Throughout the ages, many gentiles have hated Jews. We were expelled from many countries, including those which claim to be bastions of refined civilization. What can we do to stop this cycle? A midrash offers a surprising answer that seems to have been refuted by the modern experience. God commands Moshe to exact Israel’s revenge (nikmas Yisrael) on Midian, punishment for their enticement of the Jews to idolatry and immorality (Num. 31:1). For important reasons beyond our current scope, Moshe passes this command to other but in slightly different language. He commands the people to take God’s revenge (Num. 31:3). Whose revenge is it, God’s or Israel’s?

The Midrashic Cycle of Anti-Semitism

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I. Whose Revenge?

Throughout the ages, many gentiles have hated Jews. We were expelled from many countries, including those which claim to be bastions of refined civilization. What can we do to stop this cycle? A midrash offers a surprising answer that seems to have been refuted by the modern experience.

God commands Moshe to exact Israel’s revenge (nikmas Yisrael) on Midian, punishment for their enticement of the Jews to idolatry and immorality (Num. 31:1). For important reasons beyond our current scope, Moshe passes this command to other but in slightly different language. He commands the people to take God’s revenge (Num. 31:3). Whose revenge is it, God’s or Israel’s?

Medieval commentators offer three answers, two directly based on varying opinions in the midrash. Abarbanel (and Malbim) offers a non-midrashic, pseudo-Brisker approach. He explains that the revenge has two aspects — God’s revenge for the enticement to idolatry and Israel’s revenge for the punishment they received due to the enticement. Rashi and Onkelos offer a simpler approach. They suggest that this is God’s revenge; anyone who attacks the Jews does so as an attack on God.

II. Three Solutions to Anti-Semitism

Chizkuni takes the opposite approach; this was Israel’s revenge. However, the Jews complained to God that they were only attacked because they followed His laws. Had they abandoned His Torah, they would never have been attacked. Therefore, they placed some of the blame for the attack on God. Chizkuni’s source is Bamidbar Rabbah (22:2; parallels in Tanchuma, Matos 3; Yalkut Shimoni ad loc.), which describes the complaint as follows: “If we were uncircumcised, idol worshipers or rejectors of the laws they would not hate us or chase us. It is because of the Torah and commandments You gave us. Therefore it is Your revenge.”

The three elements of this surprising attribution of anti-semitism to Jewish behavior deserves careful study. It does not state that if Jews would assimilate into gentile populations, they would not suffer persecution. If so, the last two parts do not conform to this concept. The midrash seems to say that even if we remain a separate nation but worship idols or merely fail to observe the commandments, we would be free from anti-semitism. Understandably, our unique, at least in ancient times, devotion to a solely incorporeal God separates us from other people. Our refusal to take part in any aspect of their religions may offend. Additionally, our unique eating habits and other religious behaviors also set us apart from other nations. But does this midrash imply that if we jettison those behaviors we will be accepted? If we act like the majority culture, take part in their religion and behave like them — i.e. assimilate — we will avoid anti-semitism?

III. The Failed Modern Experiment

The modern experience seems to disprove this contention. After over two centuries of emancipation and wide-scale assimilation, Jews still face hatred. While overt discrimination is illegal in most civilized countries, hatred can never be legislated out of existence. Many still see Jews as an “other” to be feared. Jews who intermarried and hid their identity learned in the Holocaust the futility of this failed experiment of assimilationist survival.

Arguably, the midrashic complaint could be claiming that if every Jew would assimilate then anti-semitism would vanish. (I also considered that the midrash could be referring to the rejection of the Torah by the generation that accepted it but the language does not seem to allow it.) This is Jean Paul Sartre’s eventual solution to the problem of anti-semitism in his Anti-Semite and Jew. Michael Walzer, in his preface to the 1995 edition of Sartre’s book, summarizes the author’s view of the ultimate Jewish fate: “The Jews will assimilate into this [classless] society, leaving nothing behind, without regret, giving up their Jewishness just as the worker gives up class consciousness for the sake of universality” (p. xviii).

However, the complete disappearance of the Jewish people is biblically untenable and midrashically impossible. God’s biblical promises to the Jews in the desert, of entering and settling the land of Israel, preclude the possibility of the nation’s disappearance at that time. And the messianic promises of the prophets demand a surviving remnant. The Talmud (Bava Basra 115a) records a divine promise that each tribe of Israel will remain eternally extant, even if temporarily unrecognizable in the mixed multitude of Jewish communities (see Tosafos, Gittin 36a sv. bi-zman).

