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by Jacob Solomon

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No Ammonite or Moabite may enter (i.e. marry into) the Congregation of G-d: even to the tenth generation… because of the fact that they did not greet you with food and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt. and because he (Moab) hired Bilaam… to curse you (Deut. 23:4-5).


Such was the eternal judgement against the descendants of Moab - to a great degree the result of the events mentioned in Parashat Balak.

However this verse, and events of Parashat Balak connected with it need some explanation. Balak… saw what the Israelites did to the Amorites. Moab was very frightened of the (Israelite) people because they were many… 'now the (Israelite) congregation shall lick our surroundings as an ox licks the grass of the field' (22:2-4). It appears that the fears of Balak the King of Moab were reasonable from his point of view, and that he employed Bilaam for the legitimate defense of his own territory. Why was Moab one of the two nations that was singled out in this way?

One possible approach is that Moab, like Ammon, had a moral obligation to the Israelites. Abraham had risked his life to rescue Lot, the father of Moab (and Ammon). This is when he and a band of 318 men counter-attacked the four great nations of the period in their successful attempt to rescue Lot (Gen.14:14-16) from his imprisonment. Abraham risked his life for Lot despite the fact that Lot had chosen a to live in a society whose ways were very evil and sinful, and whose outlook was based on narrow self-interest (Gen. 13:13, Avot 5:10).

Moreover the Moabites had no reason to fear for their own safety. The Torah had explicitly commanded the Israelites that they were forbidden to distress or provoke war with people of Moab (Deut. 2:9). Indeed a more careful reading of the Moabites' fears - now the (Israelite) congregation shall lick our surroundings as an ox licks the grass of the field - emphasizes the expected fate of the surrounding nations, rather than Moab itself.

The Moabites had conflicting loyalties. On one hand they were a nation that was morally obliged to the Israelites. On the other hand they were geographically close to the Seven Nations whose land G-d had indeed promised to the Israelites. Chazal explain 'Balak… was king of Moab at that time' (22:4) to mean that Balak himself was not a Moabite, but they made him king for the specific purpose of defending the surrounding nations from the Israelites (implied in Rashi to that verse).

The Moabites could well have ignored the surrounding nations. Unlike them, the Moabites were assured of G-d's protection (as above). However they had chosen to side with those very nations who were already doomed, and in the cases of Sichon and Og, had already been destroyed - for the benefit of temporary prestige. The nations that the Moabites decided to court at the expense of the Israelites are described by the Torah as having been guilty of abominations of the most horrendous kind - for example burning their sons and daughters in the name of idol worship (Deut. 12:31).

So the basis of Moab's rejection by G-d - never be allowed to intermarry into the Israelite nation, was for three reasons. They sided with the Seven Nations - idolaters, instead of with the Israelites, when it had been demonstrated that it was not in their long-term interests. In doing so, they did not give the Israelites material assistance (Deut. 23:5) that was morally obligatory. This was despite the fact that their common ancestor Lot had been saved by Abraham, and G-d had singled them out from the surrounding nations to receive His Protection from the Israelites: for I will not give you (the Israelites) an inheritance in their land (Moab), for the to children of Lot (Moab) I have given… as an inheritance (Deut. 2:9). And their crowning act of ingratitude was to hire Bilaam to curse His People - those who had done them no harm nor were planning to do them any harm.



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