Friday, August 19, 2005

parshat vaEtchanan: Hear O Israel

This week's parsha contains the first perek of Shema. Devarim 6:4:

ד שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה אֱלֹקֵינוּ, ה אֶחָד. 4 Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
The Midrash puts these words in the mouths of Yaakov's sons. Yaakov was afraid that just as his father and grandfather had sons who strayed from the righteous path (Yishmael and Esav), he too would have sons that strayed. He was particularly afraid because of the incident with Reuven (whatever it was). Thus, before his death, Yaakov expressed this fear, and his children responded, "Hear, O Israel {our father}: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." Gratified at that, Yaakov exclaimed ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד! So according to the Sifrei on the parsha. (And so we interject in our recital of Shema after this first pasuk.)

Targum Pseudo-Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi have different versions of Yaakov's response. Tg Yonatan omits the word malchuto: עני יעקב ואמר בריך שום יקריה לעלמי עלמין such that it becomes "His Honor" rather than the "the honor of His Kingship." Tg Yerushalmi has an entirely different response, approximately equal to our response in Kaddish: עני יעקב ואמר יהי שמיה רבא מברך לעלם, "May His great Name be blessed forever."

There are many pesukim which factor into this midrash, but one of them is Bereishit 44:31:

לא וַיֹּאמֶר, הִשָּׁבְעָה לִי--וַיִּשָּׁבַע, לוֹ; וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַל-רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה. 31 And he said: 'Swear unto me.' And he swore unto him. And Israel bowed down upon the bed's head.
I have already addressed this pasuk on a pshat level, asserting that it is quite possible that Israel do not "bow" upon the bed's head, but rather prostrated himself - that is, he lay down, in exhaustion; and further, that this was not part of the preceding narrative, and was not in response to Yosef's oath, but rather introduced the next narrative, in which Yaakov was ill, and how Yaakov set upon the bed's head, envigorated with Yosef's arrival. (See Why Did Yaakov Bow? And Did Yaakov Bow?)

At any rate, the Sifrei finds it a bit off that he bows at the head of the bed, and asks "And did he indeed bow at the head of the bed?! Rather, he gave thanks and praise that no chaff {that did not follow after Hashem} came from him.

To explain, the Sifrei is taking וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ as bowing in thanks. The word עַל no longer conveys location but rather cause. רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה refers to his decendants, which come from his bed. Perhaps because he specifically worried about Reuven, the firstborn, one might say he is the רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה - the head of those who came from the bed; or alternatively, since his sin according to the midrash was moving his father's bed, he is the chief of the bed.

The midrash is also taking the pasuk a bit out of context here, because on a pshat level, it either associated with the preceding narrative (as it is traditionally taken), in which case it is Yosef's oath to bury Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael, or else with the subsequent narrative (as per my reinterpretation, mentioned above), in which case it is Yosef's arrival with Ephraim and Menashe. All the sons of Yaakov only come a full perek-span later, in Bereishit 49:1:

א וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-בָּנָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, הֵאָסְפוּ וְאַגִּידָה לָכֶם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם, בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים. 1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: 'Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.
ב הִקָּבְצוּ וְשִׁמְעוּ, בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב; וְשִׁמְעוּ, אֶל-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם. 2 Assemble yourselves, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.
By the way, I significantly updated a previous post, for the haftara of Matot, to discuss the etymology of the word mateh, meaning both tribe and staff, as well as a note about Yirmiyahu the Kohen Gadol. Check it out.

I have more on the parsha, but blogging with a baby is quite difficult, so most likely that will come next week. Shabbat Shalom.

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