, 2022-07-18 11:31:28,
Parashat Pinchas begins with a continuation of the narrative of Israel’s immoral behavior found at the conclusion of Parashat Balak. That behavior was induced by Balaam, the heathen prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Jews. Thus, Moab plays a key role in persuading Israel to grievously sin (Numbers 22:5, 6; 31:16).
It wasn’t always this way, though, as the ancestor of Moab was once close to the ancestor of Israel. In time, the relationship deteriorated.
Moab is a descendant of Lot, the nephew of our father Abraham. We first meet Lot in the Torah after the death of his father Haran (Abraham’s brother). In a certain sense, Abraham adopts Lot. When Abraham goes to Canaan, Lot is mentioned in the text as a full-fledged member of his family (Genesis 11:27–31; 12:5).
After arriving in Canaan, Abraham and Lot are driven by famine to Egypt. Upon returning, “Abraham went up from Egypt, he with his wife and Lot with him” (Genesis 13:1). Nehama Leibowitz points out that the expression “Lot with him” indicates that Lot was no longer a central figure in Abraham’s family but became a kind of tagalong. Apparently the wealth that both Abraham and Lot attained in Egypt had transformed Lot into a new person who felt separate from Abraham.
Paralleling this new distance between them, the shepherds of Abraham and Lot quarrel, claiming the land cannot provide for both of them. Abraham tells Lot that he does not want to argue. Wherever you wish to go, I will go elsewhere, Abraham says (Genesis 13:8, 9). One would imagine that since Abraham raised Lot, Lot would say that, despite the tight quarters, Lot could never leave this place. But looking out at the plains of Sodom, Lot decides to separate from Abraham (Genesis 13:10–12).
In time, Sodom is destroyed. An angel of God tells Lot to run to the mountain, understood in the Midrash to be a reference to Abraham – in other words, the angel instructs, return to Abraham who lives in the hills (Rashi, Genesis 19:17; Pesikta Rabbati 3). Lot refuses, insisting that were he to do so, evil would cleave (tidbakani) to him (Genesis 19:19).
This background brings us to our incident in which Lot’s descendant, the Moabite king Balak, wishes to spiritually destroy Israel, the descendants of Abraham.
Moab strays to the point that the Torah in Deuteronomy states that Moabites may never become part of Israel. After all, Balak did all he could to sever Israel’s covenantal relationship with God (Deuteronomy 23:4,5).