Shema Yisrael Home

              Fish&Soup.jpg - 12464 Bytes Subscribe

   by Jacob Solomon

This Week's Parsha | Previous issues | Welcome - Please Read!


No… Moabite may enter the Congregation of G-d (i.e. marry an Israelite) - even to the tenth generation… because they did not meet you with bread and water on your journey from Egypt, and because they hired Balaam… to curse you… (Deut. 23:4-5)

The Torah appears to give a very harsh verdict on Moab - a perpetual exclusion from being able to accept the Torah with the privilege of being allowed to marry into the Israelite community.

Yet at first glance, the reasons given do not reflect badly on Moab. For this Parasha opens with Moab fearing the Israelites: Balak (King of Moab) saw all that Israel did to the Amorites. Moab greatly feared… and said to the elders of Midian: '…they will lick our surroundings as an ox licks the grass of the field' (22:2-4). It seems hardly unreasonable to blame Moab for not offering hospitality to the enemy. And employing the services of Balaam to bring G-d's displeasure on Israel - notwithstanding the high fees for his services - would be a much cheaper, simpler, and 'cleaner' way of handling the enemy than a military confrontation that they might well lose.

However, a closer look at the sources would put Moab in a very different light. It brings out the composite picture of Israelite hatred - the forerunner of anti-Judaism, whereby nations persecute Jews even when it against their own interests to do so. And Moab's conduct was precisely that, as explained below.

The Israelites were specifically commanded by G-d to 'not harass Moab by waging war against them', but they were permitted to make Moab fear them (Deut. 2:9 - as explained by Rashi ad loc).

But the Israelites began in a friendly manner. Jephtah recalls that the Israelites sent a polite request to the King of Moab for passage through his land, which was refused (Judges 11:17).

That gave the Moabites the opportunity to come to terms peacefully with the Israelites by offering them hospitality. It would have solved the intimidation problem smoothly and intelligently - for the Israelites would have said 'thank you' - not 'thrown stones into the wells from which they drank'. Instead, they acted against their own interests by turning a potential friend into an enemy, and they brought suffering on themselves by 'greatly fearing' the Israelites…

But nevertheless, the Israelites did not intimidate them as they were permitted, but bypassed them, taking a longer route (ibid. 11:18). The Moabites then did the second thing which has parallels in the anti-Judaism of more recent times. They did not accept the G-d of Israel - they clung stubbornly to their idol Kemosh, even though it had grievously let them down in a previous conflict with the Amorites (21:29 - see also Jeremiah 48:46). But they still attempted to make merciless use of 'Israelite theology' to persecute the Israelites. They had implicitly rejected the G-d of Israel in favor of Kemosh, but were quite prepared to 'use Him' to persecute His People… by employing Balaam to curse them…

It is one thing to defend oneself from nations set to destroy you. It is another to refuse peaceful solutions to avoid a conflict when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And that evil is compounded by slyly using something you publicly reject and condemn… It is the groundless hatred that provoked people acting against their own interests in persecuting Israel that earned the harsh judgment of never being allowed to enter the Congregation of Israel…

For those after more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


Shema Yisrael Home

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel