonies performed. At the end of
this week, the bird's tongue would begin to move, and if pricked by
a golden needle, would divulge great secrets. It was this bird that
had imparted to Balak all his occult lore. One day, however, a
flame that suddenly leaped up burned the wings of this bird, which
greatly alarmed Balak, for he thought that Israel's proximity had
destroyed his instrument of sorcery. [720]

The Moabites now perceiving that Israel conquered their enemies
by supernatural means said, "Their leader had been bred in Midian,
let us therefore inquire of the Midianites about his characteristics."
When the elders of Midian were consulted, they replied, "His
strength abides in his mouth." "Then," said the Moabites, "we shall
oppose to him a man whose strength lies in his mouth as well," and
the determined to call upon Balaam's support. The union of Moab
and Midian establishes the truth of the proverb: "Weasel and Cat
had a feast of rejoicing over the flesh of the unfortunate Dog." For
there had always been irreconcilable enmity between Moab and
Midian, but they united to bring ruin upon Israel, just as Weasel
and Cat had united to put an end to their common enemy Dog.


The man whom the Moabites and Midianites believed to be Moses'
peer was none other than Laban, Israel's arch-enemy, who in olden
days had wanted to root out entirely Jacob and all his family, [722]
and who had later on incited Pharaoh and Amalek against the
people of Israel to bring about their destruction. [723] Hence, too,
the name Balaam, "Devourer of Nations," for he was determined to
devour the nation of Israel. [724] Just at this time Balaam was at
the zenith of his power, for his curse had brought upon the
Moabites their defeat at the hands of Sihon, and his prophecy that
his compatriot Balak should wear the royal crown had just been
fulfilled, so that all the kings sent ambassadors to seek advice from
him. He had gradually developed from an interpreter of dreams to
a sorcerer, and had not attained the still greater dignity of prophet,
thus even surpassing his father, who had indeed been prophet too,
but not so notable a one as his son. [725]

God would permit the heathens to have no ground for exculpation,
for saying in the future world, "Thou hadst kept us far from Thee."
To them, as well as to Israel, he gave kings, sages, and prophets;
but whereas the former showed themselves worthy of their high
trust, the latter proved themselves unworthy of it. Both Solomon
and Nebuchadnezzar were rulers over all the world: the former
built the Temple and composed many hymns and prayers, the latter
destroyed the Temple and cursed and blasphemed the Lord, saying,
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the
Most High." Both David and Haman received great treasures from
God, but the former employed them to secure a site for God's
sanctuary, whereas the latter with his tried to destroy the whole
nation. Moses was Israel's prophet, and Balaam was prophet of the
heathens: but how great a contrast between these two! Moses
exhorted his people to keep from sin, whereas Balaam counseled
the nations to give up their moral course of life and to become
addicted to lewdness. Balaam was also different from the Israelite
prophet in his cruelty. They had such pity for the nations that
misfortune among the heathens caused them suffering and sorrow,
whereas Balaam was so cruel that he wanted to destroy an entire
nation without any cause.

Balaam's course of life and his actions show convincingly why
God withdrew from the heathen the gift of prophecy. [726] For
Balaam was the last of the heathen prophets. Shem had been the
first whom God had commissioned to communicate His words to
the heathens. This was after the flood, when God said to Shem:
'Shem, had My Torah existed among the previous ten generations,
I suppose I should not have destroyed the world by the flood. Go
now, announce to the nations of the earth My revelations, ask them
if they will not accept My Torah." Throughout four hundred years
did Shem go about as a prophet, but the nations of the earth did not
heed him. The prophets that labored after him among the heathens
were Job and his four friends, Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, and Elihu,
as well as Balaam, all of whom were descendants of Nahor,
Abraham's brother, from his union with Milcah. In order that the
heathens might not say, "Had we had a prophet like Moses, we
should have received the Torah," God gave them Balaam as a
prophet, who in no way was inferior to Moses either in wisdom or
in the gift of prophecy. Moses was indeed the greatest prophet
among the Israelites, but Balaam was his peer among the heathens.
But although Moses excelled the heathen prophet in that God
called him without any previous preparation, whereas the other
could obtain Divine revelations only through sacrifices, still
Balaam had one advantage over the Israelite prophet. Moses had to
pray to God "to shew him His ways," whereas Balaam was the man
who could declare of himself that he "knew the knowledge of the
Most High." But because, in spite of his high prophetic dignity,
Balaam had never done anything good or kind, but through his evil
tongue had almost destroyed all the world, God vowed a vow to
His people that He would never exchange them for any other
people or nation, and that He would never permit them to dwell in
any land other than Palestine. [727]


Balak now sent messengers to Balaam with the following message:
"Think not that I ask thy help against Israel exclusively in my own
interests, and that thou canst expect from me alone honor and
rewards for thy service, but rest assured that all nations will then
honor thee, that Canaanites as well as Egyptians will cast
themselves at thy feet when thou shalt have destroyed Israel. This
people that hath gone out of Egypt hath covered with earth Sihon
and Og, the eyes that guarded the whole land, and now they are
about to destroy us as well. They are not, indeed, greater heroes
than we, nor are their host more numerous than ours, but they
conquer as soon as they open their lips in prayer, and that we
cannot do. Try now to see if I may not gradually become their
master, so that I may at least lead a certain per cent of them to
destruction, be it only a twenty-fourth part of them."

Balak himself was even a greater magician and soothsayer than
Balaam, but he lacked the gift of properly grasping prophetic
observations. He knew through his sorcery that he was to be the
cause of the death of twenty-four thousand Israelites, but he did
not know in what way Israel was to suffer so great a loss, hence he
requested Balaam to curse Israel, hoping by this curse to be able to
restrain Israel from entering the Holy Land.

Balak's messengers to Balaam consisted of the elders of Moab and
Midian. The latter were themselves great magicians, and by their
art established the truth, that should Balaam obey Balak's
summons, their mission against Israel would be successful, but
should he hesitate even for a moment to follow them, nothing was
to be expected from him. When they now reached Balaam and he
bade them stay over night to await his answer, the elders of Midian
instantly returned, for they knew that they had now nothing to
expect from him. [728] They said: "Is there such a father as hates
his son? God is the father of Israel, He loves them. Shall He now,
owing to a curse from Balaam turn His love into hatred?" [729]
Indeed, had the matter depended on Balaam's wishes, he would
doubtless instantly have acquiesced and followed Balak's
summons, for he hated Israel more than Balak, and was much
pleased with the commission of the Moabite king. The elders that
Balak had sent had besides in their possession all needful
instruments of magic, so that Balaam might have no excuse for not
instantly following them, but Balaam had, of course, to bide his
time and first find out if God would permit him to go to Balak,
hence he bade the Moabite messengers stay over night, because
God never appears to heathen prophets save at night. As Balaam
expected, God appeared by night and asked Balaam, "Who are
these people with thee?"

Balaam was one of the three men whom God put to the test and
who miserably failed to pass it. When God appeared to Cain and
asked, "Where is Abel thy brother?" he tried to deceive God. He
should have replied, "Lord of the world! What is hidden and what
is open, both alike are known to Thee. Why then dost Thou inquire
after my brother?" But instead of this he replied, "I know not. Am I
my brother's keeper?" God therefore said to him: "Thou hast
spoken thin own sentence. The voice of thy brother's blood crieth
unto Me from the ground, and now cursed art thou." Hezekiah
acted like Cain when the messengers from the king of Babylon
came to him, and Isaiah the prophet asked him, "What said these
men? And from whence came they unto thee?" Hezekiah should
have answered, "Thou art a prophet of God, why dost thou ask
me?" But instead of giving this answer, he replied haughtily and
boastfully, "They are come from a far country unto me, even from
Babylon." On account of this haughty answer Isaiah announced to
the king this prophecy: "Behold, the days come, that all that is in
thine house shall be carried to Babylon; and of thy sons that shall
issue from thee, they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of

The scoundrel Balaam, too, should have made answer to God's
question, "What men are these with thee?" by saying, "Lord of the
world! Everything lies open before Thee, and nothing is hidden
from Thee, why then dost Thou ask me?" But he, on the other
hand, made quite a different answer and started to boast, saying to
God: "Although Thou dost not distinguish me, and dost not spread
my fame over the world, still the kings seek me: Balak, the king of
Moab, hath sent to ask me to curse Israel." Then God said,
"Because thou speakest thus, thou shalt not curse the people," and
added, "O thou wicked rascal! I said of Israel, He that toucheth
them, toucheth the apple of My eye,' and yet thou wishest to touch
them and curse them! Therefore shall thine eye be blinded." [730]
Thus Balaam became blind of one eye, as he had already been
lame of one foot. [731] Balaam now perceiving that God did not
wish him to curse Israel said, "If it be so, then I shall bless them."
God: "They have not need of thy blessing, for they are blessed."
God said to Balaam as one says to a bee: "Neither thy honey nor
thy sting."


On the following morning Balaam gave the elders of Moab his
answer, saying that he would not follow Balak's call, but not
betraying to them the truth, that God hat forbidden him to curse
Israel. He said instead, "God said to me, 'Go not with these men,
for that would be beneath thy dignity, but await nobler
ambassadors.'" [732] Balaam's plan was to insult Balak, so that he
should send no further messengers to him, and no one might
discover that he could accomplish nothing beyond the word of
God. His expectations, however, were disappointed. The
ambassadors in their turn, not quite painstaking in their
representation of the truth, told their king that Balaam considered
it beneath his dignity to appear in their escort, making no mention
of God, but speaking as if the refusal came simply and exclusively
from Balaam. [733]

Balak thereupon sent more honorable ambassadors to Balaam,
until he was at last obliged to admit that he could undertake
nothing against God's command. Even then, it is true, he did not
admit that his acceptance or refusal of Balak's invitation depended
entirely upon God, but declared that he could, if he wished, do as
he chose, but did not choose to transgress God's prohibition. In his
second embassy Balak promised Balaam more for his service than
he had offered him the first time. Balaam's answer was as follows:
"If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot
go beyond the word of the Lord my God." These words
characterize the man, who had three bad qualities: a jealous eye, a
haughty spirit, and a greedy soul. His jealousy was the reason why
he wanted to curse Israel, whom he envied for their good fortune;
in his haughtiness, he told the first messengers the falsehood that
God would not let him go with them because it would be beneath
his dignity; and his avarice was expressed in his answer to the
second embassy in which he not only surreptitiously mentioned
Balak's gold and silver, but spoke his mind by explaining to them
that their master could not adequately compensate him for his
service, saying, "If Balak were to hire hosts against Israel, his
success would still be doubtful, whereas he should be certain of
success if he hired me!"

He did not, however, give even the second embassy a decisive
answer, but said to them also, "I cannot go beyond the word of the
Lord my God, to do less or more. Now therefore I pray you, tarry
ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will speak
unto me more." These words of his held unconscious prophecies:
"I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord," was as much as to say
that he could not put the blessings of God to Israel to naught.
"Tarry ye also here this night," contained the prophecy that this
second embassy would be as much disappointed as the first, for
although Balaam accompanied the second messengers, still he had
no power to curse Israel, but only to bless them. Finally, the words,
"What the Lord will speak unto me more," held a prediction that
God would bestow even more benedictions upon the Israelites
through him.

"God permits man to go upon the way he chooses to go." When
God appeared to Balaam the first time he said to him, "Thou shalt
not go with them;" but when Balaam still did not relinquish his
desire to go to Balak, God would not interfere. Hence, at His
second appearance, God said to Balaam, "If the men be come to
call thee, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak
unto thee, that shalt thou do." [734]

"Audacity prevails even before God." Balaam's steadfast insistence
upon his wish wrested from God his consent to Balaam's journey
to Moab. [735] He warned him of its consequences, saying to him:
"I take no pleasure in the destruction of sinners, but if thou are
bound to go to thy destruction, do so! Whosoever leads righteous
men astray upon an evil way, will fall into the ditch of his own
digging!" Balaam was misled by God's behavior toward him, and
thus plunged into destruction. When God first appeared to him and
asked him, "What men are these with thee?" this blasphemer
thought: "God know them not. It seems clear that there are times
when He is not aware of what goes on, and I shall now be able to
do with His children as I wish." Balaam was misled by God
because he had with his words seduced to unchastity people who
had up to his time lived in purity. [736] God's apparent change of
decision, that first prohibited him from going to Balak, and then
permitted him to do so, completely bewildered him, so that he
thought, "God at first said to me, 'Go thou not with them,' but the
second time He said, 'Go with them.' So too will He change His
words, 'Curse them not,' into 'Curse them.'" Just as Balaam was
confused by God, so too were the magicians that Balak had sent to
him. At the first visit these had through their magic lore
established that he would accept Balak's invitation, but God made
him decline it; at the second time, on the other hand, they
established that he would not accept the invitation, and God made
him obey their summons. [737]


Balaam could hardly await the morning, rejoicing no less than
Balak's messengers at God's consent to his journey to Balak, and
still hoping that he might succeed in bringing disaster upon Israel.
In his haste to set out, he himself saddled his ass although he did
not lack servants, whereupon God said: "O thou villain, their
ancestor Abraham forestalled thee, for he too rose up early in the
morning and in person saddled his ass to lead Isaac to sacrifice in
fulfillment of the command that had reached him." [738]

The ass that Balaam took with him had been created on the sixth
day of the creation. He had received it as a gift from Jacob, that he
might not give evil counsel to Pharaoh concerning Jacob's
children. It was upon his advice, nevertheless, that Pharaoh forced
the Israelites to make bricks. [739] He took his two sons, Jannes
and Jambres, [740] for it behooves a noble man always to have at
least two companions upon any journey that he undertakes. [741]

Although God had now granted him permission to go on the
journey, still His wrath was kindled when he set out. God said,
"Behold, this man! He knows that I read each man's heart, and
knows also that he departeth only to curse Israel." [742] This
wickedness on his part had the result that even the Angel of Mercy
turned against him as an enemy, standing in his way. At first the
ass alone perceived the angel, and not Balaam, for God has so
arranged it that human beings may not perceive the angels that
surround them or else they would through terror lose their reason.
[743] The ass, on the other hand, instantly perceived the angel. He
at first stood in her way as she was in the middle of the road, so
that she could turn aside on both sides; then she perceived him
when the road narrowed, and she could turn to one side only; and
finally she reached a spot where there was no road at all to which
she could turn either on this side or on that. This was to teach
Balaam the following lesson: if he wished to curse Abraham's
children, he should have leeway on both sides, Ishmael's children
and Keturah's children; if he wanted to curse Isaac's children, one
side would still be open to him, Esau's children; but if he wanted
to curse Jacob's children, he should never bring it to pass, for they
are protected on both sides, on the one hand by Abraham and
Isaac, on the other by Jacob and Levi, while God watches over
them from above. "The wall on this side, and on that side," through
which place he had to pass, were furthermore to indicate to him
that he could not become master over Israel, who have in their
possession the tables of the law, "that were written on both their
sides." When the ass reached the wall that Jacob and Laban had
erected as a token that they "would never pass over it for harm,"
she thrust her feet against it, to punish him for having broken his
agreement with Jacob. [744]

Balaam, who had with blows attempted to make the ass walk
straight ahead, flew into a rage when she lay down altogether and
would not budge from the spot, so that he smote her all the more.
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and permitted her to
use speech, a gift that she had possessed ever since her creation,
but had not until then used. [745] She said, "What have I done unto
thee, that thou has smitten me these three times?" The first words
of the ass were so chosen as to call Balaam's attention to the
wickedness and uselessness of his undertaking against Israel;
"Three times" was to remind him that he wished to curse a nation
that "three times" in every year arranged pilgrimages to the Lord.
The ass's speech was altogether to serve as a warning to Balaam to
beware of his mouth, and not to curse Israel. The ass, through her
speaking, was to instruct him that the mouth and the tongue are in
God's hand.

Balaam answered the ass in the language in which she had
addressed him, in Hebrew, which he did not, however, speak
fluently. He said, "Because thou hast mocked me: I would there
were a sword in mine hand, for now I had killed thee." The ass
thereupon replied, "Thou canst not kill me save with a sword in thy
hand; how then wilt thou destroy an entire nation with thy mouth!"
Balaam was silent, knowing no reply. [746] The ass did not only
make him ridiculous in the eyes of the elders of Moab that
accompanied him, but she also exposed him as a liar. For when the
ambassadors asked him why he had not chosen a horse rather than
an ass for his journey, he answered that his saddle horse was in the
pasture. Then the ass interrupted him, saying, "Am not I thine ass
upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long?" Balaam: "I use thee
as a beast of burden, but not for the saddle." The ass: "Nay, upon
me has thou ridden since thine earliest day, and thou hast always
treated me with as much affection as a man treats his wife."
Balaam had now to admit that the ass had spoken the truth. [747]

Balak's princes were much amazed at this extraordinary miracle,
but the ass died the moment she had spoken what she had to say.
God did this for two reasons, firstly because He feared that the
heathens might worship this ass were she to stay alive; and
secondly because God wanted to spare Balaam the disgrace of
having people point to his ass and say, "This is she that worsted
Balaam." By this action it can be seen how highly God prizes the
honor or pious men, if He even sought to spare the honor of this
villain. It is out of consideration to mankind, also, that God has
closed the mouth of animals, for were they to speak, man could not
well use them for his service, since the ass, the most stupid of all
animals, when she spoke, confounded Balaam, the wisest of the


While all this was going on, Balaam still did not perceive that
God's angel stood before him. God meant to show him that in His
hand is not only the tongue of man, but his eye as well, so that as
long as He chooses, man will fail to see what is directly before his
nose. But God suddenly permitted Balaam to see the angel with a
sword drawn in his hand, and Balaam fell flat on his face. [748]
For, being uncircumcised, Balaam might not listen to the words of
God or of an angel, standing erect; hence, upon perceiving the
angel, who instantly began to address him, Balaam cast himself
upon the ground. [749] The sword in the angel's hand did not
signify that he meant to strike Balaam, for a breath from his mouth
would have sufficed to kill myriads, but it was to point out the
following truth to Balaam: "The mouth was given to Jacob, but to
Esau and to the other nations, the sword. Thou are about to change
thy profession, and to go out against Israel with his own weapon,
and therefore shalt thou find death through the sword that is thy
own weapon." [750]

The angel now said to Balaam: "If I have been commissioned to
demand restitution from thee for the injustice thou hast offered to
the ass, that can show neither meritorious deeds of her own nor of
her fathers, how much the more must I stand up as the avenger of
an entire nation, that have their own merits and can refer to the
merits of their fathers. But to return to the ass, why didst thou
smite her, that turned from the road only because she saw me and
was frightened?" Balaam was a shrewd sinner, for he knew that
Divine punishment could be averted only by penitence, and that
the angels have no power to touch a man who, after sinning, says,
"I have sinned." Hence he said to the angel, "I have sinned," but
added, "I did not set out until God said to me, 'Rise up, go with
them;' and now thou sayest to me, 'Return.' But this is the Lord's
way. Did He not also at first tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, and
then He caused an angel to call out to him, 'Lay not thine hand
upon the lad?' It is His custom first to give a command, and the
through an angel to recall it. So also did He indeed say to me, 'Go
with them;' but if it displeaseth thee, I shall turn back." [751] The
angel replied: "All that I have done was to thy advantage, but if
thou are bound to plunge into destruction, do so, go with these
people, but destruction is decreed for all of you. Think not,
however, that thou shalt do as thou wilt, for thou shalt have to say
what I desire thee to speak, and to restrain what I wish to remain

In spite of the warnings he had received from God and the angel,
he was not to be restrained from taking this fatal step, but in his
hatred toward Israel still cherished the hope that he should succeed
in obtaining God's consent to curse Israel, and he continued his
journey in this happy expectation. [752]


Whensoever God wished to humble an evil-doer, He at first exalts
him, to fill him with pride. So too He humbled Balaam after
exalting him, for at first Balak had sent princes of little distinction
to him, whereupon God said to him, "Thou shalt not go with
them." When, however, he sent many renowned princes to him,
God said to Balaam, "Go with them," but this journey brought him
nothing but humiliation and ruin, for he fared in accordance with
the proverb, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit
before a fall." God does this so that men might not say, "Whom
hath God destroyed? Surely not that insignificant person," hence
God exalts sinners before their fall. [753]

When Balaam approached the Moabite boundaries, he sent
messengers to Balak to announce his arrival, and Balak went forth
to his country's border to meet him. Pointing to the boundary lines,
Balak said to Balaam: "These have been fixed since Noah's days,
that no nation might push into the realm of another, but Israel set
out to destroy the boundaries, as their attitude toward Sihon and
Og shows, into whose kingdoms they entered." [754] He then
greeted him with the words: "Did I not twice sent unto thee to call
thee? Wherefore camest not thou unto me? Am I not able indeed to
promote thee to honor?" Balak unconsciously uttered a prophecy,
for in truth Balaam went hence in disgrace and dishonor, and not
covered with glory, as he could not fulfil the other's wish to curse
Israel. [755] It should now have been Balaam's duty, had he really
desired to be of service to the king of Moab, to say to him, "Why
dost thou attempt to do what will bring thee misfortune, and
finally utter ruin?" But he spoke quite differently instead,
boastfully bragging with his gift of prophecy, pointing out that he
was the last prophet among the heathens. "And," continued he, "I,
the last prophet among the heathens, shall thus counsel thee. The
ancestor of that nation erected to God an altar upon which, thrice
annually, he offered up seven oxen and seven rams; do thou, then,
erect seven altars, and offer up on each seven oxens and seven
rams." God laughed when he heard this counsel, saying: "Every
beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I
know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the
field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world
is Mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or
drink the blood of goats?" [756]

Balak led his guest from the border-line to the interior of the land,
taking pains to show him great multitudes of the people, having
bazaars erected for that purpose. Pointing to these multitudes,
among which there were also may children, Balak said, "Look
thou, how Israel plan to destroy these multitudes of people that
have done them no injury."

Balak slew for Balaam's welcome one ox and one sheep, proving
the proverb, "The pious promise little and do much, the wicked
promise much and do little." Balak had sent word to Balaam,
saying, "I will promote thee unto very great honor;" yet when he
arrived, he offered him for food only one ox and one sheep.
Suppressing his rage, Balaam thought, "Is that all that he offers
me! He will have to pay for this to-morrow," for he instantly
determined to have him offer up many sacrifices on the following
day to punish him for having treated him in so niggardly a fashion.


On the following morning Balak took Balaam and brought him
upon into the high places of Baal. For Balak was even a greater
magician and soothsayer than Balaam, who allowed himself like a
blind man to be led by him. He led him to this spot because
through his magic lore he knew that Israel was to suffer a great
misfortune upon the heights of Baalpeor, and he thought it was to
be Balaam's curse that would effect this disaster upon them. The
relation of these two men to each other was like that between two
men, one of whom has a knife in his hand, but does not know what
part of the body to strike for slaughter, and the other knows the
part of the body, but has no knife. Balak knew the place where
disaster awaited Israel, but did not know how it was to be brought
about, whereas Balaam knew how evil is conjured up, but did not
know the places set for disaster, to which Balak had to lead him.
[757] Balaam's superiority over Balak and the other magicians lay
in this, that he could accurately determine the moment in which
God is wrathful, and it was for this reason that his curse was
always effective because he knew how to curse at the very instant
of God's anger. It is true that God is angry for one instant every
day, to wit, during the third hour of the day, when the kings with
crowns upon their head worship the sun, but this moment is of
infinitesimally short duration. Fully eighty-five thousand and
eighty-eight such moments make an hour, so that no mortal save
Balaam had ever been able to fix that moment, although this point
of time has its outward manifestations in nature, for while it lasts,
the cock's comb becomes absolutely white, without even the
smallest stripe of red. God's love for Israel, however, is so great
that during the time that Balaam prepared to curse Israel, He did
not wax angry at all, so that Balaam waited in vain for the moment
of wrath. [758]

Balaam now tried to obtain God's consent for Israel's curse through
sacrifices, and hence bade Balak erect seven altars upon the high
place of Baal, corresponding to the seven altars that since Adam
had been erected by seven pious men, to wit: Adam, Abel, Noah,
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. When the altars had been
erected, he said to God: "Why didst Thou favor these people, if not
for the sacrificed that they offered Thee? Were it not better for
Thee to be adored by seventy nations than by one?" But the Holy
Spirit answered, "'Better is a dry morsel and quietness therewith,
than an house full of sacrifices and strife.' Dearer to Me is a dry
offering of meal than all these many flesh offerings by which thou
strivest to stir up strife between Me and Israel."

Now was Balaam's fate decided, for by his conduct he put himself
into direct opposition to God, and hence his destruction was
decreed, [759] and from that moment the holy spirit of prophecy
left him and he was nothing more than a magician. For Israel's
sake, however, God granted him the honor of His revelation, but
He did so grudgingly, as one loathes to touch an unclean thing.
Hence He would not permit Balaam to come to Him, but rather
appeared to Balaam. God's different treatment of Balaam and of
Moses at the revelation is evident, for whereas the latter betook
himself to the sanctuary to hear God's words, the former received
God's revelation at any place whatsoever. It characterizes God's
attitude toward them. Two men once knocked at a magnate's door,
the one being a friend, who had a request to make, and the other a
leprous beggar. The magnate said, "Let my friend enter, but I shall
send the beggar's alms to the door, that he may not enter and
pollute my palace." God called Moses to Him, whereas He did not
desire Balaam to come to Him, but betook Himself there. [760]

He found Balaam at the seven altars that he had erected, and said
to him, "What doest thou here?" whereupon Balaam answered, "I
have erected for Thee as many altars as the three fathers of Israel,
and I have offered upon them bullocks and rams." God, however,
said to him: "'Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a
stalled ox and hatred therewith.' Pleasanter to Me is the meal of
unleavened bread and herbs that the Israelites took in Egypt, than
the bullocks that thou offerest out of enmity. O thou knave, if I
wished for offerings, I should order Michael and Gabriel to bring
them to Me, thou are mistaken if thou believest that I should
accept offerings from the nations of the world, for I have vowed a
vow to accept such from Israel alone." [761] God thereupon
handed him over to an angel who entered and settled in his throat,
and would not permit Balaam to speak when he wanted to curse
Israel. [762]


Balaam now turned back to Balak, who awaited him with his
princes. He now wanted to begin to curse Israel, but his mouth, far
from being able to utter the words, was on the contrary compelled
to praise and bless Israel. [763] He said: "I found myself upon the
high places, in company with the Patriarchs, and thou, Balak, hast
cast me down from the heights; through thee did I lose the gift of
prophecy. Both of us are ungrateful men if we wish to undertake
evil against Israel, for, had it not been for their father Abraham, for
whose sake God saved Lot out of the ruin of the cities, there
should not be no Balak, for thou are one of Lot's descendants. And
had it not been for Jacob, I, Laban's descendant, should not now be
on earth, for no sons were born unto Laban until after Jacob had
come into his house. [764] Thou didst bring me out of Aram to
curse Israel, but it was this land that their father Abraham left,
laden with blessings, and it was this land also that their father
Jacob entered, laden with blessings. Shall now a curse come upon
them from this land? [765] How can I curse them if he that curseth
them bringeth a curse upon himself? Thou, moreover, wishest me
even to curse Jacob. Hadst thou urged me to curse a nation that
were only the descendants of Abraham or of Isaac, I might have
been able to do so; but to curse Jacob's descendants is as bad as if
a man were to come to a king and say to him, 'The crown that thou
wearest upon thy head is worthless.' Would such a man be
permitted to live? 'The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot
of His inheritance.' 'In Israel,' said the Lord, 'will I be glorified.'
How now should I curse them? How shall I curse whom God hath
not cursed? Even when they have been worthy of a curse, they
have not been cursed. When Jacob went in to receive the blessings,
he went in through craft and said to his father, 'I am Esau, thy
firstborn.' Doth not he deserve a curse out of whose mouth issueth
a lie? Yet, far from being cursed, he was even blessed. Ordinarily a
legion that stirs up sedition against their king is declared guilty by
death, but Israel had denied God, saying, 'These be thy gods, O
Israel.' Should they not then have been destroyed? God, however,
did not even at that moment withdraw from them His love, but left
to them the clouds of glory, manna, and the well, even after they
had adored the Calf. Howsoever often they sinned and God
threatened them with a curse, still He did not say that He would
bring it upon them, whereas in His promises of blessings He
always tells them that He Himself would send them upon Israel.
How shall I curse when God doth not curse! [766]

"Israel is a nation of whom God thought even before the creation
of the world. It is the rock upon which the world is founded. For,
when God was considering the scheme of the creation, He thought,
'How can I create the world if the idolatrous generation of Enosh
and the generation of the flood will arouse My anger?' He was
about to desist from the creation of the world, when He saw before
Him Abraham's form, and He said, 'Now I have a rock upon which
I can build, one upon which I can found the world.' [767] How,
too, should I curse this nation that are protected and surrounded by
the merits of the Patriarchs and the wives of the Patriarchs as if by
lofty mountains and steep hills, so that if Israel sin, God forgives
them as soon as Moses prays to Him to be mindful of the
Patriarchs! [768]

"I was in error when I believed Israel could be easily attacked, but
now I know that they have taken deep root in the earth, and cannot
be uprooted. God forgives them many sins out of consideration for
their having preserved the token of the Abrahamic covenant; and
as powerless as I am to curse them alone, just as powerless am I to
curse them together with another nation, for 'it is a people that
shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.'
Israel is distinguished from all other nations by their custom, by
their food, by the token of the covenant upon their bodies, and by
the token upon their doorposts, wherefore God doth not judge
them at the same time with other nations, for He judges the latter
in the darkness of the night, but the former in bright daylight.
Israel is a separate people, alone they enjoy the blessings God
gives them, no other nation rejoices with Israel. So too in the
Messianic time Israel will quite alone rejoice in delights and
pleasures, whereas in the present world it may also partake of the
universal welfare of the nations. [769]

"I am not able to accomplish anything against a nation that
zealously fulfils God's commandments, and that owes its existence
to the devotion with which the wives of the Patriarchs obeyed the
commandments of God. [770] 'Let me die the death of the
righteous, and let my last end be like his!'" Balaam in these words
spoke an unconscious prophecy, to wit, that he should be entitled
to participate in the fate of the righteous, to his share in the future
world, if he died the death of the righteous, a natural death, but not
otherwise. He died, however, a violent death, and thus lost his
share in the future world. [771]


When Balak saw that Balaam, instead of cursing, praised and
exalted Israel, he led him to the top of Pisgah, hoping that he
might there succeed in cursing Israel. By means of his sorcery,
Balak had discovered that Pisgah was to be a place of misfortune
for Israel, hence he thought the Balaam would there utter his curse
against Israel. He was, however, mistaken; the disaster that there
awaited Israel was the death of their leader Moses, who died there,
and God refused to grant Balaam's wish on this spot also.

