Shoftim 01 – Why is the story of Kalev, Otniel and Achsa in Hevron Repeated?

In Yehoshua 15 (15-19), the following is recorded:

טו ויעל משם, אל-ישבי דבר; ושם-דבר לפנים, קרית-ספר. טז ויאמר כלב, אשר-יכה את-קרית-ספר ולכדה–ונתתי לו את-עכסה בתי, לאשה. יז וילכדה עתניאל בן-קנז, אחי כלב; ויתן-לו את-עכסה בתו, לאשה. יח ויהי בבואה, ותסיתהו לשאול מאת-אביה שדה, ותצנח, מעל החמור; ויאמר-לה כלב, מה-לך. יט ותאמר תנה-לי ברכה, כי ארץ הנגב נתתני, ונתתה לי, גלת מים; ויתן-לה, את גלת עליות, ואת, גלת תחתיות.

Compare this to Shoftim 1 (11-15):

יא וילך משם, אל-יושבי דביר; ושם-דביר לפנים, קרית-ספר. יב ויאמר כלב, אשר-יכה את-קרית-ספר ולכדה–ונתתי לו את-עכסה בתי, לאשה. יג וילכדה עתניאל בן-קנז, אחי כלב הקטן ממנו; ויתן-לו את-עכסה בתו, לאשה. יד ויהי בבואה, ותסיתהו לשאל מאת-אביה השדה, ותצנח, מעל החמור; ויאמר-לה כלב, מה-לך. טו ותאמר לו הבה-לי ברכה, כי ארץ הנגב נתתני, ונתתה לי, גלת מים; ויתן-לה כלב, את גלת עלית, ואת, גלת תחתית.

As you can see (English translations are available through the links above), except for some very minor differences, these narratives are identical. Why is it that this passage is repeated in Shoftim? What is added?

The commentary of the Malbim gives a very interesting answer to this question. The story is repeated to tell about actual events (the first telling, in Yehoshua) and to give allegorical meaning to what is going on (the second telling, in Shoftim). This interpretation is based on the gemara in Temura (16a).  What is the allegorical meaning?

The city of Devir (11) is also called Kiryat S’neh (Yehoshua 15:49).  From this (the fact that Devir had these different names) we learn that this city was set aside as a “capital for the book” (translation of Kiryat Sefer) – that students gathered there to learn and teach from the Sefer Torah, and there was a big academy there. It was also called Kirya S’neh in connection to the verse in Devarim (33:16), which alludes to the s’neh (burning bush) where God first revealed himself to Moshe, which took place on Har Sinai, where the Torah would eventually be given. Otniel was the Rosh Yeshiva – the main teacher. As the gemara in Temura explains, 1700 of Moshe’s teachings were forgotten after he died, and Otniel was the one who was able to return them from his learning. This learning took place in his yeshiva in Devir/Kiryat Sefer/Kiryat S’neh.

When Calev challenges someone to “smite Kiray Sefer” (12) he is really asking who is able to win the battle of Torah – who is able to emerge victorious in his arguments and opinions regarding interpretations of the Torah and come to a conclusion about the halacha. In the end, Otniel is the one who was able to do this (as related in Temurah). Thus, he is the one who was able to “conquer” Kiryat Sefer – both in the real battle against the Canaanites (as related in Yehoshua) as well as in the allegorical battle (as related in Shoftom).

So Calev gives his daughter Achsa to Otniel, and she tells her father that he has given her the land of the Negev (כי ארץ הנגב נתתני) and because of this, she needs more land. The word Negev literally means dry. In Yehoshua, Achsa told her father that she was given dry, parched land, and she therefore needed something more fertile that could produce more. In Shoftim (the allegorical interpretation), she is saying that he husband has turned into an ארץ הנגב – into a “dry land” – i.e.: he is so absorbed in his Torah study that he is not tending to the physical needs of our house (he is earning a living just like a dry land), and therefore she needed some more land that would be able to provide for them (in place of what her husband would have earned).

In response to her request, Calev gives Achsa  גלת עלית and גלת תחתית (the high springs and the low springs). Literally, this was land with springs that could be used to irrigate her dry land and make it more able to produce. Allegorically, Calev was telling his daughter that she already had a man who was able to bring the “water of life” (ie: Torah) from the high places (divine wisdom) and the low places (terrestrial wisdom) and that she therefore had no need for anything else, for many people would gather around her husband (see the next verse – 1:16 and the commentaries on it) and their needs would thus be taken care of.

Posted in Chapter 01,Chapter 15,Commentary,Shoftim - Judges by Yaakov Ellis on November 20, 2007 | No Comments

Shoftim 01 – Summary

(Text) – The book of Shoftim (Judges) begins immediately after the death of Yehoshua. The national situation is that all tribes have been promised sections of the Land of Israel, with borders defined and delineated. Some of this land has already been conquered, and some of it remains in the hands of the Canaanites.

Lacking a leader, the Jewish people ask “who will go first to wage war against the Canaanites?”. The tribe of Yehuda takes the lead. Accompanied by the tribe of Shimon (with whom they make an I’ll-fight-for-you-if-you-fight-for-me deal), they emerge victorious against the Perizim in Bezek, killing ten thousand men. After the battle, they capture Adoni-Bezek (the king), and cut off his thumbs and big toes (Adoni-Bezek explains that he had done this to seventy other kings). He is brought to Yerushalayim where he dies.

Yehuda (and Shimon) continue on to Yerushalayim, where they burn the city. They then went on to attack the Canaanites who lived in the mountains, lowlands and the desert. In Hevron, they kill Sheshai, Achiman and Talmai. At Kiryat Sefer, Calev offers his daughter to whomever can conquer the city. His brother Otniel ben Kenaz does this (this incident is repeated almost word-for-word from Yehoshua 15). After this, the Bnei Keini (Yitro) can from “the city of dates” (עיר התמרים) to join the tribe of Yehuda living in the the desert of Arad.

The tribes of Yehuda and Shimon continue on to conquer the Canaanites living in Tzefat (which they renamed Charma), Aza, Ashkelon and Ekron (in the Gaza area).

The tribe of Binyamin was unable to conquer the Yevussim (Jebusites) living in their section Yerushalayim, and had to coexist with them.

The tribes of Yosef went up to spy out Beit El (also known as Luz). They convince a man to tell them about the hidden entrances to the city. They then enter the city through these entrances, and kill everyone other than the man who helped them (he then goes on to the land of the Chitim and makes another city called Luz).

Up until this point we have a read a list of the successes enjoyed by some of the tribes of Israel in conquering the land. Now we read of some of the failures:

  • Menashe could not conquer Beit She’an, Ta’nach, Dor, Meggido, and had to coexist with the Canaanites (eventually forcing them to pay taxes)
  • Efrayim could not conqeur Gazer and had to coexist with the Canaanites there.
  • Zevulun could not conquer Kitron and Nahalol, and had to coexist with the Canaanites there, forcing them to pay a tax.
  • Asher could not conquer Akko, Tzidon, Achlav, Achziv, Chelba, Apeek and Rechov, and had to coexist with the Canaanites there.
  • Naftali could not conquer Beit Shemesh, Beit Anat, and had to coexist with the Canaanites there, forcing them to pay a tax.
  • Dan had to stay in the mountains, for the Emoriim did not allow them to descend into the valley.

Review: This chapter serves as a segue between the books of Shoftim and Yehoshua. It mainly recounts the efforts of various tribes to conquer their allotted portions of the Land of Israel. Some of these events took place during Yehoshua’s lifetime, some after. Some were successful and some not. The lasting message is that while some of the Land was conquered, overall Bnei Yisrael were not successful in following God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. This sets the stage for the next chapter.

Posted in Chapter 01,Shoftim - Judges,Summaries by Yaakov Ellis on November 18, 2007 | No Comments

Yehoshua 23 – Summary

(Text) – And after a number of years following God had given Bnei Yisrael peace from their surrounding enemies and Yehoshua aged in years (and was approaching death). Yehoshua called too the leaders of the Jewish people and told them: I have grown old. You can see all that God has done for you to remove your enemies. And I have set forth for you (through the lottery – Rashi) the rest of the lands that are to be conquered, and God will help drive out your enemies from those lands. You should just be strong and keep all of the laws in Moshe’s Torah, not to stray from them at all. You should not assimilate with any of the Canaanite nations that remain and not worship their gods. Rather, you should continue to cling to God, as you have done up until now. And then God will remove the other nations from before you – one of you will chase away thousands. Just be careful to love God, for if you fall back to sin and instead cleave to the other nations that remain, and assimilate with them then God will no longer help you to attain more Land or drive out any more of the nations, and instead these nations will be like thorns in your sides and will drive you out of this Land that God has given to you. Now I am going to go in “the way of the land” (ie: I am going to die) and you should know: not one of the good things that was promised to you from God has failed to manifest itself. It all came true. And just as God has brought all of the good upon you, so too will he bring the bad upon you until you are driven from the land, in response to your breaking the covenant you made with God and in response to your worshiping other gods. Then God will become angry with you and drive you quickly out of the good Land that he has given to you.

