Friday, November 09, 2007

Vayera: Why Do We Care That Lot Ate Matza On Pesach?

An interesting post over at Divrei Chaim, about anachronism in midrash.

To cite, piecewise:
It may be easier to come to grips with the question of anachronism with a concrete example. When the Angels come to Lot we are told that he served them matzos. Rashi comments (19:3): “Pesach haya” – it was the holiday of Pesach.

Rabbi Maroof commented on an earlier post – “Is it really rational to assume the Avot commemorated events that had not yet occurred? Most ritual mitsvot revolve around Yetsiat Mitsrayim which was centuries after their deaths.”
I would answer that yes, the attitude some midrashim appear to adopt is that the Avot commemorates events that had not yet occurred. And they knew that these would occur in the future, due to prophecy or due to ruach hakodesh.

One prime example of this is in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer:

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapt. 21 …The night of the (future) Yom Tov of Pesach arrived. Adam said to his sons (Kayin and Hevel), “In the future, on this night, the Jewish people will be offering their Pascal [sic, should be Paschal] sacrifices. You too should offer sacrifices before our Creator.” Kayin brought as a sacrifice from what was left over from his food, parched corn and flax seeds. And Hevel brought from the first-born of his flock and of the fattest of the sheep whose wool had not been sheared…

Thus, the korban of Kayin and Hevel were on the night of Pesach. And it is specifically because of this foreknowledge. And frankly, in a mindset in which prophecy was common, this might well be an attitude a rationalist can take. Personally, I probably don't, but that does not mean that Rashi could not.

To give a concrete example of someone we all respect who seems to have held literally that the Avot kept the mitzvot, see this Igros Moshe I was saving for next week. (Perhaps explanation of it for next week instead.)

We have a right to differ, and this may or may not be a reflection of out krumkeit (I think it is not.)

The post at Divrei Chaim continues:
Fair point, but then what do we make of Rashi? Rashi seems to be addressing a simple textual question – why mention the seemingly insignificant detail of what bread was served. If you dismiss Rashi as “derash” and not pshat, what does that mean? – did Rashi waste his time composing “fictional” answers to explain troublesome details in the text? Or to put it another way, if Rashi knew it was irrational or improbable for Lot to have really kept Pesach and eaten matzah, then hasn’t Rashi failed to answer the textual question he posed?
I take issue with this claim that Rashi was addressing a simple textual question of why mention the insignificant detail.

This is the difference between the popular approach, "What Was Bothering Rashi?" on the one hand, and my approach, "What Was Motivating Rashi?" on the other.

Rashi makes a comment on a pasuk detailing Lot's offer of food to the angels, in Sodom. In Bereishit 19:
ג וַיִּפְצַר-בָּם מְאֹד--וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ. 3 And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
Rashi notes:
and he baked unleavened cakes It was Passover.
The "What Was Bothering Rashi?" approach notes the textual irregularity -- why mention the baking of the bread, why mention specifically matzot? Thus, we learn that it was Pesach and so they ate this food.

Now, if I'm not mistaken, even Chumash talks of matzot which are chametz. But still, this is the derivation from the text. But such does not make it peshat. Indeed, for almost any midrash, I can point you at a textual derivation, or a textual irregularity. Such an approach transforms every midrash into peshat.

And even if the midrash has basis, why should Rashi care? What does it add to his commentary, to bring it down here? I suppose one could say to add to the impression of Lot as a tzaddik -- that certainly gives flavor to that particular theme.

But this question -- "what is motivating Rashi?", causes one to look more broadly, to see what this particular comment adds to some overall point.

And there is indeed a point. That point is not Lot's conduct. Whether Rashi believes Lot actually ate matzot on Pesach or not (and it is plausible that Rashi does believe this), the point is not Lot's conduct but rather an establishing of the time of year this happened. Chronology is extremely a peshat concern.

Many things are established by midrash to have happened on Pesach. Kayin and Hevel's korban above is just one example. It is a specific time which draws events, over and over.

But besides that, it is connected to the extremely important questions of
1) when Yitzchak was promised to Sarah
2) when Yitzchak was born
3) when Yitzchak was promised to Avraham, and how this relates to question #1.

In terms of #1, we see that the angels leave Avraham before dusk, and Avraham argues with Hashem until then. Lot, in the next perek, invites them in to stay until morning. So this would be the same day. By saying that Lot's baking and serving of matza makes this Pesach, the answer to question #1 is Pesach.

In terms of #2, in the previous perek (18) we saw:
יד הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן. 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.'
Rashi comments:
At the appointed time At that time that was appointed, that I set for you yesterday, [when I said] (17:21):“at this time next year.”
Thus, the promise to Avraham was the previous day, and Yitzchak was to be born a year from then, so a year from there. This also establishes the timing of the promise in the previous perek. There (perek 17, Hashem says):
כא וְאֶת-בְּרִיתִי, אָקִים אֶת-יִצְחָק, אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד לְךָ שָׂרָה לַמּוֹעֵד הַזֶּה, בַּשָּׁנָה הָאַחֶרֶת. 21 But My covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.'
With the same set time. And in all cases with the heh hayidia.

Though I should note, we can also note the specific word moed in play, such that moed should refer to a Festival, in this case Passover. This is then bolstered by Lot serving matza.

But there is a further point. There was a previous promise to Avraham of a son, at the bris ben habesarim, in perek 15. When did this occur? Also on Pesach, for the war, in the previous Perek, happened on Pesach. A midrash or two speak about this, how it was erev Pesach (IIRC) when Og came to tell Avraham, and this has been popularized.

And Rashi even makes note of this, in perek 14:
טו וַיֵּחָלֵק עֲלֵיהֶם לַיְלָה הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו, וַיַּכֵּם; וַיִּרְדְּפֵם, עַד-חוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר מִשְּׂמֹאל, לְדַמָּשֶׂק. 15 And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.
Rashi notes:
at night i.e., after nightfall he did not refrain from pursuing them. The Midrash Aggadah (Gen. Rabbah 43:3) states, however, that the night was divided, and in its first half, a miracle was wrought for him, and its second half was preserved for the [miracle of] midnight in Egypt.
Thus, this happened on the first Pesach night, and the promise happened on Pesach. Which answers the unasked question #4.

Thus, setting up time of year is an important goal within a peshat-based commentary to Torah.


Anonymous said...

Wow! This ties together with the idea that G-d took the Jews out of Egypt at the earliest possible time.

Avraham was told that his descendents would be enslaved 400 years. In fact the 400 year period started with the birth of Yitzchok rather than the start of slavery. So what these midrashim say is that the period of slavery really was the absolute shortest it could be and still be technically 400 years - it started on Pesach, and it ended on Pesach!

joshwaxman said...

nice point!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Did you see my follow-up comments on Divrei Chaim, explaining a thematic textual link between the story of Lot and the story of Pesah? I think some of that material could be appended to your poignant observations here.

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to check it out.
Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the simples explanation would be that he knew he could not, NOT offer his guests meal as he was taught by his uncle Avraham Avinu, and maybe cheese and crackers you might say, would be the quickest meal he could prepare and then send them on their way before anyone showed up at his door.

Or could be the climate of Sdom was more favorable to something like Matzot in terms of preservation or maybe he just like Matzot as a whole.

We did not invent Matzot, they were just the fastest thing they could prepare on their hurry out of Egypt.


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