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The Story of the Israelites' Cow

(67) وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَنْ تَذْبَحُواْ بَقَرَةً قَالُواْ أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُواً قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللّهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

(68) قَالُواْ ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لّنَا مَا هِيَ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لاَّ فَارِضٌ وَلاَ بِكْرٌ عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ فَافْعَلُواْ مَا تُؤْمَرونَ

(69) قَالُواْ ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا لَوْنُهَا قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنّهَا بَقَرَةٌ صَفْرَاء فَاقِعٌ لَّوْنُهَا تَسُرُّ النَّاظِرِينَ

(70) قَالُواْ ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ إِنَّ البَقَرَ تَشَابَهَ عَلَيْنَا وَإِنَّآ إِن شَاء اللَّهُ لَمُهْتَدُونَ

(71) قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لاَّ ذَلُولٌ تُثِيرُ الأَرْضَ وَلاَ تَسْقِي الْحَرْثَ مُسَلَّمَةٌ لاَّ شِيَةَ فِيهَا قَالُواْ الآنَ جِئْتَ بِالْحَقِّ فَذَبَحُوهَا وَمَا كَادُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ

(72) وَإِذْ قَتَلْتُمْ نَفْساً فَادَّارَأْتُمْ فِيهَا وَاللّهُ مُخْرِجٌ مَّا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ

(73) فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا كَذَلِكَ يُحْيِي اللّهُ الْمَوْتَى وَيُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ

(74) ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُم مِّن بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الأَنْهَارُ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاء وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللّهِ وَمَا اللّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

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67." And (remember) when Moses said to his people:'Surely,Allah commands you that you should sacrifice a cow '. They said :

'Do you mock us ?'He said :'I take refuge with Allah from being one of the ignorant! ' "

68." They said 'Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what she is.' Moses said:'He says : Surely she is a cow neither old nor young, but of middle age; so do what you are commanded '."

69." They said:'Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what colour she should be.'Moses replied:'He says she should be a yellow cow,bright in colour, giving delight to the beholders '."

70." They said:'Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what kind of cow must it be, for surely to us the cows are all alike, and, if Allah wills, we shall surely be guided aright.' "

71."(Moses) said:' Verily, He says : Verily, she is a cow not (yet) trained to till the soil or to water the fields; sound and without blemish. '

They said : ' Now you have brought the truth.'

Then they offered her in sacrifice, though they had not the mind to do (it) ."

72." And (remember) when you killed a man and disputed thereon : but Allah was to bring forth what you were hiding."

73."So, We said : ' Strike him (the corpse) with a part of it (the sacrificed cow) '.

Thus, Allah gives life to the dead and shows you of His signs, so that you might understand."

74." Then your hearts hardened after that as stones or even worse in hardness; for verily, among stones there are some from which rivers gush forth, and others that split asunder and water issues out of them, and others tumble down through fear of Allah, and Allah is not heedless of what you do."

* * * 

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Commentary :

The Story of the Israelites' Cow

Among what we have already studied about the Children of Israel in Sura Al-Baqarah, all of the facts were mentioned shortly and briefly. The event of the Israelites' Cow which is referred to in the above verses, in contrast to all of the previous incidents, is explained in detail and comprehensively. This is so, perhaps, for the reason that this story is mentioned in the Qur'an only once.

Besides that, there are many instructive subjects involved in it which requires such an extensive explication. One of these subjects which is vividly seen throughout the story, is the persistency of the Israelites in seeking for excuses. It also illustrates their level of faith in the revelations brought forth by Moses (a.s.) . Most important of all is that the story provides clear emphatic evidence to the possibility of the Resurrection.

As it is understood from the Holy Qur'an and its commentaries, the incident was described that one of the Israelites was murdered in a mysterious way, in which his murderer was not at all known.

 

So, there arose a dispute among the different tribes and divisions of the people as to who murdered the man. Every tribe accused the members of another tribe of the crime and announced that the members of its own tribe were innocent. For its judgement and solution, the problem was brought to the Apostle Moses (a.s.) . One one hand, that crime was committed hiddenly and the murderer of the man could not be found by any ordinary means employed at that time. On the other hand, that dispute might have led to a great complicated disturbance among the Children of Israel. Then, finally Moses (a.s.) , by the help of the Grace and Guidance of Allah and through a miraculous way, whose explanation will come later, solved the problem.

