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  • James Kennard

Ki Tetze: What's so bad about not offering sandwiches?

Amongst the very many mitzvot found in the parasha of Ki Tetze, we find this (Devarim 23:4-5):

(ד) לֹא יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי בִּקְהַל ה׳ . . . (ה) עַל דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם  וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלְלֶךָּ. (ז) לֹא תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם וְטֹבָתָם כׇּל יָמֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם.

(4) An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Hashem (i.e. cannot marry a Jew, even after conversion) . . . (5) because they didn’t meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you left Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.  (7) You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.


Yet when we compare Devarim 2: 26-29, in which Moshe describes his request to Sichon to pass through his land, it seems that the Moabites did provide food and water. 

(כו) וָאֶשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים מִמִּדְבַּר קְדֵמוֹת אֶל סִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן דִּבְרֵי שָׁלוֹם לֵאמֹר. (כז) אֶעְבְּרָה בְאַרְצֶךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֵלֵךְ לֹא אָסוּר יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול. (כח) אֹכֶל בַּכֶּסֶף תַּשְׁבִּרֵנִי וְאָכַלְתִּי וּמַיִם בַּכֶּסֶף תִּתֶּן לִי וְשָׁתִיתִי רַק אֶעְבְּרָה בְרַגְלָי. (כט) כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ לִי בְּנֵי עֵשָׂו הַיֹּשְׁבִים בְּשֵׂעִיר וְהַמּוֹאָבִים הַיֹּשְׁבִים בְּעָר עַד אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱבֹר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ נֹתֵן לָנוּ.

(26) I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, (27) “Let me pass through your land: I will go along by the highway, I will turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. (28) You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only let me pass through on my feet, (29) as the children of Esau who dwell in Seir did to me, and as the Moabites who dwell in Ar; until I shall pass over the Jordan into the land which Hashem our God gives us.”


The Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) (on Devarim 2:29) says that the Moabites did not provide the travelling Jews with bread and water for free, but they did sell food to them. Their crime, however, was that they did not take the initiative “לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם” but waited for the Israelites to come to them.


In fact, the picture is more complicated. Not only is there evidence that one of the two nations listed (Moav) was not guilty of not providing food, the other nation (Ammon) was certainly not guilty of the other sin mentioned - hiring Bilaam to curse the Jews. Yet the verse seems to blame both nations for both sins.  


The Sforno (16th century Italy) says that both Ammon and Moav failed to provide bread and water for free, but Moav was not so inhospitable in that they did sell food for money (as indicated in 2:29) as the Israelites passed through their land. On the other hand, Moav hired Bilaam to curse the Jews, while Ammon did not. Therefore each of the nations committed one crime and they are classed, and punished, together. 


The Ramban (12th century Israel) rejects completely the notion that the Moabites sold food. First, he says, it would have been impossible for them to sell to such a huge number of Israelites all that they would need. Furthermore, he says that the Jews did not enter in Moav at all (perhaps based on Shoftim 11:17-18, though ). And if the Moabites did sell food, but are punished for not taking the initiative, why are the Edomites not similarly punished, given that 2:29 says that they acted in precisely the same way? 


The Ramban’s own interpretation is as follows: the founders of the nations of Ammon and Moav were the two sons of Lot, who had been the beneficiary of Avraham’s kindness when he rescued Lot from captivity (Bereishit chapter 14) and prayed for him to be saved from S’dom (Bereishit chapter 18). Therefore Ammon and Moav had a debt of kindness to repay to Avraham’s descendants, but, instead they mistreated them.


The Ramban reads the verse as differentiating between the two nations; it lists Ammon and Moav, and then lists two sins, apportioning the first sin (not meeting with bread and water) to the first nation (Ammon) and the second sin (hiring Blaam) to the secondly listed nation (Moav). Conversely, Ammon was not involved in hiring Bilamm, and Moav did indeed meet the Israelites with bread and water. In this way he resolves the contradiction between 23:5 and 2:29 (and explains why Ammon is not mentioned in 2:29). 


This might explain why Ammon is mentioned first (which associates that nation with the sin listed first) even though Moav was the older of the two (see Bereishit 19:37-38)


The Ktav VeKabbalah (19th century Germany) rejects the distinction that the Ramban makes between Ammon and Moav, saying that they are treated equally in 23:5, (and “לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם” - “they did not meet you” is in the plural, referring to both nations) and also in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 103b). Elsewhere in the Gemara (Yevamot 76b), we learn that only a male Moabite cannot marry into the Jewish people, but a female can (as did Rut, from whom is descendent David HaMelech and ultimately the Mashiach) because it is not the way of women to go out to greet with bread and water, and therefore it must be that both Ammon and Moav failed to perform this task. (The Ramban finds an alternative rendering of this Gemara in the Yerushalmi, (Yevamot 8:3) which says “it is not the way of women to hire”, thus supporting his interpretation, that the Moabites were only guilty of hiring Bilaam and not of failing to offer food).


Another question is why does 23:5, when listing reasons for the Jews to distance themselves utterly from the Moabites, not mention a much greater misdemeanour than either failing to provide food or hiring Bilaam. After all, we read (Bemidbar 25:1-3):


(א) וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשִּׁטִּים וַיָּחֶל הָעָם לִזְנוֹת אֶל בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב. (ב) וַתִּקְרֶאןָ לָעָם לְזִבְחֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶן וַיֹּאכַל הָעָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶן. (ג) וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר וַיִּחַר אַף ה׳ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל.

(1) Israel stayed in Shittim; and the people began to behave immorally with the daughters of Moab: (2) (The women)  called the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. (3) Israel joined itself to Baal Peor: and the anger of Hashem was kindled against Israel.


Is not enticing the Israelites into immorality and idolatry even worse than not being on time with the provisions?


Rashi (11th century France) addresses this by reading the words עַל דְּבַר at the start of 23:5 as meaning not just “because” but, more literally, as “because of the word”. This “word” refers to the advice that Bilaam gave to the Moabites to seduce the Israelite men into idolatry (Rashi states that the events in Shittim were encouraged by Bilamm - see his comments on Bemidbar 24:14 and Bemidbar 31:8). The Divrei David (17th century Poland) explained that Rashi is reading the verse as if it read “עַל דְּבַר וְאֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם” (with an extra vav meaning “and”)  and making clear that עַל דְּבַר is an additional reason.


Therefore the crime of luring the Jews into idolatry - a more serious sin that failing to provide food - is indeed included in the reasons for ostracising the Moabites. 


The Kli Yakar (17th century Bohemia) rejects Rashi’s interpretation on the basis that he is reading too much into one word, but offers his own answer with the following insight. He claims that it is unreasonable to punish two nations so severely for a failure to provide bread and water, but the real crime is certainly enticing the Jews into sin. As Bemidbar 25:2 makes clear, the trigger for the misdemeanor was eating from the idolatrous sacrifices, and the failure to provide bread by way of hospitality was designed to induce hunger and thirst, and thereby bring the Israelites to the forbidden food. That led to immorality and then to idolatry itself. As the Gemara (Sandhedrin 106a) says, one who is exhausted and hungry cannot distinguish between permitted and forbidden and will eat or drink whatever is offered to them. Thus the mention in the verse of the lack of bread is in fact referring to the much more serious seduction into sin. 


This also explains why 23:5 castigates Moav for a crime (not providing food) that has not been mentioned before in the Torah. In the Kli Yakar’s view, since it was a part of the seduction process, it is effectively mentioned in Bemidbar 25:2.


The Jewish people have, alas, been beset by enemies throughout our long history. We have met several nations or individuals who have committed the relatively small offence of not offering hospitality. But however blameworthy that may be, it pales into insignificance compared to the antisemitism that involves plans, schemes and laws. When a nation behaves in that way, it is beyond redemption. No descendant can ever join our people.



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