Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rav Ovadia Seforno and the balance of opposites

Note: I am trying a gentler approach to my critiques. I am trying to first praise for what is good and then suggest areas for improvement.

I read through the Chazaq parsha package this Shabbos and came across an interesting devar Torah from Rabbi Bentzion Shafier. You can read it here in the Shmuz.

Rabbi Shafier encounters a Seforno which is difficult to reconcile with modern science. And -- kudos! -- he asks the question! Others would have just accepted it without question. He could have done better in his approach. His assumption appears to be that Seforno must be correct. (After all, Seforno is a late Rishon.) And if so, we must look to modern science to justify the Seforno's position. And then, when finding something which can be kvetched to support Seforno's idea, we accept this as Seforno's meaning. Finally, we marvel at how Seforno was 500 years ahead of his time -- a sure sign of ruach hakodesh -- and draw important life lessons of how to conduct ourselves.

Drawing inspirational life lessons from the words of great Biblical commentators is nice. And it is also nice that people walk away with great respect for Torah and its interpreters. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that people walk away with a flawed understanding of what Rav Ovadia Seforno actually meant. I think that Seforno would have preferred that we understand his actual meaning, even if we ultimately disagreed with him.

Rav Ovadia Seforno was a physician. He was born in 1475 and died in 1550. If he is bringing science to bear on a question, it makes sense that he would be using the science of his day. Let us see the pasuk and comment in question.

 ספר במדבר פרק כה
יא) פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו 
 :את קנאתי בתוכם ולא כליתי את בני ישראל בקנאתי
 :יב) לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את בריתי שלום
 ספורנו עה"ת ספר במדבר פרק כה פסוק יב
יב) את בריתי שלום. ממלאך המות, כענין עושה שלום במרומיו כי אמנם 
ההפסד לא יקרה אלא בסבת התנגדות ההפכים. וזה אמנם נתקיים בפינחס 
שהאריך ימים הרבה מאד מכל שאר אנשי דורו, עד שהיה הוא משמש במשכן 
שילה בזמן פלגש בגבעה, שהיה בלי ספק אחרי מות יהושע ושאר הזקנים 
אשר האריכו ימים אחרי יהושע וכל שכן אם היה בזמן יפתח שכתב למלך בני 
עמון בשבת בני ישראל בחשבון ובבנותיה כו' שלש מאות שנה וכבר סיפרו ז"ל 
שפינחס לא רצה ללכת אז אל יפתח להתיר נדרו. וכל שכן לדברי האומר 
 אליהו זה פנחס, והוא עדין חי וקיים

Rabbi Shafier explains:
Pinchas was zealous in defending the honor of HASHEM; therefore, he
was granted a Bris of Shalom. The Siforno explains that because of
this covenant of peace, Pinchas lived to an extraordinary age -- far
longer than was expected in his times. However, the Siforno points out,
the reason for his longevity wasn’t supernatural, but rather because he
was granted this Bris. Since he was given Shalom, he was at peace with
himself, and as a result, he didn’t suffer the normal internal conflict
that causes damage to our bodies. He therefore lived to an extremely
old age.

The Siforno explains: all degeneration happens to the body because of
conflict of the opposites
. In other words, all disease, infirmity, and
weakening with age, only occurs because of internal conflicts. Since
Pinchas was granted peace, he had no internal battles; therefore, his
body didn’t age, and so he lived hundreds of years. 
The way he explains the degeneration because of conflict of opposites, it seems like this is a psychological conflict, "internal conflicts", "internal battles", which Pinchas lacked because he now was granted peace.

However, to understand Seforno, we must understand the science of his day. This was the theory of humours. Here is a good summary of the theory:

Based on the theory that natural matter comprised four basic elements, the Greek philosophers came up with the idea that the human body consisted of the four humours, which had to be kept in balance. This theory survived until after AD 1700.
Then, derived from his study of mathematics, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras came up with the idea of the balance of opposites. This gave Greek doctors their idea of the underlying cause of disease. We can read about this in the 70 books ascribed to the Greek doctor Hippocrates, who thought that disease occurred when the humours of the body fell out of balance.
So, when Seforno says כי אמנם ההפסד לא יקרה אלא בסבת התנגדות ההפכים, all degeneration happens to the body because of conflict of the opposites, he is speaking as a medieval physician, and the opposites are the opposing humours in the body. Part of this gift of shalom was that these opposites were in balance, and so Pinchas was immune to disease.

That is a true explanation of Seforno. It is emes, which is a great virtue. By knowing a bit about the science of the day, we can get to the bottom of what Seforno meant. However, if we don't study the history of science, and cannot entertain the possibility that Seforno could be basing himself on faulty science, then we end up with a flawed understanding of Seforno's intent. Such as, e.g., that he was speaking from psychological perspective, and that he intuitively, or via ruach hakodesh, knew all of modern science.

Let us see how this plays out. Rabbi Shafier continues:
The body was made to last only so long… 
The difficulty with this understanding of the Siforno is that it negates
our basic understanding of health. The reality is that humans age. The
heart, the liver, the pancreas were designed to function only for a given
length of time, and then they break down. Infirmities and weakness
come naturally with old age; arthritis, high blood pressure, and the
thickening of the arteries are a part of life. While the heart may be a
remarkable living pump, the valves start to weaken with time, the
muscle tissue begins to break down, and the health of the heart
deteriorates with age. The body was made to last only so long; then it
just wears out. 
The Chazaq sheet (but not the Shmuz) then ends with this question:
So how can the Sifrno [sic] argue with our accepted understanding by stating "All deterioration happens to the body because of conflict of the opposites.[sic]"
The answer to this question, from our perspective is straightforward. Of course the Seforno can argue with our accepted understanding. Seforno is based on Aristotelian science. Our accepted understanding is based on modern science. There are a great many differences between the two. And Rishonim have often based themselves on Galenic or Aristotelian science.

Rabbi Shafier offers the following answer, based on modern science:
Mind / body relationship 
The answer to this question is based on 20th century medical findings.
Herbert Benson, MD, PHD, was professor of medicine in Harvard
University in the 1960’s when he stumbled upon an unusual
phenomenon. He found that when a patient’s blood pressure was taken
in his office, invariably it was higher than then when taken at home.
His patients would regularly report blood pressure levels significantly
lower than what was found in his office.

After careful study, he concluded that anxiety contributes to high blood
pressure. Being examined by a doctor was causing his patients to be
nervous, and that was contributing to the rise in their blood pressure.

While it may seem obvious to us today, at the time it wasn’t clear at all
that there was a correlation between stress and high blood pressure. For
decades, it was assumed that a person’s mental condition
had no affect on his physical condition. Any reported affects of stress
and anxiety on health were taken as psychosomatic or imagined.

His discovery led him to firmly establish the correlation between stress
and high blood pressure, and he became a pioneer in a new field of
medicine: the relationship between mind and body. Since those times,
it has now become accepted in the medical community that stress causes
a marked deterioration to a person’s health. Stress can bring about heart
disease, gastrointestinal disorders, pain, insomnia, asthma, allergies…
It is now accepted medical opinion that along with diet and exercise, the
lowering of stress levels is a major contributor to a person’s overall
This answer unfortunately takes us further in the wrong direction. It continues in the incorrect assumption that Seforno's conflict of opposites" is mental and psychological. And it finds some relatively recent discovery. I don't know that Herbert Benson was the first to come up with the idea that emotional state can have an effect on physical health, and that the idea did not exist at all prior to the 1960's. However, let us grant that, for the sake of argument. It is still the case that according to modern science, absence of mental stress will not ensure a lifespan of hundreds of years, which is what Seforno is speaking about. See Seforno's words! Does all degeneration happen as a result of mental stress? Scientists in the 20th century will tell you that there is still the effect of aging, of physical stresses to the body from daily living, the effect of diet, and attacks by microbes. A really mellow person will still not live forever, or for hundreds of years!

Rabbi Shafier continues:
This is something that the Siforno taught us over 500 years ago. What
he was saying was the Pinchas naturally lived for hundreds of years
because the normal cause of deteriorating health didn’t apply to him. He
wasn’t in conflict; he was at peace with himself, and as such, his body
was healthier and able to live to a remarkably advanced age
Here we are supposed to be awed at Seforno's knowledge of present science. 500 years ago, he already knew this. And scientists are just catching up!

It is more likely that, rather than the kvetch that doesn't actually resolve the problem, Seforno was basing himself on what was known 500 years ago.

The rest of the Shmuz is how to apply this deep lesson to our own lives. Thus:
The ultimate cause of distress – the voice inside 
This concept has major ramifications in our lives. When HASHEM
created man, He implanted into each of us an inner sense of right and
wrong, a Voice Inside that allows us to know the correct course of
behavior for each situation. More than simply a moral compass, this
Voice Inside acts as our guide to self-perfection.

When a person listens to that voice, he lives a fulfilling, meaningful life
-- as his Creator intended -- and he is at peace with himself. If he
chooses to ignore that voice, not only doesn't he grow to the heights for
which he was destined, he lives in
And so on.

OK, so I disagree with the Shmuz as far as methodology and conclusions go. But should we be so harsh? Here I explain why it is not such a big deal.

What is the purpose of a Shmuz? Is it Talmud Torah? Is it deep study of Biblical commentators in order to understand their intent and perhaps the meaning of the Biblical text?

Or, is the purpose to inspire? If so, getting to the true meaning of Seforno's words may not be as important.  Consider that this might be what happens in a lot of midrash: rather than considering the pasuk as text, the midrashist treats it as pretext, a means of getting a specific homiletic message across while tying it to the Torah text.  And so the highlighted textual difficulty need not be truly as difficult as presented.  It is a specific genre of midrash.  So too here, a Shmuz is a specific genre of dvar Torah, and so perhaps we need not be so insistent that Seforno be understood correctly.

Still, this was a missed opportunity to teach how to understand Chazal,  Rishonim,  and Acharonim -- on their own terms,  based on the science of their day.  And a missed opportunity to promote Torah Umaddah -- since Seforno thought to explain pesukim based on science,  something which is only entirely evident when the science is wrong.  (Otherwise people attribute it to ruach hakodesh, as seems to be the case here in this Shmuz;  or else drawn from the text itself,  with science learned from pesukim,  as perhaps is being suggested here. ) And of course, it is better to draw inspiration from interpretations of pesukim and meforshim when the interpretation is actually true...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When the fast of the 17th of Tammuz ends, 2014

This is for Flushing, New York. Please consult other sources if you live elsewhere, because the end time does indeed change.

From the Etz Chaim bulletin: Fast of Tammuz 17 - Begins 4:25 AM, Ends 9:07 PM.

From MyZmanim:
Fast ends
R' Tukaccinsky  
  • The fast ends no later than the
    emergence of ג' כוכבים בינונים at -
  •  9:01 PM
    R' Moshe Feinstein  
  • One who finds fasting difficult may eat at -
  •  9:05 PM
  • One who does not find fasting difficult
    should wait until the time for מוצאי שבת at -
  •  9:14 PM

    מהיכא תיתי

    From Chabad:
    Fast Ends: 8:58 PM
    As is usual, MyZmanim R' Tukaccinsky time is 3 minutes later than given at Chabad. See here for an explanation.

    Monday, July 14, 2014

    posts so far for parshat Matot


    1. Matos sources -- now organized chronologically.

    2. YUTorah on Matot

    3. Hataras Nedarim, suspended in air


    1. The mercha kfula in parshas Shmini -- How shall we account for it? There is one in Matos as well.
    2. Matos sources -- further expanded. For instance, many more meforshei Rashi.
    3. Why is Moshe's death after the war against MidianLast year, I presented one reason from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz. Here is another one, having to do with the laws of ritual purity.
    4. YU Torah on parashat Matos.
    5. Is there any Targum Onkelos on Atarot v'DivonNot according to Rashi and Tosafot. So why do we have it in our Mikraos Gedolos?
    6. Why is וְכִבַּסְתֶּם translated as וּתְחַוְּרוּן?  Onkelos strays from his usual path. Is this a violation of the rule laid down by Rashi in parshat Tazria?
    7. Matos / Masei as the last sidra in the Torah --  Yes, I know there is a whole sefer in front of us, sefer Devarim, but that is Mishneh Torah. We should still consider the first four sefarim as a unit, such that we should expect some closure to the Torah.

      That, I think, is peshat in the instruction to Moshe about fighting Midyan...

    1. Matos sources -- revamped,  with more than 100 meforshim, organized into categories.
    2. Pinchas took the aron to battle, to the exclusion of the tzitz -- What Ibn Ezra tells us by omission, when he says that they took the aron to war.
    3. What is the allegorical meaning of the midrash of Pinchas the flying kohenThis is one midrash I suspect was indeed intended allegorically, despite the thrilling details which we would like to picture happening on the peshat level.
    4. What was Bilaam doing in Midian? Bilaam shouldn't have been there, since he 'returned to his place'. So why was he killed in the battle against Midian? The midrash has an answer; Ibn Caspi does not, and is firm in not having an answer. Also, Rav Saadia Gaon, and another suggested resolution.

    1. Matot sources -- links by perek and aliyah to an online Mikraos Gedolos, plus many, many meforshim on the parsha and haftarah.

    2. To whom did Moshe speak in the beginning of Matot? To the leaders, to the people, to the leaders of the people, etc. Different opinions, and how it may work into trup.
    3. Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz considers why the war with Midian was to be specifically waged in Moshe's lifetime.
    1. The Trup on Vekamu nedareha -- and Shadal's suggestion that the revii should really be a zakef, analyzed.
    2. Yachel meaning Forgive, Profane, Or Delay? as per the discussion of various meforshim.
    3. Did Ibn Ezra have "chalutz" with a kametz? I doubt it.
    1. The Vengeance of the Lord -- Moshe takes immediate action, as opposed to what Yehoshua does. There is also a change from the vengeance of the Israelites, in Hashem's statement, to the vengeance of Hashem, in Moshe's statement. Perhaps this is Hashem's vengeance on behalf of the Israelites.
    • No Punishment For Cursing? And Excusing The Woman Who Vows -- A post on Emor, about the blasphemer, in which I digress to discuss the laws in Matot, and how a husband may nullify his wife's vows. I suggest that וְנָשָׂא אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָהּ may be read not only as "he (=her husband) shall bear her sin," but also "He (=Hashem) shall bear her sin," or "her sin shall be borne." An analysis by considering the various sections in the parsha.
    • Bilaam the Flying Soothsayer -- 
      • the derivation of the midrash that Bilaam flew and that Pinchas used the tzitz to bring Bilaam back to earth.
    • Pinchas the Flying Priest
      • in which Pinchas also flies. the midrashic derivation of that, as well as the derivation of an extended Arami Oved Avi midrash in Tg Yonatan, where Bilaam's misdeeds are more numerous.
    • Did Pinchas Act On His Own Initiative? (related to parshat Balak and Pinchas as well)
      • First, dismiss as anachronistic and silly the idea that the brit shalom that Pinchas received was a cure for fanaticism, and that Hashem disliked Pinchas' action, by noting that in this incident, Hashem killed 24,000 in a plague, that Moshe called for the execution of the leaders of those who had joined Baal Peor, and that in a subsequent episode, Pinchas is called upon to join battle with the Midianites.
        However, if one desires to mitigate the zealousness, one can point out that according to the traditional, midrashic interpretation (advanced by Rashi), Moshe and the judges were unsure of how to act in Zimri's case, Pinchas recalled the halacha, reminded Moshe, and Moshe told him to carry it out. And so, Pinchas executed a command from the leader of the Israelites, and did not simply act on his own (though the halacha he recalled was that zealots may act on their own in such a case.)
        From a pshat perspective, one might posit that Pinchas did not act on his own at all. The previous verse contains a command to kill the leaders of those who had joined Baal Peor, and we know from earlier and elsewhere that the harlotry led into joining Baal Peor, and so Zimri fit this command. Further, Pinchas' action stops Hashem's anger (manifested in the plague), and Hashem told Moshe the killing of those involved would turn aside His anger.
    • Midianites or Moabites? (related to parshat Balak and Pinchas as well)
      • Considers that the beginning of the Baal Peor episode involved daughters of Moab, while subsequently, Kozbi was a Midianite, they are told to take revenge on the Midianites, and in parshat Matot, they fight a war against Midianites, and Moshe is upset that they did not kill the Midianite women who enticed them in the first place.
        Notes the Midianite role in consulting with Bilaam in the first place, in parshat Balak; notes that Midian at points seemed to hold land of Moav; notes Balak himself may have been a prince of Moav. Suggests that the elite of the Israelites slept with the nobles of the area, who were Midianites, while commoners slept with the commoners, who were Moabites; that it was Moabite land under rule of Midian; that there were both Moabites and Midianites present; and that Moav was protected as the result of Divine command.
    • First to the Leaders
      • The first pasuk is taken midrashically to mean that first the leaders and then the general populace were informed of the command. Explains how this is evident in a particular parsing of the verse (advanced by Mizrachi): "And Moses spoke unto the heads of the tribes and to {rather than of} the children of Israel, saying..." and demonstrates how the trup is consistent with this reading, and not with the typical pshat reading.
    • Haftarat Matot = Yirmiyahu 1:
      • Yerushalmi Gittin #1: Jewish Geography?
        • Which way is Bavel? The gemara says East, but Yirmiyahu appears to say North, an issue which bothered the meforshim. An attempted resolution - perhaps Yirmiyahu is talking about a failed attack which we know happened shortly after his prophecy, and his prophecy explicitly makes mention of the fact that it will fail.
      • Yirmiyahu: Baby-Faced Prophet?
        • In which I consider a possible neo-midrashic interpretation of הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי as Yirmiyahu literally being unable to speak because he is an infant. Speculations that this was used as a basis for Jesus and, in turn, for Ben Sira and Merlin.
    • Tevilat Kelim
      • A novel analysis of the psukim, the gemara, Ramban, and Rashi, on the subject of immersing certain acquired vessels. This post defies easy summary, so check it out inside!
    • More On Tevilat Kelim
      • Heh. Check out this post, which shows that not only Jews practice tevilat keilim.
    • Halachic Ramifications of the Number of Israelite Warriors
      • A discussion in Eruvin about the minimum size of an encampment of Jewish soldiers, in which five normal halachic obligations are waived. One suggestion, 12,000, is based on the size of the force which attacked Midian in parshat Matot.
    to be continued...

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Why we don't know Yocheved's mother's name

    In parshat Pinchas, we read of Yocheved's birth {Bemidbar 26:59}:

    נט  וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת עַמְרָם, יוֹכֶבֶד בַּת-לֵוִי, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה אֹתָהּ לְלֵוִי, בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַתֵּלֶד לְעַמְרָם, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-מֹשֶׁה, וְאֵת, מִרְיָם אֲחֹתָם.59 And the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.

    There is a slight awkwardness in אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה אֹתָהּ לְלֵוִי. The translation above seems to take it as the passive. Is this possible? We would expect yudela. But this is just nikkud, vocalization, and perhaps
    it can even be an instance of the elusive kal passive. However, would a passive have אֹתָהּ, her, after it?

    Rashi - perhaps, depending on the girsa - says the actor here was Levi's unnamed wife. Ibn Ezra says that Yocheved was mentioned as a point in her honor but her mother's name was omitted as a way of writing briefly. Shadal agrees, giving a Biblical parallel of ילדה, of a woman giving birth to someone, where the actor's name is not mentioned:
    לא חש להזכיר שם אמה של יוכבד, כמו ואותו ילדה אחרי אבשלום ( מ"א א' ו').א
    Others suggest we are told her mother's name in this pasuk -- it is Otah. Meanwhile, the book of Jubilees mentions that her name is Milkah.

    However, we can suggest that the reason the pasuk does not tell us Yocheved's mother's name is this: the post-Mosaic author of the pasuk did not know her name, or did not dare to insert information into the Torah that he could not draw from another pasuk,

    That is, just like the last 12 pesukim of the Torah and other scattered pesukim (as per Ibn Ezra), this is an editorial insertion. Either as an interjection in Yocheved's honor, or the entire assembled genealogical section. And since no other pasuk standing before the editor mentions Levi's wife, the editor was not going to insert this information.

    Looking at this as an editorial insertion clarifies some other matters. Foremost is the claim in this pasuk that Yocheved was the daughter of Levi. This is very hard to make work with chronology. Assuming 210 years in Egypt rather than 400, she would have to be very old when she gave birth to Moshe. The Rishonim grapple with this. Rashi has her born just as they enter Egypt (which also resolved questions of the count of the 70 souls entering Egypt, assuming one takes that number as precise). But then, with 210 years in Egypt and Moshe leading the Israelites out at age 80, Yocheved must be 210 - 80 = 130 years old when she gives birth to Moshe. This is an even greater miracle than what happened to Sarah and yet the Torah does not mention it explicitly! On this basis, Ibn Ezra rejects this. Ramban responds to Ibn Ezra as to why the Torah would not mention the miracle. But one should realize that it is a tug of war. Any years taken off of Yocheved needs to be added to Levi when he fathered her, though it is easier for a man to father children in old age than for a woman to birth children in old age. You can work out the chronology yourself -- I dislike chronological calculations as means of discovering peshat.

    However, this all assumes that Yocheved was Levi's daughter. And the pasuk here could not be clearer on this point. She was "Yocheved bat Levi". So too another pasuk is rather clear on this point -- in parashat Va'era, in Shemot 16:

    20. Amram took Jochebed, his aunt, as his wife, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, and the years of Amram's life were one hundred thirty seven years.כ. וַיִּקַּח עַמְרָם אֶת יוֹכֶבֶד דֹּדָתוֹ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת מֹשֶׁה וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי עַמְרָם שֶׁבַע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה:

    She is the aunt of Amram, and Amram was grandson of Levi, so Yocheved is the literal daughter of Levi. Though see how the Septuagint and Rav Saadia Gaon deal with that.

    But if these two pesukim -- in Vaera and in Pinchas -- are the work of an editor who is interpreting other pesukim, then the source of this assertion can be understood. From Shemot 2:

    א  וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי.1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.

    The true peshat in that pasuk is that just as אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֵוִי refers to a Levite, in this case Amram, so does בַּת-לֵוִי refer to a female Levite, in this case Yocheved. But all it means is an unnamed female Levite. Indeed, the very purpose and theme of the narrative there has these as anonymous people. Moshe is not named, Yocheved is not named. Moshe is only named at the end, but until then, he is מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה. From this, he rose to prominence. But the editor took  בַּת-לֵוִי to refer to the actual direct-line daughter of Levi. And in this way, an assumption and interpretation was encoded in the Biblical text.

