Friday, February 13, 2009

Yisro's reaction to the Wonders of Hashem (rc)

Running commentary on Yisro, first pass, pt iv

ח וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה, לְחֹתְנוֹ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם, עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל: אֵת כָּל-הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיַּצִּלֵם יְהוָה.

וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנוֹ -- perhaps this is where Yisro heard, as in pasuk 1.

אֵת -- is this explaining the first part of the pasuk or some additional wonders? if the latter, the vav is not necessary. If the former, that is why there is no vav. One can identify different nissim and salvations and assign them to different boxes in this pasuk, but such is not necessary.

ט וַיִּחַדְּ יִתְרוֹ--עַל כָּל-הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל: אֲשֶׁר הִצִּילוֹ, מִיַּד מִצְרָיִם.

וַיִּחַדְּ יִתְרוֹ -- the rejoicing, the blessing, and the bringing of sacrifices are all part of Yisro's reaction to hearning this wondrous news. The Israelites experienced these wonders and this salvation firsthand, but the importance here is the reaction from an objective outside observer. Such a person can then contrast Hashem's conduct and might to the purported gods of the other nations. There is a secondary aspect of setting him up as one who appreciates the might and beneficence of Hashem before setting out to change the structure of Israelite law and Hashem's revelation.

On a grammatical note, note the dagesh at the end of the word. It seems like it cannot be a dagesh kal, because it does not come after a sheva nach, nor can it be a dagesh chazak. See Ibn Ezra who explains that it is a dagesh kal, but the sheva under the chet turned to a patach because chet is a gutteral, and the dagesh kal remained in its place.

אֲשֶׁר -- the first "asher" in the pasuk modifies tovah, the goodness that Hashem did for Israel. The second "asher" defines the previous phrase.

הִצִּילוֹ -- saved them, Israel. It is singular because the collective Israel is singular.

י וַיֹּאמֶר, יִתְרוֹ, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם וּמִיַּד פַּרְעֹה: אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶת-הָעָם, מִתַּחַת יַד-מִצְרָיִם.

אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם -- there is apparent duplication in this verse. What does the second half add? This prompts Rashbam, Sforno, Abarbanel and Shadal to say that etchem refers to Moshe and Aharon. I find this interpretation somewhat difficult, but then the verse itself is difficult. Note that this quote, with the blessing, is poetry, so that might be sufficient cause for the duplication. Also, the former might refer to physical salvation at the yam Suf (where it was from the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army), while the latter might refer to the salvation from servitude. This would be the distinction between miyad mitzrayim and mitachat yad mitzrayim.

יא עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-גָדוֹל יְהוָה מִכָּל-הָאֱלֹהִים: כִּי בַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם.

עַתָּה -- based on this evidence. Lit. now.

מִכָּל-הָאֱלֹהִים -- this does not mean that Judaism admits the existence of other gods. See matan Torah. But this is a realization on the part of a non-Israelite, who quite possibly does believe in a whole pantheon. This is the desired impression on the rest of the world.

כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם -- midrashically this is taken to refer to middah kenegged middah, that the punishment fit that which the Egyptians tried to do to them. On a peshat level, this is unlikely. Rather, based on the extremity of what the Egyptians tried to do, and the trials the Israelites had, the fact that they made it out safely the way they did demonstrates the greatness of Hashem. This echoes אֵת כָּל-הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ from pasuk 8.

Alternatively, we have the conception of a dedicated angel to all the different countries, which is paralleled by the conception of gods of the different nations. Thus, Milkom the god of Benei Ammon, and Kemosh the god of Moav. See Yiftach's statement in Shofetim 11:24 to the king of Moav: הֲלֹא אֵת אֲשֶׁר יוֹרִישְׁךָ, כְּמוֹשׁ אֱלֹהֶיךָ--אוֹתוֹ תִירָשׁ; וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר הוֹרִישׁ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מִפָּנֵינוּ--אוֹתוֹ נִירָשׁ.

If so, within Yitro the idolator's words, the actor of zadu might well be the Elohim, meaning the various Egyptian deities, or the deities of Amalek. And the success of the Israelites demonstrated the much greater power of Hashem over that of the gods of the other nations.

יב וַיִּקַּח יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, עֹלָה וּזְבָחִים--לֵאלֹהִים; וַיָּבֹא אַהֲרֹן וְכֹל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם עִם-חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה--לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים.

לֵאלֹהִים -- There is a shift here from previous pesukim where YKVK was used. There it was necessary to distinguish between Hashem and the deities of the other nations. Here leilokim would certainly refer to Hashem, based on the previous speech. Unfortunately, the words לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים at the end of the pasuk, especially with the definite article ha, matching הָאֱלֹהִים in the previous pasuk, gives a false impression otherwise. Unless you want to say he sacrificed to the entire pantheon of gods, which would include Hashem within it, as a type of shittuf. This does not work well not only because of theological hangups we might have, but also because of the context of the primacy of Hashem in the previous verse; leilokim without the leading heh in this pasuk; the slight awkwardness of Aharon and all the zekeinim partaking in a partially idolatrous sacrifice. See how Shadal treats the phrase לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים.

וַיָּבֹא אַהֲרֹן -- and where is Moshe? Midrashically, waiting upon them. Shadal citing Rashbam says Moshe is implicit, since this is taking place in his tent. I don't know if Moshe is implicit, or if implicit, if it is because it is in his tent. Perhaps Moshe did not partake, because for some reason that is not his role. Or, since the earlier pesukim all have Yisro relating to Moshe, we might have thought these sacrifices were a private matter, so here the rest of the leadership is joining in. But of course Moshe would also be present, and is implicit.

לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם -- not bread but food, encompassing meat, and thus the korbanot. In Arabic lahm means meat.

לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים -- Shadal writes לשון נופל על אכילת קדשים. Thus, they all partook in his zavachim.

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