Thursday, September 17, 2009

According to the number of the sons of ...

ח בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם, {ס} בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם; {ר} יַצֵּב גְּבֻלֹת עַמִּים, {ס} לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ר}8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.

But why should the nations be distributed, and have borders, in accordance with the number of the children of Israel? And there are famously 70 nations. Where do we find 70 Israelites? Only when they went down to Egypt. Mah Inyan Shemitta Etzel Har Sinai?!

Ibn Ezra writes that it was 70, which divided in the generation of the Dor Hapalagah. And seventy would be sufficient, the same as the number of the children of Israel. Thus:

[לב, ח]
בהנחל עליון גוים -
אמרו המפרשים:
על דור הפלגה שנפצה כל הארץ כי אז גזר השם להיות ארץ שבעה גוים לישראל, והוא שתספיק למספרם על כן למספר בני ישראל

He continues, a bit later, saying that there is something very deep here:
וטעם למספר בני ישראל
כאשר אמרו חז"ל:
כי צורת יעקב אבינו חקוקה בכסא הכבוד.
והוא סוד גדול והעד כי חלק ה' עמו וזו היא המעלה הגדולה שלא עשה כן לכל גוי, על כן אמר: הלה' תגמלו זאת עם נבל ולא חכם שנפל ממעלתו באולתו, וזה טעם אביך קנך כי קנהו לכבודו וילמדהו, כאשר יפרש כמעשה האב עם הבן.

At the moment, I don't understand the deep idea Ibn Ezra is hinting at. Perhaps I will check supercommentaries later. But not just Ibn Ezra is cryptic. The Biblical text is strange as well -- why should they be divided lemispar benei yisrael?

Rashi also understands this as 70 being in accord with the number of the children of Israel, but that Hashem spared them in the Dor Haflaga because of the eventual few, the nation of Israel, which would come about. Thus:

When the Most High gave nations their lot: When the Holy One, Blessed is He, gave those who provoked Him to anger their portion, He flooded them and drowned them [i.e., that was their lot].
בהנחל עליון גוים: כשהנחיל הקדוש ברוך הוא למכעיסיו את חלק נחלתן הציפן ושטפם:
when He separated the sons of man: When [God] scattered the Generation of the Dispersion [which built the tower of Babel], He had the power to remove them from the world [altogether], but He did not do so. Rather, “He set up the boundaries of peoples,” [i.e.,] He let them remain in existence and did not destroy them.
בהפרידו בני אדם: כשהפיץ דור הפלגה היה בידו להעבירם מן העולם ולא עשה כן, אלא יצב גבולות עמים קיימם ולא אבדם:
according to the number of the children of Israel: [God let man remain in existence] for the sake of a [small] number of the children of Israel who were destined to descend from the children of Shem, and [the sake of] the number of the seventy souls of the children of Israel who went down to Egypt, He “set up the boundaries of peoples,” [i.e., He separated man into seventy nations with] seventy languages.
למספר בני ישראל: בשביל מספר בני ישראל שעתידים לצאת מבני שם, ולמספר שבעים נפש של בני ישראל שירדו למצרים, הציב גבולות עמים שבעים לשון:

It works out as peshat, yet the idea that it refers to a holding back of punishment within a specific otherwise unnamed incident does strike me as somewhat midrashic.

Shadal, as a pashtan, initially has difficulty accepting this, but eventually comes around to it. Thus:

ח ] יצב גבולות עמים למספר בני ישראל : ימים רבים היה רחוק בעיני לקבל פירוש רש"י ורז"ל ( עי ' ילקוט נח רמז ס " א ) שהציב שבעים אומות כמספר שבעים נפש שירדו למצרים , ועכשו רואה אנכי כי כל שאר הפירושים הם נגד מליצת הכתוב . והפשט אינו אלא כפירוש רש " י . והנה ידוע כי כיון המספרים בענינים רחוקים זה מזה היה דבר חשוב הרבה אצל כל הקדמונים , כגון רמ " ח מצות עשה כנגד רמ " ח איברים ( מכות כ " ג ע " ב ) וזולתם רבים , והנה קודם שיזכיר מה שעשה ה ' לטובת ישראל , ימצאוהו בארץ מדבר וכו ' וכו ', הקדים ואמר כי ה ' חלק האומות לשבעים דוקא כנגד שביעם בני יעקב , וזה סימן שישראל חשובים ככל העולם כולו , כי חלק ה ' עמו גו '

He manages to come to terms with the seeming randomness of it by pointing out that there are these special numbers, such as ramach eivarim. Thus, 70 just like the 70 who descended to Egypt.

