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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Balak (70)

Numbers 22:2, 3

2. And Balak son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites.

3. And Moab was sore afraid of the People because they were many; and Moab was harassed because of the Children of Israel.


And Balak son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites: Rashi: He said 'These two kings whom we relied on for our security did not stand up before them. We certainly (can't stand up against them) therefore: "And Moab was sore afraid."


See how Rashi connects our verse with the beginning of the next verse. In so doing shows a causal relationship between what Balak saw and his fear.


What would you ask here?

Your Question:

A Question: The Torah tells us clearly why Balak was afraid - he saw how Israel defeated their enemies. Why does Rashi have to tell us that his fear was that his two protectors were defeated and that he could no longer rely on them?

Your Answer:


An Answer: If we look above in parasahas Chukas at verses 21:21-24 we see that Israel gained the land from Sichon, king of Emori, as a result of a war initiated by Emori, not by Israel. So too Og, king of Bashan, initiated a war against Israel (not the other way around), here too Israel conquered the lands of the aggressor.

So why should Moab worry that they too would be defeated -if they do not initiate a war nothing will happen, Israel will not attack them? This is what Rashi is reacting to. How does his comment deal with this question?

Your Answer:


An Answer: True, the wars Israel fought were because their enemies started up with them, but Moab feared that Israel's spectacular military successes would whet their appetite and once the two strongmen (Emori and Bashan) were out of the way then Moab stood exposed to Israel's military might.

This is why Rashi offers his comment to explain Moab's fear.


But Rashi also connects his comment on this verse with words from the next verse "And Moab was sore afraid."

Why does Rashi do this?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse begins with "And Balak saw…" But Balak didn't see (There was no instant CCN TV in those days) - Balak only heard. We note the word "he heard" in Numbers 21:1 and in Exodus 18:1 and "he saw". That would also be appropriate here, but it does say "Balak saw".

Rashi had already taught us in Genesis 18:2 that "he saw" can mean "he understood"; just as we say in English: "I see what you mean." Which means: "I understand what you mean." So Rashi is explaining what it is that Balak understood. He understood the implications of the defeat of these two kings. He understood that Moab was now exposed and vulnerable to possible aggression by Israel. This is what Rashi is filling in.


It is striking that today Israel's situation is quite similar to that of Israel when they fought the Emori and Bashan. The territory over the "green line" (Yehuda and Shomron) is today termed by all non- Jews and even some Jews as "occupied" territory. That is, that Israel has occupied a foreign country's land and thus legally it should be returned. The 'legal' support for this claim, we are told, comes from the 4th Geneva Convention. But, and this is never mentioned, the law there refers to land conquered in war of aggression. But Israel in 1967 fought a defensive war against the Arabs who initiated an attack on Israel for no other reason that to throw the Jews "into the sea." See last week's haftarah (Judges 11:1-33) where Yiftach explains this very clearly to our enemies of yore.

So history repeats itself. We can only hope and pray that today, as we are sorely pressed by the whole world, that Hashem will stand by us as he did in those days.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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