    We should perhaps then keep this idea in mind when considering other pesukim in this genealogical section. For example, in parshat Korach, there is ambiguity as to just how Korach died -- by fire, by being swallowed up, or in both manners. It depends on how one interprets the pesukim there. And there are pesukim in Tehillim that can be brought to bear as evidence. But those pesukim in Tehillim reflect that (inspired) Biblical author's interpretation of the pesukim in Korach. And if my discussion above it correct, then the same might be said about the discussion in parashat Pinchas of Korach's death -- important to mention because Korach's lineage continued, as his sons did not die:

    ט  וּבְנֵי אֱלִיאָב, נְמוּאֵל וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם:  הוּא-דָתָן וַאֲבִירָם קרואי (קְרִיאֵי) הָעֵדָה, אֲשֶׁר הִצּוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן בַּעֲדַת-קֹרַח, בְּהַצֹּתָם, עַל-יְהוָה.9 And the sons of Eliab: Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. These are that Dathan and Abiram, the elect of the congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they strove against the LORD;
    י  וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת-פִּיהָ, וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת-קֹרַח--בְּמוֹת הָעֵדָה:  בַּאֲכֹל הָאֵשׁ, אֵת חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ, וַיִּהְיוּ, לְנֵס.10 and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died; what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men, and they became a sign.
    יא  וּבְנֵי-קֹרַח, לֹא-מֵתוּ.  {ס}11 Notwithstanding the sons of Korah died not. {S}

    See my analysis of how to parse pasuk 10, and how trup factors in. And see how the Samaritans resolve it. Perhaps this is deliberate obscurity as to Korach's death. But if we say that the pasuk in Pinchas is asserting that Korach is swallowed, then this does not compel us to (a) interpret the pasuk in Korach likewise, or (b) assert that the author in Pinchas was "unaware" of the text in Korach, should we choose a different interpretation. Rather, "all" we need to do is recognize that this editor, like the Biblical author of the pesukim in Tehillim, was engaging in interpretation.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2014

    A house full of wealth

    Consider the following pasuk and Rashi in Balak:

    Balaam answered and said to Balak's servants, "Even if Balak gives me a house full of silver and gold, I cannot do anything small or great that would transgress the word of the Lord, my God.יח. וַיַּעַן בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַבְדֵי בָלָק אִם יִתֶּן לִי בָלָק מְלֹא בֵיתוֹ כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבֹר אֶת פִּי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָי לַעֲשׂוֹת קְטַנָּה אוֹ גְדוֹלָה:
    a house full of silver and gold: This shows us that he was greedy and coveted other people’s money. He said, “He ought to give me all his silver and gold, since he has to hire many armies, and even then, it is questionable whether he will be victorious or not, whereas I will certainly succeed.”- [Mid. Tanchuma Balak; Num. Rabbah 20:10]מלא ביתו כסף וזהב: למדנו שנפשו רחבה ומחמד ממון אחרים. אמר, ראוי לו ליתן לי כל כסף וזהב שלו, שהרי צריך לשכור חיילות רבות, ספק נוצח ספק אינו נוצח, ואני ודאי נוצח:

    I found the following summary of a Torah Temima in Prachei Rashi:

    Torah Temimah:

    After citing the Rashi, Torah Temimah writes:
    "And there is to comment on this. For do we not find in Pirkei Avot 9:6: 'Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma said: If you were to give me all the silver and gold in the world, I would not travel to a place which was not a place of Torah..." And if so, why do we see fit to darshen this one [by Bilaam] negatively, in such language as to the disgrace of Bilaam? 
    However, the truth is that this case is not comparable to that one there. For there [in Avot] the story was that a certain person suggested before Rabbi Yossi that he travel to dwell in his city, and that he would give him for this a million gold dinarii, and upon this Rabbi Yossi responded the aforementioned response. And therefore, Rabbi Yossi was compelled to respond to him in similar fashion to the suggestion, that not only would he not take a million gold dinarii, but even all the silver and gold in the world. In contrast here, Balak did not suggest to Bilaam that he would enrich him with silver because of his action, but only promised him that he would honor him, as it states (pasuk 17) 'for I will surely honor you'. 
    And if so, Bilaam should have replied in like fashion to his suggestion, that he could not be honored in any honor if it entailed transgressing the word of Hashem. So why did he respond in matters of money? Rather, certainly because he was desirous of money. And this is as is known in nature, that a person's desire is always on his tongue to mention it.'
    End quote. The Mishna in Avot reads:
    פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך ופגע בי אדם אחד ואמר לי שלום, החזרתי לו שלום. אמר לי, רבי מאיזו עיר אתה? אמרתי לו מעיר גדולה של חכמים וסופרים אנוכי. אמר לי רבי רצונך שתדור עמנו במקומנו, ואני אתן לך אלף אלפים כסף וזהב אבנים טובות ומרגליות? אמרתי לו, אם אתה נותן לי כל כסף וזהב אבנים טובות ומרגליות שבעולם, איני דר אלא במקום תורה! שכך כתוב בספר התהילים "טוב לי תורת פיך מאלפי זהב וכסף"

    I certainly agree with the distinction that Torah Temimah is making here. Given the offer by the unnamed man, Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma's response is natural in context and does not reflect any flaw in Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma's nature.

    I would tentatively express some slight doubt about Bilaam's response being out of context, however. While Torah Temimah's analysis makes good sense and is quite compelling, we should subject it to scrutiny, considering it in the light of the peshat in the pasuk and in light of Rashi's sources. We shall see.

    First off, consider that according to Ibn Ezra, Balak's offer was indeed one of money.
     כי כבד אכבדך -בממון.

    וכל אשר תאמר -שיש צורך כדי שתקללם, והעד: כי כבד אכבדך כן שאמר בלעם: אם יתן לי בלק מלא ביתו כסף וזהב:

    Thus, Ibn Ezra considered "surely honor you" to be ambiguous, and so takes Bilaam's response as clarifying what it was that Balak offered. Perhaps compare with the root יקר which means both heavy and expensive.

    Of course, Rashi is not Ibn Ezra, so Rashi does not need to agree that Balak was offering wealth. However, consider this earlier pasuk and Rashi:

    He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people, to call for him, saying, "A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the "eye" of the land, and they are stationed opposite me.ה. וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹ לִקְרֹא לוֹ לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא ישֵׁב מִמֻּלִי:

    to call for him: This invitation was for him, [i.e.,] for his benefit, for he promised him a large sum of money. - [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 4, Num. Rabbah 20:7]לקרא לו: הקריאה שלו היתה ולהנאתו, שהיה פוסק לו ממון הרבה:

    This shows that money, and not just honor, was on the table.

    (Our Tanchuma does not mention money but honor here:

    לקרוא לושכתב לו, שלא תהא סבור שלעצמי בלבד אתה עושה ואני מכבדך. 
    אם תעקרם, מכל האומות אתה מתכבד, וכנענים ומצרים כלם משתחווים לך. 

    Rashi often has a different version of Tanchuma than we have, so we should consider the possibility that he is basing himself on a different version of Tanchuma, rather than changing it.

    Then, a bit later, in Balak's actual offer:
     For I will honor you greatly and do whatever you tell me to do. So please come and curse this people for me.'"יז. כִּי כַבֵּד אֲכַבֶּדְךָ מְאֹד וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלַי אֶעֱשֶׂה וּלְכָה נָּא קָבָה לִּי אֵת הָעָם הַזֶּה:
    For I will honor you greatly: I will give you more than you have ever received in the past. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 6, Num. Rabbah 20:10]כי כבד אכבדך מאד: יותר ממה שהיית נוטל לשעבר אני נותן לך:

    What is the thing of which Balak will give him more? This might be money. But on the other hand, given the context in both Rashi and Tanchuma of honor as a thread running through this, and given that the pasuk itself uses the word כַבֵּד, this can indeed mean more honor.

    (The Tanchuma from which this is taken:
    כי כבד אכבדך מאד יותר ממה שהיית נוטל לשעבר, אני נותן. 


    So I think Torah Temimah's explanation can indeed work out, with a shift from honor to money, but with the asterisk that, according to Rashi (and perhaps according to Tanchuma), Balak did indeed promise him a lot of money. And it makes good sense that Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma was responding to an immediate offer of a tremendous treasure, which then makes his idiomatic use of "all the money in the world" not reflective of his personality.

    I think that there is another potential explanation, besides that of Torah Temimah. Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma was established based on other evidence as a tzaddik. Meanwhile, Bilaam was established based on other evidence as a rasha. One thing that midrash tends to do is take Biblical characters who are "grey" and paint them as either black or white. Esav is ambiguous, and we can almost see his side. Cheated out of his birthright, because he came in from the field starving. However, the midrash piles on three grievous sins that he had just committed. Yaakov lies to his father about his identity. The midrash breaks up his words so that he just says "It is I. Esav is your firstborn." This is perhaps because the words which are often grabbed for midrashic analysis is ambiguous, and so can be interpreted one way or the other. And the cue for the direction of analysis is taken from their overall sense of the person. Alternatively, there is a homiletic purpose behind such analyses.

    It is not just this one trait which the Midrash Tanchuma points out. It is one of three:

    ויען בלעם ויאמר אל עבדי בלק אם יתן לי בלק מלא ביתו כסף וזהב וגו' מכאן אתה למד, שהיה בו שלשה דברים, אלו הן: 
    עין רעה,
    ורוח גבוהה,
    ונפש רחבה. 

    [עין רעה, דכתיב: וישא בלעם את עיניו וירא את ישראל. רוח גבוהה, דכתיב: מאן ה' לתתי להלך עמכם. נפש רחבה, דכתיב: אם יתן לי בלק וגו']. אלו היה מבקש לשכור חיילות להלחם כנגדן, ספק נוצחין, ספק נופלין. לא דיו שיתן כך ונוצח. הא למדת, שכן בקש. לא אוכל לעבור. 
    נתנבא שאינו יכול לבטל ברכות שנתברכו האבות מפני השכינה. ועתה שבו נא בזה גם אתם הלילה. 

    Monday, July 07, 2014

    Posts so far for parshat Pinchas

    Two posts this week about shafan and al-wabr, which is a hyrax. First, that wascally wabr. And next, did Saadia Gaon have a masorah on shafan as al-wabr?


    1. YUTorah for Pinchas.


    1. Pinchas sources -- further improved.

    2. YUTorah on parshas Pinchas.

    3. What made the daughters of Tzelaphchad so brilliantRashi says they were smart, since they would not have brought their claim had their father had a son. But this is common gentile law as well! Rather, Levush HaOrah explains that they meant had their father had a daughter of a son. I explain why this is compelling peshat in Rashi, based on the Sifrei. And why I still don't think it is correct peshat in Rashi.

    1. Pinchas sources -- further expanded. For instance, many more meforshei Rashi.
    2. Yocheved's mother, whose name was Otah -- Why don't Rashi, Bechor Shor, and Ibn Ezra leap at the cute derash as peshat? I am not convinced they even had access to this midrash, but they might reject it onpeshat grounds -- that it does not feel like peshat -- rather than having to reject it on technical grounds of dikduk.
    3. YU Torah on parashat Pinchas.
    4. How does Onkelos translate עצרת תהיה לכםShadal brings various variants, but dismisses a proof from Zoharic Aramaic. He is cryptic why, but I think that his comment in the addendum of the Vikuach, together with a bit of calculation, can aid us in arriving at why.
    5. A son going off the derech is the mother's fault -- so claims the Kav HaYashar on parashat Pinchas. And he backs it up with a apocryphal story of the Ramban's wife being raped. It should be clear that I don't agree with the Kav HaYashar here.
    6. Did Korach's sons go to Gehinnom, or did they become prophetsMizrachi shows a contradiction within Rashis. The Taz attempts to solve it. And I offer suggestions throughout, that Rashi didn't say it, or that Rashi means that their songs ascended, not that they physically ascended.
    7. Was Pinechas initially a kohen?  Someone, by email, called my attention to a dispute between the Zohar and the gemara as to whether Pinchas was initially a kohen, prior to his killing of Zimri and Cozbi...  However, if we read that gemara in Zevachim carefully, we see that it is actually amachlokes whether Pinchas only became a kohen then...  Therefore, it would be no surprise if the Zohar presents an interpretation which differs from the one proffered by Rashi.
    8. Is marrying two sisters intrinsically or extrinsically obnoxious  We consider the perspective of Rashi (intrinsically), Ibn Ezra (based on the land), and Ibn Caspi (who rejects Ibn Ezra and gives a rationalist reason for the prohibition). I suggest that it is extrinsically bad, based on intent and social mores. -- This touches on Pinchas' assertion that Yocheved was Amram's aunt.
    9. Was Baba Elazar a con-artist I am not going to address this question head-on, at least initially. I would prefer to start with a story, which happened to some close family friends of mine, a few years back...

    1. Pinchas sources -- revamped, with over 100 meforshim on the parasha and haftarah.
    2. Elokei HaRuchot and avoiding blasphemy -- Shadal is correct from a grammatical perspective of what the text of Onkelos should be, but accidental chiruf ve-gidduf due to grammatical ignorance doesn't really concern me. A short post.a
    3. Was Pinchas descended from Yisro or from YosefOr both? Should we indeed follow the gemara's harmonization? A study in Rashi, and in approaches to midrash aggada.
    4. Tossing Korach -- out of the pit and into the fire -- Did Korach die with Datan and Aviram, or within the congregation consumed by the fire? Different reads of parashat Korach yield different results. And then, in parshat Pinchas, Korach's fate seems a bit ambiguous. How the Samaritans resolve this difficulty by messing with the Biblical text.
    5. Does Eliyahu Hanavi come to every bris? Some sources associate Pinchas with Eliyahu Hanavi, I thought to discuss the midrash that Eliyahu Hanavi visits every bris, such that we have a kisei shel Eliyahu.
    6. Yocheved His Aunt, and the Length of the Servitude --  If Yocheved was literally Amram's aunt, it is difficult to make the servitude 210 years, and even more, 400 years. Relax this and you have more leeway. Rav Saadia Gaon and the Targum Hashiv'im give us this leeway.

    1. Datan and Aviram were at fault, while Korach was just along for the ride. Ralbag's interpretation of certain pesukim in Pinchas.
    2. A quick trivia question or two on Pinchas. In a followup, I identify the pasuk that has a peh in each word, discuss Baal Haturim's answer and note his source, note the loss of peh in HaShufami, discuss Baal Haturim's answer and note his source, and finally give my own explanation for the loss of pheh.
    3. Should the yud of Pinchas be small? Part one and part two. How the tradition in the Zohar differs from all masorot and sifrei Torah in the time of Minchas Shai. What about now? Look it up this Shabbos and report back.
    4. How did one "join" to Baal Peor? Was the method of worship sleeping with a virgin? I disagree.
    5. How does the Torah trace the lineage of the wicked for shame? Analyzing Rashi and his sources, as a supercommentator.
    6. Zimri the exhibitionist? I don't think so! Considering the typical dumb Pinchas dvar Torah that appears in Jewish newspapers this week, year after year, in which Pinchas' actions were improper and Hashem is trying to reform him.
    7. Did Pinchas have to fear for his life? An interesting idea I saw in Chizkuni, but I should have looked at Ibn Ezra, where we can find the same.
    8. How Onkelos translates Ish -- why he sometimes translates it gevar and sometims anash. I spot what I think is the rule, after a stark juxtaposition in this week's parsha.
    9. An eternal covenant of Kehuna Gedolah -- based on Shadal, Ibn Ezra, and Ralbag. And what about when it did not go to the sons of Pinchas ben Eleazar, but to the sons of Itamar? Was this a violation of the covenant? Why not? And how this might have caused a rift.
    10. What was Tzelophchad's sin? And why I favor specific identifications, within the realm of midrash.
    11. Did Rabbi Akiva create his own midrashim? I would argue yes, even in the case of Tzelofchad's sin, where he has a gezeira shava working for him.
    12. What's in a name? Salu -- where I discuss the name, what it may mean, and its form.
    13. Pinchas sources -- links by aliyah and perek to an online mikraos gedolos. Plus a number of meforshim on the parsha and haftarah.
    14. Why the war with Midian before Moshe's deathFrom Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, that they should not think Moshe did not take revenge upon them on behalf of Klal Yisrael because he, too, was guilty.
    15. Teshi, with a unique small yud -- but if the masorah states that the yud in Teshi, in Haazinu, is unique, then how can the yud in Pinchas be small?! See also post #3 from the same year.
    1. Every week, I first try to plot out what posts I am going to make by going through the parsha with and without various meforshim and noting to myself points of interest. Since I am (more or less) the same individual, going through the same parsha, it can easily occur the same points of interest occur to me from one year to the next. And where I am not careful to first read through old posts, I might end up posting the same thing. That happened this year, with Pashta-Zakef or Mercha on UMinchatam, which is more or less identical to the last post from one year ago. In this version, I include more pictures and perhaps make it clearer. Also, this year, an anonymous commenter suggests that the distinction between trup is musical rather than syntactic, as I had proposed.
    2. The ascension of Eliyahu, and the Pinchas-Eliyahu connection.
    3. Based in part on targum on the incident with Pinchas (at the end of Balak) as one of many sources, we see that beis torfah does not mean "thigh area," but the pudenda, in contrast with the misinterpretation provided by Rabbi Falk in his Oz veHadar Levushah.
    1. Why Isn't Zimri Identified by Name Initially?
      To show the degree to which Bnei Yisrael were attached to Baal Peor? But note Kozbi is also not identified. Various precedents, and then stylistic suggestions. Perhaps to show that Pinchas did not concern himself with rank, or to better stress Cosbi's Midianite identity.
    2. Midiantites as a Generic term?
      This would solve problems locally and by the sale of Yosef.
    3. Why the Count, and Why The Break Mid-Pasuk?
      Perhaps the preceding plague, perhaps as a closing count matching the count as they left Egypt. I suggest also a count in preparation for war against the Midiantites, And perhaps the pause in mid-pasuk because not just the command, but the entire section, was an interjection, placed by Moshe after the fact.
    4. Pinchas or Pinechas?
      Do we pronounce a sheva na in his name? Is there a keri and ketiv in play?
    5. Pinchas Picture Punning Puzzle
    6. Chirik Chaser vs. Chirik Malei in Aramaic (as a followup to Pinchas or Pinechas)
    7. Points on Pinchas
      Individual points that would not merit individual posts.
    8. Zimri as the Gilgul of Shechem
    9. The trup on UMinchatam
      Shadal notes trup at odds with the minchat shai, and suggests both are possible.

    • Brit Kehunat Olam. What Exactly Did Pinchas Get? Also, how could Pinchas Kill Zimri?
      • Wasn't he already a kohen? Rashi's famous answer about Pinchas' missing out before. But wouldn't certain Leviim be excluded under the same? Other pashtanim: the high priesthood. How could Pinchas kill Zimri? Would this not make him impure? One answer is that he was not yet a kohen; another is that Zimri was a goses until he left the tent.
    • Who was Cosbi bat Tzur?
      • How Tg Yonanat creatively reparses the pasuk, such that Tzur becomes Balak.
    • Blog Roundup
      • What other blogs are saying about Pinchas
    • Chamber or Belly?
      • Did Pinchas thrust the spear into her belly (/womb)? Or did he kill her in her tent, just as he killed Zimri in his tent? Different approaches on the level of peshat. Then, more parsing of the pasuk to get all the details of the midrashic approach in Sanhedrin.
    • Giv'at Pinchas
      • Many times we hear that the Levites received no inheritance in Eretz Yisrael (with the exception of certain Levite cities) yet the last pasuk in sefer Yehoshua states that Eleazar was buried in Giv'at Pinchas beno - the hill of Pinchas his son - which had been given to him in Har Ephraim.
        The Sifrei explains this as an inheritance from Pinchas' wife, who was from the tribe of Ephraim. I tie this in with the daughters of Tzelophchad, later in Pinchas, in Bemidbar 27, and to the explicit mention at the end of parshat Masei (in Bemidbar 36) that inheriting from a woman who has inherited can cause land to switch tribes.
        I also give two other suggestions - that is was not a true inheritance, but was granted to Pinchas in perpetuity as an achuzat kever, a place to bury his dead; and alternatively, just as we see that Yehoshua seems to have gotten a nachala in Har Ephraim (within his own tribes' land) after and apart from the usual division of the land, perhaps the same was true for Pinchas, as a practical matter of being a member of the ruling elite, who should be in close proximity to Yehoshua, or else as an expression of gratitude for his leadership, for example in the war against the Midianites, as we see in parshat Matot.
    • A Real Shlumiel
      • A tongue-in-cheek etymology of the word Shlemiel. I note that midrashically, Rabbi Yochanan identifies Zimri ben, the nasi of a household in the tribe of Shimon, with Shelumiel ben Tzurishaddai, the nasi of the tribe of Shimon, and gives explanations of the import of the other names. I also note that this follows a closed-canon approach.
        Thus we have the ultimate Shlemiel. Zimri does the sin, and Shelumiel is blamed for it!
    • How Many Tents? (cross-listed from parshat Korach)
      • How did Korach die? Was he burned with those offering incense or was he swallowed alive together with Datan and Aviram? I point out in this post that parshat Korach does not answer this explicitly, while in parshat Pinchas, when arriving at the lineage of Datan and Aviram, while the death of Korach is mentioned, how he died is perhaps left ambiguous. The psukim in Pinchas:

        וּבְנֵ֣י אֱלִיאָ֔ב נְמוּאֵ֖ל וְדָתָ֣ן וַֽאֲבִירָ֑ם הֽוּא־דָתָ֨ן וַֽאֲבִירָ֜ם קרואי (קְרִיאֵ֣י) הָֽעֵדָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצּ֜וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ בַּֽעֲדַת־קֹ֔רַח בְּהַצֹּתָ֖ם עַל־ה׃
        וַתִּפְתַּ֨ח הָאָ֜רֶץ אֶת־פִּ֗יהָ וַתִּבְלַ֥ע אֹתָ֛ם וְאֶת־קֹ֖רַח בְּמ֣וֹת הָֽעֵדָ֑ה בַּֽאֲכֹ֣ל הָאֵ֗שׁ אֵ֣ת חֲמִשִּׁ֤ים וּמָאתַ֨יִם֙ אִ֔ישׁ וַיִּֽהְי֖וּ לְנֵֽס׃
        וּבְנֵי־קֹ֖רַח לֹא־מֵֽתוּ׃
        One could read this as either the earth swallowing them (Datan and Aviram), and Korach up, or else as the earth swallowing Datan and Aviram up, while Korach died with the death of the congregation, the other 150 who offered incense. The trup, in many ways, favors the former interpretation.
        Within parshat Korach, I point out that Moshe explicitly says that Korach will offer incense with the congregation; that he speaks to Korach and his congregation before turning to Datan and Aviram; that we would not truly expect the tent of Korach to be next to the tent of Datan and Aviram (for it to be swallowed up); that Moshe only addresses Datan and Aviram and not Korach; that the phrase mishkan-Korach Datan VaAviram has a makef between "tent" and "Korach," and that this, combined with other trup, suggests that 
        mishkan-Korach means the Korachite tent of Datan and Aviram, and so Korach is not present at all; that only Datan, Aviram, and their families emerge from the tents, and no mention is made of Korach and his family; and finally, that this could be the cause of the statement in parshat Pinchas that the sons of Korach did not die - they were not present at all.
    • Why Did Pinchas' Action Stop the Plague?
      • I suggest that his act recast the situation from "Me vs. Them" into "Me and Some of Them vs. Others of Them," such that it did not merit as severe a response.
    • Did Pinchas Act On His Own Initiative? (cross-listed from parshat Matot)
      • After rejecting a silly reading which condemned Pinchas' act and claimed he was "healed" and was now a Peace Now activist, I put forth two readings which show Pinchas did not act on his own. According to the traditional reading, put forth by Rashi, he told Moshe the law and received instructions to carry it out on Zimri. According to a possible pshat reading, he was explicitly told a verse earlier to kill the leaders who had joined Baal Peor, and Zimri fit this description.
    • Midianites or Moabites(cross-listed from parshat Matot)
      • Considers the issue and evidence of whether Moabites or Midianites were involved in the harlotry and idolatry of Baal Peor, explores Midianite involvement earlier in parshat Balak, and suggests a possible resolution of this difficulty.
    to be continued...


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