Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The megillat hamasaot and the parasha of Bilaam

Summary: According to Rav Gifter, both were written separately. The list of  masaot as they made their way through the midbar, and the parasha of Bilaam as something separate. The masaot were added to the Torah, but the parasha of Bilaam was not, and is not the same as our parashat Balak. I consider this idea.

Post: First read this previous parshablog post, and this one, about the reason for encoding the masaot. It includes a discussion of Ibn Ezra and Ramban on the instruction of vayichtov, and whether al pi Hashem applies to that verb or to their travels.

Rav Mordechai Gifter, zatzal, writes:

"Ibn Ezra explains that al pi Hashem is connected to their travels, as in 'on Hashem's word they traveled and on Hashem's word they encamped.' And Ramban writes that if so there would be no seen, for we already know that it is so. Therefore he explains that it is connected to vayichtov Moshe.

And this seems to be puzzling, for it is known that all that he wrote was by Hashem's command, for Hashem said and he wrote. Rather, his intent in this that he wrote is that the reason for the writing of the masaot were a secret which was not revealed to us. And all that is known to us is that which was in His will to reveal. And perhaps his intent is that here was a particular command on the writing of the masaot, for in all the Torah there was not in the writing a commandment of writing, but rather this was part and parcel of the giving of the Written Torah, while here it was a particular command of the writing of the masaot.

And perhaps it is possible in this that Moshe was commanded to write the megillah {scroll} of the masaot {Josh: as it was happening through the midbar}, and in this the Scripture would be explained, that Moshe would write after they left from their encampment to travel further, and this is 'and Moshe wrote motza'eihem lemasa'eihem.' And according to this, there is to say that the Torah first set out in general, 'these are the masaot of the Israelites', and afterwards it explains, 'which they left' -- as in 'as they left from Egypt', then 'Moshe wrote, etc.', that with their leaving Rameses, Moshe was commanded to begin the writing of the scroll of the masaot. And consider it carefully.

And see Bava Batra 14b: Moshe wrote his sefer and parashat Bilaam. And see there in Rashi. And the Ritva explains that this is not parashat Bilaam which is written in the Torah, for that one, Hashem wrote it just like the rest of the Torah. Rather, it is a separate parasha of its own which he wrote. And he goes on at length more, and you can look at it.

And it is possible, according to this, that that which they said {in Bava Batra} 'wrote his sefer', this is not the Torah, for the Torah is not called the sefer of Moshe, like the rest of the sifrei Neviim, but the Torah of Hashem [even though the Navi {Malachi 4:4} says 'recall the Torah of my servant Moshe']. Rather his sefer was the megillat hamasaot which he was commanded to write from the time they left from the land of Egypt. And this megillah was referred to as the sefer of Moshe; also the parasha of Bilaam {which differs from the one in the Torah, as Ritva writes}. And perhaps this is the intent of Rashi there who wrote, 'and the parasha of Bilaam, his prophecy and parables, even though they are not the needs of Moshe, his teachings, or his actions'. And if regarding the parsha of Bilaam in the Torah, these words make no sense. Rather, the intent is to the parasha of Bilaam referred to by the Ritva, for this parasha as well was entered into the megillat hamasaot, and it was not of the requirements of Moshe, his teaching, or his actions, within that megillah. And these matters require investigation and explication."

I agree with a good portion of the early comments, and he set them out much better than I was able to earlier. Indeed, this difficulty as why these specifically we are told Moshe was commanded to write is what likely motivated Ibn Ezra to give a forced interpretation. And indeed, Ramban does not merely refer to the writing, but refers to all sorts of reasons, including reasons unknown to us, to prompt the writing, and as the purpose of this writing. And this may be motivated by the question of why we are told that these specifically Moshe wrote al pi Hashem.

It is also a rather fine insight and interpretation into the pasuk, that Moshe wrote this throughout their journey through the wilderness. We would have to take vayichtov as the pluperfect, but this is entirely acceptable grammatically. Moshe had written this throughout, and now it is appended at the end.

I do not agree with the creative reinterpretation of the gemara in Bava Basra. The pasuk in Malachi is famous enough that it came to me immediately as an objection to saying that the Torah is not called Toras Moshe. More than that, in Bava Basra, regarding other neviim, we are told that they wrote their book as well as some other one. And in each case, 'sifro' is the famous one attributed to him:
יהושע כתב ספרו ושמונה פסוקים שבתורה שמואל כתב ספרו ושופטים ורות
I don't think this suggested explanation is peshat in Bava Batra. It is remotely possible but rather implausible.

Ritva asks a good question, and has good motivation in that otherwise, we should just consider it part of sifro. But there is a good answer, and that answer is found in the words of Rashi. No, Rashi does not agree with Ritva. He is explaining why, even though it does appear in the Torah, parashat Bilaam is not encompassed in sifro, such that it needs to be handled separately. The content of the parasha would indicate that it is not typical Torah fare. It is the prophecy and parables of another prophet; and the actions and events directly impacting him. Therefore, we are told that this is indeed also written by Moshe.

I know, this is the standard interpretation of the gemara and Rashi I am putting forth here, but I think it works, and it works much better than this interpretation. (Regardless, the entire dvar Torah is a wonderful construction.)

Separate from this, we could regard parashat Bilaam and the parashat Hamasaot as separate works, both of which were entered into the Torah text at the very end of their stay in the midbar. And I've suggested in the past reading the Torah text with parshat Bilaam yanked out, to see how nicely it flows without the digression.

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