“Not One Man” Parashat Balak 5777

While Balaam is unsuccessful in his attempts to destroy Am Yisrael, he does make a significant dent. According to the Midrash, Balaam tells Balak that Hashem hates sexual promiscuity and that Balak can do major damage if he somehow entices Am Yisrael to sin in this manner. Balak thinks this is a great idea and he sends the Midianite women to Shittim, where Am Yisrael are camped, to act as “Skinny Seducers[1]”. The Midianites are successful: Hashem is angered, He sends a plague and twenty four thousand people die.

After the plague, Hashem orders Moshe to take a census to see how many people are left alive. After Moshe completes this task, the Torah summarizes [Bemidbar 26:64-65]: “Among these people [who were just counted] there was not one man who was counted by Moshe and Aharon in the Sinai Desert [in Parashat Bemidbar]. Because Hashem decreed that they would all die in the desert, other than Caleb ben Yefuneh and Joshua bin Nun”. Rashi, noting that the verse stresses that “there was not one man” and not “there was no-one[2], explains that “The women were not included in the decree [of dying in the desert enacted in the aftermath] of the spies, for they cherished the Land. The men said [Bemidbar 14:4] “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!” whereas the women said [Bemidbar 27:4] “Give us a portion of the land as an inheritance”. This is why the episode of Tzlofchad’s daughters[3] follows here.” While the men willingly waive their rights to the Land of Israel, the women go out on a limb to demand their rights to the very same Land.

While Rashi contrasts the female love of the Land against the male aversion for the Land, Rav Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, writing in the Kli Yakar, takes this contrast a giant step further. The Kli Yakar tries to understand why it is the women in the Torah who are the Zionists. He proposes that there are places that tend to breed promiscuity. These include Eilat, Surfers Paradise, and any other place in which people walk around with a bare minimum of clothing. The Kli Yakar adds Shittim to this category, suggesting that it was a fitting place for Midianites to seduce Jews. Conversely, there are lands that are adversely effected by promiscuity. The Land of Israel is a classic example of such a place. After the Torah describes all sorts of sexual misconduct in Parashat Acharei Mot, it summarizes [Vayikra 18:27-28]: “For the people of the land who preceded you did all of these abominations and the land became defiled. Let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” Now here is where the Kli Yakar puts two and two together: The men did not cherish the Land of Israel because they were “prutzim b’arayot” – they were sexually promiscuous. The women, on the other hand, were pure as the driven snow and so they absolutely loved the Land of Israel.

Before we analyse the connection between chastity and Zionism, we must ask ourselves an unpleasant question: Why are men so much more violent than women, especially when it comes to sex crimes? A cursory look around the internet shows that men perpetrate over 76% of the violent crime in the United States. Men are ten times more likely to commit murder and nine times more likely than women to end up in prison. Men commit 99% of the reported rapes and sexual assaults. Boys perpetrate 95% of the violent crimes at the juvenile level. To quote the blogger Mark Manson[4], “If there’s ever been a mega-violent, drug-slinging dominatrix, I’ve sure never heard of her. Or what about a murderous dictator? Rebel military commander? Serial killer? Playground bully? Again and again, almost all men.” Why?

A paper written in 1996 by David Bjorklund and  Katherine Kipp, “Parental Investment Theory and Gender Differences in the Evolution of Inhibition Mechanisms” finds that men have greater difficulty in delaying gratification than do women. Men tend to succumb to their impulses and have less willpower than women. As a result, Bjorklund and Kipp conclude that “women [demonstrate] greater abilities on tasks related to reproduction and childrearing”. In a similar way, it can be argued that one of the reasons that males tend to commit more violent crimes than females is due to their greater difficulty in delaying gratification. Instead of waiting for their anger to subside, they pull the trigger. Their momentary pleasure is eventually rewarded by life imprisonment or worse.

Let’s return to the Kli Yakar. Why do people sin? Why eat that cheeseburger when you know that one day, most likely long after you’re dead, you’ll pay for it. Well, that cheeseburger looks really enticing here and now and if I do end up burning in hell, that’s not going to happen for a good long time. Conversely, if I don’t eat the cheeseburger, I will more than likely not reap my reward in this lifetime. When the spies come back from their expedition in the Land of Israel they announce that while the land is good, it will not be easy to capture. The men tell Moshe “Thanks but no thanks”. The immediate expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears required to evict the Canaanites is not worth the eventual joy of sitting under our own fig tree. The women, ready to delay their gratification, tell Moshe “Give us a portion”. Bring it on! And when the Midianite women, dressed to kill, come knocking on the door, the men, unable to delay their gratification, tell Moshe “Bring it on!

I’d like to try to modify the explanation of the Kli Yakar slightly. Just like not all men occupy the violent ward of maximum security prisons, not all men have trouble delaying their gratification. When the Torah describes the lineage of the daughters of Tzlofchad it goes back six generations [Bemidbar 27:1]: “…the daughters of Tzlofchad, the son of Hefer, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Menashe, from the family of Menashe the son of Joseph”. Why not just take their lineage all the way back to Adam? Rashi, quoting from the Midrash, explains that their love for the Land of Israel was inherited from their ancestor, Joseph, who pleaded with his brothers to ensure that his bones were taken with them to the Land of Israel when they eventually left Egypt[5]. Before Joseph becomes the Second-in-Command to the Pharaoh, he was a slave in the house of Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Minister of Homeland Security. Potiphar’s wife develops a crush on Joseph and attempts to seduce him but Joseph is adamant that he will not violate his master’s trust. Eventually she gives up and frames Joseph and he is thrown into prison. The Midrash explains that Potiphar’s wife desired Joseph not merely because she was sexually attracted to him but because she knew through hazy powers of prophecy that she would one day be maritally related to him. What she did not know, says the Midrash, is that it was not her, but, rather, her daughter [Bereishit 41:45] “Osnat the daughter of Poti-Phera”, who would one day be given to Joseph by Pharaoh as a wife. Notice that in this episode, the male-female roles are reversed: It is Joseph, the male, who delays his gratification, stifling his sexual urges until they can legitimately be fulfilled, and it is Joseph, the male, who demands that his bones be brought for burial in the Land of Israel, hundreds of years after he is dead. Joseph’s chastity and his corresponding love for the Land of Israel is burnt into the DNA of the daughters of Tzlofchad.

We are all born with primal tendencies. Some of us are born angry, some of us are born lazy, and some of us are born having difficulty delaying gratification. The Torah challenges us to act against these tendencies. We have the power to be like Joseph, or at least like the daughters of Tzlofchad.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and HaRav Chaim Nosson Eliyahu ben Lana.

[1] Hence the name of the Aramaic song sung at Shabbat tables around the world.

[2] The Torah could have simply written “v’lo notar mehem ki im…”. The word “ish” is superfluous.

[3] Tzlofchad died in the desert leaving five daughters and no sons. When the daughters heard that they would not inherit their father’s portion in the Land of Israel, they approached Moshe and told him that they deserved to inherit their father’s land. This episode immediately follows the census in Parashat Pinchas.

[4] Manson, while admittedly somewhat vulgar, has a knack for saying things as they are.

[5] Joseph could not live in the Land of Israel but at least he could be buried there. As the Grand Vizier of Egypt he was essentially a prisoner in a gilded castle. The Pharaoh would never let him leave, dead or alive. Years later, the Rambam would suffer the very same fate in Fustat, as the Royal Doctor.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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