 

The Qur'an begins the description of the event as thus :

" And (remember) when Moses said to his people : ' Surely, Allah commands you that you should sacrifice a cow '. ..." "... They said : ' Do you mock us ? '..." "... He said : ' I take refuge with Allah from being one of the ignorant! '.

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That is, causing division and mocking others are acts of the ignorant and never is a prophet of Allah of such people.

* * * *

When the Israelites realized that it was not a mockery and the matter was serious, " They said : ' Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what she is,'..."

The phrase : ' Ask your Lord ' which is repeated several times in their demands, carries a kind of hidden impoliteness and ridicule in itself. It seems that they considered the Lord of Moses (a.s.) a different Lord from their own Lord.

However, as a reply to their demand :

" ...Moses said : ' He says: Surely she is a cow neither old nor young, but of middle age; '..."

In order to stop them from prolonging the matter by bringing new excuses forth to postpone that fulfillment of the command of Allah, at the end of the statement, it has been added :

"... so do what you are commanded'."

* * * *

But, they still continued their insistence and obstinacy.

" They said : ' Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what colour she should be.'..."

"... Moses replied : ' He says she should be a yellow cow, bright in colour, giving delight to the beholders'."

Anyhow, this cow should be very good and interesting in colour. The colour should be so bright and beautiful that any beholder wonders and becomes delighted when looking at it.

It is amazing that they were not satisfied with that and went on seeking for excuses by which, every time, they made the fulfillment of their duty more difficult.

A tradition says that Imam Rida (a.s.) has said that any cow would have been sufficient, but they imposed the particulars upon themselves, and the more they did so, the more did Allah impose the restrictions as a punishment for their persistent demands for unnecessary details. All

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this, while Moses (a.s.) acting under inspiration, was driving them to purchase a particular cow belonging to a particular man who was very holy and pious and deserved to be favoured. They had to pay him an enormous price for this cow which was the only one then available. Hence they were very near to not doing it. (1)

* * * *

" They said : ' Ask your Lord for us to make it clear to us what kind of a cow must it be,..."

"... for surely to us the cows are all alike, ..."

"... and, if Allah wills, we shall surely be guided aright'."

* * * *

Again, "(Moses) said :' Verily, He says: Verily, she is a cow not (yet) trained to till the soil or to water the fields; sound and without blemish.'..."

"... They said : ' Now you have brought the truth.'..."

So, they tried with much effort to find that particular cow, and, finally,they found it.

"... Then they offered her in sacrifice, though they had not the mind to do (it) ." 

* * * *

After describing this story in detail, again the Qur'an retells it briefly, and generally through the following two verses, thus :

" And (remember) when you killed a man and disputed thereon : but Allah was to bring forth what you were hiding.

* * * *

" So, We said : ' Strike him (the corpse) with a part of it (the sacrificed cow) .'..."

"... Thus, Allah gives life to the dead..."

"... and shows you of His signs, so that you might understand."

* * * *

(1) Nur-uth-Thaqalayn, vol. 1, p. 88-89

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In the last verse of the verses under discussion, the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites is referred to. It points out that after witnessing all these events and observing the Signs of Allah and the miraculous evidence that Moses (a.s.) prepared for them, yet their hearts became hard, even harder than stone, because, there are some rocks that bring forth water, or shatter and fall down for the fear of Allah. It says :

" Then your hearts hardened after that as stones or even worse in hardness; ..."

"... for verily, among stones there are some from which rivers gush forth,..."

"... and others that split asunder and water issues out of them,..."

"... and others tumble down through fear of Allah, ...".

So, your hearts are even harder than these rocks, because neither a spring of passion, love, or knowledge flows out of them nor tremble they from the fear of Allah. Then in the last sentence of the verse, it says :

"... and Allah is not heedless of what you do."

This is a subtle threat against this group of Israelites and all others who behave like them or do the same as they did.

