Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ibn Caspi on the Avos keeping the entire Torah

Summary: He endorses the idea, kind-of. In one instance, as a restrained and coded rejection. In another, as a philosophical co-opting of the idea. Also, Chizkuni and my own approach to understanding the pasuk that sparks all this.

Post: A pasuk and Rashi, in the midst of parashat Toledot (26:5):

5. Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions."ה. עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְוֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי:

and kept My charge: [Referring to] decrees to distance [himself] from transgressing the warnings in the Torah, e.g. secondary prohibitions to prevent incest from occurring, and the Rabbinic decrees to safeguard the prohibitions of the Sabbath.וישמר משמרתי: גזרות להרחקה על אזהרות שבתורה, כגון שניות לעריות ושבות לשבת:
My commandments: [Referring to] things, which, had they not been written, would have been fit to be commanded, e.g. [prohibitions against] robbery and bloodshed.מצותי: דברים שאילו לא נכתבו ראויין הם להצטוות כגון גזל ושפיכות דמים:
My statutes: [Referring to] things that the evil inclination and the nations of the world argue against, e.g. [the prohibitions against] eating pork and wearing garments of wool and linen for which no reason [is given], but [which are] the decree of the King and His statutes over His subjects.חקותי: דברים שיצר הרע ואומות העולם משיבין עליהם כגון אכילת חזיר ולבישת שעטנז שאין טעם בדבר אלא גזירת המלך וחקותיו על עבדיו:
and My instructions: To include the Oral Law, the laws given to Moses from Sinai. [Yoma 28b]ותורתי: להביא תורה שבעל פה, הלכה למשה מסיני:

This is based on Yoma 28b, which reads:
  Rab said: Our father Abraham kept the whole Torah, as it is said: Because that Abraham hearkened to My voice [kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws].21 R. Shimi b. Hiyya said to Rab: Say, perhaps, that this refers to the seven laws?22 — Surely there was also that of circumcision!23 Then say that it refers to the seven laws and circumcision [and not to the whole Torah]? — If that were so, why does Scripture say: ‘My commandments and My laws’? Raba or R. Ashi said: Abraham, our father, kept even the law concerning the ‘erub of the dishes,’24 as it is said: ‘My Torahs’:25 one being the written Torah, the other the oral Torah.26
Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi writes:

ה)  וישמור  משמרתי  וגו. מה אומר אחרי רבותינו ז"ל
 בפירוש זה שאמרו  קיים אברהם כל התורה כולה  (יומא כ־ח)  פקח:
 עיניך וראה

"What shall I say after our Sages za'l in explanation of this, that they said that Avraham kept the entire Torah (Yoma 28)? Open your eyes and see."

I think that it is fairly clear that Ibn Caspi is speaking in code. Rather than saying explicitly that he disagrees with Chazal in this, he says 'what can I say?' And since he is unable to say explicitly what he wants to, he resorts to "Open your eyes and see."

Compare with what Ibn Caspi wrote on an earlier parashah, Lech Lecha, in his more flowing worth, Tiras Kesef:

ואשיב ואומר כי ידוע שמנהג הארץ  ההיא לקחת  איש אחד
 נשים  רבות, עם  שגם תורתנו התירה זה לעמנו,  ולכן היה מהפלגת
  קדושת  אברהם,  אע״פ שגדלה תשוקתו לבנים שלא נזדווג רק
 לאשתו  הנכבדת,  אשר הוא נעזר ממנה לכל עת צורך,  גם לא
 לשפחותיו הנמצאות אתו  בבית,  ומה טוב מה שאמרו פלוסופי  חכמינו
 קיים אברהם  כל התורה כלה  (יומא כ״ח), ודי במה שזכרנו  מופת
 שהחמיר על עצמו אף במקום שהתירה אותו התורה העתידה להמסר
 לכלל עם ישורון. והנה ביאר כי אברהם לא בקש זה משרה, אבל
 שמע לקולה כאשר בקשה זה מאתו, ובכלל זה שלום הבית  ג״כ
 שהוא עיקר גדול לכל מבקש שלמות .

"And I will further say that it is known that the custom of that land was for one man to take many wives, besides that our Torah permits this to our nation. And therefore it was of the great holiness of Avraham that, despite the greatness of his desire for children, he only paired with his honored wife, from whom he received aid at any time of necessity, and not from his maidservants who were found with him in the house.
And how good was that which the philosophers of our Sages said, that Avraham kept the entire Torah (Yoma 28b). And it is sufficient in that which we have mentioned, the exemplar that he was strict upon himself even in a place that which was permitted by the Torah which was to be transmitted over to the populace of the nation of Yeshurun. And behold, it explains that Avraham did not request this of Sarah, but rather that he hearkened to her voice when she requested this of him, and encompassed with this is the peace of the household {shalom habayit}, which is as well an important fundamental to anyone who desires completeness."
This is not a contradiction. Ibn Caspi does not believe, on a peshat level -- on a literal level or on a historical level -- that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, including eruv tavshilin. This is obvious, and to say otherwise is to subscribe to an obvious anachronism.

Even so, Ibn Caspi seizes upon this Talmudic statement by פלוסופי חכמינו. Indeed, by attributing it to them, he grants the message the status of coded, hidden philosophy. What message can we find* in here?  Don't be so averse to anachronism. Avraham's actions should not be understood as purely a function of his social context. He was not a typical Mesopotamian resident, such that we should explain his every action based on the Code of Hammurabi or the Laws of Eshnunna. He sanctified himself even in the permitted, and his moral compass could and should provide a model for his descendants. Thus, Rav Shimi bar Chiya said that perhaps this וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְוֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי only refers to the sheva mitzvos benei Noach, which were incumbent upon everyone back then, and this suggestion of Rav Shimi bar Chiya was rejected.

Also rejected was the suggestion that the only extra item Avraham kept was milah, which we see explicitly that he was commanded. Rather, in general, Avraham kept himself to a strict moral code which exceeded that expected within his surroundings. This would be the equivalent of keeping the entire Torah. And he kept things even above the written Torah; even the Oral Torah; and specifically, eruv tavshilin which is rabbinic. Not that he literally kept eruv tavshilin. That would be silly, I think Ibn Caspi would agree. Rather, this is an example of keeping stringencies even above what the Torah would impose.

Does Ibn Caspi really think that this is what Chazal meant by this? Perhaps, though his comment in parshas Toldos suggests otherwise. This could be a philosophical coopting of a derasha of Chazal. I am reminded of what Shadal said about philosophical derash:
And if we turn to the other great commentators -- Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, we find that in many places they lean from the path of peshat to another side -- is it not the philosophical derash.

And the man {=the guest} replied to me and said: You have spoken correctly. A great and grievous damage has the mixed up philosophy damaged us -- which spread in the world via the Arabs, who took Aristotle as head and chief, and in his name they swear, and they wish to make his words agree with their beliefs which they received from their fathers, and they innovated a confused wisdom which confuses the hearts - which when the kingdom of Ishmael spread in the lands, this {ideology} also spread, and confused the thoughts and ruined the beliefs.

And the chachmei yisrael also, in order to make the words of this philosophy agree with our Complete Torah, forced and pressed the words of the Torah, Neviim, and the Sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud in order that they say what they did not say and never entered their hearts in {all} their days. And in order to do this they {the chachmei yisrael} brought out the {tools of} derash, remez and mashal {allegory}. And they abandoned the peshat and did not serve it.
How shall we understand this pasuk in Toldos? I'll present Chizkuni on the pasuk, to show one alternate way of processing the pasuk; and then give my own, cruder explanation.

Chizkuni writes:

"עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי -- this is the Akeida, and so does He say there, 'because you have hearkened to My voice.'

וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי -- this is circumcision, that he accepted immediately, as is written 'this is my covenant that you shall תשמרו.'

מִצְוֹתַי -- this is circumcision at eight days, as is written, 'And Avraham circumcised Yitzchak his son at eight days, as Elokim צוה him. 

חֻקּוֹתַי -- that he commanded as well his descendants after him that they be circumcised, as is written, 'And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant'. {Josh: and chok implies continual.} And it says 'And you shall establish it for Yaakov as a חוק.'

וְתוֹרֹתָי -- that I said to him 'Lech Lecha to the land that I show you.' And a proof to the matter is {Tehillim 32:8}:

ח  אַשְׂכִּילְךָ, וְאוֹרְךָ--בְּדֶרֶךְ-זוּ תֵלֵךְ;    אִיעֲצָה עָלֶיךָ עֵינִי.8 'I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will give counsel, Mine eye being upon thee.'

and so too {Tehillim 25:12}:

יב  מִי-זֶה הָאִישׁ, יְרֵא ה--    יוֹרֶנּוּ, בְּדֶרֶךְ יִבְחָר.12 What man is he that feareth the LORD? Him will He instruct in the way that he should choose.

And all תורה is a language of instruction. 

And according to the peshatמִצְוֹתַי and חֻקּוֹתַי  are the seven mitzvot which the children of Noach were commanded."

I'll end by saying that on a peshat level, it might not be the correct thing to highlight and analyze each part of this repetitive pasuk עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי וַיִּשְׁמֹר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְוֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי. Rather, the idea is that Avraham is wholehearted in following Hashem in every sort of command Hashem has or may issue. The duplication with near synonyms, then, does not delineate specific actions, but rather any action under and between each of the terms listed.

* Here I am very free and liberal in interpreting Ibn Caspi, so as a reader, perhaps be more cautious.

1 comment:

A fan said...

You forgot to embed a certain very famous YouTube video on this topic!


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