Thursday, November 03, 2011

Avraham was 74X the stature of a normal man

Summary: Considering an interpretation of a midrash by Rav Kanievsky.

Post: Here is an interesting midrash:
"The man [who lived in Chevron] was the greatest of the giants" (Yehoshua 14:15) -- This refers to our forefather Avraham, whose height was equal to that of seventy-four men. The amount of food and drink he consumed was enough for seventy-four men, and he had the strength of that many men as well.
(Concluding Beraita of Masechet Sofrim)
Not every midrash is intended literally, and this one, with its strange reference to precisely 74 men, seems like a perfect candidate for an allegorical midrash. Explanations have been offered for the 74, such as that this is a coded reference to the following:
Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel climbed [Mount Sinai]... . They gazed at Hashem and they ate and they drank. [They saw the Divine Glory, and when He accepted the offerings they brought to Him, they were as happy as if they had been eating and drinking.]
(Shmot 24:9-11, according to Targum Onkeles)
This sounds quite plausible. Though for all we know, this might be a coded reference to something else entirely, of which we know nothing at all.

I saw this week in Taama de-Kra that Rav Chaim Kanievsky gives a rather nice interpretation of this midrash:

 שילהי מס׳ סופרים אברהם אבינו הי׳ גבוה קומתו כנגד ע״ד אנשים וכן כחו ע״ש וצריך ביאור, וי״ל דהוא מוכרח דבסנהדרין צ״ב ב׳ מבואר דאורך המחנה שבאו על אברהם הי׳ ת׳ פרסה, ואליעזר הוא עוג כמ״ש שם במס׳ סופרים והוא בא עם אברהם להלחם כמ״ש בנדרים ל״ב א׳ ומפורש בפ׳ דברים דעוג ערסו ט׳ אמות וכל אדם כשנולד ארכו אמה ומחצה כמ״ש בב״ר פי״ב וא״כ עוג קומתו כנגד ו׳ אנשים, ש

ומבואר בפסחים צ״ד א׳ דמהלך אדם  י׳ פרסאות ביום והם נלחמו עד חצי הלילה כדפירש״י בחומש וא״כ נלחמו ו׳ שעות ורדפו אחרי המחנה ואדם בינוני מהלך בו׳ שעות ה׳ פרסאות 

וא״כ אברהם שהי׳ קומתו וכחו כנגד ע״ד אנשים ואליעזר כנגד ו׳ הרי ביחד היו כנגד  פ׳ אנשים א״כ הלכו בו׳ שעות פ׳ פעמים  ה׳ פרסאות והוא מכוון ת׳ פרסאות כנגד כל המחנה וזהו שפירש״י ויחלק עליהם כדרך הרודפין זה לכאן וזה לכאן דהיינו   שאליעזר רדף לצד מזרח המחנה ל׳ פרסאות כנגד ו׳ אנשים ואברהם רדף לצד מערב ש״ע פרסאות כנגד ע״ד אנשים נמצא השיגו כל המחנה (ואע״ג שהם ברחו הרי גם אברהם ואליעזר רדפו ושוב נשתוו) ודו״ק (מיהו י״ל  דכשרודף או בורח הולך יותר מי׳ פרסאות ליום וצ״ע).ש

"At the end of Masechet Soferim: Avraham Avinu was tall as 74 men, and so too his strength, see there. And this requires explanation. And there is to say that it comes from the following. In Sanhdrin 92b it is explained that the length of the camp which came upon Avraham was 400 parsangs. And Eliezer was Og, as is written there in Masechet Soferim. And he came with Avraham to fight, as is written in Nefarim 32a. And it is spelled out in parashat Devarim that Og's baby-crib was 9 cubits; and a regular person, when he is born, his length is 1.5 cubits, as is written in Bereishit Rabba, chapter 12. And if so, Og's height corresponded to that of 6 men.

And it is explained in Pesachim 94a that a person can walk 10 parsangs in a day. And they fought until half the night, as Rashi explains in Chumash. And if so, they fought for 6 hours and pursued the camp. And a regular person can walk in 6 hours 5 parsangs.

And if so, Avraham, whose stature and strength was equal to 74 men, and Eliezer, equal to 6, behold together are equal to 80 men. If so, they traveled, in 6 hours, 80 X 5 parsangs, which is precisely 400 parsangs, parallel to the entire camp. And this is what Rashi explains, ויחלק עליהם, that they divided themselves, in the manner of pursuers, this one this way and this one that way. That this is that Eliezer pursued to the east of the camp 30 parsangs, parallel to 6 men, and Avraham pursued to the west side, 370 parsangs, parallel to 74 men. Thus, it is found that they reached the entire camp. (And even though they also fled, behold Avraham and Eliezer also pursued, and so they return to being equal.) And consider, and it works out. (However, there is to say that when one pursues or flees, one travels more than 10 parsangs in a day, and this requires analysis.)"

This works out quite nicely, though I am not entirely convinced that it really reflects the intent of the midrash. However, I would note that it is from Masachet Soferim that he gets that Eliezer = Og. And I would also note that other sources darshening this same pasuk in Yehoshua talk of the great distance that Avraham could walk, and specifically when pursuing these kings. Thus, in Yalkut Shimoni,

דבר אחר האדם הגדול בענקים אמר רבי זה אברהם, ולמה קורא אותו גדול, רבי לוי ורבי אלעזר בשם ר' יוסי בן זמרא פסיעותיו של אברהם אבינו היו ג' מילין. ר' יהודה ברבי סימון אומר מיל שנאמר ארח ברגליו לא יבא מי פעל למפרע מיל ר"ת. רבי נחמיה בשם רבי איבו לא נתאבקו רגליו כשהלך אחר המלכים אלא כזה שהוא הולך מביתו לבית הכנסת. 
But they understand that he could walk 3 mil, or 1 mil, in each stride. The relationship of a parsang to a mil is as follows:
  • 1 mil (Mil) = 2000 ells (Amot)
  • 1 parasang (Parasa) = 4 mils (Milin)
400 parsangs (parsaot) = 1600 mil. If each stride was 3 mil, then this is 533 1/3 strides. If each stride was 1 mil, then this is 1600 strides. This seems

Here, however, is an interesting conversion. 3 mil = 75% of a parsa, which is one off from 74.

No, I cannot figure out a precise correlation. But the point is that indeed, the pursuit is connected to this parasha of Avraham pursuing the kings. This makes Rav Kanievsky's interpretation much more likely.

Still, I generally have reservations of interpretations based on precise calculations like this. It seems pretty convincing, but then we see another just as convincing interpretation which also works out via precise calculations. (Consider, for instance, the various interpretations of how the vav of gachon is the precise middle of the Torah in letters.) This means that clever people can come up with mathematical calculations which work out just right, even if it is not the true meaning of the text under consideration.


Mike S. said...

This makes no sense interpreted literally.

First of all, it isn't anything close 1200 mil from Chevron to Damascus. And if the camp of the 4 kings was 400 parasang long (or that of Sancherib as described in Sanhedrin) the soldiers would have had to start by marching east from Bavel to about modern day Herat to get on the end of the line. The 400 is just a symbolic number

Second if they are pursuing a retreating Army they only need to go as fast as the retreating Army they are beating up on.

Third, if Avraham were as tall as 74 men, he'd have to be as strong as 400,000 just to hold his own weight. Which would go as the cube of his linear dimension--good luck with that. Actually, probably more than that since he'd have to be thicker in proportion.

Fourth if he really took 3 mile steps and took 2.5 steps/second, which is not unreasonable, he would be running at escape velocity and wouldn't stay on the Earth.

By the way, if a newborn baby is 1.5 cubits that would correspond to a cubit of about 16 inches, which would make eating matzah on Pesach far more normal. It would also fit with archaeological evidence from Hizkiyahu's tunnel.

Anonymous said...

"I would note that it is from Masachet Soferim that he gets that Eliezer = Og."


This broaches the question of how one should deal with a person who is speaking in midrash. Some do not like conversation to be redirected to pshat and not take kindly to the idea all midrashim are not intended to be literal and refute the Rambam on this. Is nice company expected to play along? Ideas?


Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

A somewhat related discussion:

איתא במדרש פליאה (פ' וירא) בזה"ל אכילתו של אברהם אבינו היה כנגד שבעים וארבע אנשים ע"כ. וראיתי בשם הגר"א (מדרש פליאה המבואר שם) שכתב לבאר דאכילתו של אברהם אבינו היינו האוכל שנתן למלאכים שבאו אליו והאי אוכל ר"ל הנאה מזיו השכינה. ולכן נחשב כנגד ע"ד אנשים שמצינו ויעל משה ואהרן נדה ואביהוא ושבעים מזקני ישראל ויחזו את האלקים ויאכלו וישתו (מקרא זו אינו, וע' דומה לזה בשמות כד:ט-יא) וזהו ע"ד אנשים (משה, אהרן, נדב, אביהוא, וע' זקנים) ואכילה הזאת אינה ממש אכילה אלא הנאה מזיו השכינה.

S. said...

"Is nice company expected to play along? Ideas? "

Tough one. I'm too much of a nice guy to rain on anyone's parade, but I also don't particularly care for the fact that many people just seem to be completely comfortable sharing whatever nonsense they think, assuming and expecting that I agree with them. That goes for me as well - and that's why I don't just tell people stuff without it arising organically in a conversation. You can tell the difference between someone who loves a good debate and someone who honestly has never considered that the next guy just might have a different way of approaching and thinking about something. Why just this morning a guy in line at a store made some kind of nasty crack about some political something or other that he somehow assumed I, a total stranger, heartily agreed with. I did not, and even if I did I would not have liked the way he put it. But even if I didn't agree, I didn't tell him that he's an idiot. :-)

So . . . my view is that the answer is play along in a very, very unenthusiastic way, unless you know the other person likes a good debate.

bluke said...

I posted about the physics of this here, how based on simple physics it is impossible for someone to be that tall.


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