These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 383, The Mitzvah of Burial.
Ammon and Moav: What Was So Bad About Not Giving Us Bread and Water?
The verse in Parshas Ki Seitzei reads, “Neither an Ammonite nor a Moavite shall enter the Congregation of the L-rd; even to the tenth generation they shall not come into the Congregation of the L-rd, forever.” [Devorim 23:4] The law is that we are not allowed to accept (male) converts from the nation of Ammon or Moav. Even though they are our cousins (the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Avram), nevertheless they are never accepted as converts to Judaism. [Since the Assyrian kings co-mingled the nations at the end of the First Temple period, there are no longer identifiable members of these nations today.]
The Torah explains the reason for this severe restriction upon these nations: “This is because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt, and also because they hired Bilaam son of Beor from Pessor in Aram Naharaim to curse you.” [23:5].
It sounds as if they are forever restricted from entering the Jewish nation, simply because “they weren’t nice”. What was their great shortcoming? We were cousins passing through – a mere 2,000,000 people – and we wanted bread and water; but they refused to come out and sell us the supplies we requested. For this injustice they are eternally excluded from our people.
Relative to other things that happened to the Jewish people over the millennia at the hands of the Gentile world, this does not appear to be such a terrible crime. It does not even rank! There have been inquisitions, expulsions, torture, pogroms – we know our history all too well. Why is the Torah being so strict with the Ammonites and Moavites, simply because they were not nice enough to bring bread and water to us? Perhaps we should be grateful that they did not kill us! Relatively speaking, failing to offer us bread and water does not seem so bad.
Furthermore, what is the relationship of this first complaint to the fact that “they hired against us Bilaam son of Beor…”? Is this a two-count indictment against Ammon and Moav? Maybe the first count was not bad enough to deserve the punishment that they were being given? Many commentaries discuss these points.
I saw a beautiful interpretation from Rav Nisan Alpert, z”l. Ammon and Moav are not being held accountable for failing to be “nice guys”. We do not demand or expect that. We reject Ammon and Moav because their hatred for the Jewish people was so profound and pervasive, that it did not allow them to act even in their own best interest.
The Jewish nation had just left Egypt. “Nations heard and they shuddered; Terror gripped those who dwell in Phillistia…” [Shmos 15:14]. The whole world was trembling from this hoard of people on the march. Everyone feared: “Wait until they get here. What is going to happen to us?!”
What would be the politically expedient action for Ammon and Moav to take? We did not ask them for righteousness, but they should have at least acted in their own best national interest. Clearly, it would have been in their best interest to be nice – not for ‘nice-ness’ sake; but to be diplomatic and politically astute. They could have even made some money on the deal. They could have come out, offered peace, sold bread and water, and done a favor for themselves in the process. Antagonizing Israel was clearly contrary to their own interests.
Why did Ammon and Moav reject the “smart” approach? Because their hatred for the Jewish people was so strong that they cut off their collective noses to spite their collective faces! That is why they are so detestable to us and that is why they are excluded from entry into our people.
Perhaps one could make the argument that the reason they were not “nice” to us was because they were principled people. They did not want to be “two- faced”. Perhaps they were too honest and straight to put their arms around us and sell us bread and water on the one hand, and then turn around and whisper under their breath “we hate those Jews!”
To clarify that they were far from being principled, the Torah concludes with the second point “and they hired against you Bilaam son of Beor…” There is a history to this event. Ammon and Moav were defeated at the hands of Sichon. Who did Sichon employ to destroy Ammon and Moav? None other than old Bilaam himself! Bilaam had a resume to his credit. When Sichon needed Bilaam, Sichon hired him to do to Ammon and Moav what Ammon and Moav were now trying to do to Israel. So even though Bilaam should be the arch-enemy of these two nations, when he was needed to curse the Jews, they were prepared to make friends with the devil to accomplish that goal. They were now prepared to let bygones by bygones and put Bilaam on a retainer for the purpose of cursing the Jews. They flatter him, they honor him, and they wine and dine him. Clearly we are not dealing with principled nations!
Even though Ammon and Moav had no principles, even though they were prepared to make “deals with the devil,” nonetheless, when it came to the Jews, their hatred was so profound that any civility was impossible. They even turned away from financial dealings that would have been to their own benefit. That is why we can never accept these nations. They have a national character flaw that could never be accepted into the Jewish nation.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#383). The halachic topics dealt with in the portion of Ki Seitzei in the Commuter Chavrusah Series are the following:
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
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Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.