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    Speaking “with” & “to” – B’midbar

    Moses speaks to the Israelites, engraving by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

    The Torah text (Num. 1:1) begins the sidra with the phrase, “The Lord spoke to Moses – el Moshe”.

    The Targum changes the particle and says, “The Lord spoke with Moses – im Moshe”.

    The difference between the two is paralleled in verse 48 of this same chapter when God speaks “with”, not “to”, Moses.

    It suggests that God sometimes tells Moses what to do and gives him commands and orders which he has no choice but to convey to the Children of Israel. God tells him what to do and he has to do it.

    The Targum method turns it into a two-way conversation in which God speaks softly to Moses. Moses takes it all in and (presumably) feels that he is being consulted. He knows, and God knows, that in the end he will comply with what the Almighty wants, but he feels that he has been asked and not ordered.

    There are of course times when the situation requires the more peremptory approach, but Onkelos in his Targum wants us to know that in human life there are also two ways of speaking and it isn’t automatic that giving orders is always best.

    This point arises from Chapter 4 of the sidra when we read in the Targum, “The Lord spoke with Moses and to Aaron”. Apparently God felt that each brother needed to be dealt with differently.

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