Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Chasam Sofer on Arami oved avi

Summary: A question on Ibn Ezra's peshat, given a midrash on a later part of the pasuk.

Post: The Chasam Sofer provides the following analysis of Arami Oved Avi, and of Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the Arami being Yaakov Avinu.

"ארמי אובד אבי -- Rashi explains that ארמי refers to Lavan, who sought to destroy my father, for Lavan sought to uproot everything, and among the gentiles, Hashem considers an evil thought to be equivalent to action.

And in the Sifrei, it places this upon the end of the verse, of ויהי שם לגוי. {J: I am not sure what this means. See the Sifrei here.}

And it appears that Ibn Ezra wrote to explain that ארמי אובד אבי refers to Yaakov, that is, that my father was an Arami Oved, for a pauper is called אבד; that Yaakov, when he was in Aram, was an Arami Oved. And Yaakov, as well, descended after this to Egypt and was made there in Egypt into a גיו גדול.

However, upon this is a difficulty, for behold they darshened on ויהי שם לגוי {J: in the Sifrei} that this teaches that Israel were distinct {metzuyanim} there, by their names and their dress. And how can one say regarding the Arami Oved, my father, who descended as well to Egypt, that ויהי שם לגוי, that would be, that the Arami behold is distinct there, and appears and is recognized by the name Israel and not like an Aramean?

Thus, perforce it must be as in Rashi's explanation, that it refers to Lavan. And if so, from the end of the verse, the beginning of the verse is clear, that it refers to Lavan, and it is clear that an evil thought amonst the gentiles is like action, and it works out well."

The Chasam Sofer continues to interpret and analyze on this subject. See inside.

Ibn Ezra and Rashbam are not here to defend their explanation, but I will offer what I think is a good rejoinder.

I don't think Ibn Ezra rejects the existence of the derasha of the Arami being Lavan. He just maintains that it is derash rather than peshat. And so, what concern do we have from another derasha in the Sifrei. That just means that the derashot are consistent. If he is free to reject the first derasha as peshat, he is free to reject the second one as well.

On a peshat level, the pasuk simply means that Yaakov (who is avi, the Arami oved), descended to Egypt and there, became a great nation of many people. And, we can even bring in the midrash, that he became not merely a family, with his 70 souls going down, but a nation, meaning a distinct group שם, there, within Egypt. Yes, singular turns to plural, for one man has developed into a people. So I don't really agree with the underlying assumption of the question (that a second midrash can disprove a peshat which already was at odds with a first midrash), and also believe that one can even present that second midrash, assuming Ibn Ezra's peshat.

Here is the way that Bechor Shor parses the pasuk. Note that he says like Ibn Ezra for the first part and like the midrash about mitzuyanim for the second part:

Whether or not the Chasam Sofer is right, I think that he is being motivated to try to debunk Ibn Ezra's explanation. The same motivation might have impelled Mizrachi. That is that this is a 'famous' derasha, as found in the Haggadah. And so, while Ibn Ezra diverges from midrashim on many an occasion, this is a rather obvious, in-your-face one. People will bring up the Ibn Ezra on the seder night and say, 'but this is not what the pasuk actually means!'

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