Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ibn Kaspi and the (poisonous?) bitter waters

Summary: Ibn Kaspi, perhaps, sheds light on the Ibn Ezra I discussed last year, that the kohen put poisonous bitter herbs into the water.

Post: Two years ago, as well as last year (here and here) I discussed an Ibn Ezra on Naso in which he made grammatical comments about the mei sotah and hinted as to a secret, a sod. I feel that I understood the sod, just as many of Ibn Ezra's supercommentators understood it, and that it was that the kohen put bitter material into the waters of the Sotah -- and furthermore, as several of those supercommentators understood it, that that bitter material was poisonous. Alas, I was not able to convince everyone of this. (In a DovBear thread.) I would maintain that this is not because I am wrong, or because of the weakness of my argument, but because when it comes to grammatical points, not everyone is ready to grasp the grammatic points and the fine nuances involved in Ibn Ezra's hints.

But I found another Rishon who might also say it. He certainly says the "bitter" portion of it, but I am not so certain of the poisonous part of it. Perhaps reading both of them together, it becomes clearer just what each of them means.

Ibn Caspi, on Naso, writes as follows, on the pasuk in Bemidbar 5:

18. Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen's hand.יח. וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הָאִשָּׁה לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה וּפָרַע אֶת רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה וְנָתַן עַל כַּפֶּיהָ אֵת מִנְחַת הַזִּכָּרוֹן מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הִוא וּבְיַד הַכֹּהֵן יִהְיוּ מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרֲרִים:

מי המרים , כבר דברנו בזה בספר הסוד וזכרנו שם מה שנודע בקבלה
שדבר מר היה נותן לתוכה
 המאררים. תאר למים מצד מה שיאמר
עליהם האלה שיזכור אח״כ, וגם שימחו האלות בם 
Bitter water: We already wrote in Sefer HaSod about this, and mentioned there what is known in tradition, that {as per one position in the gemara}something "bitter" he put into it.
Which was Accursed: This is an adjective to the water, by aspect of the curse which is said upon it and mentioned later, and also because they dissolve the curses in it.

He continues on pasuk 24, where the order of the adjectives are reversed:

24. He shall then give the bitter, curse bearing waters to the woman to drink, and the curse bearing waters shall enter her to become bitter.כד. וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת הָאִשָּׁה אֶת מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרֲרִים וּבָאוּ בָהּ הַמַּיִם הַמְאָרֲרִים לְמָרִים:

והשקה את האשה וכו. הנה מבואר בזה, .כי טרם
שתשתם האשה יקראו מי המרים המאררים לסבות שזכרנו, ואחר
שתשתם יתוארו בחלוף הסדור. שהמים המאררים יבואו  לתוכה
 למרים , כי הטעמם מרים ומהם תהיה מרת נפש, וזה אם נטמאה, כמו
שבאר עוד ובאו בה המים המאררים למרים וצבתה בטנה ,
אבל אם נקתה, שב המר למתוק מצד שלא נזוקה ולא תהיה מרת נפש
And he shall give the woman to drink, etc.: Behold it is made clear in this that before the woman drinks them, it is called waters of bitterness and accursedness for the reasons we mentioned. And after she drinks them, they are described in adjectives in a reversal of the order. For the accursed waters go into her as bitterness, for their taste is bitter and from them is bitterness of spirit. And this is if she is sullied, as is explained further, "and the accursed waters enter her to bitterness, and her belly distends." But if she is innocent, the bitter turns to sweetness by aspect that they do not injure her and that she is not bitter of spirit.

The Sefer HaSod he referred to earlier was his sefer Tiras Kesef. There, we read:

Now, Ibn Caspi certainly knows the comment of Ibn Ezra in question. He often enough references Ibn Ezra in his commentary. And indeed, wrote a whole sefer explaining the sodos of Ibn Ezra on chumash. (Though he skips this particular sod.)

Ibn Caspi's words seem interpretable in one of two ways. Either they put in these bitter herbs and they merely made them bitter, and separate from this, they are called bitter because they are a source of מרת נפש in bringing her downfall; or their taste is bitter and associated with this (bitterness) will be the מרת נפש in bringing about her downfall. When he says שב המר למתוק based on effects, that it does not damage her and is not מרת נפש, this could be simply expectation vs. final results; or that it should have naturally damaged her, but its effects changed because of her innocence and did not damage her.

I can see two ways of reading it. I prefer this poisonous reading, just because I am convinced that this is how Ibn Ezra understands it, and thus believe that Ibn Ezra provides this background. Ultimately, though, I don't know that this, by itself, would convince.

More to come, bli neder, on Ibn Ezra, with the explanation of a few supercommentators I did not mention in previous posts.

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