Monday, November 02, 2009

Were Avraham's actions praiseworthy in washing their feet first?

And more importantly, did Rashi change the midrash?

The Jewish Worker points out two contrasting midrashim. In Bava Metzia daf 86b:
Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet: R. Jannai son of R. Ishmael said: They [the travellers] protested to him [Abraham], 'Dost thou suspect us of being Arabs, who worship the dust on their feet? Ishmael has already issued from thee.'
This is not necessarily punishment that his descendants will act this way (after all, hakol biydei shamayim chutz mir`at shamayim), but rather that Yishmael has already been born and is presently acting this way. So don't point fingers at others, who happen to be innocent, when you already have this going on in your own house.

In contrast, Rashi makes this suspicion into a positive thing:

and bathe your feet: He thought that they were Arabs, who prostrate themselves to the dust of their feet, and he was strict not to allow any idolatry into his house. But Lot, who was not strict, mentioned lodging before washing, as it is said (below 19:2): “and lodge and bathe your feet.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 54:4] ורחצו רגליכם: כסבור שהם ערביים שמשתחוים לאבק רגליהם והקפיד שלא להכניס עבודה זרה לביתו. אבל לוט שלא הקפיד, הקדים לינה לרחיצה, שנאמר (יט ב) ולינו ורחצו רגליכם:

Does Rashi change the midrash, or its tone? On occasion, Rashi does indeed do this. And in those instances, we get a sense of how Rashi harnesses midrashim and directs them in a way to present peshat. But this is not one of those instances. Jewish Worker was misled by the Mikraos Gedolos, which puts the source for Rashi as that gemara in Bava Metzia. Rather, as Judaica Press' chumash with translation notes, he gets this from Bereishit Rabba:
אל בית עבדכם ולינו ורחצו
אברהם מקדים רחיצה ללינה, ולוט מקדים לינה לרחיצה?!ש
אלא, אברהם מקפיד על טינופת עבודת כוכבים, לפיכך הקדים רחיצה, ולוט אינו מקפיד על טינופת עבודת כוכבים.

ויש אומרים:
אף זה עשה כשורה, כדי שיצאו ויראו אבק על רגליהם, שלא יאמרו היכן לנו.

Rashi's concern appears to be, here, how Avraham is a great guy. And also perhaps the contrasting of the two greeting stories. Rashi certainly bases himself on Bereishit Rabba, and he selectively cites the midrash. He does not cite the yesh omrim here, that Lot acted appropriately.

However, interestingly enough, Rashi contradicts himself. While he cites the avodah zarah concern local to the Avraham and the malachim story, local to the Lot and the malachim story he puts forth as the only peshat that Lot acted appropriately, because of particular circumstances; while Avraham acted in the entirely customary manner:

and stay overnight and wash your feet: Now is it customary for people to first stay overnight and afterwards to wash? Moreover, Abraham said to them first, “and wash your feet!” But so did Lot say (i.e., he reasoned), “If, when the people of Sodom come, they will see that they have already washed their feet, they will invent false accusations against me and say, ‘Two or three days have already passed since they came to your house, and you did not let us know!’” Therefore, he said, “It is better that they remain here with the dust on their feet, so that they should appear as though they had just arrived now.” Therefore he said, “Stay overnight” first and afterwards, “wash.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 50:4] ולינו ורחצו רגליכם: וכי דרכן של בני אדם ללון תחלה ואחר כך לרחוץ, ועוד שהרי אברהם אמר להם תחלה (יח ד) ורחצו רגליכם. אלא כך אמר לוט אם כשיבאו אנשי סדום ויראו שכבר רחצו רגליהם, יעלילו עלי ויאמרו כבר עברו שני ימים או שלשה שבאו לביתך ולא הודעתנו, לפיכך אמר מוטב שיתעכבו כאן באבק רגליהם שיהיו נראין כמו שבאו עכשיו, לפיכך אמר לינו תחלה ואחר כך רחצו:

There might be all sorts of ways of resolving these apparently (and I believe indeed) contradictory midrashim, both of which Rashi appears to put forth as peshat. Siftei Chachamim does not address this issue. My own guess is that Rashi is trying to develop two different themes in these two places, and cites the midrash that helps advance the particular theme, without really paying heed to whether two midrashim end up contradicting one another.

Update: See the comment section, with Soccer Dad's comment and my reply. As Artscroll on Rashi and Mosad HaRav Kook's Rashi both note, this second Rashi was not in the first printing of Rashi. See here in Yosef Daas where he brings this text from a klaf as well as another sefer of Rashi. If so, we can eliminate the contradiction. The harmonization offered in Artscroll, though, I don't like, for reasons I detail below in the comment section.


Soccer Dad said...

Artscroll's Chumash with Rashi (so this may not be to your liking) brought two explanations.

1) The Rashi concerning Lot was not written by Rashi but added later. (He brought a source, which I don't recall.)

2) True, Lot had a practical purpose in not giving his guests the opportunity to wash their feet. But if Avodah Zarah truly bothered him, he would have found another way to evade the problem.

joshwaxman said...

thanks! i'll use artscroll, and my friend eliyahu actually gave me a copy, so I'll cite it.

in terms of (1), I'm not sure though that it answers it. They write in the footnote there (8) that "The words from כשיבואו until רגליכם do not appear in most editions, but have been inserted by Yosef Daas in accordance with some early printed editions and an early manuscript copy of Rashi."

so we have to evaluate whether that early copy and early printed edition is legitimate or not. if it is, then it really is Rashi. and if it is not, then the contradiction disappears.

but the footnote on the next page is also relevant. baruch shekivanti, that i was able to spot an apparent contradiction that others have seen. that footnote (1) states:

"Rashi's comment is apparently based on one opinion in Bereishis Rabba 50:4. However, it seems to contradict his comment to 18:4, in which he explains, based on another opinion in the Midrash, that Lot mentioned spending the night before washing, because unlike Avraham, he did not care if his guests would bring the dust they had worshiped into his house. Yosef Hallel suggests that this comment is not by Rashi but was introduced into his commentary at some later date. Indeed, it does not appear in many early editions of Rashi.

Nevertheless, the contradiction can be resolved as follows: Lot asid what he did to protect his guests. However, Rashi to 18:4 points out that had Lot really held idolatry in dusgust, he would not have relied on this reason, but would have refused to allow idolatry into his house, regardless of the circumstances."

I'll have to research the mentioned commentators. It may indeed not be Rashi, in which case we resolve the contradiction. *However*, I indeed don't like Artscroll's proffered explanation (2), for two reasons:

First, the midrash itself makes it into a clear dispute, where it states ויש אומרים:
אף זה עשה כשורה, כדי שיצאו ויראו אבק על רגליהם, שלא יאמרו היכן לנו. It is a yesh omrim, and stating that he acted "keshura" certainly seems like a defense.

Furthermore, if it was to protect his guests, as Artscroll puts it, then I disagree that it would be to his credit to put them in danger for this cause. And nothing like this harmonization is suggested by the midrash, or even by Rashi. It is entirely produced by the Artscroll supercommentary, which is how many a modern midrash is born.

However, I guess guess that it a mistake to say that it was to protect his guests, rather than himself. The implication of the midrash's statement of שלא יאמרו היכן לנו is that he wants to avoid self-incrimination. And Rashi says this explicitly, that יעלילו עלי ויאמרו כבר עברו שני ימים או שלשה שבאו לביתך. This is more workable. Yet in such a situation, I don't see this message by Rashi that it would have been preferable to put himself and his family at risk (especially as midrashically he already had a daughter who lost her life for hospitality!) because of concerns about idolatry.

rather, either rashi doesn't say both statements, or else rashi doesn't mind the contradiction or apparent contradiction for other reasons...

kol tuv, and thank for pointing this out!


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