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The Bees and the Bees

Written by Howard Jackson

“The Emorites who lived in that mountain came out to confront you and pursued you like bees do. They smote you (i.e. the Israelites) in Seir as far as Chormah” (Devarim 1:44).
The classic commentator Rashi wonders in what way were the Emorites behaving like bees? He elucidates that just as a bee dies instantly when it stings a person, similarly when the Emorites touched you, they died immediately.
Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik observes that our verse is recounting the serious punishment of those Israelites who ignored Moshe’s warning not to try to fight their way into the land of Israel following the spies’ evil report (BeMidbar 15:41)! Why, therefore, does Rashi seem to shift the focus by telling us that the Emorites themselves received instantaneous punishment? When one side attacks another and the latter does not reciprocate then one cannot determine the level of hatred of the perpetrators; whereas if the latter retaliates more forcefully than the perpetrators and yet they continue to attack, one can ascertain the magnitude of their hatred.
In a similar vein, the Emorites witnessed their comrades smiting the Israelites and immediately dropping dead, but they persisted nevertheless in attacking the Israelites as far as Chormah because their hatred was so intense! Rashi is teaching us exactly how much the Emorites hated the Israelites.
The same theme appears in the Halel prayer: “All the nations surround me but with the name of God (BeShem Hashem) I cut them down. They encircle me and surround me but with the name of God I cut them down! They encircle me like bees but they are extinguished like a fire of thorns; with the name of God I cut them down” (Psalms 118:10-12).
Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that the nations’ hatred is so great that they besiege us with two rings of soldiers, hence the double expression: “They encircle me and surround me”. Additionally, like the Emorites, they behave like bees, meaning that they will gladly commit suicide just to inflict some damage on the Jewish People.
Rabbi Alan Kimche of Ner Yisrael (London), once articulated this theme, applying it to modern and Messianic times, and concluded that our response must be to pray to God (”BeShem Hashem”) with more intensity (Kavanah). We should prioritise this and “… May the King answer us on the day when we call” (Psalms 20:10).

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