When Balaam speaks poetry given him by God — 23:7, 23:18, 24:3, 24:15 — the text says he “va-yisa m’shalo.” Alter and JPS (and The Women’s Commentary) say, “took up his theme.” Stone has it, “declaimed his parable.” Fox says, “took up his discourse.” (For references, see Source Materials.)
Verse 21:27 begins the third bit of quoted poetry/song in this portion:
Look for the Hebrew root kuf-reish-bet — which has the general sense of “draw near” and/or “sacrifice” — in this portion. Everett Fox, in a commentary section of his Five Books of Moses, notes that chapters 15-18 of Bamidbar/Numbers are “meaningfully linked together by variations on” this root.
The thread of meaning runs from “bringing near-offerings near,” to God “declaring [Moshe and Ahron] near” to him, to the fact that he has “brought-near” the Levites in terms of their duties, to Korach and his band being asked to “bring-near” the incense, whose fire-pans later become holy because they were “brought-near,” and finally, to the repeated warning to outsiders not to “come-near” the sancta. At issue is what Buber calls “authorized” and “unauthorized nearing,” which is mentioned frequently in Leviticus but is used in the present text with the full artistic resources at the narrator’s command. Viewed in this light, order is restored to the blurring of lines threatened by Korah.Continue Reading
Bamidbar/Numbers 12:6 is often translated as something like “when a prophet of the Lord arises among you…” However, both Robert Alter and Everett Fox note in their translations — see Source Materials — that the Hebrew here is difficult.
“Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being [chato’t ha’adam], thus breaking faith with YHVH [lim’ol ma’al], and they realize their guilt…” Continue Reading
“All you have to do is open up the book.” In a recent study-planning discussion for the Temple Micah (Washington, DC) group Kol Isha, I went off on a bit of a rant with this as my theme, insisting that anyone with the desire to do so can prepare to lead Torah-focused learning without leaning on an “expert.”
This portion contains a word unique in the Bible: va-yityaledu. [root letters: yod-lamed-dalet]. Numbers 1:18
Everett Fox’s translation,* which uses inventive compounds to convey Hebrew meanings into English, renders this” declared-their-lineage” (The Five Books of Moses, Schocken).
The Stone (Artscroll) Chumash* says, “established their genealogies.”
Robert Alter* notes: “The unusual Hebrew verb, a reflexive form of the root that means ‘to give birth,’ is interpreted by Rashi, and confirmed by modern scholarship to have the sense of sorting out birth lines or pedigrees.” (page 685)
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary* says, “The self-reflexive nature of the verb here almost suggests that this army gave birth to itself.” (page 793)
When the census is taken, Israelites are told to count “le-gulgelotam” — by their skulls. My concordance* lists 12 citations for “gulgulet” [gimmel-lamed-gimmel-tav], four of which are in the book of Numbers, three in Chronicles I, two in Exodus and one in Kings I. Several of the usages refer to the body part that would ordinarily be rendered “skull” in English; most, however, have this census-related meaning of counting persons.