Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Beshalach #2: `ain muqdam um`uchar baTorah

The mechilta asks on the following psukim in the Shirat HaYam (Shemot 15:8-10):
ח וּבְרוּחַ {ר} אַפֶּיךָ נֶעֶרְמוּ מַיִם, {ס} נִצְּבוּ כְמוֹ-נֵד {ר} נֹזְלִים; {ס} קָפְאוּ תְהֹמֹת, בְּלֶב-יָם. {ס} 8 And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up--the floods stood upright as a heap; the deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.
ט אָמַר {ר} אוֹיֵב אֶרְדֹּף אַשִּׂיג, {ס} אֲחַלֵּק שָׁלָל; תִּמְלָאֵמוֹ {ר} נַפְשִׁי-- {ס} אָרִיק חַרְבִּי, תּוֹרִישֵׁמוֹ יָדִי. {ס} 9 The enemy said: 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.'
י נָשַׁפְתָּ {ר} בְרוּחֲךָ, כִּסָּמוֹ יָם; {ס} צָלְלוּ, כַּעוֹפֶרֶת, בְּמַיִם, {ר} אַדִּירִים. {ס} 10 Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
How could pasuk 9 have the enemy say "I will pursue, etc." when they were already drowned? Is it not out of order? The answer: אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה - the Torah is not always chronologically ordered. It proceeds to list off other cases where pesukim are out of chronological order.

I would suggest that what is happening here is actually pluperfect. Rather than "the enemy said," it is "the enemy had said." That is, pasuk 10 echoes or continues pasuk 8, and pasuk 9 it stressing the greatness of God and the ineffectiveness of man when faced with divine power. They had said they would accomplish all of the following (pursuing, dividing spoil, etc.), yet God just blew His wind and the sea covered them, and they sank as lead in the mighty waters. So the pasuk is in chronological order. (The same point of the intent of the pasuk would apply even if it is the normal perfect.)

Yet, the question itself seems silly. We are talking about a song! Of course things may be out of order in a song - the purpose is praise, not mere recounting of events.

I would say that that may be exactly the point, and exactly the meaning of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה in general, in the thought of Chazal. The Torah is called Shirah, song, and its purpose is praise, not necessarily historical narrative and recounting of events. Just as we would not demand chronological order in a song, it is no big deal if the Torah's recounting of events deviates from chronological order.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You don't need pluperfect. The song simply gives a brief summary of what happened, then launches into a more detailed explanation.


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