Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Is Bothering Rashi about Naomi's Complaint?

Or rather, what is motivating Rashi?

I would like to continue to develop my thoughts from the preceding post. In that post, I challenged Rashi's translation of ana to mean "testified" or "humbled," suggesting instead "afflicted." I wrote:
The Lord has *afflicted* me?
So goeth the JPS translation. Rut 1:21:
כ וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן, אַל-תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי: קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא, כִּי-הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד. 20 And she said unto them: 'Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
כא אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי, וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי ה; לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי, נָעֳמִי, וַה עָנָה בִי, וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me back home empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?'
Yet this is surely Biblical poetry, where we would expect poetic parallelism. But it follows Rashi, who suggests "testified" or "humbled":
has testified Heb. עָנָה, has testified against me that I dealt wickedly before Him. Another explanation: The Divine Standard of Justice has humbled me, as (Hosea 5:5): “And the pride of Israel shall be humbled (וְעָנָה).”
Given the expectation of parallelism, I would translate "afflicted." Another example where רע stands opposite ענה is Devarim 26:6:
ו וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.
Do I think I'm such a chacham? Such an explanation is obvious to any pashtan, or parshan. Surely this explanation did not elude Rashi. Yet Rashi does not mention it, not even to reject it, and he does not suggest it, even though it would seem to be the most straightforward and in keeping with peshat.

What is motivating Rashi?

I believe the answer is as follows: We can cast Naomi as an Iyyov, railing against Hashem for afflicting him without cause, where he is entirely innocent. Indeed, within the context of the narrative, we can indeed argue that the suffering she undergoes here is indeed without cause. Or we can say that this was indeed with cause, and that Naomi recognizes as much.

Rashi plays the role of Job's friends, saying that the suffering was with cause -- as punishment for something -- and indeed has Naomi admit as much, and do tzidduk haDin.

Thus, Elimelech's leaving is a sin:
and a man went He was very wealthy, and the leader of the generation. He left the Land of Israel for regions outside the Land because of stinginess, for he begrudged the poor who came to press him; therefore he was punished.
Of course, there is textual, and midrashic cause for such a statement, but more importantly, it establishes a theme.

A bit later, the reason for Elimelech's death is Naomi's actions:
Naomi’s husband Why is this stated? From here they (our Sages) derived (Sanh. 22b): A man does not die except concerning his wife. (And Scripture states, “Naomi’s husband” ; that is to say that because he was her husband and ruled over her, and she was subordinate to him, therefore the divine standard of justice struck him and not her.)
That is, she acted improperly, but he was punished since she was subordinate to him. I'm not certain this is really what Rashi intended, or what the gemara he is channeling intended. That gemara (Sanhedrin 22b) reads:
A Tanna taught: The death of a man is felt by none but his wife; and that of a woman, but her husband. Regarding the former, it is said: And Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died. And regarding the latter it is written: And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died unto me.
At least according to the Soncino translation, the idea is that only the spouse feels it most. And the part of Rashi that blames Naomi is in parentheses. There is ample context in the gemara for both explanations. Thus:
R. Alexandri said: The world is darkened for him whose wife has died in his days [i.e., predeceased him], as it is written, The light shall be dark because of his tent and his lamp over him shall be put out. R. Jose b. Hanina said: His steps grow short, as it is said: The steps of his strength shall be straightened. R. Abbahu said: His wits collapse, as it is written, And his own counsel shall cast him down.
Thus we have the concept of emotional impact. On the other hand, we also have:
R. Johanan or, as some say, R. Eleazar said: The death of a man's wife may only be ascribed to his failure to pay his debts, as it is said: If thou hast not wherewith to pay, why should he take away the bed from under thee?
meisa alay Rachel can certainly be cast as "because of."

Now, once again considering the pasuk:
כא אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי, וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי יְהוָה; לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי, נָעֳמִי, וַה עָנָה בִי, וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me back home empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?'
Rashi is just as capable as any pashtan to make the link of ana to "afflicted," given the context. But then, this would be a simple complaint, with no justification for the tragedy. Rashi terraforms the sefer, and Naomi's reaction. She is much frummer.
has testified Heb. עָנָה, has testified against me that I dealt wickedly before Him. Another explanation: The Divine Standard of Justice has humbled me, as (Hosea 5:5): “And the pride of Israel shall be humbled (וְעָנָה).”
If it is "testified," it is testimony of her guilt, such that she deserves her present position. If it is "humbled," it is being humbled by the Divine Standard of Justice, in that she was wicked and haughty, and it brought down to a fitting level. It is no longer oppression and affliction, which is the sense one gets from the simple bitterness expressed therein.

Whether or not one agrees with Rashi as to the meaning of this and other pesukim, it pays to see his overall theme and aim in interpreting the sefer. Whether one adopts it depends on how one weighs other textual cues and themes in the sefer.

4 comments:

BARZILAI said...

I don't understand your question on Rashi. Where do we find ana qua suffering that is stated in any form other than pi'el? If it meant suffering it would have been "inna," not "anna." Even in Mitzrayim it is hif'il.

joshwaxman said...

Sometimes one has to look past the dikduk, and I think Rashi would be willing even in this case if not for other thematic factors developed in midrash.

Whether or not one can find ana as suffering in non-piel doesn't matter. (I have not done a study of it to say yea or nay, nor do I find it relevant in this instance.) If one is not willing to revocalize, then I have at least one example for you -- in this pasuk in Rus! The repetition in the rest of the pasuk and in the preceding, and the parallel to mitzrayim is sufficient to establish this.

Kol Tuv,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

I agree though, that it is a good additional factor in choosing an alternate peirush. I do not think this would be sufficient cause for Rashi to discard "afflicted" by itself, though.

BARZILAI said...

I like that-- the rayoh to the teretz is that otherwise, the kashe would be shver.

Have a nice Yomtov! And remember that on Shavuos, you definitely need "lochem."

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