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No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the congregation of G-d… because they did not offer you food and water on your journey from Egypt. And also because (Moab) hired Balaam… to curse you… You must (therefore) never seek their peace or their welfare (234-7).
The Ramban explains that Ammon and Moab were singled out because of their ingratitude. For those nations had a special debt to the Israelites, as their forefather Abraham rescued Lot (the father of Ammon and Moab - Gen. 19:37-38) against all odds and at great personal risk when he was captured in battle (Gen. 14:14-16). Moab, quotes the Ramban, did sell them food and water (2:28-29), but hired Balaam in an unsuccessful attempt to curse them (23:5).
And Balaam continued to work behind the scenes and enticed the Israelites to incur G-d's displeasure over Baal Peor (Num. 31:16). As Rashi puts it, we learn that person who causes another to sin not only destroys his character, but causes the sinner to lose his share in the World to Come.
Much later on, however, King David does appear to have actually 'sought their peace and welfare', as recorded in the following passage:
The king of Ammon died, and his son Hanun succeeded him. David said: 'I will show kindness towards Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father did kindness with me'. So David sent a delegation to comfort him (Sam. II 10:1-2).
The text does not state what kindness Nahash 'did' with David. The Radak, quoting the Midrash, relates it to when David and his family were on the run from Saul and were hiding in the cave of Adullam. David advised his aging parents to leave and seek refuge with the Moabites. Whereupon they (Rashi to Sam. I 22:4) and David's accompanying brothers were killed by the king of Moab, except one brother who escaped and found refuge in the hands of Nahash, king of Ammon. Thus David sent his timely condolences, not forgetting that favor.
But David's showing concern for the 'peace and welfare' of Ammon backfired. David's messengers were disgraced at the court of the new king. The strong underlying bitterness between the Israelites and Ammon was fully reciprocated. It not only caused the public humiliation of the delegation, but became the cause of a bitter war of Ammon and her allies against King David.
This is perhaps the force of the words: 'lo tidrosh' - you shall not seek their welfare and peace. The emphasis is on seeking - going out of one's way to help others. The people of Ammon - who were near, but not on, the route of the Exodus did not go out of their way to offer food and water to the Israelites. True, their future king was to shelter a family member of King David, but that did not involve him going out of his way; David's brother had already arrived in Ammon. But David went one step further than he should. In his desire to return a favor, he had reciprocated out of proportion by going out of his way of actually sending a delegation.
Thus the Radak put it this way to David. G-d was in effect saying to David: 'You defied My Law in seeking the welfare of Ammon. Do not be excessively righteous and do not be too clever (Eccl. 7:16).
This observation may carry the following message. If there is no other way, sometimes it is better to accept a favor without returning it, than to return it excessively in such a way that it would be negatively misconstrued…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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