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(5737) Rashi (Num. 31:16): "on Balaam’s advice"

(He said to them, "Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them. Are you more numerous than the Egyptians, who had six hundred chosen chariots? Come, and I will advise you. Their G-d hates immorality thus, entice them to sin with your women . . as appears in the chapter of Cheilek (Sanh. 186a and in the Sifrei (Mattoth 43).)


On the verse (Number. 31:16):

“They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel on Bilaam's words to betray the L-rd etc.” (  הֵן הֵנָּה הָיוּ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּדְבַר בִּלְעָם, לִמְסָר-מַעַל בה׳ )

Rashi cites the words:   

"On Bilaam’s words",

and comments:

“He said to them, Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them. Are you more numerous than the Egyptians, who had six hundred chosen chariots? Come, and I will advise you. Their G-d hates immorality . . as it appears in the chapter of Cheilek (Sanh. 186a) and in the Sifrei (Matot 43))

The reason that Rashi must explain this, at all, namely that this was Bilaam’s advice – even though Rashi already explained this previously in Parshat Balak, on Bilaam’s words,

“Come, I will advise you” (and also on the verse, “the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of the Moabites”)

Is understood.

For our verse is the source that one derives that this was instigated by Bilaam’s advice, as Rashi states by the verse, “Come, I will advise you”:

“The proof that Bilaam instigated his advice so that they would be ensnared into immorality is from Scripture's declaration, "they were involved with the Israelites through Bilaam’s advice."

One must however understand:

Why does Rashi elaborate here, with the words:

“He said to them, "Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world. . the chosen chariots?

  1. How is this, at all, related to the explanation of the verse?
  2. If Rashi, for whatever reason, wants to cite part of Bilaam’s speech, it would have been more fitting to cite this where he explains the aspect for the first time, there on the verse, “Come, I will advise you”?

2. One must also understand many of Rashi’s precise words:

  1. That which Bilaam said, “Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them” for “Are you more numerous than the Egyptians?”

This proof is not similar to the case. “You”, yourselves, are indeed not “more numerous than the Egyptians.” However, together with, “all the multitudes of the world”, they are certainly more than the Egyptians. For the Egyptians are just one nation. Therefore, however great their population was at that time, it was still less than “all the multitudes of the world”?


We already learned previously that Moshe Rabbeinu said to G-d, “The nations will say, ‘It is because of G-d’s inability to bring etc.’” and “Pharaoh cannot be compared to thirty-one kings”. Therefore, it is simple that it “cannot be compared” to “all the multitudes of the world”.

  1. On the other hand:

Since he wants to describe the multitude and power of the Egyptians – why does Rashi just say, “They were six hundred chosen chariots”, and not also mention (as the verse concludes) “and all the (other) chariots of Egypt, and commanders over all of them”?

(As is plainly understood, that only a tremendous multitude of “Egyptian chariots” could be able to summon and evoke such fear (נאכיאגן און ארויסרופן), as it states, “they were exceedingly afraid” – by the “six hundred thousand males . . besides the great mixture (of nationalities) etc.”)

Seemingly, one could say that with “six hundred chosen chariots”, Rashi wants to emphasize (not the exact number, in and of itself, but) that the “six hundred” were the “chosen chariots”. From this, it is understood how great the entire number was of the army and Egyptian chariots. However, it is still not straightforward. For if so, Rashi should have alluded to this by adding the word “v’gomer” (etc.), or at the very least not say the word “They were six hundred etc.”

(Which allows for the meaning that this was their entire number)

Rather, Rashi should have used another expression (similar to the Sifrei), from which one could understand that he means more than that exact number.

  1. What is the meaning of the expression “Come, (and I will advise you)”?
  2.  Rashi adds,

“(etc) . . as appears in the chapter of Cheilek and in the Sifrei“

Plainly, this source is connected to the word “etc./v’chulu” – meaning to the following details of the aspect as they are here in (the chapter of) Cheilek and the Sifrei.

It is not understood:

How are the elaborate words in Cheilek related here; and why is it not sufficient to indicate, as the source, the continuation that is stated in the Sifrei?

  1. Even if Rashi wants to cite from “Cheilek”, he should have prefaced that the source is from the “Sifrei”, for:
  1. There, it speaks in continuation to the explanation of our verse.
  2.  Rashi’s entire words are taken from there, even his beginning words, “Even if you assemble etc.”

Whereas, in Cheilek, the elaboration of the details are just in continuation to, “Their G-d hates immorality”.

From this it is proven that the reason that Rashi states, “as it states in Sifrei” is not because he means to cite the source of the beginning of his comment, “He said to them, Even if you assemble etc.”

(and the reason being because this proves from the verse itself, according to the simple meaning of the verse)

And also not to refer to the details of the words in continuation to, “Their G-d hates immorality“

(which these details of Bilaam’s advice are present in Cheilek)

Rather, Rashi is referring to an aspect in the Sifrei which is connected with that which is spoken of in “Cheilek”. In other words, in the entire aspect of “Their G-d hates immorality“.

3. The explanation of this is:

The difference, plainly, between the verse in our Parsha and the verse in Parshat Balak is:

  • In Parshat Balak it states, “Come, I will advise you”. (לכה איעצך). Therefore Rashi just explains

“What is that counsel? “The G-d of these (people) hates immorality”.

  • Whereas in the verse in our Parsha, it does not state, “on Bilaam’s advice”, rather “on Bilaam’s words”. This implies that together with the advice, there was also a “word”, words from Bilaam, which have a connection to the advice.

Since this is stated in connection with Moshe’s claim,

(Why the people did not also kill the women, in the war)

it proves that “Bilaam’s words“ are specifically related here.

Therefore, Rashi not only explains Bilaam’s advice, but also “Bilaam’s words“–

“Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them etc.”

For this led to Bilaam’s advice, “Their G-d hates immorality etc.”

The reasoning of this is:

Moshe’s claim,

“Did you allow all the females to live? They were the same ones who were involved with the children of Israel . . over the incident of Pe’or, resulting in a plague among the congregation of the L-rd.”

was not just because they had, in the past, caused them to stumble and brought the plague. This claim was in relation to the war that was waged now with Midian. Therefore, the verse states,

“Moshe became angry with the officers of the army . . who had returned from the campaign of war”.

This means that the reason that the Midianites sent, “their daughters to commit harlotry” was a tactic that they used when they waged war with the Yidden and to defeat them (אומבריינגען), G-d forbid – this was indeed “Bilaam’s word“.

They indeed, cannot win a physical war with the Yidden.


“Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them.”

Therefore, he said,

“Come, and I will advise you. Their G-d hates immorality”.

It therefore, comes out that the daughters of Midian (also) took an actual part in the war against the Yidden.

This is why not only Bilaam’s advice alone is related here, but also “Bilaam’s words“.

4. According to this, it is understood why Rashi cites the details of Bilaam’s words:

“He said to them, Even if you assemble all the multitudes of the world, you will not be able to overcome them.”

On this, he did not need to bring any proof. For Balak already saw that even Sichon and Og,

the strongest kings, that no person was able to conquer, and who were hired to protect them from the Yidden,

were defeated by the Yidden in a such a wondrous manner – that the entire power of Sichon and Og, did not have any effect (באטרעף). Therefore, they already knew that physical power, whether a multitude in quantity, or a strength in quality, would not help them to defeat the Yidden.

Balak and Midian, however, had another idea. Namely, that they could defeat the Yidden through a spiritual war. In other words, in the same manner (שטייגער) that they hired Bilaam to drive out (טרייבן) the Yidden, as it states, “please come and curse this people for me, for they are too powerful for me”. In other words, with the spiritual power that he possessed, being a prophet who “perceives the thoughts of the Most High”, so too, they also, afterward (when Bilaam could not help) thought to seek other people with more spiritual power and strength, to defeat the Yidden.

To address this, Bilaam answered, “Are you more numerous than the Egyptians, who had six hundred chosen chariots?”

With this, he did not mean to emphasize the amount: “six hundred”, the physical power and multitude of the Egyptian army. Rather, their spiritual power. As Rashi explains, that the animals of the chariots were “of those who feared the word of G-d”.

(Meaning that here, the multitude of number of the Egyptian army, does not matter)

Nevertheless, it did not help, and when they started up with the Yidden, they also had a bitter end.

Therefore, it is understood that there was no place to seek those who had a spiritual advantage, and who could be utilized to defeat the Yidden. For in this aspect, they are not “more than the Egyptians”, who “feared G-d’s word” and who could not do anything against the Yidden.

 However, what could help?

Bilaam, therefore, said “Come, and I will advise you”.


“Come closer and I will give you an advice - in secret - “Their G-d hates immorality“. Through this, you can achieve your designs.

5. However, a five-year old student of Chumash, could ask:

We do not find, in the entire forty-year stay in the desert, that the Yidden committed such sins. Moreover, regarding Shlomit bat Dibri, Rashi states,

“It is to the credit of Israel . . to say that she alone was a wayward woman”

From this, it is also understood, with regard to the men, (that they were chaste). Therefore, how could it be that so many Yidden stumbled in this? So much so that,

“Those that died in the plague, (numbered) twenty-four thousand”?

Also, what does the word “come” mean? Why did Bilaam have to say it secretly?

Therefore, Rashi cites “as it states in Cheilek”. For there, it is brought out, in detail, how they tricked (אריינגענארט) the Yidden through “pitchers of wine” (צרצורי של יין). So much so, that they stumbled in immorality and idol worship.

Therefore, if the Yidden would have known about Bilaam’s advice, they would have protected themselves. Therefore, Bilaam said this secretly – “come” – so that the Yidden would not become aware of this crooked scheme.

6. However, it is still not straightforward:

It is told there, in the Talmud, how they carried out Bilaam’s advice:

“Balak made for them enclosures using wall hangings from the snow mountain, the Ḥermon, until Beit HaYeshimot, and he sat prostitutes in them, with an old woman outside and a young woman on the inside. And at the time when Jewish people were eating and drinking and being happy, and going out to stroll in the marketplace, the old woman would say etc.”

One could further ask:

How could the Yidden come to such a conduct of, “eating and drinking and being happy, and going out to stroll in the marketplace” - among the tents of the wives and daughters of Midian?

Especially, since this was after the greatest miracles, that the Yidden just saw at,

“The spillage in the valleys” (Note: where the blood of the Emorites was spilled there when the mountains came together and crushed them),

and at the war of Og, where he uprooted a mountain etc.

This should have – plainly – evoked within the Yidden the exact opposite result. It should have resulted in an exceedingly good conduct.

Therefore, Rashi also cites, “in the Sifrei”, referring to the “Sifrei” that has a connection to the aspect that is spoken of in, the Talmud chapter “Cheilek”:

It states In the Sifrei of Parshat Balak:

“When Israel had their fill from the spoils (from the war against Sichon and Og), they began "plundering" the spoils — they tore apart garments and cast them away and tore apart beasts and cast them away — for they sought only vessels of silver and gold”.

In other words, the great “plunder” of the war caused that the Yidden came to a condition of “Yeshurun waxed fat”, and therefore the result that “he kicked” – that in the end, it caused a non-positive conduct (ניט גוטער הנהגה) and stumbling of sin.

7. From the homiletic style of Torah in Rashi's commentary (Yayina shel Torah):

One finds regarding Midianite war that G-d said,

“Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites”.

Yet Moshe Rabbeinu, at the time he was given the command, said

“carry out the revenge of the L-rd against Midian”.

(Not “revenge for the children of Israel”)

My father explains the reason for the change. For G-d is meticulous (מדקדק) for Yisroel’s honor and Moshe Rabbeinu is meticulous for G-d‘s honor.

(He similarly explains why G-d, in His command, prefaced (in Parshat Terumah) the Cherubs (Keruvim) before the Ark. Whereas in Parshat Naso, the Ark is mentioned before the Keruvim)

One must however, understand why we find the change and these two aspects by the war of Midian, and not by all the other commands?

According to Rashi’s aforementioned reasoning, it is explained:

The Midianite war with the Yidden comprised two manners:

  1. They wanted to wage war and defeat Yidden. Corresponding to this, came the command, “Take revenge for the children of Israel”.
  2. The advice which Bilaam gave, “Their G-d hates immorality etc.” Corresponding to this was the aspect of “revenge of the L-rd”.

Therefore, G-d, who is meticulous about Yisroel’s honor emphasized, “revenge for the children of Israel”. For their intent was to defeat Yidden.

Whereas Moshe Rabbeinu, who is meticulous for G-d’s honor emphasized, “revenge of the L-rd”. For even their attempt at defeating Yidden was through the action against, “Their G-d”, who “hates immorality etc. “ So much so, to cause them to stumble in idol worship (Baal Pe’or).

According to this, it is also understood why Rashi explains on the words,

“Revenge of the L-rd”


“Anyone opposing Israel is reckoned as opposing the Holy One, blessed is He”,

where Torah says this specifically regarding the Midianite war.

For in this, one saw that in their rising “against Yisroel”, that it was rising “against G-d” – causing Yidden to stumble with immorality (and through this, even idol worship).

Therefore, the Torah says here, specifically in Parshat Matot, “on Bilaam's words“. Not just “on Bilaam’s advice”. For this enables one to understand the intent of the Midianite war, which is “revenge of the L-rd” and “revenge for the children of Israel”.

MSichas Shabbat Parshat Matot- Masei 5735


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