Sunday, January 22, 2017

Thoughts on parshas Shemos:

וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ, עַל-מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף
A midrashic dispute whether the king was new or his decrees were new. The way the latter works is that the king (melech) enacted (vayakam) new (chadash) decrees, which did not recognize Yosef. See this further developed here.
וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת: כִּי-חָיוֹת הֵנָּה, בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא אֲלֵהֶן הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ
What does it mean that they are chayos? Onkelos translates that they are chakiman, which is generally assumed to mean wise women. But it really is the Aramaic term for midwife. See this further developed here:
וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי.
The best, simplest local peshat is that Bat Levi is not the actual daughter of Levi, but a women of the tribe of Levi, parallel to the Ish miBet Levi. This is the primary. Pesukim which give Yocheved as Amram's aunt are secondary and interpretive.
We hit into problems about the length of the servitude, and Yocheved would be miraculously old when giving birth to Moshe. This interpretation would obviate that. Other interpretations are possible, such as that it means his beloved (who the midrash says Amram remarried) or that it means the daughter of his uncle. More details here:
וַתֵּרֶד בַּת-פַּרְעֹה לִרְחֹץ עַל-הַיְאֹר, וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ הֹלְכֹת עַל-יַד הַיְאֹר; וַתֵּרֶא אֶת-הַתֵּבָה בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף, וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת-אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ.
It is a *midrash* and not peshat. But peshat could either mean that she *stretched* forth her arm (see what I did there?) or that she send forth her handmaiden (and there?).
An article a while back, discussing the "dangers of midrashim", gave the following false choice:
"Would you see Pharaoh’s daughter requesting her maidservant to fetch the basket—as the pasuk tells us—or would you see her arm grow 25 feet long (like Mister Fantastic) and rope in the basket—as the Midrash says?"
I am not saying that midrashim are historical. But there is a difference between saying something is historical and that something was intended literally. More on this here:

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