Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why was Yaakov distressed? Why did he fear?

Summary: Yaakov fears and is distressed. Why the duplication? Rashi seems spot on, that the fear is of being killed and the distress is of killing others. But watch out for supercommentators who read their own ideas into him! Would Yaakov not be distressed at killing others, simply because it was halachically justified homicide?

Post: In the beginning of Vayishlach, when informed that Esav is coming with 400 men, Yaakov becomes greatly afraid and distressed. Bereshit 32:

ח  וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ; וַיַּחַץ אֶת-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-אִתּוֹ, וְאֶת-הַצֹּאן וְאֶת-הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים--לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת.
8 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed. And he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two camps.

These would be two different verbs describing two different emotional reactions. And one seems to be fear while the other conflicted emotions. And I think a great explanation can be formed from the ambiguity in his brother/Esav, in the ambiguity of what the messenger's report, and in the unresolved situation until the brothers finally meet. And midrashim play on that. And this is his distress -- he is conflicted, and is uncertain what the future will bring as well as what to do.

Before citing a midrashic explanation, Radak explains on the level of peshat that it is kefel inyan bemilim shonot, repetition for the sake of stressing how troubled / fearful he was here.

Rashi explains the "extra" verb as follows:

Jacob became…frightened, and…distressed: He was frightened lest he be killed (Gen. Rabbah 75:2, Tanchuma, Vayishlach 4), and he was distressed that he might kill others.

ויירא ויצר: ויירא שמא יהרג, ויצר לו אם יהרוג הוא את אחרים:

This makes sense. Fear is a better fit for being scared for one's life. And distress it a better fit for the general predicament one is put into. And given the context of his worry that Esav will smite him Em al banim, and that Esav is coming with a large force, this would be the obvious fear.

And going to war, where one is forced to kill others in order to survive and in order to protect one's family, is nothing trivial. It is horrific just the same, and not necessarily something that a shepherd and yoshev ohalim is emotionally prepared for. And given that the two verbs are placed one next to the other, it makes sense that they would be emotions about related issues.

This Rashi was based on Midrash Rabba:

דבר אחר: 

ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו 

אמר ר' יהודה בר' עילאי:
לא היא יראה לא היא צרה.
אלא ויירא, שלא יהרוג.
ויצר לו 
שלא יהרג.
אמר: אם הוא מתגבר עלי הורגני, ואם אני מתגבר עליו, אני הורגו.
הדא הוא: ויירא, שלא יהרוג.
ויצר לו, שלא יהרג. 

and in Midrash Tanchuma:
ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר. 
למה שני פעמים?

ויירא, שלא יהרוג
ויצר, שלא ייהרג. 

It seems somewhat noteworthy that Rashi (in all the apparent variants) flips the verbs and their implications. In the midrash, he is first worried about killing, and only then worried about being killed. In Rashi, he fears death and is distressed at killing others.

An interesting variant is brought by Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi:

That is, in this variant, he feared lest he kill Esav and his father curse him. And so too did he find in Tanchuma. We have neither, though the language in Bereishit Rabba does support that reading -- אמר: אם הוא מתגבר עלי הורגני, ואם אני מתגבר עליו, אני הורגו -- which can readily be understood to be a personal struggle with Esav.

That this must be so, because Yaakov would not fear about this otherwise, about other people coming to kill him, because it is halachically permissible -- that I don't see in the midrashim, and I do not see in Rashi. But we see Mizrachi grapple with it. And we see Gur Aryeh grapple with it:
וירא שמא יהרג ויצר לו
שמא יהרוג אחרים פי׳ דלמה למכתב תרתי
היינו יראה היינו צרה אלא שמא יהרוג הוא
את אחרים דהיינו שיהרוג עשו ואע״ג דעשו
היה בא להורגו ואמרו חכמים כל הבא להרוג
השכם להרגו היה מתייר׳ מן יצחק אביו שיקלל
אותו וכן איתא בתנחומא ולא ידעתי למה נקט
שמא יהרוג אחרים הוי ליה לומר שמא יהרוג
עשו ואין לומר שהיה מתיירא שמא יהרוג
את אחרים דהיינו אותן שהביא עשו עמו ואף
על גב דבאו להורגו ואמרינן הבא להורגך
השכם להורגו שאני הכא דאנוסי׳ היו דעשו
הכריח אותם לבא עמו זה לא יתכן דהא אמרי׳
בפרק כל שעה דבל עבירות שבתורה יעבור
ואל יהרג חוץ מע״ז וגילוי עריות ושפיכת
דמים דיהרג ואל יעבור שאם אומרים הרוג
את פלוגי או אהרוג אותך יהרג ואל יעבוד
ואמרינן טעמא דמילתא דמאי חזית דדמא
דידך סומק טפי דילמא דמא דהאי סומק טפי
ואם כן לא שייך לומר דעשו הכריח אותם בעל
כרחם דהוי להו ליהרג ואפשר לומר דשמא
לא באו להרוג את יעקב אף על דעשו
הביא אותם עמו משם הייראה באו אבל לא
באו להרוג ויעקב מפני שלא ידע אם באו
להרוג או לא היה מתיירא שמא יהרוג אותם
שלא כדין ומשום כך היה מציר שמא יהרוג
הוא את אחרים ואין להקשות דממה נפשך
אי דינא הוי בהאי מילתא אחר שהם באו
עם אותו שבא להרוג מסתמא דינם כמותו לא
הוי צרי׳ לדאוג כיון דהם באו עמו אנהו דאפסדי
אנפשיהו ואם יש לנו למתלי דבאו משום ירא׳
ובודאי לא יעשה מידי א״כ בודאי אסור לו
להרוג ולא שייך בזה ויצר כיון דאסור להרוג
דאע״ג דיש להרוג אותם כיון שבאו עם עשו
שבא להרוג מ״מ היה ירא מן העונש דהוי כמו
חטא בשגגה שיעקב היה סבור שבאו להרוג
והם לא באו להרוג וזה הוי חטא בשגגה •
That is, Gur Aryeh adopts the variant in the Tanchuma as what Rashi means, that Yaakov feared to kill Esav lest his father curse him. Although then why does Rashi say Acheirim rather than Esav? And then Gur Aryeh has a whole halachic back-and-forth about whether Yaakov should be concerned about the others who accompanied Esav. Yaakov shouldn't be concerned for them (or really Esav, for that matter), because halachically, one who comes to kill you is liable to death!

However, I strongly doubt this suggestion. In terms of the other being Esav, it is plausible, but Rashi had the option of stating it outrightly. And in terms of these convoluted calculations, of fearing that there were people being coerced into coming along but who weren't intending to kill him, whom he would kill in error, this is extremely farfetched and unlikely. Indeed, so farfetched and unlikely that were it the intent, it is surprising that neither the midrash nor Rashi mentioned this detail explicitly. And indeed, looking at the midrash, it seems clear that this killing would take place in the midst of grappling with his opponent: אם הוא מתגבר עלי הורגני, ואם אני מתגבר עליו, אני הורגו. How would Yaakov be mitgaber on someone who is just along for the ride, the same person who it seems would kill him if he prevailed?

Rather, the straightforward intent of the midrash is that people or a person would try to kill him, and either he would be killed, or he would kill them -- and he did not hope for either scenario. Now, that person he killed might be Esav himself; or perhaps one of the 400 who accompanied Esav. Regardless, why should Rashi add these words et acheirim? I don't think he is trying to rule out Esav. Rather, he is trying to make a grammatical point clearer -- that one is the normal active verb (Yaakov killing), and one is the passive verb (Yaakov being killed). The midrash lacks an object (et acheirim), and so distinguishes between them with a cholam vs. the doubled initial yud (although some lack that doubled yud). Rashi makes clear which is the active verb. And this is all the more important if Rashi is actually parting ways with the midrash in terms of which of the verbs (fear or distress) denotes kill and which denotes be killed.

In general, I get the impression that Gur Aryeh (Maharal), among other of Rashi's supercommentators, reads ideas into Rashi and midrashim which are not the original intent. And yet, they believed they were discovering the deep layers of original intent. This is important in terms of how we choose to learn Rashi, but also because Maharal champions the pnimiyus approach. But if this pnimiyus is an accidental invention, rather than a reflection of the true intent, then perhaps we should not adopt this approach; or at least, not insist that others may not adopt other approaches simply because the unconvincing pnimiyus approach exists. This is a lot to make of one analysis of Rashi. Perhaps I will show other examples in the future.

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