Posted in Chapter 23,Summaries,Yehoshua - Joshua by Yaakov Ellis on June 11, 2007 | No Comments

Yehoshua 23 – Review Questions

  1. What is the main feature of this chapter
  2. What does Yehoshua repeatedly warn Bnei Yisrael will happen as a result of their assimilating and worshiping other gods?
  3. According to Yehoshua, what will happen if Bnei Yisrael continue to keep the mitzvot and love God?
  4. Why is Yehoshua telling this to Bnei Yisrael now?

Posted in Chapter 23,Review Questions,Yehoshua - Joshua by Yaakov Ellis on June 11, 2007 | No Comments

Yehoshua 22 – Summary

(Text) – Yehoshua summons the tribes of Reuven, Gad and the half of Menashe whose land is on the other side of the Jordan River. He tells them that they have fulfilled their duty as given to them by Moshe (to aid in the conquering of the Land of Israel). Now that this task has been completed, they are given leave to return to their land and cities East of the Jordan River. Yehoshua cautions them to safeguard the Torah, to Love God, walk in his ways and cling to him with their entire beings. He blesses them and sends them on their way, reminding them to share the spoils of war they had claimed during the conquest of the Land with their brothers (commentators differ whether this means to share it with their own tribes, or with the other tribes).

So the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe return on their way to their land, East of the Jordan River. When they reach the other side of the Jordan, they build a large altar facing the Land of Israel. When the rest of Bnei Yisrael hear of this act, they gather together in Shiloh an army to go against the two and a half tribes. (This is because once the mishkan was established in Shiloh, no other altars were permitted to be built. Thus, it appeared that the two and a half tribes had deliberately broken this dictum).

Before attacking, Pinchas the son of Elazar the Cohen, along with the leaders of the 10 tribes from the Land of Israel went to the two and a half tribes, to inquire why they had rebelled against God to build an a forbidden altar. They cited their fear that all of the Jewish people would be punished for this sin, as had happened previously in the incident of ba’al pe-or, as well as with the incident of Achan (where one person sinned and everyone was punished). They said to the two and a half tribes that if they were worried because their land (East of the Jordan) was impure land (in relation to the Land of Israel), they were welcome to join their brothers in the Land of Israel – they should just not commit this sin against God.

The leaders of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe respond: If they intended this as a rebellion against God, to build an altar for sacrifices when this was forbidden, then they should not be allowed to be saved (from punishment). Rather, they built the altar out of worry that their children would forget where they came from, and who was their God, and would feel complete separation from the tribes living to the West of the Jordan River. Therefore, they decided to build an altar not for sacrifices, but rather as a monument to their descendants to show them their past and their connection to the rest of the Jewish people.

These words were received favorably by Pinchas and the tribal leaders and the rest of Israel. And the army that had gathered dispersed, and the people returned to their homes – there was no need to wage war, and the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe called their show-altar a monument to God.

Posted in Chapter 22,Summaries,Yehoshua - Joshua by Yaakov Ellis on June 11, 2007 | No Comments

Yehoshua 22 – Review Questions

  1. Why are the two and a half tribes allowed to leave?
  2. Where do they go?
  3. What does Yehoshua tell the two and a half tribes to remember?
  4. What do the two and a half tribes do after crossing the Jordan River?
  5. What is the reaction of the rest of Bnei Yisrael? Why do they respond in this way?
  6. Who is sent to talk with the two and a half tribes?
  7. What examples of sinning and collective punishment are cited? What is the difference between these different citations?
  8. What is the response of the two and a half tribes?
  9. Does the rest of Bnei Yisrael find this explanation satisfactory? How does the dispute end?

Posted in Chapter 22,Review Questions,Yehoshua - Joshua by Yaakov Ellis on June 11, 2007 | No Comments

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