Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is the Ran an apikores, by his own definition? part two

As I noted in the first segment, there is a famous statement of the Ran, in Derush 5 of Derashot HaRan. (See here.)
וכמו שנצטוינו לילך אחר הסכמתם במשפטי התורה כן נצטוינו לכל מה שאמרו לנו על צד הקבלה מהדעות ומדרשי הפסוקים, יהיה המאמר ההוא מצווה או לא יהיה ,ישראל הנוטה מדבריהם אפי׳ במה שאינו מביאורי המצוות הוא אפיקורוס ואין לו חלק לעוה״ב
In English, the beginning of it is:
“As we were commanded to follow the consensus [of the Sages] in the laws of the Torah, so we were commanded to [follow] everything they say to us from the aspect of tradition [Heb. al ẓad ha- kabbalah], from among ideas and midrashim of [Scriptural] verses, whether that statement is a miẓvah or not. A Jew who deviates from their words — even in that which does not pertain to explaining miẓvot — is a heretic [Heb. appikoros] and has no share toward the World to Come.”
He then cites the gemara in Sanhedrin, perek Chelek, on daf 100a. But certain things the Ran said seem to be at odds with this. I covered one example in the first segment, about the nature of the firstborns who died in Makkat Bechorot. Here is another.

The following is from the first Drush of the Ran in Derashot HaRan. You can click on any image to make it larger. Here, he gives a peshat in the "punishment" of those who built the tower of Bavel, in a way which is not in accord with the famous midrashim on the matter -- that they were trying to overthrow God. He references this midrash, and explains why he argues with it, as it does not fit in with the peshat in several ways. Instead, he puts forth a different explanation, which he seems to believe is the historical truth. Namely, that Avraham was not the only monotheist, but there were others before him and alongside him. They would flee, like the Jews, from one country to another when they were religiously oppressed. And Hashem was trying to avoid a global government, for then these monotheists would have nowhere to flee.

I can suggest that Ran does not feel that he is "arguing" with the midrash, but rather that the midrash has some homiletic message. Which it surely does. But was that message the only aspect of the midrash, or was it also trying to offer an interpretation of the historical Biblical events.

Put this alongside the other instance of Ran arguing on midrash, and consider his wording in dismissing the midrash, and it seems like he feels that he is allowed to argue on the midrash aggadah of Chazal, and proffer his own interpretation of the true meaning of Scriptures.

As noted in the previous post, this approach seems at odds with his apparent statement that one who diverges from the midrash aggadah of Chazal is an apikores. I mark in red where Ran seems to be arguing on the midrash.
And this was the matter of the Generation of the Dispersion (Dor Haflagah / Hapalaga) and their punishment, about which the Biblical commentators leave us in the dark until we are almost like the blind groping the wall. For these men, what did they do? What was their iniquity and what was their sin? If they wished to be as one person, friends, would it not be fitting for them to have as a result of this good reward? For we have seen all the writings praising this path, so much that they said that ever idol worshipers, so long as peace is between them, the Trait of Judgement does not stretch against them. And they based this on the verse {Hoshea 4:17}:
יז חֲבוּר עֲצַבִּים אֶפְרָיִם, הַנַּח-לוֹ. 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.
And if it were so that it came as their punishment as specified by those midrashim, these do not agree with the simple meaning of the text {peshuto shel mikra}. For according to the words of the one who said that their accord was to ascend to the heavens, it is something wondrous how all the people in the world agreed to a folly such as this. And even if their sight were dimmed and the eyes of their intellect were blinded, it should be the case that their simple-mindedness should save them from the punishment. And similarly, {Tehillim 2:4}:
ד יוֹשֵׁב בַּשָּׁמַיִם יִשְׂחָק: אֲדֹנָי, יִלְעַג-לָמוֹ. 4 He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, the Lord hath them in derision.
{That is, why should Hashem care? They pose no threat.} And furthermore, if they did stretch their hands against the ikkar {by trying to overthrow God}, how is it sufficient to merely scatter them? And furthermore, from the layout of the parsha it is apparent that their punishment was not on that which they already did, but what it was possible to come out from their action; and He said {Bereishit 11:6}:
ו וַיֹּאמֶר ה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. 6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.
And behold, this pasuk informs explicitly that the punishment was because of the worry of some matter which was possible to be innovated. And all these things cast the intelligent person into confusion, and require explanation.

And all this is derived from, and is based upon this root that was have said, that the company and gathering of the wicked is something that harms, whether at the time that they are attempting their evil actions or when they are not attempting it; just as a company of good people is a positive thing, whether at the time they are working towards something or when they are resting, as was hinted when it said {Kohelet 4:11}:
יא גַּם אִם-יִשְׁכְּבוּ שְׁנַיִם, וְחַם לָהֶם; וּלְאֶחָד, אֵיךְ יֵחָם. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone?

And this was the matter of the Generation of the Dispersion, for there is no doubt that at that time, all the people were based on deficient faith, and that regarding which all of them were in accord was regarding idolatry; except for the special treasured few, and few people who discerned and saw the Light of The World, how good it was.

And these as well, did not have sufficient power to call people to serve Hashem with one shoulder, from their fear of the nations in whose lands they were ruled over by them, until the first one who began this, who was Avraham, where what occurred to him occurred with Nimrod, until he {=Avraham} needed to leave his land and travel to another land. And there is no doubt that for these righteous people who were singular individuals in those generations, the division of the nations and kingdoms was good. For when one nation oppressed them in one kingdom, they moved about to another land in which they were able to serve Hashem Yisbarach as they wished; just as happened to us in our Exile today. For when religious persecution is introduced in the land of Yishmael, their remnant flees to another land; and from there to Yishmael. And this is to us a bit of vitality in our service.

And at that time, all the land was one language, etc., and they were in accord that they would be forever one head who would lead and rule, and that they would not be scattered and divided to their kingdoms. And therefore, they chose a valley which they found vary spacious, for there is no doubt that most people would choose to be close, as far as they were able, to the head of their kingdom. To this, they also were in accord, to build a tower whose head was in the Heavens. That is to say extremely high, as far as was possible, just as another pasuk comes equally with this message: "great cities, fortified to the heavens." {Where it was not literal, and not intended to be literal, but just "really really tall."} For so was it fitting to one who was chosen to be ruler in the lower world, that his palace and his tower be exceedingly big, until the sight of the tower would clothe all who see it with fear and awe, and such that it could be seen from afar.

And behold, these men at this time did not sin in the matter, not in action nor in intent. Rather, Hashem Yisbarach looked forward and perceived from afar, and descended to what would come out from the collection of the wicked men. And this is what is said {Bereishit 11:5}:
ה וַיֵּרֶד ה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
That is to saw that He descended and perceived what would come out of it. And even if at that moment there was no evil, the coming together was bad for them and bad for the world, and this was that all of them were in accord regarding idolatry.

And this valley as well, which they chose for themselves was the land of Shinar, whose head and king was Nimrod, who was the head to idolary, such that Avraham Avinu annoyed him when he differed with him, as is known. And therefore, He said {Bereishit 11:6}:
ו וַיֹּאמֶר ה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. 6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.
That is to say, what will come out if this, of all the world being in one accord; then even if now there is no harm in their actions, this is {only} that which they begin to do. But if it continues, nothing will be withholden from them which they intended to do at the first time and were unable, but now it won't be held back from them.

For there is no doubt that these generations were attempting to establish their idolatry and to cause the name of Hashem to be forgotten. But they were unable, because of the division of the kingdoms and lands, for the worshipers of Hashem had an escape, something that would not exist if the accord continued. For when Avraham fled from before Nimrod to travel to the land of Canaan -- were Nimrod the ruler of the entire world, where would he {=Avraham} go from his spirit. And this is what is said regarding Pesach Sheni (Peshachim 87b): A certain min {gentile} said to him {Rabbi Chanina}: We are better than you. For it is written {I Melachim 11:16}
טז כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת חֳדָשִׁים יָשַׁב-שָׁם יוֹאָב, וְכָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַד-הִכְרִית כָּל-זָכָר, בֶּאֱדוֹם. 16 for Joab and all Israel remained there six months, until he had cut off every male in Edom--
while you dwell by us, and we do you no harm.
He said to him: How could you act to destroy them, for not all of them are by you; while {if you killed} those who are by you, you would be called a murderous regime.
He said {swore} by the eagle of Rome that they are occupied with this, and this is what dissuades them.

Behold, this teaches that the cause of the abatement of their wrath from destruction was only that their rule was not all-encompassing.

And therefore, when the intent of the generation was not for evil, but Hashem Yisbarach saw what evil would come out from it, He did not punish them, for they were not deserving of punishment; but he foiled their plan and confused their language. For also the confusion of the language and one contingent moving away from another contingent, there is some purpose in this.

The summary of the matter is that he was the gathering of the wicked, in that they all were in accord in a one evil character; for it is not possible for a collection of individuals with the same wicked trait, that the collective would not be more wicked than it, or {at least} equal to it.
I do not have a ready resolution to this. Except perhaps two things. First, maybe he means hashkafic matters, such as the corporeality of God, or the workings of sechar veOnesh, rather than midrash aggada in the sense of narrative. The two examples under discussion in the gemara in Sanhedrin are the reality, and thus rewards, in the time of mashiach. Thus, he says וכמו שנצטוינו לילך אחר הסכמתם במשפטי התורה כן נצטוינו לכל מה שאמרו לנו על צד הקבלה מהדעות ומדרשי הפסוקים, יהיה המאמר ההוא מצווה או לא יהיה ,ישראל הנוטה מדבריהם אפי׳ במה שאינו מביאורי המצוות הוא אפיקורוס ואין לו חלק לעוה״ב. I am not convinced that this is the case, though.

Secondly, maybe he is only discussing one who is not engaging the text on his own. In the gemara in Sanhedrin, the student just mocked Rabbi Yochanan's derasha on the basis of it being implausible based on what we know about reality. And his attitude was one of mocking and utter rejection of the things derived via derash. And this disciple was thus an Amora, but his attitude was wrong. But Rabbi Yochanan would not have been as upset (in the general case) with Resh Lakish, had Resh Lakish proposed a different interpretation of the pesukim, based on reality and based on giving peshat in the pesukim. Perhaps a talmid chacham, who accepts the general framework, and working within the general framework already set up, can still have a novel interpretation of pesukim. And this is not the same as mocking and utterly rejecting the idea of midrash aggada. Again, I am nowhere near convinced that this in the Ran's intent. Earlier, he talks about consensus in terms of halacha, and here as well he mentions rabbinnic consensus. Maybe he does not consider these midrashim to represent a consensus?

I believe that I know the correct answer to this apparent difficulty, in which Ran seems to be an apikores by his own criterion. But this post is about the question, rather than the answer, so I will be cryptic until part three. For now, I will say that I think it has to do with the Ran's remarks in Derush six, in which he discusses the derasha commonly made at the time of the wedding.

Suggestions welcome, of course.


מֹשאל רפאל said...

מהדעות must refer to ethics. As to the meaning of "alternative version of Derush 5", in other editions of Derashot HaRan, Derush 5 is much shorter than the one you link to, and all this appears in Derush 13.

joshwaxman said...

what makes you believe it must refer to ethics, rather than, e.g. hashkafa or belief?

מֹשאל רפאל said...

Ba'alei Machshava tend to forget ethics as a Ma'ala. Ethical behavior is what this Gemara in Sanhedrin is about. Ethical behavior is a source of authority, and lack of it is a reason for derision. To me, thought police is darkness, and those who promote it can have no part in Olam HaEmet. Therefore, I hope that the Ran referred to ethics.


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