Divrei Torah

PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5778

In this week’s Parsha we find the names of the princes of the 12 tribes. Almost every name contains a reference to the name of G-d. That would seem to be either they had the spirit of G-d as an essence to their being - all their pursuits were of a G-dly nature, G-d was always on their mind  - or their parents gave them those names as a blessing that these ideas would come to fruition in them.

One of the princes – the prince of the tribe of Shimon was a man by the name of Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai. Who really was he?

At the end of the forty year sojourn of the Jews in the desert, we find the prince of the tribe of Shimon to be man by the name of Zimri ben Salu. He was the person who led the Jewish people in the terrible sin of immorality with the nation of Moav that led to a plague and the deaths of 24,000 men. Our rabbis make an interesting comment. They say that Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai and Zimri ben Salu were the same person! Although they were 40 years apart, it is possible that they were one and the same. The fact that he is known by different names is not uncommon in the Tanach. 

However, the Rabbis make another very difficult comment. The original Shimon – Jacob’s son – had a son named Shaul ben Ha’Canaanis. According to some opinions, the Canaanis woman is Dina – Jacob’s daughter. She was called Ca’naanis because she was raped by Shechem who was a Canaanite. Other opinions state that the Ca’naanis was literally a Canaanite woman. Either way, our Rabbis state that this Shaul was the same person as Shlumiel who was the same person as Zimri. Now, that raises a serious issue because there was 210 years between Shaul and Shlumiel, and another 40 until Zimri. It is difficult to assume an age of 250 years, although we do find some people who the Rabbis say were blessed with unusually long lives, even after the time of the Flood. So, it would seem that this statement of the Rabbis is difficult to take at face value. That would not be unusual because the Rabbis often are just trying to teach us a lesson and they do it in a way that will catch our ear so we will want to learn the lesson.

Perhaps an idea that the Rabbis are trying to teach us is that we should not be surprised when a good person turns into an evil person or an evil person turns into a good person. As they word it in Pirkei Avos, “Don’t be sure of yourself until the day of your death.” People can change, even drastically.

We find numerous examples in the Tanach and throughout Jewish history. There were those who went from good to bad. Yeravam ben Nevat and Yochanan Kohein Gadol are just two such examples. We also find people who went from bad to good. King Yoshiyahu and King Yehoyachin are a couple of examples. 

That would be an idea if we would interpret literally that Shaul ben Hacanaanis, Shulmiel and Zimri were all one and the same person. 

We could also interpret the words of the rabbis that good people can have evil descendants and bad people can have very good descendants. Our Rabbis teach us that Haman’s descendants taught Torah. Sancheirev – who exiled the Northern Ten Tribes to Assyria – had  descendants that taught Torah. Some of our leaders come from the most unexpected backgrounds. King David was descended from Eglon the King of Moav and Ruth. Rabbi Meir’s family was related to the Roman emperor. In our time we know that Leon Trotsky’s great-grandson is a very religious Jew. We also know that several high ranking Nazis have Jewish descendants. 

So, our Rabbis seem to be teaching us that we should not be surprised at what people do. There are precedents for all of it. Human nature does not seem to change. What individual people do should not surprise us. Our job is to live by the word of G-d and pray to Him that all will turn out well for us and our families.