IV. The Cause of Anti-Semitism

Perhaps the midrash is explaining the cause, and not the resolution, of anti-semitism. The Netziv devoted a good deal of thought to the cause of anti-semitism (in the supplement to his commentary on Song of Songs and in his haggadah commentary to “ve-hi she-amdah“). In exact contradiction to common sentiment, when Jews try to assimilate that is precisely when anti-semitism grows. The refusal to cling to Jewish tradition and to remain separate in many ways from other nations, the rejection of some or all of Judaism, is the true cause of anti-semitism.

The midrash may be sending precisely this message. Even soon after accepting the Torah, before gentile prejudices could even develop, the Jews blamed their troubles on religion. At the very beginning, before the concept even made sense, we blamed anti-semitism on our different behavior. Clearly this approach is wrong. After many centuries, the modern experience has confirmed this midrash’s message.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

52 comments

  1. I don’t mean to be pedantic, but the mikra itself does not indicate punishment for their enticement of the Jews to idolatry and immorality (Num. 31:1). No reason is given for God’s command in Num. 31:2 or Moshe’s command in Num. 31:3. Nor is the reason obvious from its denouement in the mikra.

    Also, if you’re going to frame this story in the context of anti-Semitism, are you also willing to frame the solution set as per Num 31:7-18? And for that matter, Joshua 6:21.

    Dangerous stuff.

  2. Oh, please. Not even worth a response. Those who don’t like commentators to interfere with their study might still remember Num. 22-25.

  3. Point to the Rashi that expicates “punishment for their enticement of the Jews to idolatry and immorality” please.

    Also, please address my 2nd paragraph.

  4. 1. See Rashi and Ramban to 31:2, 6

    2. Just because some anti-semitic acts are punished one way does not mean all are. Are you going to suggest that the Amalekites were not anti-semites?

  5. Neither Rashi 31:2 nor 31:6 explicates “punishment for their enticement of the Jews to idolatry and immorality”. The closest he gets is the mention of Kozbi in 31:6, but then you’re relying on a midrash of a midrash. My point remains that the mikra does not make your point clear, and this is not a straightforward matter of unanimous and unambiguous Rabbinic interpretation.

    I also fail to see why you are so defensive on this point that I started off by saying was pedantic at some level — the meta-issue is one that RNS has addressed nicely in the past: we should be careful to identify midrash when it deviates from the p’shat. If I recall, his example related to the plague of frogs.

    Finally, I think you need to think through the punishment side of the equation, particularly given your foray into Kahane’ism.

  6. Also, if you want to link the Midianites with anti-Semitism (coined circa 1879), how do you explain Yitro and Zipporah?

  7. Assuming this understanding, it follows that in the period of the crusades their was some weakening of jewish commitment. It also follows that during much of european history there were attempts at assimilation. Correct me if I am wrong, eastern europe suffered anti- semitism ages before the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Is this post meant to explain causality or simply offer some geological

  8. IH, the command in Pinchas is

    צָרוֹר, אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִים; וְהִכִּיתֶם, אוֹתָם. כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, בְּנִכְלֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר-נִכְּלוּ לָכֶם עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר

    “Harrass the Midyanim and smite them, because they are deceivers that caused you to stumble on the matter of Peor and the matter of Kozbi.”

    The reason is entirely explicit. Were it not clear enough when it says כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, and there is no other interaction between Midyan and Israel from the Exodus till now, it tells you exactly the wrong they did to us.

  9. Rashi:

    ושם האשה המכה וגו’: להודיעך שנאתם של מדינים שהפקירו בת מלך לזנות, כדי להחטיא את ישראל

    “שנאתם של מדינים”
    He says they hated us.

    כמו זכור, שמור, לשון הווה. עליכם לאייב אותם
    Continually hate them. Why? He continues.
    שהפקירו בנותיהם לזנות, כדי להטעותכם אחר פעור
    They made their daughters into prostitutes in order to entice to idolatry.

    Rashi is explicit. And whether he says so in 30 or 5 chapters before, he is clear and unambiguous. He could hardly not be, as I cannot interpret the command in the text any other way.

  10. Elon — I do not dispute this is a legitimate way to read the text based on Rabbinic interpretation. My point is that we should be more careful about not conflating the d’rash with the p’shat.

    As to the Rashi, he is not explicit. One can read an inference in — as you have — but, that is not the only way to read it.

    So, since this is so clear to you, how do how do you explain Yitro and Zipporah: יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה in light of this midrash?

  11. IH: I guess you’ll never give up so I’ll have to pretend to agree to disagree.

  12. Yes Rashi is explicit. But this is not at all part of the pshat vs drash “battles” discussed elsewhere! The posuk in Pinchas is explicit. Moshe in his anger at the soldiers who return with the female captives is explicit. This is 100% pshuto shel mikra. I can’t even grasp the point IH is claiming to make.

    And what do Yisro and Tziporah have to do with the reading of the sedros of Balak-Pinchas-Matos? Yisro was there 39-40 years earlier and Moshe married Tzipora some decades before that. It isn’t even a minor stretch to say that either Yisro and his family were more positively disposed towards Klal Yisrael than his fellow Midianites, or that Midian’s attitude towards Klal Yisrael shifted negatively in that half-century or more.

  13. So, Midian was like Germany, to pick up on Gil’s overall point of anti-Semitism? During Moshe’s lifespan, they went from philo-Israelite to anti-Israelite to the extent that we needed to obliterate them from the face of the earth?

  14. During Moshe’s lifespan, they went from philo-Israelite to anti-Israelite to the extent that we needed to obliterate them from the face of the earth?

    Who said Yisro and his family were typical of Midianite thinking and attitudes? If anything, I recall a Midrash that stated that when Yisro renounced idolatry, he was deposed from his position as chieftain of Midian.

    Not to mention that Moshe was just a single refugee from Egypt (whom Yisro’s daughters characterized as an Ish Mitzri!), not the nation of Israel that had accepted their unique historical mission at Har Sinai.

  15. Moshe in his anger at the soldiers who return with the female captives is explicit.

    Why would virgin women & girls be spared, but male children executed? וְעַתָּה, הִרְגוּ כָל-זָכָר בַּטָּף; וְכָל-אִשָּׁה, יֹדַעַת אִישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּב זָכָר–הֲרֹגוּ.

  16. Tal — What about Exodus 18:8-27 which demonstrates Yitro is fully aware and philo-Israelite?

  17. Gil’s analysis of anti-semitism doesn’t have to have any relation to the Pshat in the story in Balak-Pinchas-Matos at all. The pshat is the pshat and Gil’s extrapolation and conclusions may rest on the pshat, but I can find his conclusions unpersuasive and still see the psukim as they straightforwardly appear.

    And for Yisro to be an outlier in his country, or for a country to change its attitude towards Jews over 40-80 years, is fine by me. The first possibility rings truer to me.

    Also, I didn’t say you had to like Moshe’s opinions. But they are what they are. He felt that the very women who initiated the harlotry/idolatry that led to the plague were the ones the war was primarily against, and that therefore leaving them alive as one would in most wars was wrong.

  18. Tal — What about Exodus 18:8-27 which demonstrates Yitro is fully aware and philo-Israelite?

    I will be dan le kaf zechus and assume you are genuinely interested in understanding and not just writing le kanter. I hope I am not proven wrong.

    First of all, that is Yisro, not Midian. As I said, Yisro was different — and Chazal certainly understood him to be so. He was a seeker after Truth, and he ultimately accepted the truth of Hashem and His Torah. That does not tell you anything about Midian.

    Secondly, that parsha is temporally much later. Acc. to Rashi, it occured AFTER matan Torah; acc. to the Ramban, it occured AFTER the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.

    Perhaps I should digress and note the famous Chazal that “the true name of Har Sinai is Horeb, and why is it called Sinai? Because since the Torah was given there, Hatred (Sinah) came into the world.”

    The point is, that the ultimate source of anti-semitism (or hatred of Jews if you find that term anachronistic) is the resentment of our position as God’s chosen people and our unique historical mission. That, at least is the majority reaction. The minority reaction is, how wonderful, God sent us a people to learn from, let’s emulate them or even join them. Yisro was definitely a member of the minority in this regard. His nation wasn’t.

