Monday, January 26, 2009

Darkness as thick as a Dinar?

Once again, the same Anonymous commenter points me to a fascinating source. (I still want to really address the malach by the burning bush, but will have to return to it later.) In a recent comment, he writes:
Are or did you ever do a Piece on the Controversial Piece of Torah Temimah on Makkos Chosech being a Piece of s[k]in over the Eyes?
I assume the Torah Temima he has in mind is this one, here and then on the next page, here, though if so, I would translate slightly differently.

I would not exactly call it controversial. After all, many meforshim actually argue on midrashim on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, Torah Temimah here is casting his explanation as an interpretation of the midrash. Sure, he does say lulei demistafina, since it is a new idea, but meforshim come up with new ideas all the time.

Expanding on why it might be considered controversial, Anonymous explains:
The Torah Temimah copied that from Wessley's Yayin Levonon commentary on Avot! This, of course, is standard practice in the Torah Temimah. That is, much of what he says appears in earlier places.

I don't think that is enough for it to be controversial. As the Rambam said, שמע האמת ממי שאמרה.

Even though I don't think it is controversial, I do think it is wrong, and will explain why. And like Matlock, I will even identify the true meaning of the midrash he is misinterpreting.

First, to summarize Torah Temima. But we must first provide a background. The pasuk states:
כא וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, נְטֵה יָדְךָ עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וִיהִי חֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְיָמֵשׁ, חֹשֶׁךְ. 21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.'
and it is perhaps not even a midrashic interpretation to translate as the Jewish Publication Society translated above. And even though some pashtanim saw fit to explain vayamesh as an expression of darkness (and provide a convenient root), a pashtan of Shadal's ilk sees fit to explain it as feeling, as feeling (/groping) around in the dark:
וימש חשך : ויש שפירשו כמו ויאמש , ואמש ל ' לילה וחושך , ואין טעם לומר ויחשיך חושך ; ואחרים פירשו משורש משש , והוא הנכון , אלא שאמרו שנעשה האויר עב עד שימששו אותו . והנכון שהיא מליצה כמליצת ימששו חושך ולא אור ( איוב י " ב כ " ה ) שטעמו ימששו בחושך , אף כאן ויהי חושך , עד שמיששו בחושך כאשר ימשש העיור , וכן בתרגום ירושלמי : ויהון ממשמשין בחשוכה . ואייכהארן ייחס המכה הזאת לרוח חזק חם ומזיק הנושב במצרים מפסח עד עצרת באותם חמשים יום הנקראים אצלם עדיין חמשין , ואז בני אדם מוכרחים לישב בביתם ולא יצאו החוצה ; וכל זה איננו שוה לאייכהארן , כי אמנם אין מדרך הרוח ההוא שיימשך ממנו חושך גמור , עד שלא יראה איש את אחיו בתוך ביתו . אמנם מצאנו שאירע במצרים לפעמים חושך גדול , אבל היה תמיד בסיבת רוח סערה וסופה גדולה , וכאן לא נזכר דבר מזה .

And Ibn Ezra gives various explanations, and decides on a substantive darkness.
וימש חשך -
אמר יפת:
כי וימש חשך כמו וימיש. והטעם כי ימיש כל חשך שהיה להם ידוע. ויבא אחר עב ממנו.
ויש אומרים:
כי הוא חסר אל"ף ומלת אמש בלשון הקודש הלילה שעבר. כמו: אמש אמר אלי.
ובלשון ערבי אמ"ס כי השי"ן יתחלף בסמ"ך ברוב המלות. כמו שמש שמ"ס. והנה אין טעם לפירושם.
ולפי דעתי:
כי וימש מגזירת ימשש. ואין טענה בעבור שהוא מפעלי הכפל. כי כמוהו בזה הענין ידיהם ולא ימישון. ושב על מצרים, כי מצרים לשון יחיד. כמו: ויאמר מצרים אנוסה.
והנה הטעם שימששו בידם החשך שכל כך יהיה עב כי האור של אש לא ידלק ולא הנר, והעד: לא ראו איש את אחיו, לא באור היום ולא באור הנרות.
Rashi takes it as a degree of darkness, though mentions the midrash about thickness:
כא) וימש חשך -
ויחשיך עליהם חשך יותר מחשכו של לילה, וחשך של לילה יאמיש ויחשיך עוד:
וימש -
כמו ויאמש יש לנו תיבות הרבה חסרות אל"ף לפי שאין הברת האל"ף נכרת כל כך אין הכתוב מקפיד על חסרונה, כגון:
(ישעיהו יג כ) ולא יהל שם ערבי, כמו לא יאהל, לא יטה אהלו.
וכן (שמואל ב כב מ) ותזרני חיל, כמו ותאזרני.

ואונקלוס תרגם:
לשון הסרה.
כמו (שמות יג כב) לא ימיש בתר דיעדי קבל ליליא, כשיגיע סמוך לאור היום.
אבל אין הדבור מיושב על הוי"ו של וימש, לפי שהוא כתוב אחר ויהי חשך.

ומדרש אגדה פותרו:
לשון (דברים כח כט) ממשש בצהרים, שהיה כפול ומכופל ועב עד שהיה בו ממש:
With that background, we may consider Torah Temimah. To cite him again:

He thus cites the Mechilta and states
that the verse is relating that the Egyptian was not able to sit if standing, and was not able to stand if sitting, because the darkness was thick. In footnote bet: And it is explained in midrashim that the darkness was as the thickness of a dinar. And the matter is extremely wondrous, for what is the reason to seize about the measurement of thickness of the darkness. And it also needs consideration, for according to the explanation of Rashi, that all the darkness was 24 hours, entirely night, and there was no day at all, if so, this changed the order of Creation, and this is very difficult, for behold Hashem promised Noach and his sons "And day and night will not cease."
And if I were not fearful to bring forth a very new matter, I would say that the matter is darkness was not in the air but in the eyes of the men. And this is that there was a cataract stretched over the eyeball, and the Sages (of the midrash) said that that cataract was felt by the hand and also was the thickness of a dinar, and all is then fine.
Beautiful. Though not correct.

To answer the objection of the three days of darkness according to Rashi, who is citing midrash Tanchuma, if I understand correctly. I am not convinced we need to resolve this midrash or explanation of Rashi with that pasuk, but if we did, I would simply bring a parallel. How could Hashem drown the Egyptians? Did he not promise Noach not to flood the world? Indeed, according to a midrash, this was what the Egyptians counted on to avoid midah kineged midah. But, answers the midrash, there is a difference between global and local. So too here, this only effected the Egyptians, but not the Jews in Goshen, nor the Moabites in Moav, and so on.

Furthermore, the idea in the midrashim, when you examine them, was that it was thick darkness, with substance, such that one could not move through the thick substance. Thus the idea of being physically stuck in place, in a standing or sitting position. That Torah Temimah does not understand the need for measurement, and the measurement as the thickness of a dinar (though I do) is not reason for a radical reinterpretation of the midrash. Say you don't know, and leave it at that. Do not rework the midrash to your liking! But at least he marks it an a worrisome novel suggestion.

This midrash appears in Tanchuma (though there were, accidentally, fairly late additions to the Tanchuma) and in Shemot Rabba (around the time of Rashi). Tanchuma has:
וימש חשך.
כמה היה אותו חשך?
אמרו רבותינו זיכרונם לברכה:
עבה כדינר, שנאמר: וימש חשך:
and Shemot Rabba has:
וימש חשך
כמה היה אותו חשך?
רבותינו אמרו:
עבה כדינר היה, שנאמר: וימש חשך, שהיה בו ממש.
The thing Torah Temima is missing out on is that the thickness of a dinar is not to connote a thick thing, but rather a fairly thin thing. In order to understand the expression, we simply need to do a Google search to determine how the expression is used elsewhere - a technique Torah Temimah did not have at his disposal.

The gemara in Chagiga has:
פושעי ישראל אין אור של גיהנום מכלה אותם, ק"ו ממזבח הזהב שאין עליו אלא כעובי דינר
זהב אין אש מכלה אותו, פושעי ישראל שמלאים מצות כרימון על אחת כמה וכמה

Thus, the golden altar only had the thickness of one dinar of gold coating, and yet it protected them, and so too the fire of Gehinnom will not destroy the sinners of Israel.

So too, in Midrash Rabba on Tzav:
Midrash Rabba on Tzav
ואש המזבח תוקד בו א"ר פנחס ואש המזבח תוקד עליו אין כתיב כאן אלא תוקד בו האש היתה מתוקד בו תני בשם רבי נחמיה קרוב למאה ושש עשרה שנה היתה האש מתוקדת בו עצו לא נשרף ונחשתו לא ניתך אם תאמר דהוה גלד תני בשם ר' הושעיה כעובי דינר גרדיון היה בו אמר רשב"ל אף מזבח הקטורת כן שנאמר (שמות ל) ועשית מזבח מקטר קטרת מתקטר בקטרת אין כתיב כאן אלא מקטר קטורת המזבח היה מקטיר את הקטרת ורב אמר ובכלי הבקר נתבשל הבשר אין כתיב כאן אלא (מ"א יט) ובכלי הבקר בשלם הבשר הבשר היה מבשל את הכלי:

It was thus a nes that the fire, which was burning the altar, rather than burning on the altar, did not destroy or melt the altar, for its coating was only the thickness of a dinar, and yet it was burning for 116 years.

If a dinar's thickness is something very thin (as one would expect as the width of a coin), then we can answer Torah Temimah's question of why seize upon a measurement (or even this measurement) of the thickness of the darkness. The intent would seem to be that the air was still air, but it was still somewhat thick, such that with difficulty one could break through it. It was thus somewhat substantive airspace, something that had mamashut.

Or an alternative, where I keep flitting between the first suggestion and the second in terms of which I like more. Ibn Ezra correctly understood the midrash. To refresh your recollection, Ibn Ezra said:
והנה הטעם שימששו בידם החשך שכל כך יהיה עב כי האור של אש לא ידלק ולא הנר, והעד: לא ראו איש את אחיו, לא באור היום ולא באור הנרות
Thus, Ibn Ezra is saying that the felt the darkness with their hands so much, that it was so thick that the flame of the fire did not light, nor the lamp. And the prooftext to this is "and a man did not see his brother," meaning not via the light of day nor via the light of lamps.

What kind of thickness would prevent a flame from taking hold? This is precisely the role this thickness, the thickness of a dinar, played on the golden altar. Recall that it prevented the flame on the mizbeach from taking hold and destroying the altar. And perhaps this is why Chazal seized upon this measurement.

But not I flit back to the first explanation, and like it better. Regardless, I would consider either of these two explanations to be truer to the midrash's intent than his novel peshat, simply because mine are grounded in an understanding of the way the phrase is used, rather than trouble grok-ing the midrash leading to a reinterpretation.

Even if it is not a correct explanation of the midrash, it might be a good explanation of the pasuk, given these considerations of God's promise not to change the order of night and day, and given the different experience of the Egyptians and Israelites. Indeed, for those who would rather the makkot have manifestations within the natural order, for philosophical reasons, or because as we see within the psukim themselves, e.g., Hashem made the wind blow to bring in and out the locusts, and for the splitting of the Reed Sea, this might well be a compelling peshat.

Personally, I don't think it works, because why then have Moshe stretch his hand towards the heavens?
כא וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, נְטֵה יָדְךָ עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וִיהִי חֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְיָמֵשׁ, חֹשֶׁךְ. 21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.'


Anonymous said...

When he calls it controversial, he means that in the olam ha-yeshivos this explanation is an oft-cited example of R. Epstein's near krumkeit; in such circles, this comment is indeed controversial.

Anonymous said...

I mean that the Gerrer Rebbe said that the Sefer Should be bound on the wrong side(hence un-openeable) actually,but I would Imagine anyone quoting Maskilim would be thrown into question in the YESHIVA WORLDוד"ק.

Anonymous said...

By the way The Rabenu Bachyeh Discusses the Wind In this weeks Parsha,And since I am Quoting Rebbes I will also say Reb Yoel was once asked why he was Using the Torah Temimah He answered jokingly I just use it for the Gemaras

Anonymous said...

And Just to Stick up for The Torah Temimah With your Pshat on the Thickness of the DINAR see Tosfos Mesechtas Shavous daf Mem Daled divrie hamaschil-Hiskabalti: it does not say your wrong but might be used as proof for him because there was a variance.

Anonymous said...

I will just say there is an amazing Netziv in this week Parsha (they all are) It says
וישאלו איש מאת רעהו
The question is why are the Egyptians called רעהו? There are many answers the Netziv's answers sticks out for its originality. They where actually a רעהו because during ערוב they ran away to Goshen and actually Befriended the Jews and during the plague of darkness they could not move so the Jews fed them so it was a real רעהו.The Chasam Sofer says the Polar opposite he says since they where borrowing the items and they needed to put on a good show so they borrowed clothing from the rich Jews and then went to borrow from the Egyptian's so they actually went first to the Jews like it says in שור שנגח to exclude gentiles, and then went to the Egyptians' to borrow the Items.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin