For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"G‑d said to me, Do not distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land [as] an inheritance, because I have given Ar to the children of Lot [as] an inheritance." (Deut. 2:9)

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi:"and do not provoke them to war"
G‑d forbade Israel only to wage war against Moab. However, Israel did frighten them, appearing before them armed for battle. Therefore, it is written, "Moab was very frightened of the people" (Num. 22:3) because Israel plundered and looted them. Regarding the children of Amon, however, it says, "Do not provoke them" (verse 19) with any kind of provocation, as a reward for the modesty shown by their ancestress [Lot’s younger daughter] who did not publicize her father’s conduct, as did his elder daughter who named her son Moab ["from the father"]

"Ar": The name of the province.

...they parted in order to maintain peace between them.

Remez (hinted meaning):

Baal HaTurim: referring to "Thus they parted one from his brother, Avram", (Gen. 13:11-12) in Hebrew, "Ish me'al achiv Avram"
The final letters of the four words: "shin-lamed-vav-mem" spell the word "Shalom"/peace. This tells you they parted in order to maintain peace between them. He also alluded to them that in the future there would be peace between the nations that descended from Abraham and Lot, and that the way to maintain this peace would be to maintain distance between them, which is why they were commanded, "Do not distress the Moabites".

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Tzeror HaMor: This hints that as soon as the exile under Edom ends, Mashiach, who is from Ruth the Moabite, will make his appearance and usher in the golden age for the Jewish people. Seeing that the immediate cause of redemption will be a descendant of Moab, the Torah forbade harassing the Moabites.

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Balak 188:
One day, the friends were sitting and contending with each other. Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Aba, Rabbi Hiya, Rabbi Yosi and the rest of the friends were present. They said that it is written: "Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle..." (Deut. 2:9) That was for the sake of Ruth [ancestor of King David — Ed.] and Na'ama [future wife of King Solomon — Ed], who were destined to come from their midst. Tzipora, the wife of Moses who came from Midian, and Jethro and his offspring, who came out of Midian, who were all truly just, most certainly. Furthermore, Moses grew up in Midian and still, the Holy One, blessed be He, told him, "Execute the vengeance of the children of Israel on the Midianites". (Num. 31:2) Therefore, there is an inappropriate bias in this matter, since Midian appeared more worthy to be saved than Moab.

Midian appeared more worthy to be saved than Moab.

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
We Jews have long memories. We remember and recount yearly those who have afflicted us: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, all whom were part of our exiles. Amalek, Moab, Midian, Og, Sichon, all of whom made our desert stay less hospitable.

With Amalek, considered "the first of the [enemy] nations", we even have a special Shabbat dedicated to remembering:

1) what he did to us
2) to obliterate all traces of him on earth
3) not to forget him [see Deut. 25:17-19]
each of the three a separate mitzvah counted among the 613!

At the same time and on the other hand, we are prohibited from such intolerance towards the Egyptians who "housed" us for 210 years, or from our "brother" Edom or Esau, due to family ties.

Our present verse concerns the Midianites. The Zohar goes on at length questioning why we're OK with Moab but not Midian, since:
  • Moses spent some 40 years in Midian
  • his wife Tzipora was from there
  • our beloved Jethro was the high priest there —
all these three truly righteous people.

Perhaps it is as the commentators and the Zohar conclude, it is all in the merit of Ruth, great grandmother to King David, and Na'ama, the wife of King David's son, Solomon. From there comes the distinction with a difference!

Mashiach--our Messiah—will have sprung from these 2 women's loins, the direct causation of the redemption of the world.

For this, we can forgive some of their inappropriate behavior.

For this, G‑d can command us not to harass them.

For out of the abominable incest Mo-Ab, "from Father," the daughter of Lot who plied him with liquor and slept with him with the pure intent to promote the human race, from there will come our pure Mashiach.

We can forgive, but we can never forget. And we are commanded here to also remember not to forget Moab, from where the future redemption will have originated.

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