Occasion of Revelation :

Upon the occasion of the revelation of these first two verses, some of the commentators have narrated from Imam Baqir (a.s.) who has said: "A group of the Jews, who had not enmity with the truth, when they met the Muslims they would tell them of what had been mentioned in the Turah about the specialties of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) . The leaders of the Jews understood the matter and told them to avoid informing Muslims of what was cited in the Turah about the epithets of Prophet Muhammad(p.b.u.h.) lest they would argue with the Jews about

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it before their Lord. Then this verse was revealed." (1)

Commentary :

A Futile Expectation !

As noted from these verses, the Qur'an has discontinued the story of the Israelites and, with an instructive conclusion, has turned to the Muslim believers, saying : " Do you then hope that they would believe in you (in Faith) , and a party among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then perverted it after they had understood it, and they know (this) ?"

Therefore, when you see that they reject the inspiring words of the Qur'an and the miracles of the holy Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) , you should not be annoyed. They are the children of the same people who, as the elected members of the tribe, went to Mount Sinai, heard the words of Allah, and understood His instructions, but when they returned they altered them.

It is perceived from the phrase : '... and a party among them indeed...", that not all of them but a party, who probably formed the majority in them, were of those who perverted Allah's Words.

It is cited in ' Asbab-un-Nuzul ' that when some of the Jews returned from Mount Sinai, they told their people : " We heard that Allah ordered Moses, ' Whenever you can do My instructions do them, but when you cannot, leave them ", and this was the first perversion.

However, at the advent of the Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) , it was expected that the Jews would accept this religion before others embraced it, because they were the followers of the Book, whereas the pagans were not. Besides that, they had learnt the epithets of the Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) from their own books. But the Holy Qur'an says that, considering their previous bad reputation, your hope is of no avail. The reason is that some deviated characteristics which dominated the spirits of this group, caused them to separate from truth, though it was well within the realm of their ability to embrace it. The next verse uncovers another bitter fact about this deceitful

(1) Majma'-ul-Bayan, vol. 1, p. 142

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hypocritical group. It says:

" And when they meet those who have Faith, they say: ' We believe',..." "... but when they are alone with one another, they say:

' Do you speak to them oe what Allah has revealed to you, ..."

"... that they may thereby dispute with you about this before your Lord ? Have you then no sense ? ' "

In commenting on this very verse, this probability also exists that the initial words of the verse are about the hypocritical Jews who pretended to be believers in the presence of the Muslims but in their absence they denied it. They even scorned those pure-hearted Jews who had conveyed the secrets of the Turah to the Muslims.

At any rate, this is a confirmation to what was said in the previous verse that a group with such attributes governing their spirits should not be expected to become faithful.

The phrase : / fatahallahu 'alaykum / ' what Allah has revealed to you ' may mean : ' the Divine command which was in the authority of the Children of Israel '. Or, the phrase may refer to the idea that Allah had opened the doors of the divine secrets and the prophecies about the coming religion unto them.

It is noteworthy that this verse clearly shows that the Faith of this hypocritical group in Allah was so weak and hollow that they considered Him as an ordinary person and imagined that if they could conceal a fact from the Muslims, it would be concealed from Allah,too.

* * * *

Then, in the next verse, it frankly says : " What ! Do they not know that Allah knows what they hide and what they make known ? 

A group of the learned men of the Jews altered the epithets of the holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) mentioned in the Turah. This perversion was contrived to protect their social positions and benefits which they used to obtain from their common people over the years.

When the Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) announced his mission and they recognized his epithets coincided with what was mentioned in the Turah, they were afraid that their profits would be endangered if the fact became evident. Therefore, they wrote some epithets completely different from what was actually cited in the Turah.

The ordinary Jews, who had heard the true epithets of the Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) , more or less, asked their scholars frequently whether this Prophet was the same promised prop het whose advent they had given them glad tidings of. Then the Jewish savants and scholars decided to recite some perverted verses from the Turah to them in order to make them content thereby.

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Commentary :

The Jewish Learned Men's Plots of Oppression Against the Laymen

Following the previous description about the vicious deeds of the Jews, these verses divide them into two definite groups : the laymen and the deceitful learned men. A few of the Jewish scholars, of course, accepted the truth and believed in Islam and joined the community of Muslims. It says :

" And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but only fancies and mere conjectures."

The phrase /ummiyun/ ' the illiterates ' is the plural form of the term /ummi/ which, here, means an illiterate person who remains the same in his native endowments as he was when he was born without any external education or training from anyone whosoever; and this state is ordinarily known as illiteracy. Or, this case also occurs because some mothers, because of their naive motherly love for their children, ignorantly do not let their children separate from them and go to schools to study.

The term /'amaniyy/ is the plural form of /'amniyyah/ ' conjecture' , and, here, it may refer to the privileges, vain desires, wishful thinking and mere conjectures of the Jews that they considered for themselves.

* * * *

The second group was the Jewish priests and savants who often altered the facts for their own benefit, as the Qur'an says :

" So, woe to those who write the Book with their hands and then say: ' This is from Allah; ', ..."

"... so that they may sell it for a little price,..."

"... so, woe to them for what their hands have written..."

"... and woe to them for what they earn."

From the last meanings of the verse, it is well understood that they had used impious means and had come up with an incorrect conclusion.

The Qur'an, here, points to one of the false statements of the Jews of which they were proud and that very pride was the origin of part of their deviation. Thus the Qur'an responds to it :

" And they said: ' The Fire shall not touch us but for a few days.'..."

"... Say: ' Have you taken such a promise from Allah, for He never fails in His promise? Or do you speak against Allah what you do not know?'"

One of the most obvious reasons for the stubbornness and egoism of this group is their belief in the ' preference of the Jewish race over all other races, and that they are different from other nations, and that their sinners will have to tolerate the Fire only for a few days as their punishment and, therefore, Paradise will be theirs exclusively forever. '

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This claim of privileges is not logical in any aspect, because, before Allah, there is no difference between the members of the human race from the point of rewards or punishments for their deeds. Can they support the expectation to their claim of being exceptional among nations and therefore receiving special treatment regarding the general law of penalties by describing something they have done to deserve it ?

However, the above verse with a logical statement, refuses their vain imaginations and denotes that their claims depict one of these two conditions : they should either have taken a particular promise from Allah on the matter that they have not or, they tell lies and calumniate against Him.

* * * *

The next verse expresses a common and universal law which is logical from any point of view. It says:

" Yea! whoever earns evil and is encompassed by his sins, these are the inhabitants of the Fire, therein shall they abide forever."

This is a general rule for the sinners belonging to any sect, nation, in any locality, and at any time.

 

* * * *

There is also a universal, general law for the pious believers, which the next verse announces:

" And those who have Faith and do deeds of righteousness they are the inhabitants of Paradise, therein shall they abide forever."

* * * *

Explanation :

Earning Sin

The Arabic term /kasb/ and /'iktisab/ both mean: ' to earn or gain something willingly and consciously'. Earnings are received in return for something done to profit one's self. This is quite different from merely falling into evil. It is to selfishly seek one's own gain that is evil. One sin leads to another sin

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and thus the conscience of the individual gradually becomes deadened until sinning becomes natural and normal for that person and he is totally abandoned to evil and attempts to justify his actions and to deny that he deserves eternal punishment. The law of cause and effect works in its natural order in the case of evil as in the case of virtue.

Those who devote themselves wholly to evil, must naturally find themselves beset on every side by the consequent evil effects of the causative evil factors wrought by the individual. But those who struggle against evil, however long it may take for them to overcome it, the inclination towards the evil, cannot be considered equivalent to those who are out to earn evil. Those who struggle to overcome evil hate and detest it and the individual's earnest and sincere effort to overcome evil, naturally ends in the triumph of good in the human nature. With this endeavour of good against evil, the natural consequence of the struggle strengthens the nobility in the individual's personality. But, purposefully yeilding to evil with a selfish motive for any selfish gains, gradually erects a fortress of evil for the individual so that the access of good becomes more and more difficult and ultimately renders the individual's approach to any goodness as impossible. As the individual is totally lost, for all times, to evil, he convicts himself to the perpetual consequences of the evil all around him for ever.

 

These kind of people are those who are referred to, later, in Sura 2: 86 which says :

" Those are they who have bought the life of this world at the price of the Hereafter, for them the punishment shall not be lightened, nor shall they be helped."


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