Friday, February 13, 2009

The conversation *after* the Aseres Hadibros (rc)

first pass, part v
Running commentary on parshat Yisro. I skipped ahead to the end of the parsha, because there are a few points I want to write down before I forget them. From Shemot 20:14 and on.

יד וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם, וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, וְאֶת-הָהָר, עָשֵׁן; וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ, וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק

רֹאִים -- some suggest synaesthesia as a mechanism for seeing the sounds. But peshat is that ראה is being used as witnessed, perceived, experienced, which works for both sound and sight.

וַיַּרְא הָעָם -- isn't this already covered by ראים? It is duplicated because of the long list of things experienced, and to form a tighter unit with וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ, "and when the people saw they trembled and stood from far off."

וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר -- this is the kol shofar as in 19:16, rather than the meshoch hayovel of 19:17.

וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק -- and Hashem did not want anyone to touch the mountain, and Moshe did not believe such extra warnings would be necessary.

טו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, דַּבֵּר-אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ, וְנִשְׁמָעָה; וְאַל-יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-נָמוּת.

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה -- this would appear to be after all ten commandments.

וְאַל-יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ אֱלֹהִים פֶּן-נָמוּת -- and so via an intermediary it is acceptable. There is some real aspect to this, over fear. See the status the Israelites needed to prepare for Har Sinai, and the death penalty for one who touched the mountain. See also the reaction of Manoach and his wife, as this is a typical reaction. There is a famous midrash about their souls leaving their bodies and being returned, but that is not the peshat.

טז וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ, כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם, בָּא הָאֱלֹהִים; וּבַעֲבוּר, תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם--לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּ.

אַל-תִּירָאוּ -- for the experience at Har Sinai was awesome and awe-inspiring. But this display of might did not indicate destruction, but there was another cause. Compare, once again, Manoach and his wife's reaction. The purpose here is some kind of "nisayon," but this means different things in different contexts -- perhaps here to see or demonstrate that they would withdraw in recognition of Hashem's might; and also that this experience put real fear of God into them, and ingrained it into their consciousness, in order to prevent sinning.

יז וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם, מֵרָחֹק; וּמֹשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל-הָעֲרָפֶל, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם הָאֱלֹהִים

וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק -- was this that Moshe's words did not reassure them? Or they were comforted, but still keeping a distance as per the law?

The setuma is after this pasuk. This can mean an end to the entire incident at Har Sinai, or can indicate an end to this reaction. Anyway, the narrative continues, and the speech within the arafel is what follows, at Har Sinai:

יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם--כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם -- capitalizing on the Israelite reaction, and their experience at Har Sinai.

כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם -- as He just did for the 10 commandments, even though the present speech is via Moshe as prophet.

This statement is the unifying thread through the remainder of the parsha, and explains why all the other instructions are there.

יט לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן, אִתִּי: אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם

לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי -- There are two ways to parse this pasuk, and the trup puts a stop at the word itti. Therefore "you shall not make with me: gods of silver and gods of gold you shall not make for yourself," rather than the more balanced split with the stop of khesef.

Even though the trup seems more awkward, on reflection, I agree with it.

Many modern scholars have pointed out that the Israelite conception of idolatry, based on criticisms leveled by various neviim, is one of fetishism -- that one is worshipping the idol as an independent source of power, rather than a manifestation of a powerful god above. In my opinion, this pasuk is not discussing fetishism. Rather, this is a continuation of the thought in the previous pasuk, and in the people's reaction. Hashem does not need an intermediary of an idol to speak with people or hear people. Therefore, they should not make an idol. לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי -- you should not make anything with Me, because it is just Me directly. Thus, You should not construct idols for yourselves as intermediaries.

כ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה, תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ; בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ.

מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי -- this is a related command. Just as you do not need a fancy idol to bring down Hashem's presence, you do not need a fancy constructed altar to do the same. Rather, it should be simple and straightforward, such as one of earth. Especially where there is no issur bamot, anyone can thereby relate to Hashem. In modern times, absent korbanot, we can similarly address Hashem from anywhere, and do not have to travel specifically to the kotel or to kivrei tzaddikim as magical places to be heard.

בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי -- the local theme is that one needs no fancy temples with sophisticated rituals and objects (such as hewn altars and idols) to bring down Hashem's presence. How that works with a centralized Temple or Mishkan is another story, but that is not the local theme, and at the least, from this idea, we come away with these two laws.

כא וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית: כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ, וַתְּחַלְלֶהָ

מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים -- such is acceptable, so long as it is still "rough" and unsophisticated.

כִּי חַרְבְּךָ -- JPS translates this as "your tool." There is a temptation to see cherev as sword, or at least see iron implements as being reckoned as related to a sword, and thus casting this prohibition as one against violence. In Aramaic, charba can by extension mean a knife or cutting tool. (See e.g. Rashi for the violence connection.) Shadal writes, after stating that the verse connects it to killing, ולא רצה להזכיר הטעם האמיתי, שהוא כדי שלא יבואו לעשות צורות, שאם היה מפרש שהאיסור הוא משום כך, לא יחושו לו, כי יאמרו : אנו נעשה גזית ולא נעשה צורות. I only partially agree. I don't think the pasuk itself makes the connection to hariga, and I do not think this is a sort of takkana lest they come to do something else, namely making a pesel. Rather, it all relates to the sophistication of all the items there, and this is the case for a hewn idol and a hewn altar.

כב וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ, עָלָיו

וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת -- steps, as opposed to ramps, are cut out. However, the pasuk itself gives a different reason, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ עָלָיו. This reason is difficult to understand given that the kohanim wear undergarments. (And indeed, this may well be the issue that is "bothering" Rashi, where he speaks about wide strides.) Shadal is consistent in saying that the real reason differs from the given reason: גם זה נ"ל כדי להרחיק שיעשו ציורים באבני המעלות, ולא רצה לגלות הטעם האמיתי היה ואמר בו טעם אחר, שלא תיגלה עליו הערוה ע"י הרחבת הפסיעות.

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