Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The world was filled with chamas -- was this robbery, extortion, or something else?

'And the earth was full of hummus'
Summary: Rashi says chamas means gezel. Does he mean this technically, or not? The meforshei Rashi consider this question, as do I.

Post: At the start of parashat Noach, we hear that the earth was filled with chamas. Thus:

11. Now the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of robbery.יא. וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱ־לֹהִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס:

It is unclear what חמס means. Ibn Caspi writes:

חמס .  סוג כולל לכמה ענינים וכתוב חָמְסוּ תוֹרָתִי (יחזקאל כ״ב כ"ו) ובלשון חכמים חמסו האמת  (?) י

That it, "chamas: is a category which encompasses several matters. And it is written (Yechezkel 22:26) '[Her priests] have done violence {chamsu} to My law.' And in the language of the Sages, it has done violence {chamsu} to the truth."

Ibn Caspi is referring here to the midrashic assumption, echoed by Rashi, that chamas refers to gezel, theft. Thus, Rashi wrote:

ותמלא הארץ חמס: גזל:

And so was it translated above. But really, according to Ibn Caspi, it might be violence, oppression, theft, extortion, and all sorts of other untoward and corrupt behavior. And this seems like a more peshat-oriented prompt for the destruction of the earth.

Though prompted by the talmudic definition of chamas as a definition of gezel, my guess is that Rashi intends this as peshat. Midrashic peshat, but peshat nonetheless.

Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi runs with Rashi's assumption, and asks that there is a distinction between chamas, extortion, and gezel, robbery. Thus, he writes:

"And although in Bava Kamma, perek Hakones Tzon LaDir, they said 'what is the difference between a חמסן and a גזלן? A gazlan does not give money, while a chamsan gives money, but that he {=the seller} does not say 'I want'.' And in Bereshit Rabba, Rabbi Chanina said that gezel is the value of a peruta while chamas is less than the value of a peruta.' Thus, it is clear that gezel is one thing and chamas is another thing. These words are by a chamsan as defined by the rabbanan. But by a chamsan of Scriptures, this is the same as a gazlan. And there, this is what is necessary: What is the distinction between a gazlan derabbanan and a chamsan derabbanan? As they learned in a brayta in perek zeh borer, that the gazlanim and chamsanim were increased upon them. And they are dealing there with the find of a deaf-mute, imbecile, and a minor, who are not invalid Biblically but because of darkei Shalom. And it explains there that a gazlan does not give money, while a chamsan gives money. And so explain the Tosafot in perek haKones."

Gur Aryeh summarizes Mizrachi's answer with the statement that לשון תורה לחוד לשון חכמים לחוד. But Gur Aryeh has a difficulty with this resolution. He writes:

חמס  גזל.  אף על גב שחילוק גדול יש בין
 גזל לחמס  , דאמרינן (ב״ק סב.) מה בין גזלן
 לחמסן — גזלן לא יהיב דמי, חמסן יהיב דמי,
 פירש הרא״ם דלשון התורה לחוד ולשון
 חכמים לחוד (חולין קלז.). ואינו מיושב, דלמה
 הכתוב משנה לכתוב ״חמס״ ולא כתב גזל
 ואונקלום תרגום ׳חטופין, דמשמע חטיפה
 בלבד ולא גזל ממון, ויראה שהוקשה לרש״י
וכי אנשי דור המבול היו יראים את ה׳ שהיו
 נותנים דמים, דודאי לא היו יראים אלהים, אלא
 האי ״חמס״ הוא שגזל ממנו בלא דמים, ומה
 שכתוב בקרא ״חמס״ היינו שלפי האמת היה
 חמס, שמכח שכל (ה)אחד היה גוזל את חבירו

ואם גזל אחד מן חבירו והכירו היה גם כן גוזל
 אותו — הרי היה לו  דמים תחת מה שלקח
 ממנו. והרי הוא חמס. וזהו שנאמר ״ותמלא
 הארץ חמס״ שהרבה היו חומסין, זה מזה וזה
 מזה, עד שהיה הגזל — חמס. ומה שכתב
 רש״י ׳גזל׳ היינו שהגוזל לא כוון שיהיה זה
 חמס, שגזל ממנו בין שהיה לו  תמורת אותו
 חפץ דמים או שלא היה לו, לעולם היה גוזל,
 ולפיכך קרא ׳גזל׳, אלא שהאמת הוא שהיה זה
 חמס בלא כוונתו:

"Chamas: gezel: Although there is a great distinction between gezel and chamas, for we say (in Bava Kamma 62a), 'what is the difference between a gazlan and a chaman -- a gazlan does not give money, while a chamsan gives money.' Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi explains that the language of the Torah has one connotation while the language of the Sages has another connotation (Chullin 137a). And this is not well answered, for why does the Torah change to write chamas and not write gezel? And Onkelos translates חטופין (seizers, robbers), which implies just grabbing and not theft of money. And it appears that it is difficult to Rashi for were the men of the generation of the Deluge God-fearing people that they gave money? Certainly they were not God-fearing people. Rather this chamas is that they stole from the other without money. And that which is written in Scriptures chamas is because, in truth, it was chamas, for by force of the fact that each one stole from his fellow, and if one stole from his fellow and he recognized it, he would {in turn} rob from him. Thus, he had money in return for what was taken from him, and behold it is chamas. And this is what is stated, 'and the earth was filled with chamas', for many were chomsin, this one from that one and that one from this one, until the gezel was chamas. And that which Rashi wrote gezel was because the robber did not intend that this be chamas, for he robbed from him whether it was in exchange for that item's value of whether he did not have, regardless, he would rob. And therefore he called it gezel. But in truth, it was chamas without his intent."

While I think they make a number of valid points, both Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh are over-thinking this.

1) When Rashi said gezel, it is a good and short way of identifying what category of action חמס means in this context. As Ibn Caspi wrote, chamas could encompass many different actions, including violence and oppression. By saying gezel, he means this sort of action.

If so, even if Rashi meant specifically the sort of action that fell under chamas and is not technically gezel, then it is of no concern. Gezel was meant lav davka. Thus, the question from Bava Kamma, voiced by Mizrachi, need not be a question.

2) Does Rashi mean chamas as opposed to gezel, and then, chamas types of actions? Maybe. We could adopt the Bava Kamma definition, that they gave money but they extorted people who did not wish to sell. Or better, Mizrachi cited Midrash Rabba, that chamas is theft under a shava peruta. There is an explicit midrash to that effect, that a whole group of people colluded together to steal from a person, where are person took half a pea. Thus, none of them could be prosecuted in court.

3) Still, Mizrachi does have an excellent answer in לשון תורה לחוד לשון חכמים לחוד. One need not resort to midrashim of this sort. Chamas and gezel can be within the same category, or chamas being a general category while gezel a type of chamas. Or they could be synonyms, which the Torah will use interchangeably in this context, without the sort of distinctions Chazal make within their own use of the terms. If so, we don't need to define a specific type of action the people of the Dor HaMabul committed that was technical chamas.

4) Turning to Gur Aryeh, his question of why specifically mention chamas rather than gezel is a plausibly good one. I don't think one needs to ask that, but my sense differs from that of Gur Aryeh as to what makes a compelling peshat question, as opposed to a compelling derash question. And that question could be what yielded the aforementioned midrash, about each one stealing less than a shaveh peruta.

5) In terms of the question of whether the people of that generation were yerei Shamayim, I think everyone can agree that they were not. But fear of Heaven is not the only reason someone would extort rather than simply rob. One might be afraid of the law. With extortion, someone who does not want to sell, or to sell for that price, can still be compelled, and might be afraid to go to the police. Or the extortionist may have greater deniability in that he did, in fact, give money. So, to say that they were chamsanim in accordance with the Bava Kamma definition does not seem insane.

6) The answer that each was stealing from the other, in exchange, such that it was the Bava Kamma definition of chamas is a nice midrash. But it does not seem to be a midrash that Chazal said. Rather, it was introduced by Gur Aryeh, and perhaps even as peshat. It might be a rather nice neo-midrash. But I don't think this reflects Chazal's belief, and I don't think it reflects Rashi's belief. So too, I don't think that the reason Rashi said gezel was because of the flip side of un-intention by the chamsan. This is reading a whole lot into a single word by Rashi.

7) In terms of the proof from Onkelos, Gur Aryeh appears to be saying that Onkelos is defining this as a geniune chamas, rather than gezel. There was no theft, just a seizure of the property. In other words, and as the supercommentator (R' Yehoshua David Hartman) writes there in footnote 129, this was with force, but he paid money so it was not theft.

I don't know that this diyuk into the Aramaic is entirely compelling. After all, the Targum to ganavim in Ovadiah 1:5 is chatofin:

ה  אִם-גַּנָּבִים בָּאוּ-לְךָ, אִם-שׁוֹדְדֵי לַיְלָה--אֵיךְ נִדְמֵיתָה, הֲלוֹא יִגְנְבוּ דַּיָּם; אִם-בֹּצְרִים בָּאוּ לָךְ, הֲלוֹא יַשְׁאִירוּ עֹלֵלוֹת.5 If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night--how art thou cut off!--would they not steal till they had enough? If grape-gatherers came to thee, would they not leave some gleaning grapes?

and the context is surely thieves, not extortionists.

8) Finally, here is a pasuk where chamas does not mean theft or extortion. Shofetim 9:24:

כד  לָבוֹא, חֲמַס שִׁבְעִים בְּנֵי-יְרֻבָּעַל; וְדָמָם, לָשׂוּם עַל-אֲבִימֶלֶךְ אֲחִיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הָרַג אוֹתָם, וְעַל בַּעֲלֵי שְׁכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-חִזְּקוּ אֶת-יָדָיו לַהֲרֹג אֶת-אֶחָיו.24 that the violence done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and that their blood might be laid upon Abimelech their brother, who slew them, and upon the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to slay his brethren.

That chamas is translated in the Targum by chatofa. And it means violence. It seems that this is a general translation of chamas, and Jastrow derives a meaning of 'violence' for chatofa on the basis of this pasuk and Targum.  So too Tehillim 72:14:

יד  מִתּוֹךְ וּמֵחָמָס, יִגְאַל נַפְשָׁם;    וְיֵיקַר דָּמָם בְּעֵינָיו.14 He will redeem their soul from oppression and violence, and precious will their blood be in his sight;

the translation is chatofa.

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