By now the king of Edom was turning as red as Eisav (BTW Edom means red).
“I don’t want your money and I definitely don’t want you stepping one foot into my land – the Land of Edom,” the king did not budge one iota. “Lo Sa’avor Bi – Do not pass through my country. I am warning you. We will attack!”
The persistent messengers were persistent.
“Well,” they persisted. “Our leader has requested to inform you that although G-d has provided us with plenty of food – it’s called the Mann – and plenty of water from the Well of Miriam, we will be the very best guests. We will buy food and water from the citizens of Edom – for us and for our cattle – whatever the price! We realize how expensive water is around here in this hot climate. And don’t forget to charge us tax!”
The reply of the haughty king was once again short and to the point, “LO! You shall not pass.”
Suddenly appeared Edom’s mighty army with swords in their hands. The words of Yitzchak to Eisav – “You shall live by your swords” – were as true as ever.
Bnei Yisrael had no choice, and they took the roundabout route toward Israel – outside the borders of Edom.
“The words of the Torah are poor in one place and rich in another,” our Sages of the Talmud say. This means that what is mentioned very briefly (poorly) in one place in the Torah is explained at length (richly) in another place of the Torah.
This would be a classic example. Just reading Parshas Chukas, it seems as if the Bnei Yisrael were afraid of Edom and backed away like cowards in the night.
However, when we turn to Parshas Devarim, we’ll read this episode again and gain an important insight. It was HaShem Himself who told them to back off.
Here’s an excerpt of HaShem’s message in Parshas Devarim, compliments of Shazak:
“I gave this land to them as their inheritance,” was the message HaShem told Moshe to convey to the Bnei Yisrael. “The mountain of Se’ir is theirs (until Moshiach comes), and you have no permission to go there. Come what may, do not allow yourself to fight with them. You can purchase food or water from them – but that’s it!”
This is not the first time Bnei Yisrael clashed with Eisav. The last time was when Yaakov and Eisav met back in Parshas VaYishlach of Sefer Bereishis. Do you remember how afraid Yaakov was? He was terrified that Eisav would come and hurt his 12 children. Also note how his fear is expressed there in the 12th Pasuk of Chapter 32: “Please, HaShem, save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, lest he come and hit me.”
Do you see how the number 12 keeps on appearing? The Ben Ish Chai (the 19th-centiry rabbi from Bagdad whose real name is Rabbi Yosef Chaim) explains that this is what the king of Edom meant when he said, “Lo Sa’avor Bi – Do not pass through my country.” After all, the word “Bi” (בי) equals 12!
It was if the King of Edom was reminding Bnei Yisrael how frightened Yaakov was of his ancestor Eisav… so DON’T MESS WITH ME!