Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What is bothering Rashi? Why specify the nesiim?

Summary: Rashi appears to make a rather simplistic statement, and so his supercommentators trip over themselves trying to explain just what is bothering Rashi, and why he should go out of his way to point out the obvious. But they arrive at an incorrect solution. Here, I offer just what is motivating Rashi, and how Rashi is very much a pashtan, rather than the darshan they end up making him.

Post: Before reading this post, please just quickly read through the first perek of Bemidbar, even in English, without Rashi. There is context one must have that makes some my comments and the comment of the Taz more intelligible. And then:

A curious comment by Rashi in parashat Bamidbar. In Bemidbar 1:7:

17. Then Moses and Aaron took these men, who were indicated by [their] names,יז. וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֵת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמוֹת:
these men: These twelve princes.האנשים האלה: את שנים עשר נשיאים הללו:
who were indicated: to him here by their names.אשר נקבו: לו כאן בשמות:

Earlier, the twelve men were listed. And so just what is Rashi adding? Since it says הָאֵלֶּה, it is obvious that it was these twelve princes just mentioned. Who else is in context?! What does nesiim add? And what is meant  by lo kaan? This also seems obvious.

But Rashi does not state the obvious. He comments for a purpose. If so, there must be some misunderstanding one could arrive at. But what?

Taz, as one example of a supercommentator of Rashi, asks just this question. Thus,

האנשים האלה, את שנים עשר
נשיאים הללו.
לא היה צריך רש״׳ לכתוב זה דהוא
מבואר בפסוק דהא לא הוזכרו אחרים
כאן. ועוד יש לדקדק מ״ש רש״׳ אח״כ

אשר נקנו לו כאן בשמות מה תיקן רש״
נמה שהוסיף לו כאן שתי תיבות אלו

So far, so good. I agree with the question.

I disagree, however, with the answer, and the underlying methodology. Thus, Taz continues:

ונראה דהוקשה לו מ׳ש אשר נקבו
בשמות ל״ל הא סגי במ׳׳ש האנשים
האלו דהיינו מה שנזכר בפרשה״ ותו
קשה במ״ש ואם כל העדה הקהילו מי
צוה דבר זה דהא לא נצטוו רק אתכם
יהיו משה ואהרן ותו לא, אלא דמשה
הוקשה לו על לשון השי״ת שאמר לו
תחילה שיקח איש למטה דהיינו הראש
ואח"כ אמר לו שנית אלה שמות האנשים
אשר יעמדו אתכם לראובן אליצור כו׳
ל״ל זה וכי לא ידענו מי הם הנשיאים.

To roughly translate, Rashi is bothered with the extra phrase "asher nikkevu besheimos"; and further, who commanded that they gather the people; the implication is Moshe and Aharon and no one else. Rather, Moshe was bothered with the language of Hashem who told him first to take each one, a person per tribe, which is the head, and subsequently told him that these are the names of the men who will stand with you, to Reuven, Elitzur, etc. Why is this necessary? Do we not know who the nesiim were?!

Josh: To my mind, this is rather unlikely to be what was bothering Rashi, and furthermore, what was bothering Moshe Rabbenu. At the very least, these are midrashic concerns rather than peshat concerns. And this is one of the few times that Rashi is not citing midrash. He is trying to explain a novel peshat interpretation in the pasuk.

The Taz continues:

ותו דלא יזכיר רק שמות האנשים לחוד
ולא יאמר חחילה איש לבית אבות, אלא
מזה מוכח דיקח עוד אחרים מלבד הי"ב
נשיאים, ממילא ע"כ יש חילוק בזה
נשיאים יהיו אתו ושאר העדה יקהיל
אותם ג"כ בפני עצמם. וכל זה ביאר
הכתוב במאמר אשר נקבו בשמות
דהיינו שאמר ויקח האנשים האלה הם
י"ב נשיאים, והוקשה למשה אשר נקבו
בשמות דל"ל תרתי כמו שזכרתי, בשלמא
אי היה נקבו בשמות לשון התורה
להודיע לנו מי הם לק״מ רהנקיבת בשמות
היא לנו לא לצורך משה אבל עכשיו
שנקבו לו למשה כאן מי הם וזה ודאי
שלא לצורך אלא ע״כ לדיוקא אתא
דאלו הי"ב נשיאים לקח עמו כמו שהיה
במווי ואתכם יהיו, אבל צדן עוד לכל
העדה והם לא היו עמו אלא היו גיחד
גמקום אחר, חחו שאמר אח״כ ואם כל
העדה הקהילו כו' ופסוק זה תלו׳
בפסוק שלפניו.

And he continues, about how the two clarifications are interrelated. We might have thought that because of this extra phrasing, people other than the 12 princes were intended, but once we know that this was directed towards Moshe, it is for the sake of a diyuk. And it continues, and indeed continues a bit past where I quoted.

I am fairly confident that this was not what was bothering Rashi. But because his supercommentators, over and over, read non-problems into Rashi, and imagine that there extremely close readings, super-midrashic past where even Chazal never intended, are what is bothering Rashi, Rashi is reimagined. And the very nature of Rashi's peshat is reimagined.

Indeed, a somewhat irreverent comment over at DovBear a week or so ago puts it well:
Why am I never bothered by what bothers Rashi, and why is Rashi never bothered by what bothers me?
The answer, to my mind, is as follows. Sometimes, casual readers of Chumash don't know how little they know. But more than that, too often people ascribe to Rashi positions that he would never take. And I think that this is one such instance, of many.

Something is bothering Rashi, or as I like to put it, motivating Rashi. We can take steps to guess, but they are only guesses. I actually like some of what the Taz and other supercommentators of Rashi have to say about this one, and I will be'ezrat Hashem discuss their words later. However, here is how I would approach this.

Rashi is clearly reworking the pasuk in plain Hebrew, for the purpose of clarifying something. And he does that by paraphrase. Not necessarily is every word of his paraphrase that which he is trying to clarify.

However, if he is making decisions in the direction of peshat, then perhaps some other pashtan might consider the same pasuk, and make divergent decisions. By contrasting the commentaries of these two pashtanim, we might discover what is driving Rashi in his commentary.

The pashtan who diverts from Rashi is Ibn Ezra. On this pasuk, he writes:
[א, יז]
ויקח משה ואהרן -

האנשים אשר נקבו -שהם מפורשים, כמו: אשר פי ה' יקבנו:
That is, on the first phrase he says "with them" and on the second, he refers us to Yeshaya 62:2:

ב  וְרָאוּ גוֹיִם צִדְקֵךְ, וְכָל-מְלָכִים כְּבוֹדֵךְ; וְקֹרָא לָךְ שֵׁם חָדָשׁ, אֲשֶׁר פִּי יְהוָה יִקֳּבֶנּוּ.2 And the nations shall see thy triumph, and all kings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall mark out.

Further, if we look at Shadal, he writes:
נקבו: מפי הגבורה, כמו (ישעיה ס"ב ב') אשר פי ה' יקבנו, ואין ענינו האנשים הנזכרים למעלה, כי זה טעם "האלה".
This should hopefully provide us with some insight as to just what pashtanim are concerned about within this pasuk.

Looking back now to Rashi,.we can see each of his decisions and judgements. Recall that Moshe and Aharon were told to gather these 12 princes to help them count the sum of the Israelites. That is:

ב  שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.2 'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls;
ג  מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם, אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן.3 from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: ye shall number them by their hosts, even thou and Aaron.
ד  וְאִתְּכֶם יִהְיוּ, אִישׁ אִישׁ לַמַּטֶּה--אִישׁ רֹאשׁ לְבֵית-אֲבֹתָיו, הוּא.4 And with you there shall be a man of every tribe, every one head of his fathers' house.

That is background. Further background is that the twelve men are listed by name. Finally, we reach the two psukim under consideration:

יז  וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן, אֵת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמֹת.17 And Moses and Aaron took these men that are pointed out by name.
יח  וְאֵת כָּל-הָעֵדָה הִקְהִילוּ, בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי, וַיִּתְיַלְדוּ עַל-מִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם:  בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה--לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.18 And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls.

In pasuk 17, when we have vayikach, does it mean that he took the men? Or is it part of a larger construction of vayikach ... hikhilu, such that the entire group did the hikhilu? Compare to parashat Korach:

א  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן.1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men;
ב  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם.2 and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown;

Is it that Korach took them with devarim, in which case it is a stand-alone action, or does it mean that all these joined together, and together did the vayakumu? Both are plausible.

Rashi says et, את,  in his restatement of the pasuk; Ibn Ezra says im. Thus, Rashi maintains that this is a separate action of taking, and Ibn Ezra maintains that this indicates that the import of this is that together, they did the hikhilu.

Further, what is meant by אשר נקבו? In this, Taz was quite on the mark in wondering just who the target was. Were these detailed to the reader, or to Moshe Rabbenu? Does it mean the aforementioned, to the reader, or does it mean the ones appointed, to Moshe Rabbenu. And Rashi elaborates that it is לו כאן, to Moshe Rabbenu, as we see that they were designated immediately above to him.

Unless his intent is that they weren't appointed, but in saying כאן, that they were the aforementioned. Aforementioned to Moshe, but aforementioned rather than designated by name. I prefer the former to the latter.

Precisely what Rashi means is important, but somewhat beside the point. The point is to determine what was bothering Rashi, which is some ambiguity in the text. Once we can determine that, we can next determine just how Rashi disambiguates the text. And then, we can consider points in favor and against Rashi's explanation.

And that is how I might understand Rashi's comment. 

I will readily admit that it more than possible that it is nothing so elaborate as this. Rather, since אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמוֹת might imply that they were designated by name elsewhere (see e.g. Divrei Hayamim and Ezra for examples of this), but the context, together with the word האלה, informs us that this designation was here, namely these 12 princes. If so, he is stating something that is almost self-evident. But there was a slight bump in the text in the word נקבו and so he smooths it out so what should indeed be readily self-evident. And this explains a good deal of Rashi's focus, if we carefully examine his words -- the stress on these nesiim, and that the נקבו is to him, here. 

There is some overlap with my discussion of the word נקבו above. That is, forget about the business with the word את. That was a red herring. Rather, we see that the focus is on נקבו, which we see Shadal interprets differently from Rashi. Why could it mean something different? Because in I Divrei Hayamim 12:32, we have:

לב  וּמֵחֲצִי מַטֵּה מְנַשֶּׁה, שְׁמוֹנָה עָשָׂר אָלֶף, אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמוֹת, לָבוֹא לְהַמְלִיךְ אֶת-דָּוִיד.  {ס}32 And of the half-tribe of Manasseh eighteen thousand, who were mentioned by name, to come and make David king. {S}

without listing each of them explicitly by name. It appears to mean designation.

And in Ezra 8, we have:

כ  וּמִן-הַנְּתִינִים, שֶׁנָּתַן דָּוִיד וְהַשָּׂרִים לַעֲבֹדַת הַלְוִיִּם--נְתִינִים, מָאתַיִם וְעֶשְׂרִים:  כֻּלָּם, נִקְּבוּ בְשֵׁמוֹת.20 and of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim; all of them were mentioned by name.

But there is no explicit mention of the names of these 220 people.

If so, perhaps the same is true here. Indeed, perhaps it is an attribute of these people, rather than meaning that we just have listed them. And indeed, it can mean the same, that they were designated, without it meaning that they are different people than the aforementioned. But Rashi wishes to interpret it in a way that makes it clear that these are the same, and that that is what נקבו means. Therefore, on האנשים האלה, he writes  את שנים עשר נשיאים הללו. His focus is on the word האלה, which demonstrates that we are dealing with the same 12 princes in immediate context. Then, he continues, and on אשר נקבו, which is the slightly troublesome phrase, he explains that it means that it was designated to him, to Moshe, and here, in this immediately preceding context. Thus,  לו כאן בשמות.  This is how everything works together in context.

And we do not need to argue so strongly in favor of the opposite position. After all, Rashi does not think it is correct. And it presents enough of a "bump" that smoothing it into context is all we need be concerned with. If you try to argue that it makes real sense that someone other than the 12 princes were intended, then I would think you are being ridiculous.

After I wrote all this, I saw that Aish HaTorah put up Rabbi Dr. Avigdor Bonchek's analysis of "What's Bothering Rashi?" Perhaps I will analyze that, in a follow-up post. He cites various of Rashi's supercommentators. And I like their explanations (though not entirely his analysis of them). And so I will save any mention of other explanation for another post.

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