Avraham ben Yaakov


The stay of the Ark of the Covenant among the Philistines for SEVEN months was another penalty for the SEVEN lambs that Abraham had given king Avimelech (Bereishis Rabbah 54).

The story of the return of the Ark by the Philistines to Beth Shemesh subtly contrasts the attitude of the Philistines towards it with that of the Israelites who received it, serving as a reproof to the latter for failing to show the proper respect. (A similar lack of respect is often visible in present-day places of "worship".)

The Philistines consult their priests and magician-diviners as to a fitting way to return the Ark that had created such havoc in their land (a terrible infestation of mice) and in their very innards (the hemorrhoids). (According to one Midrash the mice jumped up into their anuses and pulled out their innards, making this plague no less striking than those of Egypt .) The priests and magicians answer that the Philistines must SHOW that they understand that the plague was from God by offering GOLDEN MICE and GOLDEN HEMORRHOIDS. "Then you shall be healed, and HE WILL BE KNOWN TO YOU - why would He then not turn his hand away from you" (ch 6 v 3).

Nevertheless the Philistines did not quite believe in God's supreme power. They believed in a variety of divine powers and knew of the wrath of the gods, which they sought to propitiate, but they also believed in luck and chance. This was why they set up the test of the cow-drawn wagon to see if the plague might not have been chance. "And you will see, if it goes up by way of his boundary to Beth Shemesh, He did this great evil to us, but if not, we shall know that it was not His hand that plagued us, it was a CHANCE that occurred to us" (v. 9).

The test was set up to be as difficult as possible. Two nursing cows were brought to draw the wagon laden with the heavy wooden gold-covered ark and its contents of stone together with the golden Cherubim together with the box of golden mice and golden hemorrhoids, while their suckling calves were held back in the house behind them. The last thing a nursing cow that has never had to work wants to do is to turn her back on her new-born calf and drag an exceedingly heavy wagon in the opposite direction.


Rashi on this verse states that the Hebrew word VA-YI-SHAR-NAH is "ANDROGYNOUS" i.e. a grammatical hybrid of masculine (the prefix -YI- indicating masculine 3 rd person plural) and feminine (the suffix -NAH, indicating feminine 3 rd person plural). Without Rashi's comment, the obvious PSHAT for anyone familiar with Hebrew grammar is that the word is not ANDROGYNOUS at all, but that the root is YISHAR, as in YASHAR, "straight", and here we simply have the feminine 3 rd person plural form. I.e. the two milking cows WENT STRAIGHT. However, by telling us that the word is indeed ANDROGYNOUS, Rashi is pointing to the deeper DRUSH, based on the root SHAR - "sing". Not ONLY did the two mother cows SING, but so did their MALE YOUNG, and this is why the grammatical form is both masculine and feminine!!!

The miracle of the singing cows is greatly celebrated in Torah lore (Talmud Avodah Zarah 24b), and - for Rabbi Nachman lovers - is alluded to in his story of the Exchanged Children, where the king's true son eventually gains possession of a vessel that when placed on an animal, causes it to sing.

The Rabbis indeed asked why the remarkable mouths of these cows were not included in the list of Ten Things that were created at the very end of the Sixth Day of Creation in the twilight just as the first Shabbos was beginning (Avos 5:8). They answered that it is because the mouths of the cows are INCLUDED in the MOUTH OF THE ASS which opened up to speak to Bilaam (Numbers 22:28). There the ATHON, wife of the HAMOR, "donkey" representing HOMRIUS, material physicality, spoke out the letters of Aleph Beis from Aleph to Thav - A-TH-oN (the long Nun, which stretches from the top of the line down way below the bottom, signifies the 50 Gates of Understanding). When the Philistines returned the Ark , this HOLY VESSEL caused the very cows to SING DESPITE THEMSELVES - despite their longing for their young and not to have to drag this heavy wagon.

As discussed in the commentaries on the songs of Deborah (Judges 5) and Hannah (I Samuel 1-2), the level of SONG (BINAH) reveals that all creation is governed providentially by the One Unified God, whose commandments to the world are engraved on the Stone Tablets contained in the Ark of Testimony. Just as the Ark miraculously carried those who carried it over the waters of the Jordan , so it compelled the very cows to sing songs of praise to God.

The idolatrous Philistine captains walked after the cart watching all this in amazement, and they knew the power of God and His holy Ark, but the Israelite men of Beth Shemesh were too busy with their wheat harvest to pay more than casual attention to the passing spectacle (v. 13). The Talmud (Sotah 35a) says that the men of Beth Shemesh were smitten (v 19) because (1) they kept harvesting even as they prostrated to the Ark when they should have stopped everything in face of this miracle, and (2) they made up a scurrilous rhyme asking the Ark who made it angry and what came to reconcile it.

