Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Beshalach commentary - first pass, pt i

Here is my first pass through as a running commentary. As I see other meforshim, and think about it some more, I may well revise. Some of this may be obvious, but I wrote where I saw ambigiuty. And some may be wrong, but this is an initial pass.

Shemot 13:17 begins the parsha.

יז וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה.
וַיְהִי...וְלֹא: "it was when Pharaoh sent out the nation that God did not lead them..." As Ibn Ezra says, this is like the weak fa in Arabic. It thus does not mean "and."

בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה: Standing alone, this almost seems to imply that it was Pharaoh who decided on his own, and as his own act, to send out the nation. From context, this is not so. But still, Pharaoh has not been entirely subdued, and he clearly things that he can retract his previous act at will, by chasing them down. I would guess that this is what is influencing Paneach Raza to state that the gematria of vayhi beshalach is baal korcho.

וְלֹא-נָחָם: The famous joke that the name of the one Jew who did not leave Egypt was Nachum, for Pharaoh sent out the nation, but not Nacham. וְלֹא-נָחָם... פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם is a deliberate echoing in the language, even though the roots are different. נָחָם is, as Rashi explains, to lead.

דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים: where they would fight, rather than seeing the result of the war waged by Ephraim.

כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: Rashi, that it is close to Egypt such that they would return to Egypt when they see war. But perhaps that it is the close way to get to Eretz Yisrael, and so an immediate was to conquer the land would frighten them such that they would give up immediately. Better to let them have the other experiences in the wilderness first, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea, Marah, Har Sinai, and so on.

פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה: See Rashbam, who shows how plausible this is, with all their complaints, wishing they were back in Egypt, and planning to go back.

It is somewhat strange that this is the reason for traveling to the Reed Sea, for there is the other reason of leading to the downfall of the Egyptian army at the Reed Sea.

יח וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר, יַם-סוּף; וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל: The classic midrashim about 1/5, or 1/50th, or 1/500th exist. On a peshat level, as Rashi notes, it means mezuyanim. And what does that mean? See Rashi and see Ibn Ezra. It could mean with riches; this would be a fulfillment of Hashem's havtacha to Avraham. It could mean food; this would show that they were not entirely unprepared to enter the wilderness, such that such a move was plausible, perhaps even without the subsequent Divine intervention. It could mean armed; this would explain how they were able to wage war against Amalek a bit later.

I would understand it as the last of the three, and that the purpose of this mentioning it here is not to preempt any question about Amalek, but because the topic was raised in the previous pasuk, in the words פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. It is not that they would be unarmed and thus slaughtered. They came out of Egypt armed. But even so, there is a difference between being physically and mentally prepared for battle.

יט וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף, עִמּוֹ: כִּי הַשְׁבֵּעַ הִשְׁבִּיעַ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת-עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה אִתְּכֶם.
כִּי הַשְׁבֵּעַ הִשְׁבִּיעַ: Rashi cites the Mechilta that Yosef imposed an oath that they impose an oath in turn on others, and this based on the double lashon. This is midrash. On a peshat level, one need not get hung up in technicalities of oath-giving. He made them promise, and this is then a family obligation, and a matter of honoring commitments, even made by others.

It also glorifies this redemption, since it is not just Yosef's adjuration, but a public recognition that this redemption was foretold, and so this is carrying out the instructions now that the prophecy has been fulfilled, and fulfilling the request in exactly the situation for which it was requested.

It also demonstrates that even Yosef never really felt at home in Egypt, and from the beginning they were waiting for their return.

See Baal Haturim, who noted another time this expression occurs, and effectively makes a gezera shava for himself. One is not supposed to make a gezera shava for oneself, but that is for halacha rather than aggadah. However, I would contest Baal Haturim's idea that that was why Yonasan was caught in his father Shaul's adjuration not to eat. How is this supposed to work? Yonasan was ignorant of the matter, so obviously no one turned around and adjured him in turn.

כ וַיִּסְעוּ, מִסֻּכֹּת; וַיַּחֲנוּ בְאֵתָם, בִּקְצֵה הַמִּדְבָּר.
בִּקְצֵה הַמִּדְבָּר: Perhaps at the edge of the midbar because they are not ready to start their travels through the midbar yet, but must deal with the Yam Suf. This is slight foreshadowing, in that this is the motivation for making clear exactly where they are -- where Etam is -- at this point.

Also, that they are at the edge of the wilderness would imply to onlookers that they do not wish to enter it, because they are frightened of it. Thus, in the next perek, Pharaoh will say סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם .הַמִּדְבָּר

כא וַיהוָה הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם יוֹמָם בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן, לַנְחֹתָם הַדֶּרֶךְ, וְלַיְלָה בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ, לְהָאִיר לָהֶם--לָלֶכֶת, יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה.
וַיהוָה הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם: Did Hashem Himself travel with them? Did He take the form of the pillar of cloud, or the pillar of fire? Was His Presence manifest somehow within the cloud / fire? Compare Yom Kippur and the cloud, and other instances. Note the ambiguity of bet in בְּעַמּוּד as within or as.

Also, compare with next perek, in Shemot 14:19: וַיִּסַּע מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים, הַהֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵי מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶם; וַיִּסַּע עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן, מִפְּנֵיהֶם, וַיַּעֲמֹד, מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶם. Here, it is a malach haElohim which travels before the nation. This might mean the same as a Divine manifestation. Compare with Hamalach Hagoel Oti, and Hashem vs. the malach who appeared in the burning bush. And see what Ramban, Ibn Ezra say on this. Also, in Shemot 14:19, unless the pasuk is poetically echoing itself, it would seem that the malach haElohim is distinct from the amud heAnan.

כב לֹא-יָמִישׁ עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן, יוֹמָם, וְעַמּוּד הָאֵשׁ, לָיְלָה--לִפְנֵי, הָעָם.
לֹא-יָמִישׁ...: Is this not simply a repetition of the previous verse? Maybe this is what motivates Rashi to cite the midrash. I would argue that this is no mere repetition. First, practically, it could be verse 21 might imply that this was only when they were traveling. Secondly, thematically, this is teaching of a special relationship between Hashem and the Israelites, that he is not abandoning them, even as he will not abandon them when the Egyptians will attack. Compare with Yeshaya 54:10, כִּי הֶהָרִים יָמוּשׁוּ, וְהַגְּבָעוֹת תְּמוּטֶינָה--וְחַסְדִּי מֵאִתֵּךְ לֹא-יָמוּשׁ, וּבְרִית שְׁלוֹמִי לֹא תָמוּט, אָמַר מְרַחֲמֵךְ, יְהוָה., where the intent is to the special relationship.

Perek 14:
א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.

ב דַּבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיָשֻׁבוּ וְיַחֲנוּ לִפְנֵי פִּי הַחִירֹת, בֵּין מִגְדֹּל וּבֵין הַיָּם: לִפְנֵי בַּעַל צְפֹן, נִכְחוֹ תַחֲנוּ עַל-הַיָּם.

וְיָשֻׁבוּ וְיַחֲנוּ לִפְנֵי פִּי הַחִירֹת: Were such explicit instructions from Moshe to the Bnei Yisrael necessary? After all, the amud heAnan was directing them? Perhaps this is a paraphrase, and the explicit explanation of the geography is for the benefit of future readers, in order to place the nes of the Reed Sea. Also, there may be hidden implications in all these place names, but it may simply be akin to the detailed geography in the very beginning of sefer Devarim, and once again, because it is important to fix the specific place.

נִכְחוֹ תַחֲנוּ: Perhaps this phonetic echoing is deliberate. And the repetition from וְיַחֲנוּ לִפְנֵי is to stress that they were encamped directly by Yam Suf.

ג וְאָמַר פַּרְעֹה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ; סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם, הַמִּדְבָּר.
לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: About the children of Israel. See Rashi.

