Thursday, May 05, 2005

Acharei Mot #3: Speak, Speak

At the very beginning of parashat Acharei Mot, Vayikra 16:1-2:

א וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אַחֲרֵי מוֹת, שְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן--בְּקָרְבָתָם לִפְנֵי-ה, וַיָּמֻתוּ. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD, and died;
ב וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, דַּבֵּר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, וְאַל-יָבֹא בְכָל-עֵת אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ, מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת--אֶל-פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֹן, וְלֹא יָמוּת, כִּי בֶּעָנָן, אֵרָאֶה עַל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת. 2 and the LORD said unto Moses: 'Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover.
In the first pasuk Hashem speaks to Moshe. In the second pasuk Hashem speaks to Moshe. The difference in translation (spoke/said) is regular - dbr is consistently rendered "spoke," while `mr is consistently rendered said.

The problem is that we have the first pasuk saying that Hashem spoke to Moshe, but we are not told what He said. The second verse says that Hashem spoke to Moshe and states the contents of Hashem's speech.

This is the type of extremely close reading of the text that typifies Midrash, and indeed, it is how the Sifra leads off the parsha.

Two answers are offered. The first is that the remainder of the first pasuk actually formed the content of Hashem's speech. That is, Hashem said: after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD, and died. The parable is made to two doctors. One gives his sick patient medical advice (don't drink cold drinks or sleep in a damp place), and the second gives the same advice but adds "so that you do not die as person X did, who in your condition drank cold drinks and slept in a damp place." To which of the two doctors is the patient more likely to listen? That is why the first pasuk gave instructions to mention the deaths of Aaron's two sons.

This actually surfaces in Rashi on the verse, but people do not realize that it is the repetition of "speaking" that is partially prompting the Midrash.

The second answer takes the approach of deriving the closed from the open {haSatum min haMeforash}. The second pasuk leads into a discussion of how and when the priest can enter the kodesh, and so the first pasuk refers to a speech, written elsewhere, which is also about how one can enter the kodesh. The actual speech occurs in Vayikra 10:8 and on:

ח וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר. 8 And the LORD spoke unto Aaron, saying:
ט יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר אַל-תֵּשְׁתְּ אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--וְלֹא תָמֻתוּ: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם. 9 'Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
An interesting thing to note is that both answers assume that reference is made to something else that was said (by reading the statement that "Hashem spoke to Moshe" in the verse verse, with no actual speech given, hyper-literally), and also take a closed-canon approach. That is, they assume that we can discover what the contents of this speech was, and that it exists somewhere in the canon {of Torah, or Tanach}. The first answer finds the contents in the very same pasuk, while the second finds it in another, earlier perek of Vayikra, though with some help from the immediate context of the content of the second instruction to narrow down the content of the first speech. An open-canon approach, in contrast, could say that there was in fact another speech that was omitted here, but we will not find that speech in Scriptures, the canon. It might be present outside of Scriptures or might be lost.

From a peshat perspective, one need not find any difficulty in these psukim. That is, the first one informs us that there was a speech, and informs us when this speech occurred chronologically relative to events that happened in the midbar {wilderness}. The second pasuk then introduces the actual speech, and repeats the statement that Hashem spoke to Moshe to create an immediately juxtoposed introduction, since that is the general style.

We can look also at it as a false start - Hashem spoke to Moshe - Oh, I should mention when, because it is relevant to the content. Then, Hashem spoke to Moshe, and here is what he said...

Alternatively, we might suggest that the original text, written by Moshe in separate megillot (scrolls) throughout the 40 year trip through the wilderness, only contained Hashem's instructions, together with the introduction. (Thus, from pasuk 2 and on.) At the end of the 40 years, when he assembled it all into a single Book, Moshe added parenthetical editorial comments, specifying when this particular prophecy was given. He left the original text from the scroll intact so as to not spoil its integrity, and thus did not remove the second (which was originally the first) description of Hashem speaking.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin