Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How did Chazal "know" that Bilaam committed bestiality with his donkey?

How did Chazal "know" that Bilaam committed bestiality with his donkey?

They didn't, but it is a matter of textual interpretation. As mentioned in Avodah Zarah 4b, the words

ההסכן הסכנתי

find a secondary meaning, a double-entendre if you will, of 'warming' by night. They point to the parallel by Avishag haShunamit (though there the warming was non-sexual). As Rashi explains (Bemidbar 22:30):

The she-donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your she-donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?" He said, "No." לוַתֹּ֨אמֶר הָֽאָת֜וֹן אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם הֲלוֹא֩ אָֽנֹכִ֨י אֲתֹֽנְךָ֜ אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י מֵעֽוֹדְךָ֙ עַד־הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הַֽהַסְכֵּ֣ן הִסְכַּ֔נְתִּי לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְךָ֖ כֹּ֑ה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר לֹֽא:
Have I become accustomed: Heb. הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי. As the Targum [Onkelos] renders [lit., have I learned to do this?]. Similarly,“Does man learn (יִסְכָּן) for God?” (Job 22:2). Our Rabbis, however, expounded this verse in the Talmud: They [the Moabite dignitaries] said to him, “Why aren’t you riding on a horse?” He [Balaam] said to them, “I sent it out to pasture.” [Immediately, the she-donkey retorted, “Am I not your she-donkey?” He said to her, “Just for bearing burdens.” She retorted, “on which you have ridden.” He said to her, “Only on occasion.” She retorted,“since you first started until now, and not only that but I provide you with riding by day, and with intimacy at night, (interpreting Heb. הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי as”I heated you up,") as is stated in Tractate Avodah Zarah [4b]. ההסכן הסכנתי: כתרגומו, וכן (איוב כב, ב) הלאל יסכן גבר. ורבותינו דרשו מקרא זה בגמרא אמרו ליה, מאי טעמא לא רכבת אסוסיא. אמר להון ברטיבא שדאי ליה וכו', כדאיתא במסכת עבודה זרה (ד ב):

It seems possible that they also saw a double-entendre in אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י. That explains the immediate mechanics. What about the impetus?

I can see three impetiuses.

(A) a global desire to paint bad guys negatively
(B) a local desire to expand upon, and explain, the "embarrassment" of the previous verse, in such manner as to make each subsequent phrase an explanation of the "embarrassment", in increasing order.
(C) that the donkey was executed by the angel, as detailed in another midrash; this execution was for sparing of embarrassment, and Chazal found the other instance of execution of an animal to spare embarrassment.

(A) The global desire to paint bad guys negatively

It is a general trend in midrash to take "bad-guy" Biblical characters who are, on a peshat level, painted in shades of gray, and to paint them as totally dark. We see this for Lavan, for Lot, for Esav, for Pharaoh, and so on.

Similarly, for the heroes and "good guys", even where they act in ways which seem not-so-good, the midrash will paint them and their actions as more clearly defined white-hats. And neutral statements on a peshat level will be certainly taken as accounts of praiseworthy actions.

There may be many reasons for this. (Maharatz Chajes discusses this phenomenon at length, IIRC in Iggeret Bikkoret). The purpose of these midrashim may be homiletical, to provide positive role models and vice versa, a Goofus and Gallant. It could be that Chazal are just always going to pick up on this nuanced language, and will naturally and honestly assume that these will be holding hidden condemnation or tales of good deeds. Context dictates which one, and the overall character of the person is the best context.

(B) a local desire to expand upon the "Embarrassment"

The previous verse (22:29, and Rashi) read:

Balaam said to the she-donkey, "For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." כטוַיֹּ֤אמֶר בִּלְעָם֙ לָֽאָת֔וֹן כִּ֥י הִתְעַלַּ֖לְתְּ בִּ֑י ל֤וּ יֶשׁ־חֶ֨רֶב֙ בְּיָדִ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה הֲרַגְתִּֽיךְ:
you have humiliated: Heb. הִתְעַלַּלְתָּ. As the Targum [Onkelos] renders it, a term denoting shame and disgrace. התעללת: כתרגומו לשון גנאי ובזיון:
If I had a sword in my hand: This matter made him greatly contemptible in the eyes of the dignitaries. This man was going to kill an entire nation with his mouth, yet for this she-donkey he needed weapons!- [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 9, Num. Rabbah 20:14] לו יש חרב בידי: גנות גדולה היה לו דבר זה בעיני השרים, זה הולך להרוג אומה שלמה בפיו, ולאתון זו צריך לכלי זיין:

The word hitalalta is ambiguous, but is understood by Chazal to denote embarrassment, shame, and disgrace. We have an immediate disgrace in the very verse, namely that he did not have the ability to slay the donkey with his own mouth, but would require a weapon.

But the embarrassment and shame, on a peshat level, is that his donkey repeatedly has disregarded his directions! He cannot control his donkey, and so has smote her three times.

But then the embarrassment continues. And the donkey's conversation repeatedly exposes the lowly stature of Bilaam before the Moabite dignitaries, culminating with revelations that he regularly engaged in intimacy with his donkey.

(C) That the donkey was executed by the angel

However, I think a real key to this interpretation is to be found later in the same perek. In pasuk 33:

When the she-donkey saw me, it turned aside these three times. Had she not turned aside before me, now also I would also have killed you and spared her [the she-donkey]." לגוַתִּרְאַ֨נִי֙ הָֽאָת֔וֹן וַתֵּ֣ט לְפָנַ֔י זֶ֖ה שָׁל֣שׁ רְגָלִ֑ים אוּלַי֙ נָֽטְתָ֣ה מִפָּנַ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה גַּם־אֹֽתְכָ֥ה הָרַ֖גְתִּי וְאוֹתָ֥הּ הֶֽחֱיֵֽיתִי:

and spared her: But now, since she spoke and rebuked you, and you could not withstand her rebuke, as it is written, “He said, No,” therefore, I have killed her, so that [people] should not say, “This is the one that silenced Balaam with her rebuke, and he could not respond,” for the Omnipresent shows regard for human dignity. Similarly, “you shall kill the woman and the animal [through which the sin was committed]” (Lev. 20:16), and, “you shall kill the animal” (ibid. 20:15) - [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 9, Num. Rabbah 20:14] ואותה החייתי: ועתה מפני שדברה והוכיחתך ולא יכולת לעמוד בתוכחתה, כמו שכתוב (פסוק ל) ויאמר לא. על כן הרגתיה, שלא יאמרו זו היא שסלקה את בלעם בתוכחתה ולא יכול להשיב, שחס המקום על כבוד הבריות, וכן (ויקרא כ, טו - טז) ואת הבהמה תהרוגו, וכן (שם) והרגת את האשה ואת הבהמה:

The clear meaning of this midrash is that it is the embarrassment of rebuke for which the donkey here is killed.

However, Vayikra is one of two times an animal is executed. An animal who kills a person is executed, and there are even full court procedures for it, but the reason seems to be that spelled out in Bereishit 9:5, וְאַךְ אֶת-דִּמְכֶם לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אֶדְרֹשׁ, מִיַּד כָּל-חַיָּה אֶדְרְשֶׁנּוּ; וּמִיַּד הָאָדָם, מִיַּד אִישׁ אָחִיו--אֶדְרֹשׁ, אֶת-נֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם.

The other time is the case of bestiality. Now animals are not typically deemed guilty of sin. Why should the animal be executed for sleeping with a human? This is what the midrash (above) is saying, that it is to spare the human embarrassment and preserve their dignity. The animal cannot be walking around and have people point to it and say it was Ploni's girlfriend or Plonit's boyfriend.

Once this connection had been made, it was a very short leap to say that Bilaam's female donkey was executed to spare him for embarrassment in the exactly the same way the other animal in the Torah was executed to spare someone from embarrassment. And this then guided Chazal in all the other interpretations.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Avoda Zara 60b: Falling into a vat

This is inyanei de-yoma, since this appears in today's daf, and since tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. :)

In today's daf, we have the following:

נפל לבור ועלה: אמר רב פפא לא שנו אלא שעלה מת אבל עלה חי אסור מ"ט אמר רב פפא דדמי עליה כיום אידם: 
§ The mishna teaches that if a gentile fell into the wine collection vat and emerged, it is not prohibited to derive benefit from the wine. Rav Pappa says:The Sages taught this halakha only in a case where the gentile emerged from the vat dead. But if he emerged alive, the wine is prohibited. The Gemara asks: What is the reason that the wine is prohibited? Rav Pappa said: Sincethe gentile was rescued from death, he considers that day like their festival day, and he offers the wine as an idolatrous libation in thanksgiving.

Rashi explains Rav Pappa's reasoning as follows:

דדמי עליה כיום אידם - ואזיל ומודה על שניצל ומסתמא נסכיה בעלייתו ואסור בהנאה
That is, since he was saved, he will thank his deity, and therefore as he is pulled out of the cistern containing the wine, he will presumably libate some of the wine.

I would suggest another possibility, that since he lives, he was happy to be in the wine cistern, since he gets to enjoy the wine! And his thrashing around in there is shichshuch of someone who having a festival day.

Talking about Yom Eidem, festival days, tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. And this story is just on point:

Old man O'Malley had worked down at the brewery for years, but one day he just wasn't paying attention and he tripped on the walkway and fell over into the beer vat and drowned. The foreman thought it should be his job to inform the Widow O'Malley of her old man's death. He showed up at the front door and rang the bell. When she came to the door, he said, "I'm sorry to tell you, but your poor husband passed away at work today when he fell into the vat and drowned." She wept and covered her face with her apron and after a time, between sobs, she asked, "Tell me, did he suffer?" "Knowing Brian O'Malley as well as I did, I don't think so," said the foreman, "He got out three times to go to the men's room."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Do Tzfardeia Defecate?

One of my favorite midrashim is the one that Pharaoh went to the Nile to defecate, because he wanted people to think he was a god who did not have bodily functions. I like it because of the multiple derivations, some explicit and some implicit.

It is based on the pasuk in Shemot 7 which begins:

טו  לֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה בַּבֹּקֶר, הִנֵּה יֹצֵא הַמַּיְמָה

The midrash in question as it appears in Shemot Rabba:

לך אל פרעה בבקר הנה יוצא המימה 
לא היה יוצא אלא המימה [בבוקר], לפי, שאותו רשע היה משתבח ואומר שהוא אלוה ואינו יוצא לנקביו, לפיכך היה יוצא בבקר בשעה שהוא נצרך, תפוש אותו. 

It is not just that he went specifically baboker, in the morning. But "Yotzei Hamayma" perhaps has the implication of urinating, or even of defecating (yotzei) into the water (hamayma).

But at the end of the episode, there is also this gem, which clinches it:

כג  וַיִּפֶן פַּרְעֹה, וַיָּבֹא אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ

Apparently, there is a dvar Torah going around which argues for a sort of middah keneged middah regarding the second plague, of frogs. I will let Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin tell it:
Someone sent me an insight that they heard from a contemporary rabbi: "Because Pharaoh portrayed himself like a god by not relieving himself, G-d specifically brought frogs as the second plague, since frogs are creatures that eat and do not void their waste." Pharaoh falsely claimed to be a God who does not excrete, so he was punished with lowly creatures that really do posses this ability.

There is a problem with that, however:
I don't know how this frog drash came about. I've never heard of an ancient belief that frogs do not excrete. (Though I do often hear people asking me if snakes excrete; for some reason, people seem to think that without legs, there's no tushie.) But the fact is that frogs, like every other creature in the world, excrete their waste. How could it be otherwise? What else would they do with the parts of their food that they haven't digested?
I think I derash. First, I will point out that Rabbenu Bachya held that tzfardeia were crocodiles rather than frogs. That makes the makka pretty frightening.

Second, while I also have not heard of an ancient belief that frogs do not defecate, I have heard of an old belief that crocodiles do not defecate.

To wit, we have the following from the 1481 travel account of Meshulam de Volterra, that crocodiles lack an anal orifice and rely on birds to remove the excrement. To cite "The Rabbi and the Crocodile: Interrogating Native in the Late Quattrocento", by David Malkiel, published in Speculum,  A Journal of Medieval Studies, Volume 91, Number 1, from January 2016:

What Meshulam actually is describing is the symbiotic relationship between the Egyptian plover and the crocodile. The plover picks out the food, and at the same times cleans the crocodile's teeth. But even crocodiles defecate.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Daf Yomi, Shevuot 47

Something to consider when learning Shevuot 47.

The gemara reads:

חזרה שבועה למקומה:
להיכן חזרה א"ר אמי רבותינו שבבבל אמרו חזרה שבועה לסיני רבותינו שבארץ ישראל אמרו בחזרה שבועה למחויב לה אמר רב פפא רבותינו שבבבל רב ושמואל רבותינו שבארץ ישראל ר' אבא 

Thus, according to Rav Pappa, by "rabotainu" of Bavel, he meant Rav and Shmuel, and by "rabotainu" of E"Y, he meant Rabbi Abba, even though Rabbi Abba is just one person and even though, as Tosafot makes a diyuk from the language which says that Rabbi Abba sat before Rabbi Ammi, Rabbi Abba was a student rather than a teacher.

However, Rabbi Ami was an Amora of Eretz Yisrael (third generation). If we look at the Yerushalmi, we see Rav Hoshaya (third generation) tell Rabbi Ami this limmud.  And while the raboteinu of Bavel are left unspecified, the rabotainu of E"Y is Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Yannai. These would certainly qualify as rabotainu.

דף לו, ב פרק ז הלכה ד גמרא
רב הושעיה אמר קמי ר' אמי בשם רבנין דתמן חזרה שבועה לסיני רבי יוחנן בשם רבי ינאי חזרה שבועה לבעלין.  מאן דמר חזרה שבועה לסיני כמי שאין כאן עדות המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה ומאן דמר חזרה שבועה לבעלין ממה דהוא גברא חשוד ולא יכיל מישתבע לי 
קום שלם לי:

Further, if we look at the Tosefta (thus, a Tannaitic source) , we will find an explicit statement like the raboteinu of Bavel, together with a scriptural derivation. This could then be the source.


ו,ג  שכנגדו חשוד על השבועה כיצד זה נשבע ונוטל.  היו שניהם חשודין פטורין שנא' (שמות כב) שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם בזמן שאחד מהן חשוד לא בזמן ששניהן חשודין.  בין שניהם יוצא מבין שניהם אם הנשבע נשבע על שקר סוף שהשבועה חלה עליו ואם המשביע משביע על שקר סוף שהשבועה חלה עליו שנא' (זכריה ה) ולנה בתוך ביתו וכלתו בוא וראה דברים שאין האש אוכלתן שבועת שקר אוכלתן.

Rav Pappa could either be unaware of the identities, or is trying to associate certain known Amoraim of E"Y and Bavel, based on their statements elsewhere. But this involves some kvetches, and applying a principle from a different case to our local case. One could question whether they are indeed applicable. For instance, we end up having Rav and Shmuel establish a general principle of what happens when one is obligated in an oath and cannot swear, applying it then to our local case, while the Tosefta deduces from the pasuk, it for just this particular case, namely when both of them are unable to swear.

Meanwhile, these sources I mentioned are explicit in their position, rather than being a transfer from what they said elsewhere.

Another point. Towards the end of amud aleph, we see Rava's support for Rabbi Abba based on a brayta brought by Rabbi Ammi, in which they darshen the pasuk of shevuat Hashem tihyeh bein shneihem  -- velo min hayorshim:

דתני רבי אמי (שמות כב, י) שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם ולא בין היורשין

On the next amud, the gemara asks what the opposing position - that is, Rav and Shmuel - would do with that pasuk, since they must not hold like that brayta. And the setama degemara points us to another brayta that uses it for a quasi-homiletic purpose, namely:

ורב ושמואל האי שבועת ה' מאי קא דרשי ביה מיבעי ליה לכדתניא שמעון בן טרפון אומר שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם מלמד שהשבועה חלה על שניהם

We need not say this. We could say like the Tosefta, which explicitly takes this very pasuk to teach the very law in question - that only when one of them is suspect, and not when both of them are suspect. (Unless you want to interpret Shimon ben Tarfon's derasha to be precisely that...)


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