    The point is, when Moshe escaped from Egypt, he had not yet been chosen to lead the Jewish people on their special, historical mission. He was just a refugee from Egyptian justice — one who looked Egyptian. Why should that inspire any particular hatred by Midian?

    By the time your cited pesukim occur, it was clear that God had something very unique in store for the Jewish people. That created a reaction — very negative among most, very positive among those like Yisro.

    (BTW, just as an aside, why did Hashem command revenge against Midian and not Moab. That country was at least as involved in the Baal Peor events as Midian. The simple answer, I think, is that Moab was concerned that they would be conquered, or if not at least overwhelmed, by the conquest of their neighbors. See BAmidbar 22:4. So for them there was at least an understandable reason for enmity. Midian, OTOH, had no reason to fear Israel. Why even get involved? It sounds like they had some other reason, perhaps a religious one, to attack the Jews.)

  19. Tal — This is a difficult text that anyone serious about studying Torah must engage with. It seems to me implausible that Yitro was not representative of Midian. The interpolation of Midian and Moav in the Pinchas story (25:1 vs. 25:6) is also an issue that manifests itself in the need for midrashic explication (e.g. Rashi on 31:2).

    Regarding your theory that the cause of anti-Semitism – perhaps, but note Prof. Feldman’s views in the /i> section of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_antisemitism

  20. Corrected: Regarding your theory of the cause of anti-Semitism – perhaps, but note Prof. Feldman’s views in the Early animosity towards Jews section of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_antisemitism

  21. IH, you really don’t see why a conquering army would kill males and not females?

  22. What about the fact that the Torah tells us explicitly that others attacked Yisro’s daughters. If Yisro was such a fine representative, why was he subject to that attack? The attack accords with what we know from Chazal, that Yisro was already at odds with the rest of his countrymen.

  23. Rashi explains that the shepards attacked because Yisro was in nidui!

  24. Shlomo — of course I do, but based on historical context and not the midrashic explications for this text being discussed. Note also that the next such incident is Yericho, where the females were killed: יַּחֲרִימוּ, אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר בָּעִיר, מֵאִישׁ וְעַד-אִשָּׁה, מִנַּעַר וְעַד-זָקֵן; וְעַד שׁוֹר וָשֶׂה וַחֲמוֹר, לְפִי-חָרֶב.

    Further, the Moav/Midian interpolation is significant in this regard, given Megillat Ruth. As I said, it’s a difficult text.

  25. Abba's Rantings

    IH:

    “It seems to me implausible that Yitro was not representative of Midian”

    why is it so implausible?
    and as far as your peshat is concnered, it seems more plausible than implausible.

  26. They weren’t conquering Midian. They were waging war on it to permanently cripple it in retaliation for Peor. That’s why they originally spared all the non-combatants. They were going to conquer and occupy Jericho and the land.

  27. Abba — It seems to me implausible that the cultic leader of a people/tribe/nation could be that out of sync with the people and remain alive, let alone their leader.

    One possibility is that the Midianites of these various stories are not one cohesive entity, but a general name for a variety of independent people/tribe/nations. I do not know enough to know if that has legs, but that would neatly untangle many of the complexities that come about from assuming they were a cohesive people/tribe/nation all of whose males were killed in our parsha.

  28. The simple explanation is that they didn’t attack Moav because they already promised not to do so when they negotiated with Ammon for passage through in Chukat.

  29. It’s obvious Midyan was more than one entity, as it continued to exist after this incident. Also what kind of tribe has five kings?

  30. I agree with R Gil-it does not take a lot for a society that was once philo-semitic to become anti Semitic, with Spain and Germany strike me as two excellent examples. I think that the Netziv’s analysis of anti Semitism and assimilation cannot be dismissed as ” dangerous stuff” , or that we have some sort license to dispense with Drash, merely because it does not comport with Pshat. We cannot ignore the historical reality that many Jewish communities that were prominent and well off in prior countries in the Diaspora simply don’t exist and that the seemingly modern and liberal countries of Western Europe simply aided and abetted in the Holocaust.

    We would be far better off if we realized that Ramban’s often voiced theme based on the Medrash Tanchuma of “Maaseh Avos Siman Lbanim” is not an imperative fact of Jewish history, but certainly one that has appeared on multiple occasions due to no fault of anybody but ourselves.

  31. Abba's Rantings

    STEVE BRIZEL:

    “it does not take a lot for a society that was once philo-semitic to become anti Semitic, with Spain and Germany strike me as two excellent examples”

    spain and germany were never philo-semitic

    ELON:

    “Also what kind of tribe has five kings?”

    you are thinking of a european type of a king

  32. That was my point. It was not a centralized country.

  33. Abba's Rantings

    IH:

    “It seems to me implausible that the cultic leader of a people/tribe/nation could be that out of sync with the people and remain alive, let alone their leader.”

    a) according to your peshat, “kohen midyan” need not be “*the* cultic leader”
    b) it would seem from sefer shofetim that he didn’t return live amidst the larger midianite entity, but rather that his own clan resettled among the cannanites.
    c) in any case, great personalities are capable of a volte face

    “One possibility is that the Midianites of these various stories are not one cohesive entity . . .”

    that is my working understanding

  34. Abba's Rantings

    “We were expelled from many countries, including those which claim to be bastions of refined civilization. What can we do to stop this cycle?”

    well being that this is 2012 we enjoy the option of making aliyah. this might or might not help dissipate anti-semitism among those in whose midst we currently live, but it can close the cycle of expulsions from what part of galus to another (assuming we lead lives that don’t cause the land itself to send us forth yet again)

  35. Abba-many Jews fought and were decorated by the Kaiser for their vallantry during WW1. German Jewish contributions to German culture and education were recogized during the 19th and 20th Century. German Jews viewed themselves so secure in Germany that they never seriously considered the possibility of aliyah and had views of Zionism that we would associate with an extreme Charedi or NK perspective. More than a few Jews played a critical role in the Weimar Republic and contributed to its very assimilationist cultural milieu. One cannot deny that Rambam, many other Gdolei Rishonim and Jewish culture and communities flourished in the Golden Age of Spain and that the MN was written in response to Spanish Jewrry’s infatuation with Aristotle.

  36. Abba's Rantings

    STEVE BRIZEL:

    all you write is true. yet it doesn’t mean spain and germany were philo-semitic.

  37. Abba — That begs the question of why the mikra leaves ambiguous the identity of the enemy(ies) in these 2 stories, while so many other details are spelled out — some uncomfortably so. Particularly given the bracketing of the Yitro story and, in the K’tuvim the Ruth story (and the קיני permutation in Judges 1 )…

    Steve – see the Prof. Feldman explanation per the link at 1:10 pm.

  38. IH-Professor Feldman’s explanation sheds muuch light on ancient history. Yet, any well read student of Jewish history will note the Spanish Expulsion/Inquisition and the Holocaust as history making events that resulted in the destruction of communities that prior thereto had prominent roles in the surrouding societies.

  39. Steve — last I checked, the Midianites et al. were ancient history. In any case, as already noted by Avraham, Gil’s thesis doesn’t seem to match the context in which the Crusades occurred.

  40. Since I had it out for Tisha b’Av anyway:

    In the four Hebrew chronicles of the Crusades written in the twelfth century there is not only a palpable sense of the terrifying shift in the relations between Jewry and Christendom, but an expression of astonished awe at this first instance of Jewish mass martyrdom on European soil.

    Zakhor, Yosef Haim Yerushalmi (either edition) p. 37

  41. All this stuff about inferences from ancient interpretations of even more ancient verses about extinct nations such as Midian is too abstruse for me.

    As I see it, if we want to minimize anti-semitism today, we must welcome and reciprocate the friendship that is being unprecedentedly offered to us by gentiles.

    If that means that we must give up the comfortable antipathy that we feel toward gentiles, so be it.

    You write, “Throughout the ages, many gentiles have hated Jews.” It is equally true that many Jews have hated gentiles. Perhaps it is just an accident of history that the gentiles have been the more powerful party.

  42. Coincidentally, this is on Ha’aretz today: “Israeli archaeologists have recently unearthed a palace at the Tel Hatzor National Park in Upper Galilee, revealing rare findings – jugs containing scorched wheat from some 3,400 years ago.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/a-3-400-year-old-mystery-who-burned-the-palace-of-canaanite-hatzor.premium-1.453095?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.216%2C2.218%2C

  43. ““Also what kind of tribe has five kings?””

    THink warlord, not king

  44. Scott:

    “You write, “Throughout the ages, many gentiles have hated Jews.” It is equally true that many Jews have hated gentiles. Perhaps it is just an accident of history that the gentiles have been the more powerful party.”

    I totally disagree. I agree that unfortunately too many Jews have (and continue) looked down on gentiles, but I don’t think it comes anywhere near the kind of virulence that produced the inquisition, crusades, tach v’tat etc etc etc etc.
    You may wish to read R Hirsch’s article ‘Jewish Observations’ in the latest volume of his writings http://www.feldheim.com/collected-writings-of-rabbi-samson-raphael-hirsch-volume-9.html as well as this: http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/talmudic_judaism_society.pdf

    In any case, since you made the original assertion (that the hatred is equally matched both ways), do you have anything to back up *your* claim with?

  45. Abba — That begs the question of why the mikra leaves ambiguous the identity of the enemy(ies) in these 2 stories, while so many other details are spelled out — some uncomfortably so.

    Um, because the general political situation at the time was well known and not subject to dispute?

  46. Shlomo — again, that is explication by historical context. I’m fine with that, but many (including here) object to that form of bible scholarship.

  47. IH -the section of Professor Feldman’s work that you provided a link to merely provides the background to anti Semitism stemming from ancient Greece. It really has nothing to do with how Chazal understood anti Semitism and assimilation prior thereto or as a recurring historical and cultural phenomenon in various political settings. I do think that your views on not conflating Pshat with Drash are a coded way of saying that since Drash and Pshat are different means of understanding any verse in Tanach, and that you view Pshat unemcumbered by Drash as superior to Pshat and Drash, as well as the continued hashkafic legitimacy of the views expressed by Chazal in the realm of Drash-especially on the causes of anti Semitism. One need not embrace the views of the SR or REW to realize that assimilation has often been one step ahead of an anti Semitic blowback in many instances in Jewish history.

  48. Scott wrote:

    “It is equally true that many Jews have hated gentiles. Perhaps it is just an accident of history that the gentiles have been the more powerful party.”

    If my grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bicyle.

  49. I do think that your views on not conflating Pshat with Drash are a coded way of saying that since Drash and Pshat are different means of understanding any verse in Tanach, and that you view Pshat unemcumbered by Drash as superior to Pshat

    I do not. We are the people of the interpretation of the book, not the people of the book.

  50. In Parshas Pinchas, the Torah tells us explicitly who Moshe Rabbeinu choose to fight the war against Midyan and why. Yet, upon their return with no physical casualties, Rashi quotes the Talmud in Shabbos that states that a Korban was offered by this august group of soldiers as a Kaparah for Hirhurei Aveirah.

    Aside from the above, I think that the following observation of Tal makes an awful lot of sense:

    “First of all, that is Yisro, not Midian. As I said, Yisro was different — and Chazal certainly understood him to be so. He was a seeker after Truth, and he ultimately accepted the truth of Hashem and His Torah. That does not tell you anything about Midian.

    Secondly, that parsha is temporally much later. Acc. to Rashi, it occured AFTER matan Torah; acc. to the Ramban, it occured AFTER the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.

    Perhaps I should digress and note the famous Chazal that “the true name of Har Sinai is Horeb, and why is it called Sinai? Because since the Torah was given there, Hatred (Sinah) came into the world.”

    The point is, that the ultimate source of anti-semitism (or hatred of Jews if you find that term anachronistic) is the resentment of our position as God’s chosen people and our unique historical mission. That, at least is the majority reaction. The minority reaction is, how wonderful, God sent us a people to learn from, let’s emulate them or even join them. Yisro was definitely a member of the minority in this regard. His nation wasn’t.

    The point is, when Moshe escaped from Egypt, he had not yet been chosen to lead the Jewish people on their special, historical mission. He was just a refugee from Egyptian justice — one who looked Egyptian. Why should that inspire any particular hatred by Midian?

    By the time your cited pesukim occur, it was clear that God had something very unique in store for the Jewish people. That created a reaction — very negative among most, very positive among those like Yisro”

  51. “If my grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bicyle.”

    Umm, that’s the beginning of a very crass joke, and I don’t think you would want to say that about your grandmother…

  52. Isn’t that “if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley car”?

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