The Ten Spies and Hebron (Parsha Shlach L’kha)

This weeks Torah reading in Parsha Shlach L’kha (Num. 13:1-15:41). This Parsha includes the account of Moshe sending out the ten spies to evaluate the land of Canaan:

[17] And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:
[18] And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
[19] And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;
[20] And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.
[21] So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.
[22] And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)
[23] And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.
[24] The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.
[25] And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
(Numbers 13:17-25 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria saw an instructive allegory in this account. The view from the mountain as a watchtower, he said, represented “right reason” (Logos), the rational mind:

When any one leading us along the road, deserted by the passions and by acts of wickedness, the rod, that is, of philosophy, has led right reason to a height, and placed it like a scout upon a watch-tower, (Numbers 13:18.) and has commanded it to look around, and to survey the whole country of virtue, and to see whether it be blessed with a deep soil, and rich, and productive of herbage and of fruit, since deep soil is good to cause the learning which has been sown in it to increase, and to make the doctrines which have been planted in it, and which have grown to trees, to form solid trunks, or whether it be of a contrary character; and also to examine into actions, as one might into cities, and see whether they are strongly fortified, or whether they are defenceless and deprived of all the security which might be afforded by walls around them. Also to inquire into the condition of the inhabitants, whether they are considerable in numbers and in valour, or whether their courage is weak and their numbers scanty, the two causes acting reciprocally on one another.
(Dreams 2, 170)

The spies looked down and saw Chebron (Hebron), which Philo interprets as follows:

(60) for Moses says that the spies came to Chebron, and these three are Acheman, and Jesein, and Thalamein, of the sons of Enoch: and this he adds, “and Chebron was built seven years before Janis, in Egypt,” (Num 13:23.) and these synonymous appellations are distinguished according to their species in a most natural manner. Chebron, being interpreted, means compunction, and this is of two kinds; one with reference to the soul being joined to the body, the other with reference to its being adapted to virtue. (61) Now the soul that subjects itself to bodily compunctions has the beforementioned inhabitants. Acheman, being interpreted, means, my brother, and Jesein means “outside of me,” and Thalmein means, some one in suspense; for it follows of necessity, that the body must be thought akin to the souls that love the body, and that external good things must be exceedingly admired by them, and all the souls which have this kind of disposition depend on dead things, and, like persons who are crucified, are attached to corruptible matter till the day of their death. (62) But the soul that is united to virtue has for its inhabitants those persons who are preeminent for virtue, persons whom the double cavern has received in pairs, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeckah, Leah and Jacob, virtues and those who possess them; Chebron itself keeping the treasure-house of the memorials of knowledge and wisdom, which is more ancient than Janis and the whole land of Egypt, for nature has made the soul more ancient than the body, that is than Egypt, and virtue more ancient than vice, that is than Janis (and the name Janis, being interpreted, means the command of answer), estimating seniority rather by dignity than by length of time.
(On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 60-62)

The Hebrew word for Chebron (Hebron) is actually הברון which means “association”. In another of his writings, Philo defines it more correctly:

(15) But you see that he here gives a superfluously minute description of the country from which he sends him forth, in a way which all but commands us to forsake the strict letter of what is written. “For out of the valley of Chebron,” now the name Chebron, when interpreted, means conjoined and associated, being a figurative way of intimating our body which is conjoined and which is associated in a sort of companionship and friendship with the soul.
(Worse is Wont to Attack Better 15a)

The spies looking down from the mountain like a watchtower, represent man looking with the view or the rational mind. The spies looked down and saw Chebron “association”, of which there are two types. Either the soul is associated and cojoined with the body and its inclinations and passions, or the soul is associated and cojoined with the virtues that flow forth from the rational mind.

Philo explains this choice of association elsewhere:

“For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.”
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

And in the ancient Hebraic Stoic work, 4Maccabees (also known as On the Supremacy of Reason) we read:

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

Unfortunately the allegory in our parsha is one of failure, one in which the rational mind fails, and the soul attaches itself to the inclinations and passions of the body. The spies gave a report colored by fear and the people reacted by longing for Egypt:

[1] And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
[2] And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
[3] And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
[4] And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
(Numbers 14:1-4 KJV)

Philo interprets “Egypt” as representing the passions:

(175) And God also causes us hunger, not that which proceeds from virtue, but that which is engendered by passion and vice. And the proof of this is, that he nourishes us with his own word, which is the most universal of all things, for manna being interpreted, means “what?” and “what” is the most universal of all things; for the word of God is over all the world, and is the most ancient, and the most universal of all the things that are created. This word our fathers knew not; I speak not of those who are so in truth, but of those who are grey with age, who say, “Let us give them a guide, and let us turn Back”(Num. 14:1.) unto passion, that is to say, to Egypt. (176) Therefore, let God enjoin the soul, saying to it that, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” speaking in a figure, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” (Deut. 8:3) that is to say, he shall be nourished by the whole word (Logos) of God, and by every portion of it. For the mouth is the symbol of the language, and a word (Logos) is a portion of it. Accordingly the soul of the more perfect man is nourished by the whole word (Logos); but we must be contented if we are nourished by a portion of it.
(Allegorical Interpretation, III, 175-176)

Thus the people of Israel, having rejected the Logos, and having been controlled by their passions, were not yet ready to enter the Promised Land.

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Self Control in the Face of Abundance (Parsha B’ha’alotkha)

This weeks Torah reading in Parsha B’ha’alotkha (Num. 8:1-12:16) which includes an account of the people murmuring for meat in the wilderness and being sent an abundance of quail:

[18] And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.
[19] Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;
[20] But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?
[21] And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.
[22] Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?
[23] And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD’s hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.
(Num. 11:19-23 KJV)

[31] And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.
[32] And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.
[33] And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
[34] And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted.
(Num. 11:31-34)

Philo of Alexandria brings out an important lesson in this account, writing:

(126) The lawgiver blames some persons of his time as gluttons, and as believing that the mere indulgence of luxury is the happiest of all possible conditions, not being content to live in this manner only in cities in which there were abundant supplies and stores of all kinds of necessary things, but carrying their effeminacy even into pathless and untrodden deserts, and choosing in them also to have markets for fish and meat, and all things which can contribute to an easy life: (127) then, when a scarcity arose, they assembled together and raised an outcry, and looked miserable, and with shameless audacity impeached their ruler, and did not desist from creating disturbances till they obtained what they desired; and they obtained it to their destruction, for two reasons: first of all, that it might be shown that all things are possible to God, who can find a way in the most difficult and apparently hopeless circumstances; and secondly, that punishment might fall on those who were intemperate in their gluttonous appetites, and obstinate resisters of holiness. (128) For a vast cloud being Raised (Ex 16:13.) out of the sea showered down quails about the time of sunrise, and the camp and all the district around it for a day’s journey for a well-girt active man was overshadowed all about with the Birds.(Num 11:31). And the height of the flight of the birds was distant from the ground a height of about two cubits, in order that they might be easily caught. (129) It would have been natural therefore for them, being amazed at the marvellous nature of the prodigy which they beheld, to be satisfied with the sight, and being filled with piety to nourish their souls on that, and to abstain from eating flesh; but these men, on the contrary, stirred up their desires even more than before, and pursued these birds as the greatest good imaginable, and catching hold of them with both their hands filled their bosoms; then, having stored them up in their tents, they sallied forth to catch others, for immoderate covetousness has no limit. And when they had collected every description of food they devoured it insatiably, being about, vain-minded generation that they were, to perish by their own fulness; (130) and indeed at no distant time they did perish by the purging of their bile, (Num. 11:20). so that the place itself derived its name from the calamity which fell upon them, for it was called the graves of their lust, (Num. 11:34): “And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people that lusted.”} than which there is not in the soul, as the scripture teaches, us, any greater evil. (131) For which reason Moses says with great beauty in his recommendations, “Let not every man do that which seemeth good to his own Eyes,” (Deut. 11:8.) which is equivalent to saying, let not any one gratify his own desire, but let each person seek to please God, and the world, and nature, and wise men, repudiating self-love, if he would become a good and virtuous man.
(Special Laws IV, 126-131)

Here, once again, the Torah teaches us the value of the virtue of self control, and of subduing our inclinations and desires with our rational mind.

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Trial of a Woman Accused of Adultery (Parsha Naso)

This week’s Torah reading is Naso (Num. 4:21-7:89). Included in this weeks reading is the law of the woman accused of adultery:

[11] And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
[12] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man’s wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
[13] And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
[14] And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
[15] Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.
[16] And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD:
[17] And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water:
[18] And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:
[19] And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:
[20] But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband:
[21] Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
[22] And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
[23] And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
[24] And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
[25] Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar:
[26] And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
[27] And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
[28] And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
[29] This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled;
[30] Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law.
[31] Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
(Numbers 5:11-31 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria writes of this ritual, saying:

(148) On this account Moses says, with respect to the soul which is suspected of having committed adultery, (Num. 5:27.) that, if having abandoned right reason, which is man living according to the law, it shall be found to have gone over to passion, which pollutes the soul, “it shall become swollen in the belly,” which means it shall have all the pleasures and appetites of the belly unsatisfied and insatiable, and it shall never cease to be greedy through ignorance, but pleasures in boundless number shall flow into it, and thus its passions shall be interminable. (149) Now I know many people who have fallen into error in respect of the appetites of the belly, that while still devoting themselves to their gratifications, they have again rushed with eagerness to wine and other luxuries; for the appetites of the intemperate soul bear no analogy to the mass of the body. But some men, like vessels made to hold a certain measure, desire nothing extravagant, but discard everything that is superfluous; but appetite on the other hand is never satisfied, but remains always in want and thirsty. (150) In reference to which the expression, that “the thigh shall fall away,” is added in immediate connexion with the denunciation that “her belly shall swell;” for then right reason, which has the seeds and originating principles of good, falls from the soul. “If therefore,” says Moses, “she has not been corrupted, then she shall be pure, and free from all infliction from generation to generation;” that is to say, if she has not been polluted by passion, but has kept herself pure in respect of her legitimate husband, sound reason, her proper guide, she shall have a productive and fertile soul, bearing the offspring of prudence and justice and all virtue.
(Allegorical Interpretation, III, 148-150)

Philo sees here an allegory in which the woman represents a given human being. The husband represents the Logos (sound reason) by which we are tested, and to which we should be faithful. The ritual represents testing ones self by reason as to whether we have been unfaithful to reason (Logos) and gone astray, being led instead by the passions. A swollen belly represents evidence that we have sought after the pleasures of the belly rather than being faithful to sound reason. However if we are faithful to sound reason, we will have a productive and fertile relationship with sound reason, that will give birth to the virtues in our souls.

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Reason Redeems the Man of Virtue (Parsha B’midbar)

This next week’s (May 15th) Torah reading is B’midbar (Num. 1:1-4:20). Includes in this weeks reading is the precept that the Levites redeem the firstborn:

[11] And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
[12] And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine;
[13] Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.
(Numbers 3:11-13 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria comments on these verses saying:

(124) “For behold,” says he, “I have taken the Levites instead of all the first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; they shall be their Ransom;”(Numbers 3:12.) therefore we take and give, but we are said to take with strict accuracy, but it is only by a metaphorical abuse of the term that we are said to give, for the reasons which I have already mentioned. And it is very felicitously that he has called the Levites a ransom, for nothing so completely conducts the mind to freedom as its fleeing for refuge to and becoming a suppliant of God; and this is what the consecrated tribe of the Levites particularly professes to be.
(Who is the Heir of Divine Things? 124)

In another place Philo elaborates:

(118) For Moses confesses that the Levites who being taken in exchange for the firstborn, were appointed ministers of him who alone is worthy to be ministered unto, were the ransom of all the rest of the Israelites. “For I,” says God, “behold, I have chosen the Levites out of the midst of the children of Israel, instead of every firstborn that openeth the womb from among the children of Israel; they shall be their ransom and the Levites shall belong to me: for every first-born is mine; from that day in which I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I dedicated to myself all the first-born of Israel.”(Lev. 3:12.) (119) Reason which fled to God and became his suppliant, is what is here called the Levite; God having taken this from the most central and dominant part of the soul, that is to say, having taken it to himself and appropriated it as his own share, thought it worthy of the honour due to the first-born. So that from these it is plain that Reuben is the first-born of Jacob, but Levi the first born of Israel, the one having the honours of seniority according to time, but the other according to dignity and power.
(The Birth of Cain 118-119)

We learned in a previous study that the firstborn are redeemed in the Land of the Caanonites (fluctuation of reason) when “when the most dominant parts of blind passion are destroyed“:

In today’s study, we learn that reason (logos) is that which redeems the firstborn. The firstborn represents the man of virtue, who is freed by reason (logos) from domination by his passions and inclinations, and thru reason, finds refuge from them.

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The Sabbath of the Land and Being Prepared for Hardship (Parsha B’har and B’chukkotai)

Once again this week we have another double parsha with B’har (Lev. 25:1-26:2) and B’chukkotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34). This weeks reading includes the laws concerning the Sabbatical year:

[1] And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
[2] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.
[3] Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
[4] But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.
[5] That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.
[6] And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee,
[7] And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.
(Lev. 25:1-7 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria writes concerning the law of the Sabbath of the land:

(86) In the next place Moses commands the people to leave the land fallow and untilled every seventh year, for many reasons; (Lev. 25:4.) first of all, that they may honour the number seven, or each period of days, and months, and years; for every seventh day is sacred, which is called by the Hebrews the sabbath; and the seventh month in every year has the greatest of the festivals allotted to it, so that very naturally the seventh year also has a share of the veneration paid to this number, and receives especial honour. (87) And the second reason is this, “Be not,” says the lawgiver, “wholly devoted to gain, but even willingly submit to some loss,” that so you may bear with the more indifference involuntary calamity if it should ever fall upon you, and not grieve and despond, as if at some new and strange occurrence; for there are some rich men so unfortunate in their dispositions, as, when want comes upon them, to groan and despond no less than they might do if they were deprived of all their substance.
(Special Laws II, 86-87)

Philo is telling us that this provision in the Torah teaches us self control. He is teaching us that this planned hardship of not planting a crop every seven years helped and conditioned the ancient Hebrews for unexpected hardships that might come upon them. Moreover this principle teaches us that exercising self control can help us be conditioned and prepared for planned hardships that may come upon us.

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