Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How did Yehuda want to speak in Yosef's ear?

Summary: Three possibilities. If so, where Rashi takes the middle road, is he choosing a peshat or a derash route?

Post: In parashat Vayigash, Yehuda approaches Yosef:

18. Then Judah approached him and said, "Please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord's ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.יח. וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי יְדַבֶּר נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי וְאַל יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה:
Then…approached him… something into my lord’s ears: Let my words enter your ears. [From Gen. Rabbah 83:6]ויגש אליו וגו'. דבר באזני א-דני: יכנסו דברי באזניך:

This is taken from Midrash Rabba, which states:
ידבר נא עבדך, יכנסו דברי באזנך, זקינתו של זה, ע"י שמשכה פרעה לילה אחת לקה בנגעים הוא וכל ביתו, דכתיב: (בראשית יב)וינגע ה' את פרעה,הזהר שלא ילקה אותו האיש בצרעת. 
One might argue that the midrash and Rashi are commenting on different words, with the Midrash concern being the "please", na, and how this is under Yosef's control (though of course Yosef, as ruler, could silence Yehuda, or punish him for speaking), while Rashi's concern is "in the ears of my lord". But I think that this is (at least partly) the concern of the Midrash as well.

How else could this have been translated, that we require this peirush by Rashi? I would first look to Targum Onkelos:

מד,יח וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה, וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי, יְדַבֶּר-נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי, וְאַל-יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ:  כִּי כָמוֹךָ, כְּפַרְעֹה.וּקְרֵיב לְוָתֵיהּ יְהוּדָה, וַאֲמַר בְּבָעוּ רִבּוֹנִי, יְמַלֵּיל כְּעַן עַבְדָּךְ פִּתְגָמָא קֳדָם רִבּוֹנִי, וְלָא יִתְקַף רֻגְזָךְ בְּעַבְדָּךְ:  אֲרֵי כְּפַרְעֹה, כֵּין אַתְּ.

בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי  is  translated as קֳדָם רִבּוֹנִי, "before my lord". Thus, Onkelos clearly regards this as idiomatic. Speaking "in his ears", "to his ears", means before him.

Another possibility is put forth by Gur Aryeh.
Thus, one cannot explain it in its "simple sense" -- kemashma'o -- that he wished to whisper into his ear, for it would not be proper etiquette to do so to a king, or vizier (so Mizrachi). And furthermore, oznei is plural, while one whispering only needs to speak into one ear. Another point, which I saw in Siftei Chachamim, is that they had a meilitz, a translator, between them. If so, how could Yehuda have thought to be able to speak directly to this Egyptian vizier.

While Gur Aryeh does make a good point, clearly Gur Aryeh has a very different definition of k'mashma'o, the simple sense. Even had it been singular, I would not have suggested whispering as peshat. Even had there been no interpreter, and had there been a non-king being addressed, I would not have jumped to whispering as peshat. Rather, I would have considered the simple mashmaos of the pasuk as it being an idiom. Yehuda was engaging in polite, courtly talk, and part of that is beseeching for permission to speak. This "in my lord's ears" may be further excessive politeness, or simply flowery speech.

I would therefore have taken the default peshat, and mashmaos, to be that presented by Onkelos, that this is asking to speak before Yosef. And I would look to see why Rashi deviated from that simple sense. I would then note that Rashi is citing a midrash, and the typical point of midrash is not to present peshat. How does the midrash deviate from the simple sense? Well, I would have said, like Onkelos, that "in my lord's ears" in essentially meaningless, and means "before you". But Rashi instead adds that it should enter into your ears. That is, just in Haazinu haShamayim, it is a request or command to listen, and absorb the message, so too here, it is a request that Yosef listen and accept the message, not just that Yehuda be allowed to speak.

I believe that this analysis reveals another facet of this Rashi, and what he is trying to accomplish with his midrasho-peshat. Following the midrash, he conducts a close reading and decides that this is no mere idiom or expression, but is an additional request, that Yosef actually listen and absorb Yehuda's words.

Meanwhile, it seems like Gur Aryeh, Mizrachi, and others, have a very different sense of peshat. Often, as in this case, what they would label "peshat", I would label uber-derash. It it hyperliteralism run wild! I think that, in part, they developed this theory of peshat by trying to explain every Rashi, even the ones which are clear midrash, as peshat, based on one stray Rashi which has been over-applied.  Every midrash in Rashi is declared peshat, and so the midrashic problems which "bother" the authors of midrashim Rashi cites also "bother" Rashi, but on a peshat level. And so one creates new midrashic problems and solves them, creating midrash while under the mistaken impression that such is peshat.

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