Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Dvar Torah for Parashat Vayeitzei : Kefitzat HaDerech: Going Somewhere Fast, But Where?

I originally put this one out last year.

I - The Question

This week’s parasha begins "Vayeitzei Yaakov miBe`eir Shava' vayeilekh Charana." (Bereishit 28:10) Yaakov left from Beer Sheva and went to Charan.

But, the narrative continues that he reached a certain place and slept there because the sun had set... and there he has his dream, and then he proceeds to Charan. So how could the pasuk say he went to Charan if the next event occurs before he reaches Charan?

This question is predicated on the (correct) assumption that when you have the vav hahipukh - vay [vav patach yud] - it advances the narrative temporally, so we would not say he travelled to = and arrived in Charan and then backtrack and say something that happened along the way.
II - Source: Chullin 91b

The Gemara addresses this very issue on Chullin 91b, if we examine it carefully.

We start in the middle of a discussion. "Rabbi Yitzchak states, the sun which set on his [Yaakov's] behalf rose on his [Yaakov's] behalf. As it states, "And Yaakov left from Beer Sheva and went to Charan." And it states [next pasuk] Vayifga BaMakom [literally, and he reached the place]. When he [Yaakov] arrived in Charan he said [to himself], "Is it possible that I passed by the spot where my fathers have prayed and I did not pray?" When he gave his thought to return, the land contracted for him. Immediately, Vayifga BaMakom, he hit up against the place. When he had prayed, he wished to return [to Charan]. Hashem said, "this righteous man comes to my inn and leaves without sleeping. Immediately, the sun set." {Then, Rabbi Yitzchak compares the original Vayikach meAvnei HaMakom with Vayikach et HaEven, from plural stones to a single stone, to show the miracle of merging stones.}

III - Source: Rashi on Chullin 91b

The impetus for this midrash is the question raised above about the sequence of vayeitzei vayeilech vayifgah (as Rashi notes on the gemara), the strange word vayifga, implying some abrupt bumping into (Rashi on the gemara: like a man bumbing into his friend - Rashi also notes Chazal link it to prayer), and the pasuk's stating that "vayalen sham ki vah hashemesh" implying some interference of the natural order, that the sun's abrupt setting caused Yaakov to sleep in Betel then where otherwise he would not have done so. (Rashi on the gemara explains that otherwise, why would the pasuk have to explicitly say that the sun set?)

Rashi's explanation on the gemara on the words Vayelech Charana are important. He states, "[Vayeilech Charana:] this implies that he arrived in Charan and afterwards it states Vayifga BaMakom, and this is in Betel, which means he did not yet reach Charan.

Thus, Rashi recognizes the meaning of this midrash. The pasuk states it in this order because it indeed happened in this order. Yaakov left Betel, went to Charan, "bumped" into Betel, and then went to Charan. Thus, we have an answer to the question.

We will return to Rashi shortly. However, in an effort to deal with sources in a chronological order, we diverge briefly.

IV - Source: Targum Yonatan, Bereishit 28:10, in conflict with Chullin 91b

We now turn to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, the Targum attributed to Yonatan ben Uziel (even though the gemara only recorded him writing a targum on Neviim and Ketuvim, not on Torah).

Targum Yonatan, in the introduction to the parasha, lists five miracles which happened to Yaakov. He writes, "The fifth miracle is that the earth contracted [qaftzat `ar'a`] and on that day that he left [nafaq] he arrived [`azal] leCharan." Thus, according to Targum Yonatan, the kfitzat haderech was in allowing Yaakov to go from Beer Sheva to Charan in one day. {See Targum Onkelos who translates Vayeitzei as [nafaq] and Vayeilech as [`azal].} This is opposed to the gemara in Chullin, which has the kfitzat haderech in returning from Charan to reach Betel.

Targum Yonatan is at a loss to explain, after the kfitzat haderech from Beer Sheva to Charan, how Yaakov arrived in Betel. Yaakov would need two kfitzot haderech, but the targum only lists the one.

V - Deciding in favor of the Gemara, Chullin 91b

In general, a midrash is sparked by some textual irregularity. The midrash gives details which resolve the apparent difficulty. The midrash in Chullin satisfies this criterion, and also given a personality (Rabbi Yitzchak) who states it. It is certainly a real midrash.

On the other hand, Targum Yonatan midrash is not as text based. It starts by listing five miracles which happened to Yaakov when he left Beer Sheva. These are:

1) the sun setting because Hashem wanted to speak to him in a dream,
2) the many stones becoming one
3) Yaakov's ability to lift the stone off the well, a task that usually required all the shepherds to gather and work together.
4) the water in the well rose up to him all the days he was in Charan.
5) kfitzat haderech so that on the same day he left he arrived in Charan.

Miracles 1, 2, and 5 are discussed on Chullin 91b by Rabbi Yitzchak, except miracle 5 diverges in terms of where the kfitzat haderech applied. The fact that Targum Yonatan is gathering other midrashim in one place, coupled with the fact that the gemara's version arises from the discussion of irregularities in the text, while Targum Yonatan's is similar but does not arise from the text, would lead me to conclude that Targum Yonatan is derivative and we should trust the gemara over Targum Yonatan, assuming that a copyist made a mistake or a commentator inserted his own ideas into the text, in the process spoiling the midrash.

VI - Source: Targum Yerushalmi, Bereishit 28:10

This is in fact born out. Targum Yonatan is based on Targum Yerushalmi, and some good chumashim actually will put them side by side. In Targum Yerushalmi, all 5 miracles are listed, except #5 is placed second and labeled #2, and the rest of the miracles are all shifted down one spot. The kfitzat haderech is still in the trip from Beer Sheva to Charan and not from Charan to Betel. However, we now have the first three miracles listed in the same order they are presented in the gemara Chullin 91b, all from Rabbi Yitzchak. This is clearly derivative of the gemara, and somewhere, something went wrong.

Why did Targum Yonatan move miracle #2 to place #5? It seems to be that it makes sense from a literary standpoint. The Targum is on the first pasuk of the parasha, which talks about the travel from Beer Sheva to Charan, and Targum Yonatan rephrases the 5th miracle so that it reads like a translation of the pasuk, a perfect place to end off. That is, "The fifth miracle is that the earth contracted [qaftzat `ar'a`] and on that day that he left [nafaq] he arrived [`azal] leCharan" is a great translation for “Vayeitzei Yaakov MiBeer Shava Vayeilech Charana.”

VII - Source: Rashi, Bereishit 28:11

The verse 28:11 (the second pasuk in the parasha) states Vayifga BaMakom. Rashi feels that this just denotes arrival in a place, and cites other examples of this in Tanach. Then, Rashi cites Chazal that it denotes prayer, and cites an example of this from Jeremiah.

Finally, Rashi explains that the pasuk did not simply state vayitpallel - and he prayed - but said vayifga to teach that the way was shortened for him, as it says in Perek Gid HaNasheh, which is a citation of Chullin 91b.

Rashi first set out to give the pshat, which is that vayifga means that he arrived. The meaning "prayer" is medrash. Therefore, the third segment, which is introduced by the question why the verse did not simply state "and he prayed" must also be midrash. Thus, Rashi does not, with this citation of Chullin 91b, endorse the gemara as pshat.

However, the fact that he cites it here shows that Rashi was aware of this midrash when he was writing his commentary on this parasha. Merely showing that he knew of the midrash (as he clearly did) when he explained it on Chullin 91b is not sufficient - the two commentaries may have been written as different times, and perhaps when he wrote him commentary on this parasha he had not yet encountered Chullin 91b. But, now we have established that Rashi is well aware of the midrash.

Rashi also draws from Chullin 91b regarding the setting of the sun and the placing of stones about his head, and how those stones became one stone. Rashi cites no other pshat explanation for these, so perhaps he regards them as pshat, but on the other hand, they immediately follow something he explicitly marked as drash and not pshat, and all three derive from the same gemara and in fact the same personality in that gemara, Rabbi Yitzchak.

VIII - Source: Rashi, Bereishit 28:10

We now turn to the previous pasuk. "Vayeitzei Yaakov miBe`eir Shava' vayeilekh Charana." (Bereishit 28:10) Yaakov left from Beer Sheva and went to Charan. This if followed immediately by Vayifga BaMakom in the next pasuk.

Rashi does not cite Chullin 91b. Rather, he explains "vayeilekh Charana" as "yatza lalechet leCharan." Yaakov left [vayeitzei] to travel [vayeilech] to Charan. In other words, "vayeilekh Charana" does not mean he traveled all the way to Charan, or that he arrived there, but rather that he left with Beer Sheva, traveling towards Charan.

Thus, in a brilliant stroke, Rashi undoes the question! Since the verse means that he traveled toward Charan but does not mean that he arrived there, the narrative starting in the next verse with Vayifga BaMakom can happen on the way to Charan. The narrative does not have to leap backward and forward in time, and Yaakov does not have to leap backward and forward in geography.

Rashi knows both problems. He cannot say the narrative skips ahead of itself only to return, because that is not what the vav hahipuch (va) allows. He also knows the midrash, as is clear from his citation of it in the next verse AS MIDRASH and not pshat. His explanation here in 28:10 should be taken as a rejection of that midrash in Chullin 91b as pshat.

IX - Source: Ibn Ezra, Bereishit 28:10

Ibn Ezra says, "The Gaon (Rashi) said that vayeileikh Charana means lalekhet (with intent to travel to). And it is not so. Rather, it is like its implication (that he went to and therefore arrived in Charan) and the pasuk returns to explain how he arrived (at a place) on the road and did not travel all in one day, for he slept on the road."

Thus, Ibn Ezra is not bothered by the temporal jump in the narrative. The pasuk states he went to Charan, but that is a verb describing a large group of actions. He did not travel all in one day. The narrative continues by focusing in on that verb, his travelling, and how he slept on the way. Ibn Ezra does not consider this irregular, and therefore feels this is pshat.

However, something jumps out of Ibn Ezra's words. It might be accident, but it might not. Ibn Ezra states: the pasuk returns to explain how he arrived (at a place) on the road and did not travel all in one day, for he slept on the road.

Both Targum Yonatan and Yerushalmi state that kfitzat haderech occurred from Beer Sheva to Charan, so that on the day that Yaakov left Beer Sheva he arrived in Charan (and they state nothing about kfitzat haderech to Betel). Ibn Ezra, in rejecting Rashi, explains that they did not make the entire trip in one day. Is this statement innocuous, and he is just explaining that VAYEILECH is a verb that takes a long time to execute, and so verbs which follow can happen at the same time as the first verb VAYEILECH? (This seems right to me.) Or, is he rejecting some midrash which states that the trip from Beer Sheva to Charan took one day?

Perhaps Ibn Ezra thinks that this Targum is the midrash which Rashi is rejecting when commenting of Vayeilech. After all, Rashi on Vayifga only mentions kfitzat haderech, but does not indicate to where (Betel or Charan). Rashi cited Chullin, but by perek, because they had no standardized page numbering, so perhaps Ibn Ezra assumed that the kfitzat haderech was the same one given in the targumim.

Ibn Ezra certainly cannot think Rashi accepts this midrash as pshat, for Rashi is taking Vayeilech to mean "set out towards," which means Yaakov's sleeping overnight at Betel is on the way to Charan – thus, the trip took more than a day. I think that, most likely, Ibn Ezra is just stressing the length of the verb, and the reference to traveling to Charan all in one day is just a coincidence.

X - Source: Siftei Chachamim, explaining Rashi, Bereishit 28:10

Siftei Chachamim, to explain Rashi, merely inverts Ibn Ezra. He explains that Vayeilich Charana implies he arrived in Charan, and Vayifga BaMakom clearly happens on the way to Charan, and it is not the "derech hamikra" to return to explain and expand on the previous verb (which is exactly what Ibn Ezra claims it is doing), and so it must mean that Yaakov set out towards Charan.

Siftei Chachamim and Ibn Ezra neglect a main point of Rashi on this pasuk. True, he is troubled by the order of the verbs, and his solution is to that problem, but Rashi was made aware of that problem because the midrash dealt with the problem in its own way. One of Rashi's main intents in this pasuk is to reject the midrash on Chullin 91b as pshat as an explanation to the problem.

I take issue with Siftei Chachamim in this explanation of Rashi. How does he know that Rashi would reject Ibn Ezra’s explanation? He assumes that 1) Ibn Ezra gives the only other explanation, and 2) Rashi considered it, but rejected it because backward jumps, even as Ibn Ezra describes, are not the derech haMikra. But Ibn Ezra suggested his explanation much after Rashi! True, Rashi is troubled by the problem, but just that Yaakov appears to arrive in Charan before he sleeps in Betel. Nowhere do we find that Rashi has problems with saying that in a lengthy verb like Vayeilech, the Torah can continue by describing other verbs that happened synchronously.

My point is that Rashi surely knows and rejects Chullin 91b in giving pshat, but nowhere does Rashi even discuss Ibn Ezra’s suggestion.

It appears that Siftei Chachamim did not look to Chullin 91b to understand Rashi. Presumably he did for Rashi’s citation in explaining Vayifga, but he does not for VaYelech. This would be natural, for Rashi only explicitly mentions Chullin in regard to Vayifga (and does not even elaborate upon it), but does not cite it in regard to the miracle of the early setting of the sun, or of the many stones forming one stone, both of which Rashi relates (the next two Rashis) but gives no source (presumably because giving the citation the first time should suffice). Lacking the true opposing position for Rashi (= Chullin), Siftei Chachamim assumes Rashi took pains to explain what he does in opposition to the view propounded by Ibn Ezra. Or, perhaps Siftei Chachamim does this in a defensive reflex. Ibn Ezra rejects Rashi as pshat, saying some other explanation is pshat, so Siftei Chachamim rejoins that Rashi rejected that explanation because he feels such is not the derech haMikra.

What would Rashi say in response to Ibn Ezra? Who knows! Perhaps he would agree, and Ibn Ezra’s pshat never occurred to him. Perhaps he would disagree, for the reason given by Siftei Chachamim.

XI - Source: Baal HaTurim

Ibn Ezra *possibly* recognized Targum Yonatan's explanation of kfitzat haderech, if only to reject it and *possibly* misattribute it to Rashi.

The Baal HaTurim, though, almost certainly knows and reinforces Targum Yonatan. He states that Vayeilech is the gematria equivalent (adding the values of the letters) of "bo bayom - on that day." Vayeilech Charana refers to Yaakov's trip to Charan from Beer Sheva, so the Baal HaTurim is saying that trip took one day. The reason we would need to be told this is because it is miraculous. Thus, there was kfitzat haderech from Beer Sheva to Charan, such that he arrived the same day he left. This is exactly Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi. It is also directly against Ibn Ezra who says that the trip took more than one day, and it does not make sense according to Rashi either.

Baal HaTurim does give, in the form of gematria, a source for the kfitzat haderech from Beer Sheva to Charan that the Targumim were sorely lacking, but on the other hand, the gematria is hardly convicing, and is much shoddier than the derivation is Chullin.

XII - Conclusion

In conclusion, I would favor the girsah of the gemara in Chullin 91b over that of Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi. Further, I would reject the Baal HaTurim as based on the mistaken Targumic tradition. His gematria is a later rationalization that does not not amply justify the targum. Rashi and Ibn Ezra are both good candidates for pshat. Which you favor depends on whether you feel the narrative is *always* advanced temporally by the vav hahipuch or if the text can return to elaborate upon time-consuming verbs, and whether you feel it is a stretch to take vayelech, which normally means he went and arrived, as modifying vayeitzei and implying "he set out." I am not convinced the narrative is always advanced temporally by vav hahipuch - and so I agree to Ibn Ezra's premise. However, here, Rashi's explanation feels less forced, and so I think Rashi is correct here.

Who would have thought that such a simple Rashi (consisting of just three words) would take so much effort to correctly analyze? The lesson is that you should read the commentators on Rashi, but even then do not take their words for it. Siftei Chachamim missed an important point on one section on Rashi about Vayeilech Charana and completely missed the mark in explaining the midrash about the setting of the sun. You should look at the sources of Rashi to really see what is going on.

To stress this point, I would like to repeat a dvar Torah I heard on this very Rashi. On Vayeilech Charana, Rashi simply says "yatza lalechet leCharan."

But, isn’t this obvious? If the pasuk says Vayeilech Charana, of course he left to go to Charan! Where else would intend to go if he went to Charan? Mitzrayim?! What Rashi is doing here is making a very important point. A tzadik knows where he sets out for in order to go there. He knows where he is going and then takes steps to get there. We too should set spiritual goals and know where we want to go, and then take steps to get there.

We learn from this dvar Torah the importance of reading Siftei Chachamim with Rashi. While I might disagree with some of what Siftei Chachamim said, he is here, and in general, knowledgeable of the textual difficulties sparking Rashi’s comments.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin