Monday, July 09, 2007

A Bizarre Pinchas Dvar: Zimri as Gilgul of Shechem

Last week I saw an entirely bizarre dvar Torah on Pinchas, by Rav Amnon Yitzchak. Here it is in Hebrew, and here in English (translated by the Dreaming of Moshiach blog.) It is difficult to effectively argue silliness, since that quality is often subjectively determined, so I will try to show why the devar Torah has problems of internal consistency.

To briefly summarize the devar Torah, a midrash Tanchuma says that Zimri ben Salu= Shaul ben haKenaanit = Elitzur ben ShedeiUr. Not as gilgulim or anything, but as multiple names for the same individual. And, from another midrash, we know that Shaul ben haKenaanit was the son of Dinah and Shimon.

Furthermore, goes this devar Torah, Shechem was reincarnated into the son of Dinah and Shimon, who we now know is Zimri. And Dinah was reincarnated as Cozbi bat Tzur. Thus, when Zimri and Cozbi had repeated intercourse with one another, they were engaged in an important tikkun for past mistakes. And never mind that it is kind of Oedipal to engage in sexual relations with the gilgul of your mother.

Pinchas killed them, and they had to come back. They did so as Rabbi Akiva and the wife of Turnus Rufus.

And Pinchas killed Zimri, while Eliyahu haNavi who is Pinchas took care of burying Rabbi Akiva. And Shechem was killed with a sword, Zimri through a spear, and Rabbi Akiva being raked by steel. So we have definite proof that they must be gilgulim of one another!

And the 24,000 who died in the plague of Zimri corresponded to the 24,000 residents of Shechem who did not circumcise themselves lishmah who were killed. And these were the same as the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died.

So ends my summary of the devar Torah. There are other weird details that I have omitted.

But one thing that is apparently quite freeing while writing a mystical devar Torah is that you can just make up details, and people assume that this is either arrived at via ruach hakodesh or some esoteric knowledge or source that they have not been privy to see. {Update: As Chaim B. points out in the comments, some or all of these details come from the Arizal. I wonder, though, where the Arizal got it from. B'li neder, I'll check further into this given the opportunity.}

I just wonder, for example, how he knows that Kozbi bat Tzur is the gilgul of Dinah. Is this in some source or did he innovate it because it worked in well to the devar Torah? How does he know that the wife of Turnus Rufus was the gilgul of Kozbi? Or that Zimri was the gilgul of Shechem. (Perhaps his "proofs" are the tenacious connections he draws between the stories.) And sure, there were 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva and 24,000 who died in the plague of Zimri. But is there really a source that 24,000 Shechemites died at the hands of Shimon and Levi?? I've never heard of such a thing.

Why should I attack this more than any other midrash? Say this is a neo-midrash! But this is a bizarre neo-midrash, with what seems to be a very weak connection to the text, and instead just an attempt to say something novel and "inspiring" involving gilgulim, which is not necessarily even an authentically originally Jewish belief that, say, the author of midrash Tanchuma held by.

But on the other hand, I must be cognizant that many of my own beliefs would be looked at by others as bizarre, and that this is quite the subjective enterprise.

I can, however, attempt to disprove the devar Torah based on internal features, and that is what I set out to do here. That is, the midrash that Zimri is equal to Shaul ben haKenaanit appears to be at odds with the midrash that Shaul ben haKenaanit is the son of Dinah.

There are two midrashim as to what happened to Dinah when her brothers rescued her from Shechem. According to one midrash, she married Shimon. According to another, she married Iyyov. Thus, it is not absoltely determined, even in the universe of midrash, what happened to Dinah after she was raped by Shechem. A pashtan might abandon both these midrashim, but it is important to stress that one can operate on a midrashic level and not agree to the midrash that Dinah married Shimon.

Now, what does the midrash Tanchuma say exactly, when it states that Shaul ben haKenaanit is equal to Zimri? To cite from the article:

במדרש תנחומא פנחס מובא: 'שלשה שמות היו לזמרי ואלו הן: זמרי בן סלוא ושאול בן הכנענית ושלומיאל בן צורישדי. זמרי - על שנעשה על אותה המדינית כביצה מוזרת. בן סלוא - שהסליא עון משפחתו. שאול - על שהשאיל עצמו לעבירה. בן הכנענית - שעשה מעשה כנען. ומה שמו? שלומיאל בן צורישדי - שמו'.

To cite from Soncino's translation of Sanhedrin 82b, which is identical except it is Rabbi Yochanan stating it, and it is separated into five names rather than three:
R. Johanan said: [Zimri] had five names: Zimri, the son of Salu, Saul, the son of the Canaanitish woman, and Shelumiel, the son of Zurishaddai. Zimri, because he became like an addled egg [beza hamuzereth]; the son of Salu, because he outweighed [hisli] the sins of his family; Saul, because he lent himself [hish'il fr. sha'al] to sin; the son of the Canaanitish woman, because he acted in a Canaanitish fashion, [i.e., depravedly]; whilst his real name was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
Thus we have an explicit derivation of ben haKenaanit as meaning that "because he acted in a Canaanitish fashion, [i.e., depravedly]." However, the very same name is presumably used elsewhere as the basis for the fact that Dinah was his mother.

Furthermore, we are effectively told by this midrash that each of these names are effectively pseudonyms, and that they mean something specific about his depravity. However, the name Shelumiel ben Tzurishaddai is not given such an explanation, because that is shemo, his real name. In Sanhedrin, as stated by Rabbi Yochanan, it is made more explicit. How are there five, rather than three names? Because Zimri and ben Salu are two separate names, and Shaul and ben haKenaanit are two separate names. But Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai is a single name, the fifth name, because it is his real name.

If it is his real name, then his father was Tzurishaddai! It is not Shimon, and thus the mother is not Dinah.

Admittedly, there is an internal problem with this midrash in that Shaul ben haKenaanit is listed as one of Shimon's sons, but this is simply a problem that is to be resolved by interpretation. That is, one is forced to say that heads of the families of Shimon are being listed, and Shaul ben haKenaanit is listed here as a leader, just as he is elsewhere as Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai as a leader of Shimon, even though he is not directly the son of Shimon. That is in fact the theme of this midrash, which takes נְשִׂיא בֵית-אָב לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי as a basis of identifying him with all these other characters who also hold positions of authority in Shimon.

Perhaps one can split up this midrash and separate the identification from what is done with it, but it seems to me that this was not the intent of either midrash Tanchuma nor of the gemara in Sanhedrin. Thus, there is no reason to link this to Shechem and Dina, no reason to assume that Zimri is 250 years old, no reason to begin talking about gilgulim, and everything falls apart from there.

(hat tip: yeranen yaakov, dreaming of moshiach)


Chaim B. said...

The identification of Zimri with Shechem and R' Akiva is a mesorah from the AR"I. See the Mei HeShiloach on Pinchas.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. I'll check it out. is there any source online?
I would guess that identification with Shechem would be based on a similar reason as given above - combining the two midrashim about Shaul ben haKenaanit, but have no idea where Rabbi Akiva comes into this. All these questions devolve onto the Arizal. What is his basis for making the link.

joshwaxman said...

The Ishbetzer (Mei haShiloach), BTW, has some really strange statements about Zimri, if I recall correctly. That Zimri was really doing the right thing and that Pinchas was foolish for doing what he did.

joshwaxman said...

A citation:

"[H]e judged Zimri as no’ef b’alma (sexually corrupt.) However, the depth of the foundation of the matter was hidden from him, for Cosbi was his soulmate from the six days of creation, as explained in the writings of the Rabbi Isaac Luria, z”l. Owing to this Moshe Rabeynu didn’t become involved and sentence Zimri to death. Pinchas’ response in this action is thus compared to a child, meaning that he didn’t know the depth of the situation, seeing only through human eyes and no further. Nevertheless, the blessed God loved him and agreed with him, for in Pinchas’s mind he had done a great and self-sacrificing act in his zealotry."

joshwaxman said...

do you happen to remember which chelek in Pinchas?

Chaim B. said...

I do not know where the AR"I is offhand. The Mei HaShiloach is certainly fascinating, no? Take a look at Nazir 23b which compares Zimri with Tamar - both engaged in znus, but one is praised, one not. The Shem m'Shmuel writes that they both had the same intentions - l'shem shamayim!

yitz said...


you can't disprove midrash with more midrash.. while it might make sense in your head it doesn't work that way :) Although, by all means, continue to do so..

On a side note:
the way the midrash sets it up, it's the story of two children with 'non-Yisrael' mothers and their struggle to be accepted by the nation.

Pinchas, the son of Yitro's daughter, and Shaul ben Ha'Kna'anit. (true, Dinah was a yisraelite, but she's referred to here as a kna'anit---the difference which might have set the stage for Pinchas' actions.)

@josh once more,

I don't understand the ground upon which you are standing.

You understand the Torah through certain Rabbinical statements, freely throwing out others because they don't satisfy your intellectual assessment. How does that work? it sounds like quicksand to me.

joshwaxman said...

my point is not that one midrash disproves another midrash.

it is that this neo-midrash is founded on a mixing of two midrashim which are inconsistent. if you can show that use of the midrashic source is at odds with the intent of that same midrashic source, then it is a problem.

And, certain *later* Rabbinic statements which are at odds with earlier Rabbinic statements. Which ones do you mean? As a side note and unrelated, the intellectual assessing of Aggadic statements is something already brought up by e.g. Shmuel haNaggid.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin