Parashas Matos – 5779 – Intelligence is more powerful that might

The Gemara Baba Kama 38a recounts Moshe saying, “And the Lord said to me, do not be at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle. What entered Moshes’s mind, that G.d had to warn him not to undertake a particular action? Did it enter his mind to wage war with the Moabites without permission?

Rather, Moshe reasoned an a fortiori inference by himself, saying: And if with regard to the Midianites, who came only to help the Moabites harm the Jewish people, the Torah said: “Harass the Midianites and smite them” with regard to the Moabites themselves, is it not clear all the more so that they should be attacked?

To counter this, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: I have two virtuous fledglings, to extract from them: Ruth the Moabite, who will be the foremother of the dynasty of David, and Naamah the Ammonite, Solomon’s wife, from whom the continuation of that dynasty will emerge. 

In fact the Midrash informs us that the Moabites retired when they heard Balaam saying that he needed G.d’s approval. At that moment, they realized there was no hope because G.d loves and protects the people of Israel. It was clear to them that there was no chance that G.d will accept Balaam‘s curses. Only, the Midianite Ministers of Balaam remained. Therefore, When Balaam advised Balack to entice Israel into harlotry, the Midianites were the ones who jumped on the cart.

To understand Balaam advice, let’s review what the Gemara Sabbath 77b says: There are five dreads, i.e., fear that the weak casts over the mighty: The dread of the mafgia, [a small creature], over the lion; the dread of the mosquito over the elephant; the dread of the gecko over the scorpion; the dread of the swallow over the eagle; the dread of the kilbit, [a small fish], over a whale. The commentators ask how a mosquito can subdue a large elephant? How can a small subdue subdue a whale that weighs hundreds of tons of muscle and bone?

The answer is that he uses the whale’s might against itself. When the whale, out of fear runs away, sometimes its only option is to project itself on land, which exerts tremendous might and power to raise so may tons – but, no one can exert the strength to return it to water, and so it dies of dehydration. So does the mosquito to the elephant, by annoying him and hurting him in the most sensitive places, the elephant goes mad with anger, he rages through the woods and ultimately stumbles on a big tree and dies.

This was Balaam’s wickedness, to use Israel’s might against itself. Since their strength and might is conditional on G.d being in their midst, and the only way was to impurify them through immorality. Balaam knew that G.d hated immorality and harlotry, and therefore He will depart from amongst the people of Israel.

The Moabite girls tried to entice the Jewish people but failed, as they didn’t know how to go about it. However, regarding the Midianite girls, the Gemara Sanhedrin 82b informs us that “Rav Sheshet says: Cozbi was not her given name; rather, Shevilnai, daughter of Zur king of Midiane, was her real name. And why was she called Cozbi? Because through she distorted [shekizzeva] the instructions of her father. He told her to submit only to the greatest of the children of Israel [Moshe Rabbenu], and she submitted herself to the leader of a tribe. In other words, they had a plan, which was to entice our greatest so the entire nation will follow path.

The Midrash recounts the encounter between Zimri and Cozbi. “When she arrived at the Israel camp, she met Zimri – the head of Shimon tribe. Zimri asked her to listen to him [to fault], she answered I will only agree to listen to your greatest, Moshe your master. This is when Zimri took her to Moshe”. They knew that when the leaders of Israel are subject to immorality or other lusts such as; money, power, bribes and other pleasures, they will destroy the nation from within. From this Parasha we learn two important traits: intelligence is more powerful than might, and ego is the beginning of the downfall. 

By Rabbi Fridmann * [email protected] * 305.985.3461

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