Thursday, June 26, 2008

Did Moshe Poison Korach's Ketores?

Rabbenu Bachya mentions that they (Chazal) make a derasha, by way of allegory, that he gave them a poison drug within it (sam hamaves natan {/natun} lahem betocho).

This is quoting Rashi on Bemidbar 16:6:
Do this!…Take for yourselves censers Why did he see fit to speak to them thus? He said to them, “Among the nations, there are various forms of worship and many priests, and they do not all gather in one temple. We, however, have only one God, one ark, one Torah, one altar, and one kohen gadol, but you two hundred and fifty men are all seeking the kehunah gedolah ! I too would prefer that. Here, take for yourselves the service most dear-it is the incense, more cherished than any other sacrifice, but it contains deadly poison, by which Nadab and Abihu were burnt. Therefore, he warned them, ”and it will be the one whom the Lord chooses-he is the holy one“ [meaning,] that he is already in his [state of] holiness. Is it not obvious that [the one] who is chosen is the holy one? Rather, Moses told them,”I am telling you this so that you should not be found guilty. For the one He chooses will survive, and the rest of you will perish." - [Mid. Tanchuma 5, Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8]
which as we see is citing Bemidbar Rabbah and Midrash Tanchuma. Or excerpted in Hebrew:
הא לכם תשמיש חביב מכל, היא הקטרת החביבה מכל הקורבנות וסם המות נתון בתוכו שבו נשרפו נדב ואביהוא, לפיכך התרה בהם והיה האיש אשר יבחר ה' הוא הקדוש, כבר הוא בקדושתו.
And its intent in context is surely death at the hands of Heaven, as punishment from bringing the ketores when one is a zar, as we see by Nadav and Avihu. So Rabbenu says, and such is obviously correct. Thus, this is a strategy to bring about their deaths at the hand of heaven.

Rabbenu Bachya feels compelled to clarify this since one could interpret this as Moshe being devious and putting an actual, physical poisonous substance in their incense which, when burnt, would kill them via its smoke or perhaps via its fire. This would give evildoers an opportunity to open their mouths to claim that the punishment was not Divine. Thus Rashi is not to be taken literally. (And based on context, of Nadav and Avihu, it is clear that Rashi never intended it literally.)

I {=Josh} would add that Ibn Ezra comes close to this interpretation of the evildoers, if we understand him correctly. See my post about whether Ibn Ezra claims poison was put into the bitter waters, where it also appears that he claims that the incense on Aharon's fire pan, with which Aharon stops the plague, was not real incense. Ibn Ezra himself connects the two. The implication was that there was some herb in the incense which stopped the plague. And we might even add that since Ibn Ezra "proves" this by the lack of the definite article on the word ketores in sim ketores, and there is no definite article in the instruction to Korach's congregation in the words וְשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶן קְטֹרֶת, he might, or actually does, hold this as well. Is Ibn Ezra an evildoer, according to Rabbenu Bachya's criteria?

Rabbenu Bachya also notes a curiosity about Onkelos' perush, which might be associated with the misinterpretation of Rashi's midrash. Namely, throughout the parsha, Onkelos translates ketores as regular ketores, and not ketores busmin.

This is contradicted by our own text of Targum Onkelos. Thus, we have:

טז,ז וּתְנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וְשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶן קְטֹרֶת לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, מָחָר, וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר יְהוָה, הוּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ; רַב-לָכֶם, בְּנֵי לֵוִי. וְהַבוּ בְּהוֹן אִישָׁתָא וְשַׁוּוֹ עֲלֵיהוֹן קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין קֳדָם יְיָ, מְחַר, וִיהֵי גֻּבְרָא דְּיִתְרְעֵי יְיָ, הוּא קַדִּישׁ; סַגִּי לְכוֹן, בְּנֵי לֵוִי.
and then:
טז,יז וּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וּנְתַתֶּם עֲלֵיהֶם קְטֹרֶת, וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם מַחְתֹּת; וְאַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן, אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ. וְסַבוּ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וְתִתְּנוּן עֲלֵיהוֹן קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, וּתְקָרְבוּן קֳדָם יְיָ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, מָאתַן וְחַמְשִׁין מַחְתְּיָן; וְאַתְּ וְאַהֲרוֹן, גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ.
טז,יח וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶם, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּעַמְדוּ, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--וּמֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן. וּנְסִיבוּ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וִיהַבוּ עֲלֵיהוֹן אִישָׁתָא, וְשַׁוִּיאוּ עֲלֵיהוֹן, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; וְקָמוּ, בִּתְרַע מַשְׁכַּן זִמְנָא--וּמֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרוֹן.
and then
טז,לה וְאֵשׁ יָצְאָה, מֵאֵת ה; וַתֹּאכַל, אֵת הַחֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ, מַקְרִיבֵי, הַקְּטֹרֶת. {ס} וְאִישָׁתָא נְפַקַת, מִן קֳדָם יְיָ; וַאֲכַלַת, יָת מָאתַן וְחַמְשִׁין גֻּבְרָא, מְקָרְבֵי, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא. {ס}
Then, in the next perek

יז,ה זִכָּרוֹן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִקְרַב אִישׁ זָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הוּא, לְהַקְטִיר קְטֹרֶת, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתוֹ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה לוֹ. {פ} דֻּכְרָנָא לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּדִיל דְּלָא יִקְרַב גְּבַר חִילוֹנַי דְּלָא מִזַּרְעָא דְּאַהֲרוֹן הוּא, לְאַסָּקָא קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, קֳדָם יְיָ; וְלָא יְהֵי כְּקֹרַח וְכִכְנִשְׁתֵּיהּ, כְּמָא דְּמַלֵּיל יְיָ בִּידָא דְּמֹשֶׁה לֵיהּ. {פ}
and when Aharon takes the ketoret to end the plague:
יז,יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, קַח אֶת-הַמַּחְתָּה וְתֶן-עָלֶיהָ אֵשׁ מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְשִׂים קְטֹרֶת, וְהוֹלֵךְ מְהֵרָה אֶל-הָעֵדָה, וְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם: כִּי-יָצָא הַקֶּצֶף מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, הֵחֵל הַנָּגֶף. וַאֲמַר מֹשֶׁה לְאַהֲרוֹן, סַב יָת מַחְתִּיתָא וְהַב עֲלַהּ אִישָׁתָא מֵעִלָּוֵי מַדְבְּחָא וְשַׁו קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, וְאוֹבֵיל בִּפְרִיעַ לִכְנִשְׁתָּא, וְכַפַּר עֲלֵיהוֹן: אֲרֵי נְפַק רֻגְזָא מִן קֳדָם יְיָ, שָׁרִי מוֹתָנָא.
יז,יב וַיִּקַּח אַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה, וַיָּרָץ אֶל-תּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל, וְהִנֵּה הֵחֵל הַנֶּגֶף, בָּעָם; וַיִּתֵּן, אֶת-הַקְּטֹרֶת, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-הָעָם. וּנְסֵיב אַהֲרוֹן כְּמָא דְּמַלֵּיל מֹשֶׁה, וּרְהַט לְגוֹ קְהָלָא, וְהָא שָׁרִי מוֹתָנָא, בְּעַמָּא; וִיהַב, יָת קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא, וְכַפַּר, עַל עַמָּא.
So throughout, it is קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא.

Onkelos' intent, says Rabbenu Bachya, is to say that this was not authentic ketoret but rather some incense made as spices, and this was the way they constructed the test.

And so too by the sons of Aharon, that is Nadav and Avihu, in parshat Shemini, Onkelos translates:

י,א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם. וּנְסִיבוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרוֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וִיהַבוּ בְּהוֹן אִישָׁתָא, וְשַׁוִּיאוּ עֲלַהּ, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; וְקָרִיבוּ קֳדָם יְיָ, אִישָׁתָא נֻכְרֵיתָא--דְּלָא פַּקֵּיד, יָתְהוֹן.
We could have contrasted it to other cases where ketores busmin is used in full. Thus,
ל,א וְעָשִׂיתָ מִזְבֵּחַ, מִקְטַר קְטֹרֶת; עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים, תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתוֹ. וְתַעֲבֵיד מַדְבְּחָא, לְאַקְטָרָא עֲלוֹהִי קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; דְּאָעֵי שִׁטִּין, תַּעֲבֵיד יָתֵיהּ.
Rabbenu Bachya suggests that Onkelos omits busmin because he only wants to say that when it is by command of the Torah, and with its regular ingredients.

Now, he must have had a different girsa of Onkelos throughout. Not knowing anything else about the quality of the various girsaot, I would tentatively endorse the girsa which Rabbenu Bachya has, because of lectio difficilior and the likelihood that a text without busmin would get the word busmin consistently added in order to conform with Targum Onkelos throughout the rest of Torah. The trend to harmonize and make everything consistent is a strong one, and thus I would suspect consistent, smooth text of being not original which rough text to be original. On the other hand, busmin could have been stripped out in these two contexts by some later hand to make this point, but who would dare to deliberately insert such commentary by stripping out words?

It would seem, then, that Onkelos is considering the possibility of poison, or the possibility that the ingredients were not the same, or that it was not commanded of God (in the case of Nadav and Avihu). The case of its absence by Nadav and Avihu suggests to me that Rabbenu Bachya's interpretation of Onkelos' motivation is correct.

However, I would add that ketores as translation of ketores is effectively a non-translation. Rather than actively suggesting something about the nature of the ketores, since he is unsure, or perhaps aware of a dispute about the matter, he selects a non-translation to leave the Biblical text in its ambiguous state.

By the way, at the end, Rabbenu Bachya endorses the position that the ketores in all these cases was authentic ketores.

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