by Stuart W.
In Parshat Mattot we find that Hashem tells Moses to command the Jewish people to "take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites" (Numbers 31:2).
In Parshat Mattot we find that Hashem tells Moses to command the Jewish people to "take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites" (Numbers 31:2). In Parshat Balak which we read two weeks ago, the Midianite women had seduced the Jewish men into having illicit relations with them and then worshipping their idol, Baal Peor. It is strange, however, that the Jews were only commanded to annihilate the Midianites, while the Moavites, who had done the exact same thing to the Jewish people, went unpunished. In fact, the Moavites had instigated the whole predicament in the first place, hiring the sorcerer Bilam to curse the Jewish people. With this in mind, why didnt Hashem command us to kill the Moavites as well?
Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that the people of Moav were more justified in what they did, for they acted out of fear. They were afraid that the Jewish people would slay them, just as the Jews had killed the people of Emor and Bashan a short time before when those nations refused to allow them to travel through their land. However, the Midianites had no justification at all for bothering the Jewish people, for Midian was far away and they therefore had no fear of the Jews coming to attack them. They attacked only out of hatred.
Later (Deuteronomy 23:4-7), the Torah tells us that converts from Moav and Amon must never be allowed to marry other Jews. The Torah proceeds to give two reasons: Firstly, because these nations did not give the Jews food or water when they were traveling near them in the desert and did not allow the Jews to pass through their borders; and secondly, because they hired Bilam to curse the Jewish people. The Torah then admonishes us never to seek peace with these nations.
A question arises upon reading these passages. The people of Moav and Amon were not the only nations who wanted to kill the Jews. As we also read two weeks ago in Parshat Chukat, the nation of Edom came out armed and ready to destroy us, and we all know what the Egyptians did to us. However, the verses immediately following those mentioned above tell us that we may not totally reject the Edomites and Egyptians. Their converts must only wait three generations before they may marry into the Jewish people. Why are Moav and Amon the only nations singled out as being forbidden for us to marry?
The Alshich, a 16th century commentator on the Torah, explains that there are two ways of killing a group of people. One is by inducing them to commit a mortal sin which will result in the sinners spiritual and physical death. The other is merely a physical murder of the persons body, while the soul remains unscathed, capable of returning to its Divine origin in a state of purity. Since Edom and Egypt had never aimed at more than the physical destruction of the Jewish people, Hashem commanded us not to despise them. But, on the other hand, nations who have attempted to make Israel sin, such as Moav and Amon, were not allowed to become members of the Jewish community. And regarding the Midianites, who caused us to sin while having no reason to desire our annihilation, we received an express commandment to kill them.
Unfortunately, today we see what the Alshich was talking about. We are witnessing a 52% intermarriage rate, with our brothers and sisters voluntarily throwing away their precious neshamot (souls). While many nations attacked the Jewish people in the desert, they only killed the Jews in body. However, when Bilam came to curse the Jewish people on behalf of Moav and Midian he wanted to uproot everything their bodies and souls, the existence of Hashems nation from the face of the earth. That is the danger. In order to prevent the Bilams of the world from being successful, we must let nothing stand in the way of our service to Hashem. The way to ensure the perpetuation of this tradition is by giving our sons and daughters a chance to carry on the legacy of being the people of G-d, by granting them a Jewish education. If we do not provide for their education, who will?
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