Thursday, January 06, 2005

Shemot #3: Pharoah the Leper

I've already mentioned an earlier midrash in which "Vayakam Melech Chadash Al Mitzrayim" (Shemot 1:8) is interpreted in ways other than "Now there arose a new king," and showed how the alternate understanding can be read into the pasuk. I would add that part of the impetus for alternate interpretations is that the pasuk mentions that a new king arose, but does not mention that the previous king died.

There is another midrash on Shemot 2:23,

כג וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם, וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל-הָאֱלֹקִים, מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה. 23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
that the king of Egypt did not really die, but was struck with leprosy. Perhaps part of the impetus for this midrash is that here it says the king died, but does not mention a new king arising - thus, the opposite situation of the previous pasuk.

But why specifically leprosy? Well, a leper is considered as if dead, as in Moshe's prayer regarding his sister who had been struck with leprosy: (Bemidbar 12:11-12)
יא וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה: בִּי אֲדֹנִי--אַל-נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת, אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ. 11 And Aaron said unto Moses: 'Oh my lord, lay not, I pray thee, sin upon us, for that we have done foolishly, and for that we have sinned.
יב אַל-נָא תְהִי, כַּמֵּת, אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ, וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ. 12 Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.'
Further, we have two kings struck with leprosy: Uzziah in Divrei HaYamim 2, 26:21:
כא וַיְהִי עֻזִּיָּהוּ הַמֶּלֶךְ מְצֹרָע עַד-יוֹם מוֹתוֹ, וַיֵּשֶׁב בֵּית החפשות (הַחָפְשִׁית) מְצֹרָע--כִּי נִגְזַר, מִבֵּית ה; וְיוֹתָם בְּנוֹ עַל-בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ, שׁוֹפֵט אֶת-עַם הָאָרֶץ. 21 And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a house set apart, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD; and Jotham his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land.
Indeed, Chazal understand Yeshaya 6:1, which refers to the year of the death of Uzziyah, as in truth referring to the year in which he became a leper.

Also, Pharaoh (though an earlier one) in Bereishit 12:17:
יז וַיְנַגַּע ה אֶת-פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים, וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ, עַל-דְּבַר שָׂרַי, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם. 17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
So, to account for a Pharaoh who the pasuk says is dead but we want to say is not really dead, leprosy, metaphorically equal to death, is a natural choice.

Still, I like to maintain that, quite often, every detail given by a midrash can be found in the psukim, and so I would also note that the phrase is וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם. The midrash might be reading it as if the word was metzora'im, lepers, such that "the king died the death of lepers."

1 comment:

Isaacson said...

Other than the Aramean general Naaman (and Vashti per Megillah 12b) is there a record of a non-Jew contracting tzaraas? From what I understand (as per the gemarah in arachin) that disease is supposed to be tied to a person's spiritual well being and is usually a punishment for lashon hara.

Any thoughts as to why Pharaoh would have been struck with tza'raas in particular (he could have alternatively been blinded, a blind person is also considered dead)


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