Friday, December 25, 2009

The deeper meaning of Yocheved's birth between the walls

Summary: In an earlier post, I discussed Ralbag's position -- the midrash that Yocheved was the 70th, and was born between the walls, was al derech derash, but was not intended historically or literally. I would like to explore what deep meaning this midrash might contain, in terms of Yocheved as the 70th, or Chushim ben Dan, or Serach bat Asher, or Yaakov himself, or Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Post: See summary. I ended that previous post, on Ralbag, with the following statement:
Thus, he makes essentially the same point as Ibn Ezra, that we should expect such a miracle to be stated outright in the Biblical text. Also, by labeling it derech derash, he does not mean that it is of course historically true, but that we can only arrive at it via midrashic methods. Rather, that as a matter of history, it is not true, and further that it was not intended literally. Rather, that there is some deep allegorical meaning -- a pnimius level to the midrash, if you will. I haven't seen Ralbag's explanation of this deeper level, but perhaps I will have opportunity to explore it in a follow-up post. For I certainly agree that some midrashim were intended allegorically.
Before offering up any explanation, I should put forth my extremely strong reservations.
Labeling an interpretation as "allegorical" is an all-too convenient way of dismissing an inconvenient midrash. Rather than saying the seemingly non-frum "Chazal meant this literally, but they were wrong", reinterpret Chazal as never intending it literally in the first place. Thus, of course Rivkah was not three! Of course the daughter of Pharaoh did not have her hand stretch out like Mr. Fantastic! Of course Esther wasn't green, literally! Because we do not feel comfortable asserting that Chazal meant it absolutely literally, but that we disagree with them. (Even though this is something some Rishonim feel free to assert, and explicitly give this to us as an approach we can use in regard to difficult aggada.) And rather than saying that Aristotle was right, against Chazal, or that certain kabbalistic theological ideas are true, though it is not found in Chazal, we interpret aggada to be secretly conveying these very ideas. We thus run the risk of recasting Chazal in our own image. And I think that in many instances, this allegorical approach to midrash does just that.

At the same time, I do think that certain aggada was not meant literally. Sometimes it is meant allegorically, sometimes homiletically, and sometimes perhaps to develop and stress a theme already found in the Biblical text. And it would be a mistake to label those midrashim as literal when they were in fact intended as allegory.

What about this midrash about Yocheved being born between the gates, entering Egypt? Ralbag asserts that it has some deep meaning, but that is because he does not think it was historical. In his view, there is a side-effect, that she would have been 130 when she gave birth to Moshe Rabbenu. And if that side-effect were true, it would be a great nes such that the Torah would have mentioned it.

Yet compare with Ramban. He writes at length justifying the historicity of this midrash, against Ibn Ezra (and thus against Ralbag as well). As much as we make Yocheved younger, since she was the daughter of Levi, we must make Levi older when he fathered her. Such that there is a pull from both directions. As Ramban writes,
ואם נאמר שנולדה לו אחר שבתו במצרים ימים רבים, והנה נחשוב שהוליד אותה אחר רדתו למצרים חמשים ושבע שנה, והוא יהיה בן מאה שנה, כי ברדתו היה בן מ"ג שנים, והנה יהיו בזה שני פלאים, שיהיה הוא זקן כאברהם אשר הזכיר הכתוב (לעיל יז יז): הלבן מאה שנה יולד, וכתיב (לעיל יח יב): ואדני זקן, ותהיה היא זקנה בלדת משה בת ע"ג, ואם נאחר עוד לידתה לסוף ימי לוי, הנה יהיה פלא גדול משל אברהם:
And in terms of why the Torah would not mention it, it would only mention nissim which had previously been predicted by a prophet:
אבל אומר לך דבר שהוא אמת וברור בתורה, כי הנסים הנעשים על ידי נביא שיתנבא כן מתחילה או מלאך נגלה במלאכות השם יזכירם הכתוב, והנעשים מאליהן לעזור צדיק או להכרית רשע לא יזכירו בתורה או בנביאים, וזהו זהב רותח יוצק בפי החכם הזה ממה שהשיב על רבותינו בענין פינחס (במדבר כה יב): וזולתו במקומות הרבה, ולמה יזכירם הכתוב, כל יסודות התורה בנסים נסתרים הם. ועם התורה אין בכל ענינו רק נסים לא טבע ומנהג, שהרי יעודי התורה כולם אותות ומופתים, כי לא יכרת וימות בטבע הבא על אחת מן העריות או האוכל חלב, ולא יהיו השמים כברזל בטבעם מפני זרענו בשנה השביעית, וכן כל יעודי התורה בטובות ההן וכל הצלחת הצדיקים בצדקתם, וכל תפלות דוד מלכנו וכל תפלותינו נסים ונפלאות, אלא שאין בהם שנוי מפורסם בטבעו של עולם כאשר הזכרתי זה כבר (לעיל יז א), ועוד אפרשנו בעזרת השם (שמות ו ב, ויקרא כו יא):
But he writes more, and you should read it all inside.Whether or not we agree with Ramban, the point is that it is a position one can credibly maintain. And it seems to me quite plausible that Chazal could have held this as well. If so, I can make the point I like to make over and over -- we should sever historicity of midrashim from literalness. Historicity is a measure of historical truth, while literalness is a measure of authorial intent. The author of a midrash might well have intended the midrash as absolutely literal, but he may have been wrong that this is what actually happened. We should take care not to conflate the two.

My own approach is to only read a midrash as allegorical when something within the midrash itself informs us that it was intended as such. This is a careful, conservative approach, I think. At the same time, allow it as a possibility that other midrashim may be allegorical, but don't assert it as near certainty merely because we disagree with it because of our 21st century attitudes.

Again, what about this present midrash? It is coming to solve a problem which is very much a problem in peshat. How can 69 suddenly be 70. So it could well be intended as peshat, rather than allegory. However, if we were to assert that it is allegorical, what would be its allegorical meaning? I will suggest something, but will note at the same time that we should carefully inspect the wording of the midrash to confirm that each of these interpretations may be sustained as the authorial intent.

It is not just Yocheved who is proposed as the 70th. There is a multi-way machlokes in Bereshit Rabba, and if Yocheved was intended as derech derash, and as allegorical, then we should really find an allegorical interpretation for each of the midrash's suggestions.

That it was Yocheved:
כל הנפש הבאה וגו' ובני יוסף אשר יולד לו וגו'
רבי לוי בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן:
ראית מימיך אדם נותן לחבירו ששים וששה כוסות, וחוזר ונותן לו אף שלושה, והוא מונה אותם שבעים?!
אלא זו יוכבד שהשלימה מנין של ישראל במצרים.

רבי לוי בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן אמר:
יוכבד עבורה בארץ כנען ולידתה בארץ מצרים, הה"ד: (במדבר כו)ושם אשת עמרם יוכבד וגו', על פיילי דמצרים נולדה.

ורבי לוי בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן:
למוד הקדוש ברוך הוא להיות מונה את השבט הזה, עד שהוא במעי אמו, הה"ד: (ד"ה א כ"ה) לידותון, בני ידותון: גדליהו וצרי וישעיהו, חשביהו ומתתיהו,חמשה בפרט ובכללן ששה?!
אלא אף שמעי מנאו הקב"ה, עד שהוא במעי אמו, ואם יאמר לך אדם עשירי שמעי, אמור לו: עשירי לדוכן.

ור' לוי בשם ר' שמואל בר נחמן:
שימש אבינו יעקב מטתו והקדוש ברוך הוא קורא אותם נפשות, הה"ד: (במדבר כז) ומספר את רובע ישראל.

אמר רבי ברכיה:
כשרף הזה שאינו מספיק לצאת, עד שמספיגין אותו

The idea, from Rabbi Levi, in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman, is that Hashem "regularly" counts those who have been conceived from the tribe of Levi as if they had already been born. With an example from Divrei Hayamim. And this is one of the nefashot. Parallel to this, her birth was as they entered Egypt, so she was one of those who entered Egypt.

I am not certain if my proposed allegorical interpretation fits in with the words of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman, but I would propose as follows. Yocheved is important as the mother of Moshe, the eventual redeemer. Hashem had told Yaakov that he would go down into Egypt, but would eventually come up, out of this exile and servitude. And so, even as they entered Egypt, the potential existed, and at the very instant they passed through the gates into Egypt, starting their many years in exile, the mother of the redeemer was born, setting in motion the eventual redemption! Now, this may be true even if we take the midrash absolutely literally. But even if we do not, because it wasn't intended literally or because we disagree for other reasons, we can see this deeper message in the midrash.

The midrash continues:
ויש אומרים:
יעקב השלים עמהם את המנין.

אמר רבי יצחק:
משל לשתי לגיונות של מלך, דיוקמניאות וגאוסטיינא.
 בשעה שהמלך נמנה עם אלו, נמצאו שלמים. ובשעה שהמלך עוד נמנה עם אלו, נמצאו שלמים

That it was Yaakov completing the number was what Ralbag and Ibn Ezra suggested as peshat. So maybe there is nothing allegorical to see here. On the other hand, it is juxtaposed with other things we are now assuming are allegorical, so perhaps we must maintain consistency. Though what is the meaning of the mashal, of the two legions? This seems to be a peshat point, that the sons of Leah are numbered at 33, but we only count 32. So there, it was Yaakov, completing the minyan. So too here. I won't suggest an allegorical interpretation. Perhaps there is one, or perhaps not.

The midrash continues:

ויש אומרים:

הקב"ה השלים עמהם את המנין

We could read this in line with what we saw earlier in the perek in Chumash, that Hashem goes down with them, and also promised to go up:

ג  וַיֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי הָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ; אַל-תִּירָא מֵרְדָה מִצְרַיְמָה, כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם.
3 And He said: 'I am God, the God of thy father; fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.
ד  אָנֹכִי, אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ מִצְרַיְמָה, וְאָנֹכִי, אַעַלְךָ גַם-עָלֹה; וְיוֹסֵף, יָשִׁית יָדוֹ עַל-עֵינֶיךָ.
4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.'

Another theory in the midrash, of the identity of the 70th, is that it was Chushim ben Dan:

ויש אומרים:
חושים בן דן השלים עמהן את המנין.

בתורתן של רבי מאיר מצאו כתוב:
ובן דן חושים, הה"ד: (שמואל ב כד)ויבואו הגלעדה ואל ארץ תחתים חדשי וגו'. 
בית ירח, ירח סינים, מדה כנגד מדה. דן נכנס בצלמוניתו אצל אביו, ומתברך בשבעים אלף. ובנימין נכנס בעשרה, ומתברך בארבעים אלף

It is unclear how this would work, since Chushim ben Dan had already been counted. Perhaps because it calls him benei dan, in plural. If so, the Torah of Rabbi Meir would contradict this assertion.

Alternatively, if the point is not so much to resolve the difficulty of the 70th, but to highlight some aspect and purpose to this going down. When identifying the 70th as Hashem, we could point to Anochi ered imcha mitzrayma. Here, we can point to כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם. And indeed, as the midrash continues, Dan, who was so small with but one son, ended up being so big, compared with Binyamin who had ten sons. The point was then the growth as a people. And perhaps the Torah of Rabbi Meir helps with that assertion, by highlighting that it was only a single son.

What if we say, as in the continuation of the midrash, that it was Serach bat Asher?

ויש אומרים:
סרח בת אשר השלימה עמהן את המנין, הה"ד: (שם כ) ותקרא אשה חכמה מן העיר, ויקרב אליה, ותאמר האשה: האתה יואב? אמרה, שמך יואב!
לומר, שאתה אב לישראל, ואין אתה אלא קוצר, ולית את לפום שמך, ולית את ודוד בני תורה, עד כאן תמו דברי תורה!
לא כתיב: (דברים כ) כי תקרב אל עיר להלחם עליה וקראת אליה לשלום?!
ואמר לה: מן את? 
אמרה ליה: (שמואל ב כ) אנכי שלומי אמוני ישראל,אני הוא שהשלמתי מניינן של ישראל במצרים, אני הוא שהשלמתי נאמן לנאמן, יוסף למשה, מה אתה מבקש להמית עיר, ולי שאני אם בישראל?!
מיד, (שם כ) ויען יואב ויאמר חלילה חלילה לי וגו'.
חלילה חלילה שתי פעמים:
חלילה לדוד,
חלילה ליואב,
חלילה למלכות בית דוד,
 אלא לא כן, אלא (שם) כי איש מהר אפרים שבע בן בכרי שמו, נשא ידו במלך בדוד.
אם במלך למה בדוד ואם בדוד למה במלך?!

אלא אמר ר' עזריא בשם ר' יהודה בר' סימון:
כל שמעמיד פניו במלך, כאלו העמיד פניו בת"ח, כ"ש במלך ות"ח

This might be a way of highlighting the long view of history. In the near term, it looks like a tragedy, and the beginning of a lengthy galus. But this is a means to an end, and Serach who told Yaakov that Yosef was alive was also present at the end to authenticate the language of pakod pakadeti, and lived for many generations afterwards, into a settled Eretz Yisrael. The assertion that it is Serach is "difficult", because just like Chushim, she had already been counted. We would need to say that she counts as double, and not just that she was one of the only women counted. I have my theory about this midrash, that completing the minyan for her did not initially mean being the 70th, but that this midrash is citing all sorts of midrashim from other places in order to answer this question. But perhaps this is no difficulty, if it is entirely intended allegorically.

So perhaps each of these in truth has a deep allegorical meaning. I am not convinced, but I can see the potential.

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