There is a tantalizing possibility which presents itself in the Septuagint, as a textual variant. They translate the pasuk as follows:
8. ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Aδαμ ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ
Instead of "sons of Israel", they have "angels of God." What textual variant could spark this? The answer is benei Elohim instead of bnei yisroel. And then, it works perfectly with the idea of angels, sarim, being appointed for each people.

Compelling of course doesn't mean true, and indeed sometimes is a reason to suspect a variant as being contrived to solve a problem...

Update: As YAW reminds me in the comment section, not only does the LXX have this, indicating a variant, but in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can actually see this variant, with lemispar benei Elohim. As noted earlier, this works out with the idea of sarim, guardian angels in charge of different nations. Still, even without the Dead Sea Scrolls, we could guess from the LXX that such a variant exists. While a tantalizing possibility, I don't see it as absolute that the real answer is that the Masoretic text is incorrect and that we should read like the Dead Sea Squirrels and the LXX.

I also saw a creative idea in Chizkuni, that lemispar benei yisrael does not refer to the 70 descendants who went down to Egypt, but to the twelve sons of Yaakov who inherited the land eventually. Of course, there are more than 12 nations, but there are twelve sons of Canaan.

After all, we see in I Divrei Hayamim 1:13-16:

יג וּכְנַעַן, יָלַד אֶת-צִידוֹן בְּכֹרוֹ--וְאֶת-חֵת.13 And Canaan begot Zidon his first-born, and Heth;
יד וְאֶת-הַיְבוּסִי, וְאֶת-הָאֱמֹרִי, וְאֵת, הַגִּרְגָּשִׁי.14 and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgashite;
טו וְאֶת-הַחִוִּי וְאֶת-הַעַרְקִי, וְאֶת-הַסִּינִי.15 and the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite;
טז וְאֶת-הָאַרְוָדִי וְאֶת-הַצְּמָרִי, וְאֶת-הַחֲמָתִי. {ס}16 and the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. {S}

These are eleven. And then from one family, the Perizi, who are not mentioned here, split off. If so, despite the twelve shevatim not being present then, the Canaanites were. And the sons of Canaan were servants to the sons of Shem, and so the Canaanites could not complain, because mah shekana eved kana rabbo. All in all, a cute and neat explanation of how "in accordance to the number of the Bnei Yisrael" works out.

Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz, in Tiferes Yehonasan, has a fun and (I think) creative explanation somewhat related to l'mispar b'nei yisrael. I don't think it is correct, but it is still interesting. Some of the text is hard to read, so what follows is my rough summary and reconstruction.

He explains that it is known to astronomers {/astrologers?} that in each Mazal {zodiac sign?} has six big stars. Since there are twelve Mazalot, 12 X 6 = 72. Except, at the time of the Mabul {and this is a famous Midrash}, Hashem took two stars from the Kima constellation and thus, 72 - 2 = 70. And so too, the Israelites went down with 70 souls to Egypt, for Hashem said to Avraham, "so {many as the stars} shall be your descendants." Later, that promise encompassed the greater number of all stars, while initially it was only parallel to those 70 big stars.

And thus, when the pasuk says בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם, {ס} בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם, this is the generation of the Flood, as it says in the Targum. For this comes from the Mabul, in which 2 stars were taken from Kima. But in truth, there needs to be 72, corresponding to 72 names. And how so? The 70 nations, plus also Israel is split into two nations. Yisrael, which is the portion of Hashem, and Yaakov who follow after Yisrael, tied to them like with a rope {chevel}. And this is what is meant by the next pasuk,

ט כִּי חֵלֶק ה, עַמּוֹ: {ס} יַעֲקֹב, חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ. {ר} 9 For the portion of the LORD is His people, Jacob the lot of His inheritance.

