In the eleventh chapter of this week’s Sedra, Moshe is given a specific commandment to fulfil. “Go and pay back the Midianites on behalf of the Israelites” Yet the posuk continues with an ominous and seemingly irreversible promise…….” After that; you will Die and be gathered to your people.” Strangely when Moshe relates this commandment to the Jewish people he edits the message, ” Separate the saintliest from among you for war against Midian in order to pay back the Midianites on behalf ofHaShem.”
In verse three and verse five Rashimakes two revealing comments. Even though Moshe knew that his death was activated by this action, he did not hesitate to commence the process and did so with ” Simcha” (happiness). Commenting on the fact that the Jews had to be compelled to supply the soldiers required, he says ” When the Jews heard that the death of Moshe would result from this war, they did not want to take part.”

It was Bilaam who advised Pharaoh in Egypt to solve the “Jewish problem” by a creeping system of enslavement and it was Bilaam who advised Pharaoh to kill all the male children to thwart the predicted birth of Moses. A few weeks ago we read of his efforts to curse the Jewish people and when that had failed, he revealed his master plan. “Their G-d hates licentiousness.” If the Midianite women could seduce the Jews and from there corrupt them towards idolatry, then the wave of anger which HaShem would unleash would achieve the results of a hundred military campaigns. The suggestion was a great success.

The Alshich points out that the two individuals who the subsequent rebellion effected most, were Moshe and Pinchas. Moshe was married to Yisro the ex-Midianite’s daughter and Pinchas’ father too had married a Midianite converted daughter of Yisro. Of the two, the rebellion and outbreak of attempted intermarriage with Midian ,was most targeted against Moshe. The Prince of the Tribe of Shimon paraded his Midianitess in front of Moshe and said ” If I can’t have this women, who allowed you to have our Midianitess?” The equating of his “Girl friend” with a Jewess who had converted was a particular offense. It should have been Moshe who executed Zimri before Pinchas. G-d therefore gives Moshe a chance to put things right by finishing the campaign which he should have begun so that he can,be gathered to his people.

The Kli Yokor says Moshe knows that the Jewish people love him and as Rashi pointed out will not want to do anything which could cause the loss of their leader. So he changes what HaShem told him when he announces the commandment.
HaShem is unconcerned about the aspect of the Midianites actions which was an attack against him. his love for the Jews however, is such that he will not allow what Midian did to them to pass unpunished. “Go and pay back the Midianites on behalf of the Israelites” is the order. Moshe designs his instruction to achieve two objectives. If HaShem is only concerned about the attack on us weshould be motivated primarily by concern for the attack on him. Secondly if the Jews see that HaShem has ignored the offence against him…. so that the campaign is to be fought to avenge the attack on the Jews, then the Jews too can choose to ignore the attack on them and in so doing keep.Moshe Rabeinu.

Moshe’s re-focusing of the reason for the campaign…. that it is for HaShem robs them of the option of keeping Moshe. As Rashi said “Even though Moshe knew that his death was activated by this action he did not hesitate to activate the process….and did so with Simcha”
HaShem testified to Miriam and Aaron in Bamidbar Chpt.12 Vs.7. ………… ” In all my house Moshe is the most faithful.”

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!

Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb

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