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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:13 Pick for yourselves men: wise and understanding, and known to your tribes
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Just as in English, where we use a comma to separate items of a list and only use the word 'and' in place of the comma before the last item, Hebrew normally omits the vav prefix - meaning 'and' - from all but the last in a series of people, attributes or qualities. For example, the Hebrew phrase used by G-d to describe Himself , "the G-d of Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov" (Shemot 3:16) has the vav, matched by the position of the English translation's 'and', on the last name in the set of the three patriarchs. Here, then, in the text the vav at the beginning of the word - 'understanding' couples the two words "wise and understanding"; this is supported by the pointing, which shows a darga accent in the word 'wise' and a t'vir accent in the word 'understanding'. The darga is a conjuctive or connecting accent, joining the word it is in to the following word, while the t'vir is a mild disjunctive accent, calling for a small separation after the word it points. This leaves the last two words in the phrase also coupled, meaning "known to your tribes". Several of the classic commentators draw conclusions from this grouping of the words.
Jeffrey Tigay, on the other hand, groups the words differently. Repointing as , turning a Qal passive participle into a Qal active participle, 'knowing' rather then 'being known', Tigay collects the three words "wise, understanding and knowing" together and says, "It is evident from Ecclesiastes 9:11 that 'wise, discerning and knowing', like the equivalent nouns 'wisdom, discernment and knowledge' form a standard triad". This would then leave the last word as an indirect object for the verb at the beginning of the clause, giving an overall translation of "Pick for yourselves, for your tribes, men who are wise, understanding and experienced". Choosing to ignore , this arrangement is also favoured by the ESV which translates the text as simply "Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men".
Rashi, the Ramban and Rabbi Hirsch all follow the traditional arrangement of the words. Taking the couplet "wise and understanding", Rashi quotes a parable told by Rabbi Yose in the earliest rabbinic commentary to the book of D'varim, "One who is wise is like a rich money changer. When they bring him dinars to examine, he examines [them]. And when they do not, he sits and thinks. One who is understanding is like an enterprising money changer. When they bring him money to examine, he examines [it]. And when they do not, he goes about and brings [business] from himself." (Sifrei 13). Referencing the second phrase, "known to your tribes", he then ascribes these words to Moshe: "they are familiar to you, for if one comes before me wrapped in his cloak, I do not know who he is, or what tribe he is from or if he is suitable. But you are familiar with him, for you raised him." The Ramban follows Rashi's proposal and appeals to the value of the reputation of the men within the community, adding, " means in my opinion that 'they are known as judges'; that is to say, their capability is known and recognised as qualifying them to be appointed judges."
Hirsch goes even further and comments on all three qualities: "'wise': men who know the given laws; 'understanding': who have the ability to draw the right conclusions and decisions from the facts; 'known to your tribes': whose characters are known to you. As if Moshe says, 'Their wisdom and understanding I can find out by myself, by testing, but their character can only be known by their lives, that is only known to those who have associated with them.'" Tigay refers back to the original advice Jethro gave Moshe - "Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens" (Shemot 18:21, ESV) - and points out that Moshe could not possibly have known all these (perhaps as many as 78,600 by some counts) personally, so must have relied upon recommendations from the people.
As G-d's Messiah, His Anointed One, the "beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17, ESV), Yeshua also qualified to be both High Priest and King of Israel. Uniquely human and divine, He is not "a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). The disciples who had walked with Him during His Galilee and Judea ministry witnessed faithfully: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you" (1 John 1:1-3, ESV). They were not simply relaying what they had heard from other people, second-hand or more, but they were bringing a first person testimony of their own personal experience. Yeshua was well known to them; they had travelled with him for nearly three years: in every season, through the heat of the summer and the rains of the autumn and spring, beside the sea of Galilee and the mountains of Judea, among Jews and Gentiles, in the synagogue and the Temple. John wrote, "In the presence of the talmidim Yeshua performed many other miracles which have not been recorded in this book" (John 20:30, CJB).
After the resurrection, most of the disciples had seen the risen Messiah, but Thomas was not with them. In spite of their testimony, he refused to believe them: "The other disciples therefore were saying to him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe'" (John 20:25, NASB). A real down-to-earth no-nonsense man; Thomas demanded physical proof. But Yeshua granted his request: "He said to Thomas, 'Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing'" (v. 27, NASB). Not just seeing, but touching and feeling! It was important that the witness was clear and unbroken and although we have no original testimony from Thomas1, that incident is recorded in John's Gospel because all the other disciples saw and heard the conversation and watched Thomas touch the pierced hands and side.
Five times in the the pastoral epistles, Rav Sha'ul uses the phrase "This is a trustworthy saying" when talking about the kingdom and doctrinal matters: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV), "The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him" (2 Timothy 2:11, ESV). Our faith is based on the proven and tested character of Yeshua, verified and supported by reliable witnesses who themselves saw the events and relate them first-hand in four interlocking and complementary documents - the Gospels - as well as the Acts and the Letters. As Rabbi Hirsch said, Yeshua's character was shown by His life, which could only be known to those who have associated with Him. The early believers gave their lives when necessary for the sake of their faith. In these days before the L-rd returns, it may again be necessary for some of us to do the same. We must stand firm on the truth and know in whom we have believed, as Rav Sha'ul wrote: "for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12, KJVdnl ).
1. - The document known as the Gospel of Thomas is not a first century apostolic original but a later document written from a gnostic point of view, and circulated pseudonymously in Thomas' name to try and gain credibility.
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 19:5-7; Acts 6:3; Revelation 22:6-7
Have you picked a wise and understanding man for yourself? Does he have a
cast-iron reputation and character that has been personally attested to the
point of death? Perhaps it is time to consider Yeshua afresh: "For
there is one G-d, and there is one mediator between G-d and men, the man
Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5, ESV).
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.