Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Moshe's forty day (and night) fast super-miraculous?

Summary: So says Ibn Ezra. And Ibn Caspi takes him to task. And besides speculating on Ibn Ezra's methodological motivation, I wonder if it is even so certain that the Torah describes a miraculous event.

Post: There is an old Jewish joke:

A man calls his mother in Florida. "Mom, how are you?"
"Not too good,"says the mother. "I've been very weak."
The son says, "Why are you so weak?"
She says, "Because I haven't eaten in 38 days."
The man says, "That's terrible. Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?
The mother answers, "Because I didn't want my mouth filled with food if you called." 
The same seems to be true regarding Moshe Rabbenu. In parshat Mishpatim, towards the end, we read:

יח  וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן, וַיַּעַל אֶל-הָהָר; וַיְהִי מֹשֶׁה, בָּהָר, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה.  {פ}18 And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount; and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. {P}

There is no statement in Mishpatim that Moshe did not eat or drink during his duration on the mountain, but on Mishneh Torah, that is in sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbenu does make such a statement. In parshat Ekev, in Devarim 9:9:

ט  בַּעֲלֹתִי הָהָרָה, לָקַחַת לוּחֹת הָאֲבָנִים לוּחֹת הַבְּרִית, אֲשֶׁר-כָּרַת ה', עִמָּכֶם; וָאֵשֵׁב בָּהָר, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה--לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַלְתִּי, וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתִיתִי.9 When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights; I did neither eat bread nor drink water.

Ibn Ezra writes, local to Mishpatim:

ויהי משה בהר -שלא ירד וכתוב על אלה הארבעים יום: לחם לא אכלתי ומים לא שתיתי. וזה פלא גדול לא נהיה כמוהו לפניו.

"And Moshe was on the mountain -- that he did not descend. And it is written regarding these forty days {in Devarim 9:9} "I did not eat bread and I did not drink water. Tthis is a great wonder, such that there was no similar thing like it before."

Ibn Caspi gets upset at Ibn Ezra about his great astonishment at the wonder of this miracle. It seems to me that part of this upset at Ibn Ezra on religious grounds, in his seeming doubt at the nature of the miracle, such that such miracles which divert so from nature are uncommon. Read what Ibn Caspi says inside. But basically, how could Ibn Ezra regard this as so astounding when this is so much like the מן?

My guess about Ibn Ezra's motivations here are as follows. As a pashtan, he regards as good peshat methodology the gathering information from a rich area to fill in an area where details are sparse. And so, of course, if we get these details from chumash Devarim, he will cite it here. On the other hand, he also minimizes the nature of miracles. We've seen elsewhere that he won't read miracles into the text where they are not explicitly stated, and he gives good justification for that. It also seems (see Teva and the Teiva, on parshat Noach) that he likes his miracles working as close with the natural order as possible. Here is a miracle which entirely defies the natural order, and so is astounding. As to the מן, there are ready ways of making it work closely with the natural order.

I previously considered this statement by Moshe Rabbenu in parshat Ekev, that he did not eat for all those days. And thinking about it again, I still think it somewhat plausible that this statement was not intended literally, but rather is an idiom within a mussar speech intended to convey Moshe Rabbenu's extreme devotion to the cause. See there, but perhaps we can compare with the Jewish joke above.


Shmuel said...

You forgot it's also in Ki Sisa 34:28, and there it's not Moshe talking.

There are actually three approaches to this; see Likutei Sichos vol. 36, summarized in the Gutnick Chumash.

Yosef Greenberg said...

Its kind of risky, allegorizing whatever doesn't fit a particular world-view. Thats besides being, potentially, apologist.

But a nice idea, nonetheless, which I disagree with, joke aside.

Moshe mentioned both, eating and drinking, which somewhat weakens the idea. But I do see the idea against it.

BTW, what was the *natural* pshat for the mahn?

joshwaxman said...

"You forgot it's also in Ki Sisa 34:28, and there it's not Moshe talking."

true. thanks.

"Its kind of risky, allegorizing whatever doesn't fit a particular world-view. Thats besides being, potentially, apologist."
absolutely. if i didn't first think it sounded like an idiom (like Etzba Elokim), such that it would be motivated by a text-internal impetus, then i would regard it as an apologetic.

"BTW, what was the *natural* pshat for the mahn?"
the mann is certainly intended as miraculous. but the slav was also miraculous. the miracle was that this existing flock(s) of birds was blown regularly into the Israelite camp. just as the locust were blown in and out of Egypt. whether the manna came from a special prepared Otzar (since, after all, Pirkei Avot informs us that it was created Erev Shabbos), and rained down, just like rain or snow; or if Hashem caused it to form each day using natural or miraculous means (or if it was blown in from some growing atop some mountain, if you really want a naturalistic explanation), in the end, it fell in the field. People went out to collect it; they cooked it; they ate it, and that provided them with sustenance. this is the sort of miracle in which the derech hateva is not suspended. but for Moshe's natural body processes to go on for 40 days and 40 nights, while he breathed and functioned, but did *not* take in nutrients -- that would constitute a continuous suspension of the laws of nature. this is not the way that Ibn Ezra understands the operation of miracles, in general. so not so much "natural", but rather a "naturalistic" type of miracle, and a miracle nonetheless.


Yosef Greenberg said...

"this is the sort of miracle in which the derech hateva is not suspended."

You'er saying that as much as you can harmonize nature with the Torah's account, you will, until you're stumped.

But then we should see that same פלא גדול לא נהיה כמוהו לפניו, on these specific aspect.

Truly, what difference does it make if there was a strong wind blowing before krias yam suf, if the actual splitting was an unnatural neiss. (assuming it was.)

Now, you could say that as far as a neiss wasn't needed, it wouldn't be done. But that goes for the neiss itself. God doesn't *need* them.


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