Monday, June 11, 2007

Shelach: The Meraglim Didn't Lie

There are different possible perspectives on the sin of the spies. Were they bad from the get-go? Or only later? Or never? Rashi bases himself primarily on Sotah daf 35, citing different statements as it fits into his commentary.
They went, and they came What is meant by“They went”? [It says already that they returned.] To compare their going with their coming. Just as their return was with evil intent, so was their departure [on the journey] with evil intent. — [Sotah 35a]
This is a citation of Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Thus, they initially intended towards bad.

flowing with milk and honey Any lie in which a little truth is not stated in the beginning cannot be maintained in the end. — [Sotah 35a]
The quote is actually slightly modified from our girsa in Sotah, either because Rashi had a different girsa or because he modified it. The distinction is that our gemara says "any slander," leshon hara, while Rashi says sheker, lie. This, by the way, is Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Meir.

This brings up an interesting point. Were they lying? Did they intend to lie? Did they intend harm?
The Amalekites dwell Since they had already been“burnt” by Amalek [as it were,] the spies mentioned it in order to frighten them. — [Mid. Tanchuma 9]
Thus Rashi cited a Midrash Tanchuma to show they were calculating in the details they chose to mention, in order to frighten the people.
for they are stronger than we Heb. מִמֶּנּוּ, [which may also be interpreted as, they are stronger than he.] They said this in reference to the most High, as it were, [as if to say that the people are stronger than He. — [Sotah 35a]
Thus the spies deny Hashem's strength and power to let them prevail.
consumes its inhabitants Wherever we passed, we found them burying dead. The Holy One, blessed is He, intended this for good, to keep them occupied with their mourning so they should not notice them [the spies]. — [Sotah 35a]
This statement of Rava implies that they were not lying. What they said was true. Did the spies realize that this was why Hashem did this? Possibly not.
the giants Heb. נְפִילִים, giants, descended from Shamhazai (Nidah 61a) and Azael (Yoma 67b), who fell (שֶׁנָּפְלוּ)) from heaven in the generation of Enosh.
and so we were in their eyes We heard them telling each other,“There are ants in the vineyard who look like people.” - [Sotah 35a]
By identifying these giants, Rashi would agree that this is factual -- there were giants. By explaining that they indeed heard this, he is stating that they are not lying.

In fact, it is a matter of dispute (or rather statement followed by rejection) in the gemara in Sotah:
"And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." R. Mesharsheya said: The spies were liars. As regards 'we were in our own sight as grasshoppers', very well; but how could they know that 'so we were in their sight'? But it is not so; for when [the inhabitants] held their funeral-meal they ate it beneath cedar trees, and when [the spies] saw them they climbed the trees and sat there. Then they heard them say: 'We see men like grasshoppers in the trees'.
Thus, at least in this matter, Rashi is in agreement that they were not liars. Note that in fact the gemara presents this as a rejection, based on another source. In fact Rav Mesharshia may have known this source and chosen to argue against it. Regardless, Rashi adopts the rejection, in order to present a basis (midrashic) for each portion of the statements of the spies.

If so, the word slander, leshon hara, might be better suited than sheker, falsehood.

Now, while Rashi presents the gemara's various statements (and that of Midrash Tanchuma) as a whole, in fact one might split Chazal's statements into different groups.

We might argue the position that the spies actually set out whole-heartedly on their mission, but were discouraged by what they saw. The prime source for this is
לא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-עָלוּ עִמּוֹ, אָמְרוּ, לֹא נוּכַל, לַעֲלוֹת אֶל-הָעָם: כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ. 31 But the men that went up with him said: 'We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.'
The derasha above was that מִמֶּנּוּ means "Him," meaning Hashem, rather than "us." This is not a matter of derash, however. This is absolutely peshat in the pasuk. What they saw when spying out the land disheartened them. It was indeed true that it was highly unlikely that they would succeed against such a formidable foe. Thus, they said "they are stronger than we." But they forgot that Hashem was directing the events, and promised their victory, even against these seemingly insurmountable odds.

This is the theme that this midrash is hooking into. By saying "they are stronger than we," the implied that "they are stronger than He." Thus, this midrash is peshat.

This is also part of the message of the midrash about the land consuming those upon it. On a peshat level, the spies meant that it was a harsh land that would require a hardy people to prosper on it. But here, the midrash gives an explanation of something which they saw which appeared to be bad and formidable, but was actually God's hidden hand ensuring the success of their mission.

The bit about "so we appeared in their eyes" may also be taken to show their lack of confidence. As Rav Mesharshia said, how would they know how the inhabitants saw them? One answer is that they were making this up. Another answer is that they were projecting their lack of confidence, such that they felt the enemy must also regard them as insignificant.

Indeed, in the next perek, they try attacking without Hashem's help, and are beaten back, with casualties:

מ וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר, וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶל-רֹאשׁ-הָהָר לֵאמֹר: הִנֶּנּוּ, וְעָלִינוּ אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אָמַר יְהוָה--כִּי חָטָאנוּ. 40 And they rose up early in the morning, and got them up to the top of the mountain, saying: 'Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised; for we have sinned.'
מא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, לָמָּה זֶּה אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-פִּי יְהוָה; וְהִוא, לֹא תִצְלָח. 41 And Moses said: 'Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD, seeing it shall not prosper?
מב אַל-תַּעֲלוּ, כִּי אֵין יְהוָה בְּקִרְבְּכֶם; וְלֹא, תִּנָּגְפוּ, לִפְנֵי, אֹיְבֵיכֶם. 42 Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten down before your enemies.
מג כִּי הָעֲמָלֵקִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי שָׁם לִפְנֵיכֶם, וּנְפַלְתֶּם בֶּחָרֶב: כִּי-עַל-כֵּן שַׁבְתֶּם מֵאַחֲרֵי יְהוָה, וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם. 43 For there the Amalekite and the Canaanite are before you, and ye shall fall by the sword; forasmuch as ye are turned back from following the LORD, and the LORD will not be with you.'
מד וַיַּעְפִּלוּ, לַעֲלוֹת אֶל-רֹאשׁ הָהָר; וַאֲרוֹן בְּרִית-יְהוָה וּמֹשֶׁה, לֹא-מָשׁוּ מִקֶּרֶב הַמַּחֲנֶה. 44 But they presumed to go up to the top of the mountain; nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.
מה וַיֵּרֶד הָעֲמָלֵקִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, הַיֹּשֵׁב בָּהָר הַהוּא; וַיַּכּוּם וַיַּכְּתוּם, עַד-הַחָרְמָה. {פ} 45 Then the Amalekite and the Canaanite, who dwelt in that hill-country, came down, and smote them and beat them down, even unto Hormah.
Thus, the spies were not lying, but just were plagued by the same doubts that spread to the people.

Indeed, this is what the gemara seems to say about Calev's response:

ל וַיַּהַס כָּלֵב אֶת-הָעָם, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר, עָלֹה נַעֲלֶה וְיָרַשְׁנוּ אֹתָהּ--כִּי-יָכוֹל נוּכַל, לָהּ. 30 And Caleb stilled the people toward Moses, and said: 'We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.'
לא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-עָלוּ עִמּוֹ, אָמְרוּ, לֹא נוּכַל, לַעֲלוֹת אֶל-הָעָם: כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ. 31 But the men that went up with him said: 'We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.'
The gemara in Sotah elaborates:
And Caleb stilled [wa-yahas] the people concerning Moses — Rabbah said, [It means] that he won them over [hissithan] with words. When Joshua began to address them, they said to him, 'Would this person with the lopped-off head speak to us!' [Caleb] said [to himself], If I address them [in the same strain as Joshua], they will answer me in like manner and silence me; so he said to them, 'Is it this alone that Amram's son has done to us!' They thought that he was speaking to censure Moses, so they were silent. Then he said to them, 'He brought us out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea for us and fed us with manna. If he were to tell us, Prepare ladders and ascend to heaven, should we not obey him! Let us go up at once and possess it etc.'

But the men that went up with him said: We will not be able etc. R. Hanina b. Papa said: A grievous statement did they make at that moment, viz. For they are stronger than we — read not than we but than He; as it were even the master of the house cannot remove his furniture from there.
According to Rabba's statement, Calev in fact was mentioning all the great things Moshe had accomplished at Hashem's direction, with the aid of miracles. And Rav Chanina bar Pappa's statement might be cast as continuing along these lines -- the spies' retort to Calev's claim.

While I'm at commenting on Shelach, one might suggest:
ג וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן, עַל-פִּי יְהוָה: 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.
ד וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹתָם: לְמַטֵּה רְאוּבֵן, שַׁמּוּעַ בֶּן-זַכּוּר. 4 And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.

ח לְמַטֵּה אֶפְרָיִם, הוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן. 8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun.

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.
One might suggest that the Israelites kept megillat yuchsin, genealogical books, as well as a record of what was happening, who was sent, who were the leaders of each tribe, etc.

And then, the Torah will cite these other genealogical documents. To remain true to them, nothing will be changed, even if there is potential for confusion -- such as a Reuel/Deuel, either resolvable as a name change or variant, or allowing for an error in this historical document. Moshe will quote the sources verbatim as they are. However, to smooth the confusion here in the shift between the genealogical list and the narrative, Moshe (or Yehoshua...) clarifies that Nun did not have another son who interceded. (Indeed, sometimes Biblical characters name sons quite similar names.) And this might also be part of the cause for the reminder that Calev and Yehoshua were among the spies, in the next perek:
ו וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, וְכָלֵב בֶּן-יְפֻנֶּה, מִן-הַתָּרִים, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ--קָרְעוּ, בִּגְדֵיהֶם. 6 And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were of them that spied out the land, rent their clothes.
ז וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ--טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ, מְאֹד מְאֹד. 7 And they spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: 'The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land.


Anonymous said...

The derasha above was that מִמֶּנּוּ means "Him," meaning Hashem, rather than "us." This is not a matter of derash, however. This is absolutely peshat in the pasuk. What they saw when spying out the land disheartened them. It was indeed true that it was highly unlikely that they would succeed against such a formidable foe. Thus, they said "they are stronger than we." But they forgot that Hashem was directing the events, and promised their victory, even against these seemingly insurmountable odds.

From this, it seems that you think drash is inherently "wrong", and that any insightful commentary must be assigned to the category of pshat.

In particular, I agree with you that "mimenu=Hashem" is insightful. You say that therefore, it is really pshat. I think it's more accurate to explain the Israelites meant what they said - "mimenu=us". That is the pshat. The insight of the drash is to point out the lack of faith in Hashem which underlies their statement.

joshwaxman said...

your paraphrase is essentially what I meant.

I consider derash to be any interpretation that makes use of the middot sheHaTorah nidreshet bahen for halacha or aggada, which takes the text out of its plain, straightforward meaning. Also, if it makes use of significance maximalism/omnisignificance.

I consider peshat to be any interpretation which does not reinterpret the plain meanings of the words in context.

Over and over on parshablog, I try to show that midrash is insightful, and "hooks in" to themes developed on the plain-text level, highlighting specific points perhaps by reinterpreting certain words. I therefore crudely call it true on the peshat level as well. One need not use middot sheHaTora nidreshet bahen to say the same thing on this pasuk. That is, without the need for reinterpreting "mimenu," this is already thematically the case. The midrash is then either reinterpreting in this light, or hooking-in to a reinterpretation to stress this theme which comes from the verse.

Anonymous said...

OK, so for you pshat/drash refers solely to the method of derivation ("logic" or "numerology"), and not to the substance of the conclusion.

And what you did in your post was to tell us about a conclusion reached by drash, then show how it could equally be reached by pshat, i.e. thematic considerations unrelated to the grammatical ambiguity.

However, to me that seems like a rather trivial difference between pshat and drash, and not what people usually intend pshat/drash to mean. Isn't the substance of the answer supposed to be more important than the method of derivation?

Furthermore, whenever you call a drash "insightful", doesn't that mean that you are examining it on the fly by logical considerations - that you are verifying that in fact, it is pshat as well as drash? If so, what would drash without pshat look like? Spinning the gematria wheel to find out that the duration of mattan torah somehow hints to your grandmother's maiden name?

I would rather have definitions of pshat and drash which grant independent value to both of them.

joshwaxman said...

I wouldn't call it "logic" vs. "numerology." More like "context" vs. "al tikra." Or context implying that word X, while an arcane form, means Y based on context, as opposed to taking it to mean Z and making derivations from it.

This distinction between peshat and derash is not my own distinction. Dr. Steiner has said as much. And I would argue Rashi, Ibn Ezra, etc., make the distinction between peshat and derash on these grounds as well.

And there is independent value to each of them.

It is unclear that classic (Talmudic) Chazal made the same distinction that some medieval commentators made between peshat and derash. It was simply truth. I try to examine the underpinnings of derash, in terms of working with the themes developed in the text itself and elsewhere (e.g. other midrashim.)

And the vast majority (if not all) of derash is "insightful" (if we must use this term) because this is a key component in developing the derash. There may be times that people, for various reasons, do not merit to see the depth of Chazal's insight -- often because they focus solely on the derasha aspect of it, if at all.

But presenting just the thematic elements of it and developing it on those grounds, without appealing to the 31 middot of aggadic midrash, I would label a (rather than "the") peshat-level understanding of the text.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin