Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some thoughts on Tzei Ulmad

Next up is Tzei Ulemad:

As at presently stands in the haggadah, צא ולמד functions as a sort of bridge. The previous section was vehi she'amda, where we stated that in every generation, they stand against us to destroy us. This צא ולמד serves to illustrate this, that even before Israel descended to Egypt, Lavan tried to destroy us. And the prooftext of Lavan's evil intention is Arami Oved Avi, "an Aramean tried to destroy my father". And the Mishna in Pesachim, after saying that one begins with genus and ends in shevach, continues to state that we are doresh from Arami Oved Avi. Yet, I would the primary function here is prooftext for bechol dor vador. And it thus appears before the full citation of the pasuk.

Yet if the source is the Sifrei, then it may indeed be part of the intended derasha of the parasha of Arami Oved Avi. The text we have of the Sifrei is:

ואמרת לפני ה׳ אלהיך ארמי אובד אבי • מלמד שלא ירד יעקב לארם אלא
ט(לאובד) • ומעלה על לבן הארמי כאלו איבדו:

The Gra emends it to להאבד. This is then similar to how later, he only went down to Egypt to dwell there temporarily, rather than to settle there. Here, he went to lose himself, I would guess so that his brother would not find him. Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman claims that this bit about Lavan is a late insertion, but Shamma Freidman rejects this claim. (This from a footnote in Dr. Steiner's article.) But it would seem to mean that yet, Scripture reckined it as if Lavan איבדו. This latter bit would then closely match the derasha in the Haggada.

As I discuss at length in another post, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Radak reject this derasha on the level of peshat. This upsets Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh, who go on the attack, and give rather shoddy arguments for why the derasha is peshat. This is quite unnecessary. Chazal's derash can be derash, which stands independently of the peshat, no matter how "famous" the derasha is.

The peshat, though, that my father was a wandering Aramean, may work quite well within the theme we are trying to develop, which is the development of the Israelite nation. We started out as wandering rameans, and through the trials we faced, we emerged a nation and finally inherited the land. The father, in this instance, can be Terach, Avraham, Yaakov (as pre the first derasha in Sifrei), or the avos in general.


Where did Lavan try to destroy everyone, both sons and daughters? One "famous" answer, I think from the Rav, was that it was an attempted spiritual destruction. As Lavan says to Yaakov, in Bereishit 31:43, הַבָּנוֹת בְּנֹתַי וְהַבָּנִים בָּנַי וְהַצֹּאן.

However nice the message of this is, and how well it fits into the theme of the developing Israelite nation, I do not agree that this is the most likely meaning. Rather, it is most likely based upon:

כג  וַיִּקַּח אֶת-אֶחָיו, עִמּוֹ, וַיִּרְדֹּף אַחֲרָיו, דֶּרֶךְ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; וַיַּדְבֵּק אֹתוֹ, בְּהַר הַגִּלְעָד.23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days' journey; and he overtook him in the mountain of Gilead.
כד  וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל-לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, בַּחֲלֹם הַלָּיְלָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן-תְּדַבֵּר עִם-יַעֲקֹב--מִטּוֹב עַד-רָע.24 And God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night, and said unto him: 'Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.'

Where "speaking either good or bad" is taken to mean a warning acting violently against Yaakov. And so he shouldn't even speak good or bad. Either that, or this pasuk of Arami Oved Avi is the sole prooftext for this idea.


Finally, since we are talking about the evil Lavan did, associated with a derasha on Arami Oved Avi, I will note that Targum Yonasan on parashas Matos multiplies his sins. To cite myself (from here), Targum Pseudo-Yonatan reads:

וית מלכי מדינאי קטלו על משרייתהון ית אוי וית רקם וית צור הוא בלק וית חור וית רבע חמשת מלכי מדין וית בלעם בן בעור קטלו בסייפא והוה כוין דחמא בלעם חייבא ית פינחס כהנה רדיף מן בתרוי עבד מלתא דקוסמין ופרח באויר שמיא. מן יד אידכר פינחס שמא רבא וקדישא ופרח בתרוי ואדחיה ברישיה ואחתיה. שלף סייפא ובעא למקטליה. פתח פומיה במילי תחנונין ואמר לפינחס אין תקיים ית נפשי משתבענא לך דכל יומין דאנא קיים לית אנא מלטיט ית עמך. עני ואמר ליה הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן ונחתת למצרים בגין למובדא זרעא. ומן בתר דנפקו ממצרים גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא. וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. וכיון דחמיתא דלא אהנין עובדך ולא קביל מימרא דיי מינך, אמליכת מלכא בישא ית בלק למקומא ית בנתיה בפרשת אורחתא למטעיא יתהון ונפלו בגין כן מנהון עשרין וארבעא אלפין. בגין כן לית אפשר תוב למקיימא ית נפשך. ומן יד שלף סייפיה מן תיקא וקטליה

A rough translation:

And the kings of the Midianites they killed on their camps - Evi, Rekem, Tzur - he is Balak, Chur, and Reva, the five kings of Midian. And Bilaam son of Beor they slew with a sword.

And it was, when Bilaam the guilty saw Pinchas the priest running after him, he performed a magical feat and flew in the air in the sky.

Immediately, Pinchas pronounced the Great and Holy Name and flew after him, and grabbed him by the head and brought him down(1) and was about to slay him.

He {=Bilaam} opened his mouth with words of supplication and said to Pinchas: If you let me live, I swear to you that as long as I live I will not curse your nation.

He {Pinchas} responded and said to him: Are you not Lavan the Aramean who wished to destroy our forefathe Yaakov? And you descended to Egypt to destroy the descendants. And after they left Egypt you incited(2) {to war} against them the wicked Amalek. And then you hired(3) yourself out so curse them. And when yuo saw that your actions did not help and Hashem did not accept your words, you counseled an evil counsel(4) to Balak to place his daughter at the crossroads to lead them astray, and because of this 24,000 of them died. Because of this, it is not possible anymore to spare your life.

And immediately, he drew his sword from its sheath and slew him.

My analsysis continues after these notes.

Translation Notes:
(1) I take ואחתיה as the aphel causative of חתי - thus, caused him to descend. This even though the preceding word ואדחיה (grabbed) seems to have the same form and the א there is a root letter.
(2) גריתא means to stir up, to incite, to attack
(3) אגרא is reward/hire. thus the reflexive איתגרתא איתגרא means to hire yourself out.
(4) I take מלכא בישא to mean evil advice rather than evil king Balak. After all we have the verb אמליכת.

Now on to a bit of analysis. Where are all these details of Bilaam's misdeeds coming from. To my mind, the key phrase which tips us off is הלא אנת הוא לבן ארמאה דבעית למישיציא ית יעקב אבונן. This immediately calls to mind Arami Oved Avi, "a wandering Aramean was my father," from the parshat Bikurim in parshat Ki Tavo...

Most of the derasha comes from אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב, I think.

Classically, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי is interpreted to mean that Lavan the Aramean attempted to destroy my father... So far we are in familar territory. But then, the derasha takes an unexpected turn:

וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה no longer means that Yaakov descended to Egypt, but rather that Lavan/Bilaamdescended to Egypt. To flesh this out, see midrashim that list Bilaam as one of Pharaoh's three advisors, and the one who advised him to kill Israelite boys (see Sotah 11a).

וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט - the word וַיָּגָר is actually taken by this midrash twice. First, that when they left Egypt, he incited the evil Amalekites to attack them. Thus, גריתא בהון עמלק רשיעא.

In parshat Balak, Balak and Moav are sore afraid of Israel because they are so many. Bemidbar 22:
ב וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי.2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
ג וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם, מְאֹד--כִּי רַב-הוּא; וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel.
Note the word וַיָּגָר, "sore afraid," which probably influenced this midrashic link even more. But they were sore afraid -כִּי רַב-הוּא, because they were so many.

Therefore, Bilaam was there when they were mighty and numerous - וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. And what did he do? He hired himself out to curse them. Thus וַיָּגָר שָׁם. Thus וכדון איתגרתא איתגרא למילוט יתהון. This is the second drash on וַיָּגָר.

The idea that he counseled Balak to send out his daughter, Cozbi bat Tzur (Balak), is based on several other texts which I am not going to digress to in this post (but which I have partially covered in previous posts - feel free to browse). But it takes us away from the Arami Oved Avi verse.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin