Friday, January 08, 2010

The repercussions of Moshe's oath

Summary: Regarding a midrash that Moshe promised his first son would be dedicated to idolatry, and a midrash that the Levite priest by pesel Micha was Moshe's descendant. The Baal HaTurim seems to be dan a gezeira shava le'atzmo, something quite likely permitted for aggadah, though not for halacha. I investigate the background to this derasha. Also, what merited censorship in all this? Finally, considering and challenging Rav Chaim Kanievsky's take on this.

Post: Moshe decides to stay with Yisro for a time. The pasuk, with Rashi's commentary:

21. Moses consented to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses.

כא. וַיּוֹאֶל מֹשֶׁה לָשֶׁבֶת אֶת הָאִישׁ וַיִּתֵּן אֶת צִפֹּרָה בִתּוֹ לְמֹשֶׁה:
consented: Heb. וַיּוֹאֶל, as the Targum [Onkelos] renders: (וּצְבִי), and similar to this: Accept (הוֹאֶל) now and lodge (Jud. 19:6); Would that we had been content (הוֹאַלְנוּ) (Josh. 7:7); Behold now I have desired (הוֹאַלְךְתִּי) (Gen. 18:31). Its midrashic interpretation is: וַיּוֹאֶל is] an expression of an oath (אלה), he [Moses] swore to him that he would not move from Midian except with his consent. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:33, Tanchuma, Shemoth 12]

ויואל: כתרגומו. ודומה לו (שופטים יט ו) הואל נא ולין, ולו הואלנו (יהושע ז ז), הואלתי לדבר (בראשית יח כז), ומדרשו לשון אלה, נשבע לו שלא יזוז ממדין כי אם ברשותו:

Shemot Rabba, about contemporary to Rashi, indeed has this:

ויואל משה
רבי יהודה אומר: 
שנשבע לו, ואין ויואל אלא לשון שבועה, שנאמר: (ש"א יד, כד) ויואל שאול את העם.
ולמה השביעו?
אמר לו: יודע אני שיעקב אביכם, כשנתן לו לבן בנותיו, נטלן והלך לו חוץ מדעתו, שמא אם אתן לך את בתי, אתה עושה לי כך?
מיד נשבע לו ונתן לו את צפורה.

ורבי נחמיה אמר: קבל עליו ללון עמו, ואין ויואל, אלא לשון לינה, שנאמר: (שופטים יט, ו) הואיל נא ולין. 

ורבותינו זכרונם לברכה אמרו: קבל עליו לרעות את צאנו, ואין ויואל אלא לשון התחלה, כיון שנשא בתו, התחיל וקיבל עליו לרעות את צאנו. 

The fear was that Moshe would move away, just as Yaakov did from Lavan, and so Yisro extracted this oath.

And Midrash Tanchuma, which is earlier, has the same:
ויואל משה לשבת
ואין ויואל אלא שבועה.
וכן: ויואל שאול את העם (שמואל א יד).

ולמה נשבע?
שלא יעשה לו כמו שאמר לבן, אם תענה את בנותי.
אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: משה הצדיק נתן נפשו על בני, וברח למדין ויעשה גואלם, לפיכך כתיב: ומשה היה רועה. 

This works well with Moshe later taking formal leave of Yisro, in a way that almost seems like asking permission. And this does not sound particularly negative.

However, in Mechilta, and echoed by Yalkut Shimoni, the promise is much more negative. From Mechilta on parashat Yitro:

Perhaps besides connecting to the consequence of the angel's attack on the return to Egypt, a large part of this is interpretation of the juxtaposition of the oath to the marriage as well as to Gershom's birth -- וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ גֵּרְשֹׁם:  כִּי אָמַר--גֵּר הָיִיתִי, בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה -- and the wording of nachria, perhaps connected to elohei neichar.

And in Yalkut Shimoni:

ויואל משה לשבת את האיש בשעה שאמר משה ליתרו תנה לי את צפורה בתך לאשה אמר לו קבל עליך דבר אחד שאני אומר לך ואני נותנה לך לאשה. אמר לו משה מה הוא. אמר לו הבן שיהיה לך תחלה יהיה לעבודה זרה מכאן ואילך לשם שמים וקבל עליו. אמר לו השבע לי וישבע לו שנאמר ויואל משה לשבת אין אלה אלא לשון שבועה שנאמר ויואל שאול את העם (וכן הוא אומר הואל קח ככרים ). לפיכך הקדים המלאך להרוג את משה מיד ותקח צפורה צר. וירף ממנו 

Thus, there is this negative repercussion. Aside from all this, there is the famous story of pesel Micha, and the midrash that he was from Moshe Rabbenu. Thus, in Bava Batra 109b:
Raba, son of R. Hanan, replied: No;22  [he may have been] a man whose name was Levi.23  If so, [is] this [the reason] why Micah said, 'Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite as my priest'?24  — Yes; [he was glad] that he happened to obtain a man whose name was Levi. But was Levi his name? Surely his name was Jonathan, for it is said, And Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites?25  — He said unto him: But [even] according to your argument, [it may be objected], 'Was he the son of Manasseh? Surely he was the son of Moses, for it is written, the son of Moses: Gershom, and Eliezer';26  but [you must say that] because he acted [wickedly] as Manasseh,27  the Scriptural text ascribed his28  descent to Manasseh, [so] also here29  [it may be said that], because he acted [wickedly] as Manasseh who descended from Judah, the Scriptural text ascribed his28  descent to Judah.
and Bava Batra 110a, we see why he turned toward idolatry:
And they turned aside thither, and said unto him: 'Who brought thee hither?7  and what doest thou in this [place]?8  and what hast thou here?9  They10  said unto him:11  'Are you not a descendant of Moses of whom it is written, Draw not nigh hither?12  Are you not a descendant of Moses of whom it is written, What is this13  in thy hand?14  Are you not a descendant of Moses of whom it is written, But as for thee, stand thou here15  by me?16  Would you be made a priest for idol-worship?' — He said unto them: I have the following tradition from my grandfather's family: At all times shall one [rather] hire himself out to idol-worship than be in need [of the help] of [his fellow] creatures. He thought that 'Abodah Zarah17  [meant] actual [idol worship], but it is not so, [the meaning being,] 'work which is strange to him';18  as Rab said19  to R. Kahana: Flay20  a carcass in the street and earn21  a wage, and say not, 'I am a great man and the work is degrading to me'. When David saw that he had an exceptional liking for money, he put him in charge over the treasuries, for it is said, Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh22  was ruler over the treasuries.23  But was his name Shebuel? Surely his name was Jonathan! — R. Johanan said: [He was called Shebuel]24  because he returned to God24  with all his heart.
From this gemara, it seems that what motivated this descendant was a combination of misunderstanding Moshe Rabbenu and a love of money. But the gemara makes no link between Moshe Rabbenu's deal with Yisro, dedicating the first son Gershom as an idolator, or priest towards idolatry, and  the descendant of Gershom who actually was a priest for idolatry.

The Baal HaTurim makes this connection explicit, by darshening something which is almost a gezeira shava . He notes that the specific construction in Shemot 2:16, וּלְכֹהֵן, only appears once else in Tanach, namely by the story of pesel Michah. And so despite it being for good intent -- that he wanted to get his father-in-law to repent, so he made a promise that he figured he would never keep, he was punished by having this grandson. Thus, he connects the two Midrashei Chazal.

Even though ain adam dan gezeira shava le'atzmo, Maharzu claims that this is in halacha; in aggadah it is entirely permissible. And this appears to be just what Baal HaTurim is doing.

As an interesting side-point, the image above has been censored. What was kumar le'avodah zarah, ayin zayin, was corrected to kumar le'avodat kochavim, ayin kaf. You can see the uncensored version here. I would guess that not offending Christian sensibilities comes into play here. Because one can claim that of course dedicating a son to be a Christian priest was not intended. Only those who worship the stars, heathens, but not non-Jewish people of faith in general.

This interpretation, of a link between Moshe's actions and his descendant actually becoming a priest, would be a decided shift. After all, the gemara gives its own reasons for that idolatrous Levite priest's actions. And while there is a connection to Moshe, even through Gershom, there is no connection in particular to his promise to Yitro. And indeed, there are variants of what ויואל means, and even if it means promise, there is a dispute as to just what the promise was. It could have been a mere promise to stay, from the perspective of the midrash regarding pesel Michah. And from the other direction, regarding Moshe's oath to give his first son (perhaps as a priest) to avodah zarah, that same midrash spells out the punishment, which was about the angel which met them on the way to Egypt, necessitating Tzipporah's actions. No hint is made of the connection to that other midrash. And so it might be true, and/or it might be the intent of either midrash's author -- there is a nice parity in play -- but it seems that Baal HaTurim is innovating it here, on the basis of an additional derasha.

Furthermore, Baal Haturim contends that Moshe knew that Yisro would do teshuva, such that he would not have to follow through. I am not convinced that that is part of the authorial intent of the author of the midrash. Read it inside, particularly the beginning.

Note: As an aside, looking at, I see that Rav Chaim Kanievsky connects these two, Gershom being promised and pesel Micha, with one having an effect on the other. This would seem not to be his own chiddush, but rather an echo of Baal HaTurim. I'd like to analyze the devar Torah in full, so here is the entirety of it:
Moshe was almost swallowed by a snake on the way back to Mitzrayim until Tziporah realized what was happening and gave Bris Mila to their son Gershom.  The Michilta says that the reason why Moshe Rabbeinu did perform a Bris Mila on his son was because he agreed to a deal with Yisro that his first son will be for Avodah Zara.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that we cannot take this Mechilta at face value since Yisro already gave up Avodah Zara and was even excommunicated because of it.  Certainly we cannot fathom that Moshe Rabbeinu would agree to such a deal.

Rav Chaim explains that the deal was that first child would not be taught any religion and when he grew up he would choose on his own.  Yisro came to the truth on his own and wanted his grandchildren to have the same freedom of choice.  He wanted him to find Hashem through an honest search for the truth so as to leave no doubt his mind.  To this end there would be no chinuch, and Moshe would not give him a Bris Mila. Moshe was confident that a child that grew up in his house would undoubtedly choose the right path and agreed.

Sounds nice in theory but real life doesn't always work out the way lab tests do.  Unfortunately there can be collateral damage from even nice ideas.  While Gershom became a great tzaddik, another generation later one of Moshe's descendants became a Komer for Avodah Zara for Pesel Micha. 

This clearly has homiletic intent. But he gets there by posing what seem to be some real questions. Namely,
Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that we cannot take this Mechilta at face value since Yisro already gave up Avodah Zara and was even excommunicated because of it.  Certainly we cannot fathom that Moshe Rabbeinu would agree to such a deal.
There are two points. The second one is our own discomfort with the idea that Moshe would agree to it. But the language and tone of the midrash indicate that Moshe really had no other choice in the matter. (And we could always go with Baal HaTurim's idea that he intended it for good, perhaps even knowing he would not have to follow through.) And regardless, we must really take care, because we are often "frummer" than the Tannaim, Amoraim, and Rishonim. (Consider e.g. the modern day frum assumption that Chazal could not be wrong in science.) And our "frumkeit" might lead us in the wrong direction, to reinterpret Chazal against their true intent, and to recast Chazal in our own image, rather than learning from them.

The first one is a good point, as well. There seems to be a contradiction in the midrash. Because the Mechilta, and Yalkut Shimoni, both indicate that Yitro was an idolatrous priest at that point. But Rashi brings a midrash that Yitro had been  an idolatrous priest, but had repented by then, such that the Midianites cast him off and would not shepherd his sheep. The pasuk and Rashi:

16. Now the chief of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew [water], and they filled the troughs to water their father's flocks.

טז. וּלְכֹהֵן מִדְיָן שֶׁבַע בָּנוֹת וַתָּבֹאנָה וַתִּדְלֶנָה וַתְּמַלֶּאנָה אֶת הָרְהָטִים לְהַשְׁקוֹת צֹאן אֲבִיהֶן:
Now the chief of Midian had: Heb. וּלְכֹהֵן מִדְיָן, i.e., the most prominent among them. He had abandoned idolatry, so they banned him from [living with] them. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:32, Tanchuma, Shemoth 11]

ולכהן מדין: רב שבהן ופירש לו מעבודה זרה ונידוהו מאצלם:
the troughs: Pools of running water, made in the ground.

את הרהטים: את בריכות מרוצת המים העשויות בארץ:
17. But the shepherds came and drove them away; so Moses arose and rescued them and watered their flocks.

יז. וַיָּבֹאוּ הָרֹעִים וַיְגָרְשׁוּם וַיָּקָם מֹשֶׁה וַיּוֹשִׁעָן וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת צֹאנָם:
and drove them away: because of the ban. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:32, Tanchuma, Shemoth 11]

ויגרשום: מפני הנידוי:

The source for this is Shemot Rabba, which is approximately Rashi's contemporary:
ולכהן מדין שבע בנות
והלוא הקדוש ברוך הוא שונא עבודת כוכבים, ונתן מנוס למשה אצל עובד עבודת כוכבים?! אלא אמרו רבותינו: יתרו כומר לעבודת כוכבים היה, וראה שאין בה ממש, ובסר עליה, והרהר לעשות תשובה, עד שלא בא משה, וקרא לבני עירו ואמר להם:
עד עכשיו הייתי משמש אתכם, מעתה זקן אני, בחרו לכם כומר אחר, עמד והוציא כלי תשמישי עבודת כוכבים, ונתן להם הכל ונדוהו, שלא יזדקק לו אדם, ולא יעשו לו מלאכה, ולא ירעו את צאנו, וביקש מן הרועים לרעות לו את צאנו ולא קבלו, לפיכך הוציא בנותיו.

ותבאנה ותדלינה, מלמד שהיו מקדימות לבוא מפני פחד הרועים.
ויבאו הרועים ויגרשום, אפשר הוא כהן מדין, והרועים מגרשים בנותיו?!
אלא ללמדך, שנדוהו וגרשו בנותיו, כאשה גרושה, כמה דאת אמר: (שם ג, כד) ויגרש את האדם. 

But this states אלא אמרו רבותינו. Shemot Rabba gets it in turn from Midrash Tanchuma.

ולכהן מדין וגו'
כל שבחו של אותו צדיק להיות הולך לו אצל עובדי ע"ג, הקב"ה מקנא לעובדי ע"ג, והאיך הוליך למשה למקום עובדי ע"ג?!
אלא שיתרו כומר היה לע"ז, ולעולם ע"ג בסורה בפני עובדיה.
ויתרו רואה חרטומין שלה ובוסר עליהן, והרהר לעשות תשובה, עד שלא יבוא משה וקרא לכל בני עירו, ואמר להן: עד עכשיו הייתי משמש אתכם, עכשיו אני זקן בחרו לכם כומר אחר.
עמד והוציא כלי תשמישי ע"ז ונתן להם, ועמדו הם ונדוהו, שלא יזדקק לו אדם, ולא יעשו לו מלאכה, שלא ירעו את צאנו, ובקש מן הרועים לרעות לו את צאנו ולא קבלו, ולפיכך היו יוצאות בנותיו לרעות, שנאמר: ולכהן מדין וגו'.

ויבואו הרועים ויגרשום
והוא היה כוהן מדין רב וגדול שבמדין היאך ויגרשום?!
אלא ללמדך, שנידהו וגרשו את בנותיו, כאשה גרושה מאישה, כמה דאת אמר: ויגרש את האדם (בראשית ג). 

Thus, according to Shemot Rabba and Midrash Tanchuma, Yisro had indeed renounced his idolatry by this point, and thus was banned by the people of Midian.

But does this contradiction Rav Kanievsky highlights indeed force us to say that the midrash cannot be taken at face value? That is, as was reported in R' Kanievsky's name:
Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that we cannot take this Mechilta at face value since Yisro already gave up Avodah Zara and was even excommunicated because of it.  
But we already know of a three-way machlokes about whether there was an oath, and what the oath was! And in the Mechilta, there was a two-way machlokes about whether nachriya was intended kemashmao (Rabbi Yehoshua) or that he made this oath to give his son to idolatry (Rabbi Eleazar HaModa'i)!

From the perspective of the Mechilta:
There was no promise to idolatry. (Rabbi Yehoshua)
There was a promise to idolatry. (Rabbi Eleazar HaModa'i)
There is no mention of Yisro renouncing idolatry and being excommunicated for it.

From the perspective of Shemos Rabba and Midrash Tanchuma:
There was no promise at all, but he accepted to dwell/stay over there. (Rabbi Nechemia).
There was no promise at all, but vayoel means to begin. (Rabboseinu)
There was a promise, but it was to not leave as his forefather Yaakov did. (Rabbi Yehuda).
Regardless, no one in this midrash claims that there was a promise, and it was to dedicate his son to idolatry.
This makes sense, because this is the midrash which makes mention of Yisro renouncing idolatry and being excommunicated for it.

Thus, within each midrashic work, it is entirely consistent. Even though of course there is dispute as to the meaning of vayoel or nechria in each, there is no contradiction in each work. As such, the resolution to Rav Kanievsky's difficulty should be that these are midrashim chalukim, contradictory midrashim. (Though realization of this requires the sort of analysis I often provide and others do not.) Yes, I know that it is often an answer of last resort nowadays, to say that midrashim are indeed contradictory. Even so. There is plenty to indicate that this is a matter of dispute among Chazal, and the contradiction only arises when we conflate midrashic sources. It is much worse, in my humble opinion, to note the contradiction and then interpret away the true original intent of the midrash. Such reinterpretation, and a declaration that we cannot take the midrash at face value, should really be the answer of last resort.


Anonymous said...

Further to the Baal HaTurim there is another reason why Chazal thought that Yonatan was the grandson of Moshe. The pasuk vayoel moshe lashevet et ha-ish is found similarly only one other time in Tanach, by the story of Pesel Micha: Vayoel haLevi lashevet et ha-ish. As I recall, the M.T. in Shoftim notes the similarity to the pasuk in Shmot, but doesn't elaborate.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. that is most excellent. and you are right, it almost certainly would have influenced the midrash, and perhaps baal haturim as well.


b said...

Please give a source where r' chaim can be found.Thanks in advance.

joshwaxman said...

you'll have to ask Revach, at the link above.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin