Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Rasha! Lama Sakeh Rei'echa?!"

Another parsing: "Llama, sakeh rei'echa."
This week, from Junior's school.

Q: When Moshe saw Datan and Aviram fighting, what did he call the man who was about to hit the other man?
A: Rasha.

My thoughts regarding this -- not exactly, though it seems a common misconception. For one example of many, see this:
Recall the words of Moshe when he witnessed one Jew about to strike another. "Rasha, lama takeh reyecha?" - "Evil one, why do you hit your friend?" Moshe asked that question even before the blow had landed.
Many aspects of this account stem from a midrashic understanding of the pesukim. For example, that this was Dasan and Aviram comes from a midrashic, closed-canon approach. So too that he did not hit, but was about to hit, comes from the midrash noting the imperfect form takeh, which most often denotes the future tense. On a peshat level it could be any random two Hebrew slaves, and grammatically can work out to why the one slave was hitting the other. But a midrashic understanding is perfectly acceptable.

The possible problem is in the assertion that Moshe explicitly called the fellow about to strike a Rasha. The pasuk states:

13. He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, "Why are you going to strike your friend?" יג. וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים וַיֹּאמֶר לָרָשָׁע לָמָּה תַכֶּה רֵעֶךָ:

That is, the quote is NOT (that Moshe said) "Rasha! Why will you strike your fellow?" Rather it IS (that Moshe said to the Rasha) "Why will you strike your fellow?" It is laRasha, lama sakeh rei'echa? It is Hashem who calls him a Rasha, not Moshe, at least not explicitly.

Rashi on the pasuk writes regarding laRasha that:

למה תכה: אף על פי שלא הכהו, נקרא רשע בהרמת יד:

Even though he did not (yet) strike him, he was called an evildoer with the mere lifting of his hand with intent to strike. Nikra doesn't mean that Moshe called him that, but that that is his designation from a Torah perspective.

This is based on a Midrash Rabba which makes this derivation from the future tense even more explicit:

ויאמר לרשע למה תכה רעך 
הכית לא נאמר:, אלא תכה, מכאן, שמשעה שאדם מרים ידו להכות חברו, אף על פי שלא הכהו, נקרא רשע. 

There is a continuation of the Rashi and midrash, on the continuation of the pasuk, which may indeed give us the word Rasha in Moshe's mouth.

Rashi writes:
רעך: רשע כמותך

and the Midrash has:
רעך, שהוא רשע כיוצא בך, מלמד ששניהם רשעים: 

Thus, re'echa is not 'friend' but 'fellow', someone of the same caliber. This fits into the point developed earlier in both Rashi and the midrash that these were the two evildoers, Datan and Aviram. Besides the closed-canon approach and whatever particular textual cues in place there (based on the word anashim or nitzim, see there), this reinforces the idea that both participants were evildoers, thus making it the known pair of Datan and Aviram, rather than, say, Datan and some other hapless Hebrew slave serving as his victim.

But by using the word bach, it is speech targeted towards whoever the intended smiter was, and he thus implicitly is stating that they are both Reshaim. This might just be an artefact of the derasha in this case being within Moshe's speech.

This slight difference makes a huge difference in tone, IMHO, just as much as whether Han Solo shot first. For while it was appropriate for Moshe to step in and stop the injustice, explicitly calling one of the participants a Rasha, even before he took action, could like backfire. And calling even the victim a Rasha as the same time is a good way of getting them to turn on him. Meanwhile, reminding them they they are both the oppressed (on the peshat level) and don't need to fight among themselves; and asking one why he intends, or is hitting his fellow, as a way of trying to make peace, has an entirely different feel. And we see Datan, or Aviram's, reaction:

14. And he retorted, "Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?" Moses became frightened and said, "Indeed, the matter has become known!" יד. וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט עָלֵינוּ הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת הַמִּצְרִי וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר:

I think that despite the midrashim I mentioned, even on this midrashic level, the quote is intended to be "Lama takeh re'echa" rather than "Rasha! Lama takeh re'echa!"

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