Thursday, July 02, 2015

Parashas Balak: Deir 'Alla Inscription - Livius

Deir 'Alla Inscription - Livius

Why is this not more widely known?

Deir 'Alla Inscription

Deir 'Alla Inscription: inscription, found in the Iron Age town of Deir 'Alla, mentioning the Biblical prophet Balaam.
Deir 'Alla Inscription
Deir 'Alla Inscription
Deir 'Alla is situated in western Jordan, about eight kilometers east of the river Jordan, and about a kilometer north of the Jabbok. The excavators found a very large Bronze Age sanctuary that had suffered in the period of wide-spread destruction in the thirteenth/twelfth centuries. Unlike other settlements, which were abandoned, Deir 'Alla remained in use well into the fifth century BCE. That is remarkable.

Even more remarkable, however, was the discovery of a painted text that contained a prophecy by Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet who is mentioned in the Biblical book of Numbers 22-24 as a servant working for the Moabite king Balak. (The site of Deir 'Alla is, technically, on the Ammonite side of the river Jabbok.) The text refers to divine visions and signs of future destruction, in a language that is close to that of the Bible. For example, we read about the "Shaddai gods", an expression that is close to the BiblicalEl Shaddai, "God Almighty". On the other hand, the setting is not monotheistic: we read, for instance, about a gathering of a group of gods. The word elohim, which in the Bible (although plural) refers to one God, refers to more than one god in the Deir 'Alla text.
Reconstructing the contents is difficult, but it is clear that Bileam learns from the gods that the world will be destroyed, an apocalyptic event that is described with metaphors from bird life. Somehow, Bileam and his people seem to have averted this disaster. There is also a description of the Underworld.
The text, in a language between Aramaic and Canaanite, can be dated to c.800 BCE. It was discovered in 1967 by Dutch archaeologists, and the first edition, by Hoftijzer and Van der Kooij, is from 1976. The scholars were able to form two large and ten small combinations of matching fragments. Since then, scholars have been able to improve their readings. The translation offered here is by B.A. Levine, who also inserted the titles. It was published in 2003 and consists of the two main combinations, minus the two first lines of Combination 2.
These two lines, and the small combinations, are offered in the original translation by Hoftijzer and Van der Kooij (1976); to discern them from Levine's translation, these lines have been printed in italics. Their book also contains photos, drawings, and the most detailed description of the fragments.


  • J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla (1976)
  • B.A. Levine, "The Deir 'Alla Plaster Inscriptions", in: W.W. Hallo (ed.), Context of Scripture, vol.2 (2003), 140-145.

Combination I


[i.1] The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he.

The Theophany

[i.2] The gods came to him at night.
And he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance.
They said to Balaam, son of Beor:
"So will it be done, with naught surviving.
No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard!"

Balaam Reports his Vision to His Intimates

[i.5] Balaam arose on the morrow;
He summoned the heads of the assembly to him,
[i.6] And for two days he fasted, and wept bitterly.
Then his intimates entered into his presence,
and they said to Balaam, son of Beor,
"Why do you fast, and why do you weep?"
[i.7] Then he said to them: "Be seated, and I will relate to you what the Shaddai gods have planned,
And go, see the acts of the god!"

Balaam Describes the Celestial Vision and Its Aftermath in the Land

"The gods have banded together;
[i.8] The Shaddai gods have established a council,
And they have said to [the goddess] Shagar:
'Sew up, close up the heavens with dense cloud,
That darkness exist there, not brilliance;
Obscurity and not clarity;
[i.9] So that you instill dread in dense darkness.
And - never utter a sound again!'
[i.10] It shall be that the swift and crane will shriek insult to the eagle,
And a nest of vultures shall cry out in response.
The stork, the young of the falcon and the owl,
[i.11] The chicks of the heron, sparrow and cluster of eagles;
Pigeons and birds, [and fowl in the s]ky.
And a rod [shall flay the cat]tle;
Where there are ewes, a staff shall be brought.
Hares - eat together!
Free[ly feed], oh beasts [of the field]!
And [freely] drink, asses and hyenas!"

Balaam Acts to Save the Goddess and the Land

[i.12] Heed the admonition, adversaries of Sha[gar-and-Ištar]!
... skilled diviner.
To skilled diviners shall one take you, and to an oracle;
[i.14] To a perfumer of myrrh and a priestess.
Who covers his body with oil,
And rubs himself with olive oil.
To one bearing an offering in a horn;
One augurer after another, and yet another.
As one augurer broke away from his colleagues,
The strikers departed ...

The Admonitions are Heeded; The Malevolent Gods are Punished, the Goddess Rescued, and the Land Saved

[i.15] They heard incantations from afar 
Then disease was unleashed
[i.16] And all beheld acts of distress.
Shagar-and-Ištar did not ...
[i.17] The piglet [drove out] the leopard
And the ... drove out the young of the ...
.. double offerings
And he beheld ...

Combination II

[ii.4] .. a girl those who were used? to be saturated with love ...
[ii.5] .. a blinded one and the whole moistened? soil? ...

(A) El Builds a Necropolis

[ii.6] El satisfied himself with [lovemaking]
And then El fashioned an eternal house;
[A house ...]
[ii.7] A house where no traveler enters
Nor does a bridegroom enter there

(B) A Half-existence in Sheol

[ii.8] Worm rot from a grave.
From the reckless affairs of men.
And from the lustful desires of people.

(C) The Rejection of a Seer

[ii.9] If it is for counsel, on will not counsel with you!
Or for advising him, one will not take advice!

(D-E) More on Conditions in Sheol

[ii.10] From the bed they cover themselves with a wrap.
If you hate him, he will be mortally afflicted.
If you ...
[Worm rot] is under your head.
You shall lie on your eternal bedding,
To pass away to ...

(F-G) Kings and Other Corpses in Sheol

[ii.12] ... in their heart.
The corpse moans in his heart,
He moans ...
... a daughter.
There, kings behold ...
[ii.13] There is no mercy when Death seizes a suckling.
And a suckling ...
And a suckling ...
A suckling ...
There ... shall be.
[ii.14] The heart of the corpse is desolate
As he approaches [Sheol]. ...
To the edge of She[ol],
And the shadow of the hedge ...

(H-I) An Oracle: The Quests of Kings and Seers Come to Naught

[ii.15] "The quest of a king is moth rot,
And the quest of ... ... seers.
[ii.16] Your quest is distant from you.
To know how to deliver an oracle to his people.
You have been condemned for your speech
[ii.17] And [banned] from pronouncing words of execration.
[Lines ii.18-29 are incomprehensible.]
[ii.30-37] El will be wrathful ... ...
he will eat ... ...
my heart is a heart? ...
... for three?...
She? will drip of abundant? rain ...
She? will drip of dew and ...
... look for fodder and he? will eat ...

Other Combinations

[iii] iv.a.3 ... for heat? ...
iv.g.i ... green herbs ...
v.c.3 ... she? will faint ...
v.c.4 ... he was pulled down? ...
v.d.2 ... sprinkle ...
v.d.3 ... they came in crowds ...
v.f.2 ... hasten ...
v.q.1 ... horse and ...
vii.c.3 ... bone/strong/strength...
viii.b.1 ... head ...
viii.b.2 ... desire ...
viii.d.2 ... and Balaam, the son of Beor ...
ix.a.3 ... he is not cursed, his hands ...
x.b.1 ... is my lady?, Shagar? ...
x.d.2 ... for? him/her, his/her hands will wither. Take? ...
x.d.3 ... brother and chieftain? ...
xi.b.1 ... in the depths ...
xii.c.2 ... Balaam, the son of Beor, saying you/she will...
This page was created in 2009; last modified on 1 February 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Shabbos Bicycles?

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo advocates permitting the riding of bicycles on Shabbos. He argues that this will increase Shemiras Shabbos. See:

In this regard, I would like to share an old Mail-Jewish post that I wrote:

From: (Yosef Bechhofer) 
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 93 19:45:46 -0500 
Subject: Bicycles on Shabbos and Related Issues 

I don't wish to comment on the precise Halachic details of bicycles on Shabbos, rather I would like to use this issue to make a related point. There is a "reductionist" tendency in some Halachic circles, albeit not necssarily this one, but others, which is, basically: "If you cannot prove to me what precise definition of pre-established melacha/issur, etc. this fits into, it must automatically be permissible. In this regard it is important to note what the Chazon Ish zt'l says about umbrellas on Shabbos. 

In Orach Chaim 52:6 the Chazon Ish takes issue with the conventional wisdom, the Noda b'Yehuda, who bans umbrellas on Shabbos as temporary tents (ohel). Rather, he says, the opening of an umbrella is similar to "fixing" (tikkun mana), but even that is not a true comparison. He goes on to state that the reason one is forbidden to use an umbrella on Shabbos (even where there is an eruv) is because: 

"It is a very public workaday act (avsha milsa / uvda d'chol) and causes a breach in the sanctity of Shabbos... The determination of which public acts descrate the Shabbos to too great an extent is something that is given over to the sages [of each generation, obviously - there were no umbrellas, much less a prohibition at the time of Chazal] to erect fences in places of possible breaches, and such public matters of Shabbos sanctity are more severe than any private specific prohibitons, because this is a fence for the entire nation for all times."

(My free translation.)

I always understood the severity of a Jew's opening his store on Shabbos, despite the relative light nature of the ban on business transactions on Shabbos, as related to the Chazon Ish's fundamental concept.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

אמונה למעלה מהשכל

I recevied the following critique, from which my position should be understood:

I would rephrase the dichotomy by saying that where misnaged, having unwavering commitment to and absolute belief in supremacy of his own seichel, would jump to conclusions based on apparent contradiction, a chosid would exercise his emunah in a Tzadik and let his seichel conform to it - either by admitting his limitations in understanding the reality, rethinking past views or finding new insights. In any event, this is not an expression of fundamental intellectual dishonesty - not being able to admit the wrongs of his Rebbe - as YGB intimated.

I am not aware of any Jewish school of thought though, that would not place the koach of emuna as a higher faculty in relation to one's intellect. Emuna, as being rooted in the more sublime aspect of one's soul does supersede one's intellectual capacity. If you are aware of the alternative worldview, please share it with us. As for your claim of opposition to Chabad for its insistence on Emunah being hierarchically higher than seichel and the claim that this aspect of Chabad ideology being identified as “karov leavoda zara”: you are well aware of the gravity of such charge. I would assume that the oilom would appreciate if you would provide the names and makoiros of writings that espouse such view(s). I would encourage you to kindly share those sources. Alternatively, I would suggest to classify your statement as emotionally driven, common anti-Chabad slur and treat it accordingly. 

Now, this is not really "Chabad ideology." It is a distortion of the actual Chabad notion of:

 איתא במדרש "פתי יאמין לכל דבר - זה משה". והרי פשיטא שאף אחד לא ישאל מהו החילוק בין "פתי יאמין" כפשוטו לדרגא ד"פתי יאמין" שנאמרה אודות משה רבינו - אמונה שלמטה מהשכל ואמונה שלמעלה מהשכל!... אם מישהו זקוק להסבר וביאור בדבר - אינני יודע אם שייך בכלל לעזור לו בזה!... (התוועדויות תשד"מ ח"ד עמ' 2567)

Which refers to emunah on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu - an emunah that comes after revelation. It is used in contemporary Chabad Meshichist circles, for the most part, to justify belief in the Rebbe as Moshiach even after Gimmel Tammuz. Such, as in the use of a Meshichist website:

 עמידה בתוקף האמונה מול מציאות שלכאורה סותרת את האמונה (=נסיון). "וגם כשנדמה שיש איזה בלבול הרי הולכים בדרכו של אברהם אבינו, היהודי הראשון, שבראותו נהר המעכבו מלקיים ציווי השם, עמד בתוקף ולא נתפעל"

The usage there in itself is absurd, as Avraham Avinu was the first one to come to cognition of Hashem through logic and reason. Any subsequent Emunah above logic and reason was on account of the revelation that followed the logic and reason.

So why is the concept "close to Avodah Zarah?" Because the way it is used in the circles in which it is used is as an argument to check one's logic and reason at the coat check. Well, if logic and reason are discarded, then whatever whim of faith or religious experience - or, even more so, the faith in which one was raised - are necessarily the primary basis of one's religious choices in this world. Emotion over intellect.

If that is the case, a proponent of another religion is justified in arguing that you cannot know his religion to be wrong until you have its religious experience. A person born into idolatry cannot be held responsible (as Halacha does, as Reb Elchanan explains in his famous essay), as that is his religious experience - more so, the faith in which he was raised. There would be no anchor for perspective other than feeling. And one who once might feel an ecstatic experience in another religious setting would be compelled by the pinciple to go with it. And that would be the lower form of pesi ya'amin l'kol davar. V'ha'meivin yavin.

חלק אלוה ממעל ממש

פרק ב ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלוה ממעל ממש כמ"ש ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ואתה נפחת בי וכמ"ש בזוהר מאן דנפח מתוכיה נפח פי' מתוכיותו ומפנימיותו שתוכיות ופנימיות החיות שבאדם מוציא בנפיחתו בכח: כך עד"מ נשמות ישראל עלו במחשבה כדכתיב בני בכורי ישראל בנים אתם לה' אלקיכם פי' כמו שהבן נמשך ממוח האב כך כביכול נשמת כל איש ישראל נמשכה ממחשבתו וחכמתו ית' דאיהו חכים ולא בחכמה ידיעא אלא הוא וחכמתו א' וכמ"ש הרמב"ם

This passage in the Tanya has been taken far too literally - and erroneously - to the point that it has caused much misunderstanding that is close to heretical.

It cannot mean that there is a "piece of God" within every Jew. That is in direct contradiction to the principle of Achdus Hashem. That meaning is also contradicted by the mashal to the breath that comes from within a person. The breath does not contain a little piece of the person. Chelek in this context means a distribution. And Eloka means divinity. And thus it is tantamount to sayin that Man is Tzelem Elokim


I always thought the yud-yud was a random substitute for Shem Hashem. Until my Belzer chevrusa this Shabbos pointed to the Kitzur Shlah's statement that it represents the shiluv of the Shem Havayah and the Shem Adnus. (First letter of Havayah, last letter of Adnus.) I found this post that cites most of that explanation in the name of R' Aharon Feldman.

But if so, it is not so simple to say it has no kedushah. We know the Rogatchover held that even a Heh as a sign for Shem Hashem has kedushah, which is why he advocated the use of a Dalet instead. צ"ע.


See the fascinating Mishnas Chachamim below, courtesy of Reb Micha Berger, from on both the double-yud and the triple-yud:

Also courtesy of RMB, from Siddur Rav Sa'ada Gaon, the triple-yud "in action:"