Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Poisonous Sota Water?!

Last year I posted about Ibn Ezra's purported theory that the kohen put poison into the mei sotah, either (Shadal) only when the kohen thought the woman was guilty or (Josh) always, but with Hashem saving the innocent miraculously. This year, DovBear picked it up and asked what in Ibn Ezra's words conveys that to Shadal and to me? I eventually responded in the comment section there, explaining this Ibn Ezra and other controversial ones as well. And I gave a running translation and commentary on Ibn Ezra and Avi Ezer there. A nice comment thread. At any rate, there are slight things I should fix with it, in terms of the dikduk, plus I have more to add to it -- the perush of Mechokekei Yehuda, and so I will make this all into a post.

Ibn Ezra:
מי המרים. לפי דעתי שמלת מי סמוך ומלת המרים תאר השם אם כן סודו ידוע גם יתכן שנקראו על שם סופם כמו ובגדי ערומים תפשיט והעד ובאו בה המים המאררים למרים להורות כי האלות הנקראות המאררים ישימו המים מרים אחר היותם מתוקים

"the waters of the bitter [substances]: {J: rather than the bitter waters, mayim hamarim, with mayim in absolute form.} In my opinion, the word mei is a construct {J: compare peh meaning mouth vs. pi meaning mouth of} and the word hamarim is an adjective {lit. modifier of the noun; thus, the waters of the bitter [substances]}. If so, its secret is {now} known. {J: That there was bitterness as a separate entity placed in it.}

It is also possible that it is called this {waters of the bitterness not because it is presently bitter but} because of its end, as in Iyov 22:6, ובגדי ערומים תפשיט, "and stripped the naked of their clothing." {J: for if they were naked, how could they be stripped of clothing; so too here, since they will be bitter for her, they are now considered (figuratively) bitter.} And the prooftext {of this latter interpretation} is ובאו בה המים המאררים למרים, "and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her and become bitter." {J: Thus, in the former interpretation, it is bitter presently, while in the latter interpretation, it eventually becomes bitter. And behold the pasuk says it *becomes* bitter.} To teach that the curses which are called hamearerim will make the water bitter *after* they were initially sweet."
End translation. Thus, he is addressing the question of whether the waters were intially sweet or bitter, just like the father of Shmuel.

Avi Ezer:
"the waters of bitterness... {skipping a bunch of Ibn Ezra for the quote}: if so, its secret is known." See parashat Korach, where the Rav {=Ibn Ezra} writes upon {Bemidbar 17:11, וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, קַח אֶת-הַמַּחְתָּה וְתֶן-עָלֶיהָ אֵשׁ מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְשִׂים קְטֹרֶת, וְהוֹלֵךְ מְהֵרָה אֶל-הָעֵדָה, וְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם: כִּי-יָצָא הַקֶּצֶף מִלִּפְנֵי ה, הֵחֵל הַנָּגֶף.} the words וְשִׂים קְטֹרֶת that "it states ketoret and not *the* ketoret, and the discerning person will understand." End quote.

And its explanation {J: there in parshat Korach, and the distinction in these two phrases Ibn Ezra used here and in Korach} according to its simple meaning is that since it did not state it with the heh of the definite article, it is apparent that its secret is only known to the discerning people who are arrayed {?} with the holy names and different intents {?}. But here {in Naso} it is stated "the bitterness" {J: with the definite article}, and that is that the kohanim and the nation know that water, and there is nothing in there which causes death. Rather, it is by way of wonder. And see the Rashbam on parashat Devarim on the verse "and that which we have traveled," on the grammar of "man of the war."
This ends Avi Ezer. My note: His solution is to make a clever diyuk in the circuitous language used by Ibn Ezra to cover his tracks, and relate it to a grammatical feature Ibn Ezra does not even mention locally, the definite article, though he does mention it in Korach (though see my interpretation of that above, and who says the two were even intended to be related?). Ibn Ezra discusses the construct against the adjective, not the definite article. It is also fairly apparent that Avi Ezer sees the same reading Shadal does, as it clear by his denial when closing with "and there is nothing in there which causes death. Rather, it is by way of wonder."

You can check out Shadal's hostile response to this Ibn Ezra in the previous post on this subject. I would now like to turn to the commentary of Mechokekei Yehuda, and provide a translation. It is available here, on page 12 of the PDF.
Yahel Or: (49) The word המרים is not a noun {?}, "the bitter things," but rather is an adjective upon the noun, as if it said "the water of the bitter things." (50) That the kohen put within it something bitter, and the pure woman was saved while the impure was not saved.

Karnei Or: [9] ... and see Yahel Or, that which I explained, that the Kohen would put into it something bitter. And so it is in the words of Razal (Sifrei, Sotah 20, 1, Bamidbar Rabba 89:20), and so does the Rambam write (third perek of Sotah, halacha 10), "and he puts into it something bitter, such as laana {Josh: which is bitter, and I would add perhaps poisonous, though this is not what Rambam meant} or the like, for it is stated mei hamarim {=waters of the bitter [substances]}.

And the scholar, za"l {=Ibn Ezra} who agrees to their position found himself people attacking him for a sin which he did not commit, and attributed to his position something which the mind is not able to bear, which is that the kohen put in the water poisonous herbs if it was apparent to him that the woman had sinned. See (commentary of Shadal). "Be appalled, O Heavens" {Yirmeyahu 2:12} as this mindset, to think that the scholar {Ibn Ezra} za"l that this was his position, while rational thought and intellect disprove it on its face! The gaon, Shi"r {=R' Shlomo Yehuda Loeb Rappaport, in a letter to Shadal} (Igrot Shi"r michtav 1), and this is his language:
And in the matter of the mei hamarim, that you said that he thought that the kohen placed poisonous herbs in them, I am greatly astounded at you that you place such an evil position upon him! For one who maintains this position {attributed to Ibn Ezra} is not just an evildoer but also a lunatic, and considered deficient of intellect to me. For is it possible for any encoder {of law}, even of the most wild savages of the desert, to command will full mouth to kill with strategems every woman suspected of adultery, and to mislead with falsehood her soul and the souls of all who hear, to say "if a man did not sleep with you, you will be safe from these mei hamarim"?! There is no doubt, if so, that his intent is that he places some bitter substance in the water whose effect is equal to pain the sense of taste and the innards of the one who drinks it. And with the strength of her imagination at the time that she knows her sin and the curse of the kohen and his strong malediction, it is also able to bring upon a malady of death. And if she is innocent of all sin, then the purity of her heart and her hearing of the blessing of the kohen will give her strength such that no harm will come to her. This is his {=Ibn Ezra's} position, certainly.
End quote.

And the even stronger proof to my, in my opinion, is the Ramban za"l. The Ramban za"l greatly reviewed {/criticised?} the commentary of the scholar {=Ibn Ezra}, za"l, and did not show him any favoritism. And here, where he brings the commentary of the scholar, za"l, he merely remarks upon this and writes "and it is not correct to me, since it states "and the accursed water shall come into her to {become} bitterness" {thus implying, as per Ibn Ezra's second explanation, that it was not intially bitter}, and it should have said {if Ibn Ezra's first comment is correct} "and the mayim hamarim should come into her for cursedness." And so too does he remark upon the position of Chazal, that they said that the kohen puts into it something bitter. And he does not consider the "sin" of the scholar {=Ibn Ezra} za"l in this. And see in He'emek Davar of the Netziv, that he also brings the position of Chazal in this that the kohen puts something bitter in the water, and he concludes "and for nothing{?} is it difficult to the Ramban za"l." And so to is the position of the Ralbag who wrote
"and since it is called mei hamarim before the curses are dissolved in it, it appears that he placed something bitter and because of this it is called marim. And all this is in order to add strangeness and difficulty to the procedure, so that the women will turn aside from doing this."

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