Regarding the request that B'nai Isra'el made to Edom,

Numbers 20:19:

וַיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֵלָ֥יו בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל בַּֽמְסִלָּ֣ה נַעֲלֶה֒ וְאִם־מֵימֶ֤יךָ נִשְׁתֶּה֙ אֲנִ֣י וּמִקְנַ֔י וְנָתַתִּ֖י מִכְרָ֑ם רַ֥ק אֵין־דָּבָ֖ר בְּרַגְלַ֥י אֶֽעֱבֹֽרָה׃

And the children of Israel said unto him: ‘We will go up by the highway; and if we drink of thy water, I and my cattle, then will I give the price thereof; let me only pass through on my feet; there is no hurt.’

Here, they implied a possibility that they might drink water, and if so, they would pay for it.

But, in the request to Mav, it says:

Numbers 21:22:

אֶעְבְּרָ֣ה בְאַרְצֶ֗ךָ לֹ֤א נִטֶּה֙ בְּשָׂדֶ֣ה וּבְכֶ֔רֶם לֹ֥א נִשְׁתֶּ֖ה מֵ֣י בְאֵ֑ר בְּדֶ֤רֶךְ הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ נֵלֵ֔ךְ עַ֥ד אֲשֶֽׁר־נַעֲבֹ֖ר גְּבֻלֶֽךָ׃

’Let me pass through thy land; we will not turn aside into field, or into vineyard; we will not drink of the water of the wells; we will go by the king’s highway, until we have passed thy border.’

Here, they say from the start, that they will not drink any water at all - )no offer to pay).

Why the difference regarding these two nations?

  • 3
    Based on Rashi, it seems that for Edom we're willing to directly benefit them (by paying above market rates for water and food, even if we don't need it due to the mon and the well), but not for Mo'av. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


After taking a closer look at the pesukim, I realized that the question can be rephrased: why by Edom did they first offer not to drink water and then offered to pay, whereas by Moav did they not rephrase their offer? The answer, also by taking a closer look at the pesukim, is that they didn't get a chance. Sichon made the first strike, and Klal Yosrael needed to defend itself. "Vayilacheim b'Yisrael."

On a deeper level, the Targum Yonasan seems to have been bothered by this same difficulty. On the passuk by Edom, he translates it pashut p'shat: we'll pay for water. By Moav, though, he explains that it's a reference to immorality; "we will not turn off into the fields or vineyards" is a reference to oneis u'mefateh, and "we will not drink water from your wells" is a reference to eishes ish. "We will go on the King's highway" thus means that we will follow the Torah.

Why is it specifically by Moav that he veers from the pashut p'shat? I'm not sure. Maybe you could say it's because it was specifically Moav whose major flaw was immorality. Edom's aveirah was murder; thus, there was no issue of reassuring them that we wouldn't be immoral.

  • I have to mull over your 1st answer. I think avoiding the conflict is not even an issue regarding Mo'av. In parshat Ki Tetze (or it may be Shoftim) it states that prior to attacking another nation, you should offer a chance to deal with them "peaceably" and see if they respond the same way. (Interesting that many of the best answers to my questions come from those that have the same (or similar) name as me :-)
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 14:12
  • I noticed that my answer doesn't work with the pesukim because, as the Haamek Davar notes, by Moav we didn't say "please," something we did by Edom, intimating that we would have crossed through one way or another. Instead I have replaced it with a more pashut answer that fits much better into the pesukim, leaving the answer by the Targum Yonasan.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 1:58
  • Glad I could help. :)
    – DonielF
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 20:14

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