Thursday, July 03, 2008

Chukas: David Hamelech on Moshe's Sin

As discussed in the previous post, there are 13+ explanations of Moshe's sin. In this post, I would like to explore the position of that famous Biblical commentator, King David.

For in Tehillim 106, there is a recounting of the story of Israel in the wilderness, and that includes a brief account of Mei Meriva. In Tehillim 106:
לב וַיַּקְצִיפוּ, עַל-מֵי מְרִיבָה; וַיֵּרַע לְמֹשֶׁה, בַּעֲבוּרָם. 32 They angered Him also at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses because of them;
לג כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ; וַיְבַטֵּא, בִּשְׂפָתָיו. 33 For they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.
Before getting into the specific intent of these verses, we should contemplate how we will weigh Biblical interpretation as it appears in sefer Tehillim. After all, this psalm was written later than the Biblical events it describes, and the psalmist obviously had sefer Bemidbar before him. Thus, this account would reflect how he read the pesukim. Thus, David haMelech becomes a biblical commentator.

At the same time, this sefer, Tehillim, is part of the Biblical canon, and is in the realm of inspired writings, Ketuvim. If it was written with ruach hakodesh, then does it not reflect the opinion of God Himself, the Author of the Torah? And thus it should reflect both the reality of the situation in the midbar, and the authorial intent in the pesukim.

Even so, divine inspiration is not the same as prophecy. To make a difficult comparison, many attribute ruach hakodesh (perhaps at a lower level) to Rashi. And yet other commentators feel free to argue with Rashi all the time, on gemara and on Tanach.

And more than that, we know that there is a difference between Yechezkel the prophet and Yechezkel the talmid chacham. When (perhaps in person) Yechezkel said halacha, it does not have the force of prophecy. Rather, it is the opinion of a talmid chacham, and other talmidei chachamim can argue with it. Perhaps we can extend this idea to the realm of Biblical narrative.

This is not the only place in Tanach where later books interpret the earlier books. And again, we can take two positions. We can either adopt the interpretation as the only valid interpretation; or as one possible interpretation to be considered.

The pesukim in Tehillim, once again, are:
לב וַיַּקְצִיפוּ, עַל-מֵי מְרִיבָה; וַיֵּרַע לְמֹשֶׁה, בַּעֲבוּרָם. 32 They angered Him also at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses because of them;
לג כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ; וַיְבַטֵּא, בִּשְׂפָתָיו. 33 For they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.
I think that the JPS translation here is a good one. Thus, they angered Hashem at the waters of Merivah, and because of them, it went ill with Moshe. How so? Well, they got Moshe mad, sicj that Moshe spoke rashly with his lips. How so? By rebuking them with "Shim'u na, haMorim..."

Thus, Moshe's "sin" was becoming angry and chastising Benei Yisrael when he should have been wowing them, bringing them closer to God by performing the miracle with a flourish, and with assurances that Hashem loves them and will take care of them.

As we saw in the previous post, there are difficulties with this position, when trying to read them into the pesukim in Bemidbar. We can take one of two approaches here:
  1. Try to find the global explanation that best explains all the verses.
  2. Try to find the local peshat which fits best here, and then kvetch it into the narrative in Bemidbar.
I think the latter approach is the proper one in this instance. Rambam came up with this same explanation, so it must be readable into the text, even if in a forced way.

So if Moshe's sin was not hitting the rock, for he was supposed to hit the rock (see Ramban), but rather in getting angry and yelling at the Jewish people, how does this fit in with the pesukim in Bemidbar?

A quick repetition of the narrative from parshat Chukat, in Bemidbar 20:

ז וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 7 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
ח קַח אֶת-הַמַּטֶּה, וְהַקְהֵל אֶת-הָעֵדָה אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל-הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם, וְנָתַן מֵימָיו; וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן-הַסֶּלַע, וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת-הָעֵדָה וְאֶת-בְּעִירָם. 8 'Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their cattle drink.'
ט וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּטֶּה, מִלִּפְנֵי ה, כַּאֲשֶׁר, צִוָּהוּ. 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as He commanded him.
י וַיַּקְהִלוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, אֶת-הַקָּהָל--אֶל-פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא הַמֹּרִים--הֲמִן-הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה, נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: 'Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?'
יא וַיָּרֶם מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יָדוֹ, וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ--פַּעֲמָיִם; וַיֵּצְאוּ מַיִם רַבִּים, וַתֵּשְׁתְּ הָעֵדָה וּבְעִירָם. {ס} 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. {S}
יב וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם. 12 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: 'Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'

What are we to make of יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי? How is yelling at the Jews to be considered not believing in God? We can adopt a similar answer as Shadal in the previous post, that it is metonymy. Of course Moshe and Aharon believed in God. But by not creating a kiddush Hashem, it was as if they did not believe in God. The not creating a kiddush Hashem, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, is not, as Shadal suggested, because speaking to the rock rather than smiting it would have been a greater miracle in the eyes of the people, if not in reality. Rather, by turning it into a situation of rebuke rather than celebration of Hashem's goodness and love of Israel, they missed an opportunity of kiddush Hashem, and thus it is as if they did not believe in God.

As a compelling (IMHO) alternative: Shadal is of the opinion that trup and nikkud are post-Sinaitic, and post-Talmudic, such that he feels free to revocalize. He does not do this in this instance, but we can step into the break. Rather than vocalizing it heemantem, read heemantam. Then, it would not be that they, Moshe and Aharon, did not believe in Hashem and His Power. Rather, it is causative. They did not cause the Israelites to believe in Hashem, by sanctifying His Name before the Bnei Yisrael.

There is a more critical problem, and that is the later pasuk, which tells why Aharon will not enter the land. In Bemidbar 20:24:
כד יֵאָסֵף אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-עַמָּיו, כִּי לֹא יָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--עַל אֲשֶׁר-מְרִיתֶם אֶת-פִּי, לְמֵי מְרִיבָה. 24 'Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against My word at the waters of Meribah.
As Shadal noted, the clear implication of עַל אֲשֶׁר-מְרִיתֶם אֶת-פִּי is that Hashem commanded them something, and they rebelled by diverting from that command. And the simplest command was to "talk" to the rock while Moshe in fact hit it.

However, we might find a few answers for this. Hashem just told Moshe to talk to (or hit, according to our reading) the rock and get water for Bnei Yisrael. He did not envision rebuke preceding that. And so, they rebelled against Hashem's instruction which was to treat the Bnei Yisrael benachas.

Or alternatively, we could say that this refers to the collective action of Bnei Yisrael, of which Moshe and Aharon are a part, such that they can be addressed. After all, there was rebellion on the part of Bnei Yisrael, which prompted Moshe to say "Shim'u na hamorim, you rebels." That is not a direct cause, but an indirect cause, and a way of referring to the general incident.

Or alternatively, we can make a (possibly awkward) claim that the root of מְרִיתֶם in מְרִיתֶם אֶת-פִּי is not meri, meaning rebellion, but rather mar, bitterness. Thus, you made My speech (as spoken through Moshe) bitter, in saying "Shim'u na hamorim."

Indeed, we see mar as bitterness associated with this incident in the pasuk in Tehillim -- כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ.

Or some other answer. These are just the answers I came up with. Presumably, Rambam has a ready answer for these, and either wrote them out or had them in mind.

What does Rashi do? In fact, locally, he identifies the sin as two-fold. Namely, both criticising Israel and smiting the rock. We see in parshat Shemini, in Bemidbar 31:21, that Rashi channels a midrash to attribute hitting the rock to Moshe's anger:
ד"ה ויאמר אלעזר הכהן וגו': לפי שבא משה לכלל כעס בא לכלל טעות, שנתעלמו ממנו הלכות גיעולי נכרים. וכן אתה מוצא בשמיני למילואים שנאמר (ויקרא י') ויקצוף (משה) על אלעזר ועל איתמר, בא לכלל כעס בא לכלל טעות. וכן (במדבר כ') בשמעו נא המורים ויך את הסלע - על ידי הכעס טעה.
Thus, both Shimu na hamorim and hitting the rock are components of that anger, though the actual sin can be said to be the hitting, while the speech was evidence of the anger. Alternatively, both were sins, caused by the underlying anger.

