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eBook JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2004
Language:  English
Pages:   516

Prepared to work interactively with JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Scholar PDF edition), which can be purchased separately.

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ISBN: 0-8276-0697-4

About the Book -- JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers

About the Book



I N T R O D U C T I O N xi

G L O S S A R Y xlvii

A B B R E V I A T I O N S li


1. The Route of the Israelites from Goshen to Kadesh  lvii

2. The Route of the Israelites from Kadesh to the Jordan  lviii

3. The Borders of Canaan and the Mission of the Scouts  lix

4. Mt. Ephraim in the Light of the Samaria Ostraca  lx

5. The Cities of Reuben and Gad  lxi




Census in the Wilderness  3

The Arrangement of the Camp 8

The First Levite Census 10

The Second Levite Census 17

Purification of the Camp 23

Final Preparations for the Tabernacle Cult 40

Final Preparations for Departure 49


From Sinai to Kadesh 56

The Reconnaissance of Canaan 75

A Miscellany of Laws 90

Encroachment on the Tabernacle 99

Purification from Contamination by a Corpse 123

From Kadesh to the Steppes of Moab 127

Balaam 145

Idolatry and Expiation at Baal-Peor 166


The Second Census 172

The Law of Succession in Inheritance 180

The Succession of Moses by Joshua 183

The Calendar of Public Sacrifices 186

The Annulment of Vows and Oaths Made by Women 196

The War Against Midian 200

The Settlement of Transjordan 208

The Wilderness Itinerary 217

The Division of Canaan 221

Marriage Requirements for Heiresses 231

N O T E S  T O  T H E  C O M M E N T A R Y  234


1. Some Political Institutions of Early Israel 268

2. The Census and Its Totals 269

3. The Encampment 273

4. The Levites: Guards of the Tabernacle 274

5. The Encroacher and the Clergy 275

6. ‘Avodah: The Levites' Work Profile 276

7. The Rationale for Biblical Impurity 277

8. The Judicial Ordeal 279

9. Adultery in the Bible and the Ancient Near East 281

10. The Case of the Suspected Adulteress: Redaction and Meaning 283

11. The Nazirite 288

12. The Structure of Numbers 6:1–21 292

13. The Priestly Blessing 293

14. The Chieftains' Gifts and Sacrifices 295

15. Moses' Audience with God 298

16. Determining the Date of the Chieftains' Contribution 299

17. The Menorah 300

18. The Literary Structure of Numbers 8:5–22 301

19. Levitical “Kippur” 302

20. The Second Passover 304

21. Trumpet and Shofar 305

22. The Ark in War 306

23. The Inverted “Nuns” 308

24. The Structure of Chapters 11–12 309

25. Ecstatic Prophecy in Israel and the Ancient Near East 313

26. Prophecy in Israel and the Ancient Near East 316

27. Sanctification: Preparation for Theophany 317

28. The Tent of Meeting: Two Traditions 319

29. The Structure of Chapters 13–14 320

30. The Scout Typology 323

31. Caleb 324

32. Judgment and Mercy: Vertical Retribution and “Salah” 325

33. Repentance in the Torah and the Prophets 329

34. The “Ger” 331

35. The Two Sections on the Purification Offering 335

36. The Penalty of “Karet” 338

37. The Case of the Wood Gatherer 341

38. The Tassels (Tsitsit) 343

39. Korah's Rebellion: A Study in Redaction 347

40. Sacral Responsibility for Encroachment 356

41. The “Tenufah” Offering 358

42. The “Terumah” Offering 359

43. First Fruits 360

44. The Status of “Herem” 361

45. The First-Born 364

46. The Tithe 365

47. The Structure of Chapter 19 370

48. The Paradox of the Red Cow 371

49. The Effect of the Sinner upon the Sanctuary 377

50. Magic, Monotheism, and the Sin of Moses 381

51. The Encounter with the Canaanites 389

52. The Copper Snake 392

53. The Song of the Well 393

54. The Song of Heshbon 395

55. The Redaction of Chapters 20–21 396

56. The Unity of the Prose and Poetry in Chapters 22–24 400

57. Balaam and the Ass 401

58. Balaam: Saint or Sinner? 402

59. Balaam: Diviner or Sorcerer? 404

60. Balaam and the Deir ‘Alla Inscription 406

61. The Apostasy of Baal-Peor 409

62. The Apportionment of the Promised Land 413

63. The Inheritance Rights of Daughters 415

64. The Urim and Thummim 417

65. The “Tamid” 419

66. Oaths, Vows, and Dedications 421

67. The War Against Midian 423

68. The Literary Structure of Chapter 31 424

69. The Literary Structure of Chapter 32 425

70. The Settlement of Transjordan 427

71. The Integrity of the Wilderness Itinerary 430

72. The Literary Structure of 33:50–56 433

73. The Boundaries of Canaan 434

74. The Levitical Town: An Exercise in Realistic Planning 435

75. Asylum Altars and Asylum Cities 437

76. The Postulates of the Laws of Homicide 442

77. The Redaction of Chapter 36 444

N O T E S  T O  T H E  E X C U R S U S E S  446


Bemidbar 3

Naso' 22

Beha‘ alothekha 43

Shelah-lekha 76

Korah 99

Hukkat 123

Balak 145

Pinhas 170

Mattot 196

Mase‘ei 217

An Excerpt from the Book -- JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers

Encroachment on the Tabernacle (16:1–18:32)


The theme of this entire parashah (chaps. 16–18) is encroachment on the Tabernacle. Korah, vying with Aaron for the priesthood, leads a rebellion of tribal chieftains. They are incinerated by a divine fire when their incense offering—a test devised by Moses—is rejected. (The story of Dathan and Abiram's uprising against Moses is also woven into the narrative; see Excursus 39.) The fire pans of the slain aspirants are then hammered into plating for the altar—a warning to future encroachers. When the people complain about the death of their chieftains, they, in turn, are afflicted with a deadly plague. And a new test involving chieftains' staffs again proves Aaron's rights to the priesthood.

At this point the people panic. Having witnessed the massacre of their leaders at the Tabernacle and the massacre of fellow Israelites in the subsequent plague, they are in mortal fear of entering the Tabernacle lest they too be guilty of encroachment. Divine assurance is then given that, henceforth, the priests and Levites, whose job it is to guard the Tabernacle, will assume responsibility for any encroachment: The Israelites can now worship at the Tabernacle without fear. The parashah concludes with a list of emoluments granted the priests and Levites as recompense for the risks they assume in guarding and transporting the Tabernacle.

The thematic unity of this parashah can best be seen by the following outline of its contents: The Korahite encroachment: vindication of Aaron (and Moses) (16:1–35)

  • The encroachers' fire pans as a sign (17:1–5)

  • The plague: further vindication of Aaron (17:6–15)

  • The staffs: final vindication of Aaron (17:16–26)

  • Priestly and Levitical responsibility for encroachment (17:27–18:7)

  • Priestly and Levitical emoluments for assuming the risks in guarding the Tabernacle against encroachment

  • (18:8–32)



Israel's fortunes have reached a low ebb. Demoralized by the majority report of the scouts and condemned by their God to die in the wilderness, the people are psychologically receptive to demagogic appeals to overthrow their leadership and return to Egypt. Four separate rebellions are herewith recorded and fused: the Levites against Aaron; Dathan and Abiram against Moses; the tribal chieftains against Aaron; and the entire community against Moses and Aaron. The archconspirator, however, is the Levite Korah, who instigates or is associated with all four rebellious groups. The punishment is swift and dreadful: Dathan and Abiram are swallowed by the earth; the encroaching chieftains are incinerated by a divine fire (the fate of the rebellious Levites is not recorded); the community, however, is saved from destruction by the intercession of Moses and Aaron. As for Korah, the nature of his punishment is not clear. He probably perished with the chieftains, but a variant tradition records that he perished with Dathan and Abiram in the earthquake (26:10). For details, see Excursus 39.


1. Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath According to the rabbis, Korah maintains that since the sons of Amram, the eldest of Kohath, assumed the leadership of the people (Moses) and the priesthood ...

An Excerpt from the Book

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