God indeed appeared to Balaam, but what He said to him was: "Go
again unto Balak, and bless Israel." Balaam now did not wish to
return to Balak at all, to disappoint him a second time, but God
compelled him to return to Balak and communicate to him the
blessings of Israel. Balaam now turned back to Balak, whom he
found standing by his burnt offering. But whereas on the first
occasion the king had awaited Balaam, surrounded by all his
princes, Balaam now saw only a few notables surrounding Balak.
Most of the princes had deserted their king without awaiting
Balaam, for they expected nothing further from him after the first
disappointment he had caused them. Balak as well did not now
receive him as kindly, but mockingly asked, "What hath the Lord
spoken?" hinting in this way that Balaam was unable to say what
he wished, but only what God willed.

Balaam replied to these scornful words of Balak: "Rise up, Balak.
Thou mayest not be seated when God's words are spoken. God is
not like a man of flesh and blood, that makes friends and disowns
them, as soon as he finds such as are better than they. God is not
so, for He doth not cancel the vow He had made to the Patriarchs,
for He promised to bestow Canaan upon their descendants, and He
fulfilleth His promise. He always fulfils what He hath promised to
Israel, but allows the evil with which He threatens them to be
unfulfilled as soon as they repent them of their sins. God sees not
their sins, but He seeth their good deeds. Thou, Balak, sayest to
me, 'Come, curse Jacob for me,' but a thief can enter a vineyard
that hath a keeper only if the keeper sleeps, but 'He that keepeth
Israel neither sleepeth nor slumbereth,' and how then can I enter
their vineyard? If, however, thou dost think that I cannot harm
Israel on account of Moses, who is their keeper, know then that his
successor will be as invincible as he, for through the sound of
trumpets he will overthrow the walls of Jericho.

"Thou, Balak, furthermore sayest, 'A people hath gone forth out of
Egypt,' but they have not only gone forth, 'God brought them forth
out of Egypt,' [772] who combines in Himself the powers of the
angels and of the invisible demons. [773] Swift as the flight of a
bird doth fortune as well as misfortune come upon Israel; if they
sin, God suddenly plunges them down, but if they act well in the
sight of the Lord, God exalts them as quickly as a cloud. Thou,
Balak, hast repeatedly tried to discover in what spot thou shouldst
be able to work them woe, but they will have nothing to do with
sorceries, they baffle and put to naught the sorceries and
prophecies of other nations by their pious deeds. When they set
forth into battle, they practice no magic, but the high priest, clad in
the Urim and Tummin, consults God about the outcome of the
battle. There will even be a time when Israel will sit before the
Lord like a pupil before his master, and will receive the revelation
of the secrets of the Torah from him, so that even the angels will
consult Israel concerning the secrets revealed to them by God, for
the angels are not permitted to approach God as closely as the
Israelites in the Messianic time.

"There is not indeed upon the earth a nation like Israel. The last
thing they do before going to sleep is to devote themselves to the
study of the Torah and the fulfillment of its laws, and this also is
their first occupation upon awakening. As soon as they arise, they
recite the Shema' and adore God, and not until after they have done
this, do they go about their business. If evil spirits come to attack
them, or if disaster threatens them, they worship their God, and as
soon as they utter the words, 'The Lord our God is one Lord,' the
harmful spirits become powerless against them and whisper after
them the words, 'Praised be the Name of the Glory of His
Kingdom, for ever and ever.' When at night they retire, they
against recite the Shema', whereupon the angels of the day pass on
the trust of guarding them to the angels of night, and when, upon
awakening they again worship their Lord, the angels of the night
again pass them on to be guarded by the angels of day." [774]

When Balak for the second time saw that Balaam, instead of
cursing, blessed Israel, he brought him to the top of Peor, thinking
that peradventure it would please God to have him curse them
from thence. For by his sorcery Balak had discovered that a great
disaster was to fall upon Israel on the top of Peor, and thought that
this disaster might be their curse from Balaam. He was, however,
mistaken in this supposition, for the disaster in that spot was none
other than Israel's sin with the daughters of Moab, and God's
punishment for this. [775]


Balaam, on the other hand, made no further attempts to induce
God to curse Israel, but thought he might be able to bring
misfortune upon Israel by enumerating the sins they had
committed in the desert, and in this way to conjure up God's wrath
against them. But the desert had also been the place where Israel
had accepted the Torah, hence the mention of the desert called up
God's love instead of His wrath. [776] Balaam himself, when he let
his eyes wander over the camp of Israel, and perceived how their
tents were so pitched that no one might see what was going on in
the homes of the others, found himself compelled to burst into
praises of Israel; [777] and, under the inspiration of the prophetic
spirit, the curses he had intended to speak were changed in his
mouth into blessings, and he spoke of the extent and importance of
the kingdom of Israel. [778] But whereas Moses blessed his people
in a low, quiet voice, Balaam spoke his words of blessing in a very
loud voice, so that all the other nations might hear and out of envy
make war upon Israel. Balaam's blessings were therefore
accounted to him not as blessings, but as curses. God said: "I have
promised Abraham, 'And I will bless them that bless thee, and him
that curseth thee will I curse,' hence will I account Balaam's
blessings as curses." [779] And indeed all of Balaam's blessing
later turned to curses, except his blessing that houses of teaching
and of prayer should never be missing among Israel. [780]

The words that Balaam announced were heard by all the
inhabitants of the earth, such power did God lend to his voice, for
He knew that at some future time there would be a man born of
woman who would pass himself for a god and would mislead all
the world. Hence God permitted all the world to hear Balaam's
words, that said: "God is not a man, and the man that passeth
himself for God lieth. But he that will mislead the world by
declaring that he will disappear for a time and then reappear will
promise what he can never fulfil. Woe then to that nation that will
lend ear to the man who will pass himself for God." [781] Balaam
furthermore announced the events that would come to pass at the
time of David's sovereignty; and also what will happen at the end
of days, in the time of Messiah, when Rome and all other nations
will be destroyed by Israel, excepting only the descendants of
Jethro, who will participate in Israel's joy and sorrows. [782] Yea,
the Kenites are to be the ones to announce to Israel the arrival of
the Messiah, and the sons of the Kenite Jonadab are to be the first
at the time of the Messiah to bring offerings at the Temple and to
announce to Jerusalem its deliverance. [783] This was Balaam's
last prophecy. After this, the prophetic spirit left Balaam, and God
in this way granted Moses' wish to reserve the gift of prophecy as a
special distinction to Israel. Balaam was the last prophet of the
nations. [784]


Although Balaam had not been able to fulfil Balak's wish and
curse Israel, still he did not leave him before giving him advice as
to how he might bring ruin to Israel, saying: "The God of this
people loathes unchastity; but they are very eager to possess linen
garments. Pitch tents, then, and at their entrances have old women
offer these articles for sale. Induce them in this way to enter the
interior of the tents where they will be surprised by young harlots,
who will seduce them to unchastity, so that God may punish them
for their sin." [785]

"Throw the stick up in the air it will always return to its original
place." The Moabite nation that owes its existence to the illegal
relations of Lot with his daughter could not deny its origin, and
followed Balaam's counsel to tempt Israel to unchastity. They
pitched tents, filled them with pretty women, whom they provided
with valuable things, and had old women take up their posts at the
doors of the tents, whose task it was to lure the passing Israelites
into the interior. If an Israelite passed to buy something of the
Moabites, the old women at the entrance to the tent would thus
address him, "Dost thou not wish to buy linen garments that were
made in Bet-Shan?" Then they would show him a sample of the
goods, and name the price, and finally add, "Go within, and thou
wilt see wares still more beautiful." If he went within, he was
received by a young woman who was richly adorned and
perfumed, who would at first set for him a price much lower than
the value of the goods, and then invite him to do as if he were at
home, and to choose the article he liked best. While he sat there,
he was treated with wine, and the young woman invited him to
drink with the words: "Why do we love ye while you hate us? Are
we not all descendants of one man? Was not Terah our ancestor as
much as yours? If thou wilt not eat of our sacrifices or what we
have cooked, here are calves and fowl that thou mayest slaughter
in accordance with thy law." But as soon as the Israelite had
allowed himself to be persuaded to drink, he was absolutely in the
hands of the shameless woman. Intoxicated with wine, his passion
for the woman was soon kindled, but she agreed to satisfy his
desires only after he had first worshipped Peor, the god of the
Moabites. Now the worship of this idol consisted in nothing else
than the complete baring of the body, hence the Israelites, seeing
no evil in it, declared themselves willing to follow the summons of
the Moabite women; and in this way they were seduced both to
unchastity and to idolatry by the Moabite women. At first the men
were ashamed and committed this whoredom with the Moabite
women in secret, but they soon lost this feeling of shame and
betook themselves two by two to their lewd actions. [786]

Israel's moral degeneration is to be partly explained by this, that
the place where they found themselves was apt to tempt them to
lewdness. For there are springs whose waters have various effects
upon those who partake of them. One kind of water strengthens,
another weakens; one makes beautiful, another makes ugly; one
makes chaste, another brings about lewdness. Now there was in
Shittim, where the Israelites then dwelt, the "Well of Lewdness,"
out of which the inhabitants of Sodom had erstwhile fetched water,
but from which, since the destruction of the sinful cities, no one
had drunk, and for this reason the people had until then been
chaste. But Israel, as soon as they tasted of this water, gave up
their chaste manner of life. This disastrous spring will lose its
force only in the Messianic time when God will cause it to dry up.


