Friday, June 24, 2005

Shlach: The Ten Trials

In parshat Shlach, Hashem complains that the Israelites have tested him ten times. In Bemidbar 14:20-23:

כ וַיֹּאמֶר ה, סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ. 20 And the LORD said: 'I have pardoned according to thy word.
כא וְאוּלָם, חַי-אָנִי: וְיִמָּלֵא כְבוֹד-ה, אֶת-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ. 21 But in very deed, as I live--and all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD--
כב כִּי כָל-הָאֲנָשִׁים, הָרֹאִים אֶת-כְּבֹדִי וְאֶת-אֹתֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתִי בְמִצְרַיִם, וּבַמִּדְבָּר; וַיְנַסּוּ אֹתִי, זֶה עֶשֶׂר פְּעָמִים, וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, בְּקוֹלִי. 22 surely all those men that have seen My glory, and My signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to proof these ten times, and have not hearkened to My voice;
כג אִם-יִרְאוּ, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי, לַאֲבֹתָם; וְכָל-מְנַאֲצַי, לֹא יִרְאוּהָ. 23 surely they shall not see the land which I swore unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that despised Me see it.
Rashi cites Chazal on this:
these ten times Twice at the [Red] sea, twice with the manna, twice with the quails…, as is stated in Tractate Erechin 15a.
I would posit that this approach is midrashic, in that it takes the text at face value. Midrash is categorized by being hyper-literal, whereas pshat will often not take statements as absolutely. In this case, Chazal try to identify which ten trials the pasuk refers to, where the pasuk did not identify them, and where it is in fact difficult to figure out which ones they are.

One might say that Hashem did not mean literally ten. Ten is a representative number for many instances. (Indeed, Ibn Ezra suggests it was used because it is the first number which is a collection of ones.)

This distinction can be forced into a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Akiva would take doubled words (examples: הענק תענק, נתן תתן, פתח תפתח, עשר תעשר) as extra, and thus coming to teach something additional, on a midrashic level. Rabbi Yishmael, conversely, held that dibra Torah kelshon benei Adam - the Torah speaks in the language of mankind - and thus, this duplication of language is not a significant distinction or irregularity that it should prompt a midrash. Thus, Rabbi Yishmael, who does not insist on the absolute and maximal significance of each word, takes a non-midrashic approach. Similarly here, saying that "ten" does not mean "ten" may well be the non-midrashic approach.

One should be more prone to say that this is so based on the fact that this is direct speech from Hashem, as opposed to description of law, or narration. Further, it is part of a complaint expressing exasperation. Think of "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times!"

We have a parallel instance of "ten" being used in this way, perhaps. In Bereishit 31:7:

ו וְאַתֵּנָה, יְדַעְתֶּן: כִּי, בְּכָל-כֹּחִי, עָבַדְתִּי, אֶת-אֲבִיכֶן. 6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
ז וַאֲבִיכֶן הֵתֶל בִּי, וְהֶחֱלִף אֶת-מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים; וְלֹא-נְתָנוֹ אֱלֹקִים, לְהָרַע עִמָּדִי. 7 And your father hath mocked me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
ח אִם-כֹּה יֹאמַר, נְקֻדִּים יִהְיֶה שְׂכָרֶךָ--וְיָלְדוּ כָל-הַצֹּאן, נְקֻדִּים; וְאִם-כֹּה יֹאמַר, עֲקֻדִּים יִהְיֶה שְׂכָרֶךָ--וְיָלְדוּ כָל-הַצֹּאן, עֲקֻדִּים. 8 If he said thus: The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said thus: The streaked shall be thy wages; then bore all the flock streaked.

The midrash will take on the difficult task of identifying the ten times. Further, Rashi there says monim means ten, so the wages were actually changed 100 times.

But, the pshat approach may well be that "ten" means "many instances," and is being used there in direct speech and expressing exasperation. Ibn Ezra makes a similar comment there.

Please note this is an entirely different issue than that of 600,000 people leaving Egypt. A few weeks ago, Hirhurim had a post about how archaeological evidence did not currently support the idea of people leaving Egypt in those numbers, to which I responded in this post. In the comments at Hirhurim, some were suggesting that the number was intended to be metaphorical, meaning "a lot." As a matter of pshat, this seems unlikely, given that there are psukim up about how the Hebrews in Egypt were fruitful and multiplied at such a rate that the Egyptians were frightened, and further based on the fact that there are counts of each individual tribe, and the counts add up to the approximately 600,000. No - it does not strike me as pshat, nor as good drash. Here, however, the number being symbolic, representing many instances, may well be good pshat, for the reasons mentioned above.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin