Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If pre-describing Moshe's death is a problem, why isn't the land of Naftali?

Summary: BrooklynWolf asks this excellent question. And here is a few ways one might, and some did, answer it.

Post: In a comment on my previous post, about how Rabbi Yehuda might answer Rabbi Meir's midrashic objection to saying that Yehoshua wrote the last eight pesukim, BrooklynWolf writes:
I'm not sure why saying that Moshe wrote the last eight verses is so difficult -- notwithstanding the fact that the events did not yet happen. The last chapter also describes Moshe looking out over the land of the various tribes that -- at the time of the writing -- did not yet belong to them. No one knew which portion of the land was going to be for Yehuda, Dan, Naftali, etc. -- that was all determined by lottery later on. 

If the premise of the problem is that "how could Moshe have written it, it wasn't true as of that time?" then you could ask the same question about verses 1-4 which, it seems, according to all opinions were written by Moshe. How could you say that Moshe looked on the land of Naftali, for example, if it's entirely possible that he might have gotten other lands?

The Wolf
It is a fair point. Why does describing Moshe's death bother Rabbi Yehuda, while describing the eventual nachalah of Naftali does not? (I suggest in the comments there that according to Chazal, this lottery was simply revealing the Divine choice, and thus was matched by the Urim veTumim which pre-predicted how the lottery would turn out.)

In the good old days, how was this question resolved?

Well, here is a rather easy answer, and way out:

The text on the right is our Masoretic text, while the text on the left is the Samaritan Torah. **** represent words from the other side which are absent on this side. See how this description of "the Gilead until Dan, and all the land of Naftali, the land of Ephraim and Menashe, and all the land of Yehuda", and "the Negev, Kikar, the valley of Yericho, the city of Temarim until Tzoar" is stripped out in the Samaritan text and replaced with "from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates river".

I wouldn't put much stock in this variant text as being original, just because this is precisely what we see over and over in the Samaritan text -- fixes to make the text "better". It does seem, though, that this post-Mosaic description might have bothered the scribe of the Samaritan Torah, prompting this fix.

Another reaction might be to endorse this as problematic, and post-Mosaic, as well. Ibn Ezra indeed takes the full twelve pesukim of this perek and labeled them as from the quill of Yehoshua. Thus:

ויעל משה -לפי דעתי: כי מזה הפסוק כתב יהושע, כי אחר שעלה משה לא כתב ובדרך נבואה כתבו.
והעד ויראהו ה' גם: ויאמר ה' אליו גם ויקבור.

Another reaction might be to endorse precisely this. Here, by the land of Naftali, as well as throughout the Torah, future events are encoded, though they had not happened yet. E.g. vayirdof ad Dan. Ibn Caspi writes:

ויעל משה . לפי דעתי כי כל זה כתב משה עצמו
עד לעיני כל ישראל , להנחיל גם זה הספור כלו לנו ולבנינו,
ואם יש בזה דברים עתידים, כמו שכתב כל התורה, ואם סיפור שבחי
עצמו אין בזה חסרון לשלם כמוהו לפי המקום הראוי לו :


Hillel said...

R' Waxman,

While I understand the position of Caspi, it doesn't answer the question, merely changes it. The Torah doesn't often offer prophecies of the future (at least no explicit ones), and when it does they must be explained. So why does the Torah feel compelled to tell us where Moshe gazed by shevet name rather than simply by direction? (And, for that matter, why say Avraham & Co. chased the 4 kings to Dan, rather than some contemporary landmark?) I don't currently have any ideas and haven't seen anyone else comment on the subject. Do you have a take on this?

G'mar chatima tova,

S. said...

I'm neither endorsing nor not endorsing the response, by Rabbi Yitz Etshalom wrote a piece specifically about Dan: link.

Hat-tip to HolyHyrax, who showed me this piece years ago.

joshwaxman said...

at the moment, i personally favor ibn ezra for several reasons.

but to answer on behalf of Ibn Caspi et al., i will answer something akin to my answer to BrooklynWolf in the previous post.

in devarim 1:5
בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב, הוֹאִיל מֹשֶׁה, בֵּאֵר אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת לֵאמֹר

in devarim 27:8:
וְכָתַבְתָּ עַל-הָאֲבָנִים, אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת--בַּאֵר הֵיטֵב

this is *traditionally* taken to be elaboration by Moshe to make things clearer.

the question then is: who is the audience for whom Moshe is making things clearer? if for the present generation of the wilderness, then this is no help. but if the intended audience is future generations of Israelites, dwelling in the land, then this could be a ready help.

there is a difference between explicitly writing about future events which (by definition) have not happened yet, on the one hand, and including helpful narrative insertions which will be meaningful to the later reader, on the other. the former can be considered sheker, since one is writing as if it has happened, in PAST tense -- not stating that "in the future, Moshe will ascend and be buried...". or the first might simply not be the Pentateuchal style or intent. the latter is a narrative voice, describing events which indeed have happened, but using terminology which is more understandable to the intended reader. it is thus בַּאֵר הֵיטֵב to the Israelites living in the land until the first exile.

bli neder, i'll try to check out Rabbi Etzshalom's response.

kol tuv,


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