Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Was Ibn Ezra's comment that וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן is prophecy written by an erring student? What will we say about Ramban, then?

Summary: Avi Ezer thinks a fairly frum comment of Ibn Ezra is quasi-heretical, and so frumly suggests that it was really written by an erring student. But then he would end up calling Ramban an erring student; and besides, there is a ready answer to just what novelty Ibn Ezra is suggesting.

Post: In describing the severity of the plague of locusts in parashat Bo, the Torah states {Shemot 10:14}:

יד  וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה, עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיָּנַח, בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם:  כָּבֵד מְאֹד--לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ, וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן.
14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the borders of Egypt; very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

All is well and good saying that up to this point, there were no such grievous locusts. But how can there be this categorical statement that there will never be such? The answer is that the Torah is from God, and thus such a statement can certainly be made, under the realm of prophecy.

Ibn Ezra says this:
[י, יד]
ויעל -
אמר ואחריו לא יהיה כן נכתב על פי הנבואה.

and indeed, the grappling with the contrasting verse in Yoel suggesting that none had been so bad presupposes that this is prophecy.

Avi Ezer decides that this statement is either silly or heretical:

"I do not know what extra innovation the Rav {=Ibn Ezra} is informing us of in this. For even לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן {the earlier statement in the pasuk}was written via prophecy. And every letter and dot in the Torah was written via prophecy, through translucent glass {aspaklaria ham'ira}, as the Torah testifies {regarding Moshe} "and afterwards there did not arise". And in my opinion, also in these words, the erring student committed an error."

The pasuk quoted, "and afterwards there did not arise" is indeed relevant. But it is not in the Torah, but in II Melachim 23, regarding Yoshiyahu:

כה  וְכָמֹהוּ לֹא-הָיָה לְפָנָיו מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁב אֶל-יְהוָה בְּכָל-לְבָבוֹ וּבְכָל-נַפְשׁוֹ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדוֹ--כְּכֹל, תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה; וְאַחֲרָיו, לֹא-קָם כָּמֹהוּ.
25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.

Now, stating that this was an erring student is problematic. Ramban is not merely silent on the supposedly problematic material in Ibn Ezra. Rather, he echoes it.
יד): ואחריו לא יהיה כן -
הכתוב מודיע אותנו מדרך הנבואה שאחריו לא יהיה כן.

וכתב רש"י:
ואותו שהיה בימי יואל שנאמר בו כמוהו לא נהיה מן העולם (יואל ב ב), למדנו שהיו גדול משל משה, אותו של יואל היה על ידי מינים הרבה שהיה יחד ארבה וחסיל וילק וגזם, אבל של משה שלא היה אלא מין אחד, וכמוהו לא היה ולא יהיה. 

Pretend that Ibn Ezra would never, chas veshalom, say such a thing. But Ramban obviously thought it was a meaningful enough statement to echo. Unless you claim that there was another erring student at work?!

Ibn Ezra did not mean to suggest that all of this was not given prophetically to Moshe. But there is a difference between prophecy and prophetic prediction. And he means that it is a prophetic prediction, and thus promise. Because otherwise, a typical narration would not include categorical statements about what would or would not happen in the future.

Also, Avi Ezer wondered what this statement of Ibn Ezra is adding. Well, there might be several alternatives to prophetic prediction. And Ibn Caspi, a Rishon, indeed provides one such interpretation. Ibn Caspi may be wrong, or he may be right, but I bring him here to show what Ibn Ezra adds. Ibn Caspi writes:

That is, he claims that it is not derech nevuah. Rather, dibra Torah bilshon havai. {=rhetorical exaggeration.} Compare the statement on Yoshiyahu {the one cited above by Avi Ezer!} that none before him arose, nor after him. Do you think we are to weigh every past and future king?! And anyway, beforehand it was said regarding King Chizkiyahu that afterwards there was none like him! How could both be true. And attempts at harmonization are weak and forced. {I would note that such an approach actually would obviate the apparent contradiction with the description in Yoel of locusts.} One is not to carefully measure the amount of locust, and see if it was more or less, etc., etc. Rather, dibra Torah bilshon havai, and kilshon benei Adam.
Were Avi Ezer aware of this alternative, I would guess that he would not be so hard on Ibn Ezra, and would not have attacked him in this manner.

1 comment:

SPACE said...

In Yoel 2.20 these locusts are some 'northerners', people or army.


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