Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh, Moses ...

I sat down this afternoon to read this week's parashah, Mattot, which turns the focus of Torah to settling in the land. My biggest beef with this very short parashah is that, after G-d instructs Moses to have the people to take down the Midianites for the episode at Peor.

G-d tells the men to "wreak the Lord's vengeance on Midian" in Numbers 31. So the hefty soldiers go out, killing all of the men, and they round up the booty, women and children and head back to camp. Back at camp, Moses gets all up and arms and demands that they kill all the women who have taken in the delights of carnal pleasures, as well as all of the male children. So the mighty men kill all that Moses has instructed, wait the cleansing period, and then head back into camp.

So what's my beef? Firstly, this is a minor example of a "holy war" so far as we understand the term -- a war raged by religious partisans in order to propogate or defend their faith. That in and of itself is a gigantic issue, as in whether adding religion to a war invalidates or clouds the judgments of participants (think: crusades). But my big beef is about Moses' reaction to the returning soldiers and their booty. Moses is clearly upset with the soldiers for not having killed the women and the children, as in his mind "wreak the Lord's vengeance on Midian" meant to kill everyone, to spare no one. But in the minds of the mass of the soldiers, obviously that statement and in turn the Lord's vengeance applied only to men.

Thus, where is the great divide? Where is the confusion? How is it that all of these Israelites thought that G-d's vengeance meant to kill all the men and Moses's conception of this vengeance meant to kill all the women, too? A question can be raised, is the resulting order to kill all of the women and male children G-d's vengeance or is it Moses'? And on that note, what if even one of these women didn't partake in seducing the Israelites? Are their deaths still valid?

At any rate, just some questions for this week's parshah. Think on it, tell me what you think!