Friday, February 20, 2009

The Satan dancing between its horns in the month of Nisan

An anonymous commenter posed a bunch of interesting questions based on Rabbenu Bachya on Mishpatim. While I won't get to most of them, I covered the first one in a previous post. Another one:
2) Then in כא, כז by "סקל יסקל השור" he says I believe it’s a Chazal in Nissan the Satan dances on the bull's horns what does that mean?
Here is the relevant Rabbenu Bachya.

What is means is subject to dispute. Rabbenu Bachya is very much a kabbalist, and he would read all sorts of kabbalistic interpretations into that gemara in Pesachim 112b. Though some statements are decidedly mystical, I would say that this gemara is not one of them, but rather was metaphorical, describing a specific zoological phenomenon that exists, or which they believed existed. Namely, that the ox is more worked up, because of the heat, or because it is breeding season. Perhaps more on that later.

To consider the psukim, the pasuk says סקול יסקל השור. Is this punishment for the owner or for the cow? There are two ways of looking at it. One is what Rabbenu Bachya labels as peshat, as does Ramban, that it is a monetary penalty for the ox's owner. It makes sense when we consider it in context, but perhaps that later, if I get to it in my running commentary. On the other hand, we should not forget Bereshit 9, in parshat Noach:
ה וְאַךְ אֶת-דִּמְכֶם לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אֶדְרֹשׁ, מִיַּד כָּל-חַיָּה אֶדְרְשֶׁנּוּ; וּמִיַּד הָאָדָם, מִיַּד אִישׁ אָחִיו--אֶדְרֹשׁ, אֶת-נֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם. 5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man.
where there is an idea of penalty for the beasts for killing man. And so this could also be a peshat interpretation, even though Rabbenu Bachya does not mention it.

Rabbenu Bachya's other explanation is kabbalistically oriented, that somehow it is connected to the original serpent, etc., etc. I am out of my element, here. But he clearly is reading mystical significance into various gemaras. Thus, it is connected with pestilence based on how the brayta, within the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, links the establishing of pestilence with the establishing of a shor muad.

From a non-kabbalistic perspective, I would explain the linking of the two on the basis of the surface level of the two dinim. And by shor, it is because of a diyuk in the pasuk which states מִתְּמוֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם, where one is taken to mean yesterday, and the other to mean two days ago, such that it needs to be on separate days. And also something about the establishing of a chazaka, that a single intensive episode is not enough to make it a plague or a repetitively goring ox. There needs to be an aspect of consistency to the repetition. And this underlying principle influences both halachot, and so it makes sense to group them together.

What about the gemara about the Satan dancing between the horns. As far as I can understand, Rabbenu Bachya understands this literally. Note his comment at the very end about how the Satan was visible in the Talmudic times, such that they needed to request mercy that he be hidden from them. Putting that statement in that context strongly suggests to me that he understands that gemara literally, and thus that it reinforces his kabbalistic point that a shor specifically is connected to the original serpent, etc.

From a peshat perspective, I would most certainly take this gemara non-literally. And not because of any reluctance to understand things mystically, but because certain aspects of that gemara, in context, strongly suggest this to me.

In Pesachim 112b:
ואל תבריח עצמך מן המכס דילמא משכחו לך ושקלי מנך כל דאית לך
ואל תעמוד בפני השור בשעה שעולה מן האגם מפני שהשטן מרקד בין קרניו
אמר רבי שמואל בשור שחור וביומי ניסן
תני רב אושעיא מרחיקין משור תם חמשים אמה משור מועד כמלא עיניו

How do the classic commentators understand this? Rashi says on וביומי ניסן that it is שהצמחים עולין וגס לבו בהם ונגח. Rashbam on the daf says on שהשטן מרקד בין קרניו that this is lav davka, but rather that it is meshuga, as is later explained. And then on וביומי ניסן he explains the same thing Rashi explains.

Also, note the juxtaposition to Rabbi Oshaya about distancing oneself from various oxen, presumably because of fear of getting gored, as we see from the distinction made between tam and muad. And note the clarification of the statement that it is a specific type of ox (black) and at a specific time of year. I am sure kabbalists could find some mystical connection, perhaps with the zodiac (though Nisan is a kid), but on a peshat level it seems clear they are discussing a natural phenomenon, and the concern is of getting gored, not that the Satan will hurt you, or that the Satan will spark the shor to hurt you. {See the Arizal's explanation of it.}

I would add that Chazal elsewhere talk about dangers of specific types of animals -- e.g. a male horse into battle, or the bite of a white donkey, which IIRC one should not have in one's house. So if a black ox is meaner, Rabbi Shmuel's clarification would make sense. What about Nisan? Well, that is spring, which is mating season. See here:
Since pastures are usually at their peak of quality in spring and summer, a natural concentration of calving may occur in late winter and spring.
That is, the natural mating season is when the pastures are at their peak, including in spring. And if there are these tzemachim coming up, as is reality, and as Rashi and Rashbam write, then is is not just that גס לבו בהם, but perhaps one does not want to disturb an ox during mating season, because he may take a challenge the wrong way and charge.

The idea of the Satan dancing on its horns -- literally, that would have to be a mighty small Satan. Rather, as Rashbam says, it means that it is making him crazy, with perhaps dancing on his horns implying that he is itchy to gore someone with them. Such seems to me to be clearly peshat in these gemaras. But as for kabbalistic interpretations -- either they are supporting themselves with consistent misinterpretations and misreadings of gemaras, as Shadal says, or else they have some sort of deeper insight into the meaning just below the surface, and recognize hints and make connections others cannot because they are privy to the connecting information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jimminy Cricket other side?


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