ד וְחִזַּקְתִּי אֶת-לֵב-פַּרְעֹה, וְרָדַף אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וְאִכָּבְדָה בְּפַרְעֹה וּבְכָל-חֵילוֹ, וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן.
Thus, continuing the trend and the message of all the makkot.

וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן: meaning the Israelites did so. It is not really ambigous with the possibility that the Egyptians did so, as described in the following verses.

ה וַיֻּגַּד לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, כִּי בָרַח הָעָם; וַיֵּהָפֵךְ לְבַב פַּרְעֹה וַעֲבָדָיו, אֶל-הָעָם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂינוּ, כִּי-שִׁלַּחְנוּ אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָבְדֵנוּ.

וַיֻּגַּד לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם: In general, there is an interesting interchange between melech mitzrayim, Par'oh, and Par'oh melech mitzrayim, which should be elaborated upon. Here it could just be use of synonyms to make the text less tedious.

כִּי בָרַח הָעָם: See Ibn Ezra and see Ramban. They are saying that until this point Pharaoh still thought it was a mere pilgrimage, and now, it is clear that they are fleeing rather than simply traveling. This is a fairly compelling reading, but needs to work out with the earlier reason of the midbar closing them in, which otherwise contrasts. See Ramban, that since they are wandering to and fro, they are not engaging in a pilgrimage.

Still, this is not the only possible reading of the narrative, and of ki varach haAm. Perhaps we could understand that as them truly having left.

Sefer Hayashar at the beginning of this section has a little interplay on this theme. It has the Egyptians, rather than Pharaoh, first go after the people, because they are upset having lost their slaves. The implication is perhaps that they think they have lost them entirely, but in the continuation, it seems not so. At any rate, the Egyptians are unsure of it. And so, they go after them as a test of the faithfulness of the Israelites, whether they will return, and if not, the Egyptians would battle them. And the nobles and people went, but not Pharaoh. (I wonder if the first pasuk in the parsha, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה, plays into this midrash.) Moshe and Aharon make it clear to the Egyptians that they are not returning, but going on to Canaan. The Israelites fight the Egyptians and beat them. (Perhaps as chamushim they went out?) They then tell Pharaoh of the Israelite intentions, and that they have fled. (This pasuk.)

מֵעָבְדֵנוּ: With a kametz-katon, from a reduced cholam. See Rashbam, where he called it a chataf kametz.

אֶל-הָעָם: the nation of Israel, despite the am in the next pasuk being the nation of Egyptians.

ו וַיֶּאְסֹר, אֶת-רִכְבּוֹ; וְאֶת-עַמּוֹ, לָקַח עִמּוֹ.

וְאֶת-עַמּוֹ לָקַח עִמּוֹ: Not the entire population of Egypt, but rather the great host described in the subsequent pesukim. Persuasion, as was Rashi's suggestion, was not necessary, for this was Pharaoh's army to command.

ז וַיִּקַּח, שֵׁשׁ-מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בָּחוּר, וְכֹל, רֶכֶב מִצְרָיִם; וְשָׁלִשִׁם, עַל-כֻּלּוֹ.

וַיִּקַּח...: This is an elaboration of לָקַח in the previous pasuk, and thus an elaboration of the am which Pharaoh took. The choice of the language am was to emphasize their might, in that they were numerous. And here, choice chariots and the description of the officers is to emphasize the Egyptian might.

ח וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה, אֶת-לֵב פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּרְדֹּף, אַחֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, יֹצְאִים בְּיָד רָמָה.

וַיְחַזֵּק: Is this not repetitious? No, because this is necessary to draw clearly and exlpicitly the fulfillment of God's plan and prediction in pasuk 4, even as the intervening pesukim did much to advance this.

וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל יֹצְאִים בְּיָד רָמָה: Perhaps this entire pasuk is meant on the macro instead of micro level. If so, God hardened Pharaoh's heart and he chased after the Israelites, yet from this danger the Israelites went out with a high hand.

We could also interpret בְּיָד רָמָה as going out publicly, rather than slinking out of Egypt. See perhaps Rashi. Or as Ibn Ezra, that they are not like fleers, and that this goes to the point that they left Egypt while armed. Or as Ramban, that there joy and attitude suggested that they did not intend to return, such that they were no longer slaves.

וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: Related -- JPS translation gives "for the children of Israel went out with a high hand." Perhaps the Israelite attitude caused this reaction in Pharaoh. Judaica Press just has "and the children of Israel..."

Shadal says this is to give a sense of the Israelite feeling before the crisis -- that at this point they were beYad Rama, and now the Egyptians are running after them, and they will panic. Nice.

ט וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיַּשִּׂיגוּ אוֹתָם חֹנִים עַל-הַיָּם, כָּל-סוּס רֶכֶב פַּרְעֹה, וּפָרָשָׁיו וְחֵילוֹ--עַל-פִּי, הַחִירֹת, לִפְנֵי, בַּעַל צְפֹן.

וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵיהֶם: Now this is Egypt, with all its might, which chased after them.

עַל-פִּי, הַחִירֹת: Thus, they met them just where the Israelites encamped, by Pi haChiros, before Baal Tzefon, in fulfillment of God's plan. This detail of place-name brings it to a close. Now, what will be the Israelite reaction, and how will God act?

י וּפַרְעֹה, הִקְרִיב; וַיִּשְׂאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-עֵינֵיהֶם וְהִנֵּה מִצְרַיִם נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיִּירְאוּ מְאֹד, וַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה.

וּפַרְעֹה הִקְרִיב: And not, with the vav hahipuch, ויקרב פרעה. Perhaps this should be translated, "as Pharaoh approached, the Israelites lifted up their eyes, and behold..."

וַיִּשְׂאוּ... וְהִנֵּה: all this to build suspense and excitement, such that we experience it from the perspective of the Israelites.

וַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה: Is this good or bad? Taken alone, this would seem to be prayer for salvation. Rashi cites the Mechilta that this is positive, and that they were praying. But the subsequent pesukim are complaints against Moshe, which would seem to then be the substance of the crying out. But maybe when the Jews complain, this is their prayer. See Ramban grapple with this, and explain that there were several groups, one which prayed and another which complained.

Perhaps the way they related to Hashem is that one needed to explicitly call Hashem into action, by complaint or rhetorical question. And so there was real danger here.

יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין-קְבָרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, לְקַחְתָּנוּ לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר: מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לָּנוּ, לְהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם.

יב הֲלֹא-זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְנוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְמִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנַעַבְדָה אֶת-מִצְרָיִם: כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר.

יג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ--הִתְיַצְּבוּ וּרְאוּ אֶת-יְשׁוּעַת יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה לָכֶם הַיּוֹם: כִּי, אֲשֶׁר רְאִיתֶם אֶת-מִצְרַיִם הַיּוֹם--לֹא תֹסִפוּ לִרְאֹתָם עוֹד, עַד-עוֹלָם.

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם: Moshe's response, promising salvation, is as a response to their complaint. Ramban divides into different groups, as does Midrash (, as does DH, unsatisfyingly). I might put forth that the "crying out" of pasuk 10 can be well-matched by מַה-תִּצְעַק אֵלָי in pasuk 15, and the intervening complaint and Moshe's response could be a interchange.

יד יְהוָה, יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם; וְאַתֶּם, תַּחֲרִשׁוּן.
As my father likes to say regarding this pasuk: Hashem will provide you with bread. All you have to do is plow!

Is this a good format? A bad format? Should I still to lengthy discussions of individual points, or is a running commentary better?

1 comment:

yaak said...

I like it. With this, I see that you are not just an עוקר הרים,but a סיני too!

Cute "pshat" on ה' ילחם לכם and on "Nachum".


Blog Widget by LinkWithin