Vows and Oaths

30:2 Having mentioned vows in the preceding laws1—those of the additional festival offerings—Moses now elaborates on the laws of vows.2 As has been seen,3 when Moses taught the people a lesson in the Torah, he taught it first to Aaron, then to Aaron’s sons, then to the princes, then to the rest of the people, and so on. In the following section—the laws of vows and oaths and the laws of their annulment—the Torah highlights the princes’ distinction over the rest of the people in order to imply that when it is necessary to release an individual from a vow he has taken, it should preferably be done by a single person of distinction, i.e., an expert sage, and only when this is not possible should release be carried out by three non-experts.4 Moses spoke to the princes, the heads of the tribes of the Israelites, as a unit, in the course of teaching the rest of the people, saying, “This is the thing God has commanded:

3 A minor’s vows are not legally binding. If an adult man, over 12 years old,5 makes a vow to God or makes an oath to prohibit himself from doing something otherwise permitted to him, he shall not profane his word; rather, he shall fulfill whatever he said.6 A vow is a declaration of intent with regard to a specific object, whereas an oath is a declaration of intent with regard to oneself. In either case, a person may not break his vows or oaths. However, if an expert sage or a tribunal of three non-experts deems it necessary, he or they can declare the vow to be retroactively void;7 this is called releasing the vow.

4 If a woman makes a vow to God or imposes a prohibition upon herself by means of an oath when she is under 11 years old, she is a minor and her vows are not legally binding. If she makes a vow or oath when she is over twelve-and-a-half years old8 and also unmarried, she is a free agent and her vows are legally binding the same as any other adult’s. However, if she is both in her father’s house, i.e., she is still unmarried and therefore under his sole jurisdiction, and she is also in her youth, that is, between the ages of eleven9[myw1] and twelve-and-a-half, then these special laws apply to her:

5 If her father heard her vow or her prohibition that she imposed upon herself by taking an oath, and yet her father remains silent and thus confirms her vow or oath, all her vows in such cases shall be binding, and also any prohibition that she has imposed upon herself in such cases shall be binding.

6 But if her father hinders her on the day he hears this vow or oath by annulling it, declaring it null and void, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself and he has so annulled shall not be binding. God will forgive her if, before becoming aware that her father annulled her vow or oath, she transgressed it, because her father already hindered her, preventing the vow or oath from taking force.

7 If, between the ages of eleven and twelve-and-a-half, she becomes betrothed to a man while her vows are in force, or the oaths she made by an utterance of her lips and that she thereby imposed upon herself are in force, her father having neither annulled them nor confirmed them,

8 and her fiancé hears about them but remains silent on the day he hears about them, her vows shall remain binding and her prohibition that she has imposed upon herself by taking an oath shall remain binding. By remaining silent, her fiancé has confirmed them.

9 But if her fiancé, together with her father, hinders her on the day he hears it, he thereby annuls the vow she had taken upon herself and the utterance that she had imposed upon herself by taking an oath, and God will forgive her if she transgresses it unaware that it has been annulled.

10 If the engagement is broken off while the woman is still in this age range, she returns to the jurisdiction of her father and the laws governing a single girl of this age apply to her. But as for the vow or oath of a woman who did marry her fiancé but became a widow or a divorcé while still in this age range, whatever she prohibited upon herself will remain binding upon her. Once she has been fully married, her father no longer has any jurisdiction over her, even if she subsequently becomes widowed or divorced.

11 If the woman married her fiancé and she vowed in her husband’s house, that is, while under his jurisdiction, regardless of her age, or imposed a prohibition upon herself with an oath,

12 and her husband heard and remained silent, and did not hinder her, all her vows shall be binding and every prohibition she imposed upon herself shall be binding. By remaining silent, he has implicitly confirmed her vow or oath.

13 If, on the other hand,her husband annuls them on the day he hears them, anything issuing from her lips regarding her vows or self-imposed prohibitions shall not be binding: her husband has annulled them and God shall forgive her if, unaware that he has annulled them, she transgresses them.

14 Her husband does not have control over all her vows and oaths; he can either uphold or annul only any vow or any binding oath of self-affliction that affects their relationship.

15 Regarding the period in which the husband may annul such vows or oaths, if her husband remains silent from the time he heard about them on one day until the beginning of the next day, that is, until nightfall after he heard about them, he has by virtue of remaining silent upheld all the vows and prohibitions she has assumed; he has upheld them since he remained silent on the day he heard it.

16 But if he then changes his mind and annuls them, after having heard them and confirmed them by remaining silent until the end of the day or by saying ‘I approve,’ this shall not be a valid annulment; therefore, he shall bear her iniquity if she transgresses her vow or oath, thinking he has annulled it.

17 These are the rules which God commanded Moses concerning a man and his wife and a father and his daughter, in her youth, while in her father’s house. The sage (or tribunal) can release the vow, while the father, husband, or fiancé can annul the vow, but not vice versa.

The Attack on Midian

Second Reading 31:1 The Torah now returns to the historical narrative, continuing with the aftermath of the incident at Shitim and the preparations for Moses’ death. As was seen above,10 God told Moses to distress the Midianites and that soon he would have to attack them directly. God now spoke to Moses, saying,

2 “Take revenge for the Israelites against the Midianites. Afterwards, you will die and be gathered to your people.”

3 Even though Moses understood that he would die soon after this battle, he nevertheless did not delay to do God’s bidding. Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm from among you righteous men for the army, that they can do battle against Midian, and carry out the revenge of God against Midian.” God had just described this battle as “the revenge of the Israelites,” but since whoever is an enemy of the Jewish people is an enemy of God, the two concepts are equivalent.

