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Zev Farber

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2017

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Elazar Speaks Once in the Torah: Why Does He Interrupt Moses?

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https://thetorah.com/article/elazar-speaks-once-in-the-torah-why-does-he-interrupt-moses

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Zev Farber

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Elazar Speaks Once in the Torah: Why Does He Interrupt Moses?

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2017

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Elazar Speaks Once in the Torah: Why Does He Interrupt Moses?

Moses tells the soldiers returning from the Midianite war that they must purify themselves from corpse impurity. Elazar then jumps in with a unique law in Moses’ name about the need to purify metal in fire. Critical and traditional scholars alike—including the scribes of the Samaritan Pentateuch—were troubled by why Elazar and not Moses teaches this law.

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Elazar Speaks Once in the Torah: Why Does He Interrupt Moses?

Moses and Eleazar the priest take the gold jewelry from the spoil of Midian as a sacrifice to God. Publisher: Hondt, Pierre de 1728 Rijksmuseum

The Midianite War

God commands Moses to retaliate against Midian for the seduction of the Israelites by the Midianite women and the former’s consequent worship of the foreign god Baal Peor (Num 25). The command first mentioned in Number 25:16-18, is repeated in Numbers 31, which describes the war and its aftermath. The Israelites win the war handily, and kill every Midianite male, including the five kings of Midian, and Balaam the seer (vv. 7-8).

Most of the chapter deals with what the Israelites should do with the booty (including their female prisoners), but some verses are dedicated to the problem of impurity.

Corpse Impurity‍

Moses begins with the purification of people from corpse impurity:

במדבר לא:יט וְאַתֶּם חֲנוּ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כֹּל הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ וְכֹל נֹגֵעַ בֶּחָלָל תִּתְחַטְּאוּ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי אַתֶּם וּשְׁבִיכֶם.
Num 31:19 You shall stay outside the camp seven days; every one who has slain a person or touched a corpse shall cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, you and your captives.

Moses does not explain exactly how the cleansing is to be done, or with what. Nevertheless, as the verse connects well to the rule of the red heifer in Num 19, it is likely that Moses is expressing this rule in shorthand:

במדבר יט:יא הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּמֵת לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם וְטָמֵא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. יט:יב הוּא יִתְחַטָּא בוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִטְהָר וְאִם לֹא יִתְחַטָּא בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לֹא יִטְהָר
Num 19:11 He who touches the corpse of any human being shall be unclean for seven days. 19:12 He shall cleanse himself with it on the third day and on the seventh day and be clean; if he fails to cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, he shall not be clean.

Purifying Cloth, Leather, Goat’s Hair, and Wood‍

Moses continues with the purification of clothing and other objects that would be part of the booty:

במדבר לא:כ וְכָל בֶּגֶד וְכָל כְּלִי עוֹר וְכָל מַעֲשֵׂה עִזִּים וְכָל כְּלִי עֵץ תִּתְחַטָּאוּ.
Num 31:20 You shall also cleanse every cloth, every article of leather, everything made of goats’ hair, and every object of wood.

These items are not specifically mentioned in Num 19, though that chapter does refer to the impurity of “vessels” (כלים) in general (v. 15) and their purification (v. 18):

במדבר יט:טו וְכֹל כְּלִי פָתוּחַ אֲשֶׁר אֵין צָמִיד פָּתִיל עָלָיו טָמֵא הוּא.
Num 19:15 And every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean.
יט:יח…וְהִזָּה עַל הָאֹהֶל וְעַל כָּל הַכֵּלִים…
19:18 … and sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels.

Elazar’s Law – Purifying Metal in Fire

At this point, Elazar the priest, who had recently succeeded his father Aaron as high priest, suddenly takes over the teaching of the law:

במדבר לא:כא וַיֹּאמֶר אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן אֶל אַנְשֵׁי הַצָּבָא הַבָּאִים לַמִּלְחָמָה זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה. לא:כב אַךְ אֶת הַזָּהָב וְאֶת הַכָּסֶף אֶת הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֶת הַבַּרְזֶל אֶת הַבְּדִיל וְאֶת הָעֹפָרֶת. לא:כג כָּל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָבֹא בָאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בָאֵשׁ וְטָהֵר אַךְ בְּמֵי נִדָּה יִתְחַטָּא וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָבֹא בָּאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בַמָּיִם.
Num 31:21 Elazar the priest said to the troops who had taken part in the fighting, “This is the ritual law that YHWH has enjoined upon Moses: 31:22 But gold and silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead 31:23 — any article that can withstand fire — these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water.

