Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reuven and וִיהִי מְתָיו מִסְפָּר -- should it be, or should it not be?

Based on the treasure-hunt provided by Mevaser Ezra, though I expand upon it. In parshat VeZos Habracha:

ו יְחִי רְאוּבֵן, וְאַל-יָמֹת; וִיהִי מְתָיו, מִסְפָּר. {ס}6 Let Reuben live, and not die in that his men become few. {S}

The above is one way of parsing it, that his men should not be few. Thus, veAl distributes to both yamot and viyhi metav mispar, or from another angle, that it is elaboration and should be interpreted as "such that."

The alternative is that his metav should be mispar. This is a dispute between Rashi and Ramban on the one hand, and Ibn Ezra and Tosafot on the other hand. Rashi writes:

and may his people be counted in the number: May Reuben be counted along with the enumeration of the rest of his brothers. This [matter, that the incident involving Bilhah should not exclude Reuben from being counted together with his brothers] is similar to what is said: “[And Reuben went] and lay with Bilhah… and Jacob’s sons were twelve” (Gen. 35:22), [indicating] that he was not excluded from the number [of Jacob’s sons, on account of this incident].
ויהי מתיו מספר: נמנין במנין שאר אחיו, דוגמא היא זו כענין שנאמר (בראשית לה, כב) וישכב את בלהה ויהיו בני יעקב שנים עשר, שלא יצא מן המנין:

This interpretation is far off the path of the direct read of the pasuk. While certain pashtanim understand that this poetry is referring to the people of the tribe of Reuven, Rashi throughout takes this as referring to the son of Yaakov, who began the shevet. And so he is also member of the twelve sons, and his shevet part of klal yisrael.

But Ibn Ezra writes:
ואל ימות –
שיתכן שיהיה כבן אדם לחיות שנים קצובות וימות.

ויהי מתיו מספר -
ואל יהי מתיו מספר כמו: ולא למדתי חכמה ובי"ת באל שדי כאשר פירשתי רבים, כי יתכן שיחיה לעולם ויהיו מעטים וכל דבר שיספר הוא מעט. וכן: ואני מתי מספר:
Thus, al goes on both clauses. He compares it to a pasuk in Mishlei 30:3,

ג וְלֹא-לָמַדְתִּי חָכְמָה; וְדַעַת קְדֹשִׁים אֵדָע.3 And I have not learned wisdom, that I should have the knowledge of the Holy One.

where the lo clearly distributes. Indeed, over there in Mishlei, even Rashi agrees:

Neither have I learned wisdom: nor do I know the knowledge of the holy ones, for I subtracted or added to the words of Moses.

Ibn Ezra refers to Bereishit 34:30, where Yaakov uses the term metei mispar:

ל וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-שִׁמְעוֹן וְאֶל-לֵוִי, עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי, לְהַבְאִישֵׁנִי בְּיֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ, בַּכְּנַעֲנִי וּבַפְּרִזִּי; וַאֲנִי, מְתֵי מִסְפָּר, וְנֶאֶסְפוּ עָלַי וְהִכּוּנִי, וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֲנִי וּבֵיתִי.30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi: 'Ye have troubled me, to make me odious unto the inhabitants of the land, even unto the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and, I being few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and smite me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.'

that it is even possible for him to live forever, but his people (metei) would be few. Few in this case is indicated by the word mispar, because anything that can be enumerated is small.

If we look to Ibn Ezra on that pasuk in Bereishit, he says more or less the same:
[לד, ל]
מתי מספר -
מתי כמו אנשים, ודבר שיסופר הוא מעט.
על כן טעה ר' אהרן הכהן ראש הישיבה, שפירוש ויהי מתיו מספר כמשמעו.
Thus, once again, metei means people, and that which is enumerable is of small number. And therefore Rabbi Aharon haKohen the Rosh Yeshiva erred who interpreted viyhi metav mispar in our pasuk in Zos Haberacha in its "plain meaning."

As Mechokekei Yehuda explains, this plain meaning is that the al does not distribute, and that mispar means a big number. This pasuk by Yaakov makes it clear that metei mispar cannot mean a large number of people! And Mechokekei Yehuda also gives a brief bio of Rabbi Aharon Hakohen Rosh HaYeshiva, that he is the one mentioned in Iggeres Rav Sherira Gaon; you can read the details in Mechokekei Yehuda.

Ramban has a rather lengthy commentary, in which he differs with Ibn Ezra. He writes:
וטעם יחי ראובן -
שיחיה שבטו ולא ימות לעולם.

ויהי מתיו מספר -
כמו ולא למדתי חכמה ודעת קדושים אדע (משלי ל ג), ואל יהיו מתיו מספר, שלא יהיו מעטים, שכל דבר שיספר הוא מעט, וכן מתי מספר (בראשית לד ל), לשון ר"א.

ויותר נכון לפרש,
יחי ראובן בישראל ואל ימות, שלא יכרת שבטו באחד מכל הזמנים, ויהי פקודיו במספר בני ישראל לעולם. יתפלל עליו שלא יגרום חטאו והכעס הגדול אשר כעס עליו אביו בחללו יצועיו להכרית שמו מישראל. וזה כענין שנאמר שם (שם לה כב): וילך ראובן וישכב את בלהה פילגש אביו וישמע ישראל ויהיו בני יעקב שנים עשר, כי הודיע שלא יצא בחטאו מן המספר, וכן פירש רש"י:

וטעם "מתיו" -
שכל אנשיו יזכו בזה ולא יכרת אפילו מקצת השבט בחטאו. ואולי "מתיו" רמז לראשי משפחותיו הארבע, ויהיה טעם "מספר" כמו במספר, וכן לזנות בית אביה (לעיל כב כא), ירחצו מים (שמות ל כ), ורבים כן.

או טעמו, שיהיו מתיו מספר ישראל, שימנה ראשון כמשפט הבכור, כי האחד הוא המספר, כי ממנו הכל.

ואונקלוס תרגם:
ויקבלון בנוהי אחסנתהון במנינהון.
יתכוון למה שפירשנו, יאמר שיחיה ראובן ולא יכרת, ויהיו מתיו במספרם לעולם, לא ימחה שבטו מישראל, ולא ימנו ביותר מספרם להיותן שני שבטים, שלל ממנו הבכורה והבטיחו בשבט אחד לעולם:

ויש מפרשים: כי הברכה הזאת על כבוש הארץ, יאמר שיחיה ראובן בעברם חלוצים למלחמה לפני בני ישראל, והטעם שיתגברו ולא ינוצחו, כטעם ועל חרבך תחיה (בראשית כז מ), ואל ימות, שלא יפלו מהם במלחמה, ויהי מתיו מספר, שיחזרו לאהליהם במספרם ולא יפקד מהם איש, וכן בברכת גד חבירו הזכיר זה הענין. והפירוש הזה קרוב, אבל הראשון נכון יותר בעיני, כי ברכת משה כדרך אשר הזכיר יעקב וכענין ההוא:

ועל דרך האמת, יחי ואל ימות, מטעם פוקד עון אבות על בנים, ושם (שמות כ ה): רמזתי סודו. והועילה ברכת משה לכפר לו מעשה בלהה שלא יכרת וימות בו לעולם, אבל פקד עליו עם שאר השבטים מעשה יוסף כפי הבא בפרקי היכלות:

A rough translation: Yechi Reuven is that his tribe should live and never die. And regarding viyhi metav mispar, first he cites Ibn Ezra, as above. But then writes that it is more correct to explain similar to Rashi, that Reuven should live within Yisrael and not die, that his tribe should not be cut off at any particular time, and they should be numbered among the children of Israel always. He prayed for him that Reuven's sin and the great anger which his father was angry upon him for desecrating his bedding should not cause his name to be cut off from Israel. And this is in the same manner as is stated {Bereshit 34:22}:

כב וַיְהִי, בִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא, וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת-בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו, וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל; {פ}

וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר.
22 And it came to pass, while Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel heard of it. {P} Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

for this informs that he did not go out, via his sin, from the number. And so does Rashi explain.

And metav means that all his people merit with this, and not even part of the tribe will be cut off for his sin. And perhaps metav hints to the heads of his four {sub-}families, such that mispar is like beMispar.

Or its meaning is that his people should be the mispar of Israel, that he should be counted {as?} first as is the rule of the first-born, for the one is the number, for from him is all. And Onkelos translates that his children should receive their inheritance in their count, and he intends that which Ramban explains. He says that Reuven should live and not be cut off, and that his metav should be in their number forever, that his tribe should not be wiped out of Israel, and that they should not be counted more, such that they would become two tribes. And the firstborn comes from him, and he is assured of a single tribe forever.

And some explain that this blessing is on the conquering of the land, and so he says that {the tribe of} Reuven should live as they pass over fighting in the battle before the children of Israel, and the import is that they should prevail and not be defeated, in the same manner as {Bereshit 27:40} "and upon your sword shall you live." "And he should not die" -- that none of them should die in battle. "and his metav should be mispar" -- that they should return to their tents in their same number and not a man should be taken from them. And so too in the blessing of Gad his fellow it mentions this matter. And this commentary is close {to the truth}, but the first one {Ramban gave, close to Rashi} appears more correct to his eyes, for the blessing of Moshe is in the same manner which Yaakov mentioned, and in the same topic.

And then he gives a kabbalistic explanation we need not get into.
While Ramban makes some nice points, on a peshat level, the non-pasuk break between Reuven's sins and the numbering as 12 sons of Yaakov operates on the level of midrash. And the phrase as used by Yaakov that vaani metei mispar indeed appears to indicate that the phrase refers to a small number of people. Alas, Ramban does not comment on that phrase in Bereishit, so we don't know how he would deal with it.

At the end of the day, I {=Josh} would side with those Ramban mentions who take it to refer to the conquering of Israel, such that they (much like Yehuda in the blessing which follows) are going out to battle. And then, I would apply Ibn Ezra's distribution of the word al, such that it is not saying that there number should be the same, but that there numbers should not become few as a result of deaths in battle.

Finally, Daat Zekeinim miBaalei haTosafot says like Ibn Ezra, particularly in the idea that al distributes. But he combines it with the idea of deaths in battle. That the same mispar they go out with they should return with, and none of them should die. For it is based on what was before, namely the word al, that it should not be that his metav are mispar, but rather that they should increase and not be countable, because of their great number.

Meanwhile, Shadal has an interesting suggestion:
ו ] ויהי מתיו מספר : שיהיו נחשבים בפני עצמם מפני ריבויים וגבורתם ולא יהיו טפלים לשבט אחר ; ואולי כאן רמז לשמעון , שיהיה טפל לשבט יהודה , ולפיכך לא הזכירו .
which reminds me a bit of what Ramban said. Shadal suggests that it means they should be considered (and calculated) by themselves because of their great number and strength, and that they should not be tafel to some other tribe. And that perhaps here there is a hint to Shimon, who was tafel to the tribe of Yehuda and therefore not mentioned. Shadal also does not comment on the pasuk in Bereishit, and the phrase as used by Yaakov. Ultimately, while an interesting suggestion, I am not persuaded by it, and would stick with Ibn Ezra, more or less.

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