Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Tetzaveh #1: A populist midrash

There is a great midrash I saw in Midrash Rabba on Tetzaveh.
It is a drasha attached to the first pasuk of revii in parshat Tetzaveh, Shemot 29:1:
וְזֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-תַּעֲשֶׂה לָהֶם, לְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתָם--לְכַהֵן לִי: לְקַח פַּר אֶחָד בֶּן-בָּקָר, וְאֵילִם שְׁנַיִם--תְּמִימִם.
"And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me in the priest's office: take one young bullock and two rams without blemish"

To summarize the midrash: If we look at Vayikra, 4th perek, Moshe gives the Nasi (prince) who sinned inadvertantly and the annointed Cohen HaGadol (high priest) who sinned accidentally a way to atone, via a sin-offering.

That is, in Vayikra 4:3: אִם הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ יֶחֱטָא
and in Vayikra 4:22: אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא, יֶחֱטָא

The people protested that the princes and high priest has a method of atonement. What method do we have?

Moshe immediately replied with sacrifices for if the entire people sin:
Vayikra 4:13: וְאִם כָּל-עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, יִשְׁגּוּ

They replied, "we are poor and we do not have the means to bring sacrifices." Moshe replied (for Hashem) "Devarim- (=things/words) I require of you, as it states in Hoshea 14:3: קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים, וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל-ה
"Take with you words, and return unto the LORD"

{Note: often people note the end of the verse for the derivation. The full verse is:
קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים, וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל-ה; אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-תִּשָּׂא עָו‍ֹן וְקַח-טוֹב, וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים, שְׂפָתֵינוּ.
"Take with you words, and return unto the LORD; say unto Him: 'Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips."

The more famous derivation is from וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים, שְׂפָתֵינוּ, so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips.

Further, devarim-words means Torah, states the midrash, as Devarim 1:1 states:
אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן: בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת--וְדִי זָהָב.
"These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab."

So, that means that learning Torah atones.

They said to Moshe: We do not know Torah.
He replied (Moshe on behalf of Hashem), "Cry and pray before Me, and I shall accept. Your fathers when they were enslaved in Egypt, was it not through prayer that I redeemed them, as it states in Shemot 20: "And the Jews groaned from the work and cried out." In the days of Yehoshua did I not do for them miracles, as it states (Joshua 7): and Yehoshua tore his clothing... {and there he prays}. In the days of the Judges, via crying I heard their cry as it states in Shoftim 6, "and it was when the Jews cried out to Hashem." In the days of Shmuel did I not listen as a result of prayer as it states in 1 Shmuel 7: And Shmuel cried out to Hashem on behalf of the Jews. And so too the men of Yerushalayim although they angered me, because they cried before me I had mercy on them, as it states in Yirmiyahu 31:6 So says Hashem sing with gladness for Jacob. {The reference is probably to how it continues, in verse 8: בִּבְכִי יָבֹאוּ, וּבְתַחֲנוּנִים אוֹבִילֵם - They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them.}

Thus, prayer is offered as an alternative to learning.
This seems to me to be a very populist midrash. We begin with the elite - princes and high priests. The people protest that they should also have a way to repent. Moshe says that they can bring sin-offerings. This is not inclusive enough, for poor people cannot afford offerings. Moshe tells them they can learn Torah, which is accessible to all. However, they protest that the unlearned do not know Torah. He then offers prayer which is available to all.

The midrash then gives a historical precedent for prayer throughout the ages, through the mouth of Moshe, even though he precedes all but one of the examples. I've seen this phenomenon elsewhere in midrash, where an statement is placed in someone's mouth, with an appeal to historical "precedent" which postdates the speaker and listener.

Another interesting thing about this midrash is Moshe's response. He tells the people of the communal sin-offering if ALL the congregation sins inadvertantly. This is strange for two reasons. First, they protest that people who are poor cannot afford this, which does not work out because this is a single offering given by the elders on behalf of the entire community, not by each individual. Also, the giving of the command is BETWEEN that of the sin-offering of the prince and high-priest (see above - it is 4:13, which is between 4:3 and 4:22). So Moshe gave them this law, according to the simple chronology of the verses, before that of the prince. So when could they protest.

The answer might be that the midrash meant to cite verse 27:
וְאִם-נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת תֶּחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה, מֵעַם הָאָרֶץ
"And if any one of the common people sin through error"

This follows the law for the high-priest and prince, and involves a sacrifice for each individual, which could then be too expensive for a poor person.

Now, what is the tie-in to the verse? The entire segment begins from that verse in Hoshea, but perhaps it is the word Devarim, paralleling וְזֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-תַּעֲשֶׂה לָהֶם, "And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them."

Also, that verse describes the offering as one young cow and two rams. Rashi notes this is to atone for the golden calf. The midrash rabba earlier seems to suggest as well that this is to atone for the golden calf, except with the extra twist that they did not worship the golden calf yet, so it was sort of anticipatory (also we usually figure this parsha happened after the golden calf). Neither source says it is a chatas - sin offering, since this is only for unintentional sins, but rather since both were cows, one is coming to atone for the other.

The golden calf would be a communal sin, done by the the high priest, the princes, and the entire populace (so in this respect the communal offering fits better with the context of the golden calf). Except, the offerings in Vayikra were sin offerings for unintentional sins, and the golden calf was intentional, so I find this slightly strange.

Unless we consider the cow for the miluim was a generalized sin-offering (chatas) for the high priest, and this brought up the general issue of sin offerings.

I also found it interesting that Torah is given as an option before prayer as a method of atonement, though this could be a result of the populist theme, moving to things that more people can do.

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