Sunday, July 18, 2010

Elohim as Kodesh or Chol

Summary: Did Elohim assay to take out a nation? Rashi diverts from Targum Onkelos in claiming that this is chol. What might spark this? Also, how Ibn Ezra and Ibn Caspi differ. (See also this 2008 post.)

Post: In parashat vaEtchanan, perek 4:

34. Or has any god performed miracles to come and take him a nation from the midst of a[nother] nation, with trials, with signs, and with wonders, and with war and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesome deeds, as all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?לד. אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱ־לֹהִים לָבוֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי בְּמַסֹּת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדֹלִים כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לָכֶם יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּמִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֶיךָ:
Or has any god performed miracles: Heb. הֲנִסָּה אלֹהִים. Has any god performed miracles (נִסִּים) ?הנסה אלהים: הכי עשה נסים שום אלוה:

Compare with Onkelos, where Elokim is clearly kodesh:

ד,לד אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱלֹהִים, לָבוֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי, בְּמַסֹּת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדֹלִים:  כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לָכֶם ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, בְּמִצְרַיִם--לְעֵינֶיךָ.אוֹ נִסִּין עֲבַד יְיָ, לְאִתְגְּלָאָה לְמִפְרַק לֵיהּ עַם מִגּוֹ עַם, בְּנִסִּין בְּאָתִין וּבְמוֹפְתִין וּבִקְרָבָא וּבִיד תַּקִּיפָא וּבִדְרָעָא מְרָמְמָא, וּבְחֶזְוָנִין רַבְרְבִין:  כְּכֹל דַּעֲבַד לְכוֹן יְיָ אֱלָהֲכוֹן, בְּמִצְרַיִם--לְעֵינֵיכוֹן.

Rashi needs to parse the pasuk carefully to make this work. After all, the pronouns and verbs in context are singular. Plural pronouns and verbs would indicate multiple gods, while singular would indicate a single God, and thus Hashem. Rashi takes Elohim as collective to the group of gods, but since there is a question here, it can be split, such as to ask whether any individual deity among them has done this.

It is possible that what is "bothering" Rashi -- what is prompting him, here -- is the word hanisa. God would not need to try, with associated failing, or lack of power. And just as in context, there is comparison between Israel and the other nations, there is comparison between Hashem and all other gods. Indeed, see what this pasuk leads to, and conclude that it is meant as a comparison to the nullity of the existence or power of any other deity:

ד,לה אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת, כִּי ה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים:  אֵין עוֹד, מִלְּבַדּוֹ.אַתְּ אִתַּחְזִיתָא לְמִדַּע, אֲרֵי יְיָ הוּא אֱלֹהִים:  לֵית עוֹד, בָּר מִנֵּיהּ.

Also, the deliberate specification later of Hashem Elokeichem, with Divine Name and pronoun, strongly suggests to me that what is intended here is contrast. Context indeed convinces me that Rashi is right. And siding with him are Mendelssohn and Shadal, who states that there is no doubt that it is chol:

לד או הנסה אלקים אין ספק שהוא חול כדעת רש"י ורמבמ"ן ולפיניהם דונש בן לברט בהשגותיו על רבינו סעדיה הנמצאות בידי בכ"י ובדברי ראב"ע בספר שפת יתר סימן ק"א נפלו טעויות סופר והשמטת מילות אשר בגללן אין לסימן ההוא הבנה .

Ibn Ezra meanwhile is appalled that anyone would say it is leshon chol. Heaven forfend! Thus:
או הנסה אלהים -יש אומרים:
שהוא לשון חול וחלילה חלילה, רק לשון קדושה.

הנסה -כדרך בני אדם, כדי שיבינו השומעים.
I am not certain just what he finds so appalling. Perhaps that talking about whether any deity (with a lowercase d) has attempted and succeeded at this would imply the existence of said deity. He explains hanisa, which implies some limitation to Hashem's power, as kederech benei adam, which seems to be a dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam such that the audience will be able to understand. Not that there is any such limitation, but this is what they are able to comprehend, on their level.

So too Ibn Caspi, that Elokim is kodesh, and hanisa is dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam:
לד) הנסה. דברה תורה כלשון ב״א, ואלהים הוא לשון
קדש כי הוא הפועל הראשון, וכמה אלהים היו תחתיו ית׳ פועלים,
Except for what might well be a twist in just how Elokim is kodesh, as Hashem is first cause, and that there are many "Elohim" under Him who take action from Him. This is perhaps a fine philosophical and mystical point, though I am not sure that this is what Ibn Ezra intended. Ibn Caspi might be trying to have his cake and eat it too, achieving the desired religious conclusion of Ibn Ezra together with the contextual plausibility of Rashi.

Rav Saadia Gaon, in his Tafsir, writes:

Thus, it is the God of the World, אללה עלמא. And so, it is kodesh.

Dunash ben Labrat contests this, writing:

Thus, it is chol. And he shows how it works, in the pasuk, and why hanisa is not good evidence.

Ibn Ezra, in Sefas Yeser, explains how the kodesh reading works out:

To attempt to explain. The proof is hanisa, which implies that there is ability, for for what purpose would there be to ask whether there exists a god who can do such. Rather, the meaning is that Hashem did this on their (=Israel's) behalf, that which he did not do for any other nation in the world.

(Targum Yonatan also says like Rashi, that it is chol.)

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