Tuesday, December 19, 2006

parshat Mikeitz: What Is Bothering Joshy? רְדוּ-שָׁמָּה

A short while ago, someone asked me by email what I saw wrong with the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach. I never got around to answering him, but perhaps I can point him to this post.

First, I will address this from a methodological perspective and then will give a concrete example of where the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach can go wrong.

Methodologically, my problem is that the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach
a) assumes that Rashi is dealing with a peshat level of the text, when in fact that vast majority of Rashi consists of citations of midrashim
b) often assumes that what motivates Rashi are the textual irregularities. Since Rashi so often cites a midrash, we will of course find textual irregularities which prompted the midrash. But what inspires the midrash is not necessarily what inspired Rashi.

(At least this is so in this particular instance I will analyze, and in some (but not all) others I have seen.)

Rashi reuses and selects midrashic material, often for peshat purposes. Thus, it is often productive to compare the original midrashic formulation with that of Rashi, to see if and how he changes it (the series Lifshuto shel Rashi often does this). It is useful to see if the midrash is on the same pasuk that Rashi places it, or if Rashi is applying a midrash on one verse to another verse to address a new issue. It is useful to see the array of midrashic material available, and how Rashi selects a specific midrash for peshat oriented ends. It is useful to see how the various midrashim Rashi selects form a thematic unit, or to contemplate what sorts of questions with the narrative Rashi is trying to answer.

In other words, there are indeed useful methodological questions to ask when reading a Rashi. However, coming in with incorrect assumptions, the questions one may ask could be inappropriate and misleading, and the answers one gives to these questions will lead one further astray.

A practical example of what I find problematic with the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach, from parshat Miketz. We will analyze a Rashi, then compare it with the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach.

Bereishit 42:1-2:
א וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְבָנָיו, לָמָּה תִּתְרָאוּ. 1 Now Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, and Jacob said unto his sons: 'Why do ye look one upon another?'
ב וַיֹּאמֶר--הִנֵּה שָׁמַעְתִּי, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; רְדוּ-שָׁמָּה וְשִׁבְרוּ-לָנוּ מִשָּׁם, וְנִחְיֶה וְלֹא נָמוּת. 2 And he said: 'Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt. Get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.'
Rashi says (taken from Judaica Press)
Go down there Heb. רְדוּ. But he did not say,“Go (לְכוּ).” He alluded to the 210 years that they were enslaved in Egypt, according to the numerical value of רְדוּ. — [from Gen Rabbah 91:2, Tan. Mikeitz 8]
They do us a great service by giving the sources so that we can look it up. Taking from Bereishit Rabba 91:2

ב ויאמר יעקב לבניו למה תתראו, אמר להם אל תוציאו בידכם פרוסה, (נ"א פרוטות), ואל תכנסו כלכם בפתח אחת מפני העין, ויאמר הנה שמעתי וגו', רדו ושברו לנו משם, א"ר אבא בר כהנא בישרם שהן עתידין לעשות שם ר"י שנה מנין רד"ו, וירדו אחי יוסף עשרה, א"ר בנימין ממשמע שנאמר אחי יוסף, איני יודע שהם עשרה אתמהא, אלא תשעה חלוקים לאחוה, ואחד לשבר בר, ואת בנימין אחי יוסף וגו'.

Of this, Rashi actually cites the latter two on each appropriate verse. The first part about למה תתראו he does not cite, though cites a related midrashic statement later when Yosef accuses them of being spies, because they entered from separate gates. So we know that Rashi is citing this from a midrash.

What about the introduction Go down there Heb. רְדוּ. But he did not say,“Go (לְכוּ)?” Rashi believes in the truth of midrash, but recognizes that it is on a separate level from peshat. On a peshat level, a simpler verb, לכו, would have sufficed. However, a more complex, more arcane verb is used - רדו. It happens to be that the gematria of רדו is 210. Thus, רדו שמה has the additional, midrashic connotation, "you will be there for 210 years."

Rashi surely knows that this is a midrash, rather than simple peshat in the pasuk. For what reason would he bring down this midrash here? What strikes him as important?

From a thematic perspective, this is part of the beginning of the exile in Egypt. It is a fulfillment of the promise made to Avraham at the berit ben habesarim. Thus, we should have a significant prediction about the exile, making it clear that this is part of the divine master plan.

Also thematically, Rashi cites midrashim that makes Yaakov aware of, and complicit in this descent to Egypt, even though from a surface reading of the text Yaakov knows nothing. For example, when Yaakov sends Yosef to check on his brothers, Rashi cites a midrash that he sent him to fulfill this exile in Egypt as stated in the berit bein habesarim. In Rashi on Bereishit 37:14:
from…Hebron But is not Hebron on a mountain? It is stated: “And they ascended in the south, and he came as far as Hebron” (Num. 13:22). But [it is to be understood that he sent him] from the deep counsel of the righteous man who is buried in Hebron (i.e., Abraham), to fulfill what was said to Abraham between the parts (Gen. 15:13). [From Gen. Rabbah 84:13]
{as a derasha on Emek Chevron}
{Update: This specific example is not necessarily so good, since one can modify the words in brackets above such that it is not Yaakov behind this but rather Hashem.}

A bit later, even though Yaakov thinks Yosef is dead, Yitzchak knows via ruach hakodesh that Yosef is still alive:
and his father wept for him This refers to Isaac. He was weeping over Jacob’s distress, but he did not mourn [for Joseph], for he knew that he was alive. [From Gen. Rabbah 84:21]
{taking "his father" as Yaakov's father rather than "Yosef's father."}

On the previous pasuk than the one we are considering, Yaakov sends them down because there is shever, grain, in Egypt. But it can also mean "hope." Thus, Rashi explains:
Jacob saw that there was grain being sold in Egypt From where did he see it? Is it not true that he did not see it, only that he heard of it, as it is said: “Behold, I have heard, etc.” (verse 2) ? What then is the meaning of “saw” ? He saw with the divine “mirror” that he still had hope (שֶׂבֶר) in Egypt, but it was not a real prophecy to explicitly inform him that this was Joseph. — [from Gen. Rabbah 91:6]
Thus, Yaakov is established as someone with more insight into this situation than one might realize at a first glance. In the Rashi under consideration, Yaakov says רדו, thus alluding to and announcing to them about the 210 years in exile. Within this midrash, did Yaakov realize he was doing this? Did the shevatim understand this? To the first question, the answer is unclear. To the second, the answer is probably "no."

I would also point out how Rashi favors ambiguous dialog, in which phrases have more than one meaning. (Perhaps this is an influence of being a darshanic pashtan.) Thus, where characters say things that either deliberately or accidentally have a deeper, true meaning, Rashi is apt to point it out, and say this is the Ruach haKodesh speaking through them. Thus Rashi brings down the midrashim on Anochi Esav Bechorecha from Yaakov's mouth, on Tzadka Mimeni from Yehuda's, and a bit later in this perek, כֻּלָּנוּ בְּנֵי אִישׁ-אֶחָד נָחְנוּ from Yosef's brothers. "We," as in English, can include or exclude the person you are addressing. (Some languages are not ambiguous in this way.) Thus, they are saying "we," including Yosef, are all the son of one man. Thus, Rashi says, citing a midrash,
We are all sons of one man The Holy Spirit flickered within them, and they included him with them, for he too was the son of their father. — [from Gen. Rabbah 91:7]
Thus, within the perspective of the midrash and/or within the perspective of Rashi (they need not be the same) Yaakov could have intended this prediction with רדו שמה or could have unwittingly made the prediction with this statement. Either way, it is the type of deep meaning that Rashi often cites.

There is another reason for bringing down this gematria. The issue of how many years the Israelites were in Egypt is problematic. An explicit pasuk stated 430 years. Yet based on calculation by Chazal based on evidence in various pesukim, they arrive at 210. As does Rashi and other pashtanim. (410 is taken as being from Yitzchak.) Citing this midrash bolters the 210 year account, by giving additional textual basis to it, and so this could be another reason for Rashi citing it.

{Update: One other significant point. We may take {or kvetch} רדו שמה as "be subjugated there," from rodeh rather than yrd. Thus, it is not only the gematria that hints to the exile and servitude of 210 years.}

This is my reading of this Rashi. It may be correct, or it may not. Note that methodologically, I don't assume that Rashi is operating at a peshat level such that he is bothered by some "difficulty." I don't assume that he find some problem with the wording of the text, such that he must suggest some resolution. I do note that Rashi gets this from a midrash, give the text of the midrash, and consider what could be motivating Rashi to cite this specific midrash here, as opposed to omitting it. These are considerations of what this midrash adds to our overall perspective of the story, and how it fits in thematically with other midrashim Rashi cites.

Now let us see the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach. To cite from the article:
Genesis 42:2

"And he said 'Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt. Go down there and purchase for us there, that we may live and not die.' "


Go down there - RASHI: He did not say 'go' (but rather 'Go down'). This is a hint to the two hundred and ten years that they (the Nation Israel) were to be enslaved in Egypt. For the Hebrew word 'R'du' ('Go down') is numerically 210."

Look at Rashi on verse Genesis 45:9.

Do you have a question on our Rashi-comment?
He does not provide it, so let us cite Genesis 45:9 and the Rashi there:
ט מַהֲרוּ, וַעֲלוּ אֶל-אָבִי, וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר בִּנְךָ יוֹסֵף, שָׂמַנִי אֱלֹהִים לְאָדוֹן לְכָל-מִצְרָיִם; רְדָה אֵלַי, אַל-תַּעֲמֹד. 9 Hasten ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him: Thus saith thy son Joseph: God hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down unto me, tarry not.
Note the word וַעֲלוּ, and go up. Rashi says there:

and go up to my father The land of Israel is higher than all [other] lands. [From Kidd. 69a, b]

Note also that this is from a difference source that the derasha on רדו, though of course Rashi does cite both. However, not necessarily is it appropriate to ask from one midrash to another. It might be in this case given that this עלו in the pasuk is the opposite of רדו, but still, it is something to note. The "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach continues:
A Question: Rashi assumes that the word "go" ('l'chu' in Hebrew) is more appropriate than 'r'du'. But this is not so. Rashi himself tells us further on (Genesis 45:9) that Eretz Yisrael is higher than all other lands, thus when speaking of going to Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word 'alu' ('go up') and conversely when one leaves Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word 'to go down.' So Jacob's word here - 'go down there (to Egypt)' are appropriate. How can Rashi imply that he should have said 'go' and not 'go down'?

A difficult question. Can you think of an answer?

Hint: Look carefully at verse 45:9. Granted that verse speaks of "going up" and our verse speaks of "going down" but in fact the idea is the same. Can you see any other difference between our verse and that one?
Thus, he assumes that Rashi is really bothered by the choice of words, such that it is inappropriate to use the word רדו. By citing another verse where עלו occurs, it is now a question on Rashi why he thinks such a word choice is inappropriate. Meanwhile, in our analysis above, this would never have been a question, because the issue is not whether such a word is inappropriate but rather since the word is more arcane and לכו would have sufficed, the word choice is enough to form the basis of a gematria-based midrash.

I will add another point which will in fact spoil the answer he is about the give. He made an error by saying "Granted that verse speaks of "going up" and our verse speaks of "going down" but in fact the idea is the same." In fact, the verse speaks both about going up and going down. Once again, that verse is:
ט מַהֲרוּ, וַעֲלוּ אֶל-אָבִי, וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר בִּנְךָ יוֹסֵף, שָׂמַנִי אֱלֹהִים לְאָדוֹן לְכָל-מִצְרָיִם; רְדָה אֵלַי, אַל-תַּעֲמֹד. 9 Hasten ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him: Thus saith thy son Joseph: God hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down unto me, tarry not.
Note that in the beginning of the verse there is the word וַעֲלוּ, "go up," while at the end of the verse we have רְדָה, "come down." Thus we have both "go up" to Israel and "come down" to Egypt. He does not realize this, probably since he looked in the Rashi, which does not cite this, rather than the pasuk. He asks whether we can see any difference. He answers:
An Answer: Rashi's point is well taken. Because while the Torah uses the words "going up" and "going down" when coming to or leaving Eretz Yisrael respectively, an individual does not. (Today of course we do speak of "Aliya" but in the Torah Jacob would not ordinarily have used this word.) Jacob's use of this word is therefore inappropriate. His word "going down" has a negative connotation and implied going down into slavery - for 210 years.

Can you find support for Rashi, that Jacob would not have used this word, had it not been for the implied hint that it conveys?

Hint: Look further on in the story.
He refers to this as "Rashi's point," but Rashi never said this. It is his deduction based on Rashi. To summarize his deduction, he is apparently stating that Rashi is saying that the narrator in Torah ("the Torah") will use עלו and רדו, we would not expect a Biblical character ("an individual") to use such terms. Basically, the author needed some way to answer up this contradiction, found what appeared to be such a division by careful analysis of the pasuk, and attributed such a distinction to Rashi.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, this distinction is arbitrary. Why should the narrator be able to use such language while a character is not. We might answer: perhaps because the Torah would use this to convey some important principle of the importance of Eretz Yisrael, but it would be unnatural in the mouth of a person speaking normally. However, the idea of Rashi's statement about ascending and descending to and from Israel can be taken as explaining this manner of speech, and that dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam, "the Torah speaks in the language of people."

Secondly, and more importantly, this distinction is incorrect, even in this very pasuk, and even in the word under discussion. This is not the narrator, the Torah, that is speaking. It is Yosef. Again, that pasuk is:
ט מַהֲרוּ, וַעֲלוּ אֶל-אָבִי, וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר בִּנְךָ יוֹסֵף, שָׂמַנִי אֱלֹהִים לְאָדוֹן לְכָל-מִצְרָיִם; רְדָה אֵלַי, אַל-תַּעֲמֹד. 9 Hasten ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him: Thus saith thy son Joseph: God hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down unto me, tarry not.
Yosef is speaking to his brothers and saying "Hasten ye, and go up to my father." This might not be immediately obvious to the very casual observer because the open quote is in pasuk 4, which states וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו גְּשׁוּ-נָא אֵלַי, וַיִּגָּשׁוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, "And Joseph said unto his brethren: 'Come near to me, I pray you.' And they came near. And he said..." However, once I point this out, it is obvious.

Furthermore, there is the fact that he tells them what to say to Yaakov, and part of his words is רְדָה אֵלַי, "come down unto me." Thus, we see that an individual, a Biblical character, can in fact use this very word to refer to going down to Egypt.

If we wanted an example of narration, we could have found it in regard to Avraham:
וַיְהִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ וַיֵּרֶד אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה לָגוּר שָׁם כִּי כָבֵד הָרָעָב בָּאָרֶץ

But we see it occurs even in non-narration, from the very pasuk under consideration.

Another example of an Individual, rather than Torah, using the words "ascend" and "descend," within this story: Bereishit 46:4:

ג וַיֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי הָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ; אַל-תִּירָא מֵרְדָה מִצְרַיְמָה, כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם. 3 And He said: 'I am God, the God of thy father; fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.
ד אָנֹכִי, אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ מִצְרַיְמָה, וְאָנֹכִי, אַעַלְךָ גַם-עָלֹה; וְיוֹסֵף, יָשִׁית יָדוֹ עַל-עֵינֶיךָ. 4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.'
Thus, it can be used in speech, although one may argue that Hashem's speech is different. Even so, we have Yosef's speech above.

Thus, his answer is incorrect, but even if it were to work out with the pesukim, it would have been arbitrary, and would have been arrived at by a non-question. Now, he continues, trying to find proof that Yaakov would not have used this word otherwise:

An Answer: Later on, after Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, Jacob prepares to go to see him (Genesis 45:28):

"And Israel said: It is great that my son Joseph is still alive. I will go (Hebrew 'ailcha') and see him before I die."

So we see that when Jacob speaks of going to Egypt himself, he uses the word "to go," and not "to go down." Thus Rashi's focusing on Jacob's use of the word "go down" in our verse is correct. Jacob himself would not have used this term (though the Torah itself does), had the word 'r'du not had other connotations in this context.
Thus, he has an example of using the simpler word. I would have pointed out examples where the specific form לכו was used. These are not hard to find in the narrative.

In Bereishit 42 (the very same perek):
יח וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, זֹאת עֲשׂוּ וִחְיוּ; אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, אֲנִי יָרֵא. 18 And Joseph said unto them the third day. 'This do, and live; for I fear God:
יט אִם-כֵּנִים אַתֶּם--אֲחִיכֶם אֶחָד, יֵאָסֵר בְּבֵית מִשְׁמַרְכֶם; וְאַתֶּם לְכוּ הָבִיאוּ, שֶׁבֶר רַעֲבוֹן בָּתֵּיכֶם. 19 if ye be upright men, let one of your brethren be bound in your prison-house; but go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses;
though Canaan is not explicitly mentioned. Similarly, in Bereishit 45:19:
יז וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל-יוֹסֵף, אֱמֹר אֶל-אַחֶיךָ זֹאת עֲשׂוּ: טַעֲנוּ, אֶת-בְּעִירְכֶם, וּלְכוּ-בֹאוּ, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן. 17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: 'Say unto thy brethren: This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;
יח וּקְחוּ אֶת-אֲבִיכֶם וְאֶת-בָּתֵּיכֶם, וּבֹאוּ אֵלָי; וְאֶתְּנָה לָכֶם, אֶת-טוּב אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וְאִכְלוּ, אֶת-חֵלֶב הָאָרֶץ. 18 and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.
Note that up/down direction is not mentioned even though it is to the land of Canaan. Thus, since twice we see the simpler לכו, there is basis for an extra midrashic interpretation. (Calling it midrashic does not mean that Rashi thinks it is not true.) The example he gave, while a different grammatical form, is further evidence of this.

But nothing was bothering Rashi. Rashi was not kept up all night worrying about this, and would have been quite a silly Biblical commentator were he to do so.

One unfortunate example is not enough to discount an entire approach to Rashi interpretation (and it was unfortunate due to this accidental oversight leading to patently untrue results). I could do this for other similar analyses, and I might, though consistent criticism might be seen as picking on this author or approach. And, I should stress, depending on what type of questions are being asked, the "What's Bothering Rashi?" approach can come up with some valid insight. However, this post in itself will hopefully provide some insight into why I think this approach is often unproductive and misleading, which is unfortunate because it convinces people that they are conducting a deep analysis of Rashi and seeing his pashtanic methods.

Finally, since we are analyzing much of the original article, the conclusion:

The Torah's words as a narrative may be quite different from a quote in the Torah of an individual. There are other instances in the Torah where this is the case. The lesson is to closely examine Rashi's comments, especially when it seems that he contradicts himself. He was quite careful in his choice of words and in his comments.
All of this might well be true. I would have to see the other instances. However, we must also be careful not to take Rashi to mean more than what he actually means, which in turn can manufacture non-existent contradictions, which can lead in turn to incorrect or unfounded resolutions.


Anonymous said...

I'd need more time to digest your overall objections, and I'm certainly no expert in these matters.
However, one quibble: there is no reason to believe--even acc. to Rashi--that Yaakov KNEW that this was start of 210 years in Mitzrayim. That's not what Rashi necessarily says. Rashi is just as easily understood as saying that Yaakov issued an "unconscious prophecy" by Yaakov in his choice of language ..r'du vs l'chu.
Similarly, no-one, to my knowledge, says that Yaakov KNOWINGLY condemned Rachel to death when he said that the one with Lavan's traphim should die--we are told that Tzaddikkim must be careful about their speech--i.e., avoid unintended consequences; nor does anyone claim that Datan and Aviram CONSCIOUSLY ANNOUNCED that they were about to descend to Gehinnom/Sheol/where-ever when they said to Moshe, "lo naale".

joshwaxman said...

in terms of your quibble:
I try to be agnostic about the question of whether Yaakov knew or not. Thus, I write, "Yaakov could have intended this prediction with רדו שמה or could have unwittingly made the prediction with this statement."

The language of the midrash is בישרם שהן עתידין לעשות שם ר"י שנה מנין רד"ו, which can be a conscious or unwitting prophecy. And even if this midrash meant it one way, Rashi could have meant it the other. So I agree that this is not what Rashi necessarily says. If so, it fits into a different theme of making unwitting statements that are true even though they do not know it.

I don't think the "similarly" part necessarily has relevance. That is, if one says that one or two instances are deliberate, that does not mean that *all* instances need to be deliberate. I would not suggest that Datan and Aviram, or Yaakov, consciously announced what they did. But there may be other examples which may fit the pattern of foreknowledge. Thus, at the end of his life, Yaakov will tell them what will happen in the end of days. We have Potifar's wife knowing that she will have righteous descendants with Yosef, and Korach knowing he will have great descendants. Surely the midrash Rashi states in which Yaakov sent to Yosef to Chevron shows knowledge (which I mentioned in my post), as well as the explicit pasuk in which Avraham is told about the exile.

An example of such foreknowledge may be seen when Rachel says (in Bereishit 30:24) "May the Lord grant me yet another son" where Rashi cites a midrash from Midrash Rabba, "She knew through prophecy that Jacob was destined to establish only twelve tribes. She said, “May it be His will that the one he is destined to establish be from me.” Therefore, she prayed only for another son [and no more]." Here, a diyuk into the speech shows foreknowledge.
Another example though not of a diyuk is pasuk 11 from perek 29; "And Jacob kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept" where Rashi comments, "Since he foresaw with the holy spirit that she (Rachel) would not enter the grave with him."

Another example: "And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, He named him Levi." Rashi says "Heb. יִלָּוֶה. Since the Matriarchs were prophetesses, they knew that twelve tribes would emanate from Jacob, and that he would marry four wives, she said, “From now on, he will find no fault with me for I have contributed my share in (producing) sons.” - [from Bereishith Rabbathi, attributed to Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan, Midrash Aggadah] "

Also "And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, "This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing." Where Rashi says "This time, I will thank since I have taken more than my share. Consequently, I must offer up thanks. — [from Gen. Rabbah 71:4]"

Similarly, there is a midrash, in part based on "Why should I be bereft of both of you on one day?" that Rivkah knew that Yaakov and Esav would die on the same day. There are many other such examples.

Sometimes we may say it was unwitting, and sometimes we may say it was a deliberate statement. As I said and as you said, this one is ambiguous. But there are ample precedents for each option.


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