Chukat: Language and Translation

Verse 21:27 begins the third bit of quoted poetry/song in this portion:

“Therefore the [moshlim] would recite: Come to Heshbon, it is built firm…”

Moshlim is translated as “bards”in the Jewish Publication Society translation;
Alter calls them “rhapsodes”;
Fox says “parable-makers”;
Stone says “poets,” explaining, “i.e., those who use similes [mashlim] to give force to their words,” and identifying the poets as Balaam and his father. (see Source Materials for references)

The Talmud tractate Bava Batra (last gate), on the other hand, links the place name “Heshbon” with the concept of “accounting” or “reckoning” and says ha-moshlim are the ones who rule their evil inclinations:

Ha-moshlim means those who rule their evil inclinations. Come Heshbon means let us consider the account of the world; the loss incurred by fulfillment of a precept against the reward secured by its observance, and the gain gotten by a transgression against the loss it involves. (Bava Batra 78b)

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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