Photo Credit: Koby Harati, City of David
A stamp seal which bears the name “Tsafan" in ancient Hebrew script.

Immediately after Bnei Yisrael left Egypt they were perturbed. The Egyptians taunted them saying, “You were slaves for 210 years in Egypt (86 of which were hard labor). While your menfolk were out in the fields gathering straw, making bricks and building Pharaoh’s cities of Pitom and Raamses, the womenfolk were slaves serving in the Egyptian masters’ homes. We had power of life and death over you. What makes you think that in all this time we didn’t sleep with your women? How do you know that your children do not have Egyptian fathers?”

The husbands trusted their wives implicitly and the verses in the Torah applaud the extreme righteousness of the Israelite women who, despite their servitude, made themselves beautiful and enticed their husbands after a day of backbreaking labor to have marital relations and thus build the Nation of Israel (Shir HaShirim 8:5). Despite this, these malicious taunts left a niggling doubt.


When Bnei Yisrael reached Marah, there was nothing to drink because the water was bitter. Hashem commanded Moshe to take a stick from a tree, which itself was bitter, and throw it into the water; contrary to logic, the water became sweet and drinkable. According to the Zohar HaKadosh (Naso 124b), the encounter in Marah was nothing less than a Korban Sotah (offered when a husband suspects his wife of infidelity), administered to the entire nation.

As a result, all the Israelite women were exonerated and given a Divine seal of fidelity, with the exception of one, and the Torah specifically mentions her name – Shlomit Bat Divri from the tribe of Dan. Shlomit was married to Datan (of Datan and Aviram infamy). Datan was one of the shotrim in Egypt, the Israelite overseers of the slave laborers. Datan’s superior, an Egyptian guard, desired Datan’s wife Shlomit, and one day after Datan left his home to go to work, this Egyptian guard entered Datan’s house and had relations with Shlomit. The commentators say that Shlomit brought this upon herself because she was a “chatterbox.” She would say “hello” to everyone, even the Egyptians, instead of maintaining the required level of modesty and limiting her exposure.

The Korban Sotah in Marah removed all doubts from the minds of Bnei Yisrael regarding the integrity of their families.

In the last few Torah portions, however, there are incidents that once again raised this issue. The first was during Korach’s dispute against Moshe and Aharon. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101a) says that Korach accused Moshe of having relations with his (Korach’s) wife. This resulted in all of Bnei Yisrael again suspecting their wives’ fidelity. The next incident was after Bilam failed to curse Bnei Yisrael. Despite this, Bilam still managed to inflict catastrophic damage by advising Moav to have their wives seduce Bnei Yisrael.

Bilam knew that Israelite men highly valued flax clothing. The Moabites would set up “clothing fairs,” selling high-quality flax garments. Outside the tents some of the wares on display, with a wizened, old woman selling them. When a man began inquiring about the merchandise, a young woman peeked out from inside the tent and said, “Come inside and I will sell you the clothes at half price.” This pattern repeated a few times until the man felt comfortable entering the tent with no qualms. Then the young Moabite woman would offer him wine to drink, he would become intoxicated, commit adultery, and in the end served the “ba’al pe’or” idol. This is the prelude to Pinchas’s execution of Zimri and Kozbi at the beginning of the parsha and the plague that wiped out 24,000 people.

Bnei Yisrael once again found themselves in a situation where the fidelity of their families was in question.

To eliminate all doubt in this regard, Hashem commanded Moshe and Elazar, the son of Aharon, to make a census of Bnei Yisrael. Rashi says this is likened to a shepherd, after a wolf has ravaged his flock, who counts the remaining sheep. But this census is different from all others in the book of Bamidbar. In addition to specifying the numbers of each family in each tribe, the Torah enumerates each family in a specific way – the name of the family prefixed by the letter “Heh” and suffixed with the letter “Yud.” For example, “the family of Yamin –mishpachat Ha-Yamin-y.

The letters “Yud” and “Heh” make up one of the names of Hashem. By listing each of the families and adding His name to each, Hashem was giving the supreme stamp of approval and fidelity to Bnei Yisrael once again.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: What was Pinchas’s reward, “Brit Shalom” (a covenant of peace)?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Bilam in his prophecy refers to Amalek as “Reishit Goyim,” the first of nations. What does that mean? Our Sages say that the Torah begins with the word Breishit, indicating that Hashem created the world for the purpose of a “primary” concept called “Reishit.” The word reishit is associated with the Torah, Am Yisrael, Hafrashat Challah, Bikkurim, etc. and the Sages say that they were the purpose of Creation. However, Hashem also created His world with equal opposing forces. Just like there was a prophet in Am Yisrael – Moshe, there was a prophet of equal stature amongst the goyim – Bilam. Just like Am Yisrael is the pinnacle of purity, there is a nation that is the pinnacle of impurity – Amalek, who are also referred to as reishit.

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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.