4 Moses continued, “You shall send a thousand of these men from each tribe from all the tribes of Israel—including the tribe of Levi, which normally is exempt from military service—into the army.”

5 From the thousands of Israelites, a thousand men were given over for each tribe against their will, because they understood that fighting this battle would hasten Moses’ death. Even though the Jews harassed Moses continually since the Exodus, they really valued him and tried to forestall losing him. Nonetheless, they reluctantly submitted to God’s will, and there were thus 12,000 armed for battle.

6 Moses sent them—the thousand from each tribe—to the army. Because the excessive plunder from the battles with Sichon and Og had left the Israelites morally lax and susceptible to Balaam’s plot, Moses told them not to take any booty by themselves from this battle.11 In order to increase their spiritual merits, he sent them to the army along with Pinchas the son of Eleazar the priest, for his merit equaled that of the rest of the army. Although Eleazar was the high priest, it was Pinchas who accompanied the army because (a) he had begun the attack on the Midianites when he slew their princess, Kozbi,12 so it was fitting that he oversee its completion; (b) this was an opportunity for him to take revenge on the Midianites for buying his ancestor,13 Joseph,14 as a slave; and (c) he was the priest appointed to exhort the people before battle.15 Pinchas went out with the sacred utensils—the ark that always accompanied the Israelites into battle16 and the high priest’s garments, which the priest appointed to exhort the people before battle wore17and the trumpets for sounding during battle18 in his possession.

7 They mounted an attack against Midian, as God had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.

8 As it happened, Balaam was in Midian at the time, for he had come to collect his fee for having caused the death of thousands of Israelites by advising Moab and Midian to entice them into the sins of idolatry and lechery.19 When the Israelites attacked, he used his magical powers to make himself and the five kings of the Midianite confederation fly in the air, but Pinchas held up the high priest’s headband to them, and the Divine Name engraved on it nullified the power of Balaam’s magic. In this way, they killed the Midianite kings, making them fall from the air upon their own slain. Evi, Rekem, Tzur, Chur, and Reva were the five kings of Midian. They were equally guilty of scheming against the Israelites, and therefore all died the same way. Balaam, in the meantime, left the Midianite camp and approached the Israelite army, attempting to argue that it was useless to try to subdue Midian. “If,” he argued, “when you were 600,000 strong, you could not resist the temptation to sin with the Midianite girls, what makes you think you can now resist the same temptation when you are only 12,000 strong?” The Israelites thereupon slew Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. This was poetic justice: Balaam had tried to usurp the Jews’ weapon, their power of prayer, by battling them with his curses; the Jews in turn killed him by usurping the non-Jewish weapon, the sword.20

9 The Israelites took the Midianite women and their small children captive, and they plundered all their beasts, livestock, and all their possessions.

10 They set fire to all their residential cities and also to their castles, in which their political and religious leaders lived.

11 They took all the movable booty and all the living plunder of man and beast

12 and brought it all—the captives, the plundered animals, and the movable bootyto Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the entire community of Israel in the camp, in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho. They did not appropriate any of it for themselves, just as Moses had told them.

Third Reading (Second when combined) 13 Although the soldiers’ behavior was impeccable, some of the young people started looting the booty when the army returned. To stop them, Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all princes of the community went out to meet them, outside the camp.

14 When he saw the Midianite women, Moses became angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds—who had returned from the campaign of war.

15 Moses said to them, “Did you let all the females live?

16 We can recognize them individually: they are the same ones who were involved with the Israelites on Balaam’s advice to betray God in the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of God.

17 So now kill every male child, and you shall also kill every woman who is old enough to have carnal intercourse with a man, even if she is still a virgin.

18 But you may keep alive all the young girls who are not old enough to have carnal intercourse with a man, for yourselves. We will determine which ones are in which category by having all the women pass in front of the high priest’s headband; the faces of those mature enough for carnal relations will turn green.

19 And those of you who have been defiled through contact with a corpse during the war or will kill the captives now must encamp outside the camp, that is, not enter the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting for at least seven days; specifically, whoever either came in contact with a corpse indirectly through having killed a person with a sword or some other instrument that transmits defilement or who touched a corpse directly shall purify himself on the third and seventh day after he begins counting, with the solution made of the ashes of the red cow.21 This applies to both you and to any of your captives who have converted.

20 Similarly, all garments, leather articles, any goat product, including those made of its hair, horns, claws, and bones, and every wooden and metal article that came in contact with a corpse shall undergo the same purification rites.”

21 In his anger at the army over their having left the Midianite women alive, Moses mistakenly assumed that purifying the plundered eating utensils from the defilement of having come in contact with a corpse would also purify these same utensils from the forbidden food they had absorbed and from the impurity they possessed by virtue of belonging to a non-Jew.22 So Moses’ nephew, Eleazar the priest, said to the soldiers returning from battle, “This—the laws of purification from defilement through contact with a corpse that Moses just reviewed for you—is the statute that God commanded Moses, and you must do as he said.

22 But even after you have purified the captured utensils from defilement caused by contact with a corpse, you must also purify these utensils from the forbidden food they absorbed and from the impurity of belonging to a non-Jew, through a different process. Metal vessels—the gold, the silver, the copper, the iron, the tin, and the lead

23—in fact, whatever is used in fire, you shall pass through fire the same way it is used, and then it will be purified. If it is a cooking vessel used with boiling water, you must immerse it in boiling water. If it is used directly over the fire, you must heat it until it turns white-hot. This is how a metal utensil releases the forbidden food it has absorbed. You must, however, remove any rust from it first, so nothing interposes between the metal and the cleansing medium. (In contrast to metal vessels, earthenware vessels used in fire never release the forbidden food they have absorbed, so such vessels cannot be purified.)” Although the people knew the principles involved in removing forbidden food from vessels23 (and therefore Moses did not need to mention these laws after the battles with Sichon and Og), Eleazar had to repeat them here because (a) Moses had implied that they were not applicable; (b) Moses had not overseen this battle, so extra care was necessary to ensure that the soldiers followed all the applicable laws properly, and (c) the Midianites had rusty vessels, so the law applicable to such a case had to be articulated now.24But before you purify a metal vessel from the forbidden food it has absorbed, it must be purified with sprinkling water, that is, the solution made with the ashes of the red cow, to purify it from the defilement caused by contact with a corpse, and even if the vessel is brand new, it must be immersed in the purifying water of a mikveh, the ocean, or a flowing river or stream to purify it from the defilement caused by non-Jewish ownership. Whatever vessel is not used in fire does not absorb any forbidden food; therefore, you need only immerse it in purifying water after purifying it from contact with a corpse.

24 In order to complete the process of purification from defilement by a corpse, mentioned by Moses, you shall immerse yourselves and your garments in purifying water on the seventh day after you began counting, and thus become ritually pure;25only afterwards, you and your garments may enter the camp, that is, the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting.”

Fourth Reading 25 God spoke to Moses, saying,

26 “Take a count of the plunder of the captive people and animals, you, together with Eleazar the priest and the heads of the paternal houses of the community.

27 And you shall divide thisplunder equally between the warriors who went out to battle and the rest of the entire congregation. The soldiers may keep whatever moveable property they captured, however, all for themselves.

28 And you shall levy a tax for God from the half you gave to the soldiers who went out to battle: one out of every 500 of the people, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep.

29 Take this tax from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a gift to God.

30 From the half belonging to the rest of the Israelites, you shall take one fiftieth of the people, the cattle, the donkeys, the sheep, and all animals as a tax, and you shall give them to the Levites, the keepers of the charge of the community, as their representatives, in the Tabernacle of God.”

31 Moses and Eleazar the priest did as God had commanded Moses.

32 The plunder, which was in addition to the moveable spoils that the army had pillaged, consisted of 675,000 sheep,

33 72,000 cattle,

34 and 61,000 donkeys.

35 As for the people, that is, the women who were not old enough to have carnal intercourse with a man, they were 32,000. Miraculously, the tallies were all such that their halves were divisible by 50 and by 500, so God’s instructions could be carried out precisely and so the tax could be actually levied from the entire tally. This would not have been possible if the total had not been divisible by these numbers.26

36 Regarding the half that was the portion of those who went out to battle: the number of sheep was 337,500

37 and the tax to God from the sheep—one five hundredth—was 675;

38 there were 36,000 cattle, of which the tax to God was 72;

39 there were 30,500 donkeys, of which the tax to God was 61;

40 and there were 16,000 people, of which the tax to God was 32 people.

41 Moses gave the tax, which was a gift to God, to Eleazar the priest, as God had commanded Moses.

Fifth Reading 42 As he was commanded, Moses then took a tax from the half allotted to the Israelites, which Moses had divided for them from the total spoils brought back by the men who had gone into the army.

43 Although it had taken time to divide all the plunder in half and levy the tax from the soldiers’ half, none of the captives or animals died, nor were any new ones born, in the interim.27 Thus, the community’s half also totaled the same as the soldiers’: 337,500 sheep,

44 36,000 cattle,

45 30,500 donkeys,

46 and 16,000 people. Thus, the two halves of the spoils were exactly equal, and the proportions levied from them were precise.

47 Moses took one-fiftieth of the half of the Israelites, the people and the animals, and gave them as a tax to the Levites, the keepers of the charge of the community, as their representatives, in the Tabernacle of God, as God had commanded Moses.

48 After this, the officers appointed over the army’s thousands, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, approached Moses.

49 They said to Moses, “Your servants counted the soldiers who were in our charge, and not one man is missing from us.

50 We therefore wish to bring an offering for God—any man who found a gold article of women’s jewelry, be it an anklet, a bracelet, a ring, an earring, or a chastity belt—to atone for our souls before God for any lustful thoughts we may have had toward the Midianite women.”

51 Moses and Eleazar the priest took all the gold articles from them.

52 The total of the gift of gold which they dedicated to God amounted to 16,750 shekels; this was from the commanders of the thousands and the commanders of the hundreds,

53 while, as mentioned previously, the soldiers had seized moveable spoils for themselves and kept them.

54 Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from the commanders of the thousands and hundreds and brought it to the Tent of Meeting, as a remembrance for the Israelites before God.

The Request of Reuben and Gad

Sixth Reading (Third when combined) 32:1 The Israelites had camped in Sichon’s territory, southern Gilead, ever since conquering it in Elul, 2487.28 They had also conquered the Ya’zer district, in Sichon’s territory,29 and Og’s territory, even further north.30 Of all the tribes, the descendants of Reuben and Gad had most appreciated the unique spiritual benefits of the manna, and were careful to eat it as much as possible. Since, for this reason, they had slaughtered very little of their cattle for food,31 they had an abundance of livestock, very numerous, and they saw the land of Ya’zer and the land of southern Gilead,32 and behold, the place was a place uniquely suitable for livestock.

