OPINIONS: The Gemara tells of how the Jewish men were enticed by the daughters of Moav and Midyan to sin. The Moavite and Midyanite women set up booths, each of which contained two compartments. In the first compartment sat an old woman, and in the second compartment sat a young woman. The alleged purpose of these booths was to sell linen goods to the Jewish people. When the Jewish men went for a walk and passed by the booths, the first, older woman would offer the linen at the regular price, and the young woman would offer the linen at two or three times less than the regular price. When the men would go to see what she had to sell, the young woman would say, "You are like one of my household! Sit, pick for yourself (what you would like to buy)." She conveniently kept next to her a bottle of Amonite wine next to her. Since the wine of Nochrim had not yet been proclaimed forbidden, the men would drink and become intoxicated. The Gemara goes on to describe how the Jewish men were totally seduced, served Avodah Zarah, and denied the Torah by the time they left the tent.
What exactly does the Gemara mean when it says that wine of Nochrim was not yet forbidden? There are two basic categories of forbidden wine: "Yayin Nesech" -- wine which was poured for Avodah Zarah and is prohibited mid'Oraisa, and "Stam Yayin" -- ordinary wine of Nochrim which is prohibited mid'Rabanan due to the assumption that it was offered for Avodah Zarah. To which category of wine of Nochrim does the Gemara refer when it says that the wine of Nochrim had not yet been proclaimed forbidden?
(a) The KLI CHEMDAH (Parshas Balak #2, in his discussion of a Sifri which records an almost identical story as the Gemara here records) writes in the name of the RAMBAM that the wine discussed in this story is Yayin Nesech. How does the Rambam know this? The Kli Chemdah explains that if Yayin Nesech would have been forbidden already, then the wine mentioned would been Stam Yayin, which would have been permitted. However, the only type of Stam Yayin that would have been permitted would have been wine of a Nochri who was not suspected of pouring it for Avodah Zarah. However, in a situation in which Nochrim were attempting to entice the Jewish people to forsake the Torah and worship Avodah Zarah, clearly the Jewish people would have suspected that their wine was Yayin Nesech and would not have consumed the wine even before the decree of Stam Yayin was made. This is why the Rambam understands that the prohibition of Yayin Nesech had not yet been given to the Jewish people at that time.
(b) The Kli Chemdah quotes the RAMBAN who maintains that the wine was Stam Yayin. Why did the Jewish men not suspect that the wine had been poured to Avodah Zarah? The answer is that the Avodah Zarah of that region was Ba'al Pe'or, which is not served with wine-libations but with defecation. Since Ba'al Pe'or was not served by pouring wine to it, the Jewish men did not suspect that the wine was Yayin Nesech.
The Kli Chemdah quotes the DIVREI EMES who cites proof for the Rambam from the Midrash in Shir ha'Shirim Rabah. The Midrash there discusses the source for the wine which the Jewish people used for Nesachim during their sojourn in the Midbar. One opinion states that they bought the wine from merchants passing through the desert. Rebbi Yishmael says that at that time, wine of Nochrim was not yet forbidden. The MAHARASH YAFEH on the Midrash asks, what is Rebbi Yishmael adding? It is obvious that Stam Yayin was not yet forbidden, since the Isur is only mid'Rabanan. The Divrei Emes explains that according to the Rambam, this is not a question. The Midrash means that Yayin Nesech was not yet forbidden, and this is why the Jewish people had no need to worry that the wine they bought from the passing merchants had been poured for Avodah Zarah.
The Kli Chemdah disputes this proof and offers a different approach to the Midrash, which is consistent with the explanation of the Ramban. Rebbi Yishmael indeed means that Stam Yayin was not yet forbidden. Why, though, is that not obvious? The answer is that Rebbi Yishmael is teaching something new. The verse says, "mi'Mashkeh Yisrael" (Yechezkel 45:15; see Background to Chulin 90:11), from which the Gemara (Pesachim 48a, Chulin 90b, Temurah 29a) derives the Halachah that the Korbanos and the accompanying Nesachim offered in the Beis ha'Mikdash must be comprised of food and drink which a Jew is permitted to eat. What, though, is the status of an item forbidden by the Rabanan but permitted according to the Torah? May that item be offered as a Korban or Nesachim? Rebbi Yishmael answers this question when he emphasizes that the decree of Stam Yayin was not yet made, because had Stam Yayin been prohibited by the Rabanan the Jewish people would not have bought the wine from the merchants, since it would not have qualified as "Mashkeh Yisrael." (Y. MONTROSE)


QUESTION: The Gemara says that a Min asked Rebbi Chanina if he knew how old Bilam was when he died. Rebbi Chanina replied that although it is not explicitly stated anywhere, one may infer that Bilam was either 33 or 34 years old when he died. The verse states "Anshei Damim u'Mirmah Lo Yechetzu Yemeihem" -- "People of blood and crookedness, they will not have half of their days" (Tehilim 55:24). Since the average lifespan is 70 years, as the verse states, "Yemei Shenoseinu Shiv'im Shanah" -- "The number of our years is 70 years" (Tehilim 90:10), it stands to reason that Bilam lived less than half of those years. The Min informed Rebbi Chanina that he was correct; he personally had seen a written chronicle about Bilam which stated that Bilam was 33 years old when he was killed by Pinchas.
The Gemara here seems to contradict the statement of Rebbi Sima'i earlier (106a). Rebbi Sima'i states that three people were consulted about "that plot" (to enslave the Jews in Mitzrayim): Bilam, Iyov, and Yisro. Bilam advised that it was a good idea; later, as punishment for his advice, he was killed. Iyov, was silent, and was punished with suffering. Yisro ran away, and merited that his children would sit on the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas ha'Gazis. According to Rebbi Sima'i, Bilam would have been well over 200 years old when he died! Can these Gemaras be reconciled with each other?
(a) RASHI (DH Bar Tilsin) writes that it is clear that these Gemaras disagree. He says that according to Rebbi Sima'i, Bilam was over 210 years old, since Rebbi Sima'i maintains that Bilam was involved in the plot to throw the Jewish boys into the river.
The MELO HA'RO'IM has difficulty with Rashi's assertion that Bilam was over 210 years old. It was only a little over 80 years from the time of the decree to kill the Jewish boys until the Jewish people left Mitzrayim. This is clear from the fact that Moshe Rabeinu led the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim when he was 80 years old, and he was the last baby boy to whom the decree applied.
The DA'AS ZEKENIM (Shemos 1:10) and others seem to learn like the Melo ha'Ro'im. They agree, however, with Rashi that these two statements in the Gemara argue with each other, but they maintain that Bilam was about 140 years old when he died. The Da'as Zekenim explains that Bilam must have been at least 20 years old when he was asked for his advice. Another 80 years passed from the decree to throw the boys into the river, and another 40 years passed from the Exodus until the war with Midyan, which occurred at the end of the Jewish people's 40 years in the Midbar (see Bamidbar 31:2).
(b) The Da'as Zekenim quotes REBBI MENACHEM MI'DANI who says that these Gemaras do not disagree. When Rebbi Sima'i says that three people were consulted in the plot, he does not refer to the plot to enslave the Jews in Mitzrayim. Rather, he refers to the plot of "Lecha Iy'atzecha" -- "Let me advise you" (Balak 24:14), which hints to Bilam's advice to Balak that he could defeat the Jews by sending women to seduce them and have them serve Avodah Zarah, which would make Hash-m want to destroy them. Although Balak consulted Yisro and Iyov as well, they ran away or kept quiet. Bilam could have been very young at the time, and he could have died at 33.
However, this explanation conflicts with the Gemara in Zevachim (116b). The Gemara there states that all of the nations gathered to ask Bilam what was happening at the moment the Torah was given to the Jewish people. Bilam must have been at least 20 years old at the time, for otherwise they would not have sought his advice. This means that upon his death, he would have been at least 60 years old. Accordingly, it is difficult to reconcile these three Gemaras with each other.
(c) The ANAF YOSEF says that the Gemaras are not arguing. There were two individuals named Bilam. The second Bilam, who was killed by Pinchas, was a Gilgul (reincarnation) of the first Bilam who advised Pharaoh to throw the baby boys into the river. When the Gemara says that Bilam proclaimed "Keini (Yisro's descendants) -- you were with us in the consultation!" he meant that Yisro was with him in his former Gilgul. (Y. MONTROSE)