According to Elazar’s message, metal objects, unlike the cloth, leather, wood, and wool objects mentioned by Moses, must be purified in fire first,[1] and then sprinkled with the waters of lustration, assuming they can withstand the fire. Otherwise, they are merely washed.[2] This is the only place in the Torah that describes purification through fire and the only place in which Elazar speaks.

Why Elazar?‍

It seems strange for Elazar to be delivering this law. Stranger still, Elazar quotes that Moses had taught this law earlier, though it appears nowhere else in the Torah, but if Moses received the law first, and he is standing there and literally teaching purity laws to the people at that moment, why doesn’t he include this law as well?

Finally, the initial word of Elazar’s teaching, “but” (אך), makes it seem as if he is correcting or arguing with Moses, and yet he says explicitly that he is quoting a law taught by God to Moses. In short, Elazar’s role in teaching this law to the Israelite soldiers presents a series of difficulties.

Traditional Approaches

Traditional commentators have long noticed these problems, offering a number of solutions.

Moses Forgot – The tanna (Mishnaic sage), Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, claims that Moses forgot the law because he got angry, thus Elazar needed to remind everyone (Sifrei Numbers, 157):

משה רבי לפי שבא לכלל כעס ובא לכלל טעות.[3]
Moses my teacher, because you have become angry you have made an error.

Public Debut – An alternative opinion in the same text claims that Elazar needed to teach the people publicly at least once in Moses’ lifetime so people would trust his Torah teaching after Moses’ death (Sifrei Numbers, 157).

ויש אומ[רים]: משה נתן לו רשות לאלעזר לדבר שכשיפטר מן העו[לם] לא יהו אומ[רים] לו: אם בחיי רבך לא היית מדבר עכשיו אתה מדבר?!
There are those who say: Moses gave Elazar permission to speak so that when he (Moses) dies, people would not say to him (Elazar): “If you did not speak during your master’s lifetime, now you are going to speak?!”

Criminal Impetuosity – A third tanna, R. Eliezer [ben Hyrcanus], claims Elazar was being impetuous and should not have spoken in Moses’ place and was later punished for it (b.Eruvin 63a).

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן: כל המורה הלכה בפני רבו ראוי להכישו נחש…
Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of R. Yohanan: “Whoever teaches a halacha in the presence of his teacher should be bit by a snake…”
רבי אליעזר אומר: מורידין אותו מגדולתו, שנאמר ויאמר אלעזר הכהן אל אנשי הצבא וגו’. אף על גב דאמר להו: לאחי אבא צוה, ואותי לא צוה – אפילו הכי איענש. דכתיב ולפני אלעזר הכהן יעמד – ולא אשכחן דאיצטריך ליה יהושע [לאלעזר].
Rabbi Eliezer says: “He is removed from his position. For it says: ‘Elazar the priest said to the men of the army, etc.’ Even though he said to them: ‘This was commanded to my paternal uncle (=Moses) and not to me’ even so he was punished, for it says (Num 27:21): ‘And he (=Joshua) will stand before Elazar the priest,’ we don’t find anywhere [in the Bible] that Joshua ever needed [Elazar].” 

As peshat (simple or contextual reading), none of these solutions are persuasive, as each assumes a narrative context or backstory that is absent from the text.

Moses’ Original Message

The inexplicability of Elazar’s appearance in the text implies that the text is an insertion. The ending of Elazar’s speech supports this suggestion.

Washing Clothing

Elazar ends his message with a description of what to do about clothing:

במדבר לא:כד וְכִבַּסְתֶּם בִּגְדֵיכֶם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וּטְהַרְתֶּם וְאַחַר תָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה.
Num 31:24 On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes and be clean, and after that you may enter the camp.

Unlike his first law about firing metals, this rule is in keeping with Num 19:[4]

במדבר יט:יט וְהִזָּה הַטָּהֹר עַל הַטָּמֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְחִטְּאוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָהֵר בָּעָרֶב.
Num 19:19 The clean person shall sprinkle it upon the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus cleansing him by the seventh day. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe in water, and at nightfall he shall be clean.

We already noted above that Moses’ law in v. 19 reiterates the purification rules of Num 19, so why doesn’t Moses also teach this law? In the unredacted text, I believe he does, and that v. 19 originally led directly into v. 24. Note how the latter naturally continues the discussion of what to do on the seventh day: 

במדבר לא:יט וְאַתֶּם חֲנוּ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כֹּל הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ וְכֹל נֹגֵעַ בֶּחָלָל תִּתְחַטְּאוּ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי אַתֶּם וּשְׁבִיכֶם.[5] // לא:כד וְכִבַּסְתֶּם בִּגְדֵיכֶם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וּטְהַרְתֶּם וְאַחַר תָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה.
Num 31:19 You shall stay outside the camp seven days; everyone who has slain a person or touched a corpse shall cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, you and your captives. // 31:24 On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes and be clean, and after that you may enter the camp.

The above is a smooth text, covering impure people and their clothing, and ending on the proper note, with people returning to the camp.

The Layers of Moses and Elazar’s Speeches

If Numbers 31:19+24 was Moses’ original speech, then vv. 20-23 must have been added later. As I will argue below, it likely happened in two stages:

  • Layer 1 – standard print
  • Layer 2 – indent and bold
  • Layer 3 – double indent and italics
במדבר לא:יט וְאַתֶּם חֲנוּ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כֹּל הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ וְכֹל נֹגֵעַ בֶּחָלָל תִּתְחַטְּאוּ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי אַתֶּם וּשְׁבִיכֶם.
Num 31:19 You shall stay outside the camp seven days; everyone who has slain a person or touched a corpse shall cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, you and your captives.
לא:כ וְכָל בֶּגֶד וְכָל כְּלִי עוֹר וְכָל מַעֲשֵׂה עִזִּים וְכָל כְּלִי עֵץ תִּתְחַטָּאוּ.
31:20 You shall also cleanse every cloth, every article of leather, everything made of goats’ hair, and every object of wood.
לא:כא וַיֹּאמֶר אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן אֶל אַנְשֵׁי הַצָּבָא הַבָּאִים לַמִּלְחָמָה זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ-הוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה.
31:21 Elazar the priest said to the troops who had taken part in the fighting, This is the ritual law that YHWH has enjoined upon Moses:
לא:כב אַךְ אֶת הַזָּהָב וְאֶת הַכָּסֶף אֶת הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֶת הַבַּרְזֶל אֶת הַבְּדִיל וְאֶת הָעֹפָרֶת. לא:כג כָּל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָבֹא בָאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בָאֵשׁ וְטָהֵר אַךְ בְּמֵי נִדָּה יִתְחַטָּא וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָבֹא בָּאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בַמָּיִם.
31:22 But gold and silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead 31:23 — any article that can withstand fire — these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water.
לא:כד וְכִבַּסְתֶּם בִּגְדֵיכֶם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וּטְהַרְתֶּם וְאַחַר תָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה.
31:24 On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes and be clean, and after that you may enter the camp.

The Need to Purify Objects – Updating the Law

The first redactor added a text dealing with the need to purify objects. This supplement would have read as follows:

במדבר לא:כ וְכָל בֶּגֶד וְכָל כְּלִי עוֹר וְכָל מַעֲשֵׂה עִזִּים וְכָל כְּלִי עֵץ תִּתְחַטָּאוּ. //  לא:כב אַךְ אֶת הַזָּהָב וְאֶת הַכָּסֶף אֶת הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֶת הַבַּרְזֶל אֶת הַבְּדִיל וְאֶת הָעֹפָרֶת. לא:כג כָּל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָבֹא בָאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בָאֵשׁ וְטָהֵר אַךְ בְּמֵי נִדָּה יִתְחַטָּא[6] וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָבֹא בָּאֵשׁ תַּעֲבִירוּ בַמָּיִם.
Num 31:20 You shall also cleanse every cloth, every article of leather, everything made of goats’ hair, and every object of wood. // 31:22 But gold and silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead 31:23 — any article that can withstand fire — these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water.

Directly following v. 20, the word “but” (אך) does not imply an argument but a modification. The law lays out the general rule for purifying objects plus the exception to this rule, objects such as metals that can withstand fire. (This second rule in vv. 22-23 might itself have been added later than v. 20, since אך is often a sign of a redaction, [7] but either way, this verse was meant to come immediately after v. 20 and thus, to be read together with it as a unit.)

The addition of a law about purifying objects to a law about purifying people and their clothing is not surprising. The same process occurred in Num 19, in which the whole matter of “tent impurity,” including the need to purify the tent itself and the objects in the tent, is a later addition (see appendix).

Inconsistent Vessel Impurity Laws

The Torah references the impurity of objects in four places, contain differing lists of materials and do not fully agree with each other:

  • Corpse of Creeping Animals (שרץ) – Leviticus 11 describes vessels made impure by contact with the corpse of creeping animals:
 ויקרא יא:לב וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִפֹּל עָלָיו מֵהֶם בְּמֹתָם יִטְמָא מִכָּל כְּלִי עֵץ אוֹ בֶגֶד אוֹ עוֹר אוֹ שָׂק כָּל כְּלִי אֲשֶׁר יֵעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה בָּהֶם בַּמַּיִם יוּבָא וְטָמֵא עַד הָעֶרֶב וְטָהֵר. יא:לג וְכָל כְּלִי חֶרֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר יִפֹּל מֵהֶם אֶל תּוֹכוֹ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹכוֹ יִטְמָא וְאֹתוֹ תִשְׁבֹּרוּ…
  • Lev 11:32 And anything on which one of them falls when dead shall be unclean: be it any article of wood, or a cloth, or leather, or sackcloth – any such article that can be put to use shall be placed in water, and it shall remain unclean until evening; then it shall be clean. 11:33 And if any of those falls into an earthen vessel, everything inside it shall be unclean and the vessel itself you shall break....[8]
  • Man with a Genital Flow (זב) – Lev 15 describes what to do with vessels that come in contact with a man suffering from a genital flow:
 ויקרא טו:יב וּכְלִי חֶרֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר יִגַּע בּוֹ הַזָּב יִשָּׁבֵר וְכָל כְּלִי עֵץ יִשָּׁטֵף בַּמָּיִם:
Lev 15:12 An earthen vessel that one with a discharge touches shall be broken; and any wooden implement shall be rinsed with water.

Although the list of materials is much longer in the Lev 11 text, both laws distinguish between earthenware vessels, which cannot be purified, and other types, which can be purified in water. This differs from the treatment of corpse impurity in Numbers:

  • Corpse Impurity 1 – Num 19 (red heifer law) distinguishes between sealed vessels, which do not require purification, and unsealed vessels, which do. No mention is made of the vessel’s material (although the Sages assume it is earthenware; see b. Chullin 25a, Rashi on Num 19:15).

  • Corpse Impurity 2 – Num 31 (Midianiate war) distinguishes between metal vessels, which need to be purified in fire, and other vessels, for which water alone suffices.

The disparate nature of these laws, together with the likelihood that at least two are redactional, strongly implies that the laws of object impurity—as opposed to person impurity—developed later and was not yet systemic even during the final stages of the redaction of the Pentateuch.

In the case of Num 31, the enormous amount of booty in precious metals described at the end of the chapter (vv. 50-53), part of which was to be dedicated to YHWH and placed in the Tabernacle, was almost certainly the impetus for adding the supplement. A scribe living in a time and society in which laws for purifying objects, including metals, were known would likely have felt the need to insert them here, just as yet another scribe felt the need to do so in Num 19 for objects inside tents the received “tent impurity.”

Adding Elazar the Priest

The legislation about impure objects was originally spliced into Moses’ speech without mentioning Elazar. The scribe who added the verse about Elazar broke up the law of objects, with Moses giving the basic rule and Elazar giving the special rule about metals. This created the awkward impression that Elazar was interrupting Moses, perhaps even arguing with him or reminding him (as the Sages say) of his own rule. Why would a scribe choose to do this?

Jacob Milgrom – Make a New Law Seem Ancient

In his JPS commentary (ad loc.), Jacob Milgrom (1923-2010) argues that the scribe, noting that the law of purifying metal in fire was unique and mentioned nowhere else in the Torah, specifically wished to make the law look as if it were traditional rather than a new innovation. One good way to do this, Milgrom claims, was to have someone else quote it as an earlier teaching of Moses. As Elazar is specifically mentioned multiple times in the chapter as having accompanied Moses to collect the booty, the speech was put in his name.

Milgrom assumes that Elazar’s entire speech (vv. 21-24; i.e., the law of the metals plus the law of washing clothes) was added in one block. His answer does not work well in my suggested reconstruction, in which the law of purifying metals (vv. 22-23) was added together with the law of purifying other objects (v. 20) and had already been placed directly into Moses’ mouth. For this and other reasons, I suggest a different reason why Elazar was added.

The Late Priestly Trend of Adding Elazar Whenever Possible

In late P texts, whether as Moses’ partner or Joshua’s, Elazar is an important—if generally voiceless—character. In some places, he seems to be added artificially, with no follow through in corresponding texts. One example of this comes in the various iterations of the story of Zelophechad’s daughters’ request for land.[9] Another example that sheds light on our text is in Num 27, where Moses is told to appoint Joshua as his successor

Num 27:21 envisions Joshua asking Elazar to consult God through the oracle of the Urim as his modus operandi, yet nowhere in the book of Joshua does he ever do this. God speaks to Joshua directly after the failure of the battle in Ai (Josh 7:10) and an angel addresses Joshua before the battle of Jericho (Josh 5:13-15). In fact, the one story in which Joshua consults an oracle never mentions Elazar (Josh 7:16-18).

This discrepancy is what led to R. Eliezer’s suggestion (quoted above) that as a “punishment” for his speaking in front of Moses here, Joshua never actually ended up consulting Elazar. This homiletical solution only highlights the problem with the claim in Num 27 that Joshua was to “regularly” consult with Elazar. As I argued in “Joshua Is Appointed Leader Three Times: But Is He in Charge?,” the appearance of Elazar in the appointment of Joshua scene in Num 27 is a late supplement. The same is the case here.

Elazar’s Dual Role in Num 31

Elazar is mentioned in Num 31 ten times. Sometimes he is an integral part of the text and in elsewhere he is secondary. Elazar also has two roles: sometimes he represents the “office” of the priest, who is there to collect booty for YHWH and his Tabernacle (vv. 29, 41), and at other times he is Moses’ partner or “co-leader” (vv. 13, 21, 26, 31).[10] The former is original, the latter redactional.

The tension between Elazar’s original role in this chapter and his supplemental role is detectable when we look at God’s command to Moses to take a levy for YHWH from the booty:

(Redaction in red italics; singular verbs directed at Moses in bold.)

* Taking inventory of the booty and dividing it among the combatants and the community at large. (Elazar and heads of community redactional)

במדבר לא:כה וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.לא:כו שָׂא אֵת רֹאשׁ מַלְקוֹחַ הַשְּׁבִי בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה אַתָּה וְאֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְרָאשֵׁי אֲבוֹת הָעֵדָה.  לא:כז וְחָצִיתָ אֶת הַמַּלְקוֹחַ בֵּין תֹּפְשֵׂי הַמִּלְחָמָה הַיֹּצְאִים לַצָּבָא וּבֵין כָּל הָעֵדָה.
Num 31:25 YHWH said to Moses: 31:26 “Take an inventory of the booty that was captured, man and beast—you and Elazar the priest and the family heads of the community 31:27 and divide the booty equally between the combatants who engaged in the campaign and the rest of the community.

* Levy from the soldiers should be given to Elazar for the priests.

לא:כח וַהֲרֵמֹתָ מֶכֶס לַי־הוָה מֵאֵת אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה הַיֹּצְאִים לַצָּבָא אֶחָד נֶפֶשׁ מֵחֲמֵשׁ הַמֵּאוֹת מִן הָאָדָם וּמִן הַבָּקָר וּמִן הַחֲמֹרִים וּמִן הַצֹּאן.לא:כט מִמַּחֲצִיתָם תִּקָּח(וּ)[11] וְנָתַתָּה לְאֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן תְּרוּמַת יְ־הוָה.
31:28 You shall exact a levy for YHWH: in the case of the warriors who engaged in the campaign, one item in five hundred, of persons, oxen, asses, and sheep, 31:29 you shall take from their half-share and give itto Elazar the priest[12] as a contribution to YHWH;

* Levy from the Israelites should be given to the Levites.

לא:ל וּמִמַּחֲצִת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תִּקַּח אֶחָד אָחֻז מִן הַחֲמִשִּׁים מִן הָאָדָם מִן הַבָּקָר מִן הַחֲמֹרִים וּמִן הַצֹּאן מִכָּל הַבְּהֵמָה וְנָתַתָּה אֹתָם לַלְוִיִּם שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁמֶרֶת מִשְׁכַּן יְהוָה.
31:30 and from the half-share of the other Israelites you shall take one in every fifty human beings as well as cattle, asses, and sheep — all the animals — and give them to the Levites, who attend to the duties of YHWH's Tabernacle.”

* Moses fulfills command. (Elazar redactional)

לא:לא וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה.
31:31 Moses and Elazar the priest did as YHWH commanded Moses. 

We see here an attempt to make Elazar into Moses’ active partner in tallying and dividing up the booty even in a text in which Elazar was originally meant to be the representative of the priesthood receiving the booty from Moses, in parallel to the Levites, who also receive a share of the booty. This image of Elazar as Moses’ partner likely inspired the scribe to give Elazar part of Moses’ speech. Placing the introduction immediately before the version about metal purification may have been inspired by the word אך, “but,” which allowed the scribe to create the impression that Elazar was adding something important, perhaps, as the rabbis suggested, something Moses forgot to mention.

However we are to understand the specific reasons for v. 21 and its placement in the midst of the laws about purifying objects, the addition of Elazar into various accounts of which he was originally absent was a staple practice of late Priestly scribes. This is thus the most likely explanation for Elazar’s unique appearance here, his one and only biblical speaking part.

Supplementing the Supplement: The Samaritan Pentateuch

As noted, Elazar’s speech begins with the claim that the law he is about to teach was originally taught to Moses by God. Nowhere in the Torah, however, are we told how Elazar knew this or why he decided to teach it instead of Moses. Whereas the traditional Jewish interpreters tried to answer this question midrashically, the Samaritan tradition has an entirely different approach.

The Torah that the Samaritans use is what scholars call an “expansive” text, which means that it is longer than other versions such as the MT or the LXX because it adds material, typically in order to solve contradictions.[13] In this case, the SP supplies the missing command, which appears immediately after Moses finishes telling the Israelites about purifying cloth, leather, goat-hair, and wooden objects:

‎ויאמר משה אל אלעזר הכהן אמר אל אנשי הצבא הבאים למלחמה זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה י-הוה אך את הזהב ואת הכסף ואת הנחשת ואת הברזל ואת הבדיל ואת העופרת כל דבר אשר יבוא באש תעבירו באש וטהר אך במי נדה יתחטא וכל אשר לא יבוא באש תעבירו במים וכבסתם בגדיכם ביום השביעי וטהרתם ואחר תבאו אל המחנה.
Moses said to Elazar the priest: “Say to the troops who have taken place in the fighting: ‘This is the ritual law that YHWH has enjoined: Gold, and silver, and copper, and iron, and tin, and lead, any article that can withstand fire — these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water. On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes and be clean, and after that you may enter the camp.’”
ויאמר אלעזר הכהן אל אנשי הצבא הבאים למלחמה זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה י-הוה את משה: אך את הזהב ואת הכסף ואת הנחשת ואת הברזל ואת הבדיל ואת העופרת כל דבר אשר יבוא באש תעבירו באש וטהר אך במי נדה יתחטא וכל אשר לא יבוא באש תעבירו במים וכבסתם בגדיכם ביום השביעי וטהרתם ואחר תבאו אל המחנה.
And Elazar the priest said to the troops who have taken place in the fighting: “This is the ritual law that YHWH has enjoined upon Moses: ‘Gold and silver, and copper, and iron, and tin, and lead, any article that can withstand fire — these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water. On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes and be clean, and after that you may enter the camp.’”

Elazar’s recounting of this command—the second paragraph—is more or less the same as that of the MT and LXX, but God’s command to Moses—the entire first paragraph—is found only in the SP. And thus, in this tradition, the problem of the supplement was solved by supplementation, a fitting solution.

Appendix

Adding Tent and Object Impurity into the Law of the Red Heifer

Like the law of the warrior returning from the Midianite campaign, the original form of the law of the red heifer did not envision the impurity of objects. Nor did it envision the problem of “tent impurity” in which a person or object that do touch a corpse but are in the same tent as a corpse, become impure together with the tent. Both concepts are redactional supplements.

Below is my division of the text; note especially the artificial introduction of tent impurity and the doubling of the verb והזה, “and he shall sprinkle” (the supplements are indented in red):

במדבר יט:יא הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּמֵת לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם וְטָמֵא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. יט:יב הוּא יִתְחַטָּא בוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִטְהָר וְאִם לֹא יִתְחַטָּא בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לֹא יִטְהָר….[14]
Num 19:11 He who touches the corpse of any human being shall be unclean for seven days. 19:12 He shall cleanse himself with it on the third day and on the seventh day, and then be clean; if he fails to cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, he shall not be clean….
יט:יד זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל כָּל הַבָּא אֶל הָאֹהֶל וְכָל אֲשֶׁר בָּאֹהֶל יִטְמָא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.יט:טו וְכֹל כְּלִי פָתוּחַ אֲשֶׁר אֵין צָמִיד פָּתִיל עָלָיו טָמֵא הוּא. יט:טז וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִגַּע עַל פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה בַּחֲלַל חֶרֶב אוֹ בְמֵת אוֹ בְעֶצֶם אָדָם אוֹ בְקָבֶר יִטְמָא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.
19:14 This is the law when a person dies in a tent: whoever enters the tent and whoever is in the tent shall be unclean seven days; 19:15 and every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean. 19:16 And in the open, anyone who touches a person who was killed or who died naturally, or human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
יט:יז וְלָקְחוּ לַטָּמֵא מֵעֲפַר שְׂרֵפַת הַחַטָּאת וְנָתַן עָלָיו מַיִם חַיִּים אֶל כֶּלִי. יט:יח וְלָקַח אֵזוֹב וְטָבַל בַּמַּיִם אִישׁ טָהוֹר
19:17 Some of the ashes from the fire of cleansing shall be taken for the unclean person, and fresh water shall be added to them in a vessel. 19:18 A person who is clean shall take hyssop, dip it in the water,
וְהִזָּה עַל הָאֹהֶל וְעַל כָּל הַכֵּלִים וְעַל הַנְּפָשׁוֹת אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ שָׁם וְעַל הַנֹּגֵעַ בַּעֶצֶם אוֹ בֶחָלָל אוֹ בַמֵּת אוֹ בַקָּבֶר.
and he shall sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels and people who were there, or on him who touched the bones or the person who was killed or died naturally or the grave.
יט:יט וְהִזָּה הַטָּהֹר עַל הַטָּמֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְחִטְּאוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם וְטָהֵר בָּעָרֶב.
19:19 The clean person shall sprinkle it upon the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus cleansing him by the seventh day. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe in water, and at nightfall he shall be clean.

Published

July 20, 2017

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Last Updated

September 22, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).