Sunday, December 26, 2010

When did the Bnei Yisrael say חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ?

Summary: It makes sense, chronologically, that it would fall somewhere in Va'era. I explore some approaches which are open and closed canon to varying degrees.

Post: In parashat Beshalach, as the Egyptians approach by the Yam Suf, the people complain to Moshe. Shemot 14:12:

יב  הֲלֹא-זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְנוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְמִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנַעַבְדָה אֶת-מִצְרָיִם:  כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר.12 Is not this the word that we spoke unto thee in Egypt, saying: Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.'

But try as we might, we won't find this pasuk in our Chumashim. Chronologically, it must have been stated in Egypt, perhaps in Shemot, perhaps in Vaera, or perhaps in Bo.

There are different approaches one may take to this matter. An open canon approach means that we can find a referred to person or event outside the Biblical canon, while a closed-canon approach means we need to find it within the canon. For example, when the Torah refers to ha-palit, the one who escaped from Sodom, a closed-canon approach would identify him with some other known character, such as Og, who escaped from the Mabul and is referred to the one who was nishar. An open canon approach would be that he is someone otherwise unknown to us. Who was the magid who told Yosef in Egypt that his father was sick? A closed canon approach (mentioned in Rashi) identifies this as Ephraim; other midrashim identify other Biblical characters. But an open canon approach (also mentioned in Rashi, there) allows it to be a random individual whom we otherwise would not know.

So, when did the Israelites mention this. Ibn Ezra writes:
[יד, יב]
הלא זה הדבר -
איננו מפורש, רק ידענו כי כן היה. כי איך יאמרו לו בפניו דבר שלא היה. והדבר הזה הוא בכלל ולא שמעו אל משה.

We don't find this explicitly in the Torah, but obviously it must have happened, for they would not have said something before Moshe that was not true. This matter is within the general statement that they didn't listen to Moshe, in our parasha in Va'era, in Shemot 6:9:

ט  וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה.  {פ}9 And Moses spoke so unto the children of Israel; but they hearkened not unto Moses for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage. {P}

Ibn Caspi says the same, attributing it to Shemot 6:9, as we shouldn't expect every single detail to be mentioned explicitly.

This seems to me to be a combination of closed and open canon. It need not be referred to explicitly, but perhaps they would prefer or require that there be some general reference in which we could insert this particular.

Rashi takes a similar tack:
אשר דברנו אליך במצרים: והיכן דברו, (שמות ה כא) ירא ה' עליכם וישפוט:

That is, he takes it not as a general statement, but as a paraphrase of a particular statement in parashat, in Shemot 5:21:

כא  וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם, יֵרֶא יְהוָה עֲלֵיכֶם וְיִשְׁפֹּט:  אֲשֶׁר הִבְאַשְׁתֶּם אֶת-רֵיחֵנוּ, בְּעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה וּבְעֵינֵי עֲבָדָיו, לָתֶת-חֶרֶב בְּיָדָם, לְהָרְגֵנוּ.21 and they said unto them: 'The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.'

This would appear to be the closed canon approach, entirely, in that we equate two particular statements, even where they diverge slightly. To my mind, there seem to be some problems with this equation. At the Yam Suf, they say that it is better to toil in servitude than dying in the wilderness, while in the statement in parashat Shemot, it seems that this is a complaint of Pharaoh increasing their workload in response, with the 'sword in their hand to slay us' as a metaphor. No one at this point is talking about dying in the wilderness, either of hunger or at Pharaoh's hand. Perhaps the meforshei Rashi deal with this. It is something to look into. But perhaps this is why Ibn Ezra and Ibn Caspi select a different pasuk.

The Samaritans follow their typical path, or creating a false Torah text to resolve any difficulties. As Chazal told them, ziyaftem et toratchem! They thus insert it into the beginning of our parashah, Vaera, right after the pasuk which Ibn Ezra identifies:

I suppose you could call this an open-canon approach, because they don't try to equate it with any other existing pasuk. On the other hand, it is closed-canon in that they cannot abide the Torah text referring to some event which they don't think has been mentioned elsewhere, which prompts them to insert this earlier mention. Or perhaps it happened in stages, first identifying the same pasuk as Ibn Ezra as the general statement covering the specific one of Beshalach, and then, since they were convinced of the truth of this, inserting it in explicitly.

One final possibility strikes me, an entirely open-canon approach, which is that it had not even been referred to in the place noted by Ibn Ezra and Ibn Caspi, but it happened at some point, and we are not sure precisely when.


DovBear said...

The Samaritans follow their typical path, or creating a false Torah text to resolve any difficulties.

You make it seem as if they were behaving maliciously. Inst at least possible that they weren't?

joshwaxman said...

certainly. i don't think they were malicious, just deliberate. As I wrote in an earlier post:

Now imagine that coinciding with this text, there were a group of people who did not give a darn about preserving the integrity of the Biblical text. They did not have Pharisaic hangups about each letter needing to be preserved, so as not to invalidate the Torah. Rather, they were more concerned with meaning. To this end, they made thousands of emendations to the text to clarify meaning. Insertion of geographical details; copying from one segment of Torah to another to fill in details which were poor in one location; replacing their holy mountain in place of another one as a site for blessing; standardizing the spelling to conform to state of the art contemporary spelling, and so on and so forth. They were concerned with meaning, and did not care much for Oral Law. Their Biblical text should have all, or much, of the important ideas.

Thus, their Biblical text was not so much a Torah text but a Hebrew Targum. And in this Hebrew Targum, they wrote ושבע בכל טוב.

regardless of their motivations, from the perspective of Biblical scholarship, my sense is that we must be very, very wary of alternate Samaritan texts that fix all of our problems.

kol tuv,


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