Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rashi vs. the famous midrash of bloody earlobes

Growing up, I learned a midrash which became entrenched in my mind, the the exclusion of the version we see in Rashi. Aharon told the men to take gold earrings from their wives and children to fashion the golden calf:
According to the midrash, the women of Israel object to the idolatrous project and refuse to donate their jewelry to the frenzy; yet they lack the power to intervene, and their husbands have to physically rip their earrings from their earlobes.[Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 45.]
There was graphic imagery to this midrash as well, of torn earlobes. But where is this midrash to be found? (If you've seen it inside, please let me know in a comment!) I certainly remember hearing the midrash, but I see an alternate midrash in Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer perek 45.

That midrash is in accordance with the other midrashic sources I've seen, that the women refused to give the earring and so the men surrendered their own earrings.

This interpretation of events, found also in Rashi, who gets it from Midrash Tanchuma, comes from a literal and close reading of the pesukim in Shemot 32.

2. Aaron said to them, "Remove the golden earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them [those earrings] to me."ב. וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אַהֲרֹן פָּרְקוּ נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵי נְשֵׁיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם וְהָבִיאוּ אֵלָי:
that are on the ears of your wives…: Aaron said to himself, “The women and children are fond of their jewelry. Perhaps the matter will be delayed, and in the meantime, Moses will arrive.” But they did not wait [for their wives and children to give them their earrings], and they took off their own [earrings]. -[from Midrash Tanchuma 21]באזני נשיכם: אמר אהרן בלבו הנשים והילדים חסים על תכשיטיהן, שמא יתעכב הדבר, ובתוך כך יבא משה, והם לא המתינו ופרקו מעל עצמן:
Remove: Heb. פָּרְקוּ, an imperative expression, from the same root as פָּרֵק in the singular. [This is] like בָּרְכוּ, bless, [which is] from the same root as בָּרֵ.פרקו: לשון צווי, מגזרת פרק ליחיד, כמו ברכו, מגזרת ברך:
3And all the people stripped themselves of the golden earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron.ג. וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ כָּל הָעָם אֶת נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אַהֲרֹן:
stripped themselves: Heb. וַיִתְפָּרְקוּ, an expression [used for] unloading a burden. When they removed them [the earrings] from their ears, they were found to be unloaded of their earrings, descharyer in Old French [decharger in modern French], to unload.ויתפרקו: לשון פריקת משא, כשנטלום מאזניהם נמצאו הם מפורקים מנזמיהם, דישקריי"ר בלעז (לפרוק):
of the golden earrings: Heb. אֶת-נִזְמֵי, like מִנַּזְמֵי, similar to “When I leave the city (אֶת-הָעִיר) ” (Exod. 9:29), [like] מִן-הָעִיר, [lit., when I go out of the city].את נזמי: כמו מנזמי, כמו (שמות ט כט) כצאתי את העיר, מן העיר:

Thus, there is a disparity when reading closely and extremely literally: In pasuk 2, Aharon instructs the men to take the earrings which are on the ears of נְשֵׁיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם. The implication is that the men themselves did not possess jewelry to give. In pasuk 3, the nation takes the golden earrings אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם. That is the masculine plural, and since this is the same עם that carries out וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אַהֲרֹן at the end of the pasuk, it would seem that the men also had jewelry, and that it was this different jewelry which they brought to Aharon.

According to the midrash, Aharon commanded regarding taking from women and children, as part of one delay-tactic of many to prevent the construction of the eigel. He knew that women and children love their jewelry and would be unwilling to part with it. Rather than argue with their wives (and perhaps women and children) about this, they donated the earring from their own ears. According to Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, the women's stand was more principled, and in the face of their wives' refusal to participate, the men offered their own earrings.

As I often stress, midrash is literal while peshat is often non-literal. If I wanted to put forth an interpretation more peshat-like, I would say that one should not read so closely, and not take אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם to refer to the ears of the men. The nation collectively had earrings, amongst three groups: women and girls, who were female, and boys, who were male. Either it is the masculine because it is the collective for הָעָם, or because the group includes males in it, בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם is legitimate. So too וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ, which is masculine (and reflexive), that they stripped themselves of the jewelry, because it is collective for הָעָם.

This midrash about forcibly taking the wives' earrings seems to blend the two ideas. Namely [peshat] that indeed the earrings came from the women (and children), not from the men. But [derash] that this was proposed as a delay tactic; or they were unwilling to part with it.

Perhaps this phantom midrash is interpreting the disparity between פָּרְקוּ נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב in pasuk 2, which is an active verb, and וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ כָּל הָעָם אֶת נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב  in pasuk 3, which is reflexive or else passive. (Hispael is reflexive in Hebrew. Ispael is passive in Aramaic.)


AryehS said...

See relevant Torah Sheleima here

joshwaxman said...



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