Parashas Ki Seitzei

In this week’s parashah, the Torah says (Devarim 23:4-7):
An Ammonite or a Moabite may not enter into the congregation of Hashem; even to the tenth generation none of them may enter into the congregation of Hashem, forever. Because they did not greet you with bread and with water on the road, when you went forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Bilaam the son of Beor from Pesor of Aram-Naharaim to curse you. But Hashem your God refused to listen to Bilaam, and Hashem your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because Hashem your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their welfare, all your days, forever.
I present two of the Maggid’s commentaries on this passage.
1. The Maggid notes that seemingly the statement about Hashem’s turning Bilaam’s curse into a blessing is out of place in this passage, for it does not contribute to explaining the reason why Ammonites and Moabites are forbidden to become members of the Jewish People. He sets out to explain the role of this statement in the passage. He brings out the point with a parable.
A merchant was on his way home with merchandise he had bought in Leipzig, a major center of trade. He reached an area that was dangerous to pass through, so he decided to settle into an inn and rest. He spent the night in the inn. When morning came, and he got up to feed his horses, he found that his wagon, his horses, and all his merchandise were gone – a thief had come in the night and stolen everything. He cried bitterly over this great loss. Afterward, he decided he would start walking home, for he had no better course of action to take. He walked a short distance and saw his wagon up ahead, driven by a hired wagon driver. He raced toward the wagon and caught up with it. The thief recognized the merchant and gave him back the wagon and all the merchandise, and the merchant rejoiced profusely. Seeing how elated the merchant was, the thief audaciously demanded payment from him for getting the wagon through the difficult area. The merchant slapped the thief on the face and exclaimed: “Look, you are a thief. Was it for my benefit that you did what you did? You were trying to steal my wagon. You did me no good turn that I should pay you for. It is only because of Hashem’s kindness in arranging for me to get the wagon back that I gained a benefit.”
The parallel is as follows. Balak, King of Moav, hired Bilaam to curse us. Hashem turned the curses into blessings. Thus, Balak’s actions led to our receiving a benefit. The Moabites might claim that they deserve a reward for bringing about this benefit. But the Torah commands just the opposite – that we should not allow them to join us. For in truth the Moabites deserve no reward, because it was not for our benefit that they did what they did; on the contrary, they were trying to harm us. It is only because of Hashem’s kindness that a benefit resulted.
2. The Maggid asks why the Torah needs to give two reasons for barring the Moabites from joining the Jewish People: not greeting us with bread and water, and hiring Bilaam to curse us. He answers as follows. We might think that the reason the Moabites did not greet us with bread and water was because they did not have enough to share with others, or because they had a natural tendency toward hoarding. If this were the case, their offense would not be so heinous. The Torah therefore adds the second reason, the hiring of Bilaam. The Moabites offered Bilaam a fortune to curse the Jews, although they were not even sure he would succeed: “perhaps I will be able to smite it” (Bamidbar 22:8). Thus, they were clearly neither poor nor tight-fisted. Yet they still failed to offer bread and water to the Jews who were passing through. This failure reflects a fundamental character flaw, making Moabites unfit to join the Jewish People.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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