When the people's shamelessness became more and more
widespread, God commanded Moses to appoint judges to punish
the sinners, and as it was difficult to discover these through the
agency of witnesses, God marked them by causing the cloud of
glory that lay spread over the camp of Israel to disappear from the
sinners. Those that were not covered by the cloud of glory were
thus clearly marked as sinners. [788] God appointed as judges and
executioners the seven myriads eight thousand six hundred officers
of the people, giving them the order that each of them execute two
sinners. [789] These carried out Moses' command and stoned the
sinners, whose corpses then hung upon the gallows for a few
minutes. This was the legal punishment, for these sinners had not
only committed whoredom with the women of Moab, but had
worshipped the Moabit idol Peor; and idolatry is punishable with
death by stoning. [790]

While the judges administered their stern offices, the tribe of
Simeon approached their prince, Zimri, and said to him, "People
are being executed, and thou sittest still as if nothing were going
on." He thereupon took with him twenty-four thousand men, and
betook himself to Cozbi, Balak's daughter, and without considering
God or men, he requested her in the presence of many people to
yield herself to him, to satisfy his evil desires. Now Balak had
ordered his daughter Cozbi to employ her beauty only for the sake
of enticing Moses, thinking, "Whatever evil may be decreed by
God against Israel, Moses will be brought to naught, but if my
daughter should succeed in seducing him to sin, then all Israel will
be in my hand." Hence Cozbi said to Zimri: "My father ordered me
to be obedient to the wishes of Moses alone, and to none other; for
he is a king, and so is my father, and a king's daughter is fit for
none but a king." Zimri, however, replied: "I am a greater man the
Moses, for he is chief only of the third tribe of Israel, whereas I am
prince of the tribe of Simeon, the second of the Israelite tribes, and
if thou wilt, I will convince thee that I am a greater man than
Moses, for I will take thee to myself in his presence, without
paying attention to his prohibition."

Zimri then seized Cozbi by the locks of her hair, and brought her
before Moses, whom he then addressed as follows: "Tell me, son
of Amram, is this woman permitted me, or is she forbidden me?"
Moses said, "She is forbidden to thee." Zimri answered: "Art thou
really the faithful expounder of the Torah, whose reliability God
praised with the words, 'He is faithful in all Mine house?' How
then canst thou assert that she is forbidden me, for then thy wife
would be forbidden to thee, for she is a Midianite like this woman,
and this one is a noble woman of a noble family, whereas thy wife
is the daughter of an idolatrous priest." At those words, Moses,
Eleazar, and the elders began to weep, for they knew not how to
make answer to Zimri's insolent words, nor what they could do to
restrain this sinner from the accomplishment of his sin. God said
to Moses: "Where is thy wisdom? Thou didst need to utter only
one word, and Korah and all his company were swallowed by the
earth. Canst thou now do nothing better than to weep?" The Holy
Spirit exclaimed at Moses' perplexity and silence, "The
stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep." [791]

God, who calls the pious to strict account, punished Moses for the
lack of decision that he displayed on this occasion, by leaving his
burial-place unknown to mankind. [792] While Moses and other
pious men were irresolute and deliberated whether or not Zimri
deserved death, Phinehas said to Moses: "O my great-uncle, didst
thou not teach me, when thou didst return from Mount Sinai, that
is was the zealot's task for the sake of God's law to slay those who
commit unchastity with non-Jewish women?" Phinehas took the
liberty of pointing out the law to his teacher Moses who had
forgotten it, because, "when God's name is profaned, no man
should consider the respect due to a teacher," wherefore Phinehas
thought now only of establishing God's law, and in doing this it
was necessary to recall it to Moses' mind. Moses indeed did not
take it all amiss, but said to Phinehas, "Let the reader of the letter
be its bearer also," words by which he called upon Phinehas
himself to visit punishment upon the sinners. [793]

Phinehas was now for a time in doubt whether he should dare to
punish the sinners, for it was to be expected that he would
eventually meet his death in this way, being one against two, Zimri
and his mistress Cozbi. When, however, the plague that God had
sent upon Israel on account of their sins spread more and more
rapidly, Phinehas determined to risk his life in trying to kill the
sinners. "For," said he to himself, "the horse goes willingly into
battle, and is ready to be slain only to be of service to its master.
How much more does it behoove me to expose myself to death in
order to sanctify God's name!" [794] He found himself all the more
impelled to act thus because he could not well leave the
punishment of the sinners to others. He said: "The tribe of Reuben
can effect nothing in this instance, because their grandsire Reuben
was himself suspected of an unchaste action; nothing is to be
expected from the tribe of Simeon, for it follows the sinful
example of its prince Zimri; the tribe of Judah cannot well be of
use in this matter, because their grandsire Judah committed
unchastity with his daughter-in-law Tamar; Moses himself is
doomed to impotence because his wife Zipporah is a Midianite
woman. Hence there remains nothing but for me to interpose."


Phinehas now, prepared at the risk of his own life to punish Zimri
for his sin, left the house of teaching where he had until now
debated the case of Zimri with Moses and all other pious men, and
had himself provided with a lance, having none with him because
no armed man may enter a house of teaching. That his weapon
might not betray him, he detached the upper iron part of the lance
and hid it in his bosom, and leaned upon the wooden shaft as if it
were a staff. [796] When he reached the house where Zimri and
Cozbi were giving extravagant play to their passions, the people
said to him, "Whence, Phinehas, and whither?" He replied, "Do ye
not know that the tribe of Levi is always to be found where the
tribe of Simeon is?" Then they permitted him to enter the house,
but said, "It seems that even the Pharisees now permit intercourse
with the heathen women." When Phinehas had entered, he drew
his lance, "and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and
the woman through her belly." [797]

Phinehas's fear that these two might attack him was not realized,
for God performed no less than twelve miracles for Phinehas,
which not only made it impossible for the sinners to attack him,
but also showed the people that his action found favor in the sight
of the Lord. The first miracle was that an angel would not allow
the sinful couple to separate when Phinehas surprised them; the
second miracle was that the angel stopped their mouths so that
they could not cry out for help; the third miracle was that
Phinehas's lance struck the man's and the woman's pudenda; the
fourth miracle was that the upper, iron part of the lance extended,
so that Phinehas could at one thrust pierce the man as well as the
woman; the fifth miracle was that Phinehas's arm was sufficiently
strong to lift both upon the point of his lance; the sixth miracle
was that the wooden shaft of the lance sustained the weight of two
persons; the seventh miracle was that the two bodies remained
poised upon the lance and did not fall off; the eighth miracle was
that the angel turned the shameless pair around, so that all might
see that Phinehas had surprised them in flagranti; the ninth miracle
was that no blood flowed from them although they had been thrust
through, or else Phinehas would have been polluted; the tenth
miracle was that the shameless couple did not give up the ghost so
long as Phinehas bore them upon the point of his lance, as he
would otherwise have been polluted by their corpses; the eleventh
miracle was that the angel raised the doorposts of the room so that
Phinehas might pass through with the sinners upon the point of his
lance, and the twelfth miracle was that when the tribe of Simeon
prepared to avenge Prince Zimri's death upon Phinehas, the angel
sent a plague upon them, so that they were impotent against him.

Phinehas was not, however, content with having punished the
sinners, but tried also to reconcile God with Israel. He threw the
two dead bodies upon the ground, saying to God, "Why, alas! Hast
Thou on account of the sins of these two slain twenty-four
thousand Israelites!" For this was the number that had been
snatched away by the plague that God had sent upon Israel for
their sins. The angels now wanted to plunge Phinehas into death
for his bold words, but God bade them desist, saying, "Leave him
in peace, he is a zealot, the son of a zealot, and an appeaser of
wrath, the son of an appeaser of wrath." [799]


While God expressed His entire satisfaction with Phinehas's act, if
found many adversaries among Israel, who would scornfully call
after him, "Behold, this man, the grandson of one who fattened
calves to offer them up to an idol, daring to slay a prince among
Israel!" This spiteful remark referred to the fact that Phinehas was
descended on his mother's side not only from Joseph, but from
Jethro also who, before his conversion to Judaism, had been a
priest of idols. God therefore said to Moses, "Phinehas the son of
Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hast turned My wrath away
from the children of Israel, hence I offer him My greeting of peace,
for it was he who, zealous for My sake, preserved the seed of
Abraham." The reason God designated Phinehas as the son of
Eleazar and the grandson of Aaron was that He wanted to stop the
mouths of Phinehas's detractors, who pretended that he was
nothing but a grandson of the heathen priest Jethro, ignoring the
fact that he was at the same time the grandson of Aaron, the high
priest before the Lord. [800]
God was not content with the greeting of peace, but bade Moses
tell Phinehas: "With thy mouth hast thou defended Israel, therefore
as thy priest's portion shalt thou receive the jawbone of animals;
with thy lance didst thou aim at the bellies of the shameless
couple, hence shalt thou receive the bellies of the animals; and as
with thy arm thou didst labor to slay the sinners, so for thy portion
shalt thou receive the shoulder of the animals. As, moreover, thou
didst strive to make peace among mankind, so shalt thou bestow
the priestly blessing upon My children, and bless them with
peace." [801] As a reward for his pious deed Phinehas was
appointed by God as a priest with all the rights of priesthood, that
enabled him to lay claim to the twenty-four tributes to priests.

But the highest reward to Phinehas was that God granted him
everlasting priesthood. For Phinehas is none other than the prophet
of Elijah. His task it is to make atonement for Israel, and without
tasting of death, he constantly discharges the duties of his
everlasting priesthood until the resurrection of the dead, offering
up daily two sacrifices for the children of Israel, and upon the
skins of these animals recording the events of each day. [803] God
furthermore said to Phinehas: "Thou hast in this world established
peace between Me and Israel; in the future world also shalt thou
establish peace between Me and them." He was therefore destined
to be the forerunner of the Messiah to establish before his coming
peace on earth. [804]

When Israel addicted themselves to an immoral life at shittim, the
nations of the world rejoiced greatly, for they knew that God had
distinguished Israel before all other nations, and had given them
the Torah, only because their life had been moral. "Now," said
they, "the crown has been taken from Israel's head, their pride is
departed, for now they are no better then we." God, however,
raised up Israel from their fall by sending the plague upon the
sinners at Shittim, and thus purified Israel from them, so that they
could again, as of yore, be proud of their family purity, through
which they had been distinguished from all other nations.

God therefore ordered them to take a census, to show in this way
that Israel remained true to the traditions of their ancestor
Abraham by keeping their family life pure. [805] This census
showed that several tribes had lost entire divisions since the time
that passed between the entrance of Israel into Egypt, and their
entrance into the promised land. Among the tribes that had
perished were such as had already lost their lives in Egypt, those,
namely, who had died during the days of darkness because they
were such sinners that they did not want to leave Egypt. But
heaviest of all were the losses in the tribes of Benjamin and of
Simeon, for in the battle between the Levites and the other tribes
after Aaron's death, when the latter, for fear of the Canaanites,
wanted to return to Egypt, the Benjamites lost no less than seven
divisions. All of the twenty-four thousand men that died from the
plague at Shittim belonged, however, to the tribe of Simeon which,
at the end of the march through the desert, had dwindles down to
less than half its number. The tribe of Dan, on the other hand, had
turned out to be very fruitful, for whereas at the entrance of Egypt
it had consisted of only one division, it later exceeded in number
all the other tribes, except the tribe of Judah. [806]


But there was another purpose beside that of establishing Israel's
family purity in taking the census at Arbot-Moab. For when God at
the exodus from Egypt put his people into Moses' hands, He
entrusted them to him after having counted them, and not when
Moses was about to depart from this world, he wanted to return the
flock that God had entrusted to him, truly numbered, into God's
hand. [807]

After the number of the nation had been determined, God ordered
Moses to divide the promised land among them according to their
numbers. [808] Jacob had indeed upon his death-bed determined
what parts of the land were to fall to the lot of each tribe, but in
order that the tribes might not quarrel among themselves, God
decreed that the assignments be made by lot. [809] After the
conquest of the land Joshua and Eleazar saw to the drawing of lots.
On this occasion the miracle came to pass that whenever Eleazar
drew a lot from the urn, the lot itself announced the words, "I am
the lot of Thus-and-So." In this way was avoided the possibility of
having the malcontents declare that Eleazar had, at the drawing of
lots, been partial to his friends and had assigned to them the lots
they wished for. [810]

When Zelophehad's daughters, that had lived piously and wisely
like their father and their ancestors, heard that the land was being
divided among the male members of the tribe, but not among the
female, they took counsel together, discussing what they could do,
so that they might not find themselves come out empty-handed.
They said: "God's love is not like the love of a mortal father; the
latter prefers his sons to his daughters, but He that created the
world extends His love to women as well as to men, 'His tender
mercies are over all His works.'" They now hoped that God would
take pity on them and give them their share of the promised land,
which they loved with as great devotion as their grandsire Joseph,
who had upon his death-bed exhorted his children to transfer his
body to the Holy Land. [811]

Being wise and learned, they waited for a propitious time to lay
their case before Moses, and opportunity which they found when
Moses in house of teaching recited the law concerning the levirate
marriage. They now advanced and said: "If we are as good as our
brothers, then do we lay claim to our father's inheritance, and to
his share of the land; but if we are not to be considered as sons,
then should our mother have to marry her brother-in-law, as our
father has left no issue, since we do not count." [812] They
furthermore pointed out that their father had been neither one of
the spies nor one of Korah's followers, who had, owing to their
sins, lost claim to their share of the land, [813] but that he had
found his death when a number of men, in spite of Moses'
warnings, had presumed to storm the mountain occupied by the
Amalekites and the Canaanites. [814] "Had our father," continued
they, "left behind him a son, and the latter were now also dead,
then should we lay no claim to inheritance if this son had left a
living child, were it even a daughter; but as we are our father's only
descendants, give us, we pray, 'a possession among the brethren of
our father.'"

The fervent longing of these women to have a share in the Holy
Land shows how much better and more pious were the women of
this generation than the men. The latter said, "Let us make a
captain, and let us return to Egypt," whereas the women said,
"Give us a possession among the brethren of our father." [815] But
not only during the rebellion that was kindled by the spies did the
women remain true to Moses and to their God, but on other
occasions also it was they who tried to build up what the men had
torn down. at the worship of the Golden Calf, too, they tried to
restrain the men from sin, hence it was the men only that had to
die in the desert because they had been tempted to rebellion by the
spies, whereas the women entered into the promised land. [816]
Among them also there was even to be found a woman as old as
Jochebed - the daughter of Levi by his union with Otah - who
survived her sons Moses and Aaron, as well as her daughter
Miriam, and who was permitted to enter the promised land at the
age of two hundred and fifty years. [817]

The daughters of Zelophehad did not bring their request directly to
Moses, but at first urged their plea before the lowest officers, the
captains of tens. These, however, said: "This is an important
matter since it touches upon laws of inheritance, hence it does not
become us to decide this matter; greater men than we must settle
it." Hence they sent them to the captains of fifties. When these saw
that out of consideration for them the captains of tens would not
pass judgement, they sent the daughters of Zelophehad on to the
captains of hundreds, that were their superiors. But these too, out
of consideration for the higher judges, would not settle this matter,
and so the daughters of Zelophehad came to the captains of
thousands, who sent them to the princes of the tribes, until they
came at last to the highest authority, to Moses. Now Moses might
well have decided this case without further ado, but in his
meekness he thought, "There is still a higher authority than I, to
wit, God," and he bade them await God's judgement. [818] The
answer that he received from God was as follows: "The daughters
of Zelophehad have the law on their side, for what they desire is in
accordance with the law that was written in heaven by Me; give
them therefore their father's inheritance, and also two parts of their
grandfather Hepher's possessions, for their father Zelophehad was
his firstborn and was therefore entitled to a double share." [819]

The daughters of Zelophehad, who in spite of their years - the
youngest of them had attained forty - had not yet been married,
now entered into wedlock, and according to God's bidding that
Moses communicated to them, they married their uncle's sons,
although they were free to marry whomsoever they chose. [820]

"God works good through the good, and evil through the evil." The
chapter of the laws of God that was published by Moses as an
addition to the incident of Zelophehad's daughters would have
been given without them also, but God rewarded these women for
their piety by making them the direct occasion of this chapter of
the law. [821] At the same time this case of these women was to
teach several lessons to Moses. He who, since he had been made
God's messenger to the people, had lived apart from his wife was
not to grow too conceited on account of the sacrifice he had made
to his sacred calling; hence in the last year of his life there
appeared before him the daughters of Zelophehad, who of their
own accord had not married because they had not found mates that
they considered suitable. Then, too, Moses could not answer the
legal question that the daughters of Zelophehad had presented to
him, and had to ask God's counsel, which was a second lesson to
Moses. At the appointment of the elders, Moses earnestly told
them, "The cause that is too hard for ye, bring to me, and I will
hear it," and in punishment of these boastful words God so brought
it to pass that he could give no answer to this request of the
women, whereupon God said to him, "Didst not thou say, 'the
cause that is too hard for ye, bring it to me?' and now thou canst
not properly settle this legal question of the women."

A similar punishment for a similar offense was visited upon David
who, well aware of his erudition, said, "The laws of the Torah do I
grasp as easily and as quickly as songs." God then said, "As truly
as thou livest, thou shalt hereafter forget a Biblical law that even
the school children know." So, too, it came to pass that when he
had the Holy Ark fetched from Gibeah to Zion, he forgot the
Biblical instruction that the Ark may be carried only upon the
shoulder, and had it lifted upon a wagon. Then occurred the
miracle that the Ark leaped of itself into the air, whereas the oxen
that pulled the wagon fell down, whereupon Uzzah, to whom the
transportation of the Ark had been entrusted, stretched out his
hand to prevent the Ark from falling and himself fell dead upon
the ground, for "a sin that is committed is ignorance of the law is
accounted as if it had been intentional." Uzzah should have been
mindful of the law that the Ark was not to be lifted upon a cart,
hence his punishment. God thereupon said to David, "Didst thou
not say, 'Thy statutes have been my songs?' and thou hast not even
mastered the words of the Bible, 'Unto the sons of Kohath he gave
none: because the service of the sanctuary belonged unto them;
they bare it upon their shoulders.'"


When Moses heard God's decision in the case of the daughters of
Zelophehad, which turned out in their favor so that they inherited
their father's property, he thought, "This s a propitious time to urge
a plea before the Lord, for if daughters are to inherit their father,
then must my sons inherit my office." [822] He then began to pray
to God that his successors, who, he hoped, were also to be his
descendants, might be worthy leaders of their people. He said: "O
my Lord, before whom come the spirits of all human beings, so
that Thou knowest the spirit of each - whose spirit is proud, and
whose spirit is meek; whose spirit is patient and whose spirit is
restive; mayest Thou set over Thy community a man who is gifted
with strength, with wisdom, with beauty, and with decorum, so
that his conduct may not give offense to the people. [823] O Lord
of the world! Thou knowest each man's views, and knowest that
each man has a view of his own, hence, as I am about to depart
from this world, I pray Thee, appoint a leader over them that will
know how to deal with each man according to his views." [824]

Moses, being a truly pious man, thought when he saw his end
approach, not of himself, but of the welfare of the community, for
whom he implored a good and worthy leader. [825] Hence he
furthermore said to God: "Let not my successor share my fate, for
although I accepted the guidance of the people only after long
hesitation, owing to Thy urgings and requests, still I shall not be
permitted to lead them into the promised land. Mayest Thou then
deal differently with my successor than Thou hast dealt with me,
and permit him not only to lead the people in the desert, but to
take them into the promised land. [826] He, however, shall be a
man 'which may go out before them,' who, unlike the kings of the
heathens, that sent their legions to war but themselves remain at
home, shall himself lead Israel to war. But he shall also be a man
'which may come in before them;' may it be granted him to see the
number of those returning from war no less than that of those
going into war. O Lord of the world!" continued Moses, "Thou hast
led Israel out of Egypt, not to punish them for their sins, but to
forgive them, and Thou hast not led them out of Egypt that they
may be without leaders, but that they may indeed have leaders. I
insist, therefore, that Thou shouldst tell me whether or not Thou
wilt grant them a leader."

This is one of the five occasions upon which Moses implored God
to give him an answer to his question. When he saw that his
appearance before Pharaoh only occasioned him to bring greater
and greater cruelties upon Israel, he said to God, "Tell me if Thou
wilt now deliver them, or not." He also demanded God's answer to
the question, "Shall I now fall into their hands or not?" when at
Rephindim, on account of the dearth of water, he was threatened
by the people. The third occasion was when he prayed to God for
Miriam's recovery, and said, "Tell me, wilt Thou heal her or not?"
And lastly when, after long and fervent prayer, he asked God
whether he should be permitted to enter into the Holy Land, he
said, "Let me know if I am to enter the Holy Land or not." [827]

God fulfilled this wish of Moses, saying: "Thou hast now requested
to be informed concerning thy immediate successor. I shall do
more than this, and show thee all the judges and prophets that I
will allow to arise for My children from not on to the resurrection
of the dead." Then He showed Moses his successor Joshua, his
successor's successor, Othniel, and all the other judges and
prophets. Then God added these words: "Of all these that I have
shown thee, each will have his individual spirit and his individual
knowledge, but such a man as thou now wishest for thy successor,
whose spirit is to embrace in itself the spirits of sixty myriads of
Israel, so that he may speak to each one of them according to his
understanding, such a man as this will not arise until the end of
time. The Messiah will be inspired with a spirit that in itself will
embrace the spirits of all mankind.