Where כִּי חֵלֶק ה עַמּוֹ refers to Yisrael, and יַעֲקֹב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ is Yaakov.


YAW said...

How did you research and write this lange post without a) mentioning the DSS and b) offering the real answer??

joshwaxman said...


simple. how long do you think it took to "research" and write this whole post? it was shorter than you think.

i remembered from grad school, or perhaps even earlier, the bnei elohim. i forgot that the Dead Sea Scrolls have it explicitly and in Hebrew, and only focused on that the LXX presumably had that in translation (though they say angels).

I was going to end there, at the LXX, as the "correct" answer, but then saw the cute things in the Chizkuni and Tiferes Yehonasan.

That the Dead Sea Scrolls have it explicitly (something I forgot, much to my chagrin) certainly makes the LXX a bit more compelling, but not by much. *Many* times in LXX we have translations which clearly resulted from variants, so the fact that we actually have an extant sefer does not add much. After all, presumably the LXX had a sefer they were basing themselves on in all those other cases.

and i already wrote by the LXX why is is "tantalizing", and that it accords with the idea of angels who are sarim over their nations.

i am not sure what you would consider the 'real answer'. while i can see an argument that lemispar bnei elohim being "corrected" because of theological ramifications, but at the end of the day, all we have is a textual variant for which we have two attestations. Is that what you would consider the 'real answer'?

kol tuv,

YAW said...

"That the Dead Sea Scrolls have it explicitly (something I forgot, much to my chagrin) certainly makes the LXX a bit more compelling, but not by much"

Only if you ignore everything we know about ANE religion (e.g. Elyon and the council of gods, the "number" of nations, etc.), and all the other texts (Biblical and extra-Biblical) that shed light on the pesukim in question. The DSS is jut a cherry on top: the oldest textual witness containing the version of the text that makes perfect sense (while also making perfect sense of the change too).

It's not just compelling, it's overwhelming: the original version of these pesukim were polytheistic, understanding YHWH as one of the gods, our god, our allotment in the council of gods, with the High God doing the apportionment. To propose anything else can only be self-deception.

You Are Weird said...

BTW, IIRC the DSS have "bnei el," not "bnei elohim"

joshwaxman said...

"It's not just compelling, it's overwhelming"
"To propose anything else can only be self-deception."
not so. rather, this is your own subjective assessment, and since you are excited by this assessment and think it makes sense, you consider it overwhelming and other positions to be self-deception.

if you look at other parshablog posts, you will see that i discuss and endorse textual variants in other situations. but i've dealt with a lot of them, and they don't excite me and fill me with the sensation that they *must* be the correct answer, whenever i see one. sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

LXX was also pretty early, earlier than DSS possibly, and while we don't have an extant manuscripts from back then, who cares?! it is clear that they based themselves on one. or at the least, i am willing to accept that they based themselves on one. the ability to put one physically in my own hands just adds to the excitement, but does not, to my mind, make it more compelling.

there is a brayta in the gemara which is based on our Masoretic text:
תניא ר' יוסי אומר אוי להם לבריות שרואות ואינן יודעות מה רואות עומדות ואין יודעות על מה הן עומדות הארץ על מה עומדת על העמודים שנאמר (איוב ט) המרגיז ארץ ממקומה ועמודיה יתפלצון עמודים על המים שנאמר (תהילים קלו) לרוקע הארץ על המים מים על ההרים שנאמר (תהילים קד) על הרים יעמדו מים הרים ברוח שנאמר (עמוס ד) כי הנה יוצר הרים ובורא רוח רוח בסערה שנאמר (תהילים קמח) רוח סערה עושה דברו סערה תלויה בזרועו של הקב"ה שנאמר (דברים לג) ומתחת זרועות עולם וחכ"א על י"ב עמודים עומדת שנאמר (דברים לב) יצב גבולות עמים למספר בני ישראל

admittedly, this is a bit later, but it still is pretty darn early. and in other instances, we have conflicts with other variants, also quite early, some of which we would clearly rule in favor of the MSS on plausibility grounds.

the idea of apportioning to different gods, or perhaps angels, certainly works out. and what i also neglected to mention in my short discussion, what makes it even more compelling is the continuation in the next pasuk, that כִּי חֵלֶק ה, עַמּוֹ: {ס} יַעֲקֹב, חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ. while other nations are given over to their guardian angels, not so Israel who has only God. and also pasuk 12, ה, בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ; {ס} וְאֵין עִמּוֹ, אֵל נֵכָר.

the transition of כי still bugs me a bit.

lectio difficilior can be applied here, since people would not necessarily recognize the meaning of one, and they would switch it for the more common bnei yisrael.

so i certainly can argue that it is quite compelling, and i think i said as much in the post.

but on the other hand, i am not 100% convinced. biblical poetry can be arcane and hard to process. and if bnei elim, where else do we see this phrase? and perhaps it solves too many problems. call this "self-deception" from your perspective if you want, but i (in deceiving myself) don't consider it as such, so much as conservatism.

kol tuv,

YAW said...

Oh please. You're still ignoring all the other extremely relevant evidence (e.g. Ugaritic texts, certain Psalms). Deceive yourself if you will; there's nothing I can do to stop you. But the fact is that the correct text and meaning here is much more certain than you are willing to allow.

joshwaxman said...

in terms of bnei el, you are right. but it is fragmentary, so it might be the beginning of bnei elim, bnei El, or bnei elohim.

see also the discussion at Torat Emet, which I also don't find entirely compelling.

also, *this* is an interesting idea, and well spoken -- an argument that bnei elim == bnei leumim. the author has parallels between Tehillim and Divrei HaYamim, and between the MT and LXX, in other places, showing that this is the meaning of the text.


joshwaxman said...

ah, now that you are taking a denigrating tone, i am entirely convinced!

i am sure a "frummy" can speak down to you and cast aspersions on your motivations as well, and you would find it similarly convincing.

I said that it was compelling, just not that it was 100%. yes, i said it works out. alas, different people weight evidence in different ways.

all the best,

YAW said...

Way to address my points.

joshwaxman said...

"Way to address my points."

firstly, i don't owe you, or for that matter any commenter, anything. but coming here and writing in a jerky fashion is not a way to convince me to respond to you. from your very first comment, you assumed an antagonistic tone, and that does not put me in a mood to respond.

now, i don't know what compels you to take this particular tone. i can imagine that in some people who have gone "off the derech", they feel anger at rabbis or those they perceive as closed-minded frummies. regardless, it does not advance your cause. and i really should just delete all your comments. and i really should have never responded in the first place.

i tell this to many rude commenters, some who consider me too heretical, and some who consider me too pious. although usually it comes from the latter.

secondly -- though i should not reward you by responding -- i felt that i did acknowledge your points, though you did not flesh them out in full. yes, that adds to plausibility. and in a comment that you said did not "address your points," I wrote that it "certainly works out." i agree, it works out, and quite well. and i even gave further reasons why i think it is quite plausible. what do expect me to do, refute them? why should i do that if i agree with them, and that it adds to the plausibility?

i also pointed you to two other discussions of the matter, neither of which i entirely agree with, but which raise interesting points.

why do you seem so angry at me?

all the best,

YANW said...

Ok, you're right. My apologies.

Shana tova.

joshwaxman said...

shana tova.

pc said...


כי צורת יעקב אבינו חקוקה בכסא הכבוד

Tov yotzar kovod lishmo - Hashem created the whole world for his kovod.

The face of Yaakov Avinu is engraved on the kisei hakovod.

That means that the way to achieving kovod of Hashem in olom hazeh is through the shevil of Yaakov Avinu.

Therefore ki chelek Hashem amo - we who are the continuation of Yaakov Avinu are the chelek of Hashem becuase we are the means to achieve kovod Hashem in olom hazeh.

The purpose of entire world, shivim umos and the benei yisroel is to be machabed Hashem.

As the way to this kovod is defined by Yaakov Avinu and subsequently the benei yisroel, the number and gevulos of the shivim umos are defined according to the kernel benei yisroel as a connection to and pathway to them becomign part of that which Yaakov began.

pc :-)


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