Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Machloket Between A Dybbuk and Tanach?

Who, oh who, are we to believe?

From DreamingOfMoshiach, a story about a dybbuk:
The man was suffering physically and emotionally but no one was able to cure him. His family decided to take him to the Maggid of Kozienice, zs'l. As soon as they walked inside the Maggid's room, the 'spirit' began making weird scary noises. "Wicked!", said the Maggid, "Why are you causing pain to a Jew?” Suddenly, a voice was heard coming from inside the man's stomach, "Know that in my generation 6-7 year old boys achieved more Torah learning than all the Gedolei Ha’dor of your generation."

When the Maggid heard this, he got frightened and asked the 'spirit' in a calmer manner, "If so, tell me who you are and maybe I can help you, if you obey my instructions. But if you will not obey, your destiny will be bitter - I will throw you inside the abyss and you will never be able to get out".

The Maggid's threat frightened the 'spirit' and it caused the possesed man to shake with fear. Suddenly, the voice was heard again, "Know that I was captain of a thousand and lived during the time of the First Temple. Am Israel greatly sinned during my lifetime and I was amongst them. We heard the furious prophecies from prophet Zechariah (zs'l). When I heard the dark prophecies, I couldn't control my anger. I approached and struck him twice on the cheek. Because I was an important man and the people saw my action, they attacked the Prophet and killed him. Ever since I died, my soul has no rest".
First, note that the link to the prophet Zechariah is incorrect. There were two prophets named Zechariah. The one linked to above is Zechariah ben Berechia ben Iddo, the one who has a Biblical book with his prophecies, and he lived at the time of the second Temple, contemporary to Chaggai, and thus did not live during the time of the first Temple. (There is reference in Targum on Eicha 2:20 to his, similar death, on Yom Kippur, but this is quite likely an accidental conflation with the other prophet Zechariah.)

Rather, the dybbuk must be referring to Zechariah ben Yehoyada. We see this description of Zechariah's death in Divrei Hayamim II, perek 24:
כ וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, לָבְשָׁה אֶת-זְכַרְיָה בֶּן-יְהוֹיָדָע הַכֹּהֵן, וַיַּעֲמֹד, מֵעַל לָעָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם כֹּה אָמַר הָאֱלֹהִים, לָמָה אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה וְלֹא תַצְלִיחוּ--כִּי-עֲזַבְתֶּם אֶת-ה, וַיַּעֲזֹב אֶתְכֶם. 20 And the spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said unto them: 'Thus saith God: Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, He hath also forsaken you.'
כא וַיִּקְשְׁרוּ עָלָיו, וַיִּרְגְּמֻהוּ אֶבֶן בְּמִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ, בַּחֲצַר, בֵּית ה. 21 And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD.
כב וְלֹא-זָכַר יוֹאָשׁ הַמֶּלֶךְ, הַחֶסֶד אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוֹיָדָע אָבִיו עִמּוֹ, וַיַּהֲרֹג, אֶת-בְּנוֹ; וּכְמוֹתוֹ אָמַר, יֵרֶא ה וְיִדְרֹשׁ. {פ} 22 Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said: 'The LORD look upon it, and require it.' {P}
Thus, it is clear from pasuk 21 that this murder was done in a conspiracy, rather than as a sudden slapping and then surge of a mob. And it was done at the king's express command, rather than a sudden reaction to the prophecy, and not by a "captain of a thousand."

So who do we believe? Tanach? Or the dybbuk in this maaseh?

The bit about slapping the cheek appears to be drawn from I Kings 22:
כג וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה נָתַן ה רוּחַ שֶׁקֶר, בְּפִי, כָּל-נְבִיאֶיךָ אֵלֶּה; וַיהוָה, דִּבֶּר עָלֶיךָ רָעָה. 23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.'
כד וַיִּגַּשׁ צִדְקִיָּהוּ בֶן-כְּנַעֲנָה, וַיַּכֶּה אֶת-מִיכָיְהוּ עַל-הַלֶּחִי; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵי-זֶה עָבַר רוּחַ-יְהוָה מֵאִתִּי לְדַבֵּר אוֹתָךְ. 24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said: 'Which way went the spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee?'
And the bit about knowledgeable 6-7 year olds, greater in Torah knowledge even than Gedolei haDor of our generation, appears to be drawn from a midrash about the days of Chizkiyahu, drawn from Sanhedrin 94b:

א"ר יצחק נפחא חובל עול של סנחריב מפני שמנו של חזקיהו שהיה דולק בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות מה עשה נעץ חרב על פתח בית המדרש ואמר כל מי שאינו עוסק בתורה ידקר בחרב זו בדקו מדן ועד באר שבע ולא מצאו עם הארץ מגבת ועד אנטיפרס ולא מצאו תינוק ותינוקת איש ואשה שלא היו בקיאין בהלכות טומאה וטהרה

Yehoash (when Zechariah was murdered) was 831 - 800 BCE. Amaziah was 800 - 783 BCE. Uzziah was 783 - 742 BCE. Yotam was 742 - 735 BCE. Achaz was 735 - 715 BCE. Chizkiyahu was 715 - 687. Menashe was 687 - 642. Amon was 642 - 640 BCE. Yoshiyahu was 641 - 609. And so on.

Thus, assuming that this incident happened towards the end of Yehoash's reign, say 800 BCE, and Chizkiyahu established this in the beginning of his reign, in 715 BCE, there is a full generation, 85 years, before 6 - 7 year olds were so learned. Unless there is some other source for a similar amount of knowledge in Yehoash's reign. If so, I don't know it.

You may well ask that midrashim also establish extra-biblical facts. But this is done by learned people, who take textual cues and interpret it. It is different with a "dybbuk." Here, someone with mental and/or emotional problems, who is familiar with various traditions (such as cheek striking in one generation, Torah-knowledgeable 6-7 year olds from another, and the death of Zechariah from a third), combines them to create some mishegas. And it feeds into kabbalistic concepts of gilgul neshamot. That kabbalists and Chassidic Rebbes lent these people credence, because it fit into their theological perspective, does not mean that I should grant it the same credence.

Because the same thing is happening today, also amongst unstable people. Some of these people claim to enable autistics to communicate, where the autistics are gilgulim in need of a tikkun, and who (as in the story above) are in some way above the Rabbonim and Gedolim of our generation. Perhaps the way to uproot the problematic modern-day manifestations of this phenomenon is to uproot their bases in these oft-repeated stories.

Update: While we are at it, compare the details at the linked to post, and a story which shares many of the same details, such that it is the same story, from The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov:

Further update: Still more -- there actually is basis for the execution of a prophet, in which an officer first strikes him for his words. But not Zechariah:
"John 18:22: And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? 18:23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?"

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