The rabbinic discussion about whether only 70 men died but that they were equivalent to 50,000, OR did 50,000 die who were the equivalent of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin (Sotah 35b) illustrates that such numbers given in the Biblical text need not necessarily be taken literally but are given for DRASH. In any event the men of Beth Shemesh suffered an extremely painful blow that came to teach the true, terrible AWESOMENESS of the Ark of the Covenant, which signifies God's very presence among us. This is a double edged sword, causing the righteous to rejoice while the wicked and rebellious suffer God's wrathful intolerance of evil.

So important was this KIDDUSH HASHEM, Sanctification of God's name, that - surprising as it may seem - the very BOX with the GOLDEN MICE and GOLDEN HEMMORHOIDS offered by the Philistines was kept SIDE BY SIDE with the Ark of the Covenant in the Sanctuary in Jerusalem throughout the period of the first Temple, until they were put away, together with the flask of Mannah made by Aaron in the Wilderness, the flask of the anointing oil, Aaron's staff and the flowering almond branch by king Josiah (Talmud Yoma 52b). As we prepare ourselves to see them again soon in our times, let us learn from this text a lesson in the proper attitude of respect and honor we must show to God's holy Ark.


The men of KIRYATH YE'ARIM who came to take up the ark from BETH SHEMESH did show the proper respect for the Ark, taking it to the house of Avinadav, who dedicated his very son Elazar to guard the Ark with due honor. Present-day Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Ye'arim (Telstone) are considered close to the sites of the ancient settlements mentioned in our text.

The twenty year period mentioned in our text (ch 7 v 2) as the duration of the Ark 's stay in Kiryath Ye'arim extended well beyond the days of Samuel. The Talmud (Zevachim 118b) states that for ten of these years, Samuel himself reigned, then Samuel reigned jointly with Saul for one year, after which Saul reigned for two years by himself. Samuel died four months before Saul. Thereafter David reigned in Hebron for seven years before he went up to Jerusalem , and it was then that he took up the Ark from the house of Avinadav (II Samuel ch 6).

For this entire period of twenty years "the whole House of Israel SIGHED after God" (ch 7 v 2). The absence of the Sanctuary and its holy Ark caused deep yearning. The period described in the remainder of our present text, Chapter 7, covers most of Samuel's ten years of ministry, in which he physically traveled from center to center (ch 7 v 16) bringing the people to the level of Teshuvah where they would be ready for the kingship. In this ten year ministry Samuel succeeded in reversing the blight of idolatry (vv 3-4) that had begun over three hundred years earlier after the time of Joshua.

At Samuel's national assembly of all the people at the traditional gathering place in MITZPAH, "they drew water and they poured before HaShem" (v 6): Jonasan in the Targum renders this as: "and they poured out their hearts in repentance like water before HaShem".

From verse 7 ("and the Philistines heard. and the officers of the Philistines went up to Israel") we learn that whenever there is an arousal to holiness and repentance in Israel, the forces of the other side (PHILISHTIM = 860 = 10 x 86, ELOKIM = severe DINIM, Judgments) arouse to threaten Israel not to rebel against the yoke of This-Worldly Materialism in favor of spirituality and service of God. Israel 's fear of the Philistines shows how they had subjected their very selves to Philistine rule. However, now they had Samuel the Prophet, who could call upon God and receive a spectacular answer. Samuel slaughtered one female sheep (a "ruling of the hour" permitting a FEMALE animal as an Olah burnt-offering on a BAMAH whereas the Olah on the Sanctuary Altar must be MALE specifically Lev. 1:3), and as Samuel offered up the sacrifice, God answered with a THUNDER that threw the attacking Philistines into consternation, turning the tables on them and enabling the Israelites to chase after and subdue them all the days of Samuel (v. 13).

It had been to EVEN HA-EZER that the Israelites had originally taken the Ark of the Covenant from Shilo in attempting to defeat the Philistines in the time of Eli (ch 4 v 2) and it was there that the Philistines captured it. However EVEN HA-EZER was not yet the name of the place (see Rashi ad loc) until Samuel set up the stone (EVEN) commemorating God's HELP (EZER) until the present (ch 7 v 12). The stone came to teach that God constantly watches His people, answering them as soon as they POUR OUT THEIR HEARTS LIKE WATER in true repentance.

The name EVEN HA-EZER has a special significance to those who observe the Torah in accordance with the teachings of the rabbis. This is because Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (author of ARBAA TURIM "The Four Rows", which provided the structure for R. Joseph Karo's definitive SHULCHAN ARUCH law-code) chose EVEN HA-EZER as the name of its fourth section, which deals with with all the laws of marriage, divorce and family life as they apply until today. He chose EVEN HA-EZER as the name for this section because God created WOMAN as man's "helper " (Genesis 2:20). Thus the section of Shulchan Aruch called EVEN HA-EZER is the "foundation stone" of man's life with his EZER, "helper", i.e. his wife. The story of Samuel's memorial stone EVEN HA-EZER can be seen as a lesson to us that when we cast out our inner idols and base the most intimate details of our family life on God's Torah as taught in the laws of EVEN HA-EZER and with this POUR OUT OUR HEARTS LIKE WATER IN TRUE REPENTANCE, we can live at peace with those around us, and even our worst enemies will turn their backs and flee.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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