2 Like the spies that conquered Ya’zer33 and the rest of the people, they were determined not to repeat the previous generation’s mistake of spurning the Land of Israel, and wanted to rectify this mistake, as well. They knew that God had promised Abraham that his descendants, the Jewish people, would eventually inherit not only Canaan but afterwards also the original territories of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, to the east of the Jordan River.34 They also knew that although God had forbidden the Israelites to wage war with these peoples, parts of Moab and Ammon had become permitted when Sichon wrested them from their original inhabitants. Thus, they felt that settling these lands now would hasten the time when the Israelites would inherit them in their entirety. Also, they felt that if Moses would have at least some involvement in possessing the land, it would solidify the Israelites’ physical and spiritual control over it considerably. By choosing not to enter Canaan for these positive reasons, they hoped to rectify the sin of the spies’ generation, who chose not to enter Canaan for negative reasons. They took the fact that they had abundant cattle and that these territories were particularly suitable for cattle as a Divine sign that they should try to realize their vision.35 The descendants of Gad, who took the lead in this matter, and the descendants of Reuben, who followed them, came and spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the princes of the community when they were all studying together, saying,

3 The cities of Atarot, Divon, Ya’zer, and Nimrah, Cheshbon, Elaleh, Sevam, Nebo, and Beon, and their surrounding areas,

4 in the land that God struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land uniquely suitable for livestock, and your servants possess much livestock.”

5 They said to Moses, “If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan. Even though the whole nation conquered this land, and it is therefore the property of all the tribes, we ask that it be given to us in exchange for the land we would have taken on the west side of the Jordan.”36

6 Because of their lofty intentions, Moses agreed to their idea in principle, but he had one major misgiving: Moses said to the descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben, “Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?

7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over to the land which God has given them? They will think you are afraid of fighting the inhabitants of the land, and will become afraid, also.

8 This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Ritmah, near Kadesh Barnea, to explore the land.37

9 They went up to the Valley of Eshkol and saw the land, and they discouraged the Israelites from coming into the land which God has given them.

10 God became angry that day, and He swore, saying,

11 ‘None of the men 20 years old and over who came out of Egypt will see the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, for they did not follow Me wholeheartedly,

12 except for Caleb the son of Yefuneh, the Kenizite—Caleb’s father, Yefunah, had died, and his mother married Kenaz, so Caleb was Kenaz’s stepson38and Joshua the son of Nun, for they followed God wholeheartedly.’

13 God became angry with Israel, and He made them wander in the desert for 40 years, until the entire generation who had done evil in the eyes of God had died out.

14 And behold, you have now risen in place of your fathers as a society of sinful people, to add to the wrathful anger of God against Israel.

15 If you turn away from following Him, He will leave Israel in the desert again, and you will destroy this entire people.”

16 They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds and similar enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our wives and children.” They mentioned sheepfolds before cities because they were more concerned for their livestock than they were for their families.

17 “We will then arm ourselves quickly and go before the Israelites, leading the troops, for we are valiant, and we also rely on Jacob’s promise that the descendants of Gad will be successful warriors.39 We will not leave them until we have brought them safely to their place. In the meantime, our wives and children will reside in the fortified cities we will now build, on account of the inhabitants of the land.

18 Not only will we help our brethren conquer the land, we shall not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has taken possession of his inheritance.” In fact, it took them seven years to conquer it and another seven to divide it up, and the warriors of Reuben and Gad did not return to the eastern side of the Jordan until the end of these 14 years.40

19 “For we will not inherit with them on the other, west side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us here, on the east bank of the Jordan.”

Seventh Reading (Fourth when combined) 20 Moses said to them, “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves for battle and go before your brothers, God’s people,

21 and all your armed men cross the Jordan to do battle before your brothers, God’s people,41 until He has driven out His enemies before Him,

22 and the land will be conquered before God, then, as far as I am concerned, this is enough, and afterwards you may return, and you shall be freed of your obligation from God and from Israel, and this land will become your heritage before God. You then do not have to stay any longer.

23 But, if you do not do so, behold, you will have sinned against God, and be aware that there is a punishment for your sin, which will find you.

24 So build yourselves cities for your wives and children and sheepfolds for your sheep and appropriate pens for your other animals—but not in the order you mentioned them, sheepfolds and then cities, for your families are more important than your livestock. And, since you have vowed to remain on the western side of the Jordan until your brethren inherit their land, you must do as you have promised.”

25 The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben spoke to Moses as one man, unanimously, saying, “Your servants will do as you, our master, commands.

26 Our children and our wives, our livestock and our cattle will remain there, in the cities of Gilead.

27 But your servants will cross over, all who are armed for combat before God, for the battle, as our master has spoken.”

28 Since he knew he would not live to supervise the arrangement with these tribes himself, Moses commanded Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and all the paternal heads of the tribes of the Israelites concerning them.

29 Moses said to Eleazar and Joshua, “If the descendants of Gad and Reuben cross the Jordan with you, all who are armed for combat before God, and the land is conquered before you, you may give them Gilead as a heritage.

30 But if they do not cross over with you armed for battle, they shall receive a possession among you in Canaan.”

31 The descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben answered, saying, “We shall do as God has spoken to your servants.

32 We shall cross over in an armed force before God to Canaan, and then we shall have the estate of our inheritance on this side of the Jordan.”

33 So Moses gave the land on the east side of the Jordan to the descendants of Gad and the descendants of Reuben and half, that is, part of the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph. Specifically, Moses gave the former kingdom of Sichon, king of the Amorites, to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the former kingdom of Og, king of Bashan, to two of the eight clans of the tribe of Manasseh.42 The tribe of Manasseh had not requested any land on the east side of the Jordan, but Moses realized that the tribes of Reuben and Gad were correct in assuming that if he were involved in possessing the land it would strengthen the people’s control over it. He took their reasoning one step further and reasoned that his involvement (and its positive effect) would be even more pronounced if he planted some other part of the Jewish people in their land on his own initiative. He had given the former kingdom of Sichon to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, but the former kingdom of Og lay unclaimed. This area was the land of the Rephaim,43 part of the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants when they first conquered the land,44 not in the messianic future. (True, Moses had originally assumed that the land on the west side of the Jordan should be conquered first, but that plan had already been aborted.45) The tribe of Manasseh was famous for its devotion to the Land of Israel,46 so Moses specifically chose them to express the people’s hope and aspiration to inherit the land in full. By dividing the tribe in two and giving half an inheritance on the west side of the Jordan and half an inheritance on the east side, Moses demonstrated that this tribe did not receive its portion on the east bank of the Jordan because it did not want to live in the land proper. Indeed, the majority of the tribe crossed the Jordan and settled on its west bank.47 Moses gave these two-and-a-half tribes allthe land mentioned together with the cities within its borders, the cities of the surrounding territory.

34 The descendants of Gad built up Divon, Atarot, Aroer,

35 Atrot Shofan, Ya’zer, Yogbehah,

36 Beit Nimrah, and Beit Haran, making them into fortified cities and sheepfolds.

37 The descendants of Reuben built Cheshbon, Elaleh, Kiryataim,

38 Nebo, Ba’al Meon—the names of the latter two having been changed by the tribe of Reuben since they were originally named after idols—and Sivmah, which is the same as Sevam, mentioned above,48 for they changed the names of the cities they built in order to emphasize the fact that they had now come into Jewish possession.49

Additional Conquests

Maftir Inspired by the idea of expanding the borders of the Land of Israel in anticipation of the future, the descendants of Machir the son of Manasseh50 went to the northern part of Gilead, that was beyond Og’s territory, and conquered it, driving out the Amorites who were there.

40 Moses gave this part of Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it.51

41 Yair, the great grandson of Manasseh,52 also went and conquered some of the Amorites’ territory in northern Gilead, which included cities and villages.53 He called the villages surrounding the cities “the villages of Yair” after himself to perpetuate his name, since he was childless.54 But he only named the villages after himself and not the cities because villages are like the “offspring” of the cities.55

42 Similarly, another descendant of Manasseh,56 Novach, went and conquered the city of Kenat, and its surrounding villages, but he called the city itself—not just the villages—Novach, after his name. But this name did not persist .57


Synopsis of the Exodus

33:1The Torah continues to chronicle the preparations for the people’s entry into the Land of Israel. Now that the people have reached their final stop on their trek through the desert and are poised to enter the Promised Land, the narrative summarizes this chapter of their history by briefly reviewing the 42 stations on the journey. These are the journeys of the Israelites who left Egypt, organized by tribal troops,58 under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

2 Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys according to the word of God, and these were their journeys with their starting points (See Figure 1).59

3 They journeyed from Raamses60 in Nisan, the first month, specifically, on the 15th day of the first month; on the day following the Passover sacrifice, the Israelites left triumphantly61 in full view of all the Egyptians.

4 And the Egyptians were busy burying their dead, because God had struck down their firstborn,62 and He also destroyed their deities.63

5 The Israelites journeyed from Raamses and camped at Sukot.64

6 They journeyed from Sukot and camped at Eitam, at the edge of the desert.65

7 They journeyed from Eitam and returned to Pi Hachirot, which faces Ba’al Tzefon, and camped before Migdol.66

8 They journeyed from Penei Hachirot (an alternative name for Pi Hachirot) and crossed in the midst of the sea to the desert.67 They walked for three days in the desert of Eitam and camped at Marah.68

9 They journeyed from Marah and arrived at Elim, and at Elim there were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees, and they camped there.69

10 They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Sea of Reeds.70

Second Reading 11 They journeyed from the Sea of Reeds and camped in the Sin desert.71

12 They journeyed from the Sin desert and camped at Dafkah.72

13 They journeyed from Dafkah and camped at Alush.73

14 They journeyed from Alush and camped at Refidim, but there was no water for the people to drink there.74

15 They journeyed from Refidim and camped in the Sinai desert.75

16 They journeyed from the Sinai desert76 and camped at Kivrot Hata’avah.77

17 They journeyed from Kivrot Hata’avah and camped at Chatzerot.78

18 They journeyed from Chatzerot and camped at Ritmah.79The word ritmah means “slander”; this place was so named because it was here that the spies slandered the Land of Israel.

19 They journeyed from Ritmah and camped at Rimon Peretz.80

20 They journeyed from Rimon Peretz and camped at Livnah.

21 They journeyed from Livnah and camped at Risah.

22 They journeyed from Risah and camped at Kehelatah.

23 They journeyed from Kehelatah and camped at Mount Shefer.

24 They journeyed from Mount Shefer and camped at Charadah.

25 They journeyed from Charadah and camped at Makhelot.

26 They journeyed from Makhelot and camped at Tachat.

27 They journeyed from Tachat and camped at Tarach.

28 They journeyed from Tarach and camped at Mitkah.

29 They journeyed from Mitkah and camped at Chashmonah.

30 They journeyed from Chashmonah and camped at Moserot.

31 They journeyed from Moserot and camped at Benei Yaakan.

32 They journeyed from Benei Yaakan and camped at Chor Hagidgad.

33 They journeyed from Chor Hagidgad and camped at Yotvatah.

34 They journeyed from Yotvatah and camped at Avronah.

35 They journeyed from Avronah and camped at Etzion Gever.

36 They journeyed from Etzion Gever and camped in the desert of Tzin, at the city of Kadesh.81

37 They journeyed from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor,82 at the edge of Edom.

38 Aaron the priest ascended Mount Hor at God’s bidding and died there “by God’s kiss,83 on the first day of Av, the fifth month, in the 40th year of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.84

39 Aaron was 123 years old when he died at Mount Hor.

40After Aaron died, the Amalekite king of Arad, disguised as a Canaanite, who dwelt in the south of Canaan, heard that Aaron died when the Israelites came to Mount Hor, and therefore attacked them.85

41 They journeyed from Mount Hor and camped at Tzalmonah.86

42 They journeyed from Tzalmonah and camped at Punon.87

43 They journeyed from Punon and camped at Ovot.88

44 They journeyed from Ovot and camped by the ruins of the passes,89 on the Moabite boundary.

45 They journeyed from the ruins of the passes and camped at Divon Gad.90

46 They journeyed from Divon Gad and camped at Almon Divlataimah.91

47 They journeyed from Almon Divlataimah and camped at The Mountains of the Passes, in front of Nebo.92

48 They journeyed from The Mountains of the Passes and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho.93

49 They camped along the Jordan; their encampment extended from Beit Yeshimot to Avel, the plain ofShitim,94 in the plains of Moab, a distance of 24,000 cubits. From this chronicle, it is clear that God did not exhaust the people by making them wander continuously during the 38 years between the sin of the spies and the entry into the land. Of the 42 stations, 14 occurred between the Exodus (Nisan 15, 2448) and the decree (9 Av, 2449), and 8 between Kadesh (Nisan 1, 2487) and the plains of Moab (after Tishrei, 2488). The people spent 19 years at Ritmah (from 2449 to 2468),95 so, in the remaining 19 years (between 2469 and 2487), they camped at only 20 stations. They thus spent an average of a year at each of these stations.

Occupying the Land

Third Reading (Fifth when combined) 50 God spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying:

51 Although you have already told the people that they will have to expel the present population from Canaan,96 speak to the Israelites now and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan,

52 you shall do so with the express intention to drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, or else the waters of the Jordan will engulf you and kill you. You must destroy all their marble-floored temples, destroy their molten idols, and demolish their altars.

53If you indeed clear out the land of its present inhabitants, you will successfully settle it, for I have given you the land to occupy it.

54 You shall be privileged to give the land as an inheritance to your families by lot, as I have told you:97 you shall give a larger inheritance to the large tribe and you shall give a smaller inheritance to the small tribe; wherever the lot falls for a person, that shall be his inheritance; you shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers who came out of Egypt, and furthermore, you shall inherit the land in 12 districts, according to the tribes of your fathers.

55 But if you do not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those whom you leave over will become as vexing asspikes in your eyes and will cage you in like a hedge of thorns on all your sides, and they will harass you in those areas of the land in which you settle.

56 And it will be that what I had intended to do to them, I will do to you.’ ”

The Boundaries of the Land

34:1 God spoke to Moses, saying:

2 “Command the Israelites and say to them, ‘When you arrive in Canaan, this is the land which shall fall to you by lot as an inheritance, Canaan according to its borders. As you know, there are certain commandments that you are obligated to fulfill only within your land but not outside of it. It is specifically within the following borders that you are obligated to fulfill those commandments. It will fall easily to you, for I have incapacitated the guardian angels of the seven nations that occupy it.

3 Your land’s southernmost side shall be from the desert of Tzin, which is alongside Edom, westward, as follows: The southern border shall begin from the southernmost edge of the Salt Sea, i.e., the Dead Sea, to the east, i.e., on the southeast shore of the Dead Sea.

4 The border will then turn southward and pass to the south of Ma’aleh Akrabim and pass toward Tzin. Its southernmost extension shall be to the south of Kadesh Barnea, because it shall extend to Chatzar Adar and from there pass toward Atzmon.

5 The border will then turn northwest from Atzmon and continue to the stream of Egypt, i.e., the Nile,98 following it, and its end shall be where the stream of Egypt flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

6 Your land’s western border shall be the Great Sea—the Mediterranean—and the islands close to the shore will also be within this border. This shall be your western border.

7 This shall be your northern border: From the Mediterranean Sea draw a slanting line from the seaward extension of Mount Hor99—where the northwest border begins—to Mount Hor itself.

8 From Mount Hor draw a slanting line eastward until the entrance of Chamat, which is Antioch, and the end of this leg of the northern border shall extend to Tzedad.

9From there, an additional leg of the northern border shall extend to Zifron, and its end shall be Chatzar Einan; this shall be your northern border.

10 You shall then draw a slanting line for the eastern border, from Chatzar Einan to Shefam.

11 The border will descend southward from Shefam toward Rivlah, passing to the east of Ayin. Then the border will descend further southward and hit the eastern shore of Lake Kineret.

12 The border will descend further southward along the Jordan River, and its end will be the Salt Sea, i.e., the Dead Sea; this shall be your land according to its borders all around (See Figure 2).’ ”

13 Moses commanded the Israelites saying, “This is the land which you are to apportion for inheritance through lot, which God has commanded to give to nine and a half of the 12 tribes.

14 For the tribe of Reuben’s descendants, according to their fathers’ house, and the tribe of Gad’s descendants, according to their fathers’ house, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their inheritance.

15These two and a half tribes have received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan, opposite Jericho.”

Fourth Reading (Sixth when combined) 16 God spoke to Moses, telling him to say to the people:

17 “These are the names of the men who shall inherit the land on your behalf and then divide it among you,under the leadership of Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun:

18 You shall take one prince from each tribe to acquire the land and then divide it among you.

19 These are the names of the men: for the tribe of Judah: Caleb the son of Yefuneh.

20 For the tribe of the descendants of Simeon: Shmuel the son of Amihud.

21 For the tribe of Benjamin: Elidad the son of Kislon.

22 The prince for the tribe of the descendants of Dan: Buki the son of Yogli.

23 For the descendants of Joseph: the prince for the tribe of the descendants of Manasseh, Chaniel the son of Eifod

24 and the prince for the tribe of the descendants of Ephraim, Kemuel the son of Shiftan.

25 The prince for the tribe of the descendants of Zebulun: Elitzafan the son of Parnach.

26 The prince for the tribe of the descendants of Issachar: Paltiel the son of Azan.

27 The prince for the tribe of the descendants of Asher: Achihud the son of Shelomi.

28 The prince of the tribe of the descendants of Naphtali, Pedahel the son of Amihud.

29 These are the ones whom God commanded to apportion the inheritance to the Israelites in Canaan.”

Levite Cities

Fifth Reading 35:1 God spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, opposite Jericho saying,

2 Since the tribe of Levi will receive no portion of the land, command the rest of the Israelites that they shall give the Levites cities in which to dwell from their hereditary estates, and tell them also: ‘You shall give the Levites open spaces around the cities, which are not to be used for residential or agricultural purposes.

3 These cities shall be theirs for dwelling in, and their open spaces shall be for their cattle, their property, and for all their other needs.

4 The areas of open space for the cities that you shall give to the Levites shall extend from the wall of the city outward, one thousand cubits all around. In addition, you shall give them another thousand cubits in each direction for agricultural purposes.

5Thus, you shall measure from outside the city, 2000 cubits on the eastern side, 2000 cubits on the southern side, 2000 cubits on the western side, and 2000 cubits on the northern side, with the city in the middle; this shall be their cities’ extended open spaces (See Figure 3).

6 The cities you shall give to the Levites shall include the six cities of refuge whose function will be described presently, which you shall provide as places to which a murderer can flee. In addition to them, you shall provide the Levites with 42 other cities.

7Thus, all the cities you shall give to the Levites shall number 48 cities; give them to them together with their open spaces.

8 And as for the cities that you shall give the Levites from the lands of the Israelites, you shall take more from a tribe with a larger land inheritance and you shall take less from a tribe with a smaller one. Each one, according to the relative size of the inheritance allotted to him, shall give of his cities to the Levites.

Intentional and Unintentional Murder

Sixth Reading (Seventh when combined) 9 God now gave Moses the laws of the cities of refuge.100 He spoke to Moses, saying:

10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan, into Canaan,

11 you shall designate six cities for yourselves that shall act as cities of refuge for you: a murderer who killed a person unintentionally but nonetheless is guilty of negligenceshall flee there from the close relative of the murdered person, who, in such a case, is allowed to avenge his death, as will be explained presently.

12 These cities shall serve you as a refuge for the unintentional murderer from this avenger, so that the unintentional murderer shall not die until he stands in judgment before the congregation’s judges.

13 The cities that you provide shall function as cities of refuge only when all six cities of refuge have been designated for you.’ ” Thus, even though Moses later101 designated three cities in Transjordan as cities of refuge, they did not function as refuge cities until the three in Canaan were also designated.

14God foresaw that there would be a similar number of incidences of unintentional murder on both sides of the Jordan River, even though only two and a half of the 12 tribes settled on the east side, so He told Moses to tell the people, “You shall provide three of the cities in Transjordan and three of the cities in Canaan; they shall be cities of refuge.

15 These six cities shall be a refuge for both the Israelites and for the convert and resident among them, so that anyone who unintentionally kills a person can flee there.

16Now, these cities do not offer asylum for an intentional murderer: If the assailant struck the victim intentionally with an iron instrument of any size and he died, he is a bona fide murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.102

17 If he struck him with a fist-sized stone, which is large enough to be deadly, and he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.103

18 Or if he struck himwith a fist-sized wooden instrument, which is large enough to be deadly, and he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.104(If, however, the stone or wooden instrument was not big enough to cause death normally, but the victim died of the blow anyway, the assailant is not guilty of intentional murder.)

19Once the intentional murderer has been tried and found guilty, the blood avenger—the close relative of the victim—shall be allowed kill the murderer; he may kill him wherever he meets him, even inside a city of refuge.

20Similarly, if, out of hatred, the assailant pushed the victim, or threw something at him in ambush, and he died,

21 or if he maliciously struck him with his hand and he died, the assailant shall be put to death; he is a murderer, and the blood avenger may kill the murderer wherever he meets him, even inside a city of refuge.

22The law is different, however, in the case of unintentional murder. If the assailant pushed the victim down accidentally, without malice, or threw an object in a downward motion at him and not in ambush,

23 or he killed him with any stone that is large enough to be deadly, that is, without seeing his victim he threw it down at him and it killed him, but, in all these cases,he was not his enemy and bore him no malice,

24 then the congregation’s judges shall judge between the assailant and the blood avenger, on the basis of these judgments: If the murder happened as just described, the assailant is considered guilty of negligence and may be killed by the blood avenger unless the assailant has fled to a city of refuge. However, if the assailant killed the victim by throwing something up at him, or by means of any other upward movement, this is considered unnatural, so the assailant is not considered guilty of negligence, the victim’s close relatives may not avenge his blood, and the assailant does not have to flee.105

25If the assailant must be removed from the city of refuge in order to stand trial, the congregation shall protect the murderer from the hand of the blood avenger, and—if he is judged guilty of unintentional murder by negligence—the congregation shall return him safely to the city of refuge to which he had fled. He shall remain there even after the victim’s close relatives have calmed down and no longer seek to avenge his blood. For even then, the victim’s close relatives are required to kill the assailant if he leaves the city of refuge. This obligation devolves upon them until the high priest, who was anointed with the sacred oil, dies. There are two reasons why the obligation ceases with the death of the high priest: First, the high priest, by serving in the Temple—particularly by performing the Yom Kippur rites that atone for the people’s sins—enables God’s presence to dwell among the people and lengthens their lives. In contrast, a murderer, by killing a person, banishes God’s presence from the world and shortens lives. It is therefore not fitting that the murderer should be free as long as the high priest who was in office when the crime was committed is alive. Secondly, we have seen that the death of the righteous atones for the sins of their generation.106 In this case, the death of the high priest (presumably a righteous person) will atone for the assailant’s inadvertent sin. It is specifically the high priest’s death that atones for this sin (rather than that of any other righteous person) because he had the power to pray on Yom Kippur that such a misfortune not occur; since in fact it did occur, he is held partly responsible.107 Nonetheless, if the high priest who was alive when the incident occurred died while the assailant was standing trial, and a new high priest was appointed before the trial was concluded, the murderer goes free only when the second high priest dies.

26 But if the murderer goes beyond the border of the city of refuge to which he had fled,

27 and the blood avenger finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, the blood avenger must slay the murderer, for it is as if he is dead already and has no blood.

28 Rather, the unintentional murderer must remain in his city of refuge until the high priest dies, and only after the high priest has died may the murderer return to the land which is his estate.

29 These laws shall be a statute of justice for you, for all your generations, in all your dwelling places, even outside the Land of Israel: a minor court (of 23 judges) may try capital cases as long as the Sanhedrin (of 71 judges) is functioning in the Land of Israel.

30Although the victim’s close relatives are allowed (and required) to kill the murderer if he leaves the city of refuge, and no further trial is necessary, this is not the case with an intentional murder: Whoever, as ablood avenger, wants to kill a person for having intentionally killed his close relative, shall be allowed to slay the murderer only on the testimony of at least two witnesses that the accused was warned and acted intentionally. A single witness may not testify against a person so that he should die.

31 You shall not accept monetary ransom for the life of a murderer who has killed inadvertently and is guilty of death if found outside the city of refuge by the blood avenger, for he must be put to death.

32Similarly, you shall not accept ransom for one who has killed inadvertently and fled to his city of refuge, to allow him to return to live freely in the land before the high priest has died.

33 You must not, by trying to circumvent these laws, corrupt the land in which you live, for the blood of the murdered corrupts the land, and the blood that is shed in the land through murder cannot be atoned for except through the blood of the one who shed it or the death of the high priest, as stated previously.

34 You must not defile the land where you reside, in which I dwell, for this will cause Me to dwell in defilement, inasmuch as I am God, who continues to dwell among the Israelites even if they are defiled.”

The Laws of Inheritance, continued

Seventh Reading 36:1 The paternal heads of the family of the sons of Gilead the son of Machir the son of Manasseh, one of the families of the sons of Joseph, approached and spoke before Moses and before the princes, the paternal heads of the Israelites, when they were all assembled for study. They asked Moses about the law and addressed the princes as litigants.108

2 They said through one of them who spoke for them all, “God commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance through lot to the Israelites, and my lord was commanded by God to give the inheritance of Tzelofechad our brother to his daughters.109

3 Now, if they marry a member of another tribe of the Israelites, their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, for their sons will inherit them, and they will be part of their fathers’ tribes. Thus, their inheritance will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance.

4Even if the Israelites will observe a Jubilee year after they die110—in which land returns to its original owner—their inheritance will still remain in their sons’ possession and be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, for only sold land returns to its original owner in the Jubilee year, not inherited land. And in any case, the Jubilee is observed only when the majority of the Jewish people are living in the Land of Israel,111 and this may not always be the case. Thus,their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers’ tribe.”

5 Moses commanded the Israelites according to the word of God, saying, “The tribe of Joseph’s descendants speak justly.

6 This is the word that God has commanded regarding Tzelofechad’s daughters: Let them marry whomever they please, but they shall marry only someone from the family of their father’s tribe.

7 Thus, the inheritance of the Israelites will not be transferred from tribe to tribe, for each person from the Israelites will remain attached to the inheritance of his fathers’ tribe. (The only exception to this is the fact that Joshua and Caleb’s children were given the land inheritances of the other spies’ children.112)

8 Every daughter from the tribes of the Israelites who inherits property because her father had no sons must marry a member of a family of her father’s tribe, so every Israelite shall inherit the property of his forefathers

9 and no inheritance will be transferred from one tribe to another tribe, for each person of the tribes of the Israelites shall remain attached to his own inheritance.”

10 Tzelofechad’s daughters did as God had commanded Moses.

Maftir 11 Machlah, Tirtzah, Choglah, Milkah, and Noah—in this order, the order of their birth—married their cousins.

12 They married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of their father’s family.113

13 These are the commandments and the ordinances that God commanded the Israelites through Moses in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, opposite Jericho.