The Battle against Midian - Parshas Balak

Written by Rabbi Rudman, 7/7/2019

 In this weeks Parsha we learn about the battle between Klal Yisroel and an alliance of two nations, Moav and Midian. But if we follow the Pesukim, there are times when the confrontation is with both together, times with Moav, and times with Midian. 


The Parsha begins with Moav sending messengers to Midian to join them in hiring Balak to curse Klal Yisroel[1]. Rashi tells us[2] that Midian and Moav were ancestral enemies and only the common hatred of Klal Yisroel could cause them to join together. When Balaam hesitates to join them, Midian leaves and Moav stays[3]

Throughout the entire Parsha, only Moav is mentioned. But then, when Balaam suggests disgracing Klal Yisroel through incorrect relationships, it begins by mentioning the daughters of Moav; but in the one woman mentioned individually, Kozbi, is from Midian. And in the next two Parshiyos, the final battle in this war is with Midian and not Moav. How do we understand this?

The key is a Pasuk in Matos[4], where Moshe is commanded to take revenge from Midian. Rashi writes[5], But did not Moav begin the war? Since Moav felt threatened by Klal Yisroel, their war was justified, but Midian was involving themselves in a battle that was not theirs. Therefore, there are parts of the war that are relevant to each individually, and parts to both together. Moav we know is a descendant of Lot, and is a part of the family of Avrohom. From him ultimately descends Rus, Dovid, and Moshiach. There is much discussion about the spiritual genealogy that brings that about. But here I would like to examine the antecedents of Midian and where our battle with them lies.

If we examine the ancestry of Midian, we find that they are also actually part of the biological descendants of Avrohom. After the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivka, Avrohom marries again[6]. His wife is Keturah, whom Chazal teach us[7] is his original Pilegesh, Hagar. From that second union come six sons, including Midian. Those sons receive gifts and are sent away from Eretz Yisroel and from Yitzchok to the land of Kedem. From Midian comes Yisro, whose daughter Tziporah marries Moshe. And also from Yisro comes Pinchas, who kills Zimri and Kozbi; and leads the battle against Midian[8]. Finally, in the sale of Yosef, one of the chain of merchants who sell Yosef to Egypt, are Midianites[9]. How are we to understand this interplay of events, and what does this teach us about Midian?

The Parsha of Balak is usually read at the beginning of the period of the Three Weeks, when we begin to mourn the Churban. The Shem MShmuel writes[10] that the Moav and Midian made peace with each other to keep Klal Yisroel from entering into Eretz Yisroel. The ultimate purpose of entering the Land is to build the Bais HaMikdosh. But they do not last. The first Bais HaMikdosh is destroyed because of the sins of Avoda Zara, Gilui Aroyos, and Shefichas Damim. This is the inverse of Moav who is the nation of those three carinal sins. Sinas Chinam is the downfall of the second Bais HaMikdosh. Midian is the source of this sin. They join together as a complete barrier to Eretz Yisroel and the two Batei Mikdosh.

Moavs characteristics are clear in the Pesukim. We see their lawlessness of encouraging their young women to entice Klal Yisroel, and then to use that temptation to bring them to idol worship. And the end result was the death of twenty-four thousand people. Those are the three sins that lead to the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdosh. But where do we find that Midian is the midah of Sinas Chinam? This is explained in the Likutei Torah, the writings of the Baal HaTanya[11].

When Moshe commands Klal Yisroel to take revenge from Midian, the Pasuk writes[12]: Take the revenge of HaShem from Midian. The Pasuk uses the Four Letter Name of HaShem. Why is that name specifically used? We see that the recounting of the conversion of the most famous Midianite, Yisro, is prior to Matan Torah. It is not coincidental that Yisro needed to come to Har Sinai and join the Jewish people, as the opening to Matan Torah. Midian needs to be subjugated to Klal Yisroel so the Torah can be given. Midian is the antithesis of the Name of HaShem. The Name represents complete Shalom. The Gemarra writes at the end of Zevachim, when the nations perceived that Matan Torah was taking place, they went and asked Balaam what was happening. When he told them that HaShem was giving His people the Torah, their response was, May HaShem bless His nation with Shalom. The Torah is Shalom of the upper and lower realms. This is where there is no baseless hatred. The word Midian comes from the Din, judgement. It means disagreement and argument. It is the opposite of the Name of HaShem which is Shalom. Lack of Shalom is where evil begins to exist. As Hillel responds when asked what is the entire Torah, What you hate, do not do to your friend. All the rest go and study.

This ties back to the earlier Rashi. Midian got involved in a disagreement that had nothing to do with them. They are the opposite of Shalom.This goes back to the inheritance that they received from Avrohom. In the Pasuk it says that they received gifts[13]. Rashi writes that those gifts were Names of impurity. The second explanation of what these gifts were, is that these are the gifts he received as a result of Sara being taken by Pharaoh and Avimelech.

The gift of Names of HaShem, are Names of that do not bring out the completeness of the unity of HaShem. Avrohom thought that by giving them those Names, they would stay attached to some degree to HaShem. But the children of Hagar end up misusing them. These Names are lacking the Shalom of the complete Name of HaShem, and Midian misuses them and is lead astray.

That is also why Yosef is sold by the Midianites. Yosef and his brothers are lacking in Shalom. The proper agency of punishment is the nation that represents lack of Shalom. But they sell him to Egypt. Egypt represents Gilui Aroyos, and Yosef is tested by the wife of Potiphar. Further, since Midian is the son of Keturah, who is Hagar a princess of Egypt, they tie back to the Midah of Egypt which is licentiousness. Where does that enter into the lack of Shalom of Midian? That seems to be something different?

There are two types of lack of Achdus and Shalom. One is when a body that is meant to be unified is not, and separates into disparate pieces. That was Yosef and his brothers. The second, is when there is a foreign object in the body. In Klal Yisroel when there is intermarriage that is by definition a lack of unity. Yosef mistakenly thinks that his brothers are marrying non-Jewish women, which is the second kind of division. That is also contradicting the unity of Klal Yisroel. Therefore, he is sold by Midian to Egypt, where he is tempted by the wife of Potiphar. That temptation is not just to fall into Gilui Aroyos, but is also to destroy the unity of Klal Yisroel by Yosef assimilating. When he overcomes that temptation, his descendant is the one to smite Kozbi, the Midianite women who tempts the prince of Shimon.[14]

That is the second explanation of the gifts that Avrohom gave the children of Keturah. It is what Sara was tempted with when she could marry out. Avrohom gives that to his children, but they misuse it and create a temptation to Klal Yisroel to be divided and lacking in Achdus.

If we examine the end of this weeks Parsha, we find this idea brought out very clearly. When Zimri the prince of Shimon takes Kozbi, he confronts Moshe. Why could you marry the daughter of Yisro, and I cant take Kozbi? They are both from Midian! But if we go back, we find a crucial difference. The Mitzvah that is the opposite of leaving Klal Yisroel by intermarriage is Bris Milah. Someone who marries a non-Jewish woman is removing his Bris Milah by stretching his Arlah[15]. But Ziporah, Moshes Midianite wife, actually performs Bris Milah on her child. She is the opposite of Kozbi, she enhances the unity of Klal Yisroel, by bringing her child into the Bris. This is the true victory over Midian, and returning them to the fold of Avrohom.

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