Monday, June 16, 2008

Behaalosecha: "Miracle Grow"

This Shabbos I saw a parsha sheet which was both ridiculously awesome and awesomely ridiculous. The dvar Torah, available here, may be summarized as follows:
  1. A midrash relates that when Moshe asked how he was to appoint the Kohein Gadol from the Leviim, Hashem told him that it was with the shemen hamishchah. Moshe's response was to exclaim how beloved the Levites must be to Hashem.
  2. Why should such a detail cause Moshe to exclaim this, and react in this manner?
  3. To answer, they digress to a dvar Torah from Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin:
  4. The pasuk in the beginning of parshat Behaalotecha states וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן, אַהֲרֹן--אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, הֶעֱלָה נֵרֹתֶיהָ: כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה. Rashi explains that this was praise of Aharon that he did not deviate. But why should he deviate?
  5. Maharil Diskin notes three points:
    1. The Mishna states there were three steps leading up to the menorah, and Bartenura says this was to be able to stand at a height comfortable enough to reach the menorah, which was three amos tall.
    2. He derives from a gemara in Shabbos 92a that not only Moshe, but all Leviim, were 10 amos tall.
    3. Shaul was taller than anyone in klal Yisrael by a head, yet the pasuk tells us that David, a youth, put on Shaul's armor. How would it have fit him? It must be that when he was previously anointed by Shmuel with the shemen hamishcha, that caused him to grow. Thus, shemen hamishcha is miracle grow! That is the conclusion of Vayikra Rabba 27:9.
  6. If Aharon started at 10 amos and then got the shemen hamishcha, he was extremely tall and would not have needed these steps. (Indeed, if this were true, he would have to stoop to reach the menorah!) Therefore, it was to his credit that he still used the staircase to light the menorah.
  7. Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz answers on this basis to explain Moshe's exclamation in the midrash. (Though he lived earlier than Maharil Diskin, so I wonder what exactly he brought in -- did he bring the same sources, but earlier?)
  8. We see that Rashi in the gemara Megillah states that the aron took no space in the kodesh kodoshim in their Beis haMikdash, and that explains the measurements from the aron to the wall on either, which equals the full length and width.
  9. So too, the mishkan was 10 amos tall. So how could Aharon fit? Especially after the miracle grow!?
  10. The answer must be a similar constant miracle, just like the aron. If Hashem is so insistent that it be from the tall tribe of Levi, such that a constant miracle is necessitated, then He must really love the tribe of Levi.
To really appreciate this devar Torah, you need to first have suspension of disbelief, just as you must have to appreciate science fiction. Of course, this is all ridiculous, but once one accepts these impossibilities and improbabilities, it all works out quite nicely. They are able to apply ideas introduced in one context and apply them in other contexts, and pull to ideas from many different contexts in this manner. And there is artistry in that.

But of course, this is not peshat. And not only is it not peshat in the pesukim, but it was surely not the intent of the authors of the midrash either. So it is not pashut peshat in the midrash, either the one about Aharon's service or the one about the shemen hamishcha. It is an extremely creative exercise, and a wonderful craft, but it is not true. In fact, it could well be classed as Purim Torah, except I wonder whether any of the authors regarded it as such.

Much more likely is that shemen hamishcha is used to anoint kings, and shows a special mark of designation. To use this to appoint the head of the tribe of Levi to his appointment shows the special regard Hashem has for the tribe of Levi. But I would have to see the midrash inside, in context, to make a real determination.

1 comment:

Ari said...


This was the first post of yours that I ever came across, a couple of years back.

I've been hooked on this site ever since. Keep up the great work


Blog Widget by LinkWithin