But now, concerning thy immediate successor, know then that he
that watcheth the fig tree shall eat of its fruits, and he that waiteth
upon his master will be promoted to honor, and thy sons shall not
inherit the leadership because they concerned themselves little
with the Torah. Joshua shall be thy successor, who served thee
with devotion and showed thee great veneration, for at morn and
eve he put up the benches in thy house of teaching and spread the
carpets over them; he served thee as far as he was able, and Israel
shall now know that he will therefore receive his reward. [828]
Take then Joshua, a man such as thou didst wish as a successor,
whom thou hast proven, and who knows how to deal with people
of every tendency, 'and lay thy hand upon him.' Give him an
opportunity, while thou art still alive, to speak in public and to
pronounce the law, so that Israel may not after thy death
contemptuously say of thy successor, 'As long as his teacher was
alive, he dared not pronounce judgement, and now he wishes to do
so!' [829] Although Joshua, who is not of thy kin, is to be thy
successor, I shall nevertheless be mindful of the law that 'no
inheritance shall remove from one tribe to another tribe,' for the
dignity of leadership is to be reserved for thy family; Joshua 'shall
stand even before Eleazar the priest, thy brother's son, who shall
ask counsel for him according to the judgement of the Urim.'"

After Moses in kindly words had induced Joshua to accept the
leadership after his death, pointing out to him the great rewards
that in the future world await the leaders of Israel, 'he took Joshua,
and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the
congregation,' that all might thereafter acknowledge him as his
successor. [831] He then bade Joshua, who had been sitting on the
floor like all the rest, rise and set himself upon a bench beside him.
Joshua seated himself with the words, "Blessed be the Lord that
hath through Moses bestowed the Torah upon Israel." [832] Moses
honored Joshua furthermore by interrupting his discourse as soon
as Joshua enter the house of teaching, and resuming it only when
he had taken his seat. [833] Moses also bade a herald proclaim
throughout the camp, "This man Joshua is worthy of being
appointed by God as His shepherd." [834]

Moses distinguished Joshua not because God had ordered him to
do so, but because he was sincerely glad to pass his dignity on to
him, just as a father is glad to leave his possessions to his son. So,
too, whereas God had bidden Moses to lay only one hand upon
Joshua's head and in this way put his honor upon him, Moses
fulfilled God's command by laying both his hands upon Joshua,
and by this action bestowed upon him not only insight and
understanding, but also a radiant countenance like that of Moses,
from whose face issued rays like those of the sun. In giving all
these qualities to Joshua, Moses lost nothing. Moses' wisdom was
like a torch, whereas Joshua's may be compared to a candle only,
and just as a torch loses none of its intensity if a candle is lighted
therefrom, so little was Moses' wisdom diminished by the wisdom
he gave to Joshua. [835] The rays, too, that emanated from
Joshua's countenance were weaker than those from Moses', and not
until the crossing of the Jordan did they attain their full intensity,
so that upon beholding them, "the people feared him as they feared
Moses." [836]

Joshua's appointment by God as Moses' successor had been Moses'
most cherished wish, but he had not ventured to give expression to
it, for he was mindful of the punishment God had sent over him
when he had entreated Him to sent Aaron instead of himself to
deliver Israel out of Egypt, and from that time he feared to make
any proposals whatsoever to God. He was like the child who had
once been burned by a coal, and the seeing a brightly sparkling
jewel, took it to be a burning coal, and dared not touch it. [837]


After Moses had announced Joshua as his successor before all the
congregation, he disclosed to him that the course of his own life
was run, and that he would now depart to his fathers. At his
inheritance he gave to Joshua a book of prophecy, which Joshua
was to anoint with cedar-oil, and in an earthen vessel to lay upon
the spot that from the creation of the world God had created for it,
so that His name might there be invoked. This book contained in
brief outline the history of Israel from the entrance into the
promised land to the establishment of God's kingdom upon earth,
when, in wrath and indignation on account of His children, the
Lord will rise from His Throne of power and proceed from His
holy dwelling.

When Joshua heard the words of Moses as they are written in his
Holy Scriptures, he rent his garments and fell at Moses' feet, who,
himself in tears, yet comforted him. Joshua, however, said: "How
canst thou comfort me concerning the bitter word that thou hast
spoken, which abound in sobs and tears, that thou are to depart
from thy people? What place will receive thee? What monument
will point to thy grave? Or who will dare to remove thy corpse
from one place to another as if it were an ordinary mortal's? All
dying men receive a grave upon earth according to their rank, but
thy grave extends from sunrise to sunset, from South to North; all
the world is thy tomb. Thou goest. Who not, O master, shall care
for this people? Who shall take pity upon them and be a guide
upon their way? Who shall pray for them incessantly, that I may
lead them into the land of their fathers? How shall I provide food
for them according to their wish, or drink according to their
desire? From the beginning they numbered sixty myriads, and now,
thanks to thy prayers, they have greatly multiplied. Whence shall I
draw insight and understanding to give them judgement and
counsel? Even the kings of the Amorites, hearing that we desire to
attack them, will say, 'Let us not set out against them, for there is
now no longer among them the many-sided, incomprehensible and
sacred spirit, worthy of the Lord, the ever-faithful master of the
word, the Divine prophet of all the world, the most consummate
master of this age. If now our enemies once more transgress before
the Lord, they will have no defender to offer up prayers for them
before God, as Moses had done, the great messenger who at all
hours of the day kneeled down and prayed, lifting up his eyes to
Him who rules all the world, and constantly reminding Him of His
covenant with the Patriarchs, and appeasing Him with invocation.'
For thus will the Amorites speak saying, 'He is no longer among
them; arise then and let us wipe them from the face of the earth.'
But what then, O my lord Moses, will become of this people?"

When Joshua has spoken these words, he cast himself once more
at Moses' feet. Moses seized his hand, raised him to a seat before
them, and answered him, saying: "Do not underestimate thyself, O
Joshua, but be light of heart, and pay heed to my words. All the
nations that dwell in the universe hath God created, and us also.
Them and us did He foresee from the beginning of the creation of
the universe even unto the end of the world, and He overlooked
nothing, even down to the smallest, but He at the same time
foresaw and foredoomed everything. All that was to happen in this
universe did God foresee and foredoom, and lo! it cometh to pass.
He appointed me for them and for their sins, that for them I might
make prayer and exhortation. Not for my fitness or my strength
was I chosen, but only through the grace of His mercy and His
long-suffering. For I assure thee, Joshua, not on account of the
excellence of this people wilt thou destroy the heathens; all the
fastnesses of heaven and the foundations of the universe were
created and approved by God, and are beneath the ring of His right
hand. Those, therefore, that maintain and fulfil God's
commandments thrive and prosper, but those who sin and neglect
the commandments will now receive the promised possessions,
and will be punished by the heathens with many plagues. But that
He should wholly destroy or abandon them is impossible, for God
will step forth, who foresaw everything even to eternity, and whose
covenant is firmly founded, in accordance with the oath which He
swore to the Patriarchs. Then the hands of the angel will be filled
and he will be appointed chief, and he will forthwith avenge them
of their enemies." [838]


Balaam's prophecy, "He shall not lie down until he eat of the prey,
and drink the blood of the slain," was very quickly fulfilled.
Shortly before his death, before he lay down to everlasting sleep, it
was granted Moses to rejoice in the death of Balaam and the five
Midianite kings allied to him. [839] Israel's sinful profanation at
Shittim, occasioned by Balaam's wicked advice, sorely smote
Moses' heart. God had appointed Moses as lord of the angels, who
through fire and cloud had to step aside to make room for him and
let him pass, yea, at his appearance they rose from their seats to do
him honor. As he had power over the angels, so too did he rule the
sea, which he clove at will and then commanded to resume its
former guise, and the treasures of hail, which he employed to sent
hail over the Egyptians. Now this man, who was sovereign over
the angels and over the forces of nature, could only weep when
Israel committed whoredom with the daughters of Moab and
Midian. To comfort Moses, God now said: "As truly as thou livest,
thou shalt not depart out of this world until thou shalt have
avenged those who tempted Israel to sin. 'Avenge the children of
Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy
people.'" [840] God at the same time reproached Moses for his
despair and lack of energy at Shittim, saying: "When all the tribes
of Israel, save the tribe of Levi, were against thee, thou didst not
then lack courage to stand up against all the people on account of
the worship of the Golden Calf; how much more then at Shittim,
when all Israel save only one tribe, the tribe of Simeon, were on
thy side, shouldst thou have proven thyself sufficiently strong to
keep back the sinners from their sin!" [841]
When Moses received the command to wage war upon the people
that had tempted Israel to sin, he said to God: "Yesterday didst
Thou say to me, 'Vex not Moab,' and now Thou sayest, 'Avenge the
children of Israel.'" God, however, replied: "When I said, 'Vex not
Moab,' I named these people after their grandsire, the son of Lot,
but not that through their own fault they have lost the claim to kind
treatment from Israel, I shall no longer think of their grandsire
Abraham's kinsman, but shall call them Midianim, 'they that lost
their claim.'" [842]

Lot's descendants now not only had no further claims to
exemption, but a command was given to Moses to treat them with
still greater hostility than the other nations. Until then it had been
Israel's duty not to fight against a city of the heathens unless they
had first proclaimed peace to it and the heathens had refused to
accept it, but now they were instantly to proceed to hostility; and
whereas they had formerly been prohibited from destroying the
trees that surrounded a city, they were now ruthlessly to destroy all
that lay in their path. This wrath of God against those who had
tempted Israel to sin was justified, for "the tempter to sin is him of
this world alone, but he that tempts another deprives him of this
world and the world beyond." Two nations, the Egyptians and the
Edomites, attacked Israel with the sword, but God nevertheless
said, " Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; thou shalt not abhor an
Egyptian." The Moabites and Ammonites, on the other hand,
tempted Israel to sin, hence God's word concerning them was as
follows: "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the
assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation." [843]

Israel received the command to make war upon the Midianites at
the same time as that to fight the Moabites, but whereas Moses at
once waged war against Midian, it was not until David's time that a
relentless war was waged against Moab. There was several reasons
why the Midianites were to receive their punishment before the
Moabites. Firstly, Moab's hatred against Israel was not quite
without foundation, for although the Israelites had not attacked
them in war, still they had inspired them with great fear by
pillaging the Moabite region, hence the Moabites tried by every
means to be rid of Israel. Midian, on the other hand, had no cause
for undertaking hostilities against Israel, and yet they not only
joined the Moabites, but outdid them in their hatred against Israel.
Furthermore Moab wanted to kill Israel, but Midian wanted to
tempt them to sin, which is worse than death. [844] The delay in
punishing Moab also corresponded in other ways to God's plan, for
the Moabite Ruth was destined to become the mother of the
dynasty of David, hence God said to Israel: "Wait yet a while in
this matter of the war against the Moabites: I have lost something
valuable among them. As soon as I have found it, ye shall avenge
yourselves of them." [845]

God indicated that the war against Midian would be Moses' last in
these words, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites:
afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people." The connection
between the war and Moses' death is as follows. When God
announced to Moses that he was to die on this side of the Jordan,
Moses implored God with the words: "O Lord of the world! Is it
right that death should so soon overtake me, that have seen Thy
ways, Thy actions, and Thy path?" God replied, saying: "Moses, if
a long life were better for men, surely I should not then have
permitted thy ancestors to taste of death; but it is better for thee if
thou are taken from this world than if thou wert to remain in it."
Moses was not, however, satisfied with this answer from God,
whereupon God said: "Well then, thou mayest live many years
longer, yea, thou shalt live even to a thousand years, but know thou
that Israel will not then conquer their foes, and that Midian will
not be brought under their yoke." In this way was Moses made to
yield by God, for he thought, "Whether I die to-day or to-morrow
matters little, for death will come to me at last. I would rather see
Israel conquer their foes and bring Midian under their yoke than
that I should live longer." God therefore bade Moses avenge Israel
of the Midianites, if he was thereupon ready to die. [846]

Moses then thought: "I know that if I were now to go into battle
against the Midianites, the people would declare that I wished for
my own death, since God made it dependent upon the punishing of
the Midianites, and my life is assured me as long as ever I wish to
put it off." This consideration did not, however, determine him,
for, fully aware that his enterprise of war would hasten his death,
he nevertheless set about the execution of this war as soon as God
commanded him. Wherever the execution of a Divine command,
or the possibility of furthering Israel's cause was concerned, Moses
gave no thought to himself, even though it touched his life. Not so
Joshua. When he came to Canaan, he thought: "If I wage an
incessant war upon the Canaanites, I shall certainly die as soon as I
shall have conquered them, for Moses also died immediately after
his conquest of Midian." He therefore proceeded very slowly in his
conquest of the Holy Land, so that he might be sure of a long life.
But, "however many thought there may be in man's heart, God's
words prevails," and whereas Joshua hoped to become very aged,
he died ten years before the time God had originally allotted to
him, for, although he would otherwise have attained his master's
age, he now died at the age of a hundred and ten. [847]


Whereas Moses, disregarding the expected consequences of the
war upon himself, gladly went into battle, Israel did not want to
obey his summons to war. The people of whom Moses had on one
occasion said, "They be almost ready to stone me," when they now
learned that their leader Moses was to die at the end of this war,
tried to evade it, saying that they preferred to forego impending
victory rather than to lose their leader, and each one hid himself,
so as not to be picked out for this war. God therefore bade Moses
cast lots to decide their going into battle, and those whose lots
were drawn had to follow the call to arms even against their will.
Moses' summons to battle was as follows: "Arm ye men from
among you for the war, to execute the Lord's vengeance on
Midain." Moses spoke of the Lord's revenge, whereas God
designated this war against Midian as Israel's revenge. For Moses
said to God: "Lord of the world! If we had worshipped the stars
and planets, the Midianites should not have hated us, they hate us
only on account of the Torah and the commandments that Thou
hast given us, hence must Thou avenge Thyself of them." [848]

Moses did not in person lead the war against Midian, for he was
mindful of the proverb, "Cast no stone into the well from which
thou hast drawn water," and he who as a fugitive from Egypt had
sought refuge in Midian, did not wish to make war upon that land.
He relinquished the leadership of the people to Phinehas, for "he
that beginneth a good deed shall also complete it," and it was
Phinehas who had begun God's war against the Midianites by
slaying the princess Cozbi, Zimri's mistress, hence the task of
completing this war fell to his lot. Phinehas, as a descendant of
Joseph, had, moreover, a special reason for wishing to take
revenge upon the Midianites, as those had been Midianites who
had sold Joseph as a slave in Egypt. [849]

The forces under Phinehas's command consisted of thirty-six
thousand men, one third to take active part in battle, one third to
guard the baggage, and one third to pray, whose duty it was in the
course of battle to implore God to lend victory to the warriors of
Israel. Moses passed on to Phinehas not only the Holy Ark, which
Israel always takes into battle, but also the Urim and Tummim,
that he might, if necessary, consult God. [850] Outside of this
Phinehas also received the gold plate of the mitre from the high
priest's forehead, for Moses said to him: "The knave Balaam will
by means of his sorceries fly into the air, and will even enable the
five Midianite kings to fly with him, therefore shall ye hold up to
them the plate of pure gold upon which is engraved God's name,
and they will fall to earth." They did as Moses commanded, and
truly Balaam and the five kings fell to earth. They then executed
Balaam according to the four forms prescribed by the Jewish laws.
They hanged him, kindled a fire beneath the gallows, struck off his
head with a sword, and then dropped him from the gallows into the
fire below. [851]
Although Israel undertook the war against Midian upon God's
bidding, to take vengeance for the wrong that had been done them,
still their method of warfare was most humane. They attacked the
cities of the Midianites from three sides only, so as not entirely to
cut off flight. Victory was on the side of Israel, into whose
possession fell the cities with all their temples, idols, and palaces.
The same fate overtook all the five kings of Midian. All were slain
alike just as all had made a common cause of the wish to destroy
Israel. Balaam who had come to Midian from his home in
Mesopotamia in order to receive his reward for his counsel not to
fight Israel, but to tempt them to sin, instead of a reward, met with
death at the hands of the Jews. [852]


This arch-magician at first tried to escape Israel's power by
sorcery. For when he saw Phinehas and the leaders of the hosts of
Israel, he flew into the air, [853] a feat which he accomplished by
magic arts, but particularly through the assistance of his wizard
sons, Jannes and Jambres. At the sight of Balaam flying high in the
air, Phinehas shouted to his army, "Is there any one among us who
is able to fly after this villain?" The Danite Zaliah, a past master in
the art of sorcery, followed this summons, and flew high into the
air. Balaam, however, surpassed him, and took a path in the air on
which Zaliah could not follow, and after the former had soared
through five different layers of air, he had quite vanished from
Zaliah's ken, who knew not what to do. Phinehas, however, came
to his aid. By means of a magical invocation he dispelled the
clouds that covered Balaam, and then Zaliah forced Balaam to
descend to earth and appear before Phinehas. [854] He began to
implore Phinehas to spare his life, promising never again to try to
curse Israel, but Phinehas replied: "Art not thou the Aramean
Laban who tried to destroy our father Jacob? Then thou didst pass
on to Egypt to destroy Jacob's seed, and when they removed from
Egypt thou didst incite the wicked Amalek to harass us, and not
thou didst attempt to curse Israel. But when thou sawest that thy
endeavor to curse them was without avail, since God would not
hear thee, thou gavest Balak the despicable advice to deliver up the
daughters of his land to prostitution, and thereby to tempt Israel to
sin, and wert in part successful, for twenty-four thousand Israelites
died in consequence of their sin with the daughters of Moab. In
vain therefore dost thou plead that thy life by spared." He then
ordered Zaliah to kill Balaam, admonishing him, however, to be
sure not to kill him through the holy name of God, as it does not
befit so great a sinner to meet his death in such a way. Zaliah now
tried in vain to kill Balaam, for through his magic wiles he was
proof against every weapon, until Phinehas at last gave Zaliah a
sword on both sides of which was engraved a serpent, with the
words, "Kill him with that to which he belongs - through this he
will die," and with this sword Balaam was killed. [855]

His corpse was not buried, but his bones rotted, and from then
arose several species of harmful snakes, that bring disaster to
human beings; and even the worms that devoured his flesh were
turned into snakes. The magicians made use of these snakes for
three different types of enchantment, for the heads, the bodies, and
the tails, had each a different effect. One of the questions that the
Queen of Sheba put to Solomon was how to withstand these three
different kinds of enchantment, and the wise king knew even this
secret, which he then imparted to her. [856]


After the close of the campaign against Midian, the warriors
returned with rich spoils to the camp of Israel, but they were such
pious and honorable men that they did not lay claim to the booty,
but rendered it all up, so that it might be impartially divided
among all. [857] As there were honest and conscientious in their
relations between man and man, so likewise were they very strict
in their observance of religious statutes. Throughout the time of
war not a single one of them neglected even the slightest religious
ceremony, were it only to put on the phylactery of the forehead
before that of the arm. [858] But they were especially careful
never again to be tempted by the Midianite women. If they entered
a house to take its treasures from it, they did so in pairs, one
blackening the faces of the women, and the other seizing their
ornaments. In vain would the Midianite women cry, "Are we not
creatures of God, that ye treat us thus?" whereupon the Israelites
would say, "Were not ye the cause that so many of us found their
death?" Justly therefore could these pious men say to Moses: "Thy
servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our
charge, and not one among us had committed a sin or an unchaste
action. We have therefore brought the Lord's oblation to make
atonement for our souls." Moses thereupon said in surprise, "Ye
contradict yourselves, what need of atonement is there if no man
among you is guilty of sin?" They replied: "It is true, our teacher
Moses, two by two did we approach the women, one blackening
their faces, and the other taking off their ear-rings, but even though
we committed no sin with the Midianite women, still the heat of
passion was kindled in us when we took hold of the women, and
therefore by an offering do we seek to make atonement." Moses
thereupon set out to praise them, saying: "Even the common men
among you are filled with good and pious deeds, for a man that


Back to Full Books