Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parshat Shelach

The Giants and the Nephilim – Who were They and Where are They Now?

When the spies surveyed Hebron, they came across three people: "They went up in, the south, and he came to Hebron, and there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant (Anak)" (Bemidbar 13:12).

It seems that an ancient race of giants once lived in the hebron hills.

Interestingly enough, when the spies try to persuade the people of the strength of the inhabitants of Canaan, they change the facts slightly:

"The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the Nephilim (fallen ones), the sons of Anak, descended from the fallens. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes" (ibid 32-33).

Suddenly, the Hebronites were not just very tall people, the spies described them as Nephilim, the fallen ones.

Who were these Nephilim, who were the giants and where are they now?

The first time we come across the Nephilim is in Sefer Bereshit. There we read a very cryptic story of sons of gods (or God or nobles) who marry human girls. These people are then called Nephilim, fallen ones, who are mighty men (See Bereshit 6:1-4). This story acts as a prologue to the Flood.

This story is not easy to understand. Many have understood this episode to be about a myth of angels who were seduced by the beauty of the female. They descended to earth and mated with these women, in course becoming fallen angels. Their offspring had mighty, superhuman powers.

However, the book writes: "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days" (Bereshit 6:4), meaning that in the time that the Torah was written, i.e. Moshe's and therefore, the spies' days, they no longer existed, presumably they perished in the flood.

Nevertheless, the legend continued to exist and so, after Calev proclaimed: "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it" (Bemidbar 13:30), the spies tried to frighten the people by saying that these peoples are not just strong people that we can fight, they are supernatural and therefore, we have no possibility of winning.

Therefore, the Anak, the giants are not actually the Nephilim. There were merely a race of very tall and mighty people. What happened to them?

In Sefer Yehoshua we read about the Israel's conquest of Hebron:

"At that time,Yehoshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah,and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua destroyed them completely with their cities. There was no Anakim left in the land of the children of Israel; only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, they remained" (Yehoshua 11:21-22).

As Calev had proclaimed 40 years earlier, Yehoshua succeeded in defeating the Anak and driving them out of Hebron. However, some survivors made it to Gath and other Philistine cities there.

A few hundred years later we meet a very tall Philistine, from the city of Gath:

"The champion emerged from the Philistines' camp, named Goliath from Gath; his height was six cubits and a span…" (I Shmuel 17:3).

Goliath was around 8 or 9 feet tall (some even say as tall as 11 feet), certainly a giant. However, he is described as a Philistine, not as an Anak. Therefore, we can logically assume that since the Anak fled to the Philistines, they actually assimilated with them and that Goliath is a descendant of the Anak.

As we all know, the Philistines no longer exist and so, neither do the Anak..

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Shelach, entitled: "The Spies" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Shelach, entitled: "The Spies, Challa and Tzitzit" appears at

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