Thursday, December 11, 2003

Vayishlach #4: Commentators Who Live In Glass Houses?

Towards the end of parashat Vayishlach, the Torah lists Esav's descendants. Afterwards, it lists the kings of Edom. The pasuk states (Bereshit 36:31):

וְאֵלֶּה, הַמְּלָכִים, אֲשֶׁר מָלְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם--לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ-מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
"These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before a king reigned for the children of Israel."

The next pesukim list the kings.

וַיִּמְלֹךְ בֶּאֱדוֹם, בֶּלַע בֶּן-בְּעוֹר; וְשֵׁם עִירוֹ, דִּנְהָבָה.
וַיָּמָת, בָּלַע; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו, יוֹבָב בֶּן-זֶרַח מִבָּצְרָה.
וַיָּמָת, יוֹבָב; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו, חֻשָׁם מֵאֶרֶץ הַתֵּימָנִי.
וַיָּמָת, חֻשָׁם; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו הֲדַד בֶּן-בְּדַד, הַמַּכֶּה אֶת-מִדְיָן בִּשְׂדֵה מוֹאָב, וְשֵׁם עִירוֹ, עֲוִית.
וַיָּמָת, הֲדָד; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו, שַׂמְלָה מִמַּשְׂרֵקָה.
וַיָּמָת, שַׂמְלָה; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו, שָׁאוּל מֵרְחֹבוֹת הַנָּהָר
וַיָּמָת, שָׁאוּל; וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו, בַּעַל חָנָן בֶּן-עַכְבּוֹר.
וַיָּמָת, בַּעַל חָנָן בֶּן-עַכְבּוֹר, וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו הֲדַר, וְשֵׁם עִירוֹ פָּעוּ; וְשֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ מְהֵיטַבְאֵל בַּת-מַטְרֵד, בַּת מֵי זָהָב.

The first pasuk, though, presents a major problem. Namely, how could the pasuk say לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ-מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, "before a king reigned for the chidren of Israel?" After all, Moshe received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and gave it to the Jewish people, and at that point, they had no king. The pasuk implies that at the point it is speaking, the Jews had at least one king, and that these kings of Edom ruled before any king ruled. What were the Jews in Moshe's time to make of this statement? Was this pasuk written later, after the Jews enter the land of Israel, and after the time of Shaul and David? Maybe you can say the shoftim were kings? But that is still after Moshe. I will call this problem One.

Another problem is presented by the next psukim. They list 8 kings. Now, Esav was contemporary with Yaakov. Before you can have kings, you need multiple tribes descending from Esav, for you need some mass of people. But even if you the first king reigned in the generation after Esav, you still do not seem to have time for 8 kings before Matan Torah. For example, Levi had Kehas had Yitzhar had Korach. That's 4 generations, not 8! This would seem to imply that this pasuk was written much after Moshe. This is a related problem to problem One, which I will refer to as problem Two.

I do not really understand problem Two, because besides for the answer that Ibn Ezra says, from looking at the psukim it is not really clear from the psukim that these kings were descendants of Esav, or even that the first king ruled during/after the time of Esav. Some of these kings might have predated Esav, for all the pasuk states is that "these are the kings who ruled in the LAND of Edom."

Apparently, someone named Yitzchaki wrote that this parasha {I don't think he means Vayishlach - rather just this section - staring from the Peh (meaning petucha) right before 36:31 (our pasuk) until the end of the parasha - the three Pehs before 37:1, denoting the beginning of Vayshev} - anyway, Yitzchaki wrote that this parasha was written in the days of king Yehoshafat of Yehuda (contemporary with Achav king of Israel). Yitzchaki is NOT Rashi.

Here is what Ibn Ezra has to say: "And these are the kings: Some say that this parasha was written by way of prophecy {I would guess either to solve the problem of when Israel had a king, or/and to explain how so many kings are listed}. And Yitzchaki said in his Sefer that in the days of Yehoshafat this parasha was written. And he {Yitzchaki} explains the generations according to his will. Do they indeed call him Yitzchak? All who hear him laugh (yitzchak) at him. For he said that Hadad (36:35) is Hadad the Edomite and he said that Mehetavel {wife of Baal Chanah (36:39)} was the sister of Tachpanches. And Chalila Chalila that the matter is as he spoke {that it was written} in the days of Yehoshafat. And his Sefer is worthy of being burnt. And why is he surprised about the 8 kings that ruled that they are many? For the kings of Israel were twice as many in number. And the years of these kings were close to the years of the kings of Israel. {Presumably, Yiztchaki made some calculations of how many years each king would have to rule to make it work out that these kings were before Moshe, and rejected it because he felt that there were too many in too short a time.} Additionally, the kings of Judah outnumbered the kings of Edom until the time of Moshe {in other words, Judah had even more kings in its time span than the kings in Edom if you say it was only until the time of Moshe}. And the truth is that the explanation of "before a king ruled {for the children of Israel}" refers to Moshe the king of Israel, and so indeed the pasuk states, "and there was in Jeshurun a king." {referring to Moshe}

I cannot tell more about Yitzchaki without seeing him inside. I am assuming his first count, which he though was impossible, started from Esav, though maybe his math started from an earlier generation. It would take a while to compute it, but basically, as we can surmise from Ibn Ezra's answer, the time span of all eight kings should equal the time span of twice that many kings of Israel = 16 kings.

Rashbam, by the way, chimes in, explaining לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ-מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל as "before Moshe, who saved Israel. the princes of every nation are called king until David. I found in Yosipon {this is either Josephus or more probably Hazal's book Yosipon, based on Josephus} that after these {8} kings, close to 40 names kings {ruled} one after the other."

Thus, Rashbam also rejects Yitzchaki, showing that: for problem One, it refers to Moshe, and for problem Two, the reigns were short, for another 40 kings ruled afterwards.

I would note that it makes sense for there to be short reigns of kings. After all, these kings are not descended from one another. They presumably were old enough to have major power (they may be local rulers already) when the previous king died, so as to be the next to seize power. Thus there was not much of their natural life left when they assumed the throne.

It may seem somewhat surprising that Ibn Ezra was so shocked by Yitzchaki's Sefer. After all, Ibn Ezra says that the last perek of the Torah couldn't have been written by Moshe, but was rather written by Yehoshua (because they refer to Moshe's death and burial) (Ibn Ezra, Dvarim 34:1). He is echoing an opinion in the gemara, which refers to the last 8 pesukim, which were written by Yehoshua after Moshe wrote them down in tears and Yehoshua then wrote it down in actual ink, but Ibn Ezra extends it to the beginning of the perek.

Ibn Ezra also comments regarding the first pasuk of Dvarim (Ibn Ezra, Dvarim 1:2), regarding the curious phrase בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן "on the other side of the Jordan," which Moshe would not write since he was on THAT side of the Jordan, that if you understand this secret, you also will understand other psukim, and he gives examples, such as וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי אָז בָּאָרֶץ, "and the Canaanites were then in the land," from Bereishit 12:6. He cites many such psukim, like "Ad Hayom Hazeh." See him inside.

It is not immediately clear what Ibn Ezra's "Sod" is. Does he mean Yehoshua wrote them, towards the end of his life, after he had captured much of the land of Israel (as per the gemara). Or does he mean some later editor - the Anshei Kneset Hagedola, perhaps, added these short editorial comments?

One thing is clear. Ibn Ezra considers Yitzchaki to be saying kefira, and his sefer worthy of being burnt, but he does not consider his own sefer to be so. Ibn Ezra does, however, make his comments on Devarim 1:2 intentionally obtuse, perhaps because it is not for public consumption by the masses. He considers Yitzchaki to be kfira, I think, because 1) This is a long section of Torah, and not just a quick editorial comment, with details of what happened in many generations up to Yehoshafat, and this type of information should not make it into Bereishit. 2) The idea of things being added to the Torah as late as Yehoshafat was unpalatable. Besides for these two issues which make Yitzchaki kefira, we can see that Ibn Ezra thinks that Yitzchaki's arguments necessitating a late date are silly, and the associations with these late kings and sisters of kings based on common names is also silly.


Z said...

It is now 8 years since you wrote this post. I wonder how different it would look if you wrote it today. just curious.

joshwaxman said...

Indeed, it would look somewhat different nowadays, for a number of reasons.

Perhaps I'll rewrite the post...


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