Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת a hendiadys?

Summary: I don't know. But I think that this is what Rashi, following the midrash, is suggesting as a matter of peshat.

Post: Towards the very beginning of parashat Vaychi, we read:

29. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have now found favor in your eyes, now place your hand beneath my thigh, and you shall deal with me with lovingkindness and truth; do not bury me now in Egypt.כט. וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם:

and Rashi comments:

lovingkindness and truth: Lovingkindness that is done with the dead is true lovingkindness, for one does not expect any payment or reward. — [from Gen. Rabbah 96:5]חסד ואמת: חסד שעושין עם המתים הוא חסד של אמת, שאינו מצפה לתשלום גמול:

There are, perhaps, different ways of understanding this. It seems, though, that chesed and emes are not being taken as two separate things which Yosef is to do for his father, but rather it is one thing -- as Rashi puts it, chesed shel emes, true lovingkindness.

I could have otherwise have explained it as two separate items. By doing this, Yosef is doing a kindness and favor -- chesed. And by being true to his promise to do this, Yosef is performing emes.

(I see that Shadal says something similar:
 [כט] חסד ואמת : מעשה של אהבה ושל אמונה, והאמונה היא שתשמור לי חסדך גם אחרי מותי.

However, according to Rashi, it seems that these two are joined. Despite Rashi's phrasing of chessed shel emet, if this is so, I would guess that it is functioning as a hendiadys, two words joined by a conjunction (vav) that is used to express the fused concept of both of them. Usually we see this was a kametz under the joining vav, as in tohu vavohu. That we see chesed v'emet joined together many times across Tanach suggests to me that indeed, it could be expressing a single joined concept.

Rashi is basing himself on a midrash in Midrash Rabba:
ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת וכי יש חסד של שקר שהוא אמר חסד ואמת, למה כן? משל הדיוט אומר מית בריה דרחמך, טעון: מת רחמך, פרוק!
אמר לו: אם תעשה לי חסד לאחר מיתתי, הוא חסד של אמת. 
Where the lead-off question is: is there indeed chesed of sheker? And then an explanation of how this is true lovingkindness, with no expectation of reward.

From the perspective of the author of the midrash, the point might have been homiletic, in order to teach about the importance of chessed for the dead or in order to explore motivations people sometimes have in performing favors for others.

And midrash is midrash, not peshat. It does not need to be systematic, especially if the pasuk functions as a pretext rather than a prooftext or analyzed text. So, I wouldn't be troubled by the lack of the same question all the other times this occurs.

From Rashi's perspective, he would be citing this midrashic tradition which informs us of the import of each of these two words. Or else, from a syntactic perspective, that this is a hendiadys. (And indeed, it might be a hendiadys in all those other places as well.)

For a different perspective, he is how Gur Aryeh handles it:
He cites Mizrachi's question that Eliezer uses the expression, and when Rachav uses the expression, though he considers Mizrachi's lengthy answer in this to be incorrect.  (Mizrachi's answer is that any time someone does chessed without expectation of reward is considered chesed shel emet.) Rather, in the general case, it is appropriate to say both chesed and emet, for it has a chessed aspect as well as an emet aspect, for it is appropriate to do, and something which is appropriate to do is called emet. However, here Chazal asked about this, because anything performed for the dead is only because of gemilut chesed, despite the fact that here it was for his father, and that it was a mitzvah for him to bury him -- the burial is because he was obligated to perform chessed for him, but emet there was not, for the fundamental portion of the mitzvah is only because of gemilut chassadim, and so is it stated in perek Elu Metzius {Bava Metzia 30a) that burial is gemilut chassadim; and it is not correct to so that such is fitting to be done, for this is only appropriate to say regarding the living, that it is fitting to do this. Rather, it is entirely called gemilut chassadim. Therefore, Chazal need to say that by chessed ve'emet, the intent is to say that the chessed itself is emet. That is to say, that it is complete chessed, for he is not seeking for repayment in kind, and so it is true chessed. And therefore, in all places the explanation of emet is upon the act, that it is fitting and true to do it, while here it modifies the chessed that it is true.

And still, it is difficult, according to the path of Chazal -- for the Torah should have states "chessed emet" without the conjunctive vav, so what is this chessed veEmet? And this is no question, for even here there are two things, chessed and emet, for behold that which he performs chessed with the corpse, this is chessed for the deceased, and furthermore he is performing emet, for this chessed is emet, for one who does chessed not for a deceased person is not performing true chessed, for it appears to be chessed but is not complete chessed. And so this activity he performs of chessed for the deceased is an activity of truth, for it seems as though he is performing chessed, and it is in truth (emet) so, for behold he is not seeking for recompense. But other gemilut chessed which appears to be gemilut chessed is not so in accordance with the emet. And therefore, one who is gomel chessed for a deceased person is performing chessed, and his actions which appear to be performing chessed are in truth this, and so behold it is "chessed and emet."

My sense of this answer is that it is a bit too elaborate. I much prefer my own explanation, which would account for everything that bothers Gur Aryeh -- that other places also can be so, or don't have to be, and in terms of the construct, that it is a hendiadys. Or if not, I prefer Mizrachi's answer. As it stands, it seems to me as though Gur Aryeh reverses the question and the answer of the midrash, such that the answer -- of how it is chessed shel emet, because it is for a corpse -- becomes the question which prompts the midrash. I think that Gur Aryeh is driven by his methodology here: first, the "what is bothering Rashi approach"; second, in the assumption that there must be a consistent and systematic peshat approach in play; and third, in the assumption that his own peshat concerns must also be the concern of Rashi and the midrash, such that he ends up reversing himself in terms of whether there is both chessed and emes, while still maintaining the first version that it is chessed shel emet.

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