Monday, January 22, 2007

Va`era: Hashem's Great Pinky

in the parsha. What is the meaning of Etzba Elokim?

As I wrote in a previous post on parshat Eikev:
In terms of the writing of the luchot, we hear that God wrote them with his finger:

י וַיִּתֵּן ה אֵלַי, אֶת-שְׁנֵי לוּחֹת הָאֲבָנִים--כְּתֻבִים, בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים; וַעֲלֵיהֶם, כְּכָל-הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ--בְּיוֹם הַקָּהָל. 10 And the LORD delivered unto me the two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.
Since what is happening is writing, and writing is often done with one's hand, one might actual imagine God writing with His Great Pinky -- though such may well be heresy. The whole thing might be allegorical describing some process in human-comprehensible terms. Or, I would suggest, what is actually happening is that בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים is an idiom meaning "wondrous and miraculous." We see this earlier by the Plague of Lice, when Pharaoh's magicians exclaimed this. Shemot 8:15:
יד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים בְּלָטֵיהֶם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת-הַכִּנִּים, וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ; וַתְּהִי, הַכִּנָּם, בָּאָדָם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה. 14 And the magicians did so with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; and there were gnats upon man, and upon beast.
טו וַיֹּאמְרוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, אֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים הִוא; וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב-פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא-שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה. {ס} 15 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: 'This is the finger of God'; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken.
That ends what I wrote there.

Continuing the discussion here in this post of Va`era, first let me note Rashi:
It is the finger of God This plague is not through sorcery; it is from the Omnipresent. — [from Exod. Rabbah 10:7]
Thus he clearly takes Elokim to be kodesh rather than chol. Perhaps mention of "this plague" here corresponds to etzba, thus the striking of a finger, similar to the striking by a hand. Or perhaps not. More analysis of this midrash in Midrash Rabba is due, but perhaps for another time.

On that note, Shadal writes as follows:

אצבע אלהים הוא : ראב"ע פירש מכה אלהית , כטעם יד ה' ( למטה ט' ג' ), וכן תירגם אנקלוס : מחא מן קדם ה', ולפי זה לא הודו כי אלהי משה הוא שעשה זאת, אלא שהיא מכה מאת האלהים ; ונ"ל כי אין אצבע כמו יד, כי מכין ביד ואין מכין באצבע, אבל אצבע נאמר על הצווי , כמו שלח אצבע ( ישעיה נ"ח ט' ), והנה אצבע אלהים ענינו צווי אלהי רצון אלהי . והחרטומים הודו כי מעשה משה ואהרן היה בצווי אלהי ובמאמרו, ולפיכך לא השתדלו עוד בלהטיהם. ואין לומר שלא הודו, ושלכן נתחזק לב פרעה, כי הנה למטה ( ט' ז' ) וישלח פרעה והנה לא מת ממקנה ישראל עד אחד ויכבד לב פרעה ולא שלח את העם, שעל כרחנו פירושו אעפ"י שראה הנס, מ"מ הכביד את לבו, אף כאן אעפ"י שהודו החרטומים, הוא לא הודה או עשה נגד מה שהיה מוכרח בלבו להורות, כדרך הכופרים.
Thus, according to Ibn Ezra, etzba does indeed accord with makka, though Elohim refers in general to divine acts, and thus not specifically to Hashem.

Shadal understands it not as makka, which would be implied by hand, but rather as tzivuy, commands, and gives precedent. Thus, the magicians admit that Moshe is working at the command of God, and thus give up their magical efforts. And even though they admitted, Pharaoh did not.

My own take on this is that etzba here means "handiwork." Thus, this act was God's handiwork, and bore the mark of being so. A closer English expression comes to mind, though it is based on technological advances which developed much more recently, and thus would not be a basis for the idiom -- "This bears God's fingerprint."

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