Monday, February 09, 2009

The Dangers of Mispredicting the Ketz

Last week's parsha included a good warning to those who would calculate the ketz. The pasuk describes how Hashem chose a circuitous route to avoid the last of the Philistines, for it was close, and there was a fear that when they saw war they would have second-thoughts and return to Egypt. There are different interpretations of this verse, some more peshat-oriented than others. A derash-oriented interpretation is presented in Targum Pseudo-Yonatan, interpreting "seeing war" as seeing the repercussions of war for other Israelites who left Egypt too early. Thus::

"And it was, when Pharaoh released the nation, that Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the Plishtim, for it was close, for Hashem said, perhaps the nation will be, when they see their brothers who died in battle, 200,000 strong warriors from the tribe of Ephraim, holding onto shields, spears, and implements of war, and they went down to Gath to despoil the Gath {?} of the Plishtim, and because they violated to decree of the Word of Hashem and left 30 years before the ketz, they were given over into the hands of the Pelishtim and were killed -- they were the dry bones which the Word of Hashem caused to live via Yechezkel the prophet in the valley of Dura {also in Daniel 3:1} -- and if they saw them, then they would fear and return to Egypt.

The idea of 30 years before the ketz is that they left at the 400 year mark, which makes sense as a ketz given that the promise at the beris bein habesarim was for 400 years. Bereishit 15:
יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי-גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם, וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם--אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה. 13 And He said unto Abram: 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
יד וְגַם אֶת-הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ, דָּן אָנֹכִי; וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן יֵצְאוּ, בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל. 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
and meanwhile it was 430 years, as we see in parshat Bo.
מ וּמוֹשַׁב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָשְׁבוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם--שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה, וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. 40 Now the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.
מא וַיְהִי, מִקֵּץ שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה, וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה; וַיְהִי, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, יָצְאוּ כָּל-צִבְאוֹת ה, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 41 And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the host of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.
How to resolve these two dates, especially together with a length of 210 years, is the topic for discussion by many meforshim. For example, the count was from different dates. There is a great rundown of suggestions here, in section B.

Thus, the Bnei Ephraim thought they had reached the ketz, and with good reason. They had an explicit pasuk after all, and a promise God Himself made to Avraham. But even so, it is subject to interpretation, and their intepretation was not correct.

The consequences of this misinterpretation was not just a terrible tragedy for them. It was also the potential psychological impact their failed attempt could have on other Israelites. That when the actual redemption came, the Israelites would see others in their position who have failed, and be discouraged.

This is certainly the case for me, in that knowledge of previous failed messianic attempts and predictions, and their repercussions (physical and theological), stands to caution me about present messianic attempts. It does not help, of course, when I see that their prooftexts are often extremely kvetched and go against the meaning in context. And perhaps that is one of the reasons I often take stands against this ketz-ism which is so prevalent today.


Lakewood Falling Down said...

Josh, I can understand that they may have had a mesorah for 400 years, but your assumption says they had a passuk to rely on (if I understand you correctly). Many individual Tzaddikim may have in fact kept the entire Torah, but IMHO, the benei Efraim before matan Torah did not have that Pasuk to rely on, hence their fatal error.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, why did HaShem tell Avraham about the 400 years? And why was Daniel rewarded for struggling with the 70 years?


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