Local to Chukas, we have Rashi state:
Since you did not have faith in Me Scripture reveals that if it were not for this sin alone, they would have entered the Land, so that it should not be said of them, “The sin of Moses and Aaron was like the sin of the generation of the desert against whom it was decreed that they should not enter [the Land].” But was not [the question asked by Moses] “If sheep and cattle were slaughtered for them…” (11:22) [a] more grievous [sin] than this? However, there he [Moses] said it in private, so Scripture spares him [and refrains from punishing him]. Here, on the other hand, it was said in the presence of all Israel, so Scripture does not spare him because of the sanctification of the Name. — [Tanchuma Chukath 10, Num. Rabbah 19:10]
to sanctify Me For had you spoken to the rock and it had given forth [water], I would have been sanctified in the eyes of the congregation. They would have said,"If this rock, which neither speaks nor hears, and does not require sustenance, fulfills the word of the Omnipresent, how much more should we! - [Midrash Aggadah]
Or in Hebrew:
(יב) יען לא האמנתם בי -
גלה הכתוב שאילולי חטא זה בלבד היו נכנסין לארץ, כדי שלא יאמרו עליהם כעוון שאר דור המדבר, שנגזר עליהם שלא יכנסו לארץ, כך היה עוון משה ואהרן. והלא (במדבר יא, כב) הצאן ובקר ישחט קשה מזו, אלא לפי שבסתר חסך עליו הכתוב, וכאן שבמעמד כל ישראל, לא חסך עליו הכתוב מפני קדוש השם:

להקדישני -
שאילו דברתם אל הסלע והוציא הייתי מקודש לעיני העדה ואומרים מה סלע זה שאינו מדבר ואינו שומע ואינו צריך לפרנסה מקיים דבורו של מקום, קל וחומר אנו:
לכן לא תביאו -
בשבועה, כמו (שמואל א' ג, יד) לכן נשבעתי לבית עלי, נשבע בקפיצה כדי שלא ירבו בתפילה על כך:

The Hebrew does not have "it was said." But if we look in Bemidbar Rabba, we see that the context of the midrash is the speech, rather than the act of hitting. And so we can say that Rashi is identifying both actions as sins.

{update: on second thought, no, the context in the midrash is not speech, but the hitting. See inside, carefully, by reading this text and the text before it:
וכי לא אמר דבר קשה מזה שאמר: (במדבר יא) הצאן ובקר ישחט להם ומצא להם אם את כל דגי הים יאסף להם ומצא להם, אף שם אין אמנה והיא גדולה מזו!

מפני מה לא גזר עליו שם, למה הדבר דומה?
למלך, שהיה לו אוהב והיה מגיס בינו לבין המלך בדברים קשים, ולא הקפיד המלך עליו. לימים עמד והגיס במעמד לגיונות גזר עליו מיתה.
אף כך אמר לו הקב"ה למשה: הראשונה שעשית ביני לבינך, עכשיו כנגד הרבים אי אפשר, שנאמר: להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל.


Meanwhile, the pasuk in Tehillim states וַיְבַטֵּא בִּשְׂפָתָיו, implying that it was the speech which was the sin.

Rashi has to provide a translation of the verses in Tehillim that does not contradict his perush in Chukas.

Rashi writes:
32. They provoked [God] by the waters of Meribah, and Moses suffered because of them.

33. For they rebelled against His spirit, and He uttered with His lips.

For they rebelled Moses and Aaron.
against His spirit with (Num. 20:10) “Hear now, you rebels!”
and He uttered with His lips an oath (Num. 20: 12): “Therefore you shall not bring this community, etc.”
This is the Judaica Press translation of Rashi and the pesukim. They try to translate the pasuk in accordance with Rashi.

Perhaps we should take every phrase in turn.

1) כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ
We had interpreted the root of הִמְרוּ as mar, bitter.
Rashi apparently interprets it as meri, rebellion. At least it appears so, for what else could Moshe have done.

We had interpreted this as the Benei Yisrael making Moshe's spirit bitter.
Rashi interprets this as Moshe and Aharon rebelling against Hashem, by saying "Listen now, you rebels." He does not mention striking the rock, but this is part of it. It seems that Rashi is moving slightly more towards the speech being the sin.

2) וַיְבַטֵּא בִּשְׂפָתָיו
We had interpreted this as Moshe speaking (rashly) with his lips. And that speech was "listen now, you rebels." And that this, it is implied, brought upon him the evil spoken about in the previous pasuk.
Rashi interprets the actor here as Hashem, who uttered an oath, in response to Moshe and Aharon's rebellion. And that speech was "Therefore you shall not bring this community..."

This is not so far out there, as earlier in the perek in Tehillim, there was וַיִּשָּׂא יָדוֹ לָהֶם-- לְהַפִּיל אוֹתָם בַּמִּדְבָּר, and that was Hashem taking an oath that others would not enter the land of Israel.

This shifts the focus from being solely Moshe's speech, so that there is room for the hitting of the rock as well.

Even so, I think that the JPS translation is a closer approximation to peshat, which would be how Dovid haMelech regards peshat in Chukas.

And now that I have written all of this, I see that the Meiri (follow link, then side link) says a similar thing as well.


Anonymous said...

"In this post, I would like to explore the position of that famous Biblical commentator, King David."

I must have missed something . You said you're going to explore King David's take, but the rest of the post just quotes from Tehillim. Where's the promised King David part?

joshwaxman said...

See Bava Batra 14a:

דוד כתב ספר תהלים ע"י עשרה זקנים ע"י אדם הראשון על ידי מלכי צדק ועל ידי אברהם וע"י משה ועל ידי הימן וע"י ידותון ועל ידי אסף
ועל ידי שלשה בני קרח

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

You are one strange guy.

joshwaxman said...


All the best,

Anonymous said...

So you really believe Tehillim was only written by famous people? None of it was written by people with names since lost, and tradition then assigned to famous people (as people are wont to do)? You believe that despite that fact that much of tehillim makes reference to things that happened long after all of those people are supposed to have lived, and in Hebrew from a much later period??

Just because Chazal attributed an authorship doesn't make it true--or even believable. It's clear you know enough to know that, which is why you're one strange guy.

joshwaxman said...

Now that you are bored, I am sure there are plenty other blogs that are more interesting. :)

The point of this blogpost had nothing to do with authorship of sefer Tehillim. It has to do with how whichever author in sefer Tehillim understands the text of parshat Chukas.

As such, your comment seemed snarky and tangential, and I replied to it in kind. It indeed looks like you *were* bored, and looking to make a snarky, off-topic comment to make your anonymous self look clever.

I was using King David as a convenient shorthand, and do not really give a darn here about authorship.

I do know that not just Chazal, but the actual Biblical text, has attributions to many of these people. These attributions themselves may have been added later, as a type of sig-non, but that precedes the statement in Bava Batra. And I know that a psalm stated by King David in sefer Shmuel finds its close parallel in Tehillim. I understand that Tehillim may have been a development of psalms throughout many years, such that indeed, *later* psalms *may* have been composed by Chasidim and the like. That does not mean I immediately abandon all other, grounded theories of authorship and only adopt the most maskilic. I am glad to be a source of entertainment.

But what do you think about the parse of the text of Tehillim 106:32? And how do you think the author parses the various pesukim in Chukas?

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

Just to add to what I said above ...

I sometimes react snarkily to snarky pseudonymous comments. And I probably should not.

At any rate, all the best, and thanks for coming!


Anonymous said...

According to pshat "Himru" ought to be from the root MRH meaning rebellion; from MRR meaning bitterness we should say "Mer'ru" or "Hemeru."

joshwaxman said...

Thanks for the specifics. I was not sure about them, and did not sit down to sort it out.

Still, according to Shadal, both he and all the other Biblical commentators (such as Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak, etc.) hold that nikkud is post-Talmudic, such that a commentator is allowed to revocalize (and he claims that they do). Thus, "Hemeru" would be a valid revocalization.

Yet, Meiri suggests it seriously as peshat without suggesting revocalization. And this (made Moshe's spirit bitter) also seems to be Malbim's peshat (see the end of Malbim), and he does not suggest revocalization either. So I am not sure. Maybe they are treating is as a weird exception of sorts?

Shabbat Shalom,

joshwaxman said...

Oops! Scratch that, about what Meiri said, and what Malbim says. It is quite possible I misread them. They could still be saying rebellion. See e.g. Meiri. I am unsure how to parse it, but it could well be that Israel rebelled and made Moshe's spirit angered.

Perhaps this merits a post next week. I also want to bring in Radak.

Thanks again!

joshwaxman said...

and oops, I retract again about Meiri, because I read him once again until the end.

This requires a settled mind, and I still need to prepare for Shabbos, so I'll leave it until next week.

Anonymous said...

Actually you can scratch the whole thing if you believe in two-letter roots as some of the early medaqdeqim did :) or at least that two roots with two letters being the same usually have a connection


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