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Number 176

I was looking through my Jewish library and noticed something really incredible: The longest chapter in Psalms (chapter 119) has 176 verses. The longest parsha in the Torah, Naso, has 176 verses. And the longest tractate in the Talmud, Baba Batra, has 176 pages. What is the connection between all these?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are very observant! Here are a few answers to this interesting phenomenon:

Chapter 119 of Psalms has 176 verses because it follows a pattern whereby the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used to begin 8 verses each. That is, 22-times-8 equals 176.

Which of course raises the question: What is the significance of 22 and of 8?

22 is a number of completeness, because it is the full representation of the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet - i.e. everything from A to Z (from Alef to Tav).

As for the number 8: We know that 7 represents the "natural realm" - i.e. 7 days of the week, 7 notes in the musical scale, etc. But 8 represents completeness beyond nature - a completeness in the spiritual realm. That is why Brit Milah is held on the 8th day of a boy's life. This also explains why God first commanded Abraham to perform circumcision with the words, "Walk before Me and be complete" (Genesis 17:1).

The product of two "complete" numbers, "22-times-8," is therefore the ultimate completeness. That's why 176 is used to demonstrate the supernal perfection of our holy Torah.

Moses’s Cushite Wife

Who was the Ethiopian (Cushite) wife that Moses took (Numbers 12:1)? Is she the same wife as Jethro’s daughter Zipporah whom Moses earlier married (Exodus 2:21), and later came back to him in the desert (Exodus 18)? Also, why were Miriam and Aaron upset at Moses for taking a Cushite wife? Did they not like her simply because she was black?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The story of Moses’s Cushite wife is actually quite cryptic. As you observed, we hear earlier of Moses marrying the daughter of Jethro the Midianite. Yet in the Book of Numbers Moses’s sister Miriam is upset about his having taken a “Cushite” wife. Cush is generally translated as Ethiopia (probably the entire region south of Egypt – see Shemot Rabbah 10:2), a place inhabited by blacks. (See e.g. Jeremiah 13:23: “Can a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard its spots?”) Is this a different wife? And where did she come from?

An important introductory point is that the Midrash states that when Moses fled Pharaoh (Exodus 2:15), before arriving in Midian, Moses escaped south to the land of Cush. (Note that Moses was presumably a young man when he fled Egypt, in Midian he married and had two small children, and he was 80 on his return to Egypt at the start of the story of the Exodus. Thus, apparently, many of his early adult years are unrecorded in the Torah.) Moses first served the king of Cush and then upon his death became king himself, ruling for 40 years. He was given the former king’s widow as a wife but he refused to live with her or worship the Cushite god (Yalkut Shimoni Shemot 168).

With that introduction, I will present some of the explanations given of Moses’s Cushite wife. Most commentators do not follow the Midrash above and assume the woman Miriam was referring to was his Midianite wife, Zipporah. Some explain she was referred to as a Cushite because the nomadic, desert-dwelling Midianites somewhat resembled the Cushites, or that Zipporah herself was unusually dark-skinned or homely (Radak, R. Bechaye, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni). Others explain it was a type of contrary nickname (Targum, Sifri quoted in Rashi). She was actually strikingly beautiful, and it was customary to give a superior person a less-becoming nickname, so as not to arouse jealousy. The Talmud explains differently, that “Just as a Cushite is distinct in her skin [color], so too was Zipporah distinct in her [good] deeds” (Mo’ed Katan 16b, see also Targum Yerushalmi).

Others explain, based on the Midrash, that the wife under discussion was not Zipporah but the Cushite princess, whom Moses had never lived with (Targum Yonatan, Ibn Ezra alternate explanation, Rashbam, Chizkuni alternate explanation). No doubt unlike his righteous wife Zipporah, the Cushite never embraced the faith and became worthy of joining the nation.

Either way, according to almost all interpretations, the issue was not that Moses took such a wife, but that he had separated from her. (The Midrash gives different explanations how Miriam happened to find out they weren’t living together.) Many of the commentators who understood that his wife was dark or homely explain that Miriam suspected he separated from her because he found her unattractive. In any event, the Torah records Miriam complaining about something else – claiming that they too are prophets. The implication was that she suspected Moses separated from his wife because he believed a prophet is too holy for married life – as the Midrash puts it, “The elders, fortunate are they but woe to their wives!” She objected to this, but God explained that Moses was an exceptional prophet who had to maintain especially high standards.

History of Palestine

I'm a bit confused about the term "Palestine." Today everyone uses it to refer to Arabs, but my grandfather played in Palestine Symphony Orchestra which changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra when the Jewish state came into being in 1948.

So what's the scoop on "Palestine"?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the year 70 CE the Romans burned down the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, murdering and exiling the Jews of Jerusalem. Following an unsuccessful revolt against Rome in 135 CE, the Roman emperor Hadrian decided to excise all things Jewish from the promised land. Jerusalem was renamed "Aelia Capitolina" and the penalty for any Jew daring to venture into the city was death. In addition, an idol to the pagan god Jupiter was erected in the remains of the Temple.

Further, Hadrian asked his historians who were the worst enemies of the Jews. The scribes said, "The ancient Philistines who vanished half a millennium prior." It was thus declared that Land of Israel would from then on be called "Philistia" to dishonor the Jews and obliterate their history. Hence the name "Palestine."

For the next 2,000 years, Israel remained at the forefront of Jewish consciousness. Jews always maintained a presence in Israel, and prayed to return en masse.

The rhetoric about a massive Arab presence being overrun by "invading Jews" is dispelled by Mark Twain, who visited the area in 1867 and wrote in his book, "The Innocents Abroad":

"We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse... We never saw a human being on the whole route... hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."

The vast majority of Arabs came to Israel after the early Zionists pioneers began to rebuild the land, thereby creating modern infrastructure and economic opportunities, which attracted Arabs from both surrounding territories and far-away Arab lands.

At the time, Jewish residents of Palestine were considered "Palestinians," whereby the Arabs were officially referred to as Arabs. The "Jerusalem Post" newspaper was called the "Palestine Post," and the Jewish Agency-issued postage stamps read "Palestine." As far as the Arabs were concerned no political entity called Palestine existed.

But that is all past history. The Arabs, in their decades-long war against Israel's very existence, have succeeded in convincing the world of a Palestinian Arab identity deserving of their own state. So that's the reality today, and we are trying to deal with it in a way that satisfies both world opinion and the security requirements of the citizens of Israel.

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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