Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Active Comment Thread on a Midrashic Literalism Post

The author of one of the two pieces, Avi Goldstein, has posted a response in the comments of my second post in the series. Since commenting is (alas!) so rare on parshablog, I thought I would call attention to it - so scroll down or follow the link.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

parshat Shelach + parshat Korach: A source for Mashiach ben Yosef; Aviram named after his ancestor?

can be found in the very beginning of parshat Shelach. Namely, in the list of spies/scouts, in pasuk 7:

ז לְמַטֵּה יִשָּׂשכָר, יִגְאָל בֶּן-יוֹסֵף. 7 Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
יִגְאָל בֶּן-יוֹסֵף can be translated as the descendant of Yosef shall redeem. Of course, he is from the tribe of Yissachar. And this is said in fun.

Another interesting point to mention is that we have hear the reuse of a name, something that happens infrequently but does occur (e.g. genealogical lists in beginning of Bereishit), or see other . Here, we have Yosef not only as a son of Yaakov but as a descendant of Yissachar's brother. Perhaps this Yosef was even named after his great (...) uncle.

While on the subject of naming after others, one interesting one occurs in the very beginning of this week's parsha, Korach. We have Datan and Aviram.

As Speiser writes in Anchor Bible Genesis:
The underlying form Abram and its doublet Abiram are best explained as "the (not `my') father is exalted"...

Update on WMDs in Iraq Story

I posted a bit about this last week (WMDs found in Iraq?), and this is a followup. Rick Santorum and Peter Hoekstra have an article in the Wall Street Journal about it: "Sadaam's WMDs"

Some excerpts:
On Wednesday, at our request, the director of national intelligence declassified six "key points" from a National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) report on the recovery of chemical munitions in Iraq. The summary was only a small snapshot of the entire report, but even so, it brings new information to the American people. "Since 2003," the summary states, "Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent," which remains "hazardous and potentially lethal." So there are WMDs in Iraq, and they could kill Americans there or all over the world.

This latest information should not be new....

On Thursday, Mr. Negroponte's office arranged a press briefing by unnamed intelligence officials to downplay the significance of the report, calling it "not new news" even as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was reiterating the obvious importance of the information: "What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces. . . . They are weapons of mass destruction. They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found. . . . And they are still being found and discovered."

etc. If you haven't already, check it out.

Late parshat Shelach: the names of the spies in the parsha; theophoric, but which deity?

Yes, I know it is parshat Korach, but I did not get a chance to post this last week.

I was looking through the list of the spies and I noticed something interesting. Bemidbar 13:4-6:
ד וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹתָם: לְמַטֵּה רְאוּבֵן, שַׁמּוּעַ בֶּן-זַכּוּר. 4 And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
ה לְמַטֵּה שִׁמְעוֹן, שָׁפָט בֶּן-חוֹרִי. 5 Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
ו לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה, כָּלֵב בֶּן-יְפֻנֶּה. 6 Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
ז לְמַטֵּה יִשָּׂשכָר, יִגְאָל בֶּן-יוֹסֵף. 7 Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
ח לְמַטֵּה אֶפְרָיִם, הוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן. 8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun.
ט לְמַטֵּה בִנְיָמִן, פַּלְטִי בֶּן-רָפוּא. 9 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
י לְמַטֵּה זְבוּלֻן, גַּדִּיאֵל בֶּן-סוֹדִי. 10 Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.
יא לְמַטֵּה יוֹסֵף, לְמַטֵּה מְנַשֶּׁה--גַּדִּי, בֶּן-סוּסִי. 11 Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
יב לְמַטֵּה דָן, עַמִּיאֵל בֶּן-גְּמַלִּי. 12 Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
יג לְמַטֵּה אָשֵׁר, סְתוּר בֶּן-מִיכָאֵל. 13 Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
יד לְמַטֵּה נַפְתָּלִי, נַחְבִּי בֶּן-וָפְסִי. 14 Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
טו לְמַטֵּה גָד, גְּאוּאֵל בֶּן-מָכִי. 15 Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
טז אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ. 16 These are the names of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.
First off, we have שַׁמּוּעַ בֶּן-זַכּוּר. Zakkur is the shorthand of a theophoric name. Just as Shallum is short for Shelemyahu, 'Azzur is short for Azaryahu and Baruch is short for Berechyahu, Zakkur is short for Zecharyahu, or Zecharya.

This of course assumes the deity in question is Hashem. Other theophoric names are possible, simply inserting another deity's name in its place. As I noted in the past, shemi hashem lo nodati lahem is something that we see in these lists of names. Until Yehoshua, we do not see a theophoric name with yahu or yeho. Only el or shaddai in the names. And indeed we see in verse 16 that Moshe calls Hoshea Yehoshua. He seems to be the first with such a name. (Thus: ushmi Hashem lo nadati lahem - see my blogpost here.)

Indeed, some suggest that Moshe's name was Egyptian diety plus MSS, like Ra-MSeS, though see my posts addressing this.

I also pointed out (here) that Achi-Ra ben Einan seems to bear the Egyptian deity's name, and suggested lightly that this might be the basis for the Deuel/Reuel variance in the next of the nesiim's names - after witnessing the Exodus, he changed his name from Ra+El (Ra is Mighty/God) to Da+El (knowing God).

Zaccur is theophoric name, and perhaps the omission of the deity is deliberate. Similarly, perhaps Hoshea was also a theophoric name and Moshe changed it to include Hashem.

What about other theophoric names in the list? Are there any? Two look somewhat suspicious.
The first:
י לְמַטֵּה זְבוּלֻן, גַּדִּיאֵל בֶּן-סוֹדִי. 10 Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi. יא לְמַטֵּה יוֹסֵף, לְמַטֵּה מְנַשֶּׁה--גַּדִּי, בֶּן-סוּסִי. 11 Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
Thus, we have Gadi + El is pasuk 10, but just Gadi in pasuk 11.

The second:
יג לְמַטֵּה אָשֵׁר, סְתוּר בֶּן-מִיכָאֵל. 13 Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.

טו לְמַטֵּה גָד, גְּאוּאֵל בֶּן-מָכִי. 15 Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
Thus, in 13 we have Micha + El, but just Machi in pasuk 15. And his son is Geu + El, as we would expect.

Perhaps once again we have deliberate omission of the theophoric element of the theophoric name where the deity was not Hashem.

Are there other names that fit this pattern in the list?

How about pasuk 12:
למַטֵּה דָן, עַמִּיאֵל בֶּן-גְּמַלִּי
Ami + El is the son of Gamli, instead of the name we all know and love, Gamli + El.

There are a few which end in "i," and just perhaps might do with a deity appended.

If so, my light suggestion about Reuel vs. Deuel might have more basis than I initially thought.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

parshat Shlach: Whose Idea Was It to Send The Spies?

Parshat Shelach begins:
א וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
ב שְׁלַח-לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי נֹתֵן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו, תִּשְׁלָחוּ--כֹּל, נָשִׂיא בָהֶם. 2 'Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a prince among them.'
ג וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן, עַל-פִּי ה: כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים, רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה. 3 And Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran according to the commandment of the LORD; all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.
The implication is that God initiated this idea of sending spies. Yet, in parshat Devarim, we read:
כב וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי, כֻּלְּכֶם, וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ, וְיַחְפְּרוּ-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ, דָּבָר--אֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה-בָּהּ, וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן. 22 And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said: 'Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come.'
כג וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינַי, הַדָּבָר; וָאֶקַּח מִכֶּם שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֲנָשִׁים, אִישׁ אֶחָד לַשָּׁבֶט. 23 And the thing pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe;
which suggests that it was the Israelites idea, and no mention of Hashem's command is made.

I do not believe that these two accounts are contradictory, for two reasons.

Firstly, there is a big dispute among scholars whether codes such as the Code of Hammurabi or the law codes in the Torah were written as law codes or as case law.

The difference between the two: as a law code, legislators sat down and wrote a comprehensive, theoretical law code to cover various cases. as case law, a case came before a judge, he decided it, the details such as the names of the litigants were stripped away and it was generalized, and written down to cover that situation and situations like it.

Thus, is ki yinatzu anashim yachdav the result of two men fighting and the wife of one intervening, or did this start out entirely conceptual. Sometimes, specific details in the code suggest it is case law. On the other hand, comprehensiveness and specific writing style suggests law code.

Most often in Torah, the case behind the situation is not given. Yet we see in parshat Yitro that people were coming day and night to Moshe to ask him questions, for many of which he made inquiry of Hashem. And we do have occasion where we see the incident beforehand. Thus, the blasphemer, the chopper of wood, and the daughters of Tzelofchad. This is not necessarily the comprehensive list, but rather just thoise instances when the Torah recorded the query besides the final law.

Indeed, one can frame this as the question whether the Torah was given megillah megillah - scroll by scroll throughout the period in the wilderness, in a gradual revelation to Moshe -- or all at once on Har Sinai.

If so, when the people suggested that Moshe send spies, Moshe, though thinking it a good idea, would have consulted God. And this is the subject matter of parshat Shelach.

Secondly, we must realize that parshat Devarim, and much of Devarim, is polemical. Moshe is giving mussar to the Israelites. This is not a history lesson but a focus on failings such that they can improve their actions in the future. True, details are different from that in Shelach, but that is because Moshe omits some details and expands upon others for polemic effect. (Kind of like the author of Afikei Mayim...)

Thus, Moshe focuses on the fact that it was the people's initial suggestion without mentioning Hashem's approval of the plan. He mentions that the spies (all of them) said that the land was good and then focused on the people's reactions, and does not focus on the negative aspect of the spies' report. This is not a conflict between two sources/accounts of the same event, but rather the result of a speaker with an agenda picking and choosing those details to stress for maximum effect.

I believe that these two reasons work together to eliminate any apparent contradiction.

Shlach: Minyanim and Meraglim

Chaim B. asks according to the opinion that there were actually 24 spies (recorded in a Yerushalmi) -- how can this be, given that we deduce from the eidah that a minyan needs to be composed of 10 people?

This reminds me of an ethnic joke -
Q: how come it is so difficult for [insert ethnic group here] Jews to form a minyan?
A: (counting on fingers to Tehillim 28:9) hoshi'a es amecha, uvarech es nachlasecha, ur'em, ur'em ur'em, ur'em venase'em, ur'em ...

And another joke, basically which says that we are really lucky to have had Calev and Yehoshua as spies, because otherwise it would have been even harder to find a minyan.


parshat Behaalotecha: Rashbam's Midrashic Literalism?

There is a curious Rashbam that deserves mention in parshat Behaalotecha. On the first pasuk in the narrative abour Miriam's leprosy, we read:

Bemidbar 12:1:
א וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח: כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח. 1 And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.
he writes:

Thus, he rejects the standard midrashic peshat that the Kushite woman was Tzipporah because a) we would already know that Moshe married Tzipporah, so why does the Torah go out of its way to tell us כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח, and b) Midian is not equal to Kush. Thus, he uses realitistic, narrative-based objections to explain why he does not adopt the midrashic explanation. (This may play in to the theme I've been emphasizing recently -- that is, otherwise others, or Rashbam himself, would consider the midrash on the level of historic reality, as opposed to allegory - if all midrash is allegory, why bother rejecting is on these realistic/narrative grounds.)

More curious is the explanation he labels the primary peshat. That is that the Kushite woman Moshe married was a queen of Kush, for between leaving Egypt and arriving in Midian, for 40 years, Moshe went to Kush and married a Kushite queen. He never slept with her, but Miryam thought that he did, and this was what she complained about. His source for this is a sefer called divrei hayamim leMoshe Rabbenu.

Here is this work, The Chronicles of Moses Our Teacher. It is a fairly short read, and it is filled with legendary midrashic material. (It also occurs in one of the many Sefer HaYashars.) Yet Rashbam is willing to accept its account as peshat, and as the primary peshat. Perhaps he considered it an extra-Biblical source of somewhat ancient origin, and the cryptic statement of כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח was referring to an event we would otherwise not have known about if not for this external tradition.

I would have said that rather, this midrashic source saw the gap from Moshe's leaving Egypt to Moshe's return at around age 80, and saw the cryptic Isha Kushit, saw one can interpret Isha as noblewoman, and expanded from there.

But anyhow, we see that a pashtan such as Rashbam is willing to accept this midrash as a literal account of what happened, and in fact as the primary peshat.

WMDs found in Iraq?

From Austin Bay Blog:
I heard a report on Fox News about twenty minutes ago (5 PM Central) that Senator Rick Santorum claims coalition investigators in Iraq found chemical weapons — artillery shells filled with a chemical agent (perhaps sarin nerve agent). The Fox report said Santorum had fought with the Pentagon and White House to get the information declassified. I’d like to see Santorum put his evidence up on the web. Michelle Malkin and her team at Hot Air already had a post up on the story– Hot Air’s post says the artillery shells contained either “degraded mustard” or sarin. I gather the stocks are 1991 (Desert Storm-era) weapons (in other words, left over weapons). I’m not sure that means Saddam had an active chemical weapons program but if this report proves to be true chemical weapons stock would be a violation of UNSCR 687. Stay tuned.
There's more info there. Read it all.

Unrelated, an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the Geneva Conventions as it applies or does not in Iraq. An excerpt:

The Pentagon yesterday announced the names of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with the April 26 kidnapping and murder of a 52-year-old Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania. The accusations are grave and, if proved, will almost certainly lead to severe sentences. We suspect no parallel process is taking place among Iraqi insurgents for the weekend murders near Yusufiya of U.S. soldiers Thomas L. Tucker and Kristian Menchaca.

That's a distinction worth pondering the next time you hear Iraq war critics carp at the U.S. refusal to apply Geneva Convention privileges to enemy combatants. The Convention extends those privileges to combatants who abide by the laws it sets for war, including the treatment of prisoners.

Combatants who fail to obey those laws--by not wearing distinctive military insignia or targeting civilians--are not entitled to its privileges. If they were, the very purpose of the Convention would be rendered a nonsense. And this is why the U.S. has refused Geneva privileges to the enemy combatants at Guantanamo, which we hope is an argument heeded by the Supreme Court as it decides the Hamdan case.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

parshat Behaalotecha: Why the repetition in Isha Kushit Lakach?

Just as in the preceding devar torah, this is readily apparent, but still necessary and useful to point out.

The beginning of the narrative involving Miriam and leprosy is Bemidbar 12:1:
א וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח: כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית, לָקָח. 1 And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.
If it already states that he had taken a Cushite woman -- עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח -- then, why bother stating immediately thereafter that he had married a Cushite woman -- כִּי-אִשָּׁה
כֻשִׁית, לָקָח

Rashi actually asks the question -- or rather cites the Q and A from Tanchuma Tzav:
for he had married a Cushite woman What does this [apparently superfluous clause] mean to say? You find a woman who is beautiful in appearance, but unpleasant in deed; [or a woman who is pleasant] in deed, but not of beautiful appearance. This one, however, was pleasant in every respect. [Therefore, she was called Cushite, as above.] - [Tanchuma Tzav 13]
Yet there is in fact a rather simple, peshat based account for the repetition of כִּי-אִשָּׁה
כֻשִׁית לָקָח. Let us look to sefer Yonah.

Yonah 1:10:

י וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ: כִּי-יָדְעוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, כִּי-מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה הוּא בֹרֵחַ--כִּי הִגִּיד, לָהֶם. 10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him: 'What is this that thou hast done?' For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Note the כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם. Nowhere in the sefer up to this point did we have Yonah explicitly tell them that he had fled from the presence of Hashem, yet the men knew. Why? The pasuk fills us in to the otherwise unknown, and until now, not relevant, information.

Similarly here in parshat Behaalotecha. All of a sudden we here complaints about Moshe's Kushite wife that he had married. But what is this of a Kushite wife. So the pasuk clarifies that he indeed took a wife from the Kushite nation.

That is, on a peshat level, we do not assume a closed-canon approach, and when we some previously unknown character or event is mentioned, sometimes it is deemed necessary to state -- "Oh yeah, Moshe had married this Kushite woman, so this heretofore unknown event was the cause for Miriam's complaint."

Why does Rashi -- or rather, Tanchuma, not give this answer? Recall that this operates on the level of derash, and so the principle of omnisignificance applies. Therefore, the repetition has weighty meaning in its own right. Futhermore, midrash often operates on the the principle of the closed-canon, and therefore this is not some new, heretofore unknown Kushite woman, but rather is Tzipporah. (As is evident from the answer, and the surrounding Rashis/midrashim.) Thus, the Torah is not explaining some otherwise unknown person. (Perhaps it would still be explaining a heretofore unknown event - reading lakach as divorce, we are told here thgat he divorced Tzipporah - which is where the first part of the answer comes in.) Therefore, the repetition of this fact has some midrashic significance.

A hundred tiny bugs crawling on my arm...

That is why we are temporary exile once again. Two nights ago, I couldn't sleep. It was hot - in part because the air conditioner had stopped working, and so we brought in the fan. But every time that fan blew over me or my wife (or Meir, who woke up in the middle of the night), we started itching. Thinking this was just a reaction to the heat and sweat, and the passage of air over it, I eventually fixed the fan in place to blow sideways, so as to circulate the air but not blow directly on us.

In the morning, I noticed that there were about a hundred tiny bugs crawling over my arm, and that was what was causing the itch. And so I showered. Looking around the bedroom, I noticed that these tiny bugs were swarming over the fan as well, which accounted for the itchiness -- every time the fan blew over us, it was sending a few more of the tiny bugs our way.

I noticed these bugs on the walls as well. All in all, there must have been a few hundred thousand. They are crafty. While on the wall, they mostly stay in place and so they look like specks of dirt. Only when you put your flesh (such as a finger) in close proximity do they say "Yum" and start crawling towards the flesh.

These bugs are also quite tenacious. Try to squish one with a finger and it does not squish. Rather, it simply starts crawling around your finger. Rolling a finger over them a few times sometimes kills them.

Wet paper towels also are problem. You can sweep up a hundred or so on a paper towel, but the ones on the edge start crawling off the edge of the paper towel and on to your hands, arms, shirt, etc. I showered multiple times while dealing with them.

I discovered one effective means of dealing with them - duct tape {Update: I should have said packing tape}. Apply a piece of duct tape {packing tape} over them and then peel away. The duct tape keeps them in place, so that they (mostly) cannot crawls onto arms, etc.

Where were these bugs coming from? Well, for a while, we have been bothered in the morning by the squawking of birds who live in our air conditioner. I had put off dealing with them for a while because of my being extremely busy and because I was a bit concerned that the birds would attack me. But the past few days the air conditioner has been silent.

I noticed that the bugs were coming from the air conditioner, and determined that that was their nest. The AC had to go. And so I pulled the air conditioner from the window. Inside was a massive bird nest (but luckily no birds) -- a mansions. It was stuffed full of mud, feathers, twigs, dried grass and leaves. No wonder the air conditioner had stopped working! The bugs were likely coming from within the bird nest. So I emptied the bird nest into a bag and managed to move the various parts of the air conditioner to the basement of our apartment building for disposal. Of course, I got many of the little critters on me in the process, but all in a good cause.

We moved for a day or two to my in-laws (who are in the neighborhood) and I got rid of the bugs and purchased two Kenmore air conditioners from Sears. They are not yet installed, but I hope to install them today so that we can move back in.

Update: Someone is installing them as I type. Hooray!
rashbam - isha kushit - more extensive post to follow Posted by Picasa

Towards Monkeys or Towards Har Sinai -- How Must We Modify This Famous Story In Light of Evidence From India?

The famous story, misunderstood by Eliyahu Stern on his blog at beliefnet (note that I am not the Rabbi Josh Waxman who also post at that blog):
The rabbi took a plane trip across the country with his extended family. After boarding his flight and getting himself settled into his seat, he turned to the person sitting next to him and introduced himself. The passenger responded by telling the rabbi that he was a scientist and was on his way to a conference to study the origins of man. The rabbi said that he traveling with his family and was going on a vacation were he would have the opportunity to study and learn with his grandchildren.

Over the course of the flight, the two men continued to engage each other in conversation, arguing the world and everything beyond its borders. Every 15 minutes or so they would be interrupted, however, by one of the rabbi's grandchildren, who were sitting at the other end of the plane. One by one, each would gently ask, “Zaidee [grandfather] can I help you? Is there anything you need?

Finally, as the plane was preparing to land, the scientist looked at the rabbi and exclaimed, “Rabbi, how is it that your grandchildren have so much respect for you? I am lucky if my grandkids call me once a week. Yours come visit you every few minutes!!”

The rabbi then turned to the bewildered gentleman and, pausing for effect, explained, “You see, when my grandchildren see me, they see someone who is one step closer to Sinai. When your grandchildren see you, all they look at is someone one step closer to a monkey!!”
(misunderstood, partially because this need not be understood as evolution vs. matan Torah, but rather towards where one is directed.)

Anyhow, what got me thinking about this story is exactly where this story will fail -- namely, in Kolkata. Citing the Reuters story:

Thousands of people are flocking to an impoverished Indian village in eastern West Bengal state to worship a man they believe possesses divine powers because he climbs up trees in seconds, gobbles up bananas and has a "tail."

Devotees say 27-year-old villager Chandre Oraon is an incarnation of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman -- worshipped by millions as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion.

Read it all.

We could rewrite the story with these Indian visitors who pay respect to the professor rather than to the rabbi.


parshat Behaalotecha: Why Was Miriam, and not Aharon, Punished?

Why is Miriam the only one to develop leprosy? Was it because, as one commenter elsewhere writes, she was a woman, and so she was being "uppity?" Why does Aharon get a free pass?

In fact, the answer may lie in the pesukim decribing the sin, and in fact some of the standard commentaries note this. Bemidbar 12:1:
א וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח: כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית, לָקָח. 1 And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.
ב וַיֹּאמְרוּ, הֲרַק אַךְ-בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהוָה--הֲלֹא, גַּם-בָּנוּ דִבֵּר; וַיִּשְׁמַע, יְהוָה. 2 And they said: 'Hath the LORD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?' And the LORD heard it.--
ג וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד--מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. {ס} 3 Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth
On pasuk 1, Rashi picks up on the fact that Miriam is mentioned first:
Miriam and Aaron spoke She spoke first. Therefore, Scripture mentions her first. How did she know that Moses had separated from his wife? [See below] R. Nathan says: Miriam was beside Zipporah when Moses was told that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. When Zipporah heard this, she said,“Woe to their wives if they are required to prophesy, for they will separate from their wives just my husband separated from me.” From this, Miriam knew [about it] and told Aaron. Now if Miriam, who did not intend to disparage him [Moses] was punished, all the more so someone who [intentionally] disparages his fellow. — [Tanchuma Tzav 13]
But it is not just that she is mentioned first. The verb וַתְּדַבֵּר is feminine sigular, rather than masculine (=neutral) plural. Perhaps this follows from Miriam being mentioned first. But it also raises the possibility that it was only Miriam who spoke.

Indeed, speaking is something that involves two people as well as the subject matter to be discussed. The subject matter was negative statements about Moshe. (As Ibn Ezra demonstrates, the root dbr followed by a b introduction as in בְּמֹשֶׁה seems to connote negative speech.) Perhaps it would be awkwards to state vatedaber Miryam el Aharon beMoshe, and so the construction is instead veAharon, but it means simply that Miriam spoke and Aharon was silent, or that Miriam did most of the speaking and Aharon agreed. (Indeed, see Ibn Ezra who more or less says this.)

What then of the next verse?
ב וַיֹּאמְרוּ, הֲרַק אַךְ-בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהוָה--הֲלֹא, גַּם-בָּנוּ דִבֵּר; וַיִּשְׁמַע, יְהוָה. 2 And they said: 'Hath the LORD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?' And the LORD heard it.--
Here, וַיֹּאמְרוּ is masculine (=neutral) plural, to cover both of them. And furthermore, the word בָּנוּ is also plural. There are two possibilities. First, perhaps one can say that this is slightly different subject matter - a complaint about the nature of Moshe's prophecy being the same of their own, and so perhaps both said this, or words to this effect. The second possibility is that this is a partial elaboration of the previous verse. If so, we already had vatedaber in the previous verse to tell us who the speaker is and who the listener is, as well as the general subject matter, and here we can write more naturally. Since two are involved in the conversation, וַיֹּאמְרוּ might still be acceptable even if only one is talking. And בָּנוּ is of course acceptable even with one speaker, since he or she would be talking about them both.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Posts so far for parshat Korach

For readers in Eretz Yisrael:

Year 1:
Year 2
to be continued...
to be continued...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Posts so far for parshat Shlach

Year 1:
Year 2:
to be continued...

Did Bush Pledge Allegiance to the Israeli Flag?

So I notice someone linked to my earlier parshablog item about the Bush Daf Yomi spoof in order to demonstrate to some anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist that the photo is faked. Alas, while a major point of my post was to warn people that when making Purim jokes, we should take care because people ignorant of Judaism will not spot the joke, some joker anonymously commented giving an 'explanation' of how the photo might not be photoshopped - because Bush might be chassidish! While funny, that anonymous joke has now been cited as evidence by said ant-Semitic conspiracy theorist to claim that the photo might not be photoshopped.

Of course, people willing to modify evidence don't really need our help to do it... Here is another item, from that same thread. Did Bush really salute the Israeli flag? This picture sure makes it seem like it...

But wait -- what is that flag behind Bush? And how come the picture size is so awkward? Someone has cropped the image! Furthermore, the image name is bush_israel_flag_2.jpg, implying that there was an earlier image. Indeed, a search on the web yields the original, bush israel flag.jpg:

President George Bush and his wife are standing in front of several flags, of several different countries, presumably in the UN during the Star Spangled Banner or some such. Bush's wife is not pledging allegiance to whatever flag is in front of her! Clever photoshopping is at work here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

parshat Behaalotecha Manna Redux

In a previous post on parshat Behaalotecha, I argued against ADDeRabbi's interpretation (and the standard interpretation) of a Rashi, arguing based on comparison with Rashi's source, the Sifrei, the intent was not that the manna did not taste like the five items at the end of the pasuk in Bemidbar 11:5:
ה זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים. 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;
because it was bad for infants and nursing mothers, but rather because it was harsh for everyone. I pointed out that the text regarding nursing mothers and infants was absent in the Sifrei, and suggested that it was added by way of illustration do demonstrate that these 5 species are harsh to those who consume it.

However, over Shabbat I saw a source that led me to reevaluate this. Namely, there is a Rashi on Yoma 75a. The gemara discusses why the manna could not become these 5 species. Rashi explains:

Thus, it is evident that this mention of nursing mothers and infants was no insertion by Rashi, but was present in Rashi's version of the Sifrei. Apparently, we have a different version of the Sifrei.

If so, Rashi, in citing the Sifrei, may well think that it is on account of nursing mothers and infants as opposed to on account of its deleterious effects on every Israelite. (Maharsha also maintains this nursing mother connection.)

I still can maintain that the difference in girsa was the result of someone inserting this illustration, likely on the margin, and then copied into the actual body of the manuscript, in which case Rabbi Shimon would still say what I claim he says. The alternative is that for some reason the passage about nursing mothers was accidentally deleted by a copyist, yielding our girsa.

While looking at this gemara, I saw an answer to another of ADDeRabbi's questions. Namely, why were these 5 species problematic if it was just the taste of them? I suggested that the harsh taste itself would be sufficient to cause whatever harm to the constitution.

In fact, this is a talking point in the gemara on Yoma 75a. The gemara records a dispute between Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi. One holds that the manna could assume the taste of anything save these 5 species, while the other holds that the manna could assume both the taste and substance {taamo umamasho} of anything save these 5 species, and for these 5 species it could assume the taste {taam} but not substance {mamash}.

This dispute seems designed to directly address this concern.

I will append this to the end of my previous post as well...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Midrashic Literalism: 180 Billion in Egypt?! A Response.

A week after Rabbi Rosenthal's piece advocating that we take all midrashim figuratively (which I fisked here, in a post called "The Dangers of Midrashim? A Fisking"), the Five Towns Jewish Times prints an piece by Avi Goldstein (scroll to page 22) championing the same approach. He makes some of the same errors, and others as well.

Let us start by noting that there are three distinct meanings of literal in the context of midrashim.

1) A given Rabbinic statement is the peshat/literal interpretation of a verse.
2) The midrash uses midrashic exegetical methods but the Rabbi who stated it believed it to be historical reality. That is, the midrash was intended to be taken literally rather than allegorically.
3) The midrash is actually what happened on the ground and represents historic reality.

Conflating these definitions leads to confusion and error.

What is the opposite of each of these definitions?

1) A given Rabbinic statement is a midrashic interpretation of the verse, and thus uses midrashic exegetical methods rather than methods of peshat.
2) The midrash was not intended by its Rabbinic author as a literal account of event, but it is meant figuratively or allegorically.
3) The midrash does not depict what actually happened on the ground.

Various folks on the internet have conflated these definitions, and Avi Goldstein does so as well in this article. Thus, for example, DovBear in his ranking system of midrashim writes:
Blue: I've established to my own satisfaction myself that this midrash should be taken literally. ("That happened!")
White: This probably didn't happen, but maybe it did. ("Shrug")
Black: I've established to my own satisfaction myself that this midrash should be taken figurativly. ("Didn't happen!")
But that is not what is under discussion. What is under discussion is: Did Chazal, who wrote the midrash, believe it to have happened or not. Even if DovBear does not think a midrash happened, that does not mean that the midrash should be taken figuratively. We might disagree with the midrash. And many pashtanim do. But "didn't happen" does not = "figurative."

Conflating the two leads one to claim that midrashim were not intended literally, and to seek and propose a figurative interpretation where one just might not exist. Thus we move away from a proper understanding of a midrash and propose an explanation that is false.

This is the conflation of definition (2) with definition (3). Besides this error, the article by Avi Goldstein also conflates (1) and (2). Thus, he writes that because Rashi admitted he would have liked to have written a more peshat-based interpretation, had he the time, Rashi would consider midrashim to be figurative. This is quite a simplification. It is quite likely that Rashi believed that many of the midrashim he quoted represented historical reality, but were derived via midrashic methods (after all, Rashi was citing midrashim). He wanted to focus on the historical realities revealed on the peshat level, as he understood the concept of ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto. But that did not necessarily entail rejection of midrashic narrative as historical untruth.

Now, certain midrashim are meant to be taken allegorically. And even those that are intended literally pick up on themes in the text or can teach us uplifting lessons. But we must be intellectually honest and evaluate each midrash.

This evaluation must be done inside, not citing it off the cuff. We must learn through a midrash with the same intensity and rigor that we use when learning a piece of gemara. Furthermore, not everyone has the right type of mind or has developed the right type of mind for learning midrash. It takes a feel for the theme of a text, linguistic awareness, and a propensity for pun in order to understand and appreciate the situational and textual ambiguities that lead to a midrash.

With this lengthy introduction out of the way, let us treat the article.

The title of his article is "Midrashim and the Literal Truth." This already sets off red flags for me, since he, like Rabbi Rosenthal, is equating "truth" -- that is, what we believe is the historical reality -- with "literal," which is intent of the author of the midrash as historical vs. allegorical/figurative.

He writes:
There is a series of Torah tapes to which we have put my youngest son to bed this past year. The series is wonderful, bringing each parashah to life for my son. When an adult friend of mine was stumped by a question at the motzaei Shabbos father–son learning program we attend, my six year-old had the answer!

Yet these tapes concern me, because they are largely based on the Midrash, and they retell Midrashim as if they are literal truth. I worry that my son’s Torah education will be distorted, as the wrong balance is struck between historical reality and the lessons that Midrashim attempt to teach.

In this light, I was thrilled to read “The Dangers of Midrashim” (Five Towns Jewish Times, May 19, p. 64) by Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal, the dean of the Torah Academy of Long Island. Rabbi Rosenthal’s thesis—that Midrashim often are not to be taken literally—is on the mark. Unfortunately, many rebbeim do not take the time to differentiate allegorical Midrashim from historical truth. The error is compounded by the fact that teachers thereby fail to teach the meaning behind the Midrashim. The actual lesson is lost, while its façade is taken as Torah miSinai, and our talmidim learn how to miss the point. Simultaneously, students are taught to believe that if one questions the literal truth of Midrashim, he is a heretic.

Le’havdil, the story of Alice in Wonderland is written on two levels. It is a children’s fable, but it is also a political satire. In like manner, the Torah can be understood at many levels, and many Midrashim are also styled in this fashion. Thus, one can teach the Midrash that Moshe Rabbeinu was 20 feet tall at a simple level. For a six-year-old, this may suffice. For a 20-year old, it is unacceptable! At some stage, one must seek the lesson behind the Midrash. And even a six-year-old should be exposed to such Midrashim only in moderation, lest he or she lose sight of the reality within which our ancestors lived.

His article is a bit better than the previous in that he summarizes the idea as being that Midrashim often are not to be taken literally. The word "often is key." He recognizes that there are some midrashim that are to be taken literally.

However, worrying that his son's Torah education is being distorted, when in fact this is a Torah position (among others, of course), is off the mark. I don't know what school he went to, but in the school I went to, students were not taught that if they did not believe in the literal truth of midrashim, they are heretics. Did the author? Perhaps. Yet he came out of it still disbelieving in the historical truth of midrashim. How did this happen?

Now, we leave in a pluralistic society, and there are many different flavors of Orthodox Judaism today. This is a good thing. Variety is the spice of life. If some chareidim or right-wing modern Orthodox, or left-wing modern Orthodox believe the midrashim actually happened, kol hakavod! If they do not, kol hakavod as well! There are many legitimate approaches to midrashim that have been held by sophisticated greats throughout Jewish history. We have Rashi and Ibn Ezra. We have Malbim and Shadal. We have Targum Pseudo-Yonatan and Targum Onkelos. We have aggadists and we have Rabbi Zera who was opposed to certain types of aggada.

Also different levels of understanding of Torah and midrashim are appropriate for different physical and intellectual ages. People mature throughout their lifetimes and different understanding of sources hopefully comes with that (as he mentioned). But I would not categorize a literal reading of midrash as only fit for 6 year olds. First, he thus insults many people who are his (and my) betters (in terms of Torah knowledge and understanding) who believe(d) in the truth of these midrashim, calling them children. Second, perhaps a sophisticated analysis will yield a different perspective than he assumes is the correct one. I will not address the Moshe Rabbenu vs. Og midrash here. I would need a lot of time to study it inside.

However, the question is not whether Avi Goldstein believes this midrash to be true on a literal level. The question is whether Chazal who formulated the midrash believed it to be true on a literal level. And while we may be skeptical of Moshe having such a tall stature, there is some evidence that some members of Chazal may have thought this could be true on a literal, historical level. Two midrashim immediately spring to mind. The first is in Bava Batra 73b-74a:

Rabbah b. Bar Hana related: We were once travelling in a desert and there joined us an Arab merchant who, [by] taking up sand and smelling it [could] tell which was the way to one place and which was the way to another. We said unto him: 'How far are we from water?' He replied: 'Give me [some] sand.' We gave him, and he said unto us: 'Eight parasangs.' When we gave him again [later], he told us that we were three parasangs off. I changed it; but was unable [to nonplus] him.

He said unto me: 'Come and I will show you the Dead of the Wilderness.' I went [with him] and saw them; and they looked as if in a state of exhilaration.

They slept on their backs; and the knee of one of them was raised, and the Arab merchant passed under the knee, riding on a camel with spear erect, and did not touch it. I cut off one corner of the purple-blue shawl of one of them; and we could not move away. He said unto me: '[If] you have, peradventure, taken something from them, return it; for we have a tradition that he who takes anything from them cannot move away.' I went and returned it; and then we were able to move away. When I came before the Rabbis they said unto me: Every Abba is an ass and every Bar Bar Hana is a fool. For what purpose did you do that? Was it in order to ascertain whether [the Law] is in accordance with the [decision of] Beth Shammai or Beth Hillel? You should have counted the threads and counted the joints
I would read his attempt to take the corner of the tallit as parallel to David's taking of Shaul's tallit - evidence of his presence and thus evidence of the historicity of his statement. But the Sages recommend that he should have counted the threads and joints in order to determine halacha. Would we determine halacha based on allegory? Perhaps one can find a way out of this one.

There is another midrash in Midrash Rabba and in Niddah 24b:

It was taught: Abba Saul (or, as some say, R. Johanan stated): I was once a grave-digger. On one occasion, when pursuing a deer, I entered the thigh-bone of a corpse, and pursued it for three parasangs but did neither reach the deer nor the end of the thigh-bone. When I returned I was told that it was the thigh-bone of Og, King of Bashan.

It was taught: Abba Saul stated, I was once a grave-digger and on one occasion there was opened a cave under me and I stood in the eye-ball of a corpse up to my nose. When I returned I was told that it was the eye of Absalom. And should you suggest that Abba Saul was a dwarf [it may be mentioned that] Abba Saul was the tallest man in his generation, and R. Tarfon reached to his shoulder and that R. Tarfon was the tallest man in his generation and R. Meir reached to his shoulder. R. Meir was the tallest man in his generation and Rabbi reached to his shoulder. Rabbi was the tallest man in his generation and R. Hiyya reached to his shoulder, and R. Hiyya was the tallest in his generation and Rab reached to his shoulder. Rab was the tallest man in his generation and Rab Judah reached to his shoulder, and Rab Judah was the tallest man in his generation and his waiter Adda reached to his shoulder.

Clearly the Midrash and gemara are trying to show that on a literal, historical level, a Biblical character can be this big. Otherwise why the proof that generations of people shrunk in order to justify his having fallen into Avshalom's eye-socket. So Chazal may have thought this to be true, and literal.

This might not be the case for the Moshe as 10 cubits high midrash (some elements might lend themselves to allegory), but we should not consider it figurative just because we would not believe it. The focus must be on whether Chazal could have believed this to be historical. Otherwise, we are just making stuff up and attributing it to Chazal because we are unconfortable disagreeing with Chazal.

Avi Goldstein continues:
I believe that two elements have led to this regrettable misunderstanding of Midrashim. The first element is the intrinsically enticing quality of Midrashim. To illustrate, let us take the Midrash that when Yaakov Avinu lay down to sleep at Beit E-l, he put rocks around his head (Bereishis 28:11). Each rock desired to be the one upon which Yaakov actually lay his head, so G-d fused them into one rock. It is undeniably more exciting to teach the Midrash kiphshuto, in its literal form. How enthralling it must be for a child to read about this miracle. If we take the Midrash as allegorical, we are forced to seek its intended message. What do the Sages mean to imply about the greatness of Yaakov? The easy, fun way out is to teach the Midrash literally and stop there.
So, what does it tell us about the greatness of Yaakov? That he was a great guy? I think we got that even if we take the midrash literally.

Note that there are midrashim on this that have more overt allegorical reasons for this - that there were 12 stones becoming one, showing (in a maaseh avot siman labanim way) that he alone of the forefathers would have the 12 tribes. Or that there were three stones, showing some connection with the other two forefathers, as one. Or that there were two stones (because the minimum plural is two) and the binding together showed that unlike the other forefathers, there would not be chaff among his children. This works well with the general theme in the peshat of the pesukim of the dream telling him his destiny. Yet while this allegorical interpretation is obvious, this does not mean that Chazal did not simultaneously think that it was historically true. One should often not stop there regardless of whether the midrash is literal or allegorical.

I am not sure what greater message than 'Yaakov was a great guy and the stones wanted to honor him' one will get out of Rabbi Yitzchak's formulation in Chullin, though. And if you can tell me an allegorical interpretation, make sure it is convincing. Because I can come up with a rationalization for anything, but that does not make it true. A false rationalization is a perversion of original intent and an insult to Chazal.

For example: We see the greatness of Yaakov in that even the stones wished to support his head - thus, his greatness is intellectual. We see the greatness of Yaakov in that even the stones of Israel wished to be under his head, thus showing how he deserved to inherit the land. We see the greatness of Yaakov that these stones which were destines to become an altar wished to support this mortal's head, thus showing how a righteous man can elevate himself to the extent that these lofty stones would still consider it an honor.

I could come up with hundreds of such rationalizations. This is a gift I have - but the true gift is being able to distinguish between rationalizations and true explanations. By being able to generate rationalizations, I can recognize when others are trying to present poppycock. And indeed, some of Avi Goldsteins "explanations" in this article are indeed nonsense.

Furthermore, what exactly is he saying about Rashi -- that he took the fun and easy way out?
Truth be told, my sense from reading Rashi extensively is that he himself believed the midrashim to have been intended literally and to have been literally true. But more on that later.

He continues:
The second element is our bias toward Rashi’s exposition of the Torah. Rashi’s importance cannot be emphasized enough. However, he does sometimes resort to Midrashim, especiallywhen he feels that they conform to his stated intent of focusing upon the simple understanding of the text.
Oh my goodness! Rashi sometimes resorts to Midrashim?! I would say that upwards of 80% of Rashi is midrashim. Here is a link to a perek in Bereishit - the one just discussed. That presentation of Rashi from Judaica Press is helpful because it sources most of Rashi's statements. Count how many of Rashi's statements are citations of midrashim, and how many are not. Sometimes resorts to midrashim? Ha!
"Especially when the conform to his stated intent of focusing on the simple meaning of the text."
Oy! This is a reference to Rashi's famous statement that he is only coming to teach the peshuto shel mikra uleaggadah hameyashevet divrei hamikra davar davur al ofnav.

There is in fact a major dispute among Rashi scholars about how to understand this statement. Because Rashi presents so much midrash, some scholars actually say that Rashi only means this about the pesukim on which he actually said the statement.

And it is not clear what aggada hameyashevet divrei hamikra davar davur al ofnav means either. It is subject to dispute. However, it seems to mean that if a midrash bolsters or explains some peshat concern, Rashi will cite it. This can mean that he will bring a midrash if it fits with the rest of the text when the rest of the text is understood on a peshat level, and if it also answers some peshat based difficulty.

Let me now turn to Avi Goldstein and ask him: Why would Rashi cite a midrash to answer a peshat-based difficulty if he did not think that the midrash was meant literally?! If it was only intended to teach some homiletic message, why should Rashi think he could make use of it to arrive at peshat.

I will ask further. Avi Goldstein just presented the midrash from Chullin of the rocks merging together. Rashi cites it. Presumably, he does so because it is aggada hameyashevet divrei hamikra davar davur al ofnav - that is, it answers some peshat concern. How can it do this if it was not intended literally, and if Rashi did not intend it literally?

He continues:
(At the beginning of Parashas Vayeishev, Rashi’s grandson, the Rashbam, writes that he took Rashi to task for not writing his commentary in a simpler way. The Rashbam records that his grandfather conceded the point.)
Argh! In a simpler way?! What Rashbam actually says is that because midrash is primary, people have come to focus on derash and neglect the school of peshat. But ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto, the verse still maintains its peshat interpretation, and this is what he focuses on. And then he concludes:

וגם רבנו שלמה אבי אמי מאיר עיני גולה שפירש תורה נביאים וכתובים נתן לב לפרש פשוטו של מקרא, ואף אני שמואל ב"ר מאיר חתנו זצ"ל נתווכחתי עמו ולפניו והודה לי שאילו היה לו פנאי היה צריך לעשות פרושים אחרים לפי הפשטות המתחדשים בכל יום

Apparently Avi Goldstein is reading הפשטות as hapashtut, the simpler way, rather than hapeshatot, the novel peshat interpretations, which is the correct translation of the phrase.

Rashbam is saying that he had arguments with and before Rashi. Rashbam is much more of a die-hard pashtan than Rashi, and perhaps he even had different conceptions of the relationship between peshat and derash. But in the course of the argument, Rashi conceded that had he enough time, he would write other interpretations according to the novel peshat interpretations they were coming up with every day.

Rashi and his beit midrash revolutionized study of mikra in focusing on peshat interpretations, and Rashi's commentary was a major first step, but still, a large portion of his commentary is midrash. And Rashi concedes this, not that he could have written it in a simpler way.

This is an important conclusion for those who cite the statement by Rashi that he comes only to teach the peshuto shel mikra uleaggadah hameyashevet divrei hamikra davar davur al ofnav, and deduce that every statement by Rashi is peshat. Rashi concedes that a large portion of his statements are derash, as one call tell be simply examining Rashi's sources.

Now, a peshat interpretation is certainly intended literally, and so one can no longer say that since every Rashi is peshat, it must be intended literally and have been historical.

However, just because something is derash {or aggadah hameyashevet divrei hamikra davar davur al ofnav} does not mean that it was not intended as literally (rather than allegorically) true and historical.

We must take care not to conflate method of interpretation with intent. Peshat vs. derash involves the methodology used to determine the interpretation - as Rashbam writes, methodology such as the 31 middot of derash interpretation. Such a derash interpretation might still have been intended by its author as literally true and historical, and Rashbam and/or Rashi might still consider them literally true and historical. See my points above regarding why Rashi brings derash to answer peshat issues.

He continues:
When our children begin to study Chumash with Rashi, rebbeim expose them to the Midrashim that Rashi brings, without bothering to note that many Midrashim are to be taken figuratively.
Again, how does he know? Perhaps some are, but I am not sure that Rashi regarded them as anything other than literal (as opposed to figurative) or that Chazal intended them as such. To his credit, at least he uses the word "many" rather than "all."a

He continues:
A prime example is Rashi’s comment on the word “vachamushim” in Parashas Beshalach (Sh’mos 13:18). Rashi’s first explanation is the literal one: that the Israelites were armed with weapons and supplies when they left Egypt. Rashi then proceeds to record one of several Midrashim on “vachamushim.” Extracting its root, which is ch-m-sh, or “five,” he states that only one of every five Israelites actually left Egypt, with the remaining four-fifths perishing during the Plague of Darkness, out of sight of the Egyptians.
If you examine Rashi's source (Mechilta), you will see that his midrash also starts out with the definition "armed" before introducing other explanations. So the midrash itself concedes this basic interpretation.
Inevitably my children have come home from yeshiva with Rashi’s Midrashic comment as the true meaning of “vachamushim.”
The solution to this is to have the rebbe teach the Rashi better, stressing that Rashi says both. Does Rashi mean one literally and the other figuratively? Or is he recording different opinions on the matter? Or, does he maintain that both are simultaneously true?

Looking at Siftei Chachamim, you will see that he asks about this double explanation and concludes that ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto, and thus holds that both are interpretations of the verse. It seems to me that Siftei Chachamim at least considers the chamushim as 1/5 to be literally true. I guess he is writing this when he is a 6 year old.

Here is the midrash as cited in Tanchuma:

אחד מחמשה, ויש אומרים אחד מחמשים, ויש אומרים אחד מחמש מאות, רבי נהוראי אומר העבודה לא אחד מחמשת אלפים, ואימתי מתו? בימי האפלה שהיו קוברין ישראל מתיהן ומצרים יושבין בחשך, ישראל הודו ושבחו על שלא ראו שונאיהם ושמחו בפורענותן.

In Mechilta, after the explanation of 1/5 (and subsequently those who say 1/50 and 1/500), Rabbi Nehorai says 1/500, but the Gra emends to 1/5000. Rabbi Nehorai in mechilta actually cites other pesukim from Nach to bolster his argument (revava ketzemach hasadeh, and uvnei yisrael paru veyishretzu.) A straigtforward reading of the Mechilta strongly suggests that the dying in the 3 days of darkness is Rabbi Nehorai as well, but Rashi takes this to explain the 1/5. So perhaps in the initial Midrash, those who said 1/5 left thought that the others assimilated and wished to stay in Egypt. Look at the Mechilta yourself. Rashi, who combines it, apparently accepts that 4/5 died.

He continues:
And yet, if this were meant to be understood literally, several questions should arise. First, it would mean that the Plague of Darkness was actually much more a plague for the Israelites than it was for the Egyptians. Second, it would require us to believe that the Egyptians did not notice how 80 percent of the Israelite population suddenly vanished! Third, it would be inconceivable that just a few weeks later, a decimated Israelite population would go withsuch joy into the wilderness. How, in the face of this massive loss of life, could they heartily celebrate the Exodus?
This is a reason for disagreeing with Rabbi Nehorai's explanation that they died in the 3 days of darkness. It is a reason for disagreement, but is not proof that Rabbi Nehorai did not mean it literally (/historically)! Perhaps Rabbi Nehorai would have answers, or perhaps Rabbi Nehorai would concede. But yes, he would say that it was more a plague for the Israelites. But 1) that these people were going to die anyway to it was to Hashem's credit that he did this when the Egyptians could not see. 2) Perhaps the Egyptians were aware that they vanished but did not get to witness the actual dying and burial of the Israelites and have a chance to rejoice, or perhaps they were so busy with their own plagues -- namely, darkness followed shortly by the killing of the firstborn; or else, because the Israelites lived in Goshen, away from the Egyptians, and 3) perhaps these were not righteous Israelites, which is why they were not to leave Egypt, and were concentrated in families which were not friendly to the Israelites who left; or perhaps even with this massive loss of life, finally getting their freedom made them happy.

As you can see, answers are possible. I don't know that Rabbi Nehorai (or Rashi) would put forth these specific answers, but they might maintain that this is intended literally and give some answers. Just because Avi Goldstein does not agree with the mechilta does not mean that the mechilta is figurative as opposed to literal.

He continues:
Finally, the Midrash records other opinions that have a much smaller number of Israelites escaping the Plague of Darkness. One opinion is that only one out of 50 left Egypt. Another opinion is that one in 500 survived.
He apparently did not see the Gra's emendation to 1 in 5000. He continues:
And the Talmud, in Maseches Sanhedrin (111a), writes that only 2 out of every 600,000 left Egypt! For one thing, only one of these can be literal. Moreover, if we take the calculation in Sanhedrin literally, it would require us to believe that 180 billion Israelites lived in Egypt.
Firstly, this is not the meaning of this midrash. In fact, the midrash in Sanhedrin is more conservative than even 1/5, as I will demonstrate shortly. But first, two points.

1) "For one thing, only one of these can be literal."
Buzz! No. Only one of them at most can be historical. The midrash states:
אחד מחמשה, ויש אומרים אחד מחמשים, ויש אומרים אחד מחמש מאות

The words veyesh omrim means that there is a dispute. Many people can dispute what the literal interpretation of a verse is. At max, only one of them can be right. But that does not mean that the other interpretations were intended or must be taken figuratively.

As an illustration, let us take three pashtans. (pashtan in the sense of using peshat rather than midrash methods of interpretation.) Let us take Ibn Ezra, Shadal, and Rashbam. I am sure that you can find a verse in which each pashtan offers a different interpretation than the other two. Would Avi Goldstein say that "only one of these can be literal?"

2) "Moreover, if we take the calculation in Sanhedrin literally, it would require us to believe that 180 billion Israelites lived in Egypt."

No. If we interpret the midrash this way (which I will attempt to disprove next), then it would require us to believe that Rabbi Simai believed that 180 billion Israelites lived in Egypt.

My emendation in bold. Look, Avi Goldstein does not believe 180 billion Israelites lived in Egypt because of modern sensibilities and conceptions of demographics. Perhaps Rabbi Simai disagreed, and felt his explanation was indeed historical. Perhaps 180 billion, while astronomical, did not seem so impossible to Sages back then. Or perhaps it was astronomical but Chazal assumed a miraculous existence, as is clear from many other midrashim.

Anyhow, on to the gemara. My selection includes Rashi, which is higher up in the page. Look for Tanya: Rabbi Simai...

Rabbi Simai learns a hekesh between their exodus from Egypt and their entering the land of Israel. "Just as when they entered the land, only 2 from 600,000 entered, so too their exodus from Egypt, there were 2 out of 600,000."

Who were the 2 out of 600,000 who entered the land? Calev and Yehoshua, as Rashi explains. That is, out of 600,000 people in the generation of the wilderness, only 2 actually entered the land. Of course, not only 2 entered the land. There was a new generation who were raised in the wilderness who numbered 600,000 as well.

Similarly, there were 2 out of 600,000 who exited Egypt. Many read this as a ratio. That is, for each 2 who left Egypt, 599,998 did not leave. This is how one would come up with 180 billion.

But is this what Rabbi Simai means? There is a hekesh, connection, here, between the exodus and entry in the land. We know 600,000 entered the land. Do we say that that means that for every 2 who entered the land, 599,998 were left in the desert? There were not 180 billion in the desert. Pesukim tell us about 600,000!

The simplest connection to make is to assume the same situation for both, rather than a ratio. Thus, out of 600,000 people in Egypt in a certain generation, only 2 left. Of course, they were accompanied by an additional 600,000 who were born to the next generation.

Who are these 2? Let us say Moshe and Aharon, who were 80+ at the time. (Perhaps also Korach, though he must be under 50 to be fit for service in the mishkan.) All the rest of their generation died in Egypt of natural causes (such as old age), and it was 600,000 of the generation of Calev and Yehoshua who left Egypt. And that generation of Calev and Yehoshua died in the wilderness to be replaced by another 600,000. And, as Rava adds, the same for the days of Mashiach.

Without looking at Rashi, and just looking at the gemara, this seems the simplest peshat in the gemara.

This is then a more conservative number than even 1/5. It is 1/2. And it is not people who died suddenlt in the 3 days of darkness, but over the course of the long servitude in Egypt. One can readily understand this as intended as literal/historical, and perhaps even accept it as historical reality oneself.

Now, Avi Goldtein is to be excused. After all, 180 billion is what Rashi says, and what Artscroll says as well. But our concern is with what Rabbi Simai meant, not how Rashi understands it.

However, even Rashi may something similar to what I propose. Read Rashi again, this time without the words enclosed in brackets, and translate the first mikol as "from all the 600,000," rather than "for each."

{Please note: I do not need Rashi for support in this, since at issue is what Rabbi Simai means, rather than what Rashi means - but it would be nice to have such support.}

Rashi also suggests they died in the 3 days of darkness. The gemara does not state this. This is grabbed from Rabbi Nehorai in mechilta, and Rashi carries it over.

As I always say, it pays to look at sources inside and to read those sources critically. I do not think Avi Goldstein or Rabbi Rosenthal are used to doing this, and so instead they put forth nonsensical figurative/allegorical explanations. (This is not to say that certain figurative and allegorical explanations do not in fact make sense.)

He continues:
Truly the Rambam is correct in writing that the literal approach to Midrashim is a foolish one. (And yet, many years ago I heard a rabbi in our community say that this Midrash in Sanhedrin is literally true!)
Does Rambam say this about all midrashim, or only ones such as those that imply that God is corporeal?

I do not believe that Avi Goldstein understands midrashim, and the relationship of peshat and derash, well enough to write credible articles on the subject.

But stop for a moment. If the rabbi in the community could believe the midrash in Sanhedrin is literally true, is it not possible that Rabbi Simai believed it as well?

Anyhow, he continues:
Meanwhile, the lesson of these Midrashim is missed. How about the following interpretation for the 1-in-50 version? We are taught that the Israelites were mired in 49 levels of impurity, out of a possible 50 levels. The Midrash hints at this low spiritual level by stating that one in 50 Israelites left Egypt—that only 2 percent of Israel’s spirituality had been preserved during the Exile.
Wow. This seems to me to be an instance of rationalization rather than explanation, as I explained above. Wow! Looking through Rabbinic literature, we find another number 50, so we can connect the two and explain one in terms of the other! Color me unimpressed.

Rabbi Nehorai did not just leave it as just a derasha on chamushim. He bolsters it with other pesukim to show a large Israelite birthrate. Why do this if the whole thing is allegorical? He also tries to explain when they disappeared - in the 3 days of darkness. Why would Rabbi Nehorai try to do this if he did not think it actually happened? Rabbi Nehorai makes great efforts to fit the derasha in with the narrative, which is not what we would expect if it was intended as allegorical/figurative.

Also, will he be able to find a similar parallel for 5? For 500? For 5000? One of the numbers luckily matched up to another rabbinic statement, and so he thinks he has intuited the figurative interpretation.

He continues:
The result of literal teaching of Midrashim is mind-boggling. Our children grow up believing that the ancients lived a fairy-tale existence.
And some members of Chazal believed this as well. Feel free to disagree.

He continues:
On the aforementioned tape series, the narrator, a highly respected rebbi (and former teacher of mine), says that during the Plague of Wild Animals, all the world’s animals descended upon Egypt, bringing along their local climates. Thus, where the polar bears were it was icy cold, while where the lions were it was hot. This is taught as literal truth, in total disregard of the much more likely alternative: that wild animals native to Egypt served as G-d’s instrument of punishment, without a bizarre change in climate. In order to counter the teaching method to which children are exposed, I have sought, from when my kids were young, to explain that Midrashim are not necessarily literal. I have pointed out that the Talmud itself states: “The rabbis spoke in exaggerated terms” (Chullin 90b). I hope that other parents are doing the same.
Again, kudos for "not necessarily literal." I would have to see that midrash inside, and see what details are deduced from what, but a less miraculous alternative is just that - a less miraculous alternative. As rationalists, we like to dismiss miraculous accounts. But we are talking already about a miracle - we have here a more muted version of the miracle. So whoever wrote this midrash might not have agreed that a less miraculous miracle is more likely, and therefore is historical truth.

Indeed, the Talmud does state that the rabbis spoke in exaggerated terms, such that some fantastic details are guzmas. But we must take care how we apply this dictum. If a detail is an explicit derivation from a verse, it is no longer a manner of speaking but rather the very substance of the derasha. We should not take statements out of context and apply them across the board to where Chazal never intended them.
I have no doubt that Rabbi Rosenthal’s brave piece (and this article as well) will encounter fierce opposition. It is too bad that in some quarters, in-depth Torah study has been forced to yield to shallowness.
Oooh! Great way to end an article. Paint yourself as a courageous martyr, and paint any opponents as shallow, closed-minded frummies.

I believe that my opposition to Rabbi Rosenthal's piece, and to this article as well, is based on the fact that their approach is shallow, ill-informed, and dumb.

180 Billion in Egypt? It aint so. More substantive post to follow. Sanhedrin 111a.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bible Quiz I - Answers

So no-one tried to answer the Bible Quiz (#1) posted last week. Oh well. Winners get special mention and a link to their blog in the answer post.

On to the questions and answers:

Q1: Name 6 in Tanach who did not die.

a) None of the cattle of Israel. Shemot 9:6:

ו וַיַּעַשׂ ה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיָּמָת, כֹּל מִקְנֵה מִצְרָיִם; וּמִמִּקְנֵה בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא-מֵת אֶחָד. 6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.

b) Chanoch, for while everyone else in the genealogical list is said to have died, there is no such statement by Chanoch. Bereishit 5:21:
כא וַיְחִי חֲנוֹךְ, חָמֵשׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-מְתוּשָׁלַח. 21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begot Methuselah.
כב וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-מְתוּשֶׁלַח, שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת. 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begot Methuselah three hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
כג וַיְהִי, כָּל-יְמֵי חֲנוֹךְ, חָמֵשׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, וּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years.
כד וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים; וְאֵינֶנּוּ, כִּי-לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים. {ס} 24 And Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him. {S}
Note that Bereishit Rabbati states that he became the head of the Decepticons. ;)

c) Yonatan. See I Shmuel 14:45:
מה וַיֹּאמֶר הָעָם אֶל-שָׁאוּל, הֲיוֹנָתָן יָמוּת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הַיְשׁוּעָה הַגְּדוֹלָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--חָלִילָה חַי-יְהוָה אִם-יִפֹּל מִשַּׂעֲרַת רֹאשׁוֹ אַרְצָה, כִּי-עִם-אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּפְדּוּ הָעָם אֶת-יוֹנָתָן, וְלֹא-מֵת. {ס} 45 And the people said unto Saul: 'Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? Far from it; as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day.' So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not.
d) Yaakov. This is a famous one. The text never says that he dies. Though he was embalmed, which must have hurt like crazy. Unless, as is likely, the intent was to cause a spit-take. See relevant gemara.

e) Eliyahu. He ascended in a chariot of fire. Perhaps this means death, but perhaps not. The end of Malachi (Malachi 3:23) certainly seems to read the story of Eliyahu's ascension as not being death.

כג הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא--לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא. 23 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
f) Menachem ben Chizkiyah. He was just snatched up by wind and whirlwind. (see here).

g) King Chizkiyahu, even though Yeshaya told him he would. See Yeshaya 38.

{Update: Oops! Should have mentioned
h) Serach bat Asher, named in a late genealogy, and so taken to have lived a long time and entered into Gan Eden alive.}

Q2: Which pashtan disliked Ibn Ezra?
A2: Shadal

The question for next week - why did he dislike him?

parshat Behaalotecha roundup 2006

Category: Analysis:

Sedra Shorts analyzes the incident at Tav'era based on Rashi.

Though I would personally label it more homiletic. ADDeRabbi discussed why the manna could not turn certain flavors and connects it to the development of the Israelites as the development of an infant. My debunking of this dvar is here.

Torah Thoughts, in a post called "No Comment," addresses the absence of Moshe's response to the charge that he separated from his wife in terms of the sudden interjection that Moshe was exceedingly humble. Personally, I don't see that Moshe was being addressed at all, but rather this talking of Aaron and Miriam was done behind Moshe's back.

Category: Homiletics

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz analyzes the first and second Rashis on the parsha and finds a lesson that if one is willing to put in the dirty work, Hashem will ensure that in the end the task is completed. Plus more homiletic material.

Category: Halacha

Bluke discusses a prohibition of making the vessels of the mikdash, its reason, and its application.


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