Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is bothering Rashi? part ii

After composing the previous post, I saw that Aish HaTorah posted a selection from Rabbi Dr. Avigdor Bonchek on the same topic, how to understand this particular Rashi, about the nesiim.

My comments will be interspersed with the text of his article. Much I like, but some I disagree with. He begins:

The Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) begins with God's command to Moses to count the Children of Israel. Each of the Twelve Tribes had a leader - Prince - who would be in charge of the census of his tribe. After the names of these princes are enumerated, we find the following sentence:
Numbers 1:17
"And Moses and Aaron took these men who were designated by name."
It is unfortunate that all citations are in English. Sometimes there is nuance in the Hebrew text. For example, designated, נקבו, can have different meanings, such as "designated" or "aforementioned". And the translation strips it of the ambiguity. He continues:

These men - Rashi: These twelve princes.
Who were designated - Rashi: Here, by [their] names.
This is slightly unfortunate. The Rashi, in Hebrew, is:

these men: These twelve princes.האנשים האלה: את שנים עשר נשיאים הללו:
who were indicated: to him here by their names.אשר נקבו: לו כאן בשמות:

and in the previous post, my major suggestion, which could be correct or could well be incorrect, was based on the object-marker את. But since there is no object marker in English, that is not represented here. The second part of my major suggestion was based on the word לו, that is to Moshe Rabbenu, which inexplicably is also not rendered here into English. It should be.

Before progressing, I'll outline two possible explanations. The first is that Rashi is paraphrasing the pasuk, and in doing so says that they took these people, as opposed to operating with these people; and that one should not think that the target audience of "who were indicated" is the reader of sefer Bamidbar, but rather that they were indicated to Moshe. I think I can justify this explanation, despite the seeming focus on "these twelve princes". The second, not championed in the previous post, is that נקבו is used elsewhere to mean designated people in general. (See Ezra and Divrei Hayamim.) I might have a slight "bump" in my reading and think that it refers to other people. Of course, this would nonsensical, given the immediate context that the nesiim -- and we are told their names -- are to aid Moshe and Aharon. And so, Rashi carefully guides us through the pasuk showing how each phrase works together to mean this straightforward peshat. This is, more or less, what some of the meforshei Rashi explain.

On with the article:

These Rashi comments have puzzled all the commentators. What has he added, they ask, to our understanding of the verse by his comments? What he says, we already know from the verse itself. Certainly Rashi wouldn't waste ink to repeat in his own words what the Torah itself tells us. Can you think of an answer that explains the necessity of these comments?
Your Answer:
Indeed, Rashi appears to be saying something obvious, and one should ask what is bothering, or as I would rather put it, what is motivating Rashi. It could be ambiguities in the text that he is resolving, and examination of other pashtanim on the same text could reveal this. It could be that a word usually indicates another meaning, and so he has the need to clarify. As to "My Answer", see above.

The article continues:

If you don't have an answer yet, let me show you what some of the major commentators suggest as the reason for Rashi's comments.
The Mizrachi (the most famous of Rashi commentators) says:
"The verse ordinarily should have used a pronoun and said 'And Moses and Aaron took THEM ...' But since it went out of its way to elaborate and say 'these men who were designated by name' we might have mistakenly thought that these were some other men than those mentioned in the previous list. Therefore Rashi comes to set us straight; he tells us that in fact these are the very same men referred to above."
But this answer is problematic. Why would you say it is problematic?
Mizrachi inside is to the right. Besides saying what was mentioned above, he also explains that lo is because otherwise we would not know to whom this was designated/mentioned. And kan is because nowhere else is such a delineation given, and so it must be here.

I like this answer, in that it focuses correctly on the word נקבו. What I would say is problematic, though, is that the idea of extraneous words being the spark for Rashi strikes me as a midrashic rather than a peshat-oriented concern. Alas, all too often people read such ideas into what is bothering Rashi, and so people think that this is a peshat concern. But I do not agree. Therefore, I do not think that the extra words, which only serve to clarify who these men are, would cause one to think that they are any others than the ones in context. Rather, it is how נקבו is used in other contexts, in Ezra and in Divrei Hayamim.

I also would find the bit about לו unnecessary. Enough times we have the actor absent. It could be left ambiguous without problem. And given that the examples in Ezra and Divrei Hayamim don't have it explicitly laid out anywhere in Tanach, we are not really forced into saying kaan.

But this is not what Rabbi Bonchek finds problematic. Rather:

A Problem: First of all, maybe they are different men! How does Rashi know they are not? Rashi's sole source of information is the words of the Torah unless he cites a Midrash. Here he doesn't cite a Midrash, so he knows what he knows from the Torah itself. How does he know that these are not different men? And if we insist that they are the same men, then why did the Torah use all these extra words?! They tell us nothing more than the single word "them" would have told us. This question seriously weakens the validity of the Mizrachi's answer.
I find this suggestion rather ridiculous. Yes, this is no midrash, and Rashi's sole source of information is the words of the Torah. But also, his own sense of peshat. How does he know that these are not different men?! Because immediately prior, Hashem said that they should choose one man from each tribe to assist them, and listed the men. If these were different men, then what happened to the 12 aforementioned princes. It would be decidedly NOT peshat to suggest that there were different men. So, the short answer is: context, and a sense of peshat.

Why did the Torah use all these extra words?! This question is decidedly midrashic in nature. And Rashi is not citing a midrash. On a peshat level, it is acceptable -- nay, praiseworthy -- to say dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam, that the Torah speaks in the language of people. The words אשר נקבו בשמות reinforces what we already knew, that it was these 12 people. And there was a gap from here to the initial command many pesukim earlier to take the people -- formed by the list of the 12 princes. And so, binding them all together, we state how the fulfilled the command, and took these people, that is, the aforementioned people on the list. If it were Shakespeare rather than Torah, we would not be asking the question, and we could readily come up with an explanation of what role the specific language plays in binding all this together.

And so, I like my problem with Mizrachi, but I think that the proffered problem is a bit ridiculous. If that were the only problem, then Mizrachi would stand firm.

The article continues:

The Gur Aryeh (this is the Maharal of Prague) offers his answer:
The words "these men" makes them sound like ordinary men. But they were of a higher stature, they were princes. Therefore Rashi changes the wording by saying "these twelve PRINCES."
But there are problems with this answer as well. What?
This is the first part of Gur Aryeh.

כי ״האנשים האלה״ משמע שהיו
אנשים סתמא, כדמשמע ״האנשים״, ולא
נלקחו מפני שהיו נשיאים, תזה אינו, דכיון
דאלו שנים עשר אנשים נשיאים היו, בודאי
מפני נשיאותם לקח אותם, דאי לא, מאי שנא
הני , לכך פירש ׳שנים עשר נשיאים הללו׳,
פירוש מפני נשיאותם לקח אותם. וכך רצה
לומר; האנשים האלה שהם נשיאים:

It is not that Rashi was unhappy with the stature assigned to them. Rather, of course they are princes, and indeed, the pasuk earlier specified that they were princes. But you might think that they were not chosen because of their princely status. But of course they were, for they were princes! Certainly they were chosen because of this. (Indeed, the Torah said ish leveit ovotav hu in the original designation.) Therefore, Rashi takes pains here, in this pasuk, to note that they were nesiim.

This is not all that Gur Aryeh says. While I disagree with the above, I agree somewhat with what Gur Aryeh says next, alas not cited in the article. What Gur Aryeh says next really takes us to the heart of the matter:

אשר נקבו לו כאן. פירוש, שאין לשון
״נקבו״ כמו שאר ״נקבו״ שהוא לשון הנקוב
ומפורש במקום אחר , דלמה יתלה במה
שהוא נקוב במקום אחר, והלא אף כאן פירש
לו הקב״ה כל אחד בשמו. וכן אין לפרש

׳׳אשר נקבו בשמות׳׳ הכתובים ונקובים, ויהיה
קאי ׳׳נקבו׳׳ על שהם נכתבים כאן , דלמה
יתלה בכתיבתם בתורה, והלא הקב׳׳ה ציוה
אותם לקח כל אחד ואחד בשמו, לכך פירש
׳הנקובים לו כאן׳ , פירש רש״י שהקב״ה
פירש לו למשה את שמם כאן, שאמר אלו
תקח, ולא קאי על כתיב בתורה, ולא מה שהם
נקובים במקום אחר:

That is, he notes the use of נקבו elsewhere in Tanach, that they are detailed elsewhere. So Rashi is taking pains to explain that in this instance, it does not mean detailed elsewhere. Rather, it is to Moshe, and the list in this place.

What are the problems with Gur Aryeh's answer? Well, in terms of the explanation that we might have thought that they were not appointed because of their princely status, this strikes me as reading the text too closely, and as a midrashic concern rather than a peshat concern. It stated earlier that they were princes. Need it specify princes every single time, or else we will think that they were not appointed for that reason? Further, I don't really see Rashi as being so concerned that we will forget the reason they were appointed. Even if this was the cause, this really has negligible impact in the greater scheme of peshat in this perek. I don't see that Rashi would bother.

Gur Aryeh's further explanation strikes me as much better peshat. There is a problem with נקבו since it is used elsewhere with a slightly different meaning. He could have continued and said that this was Rashi's reason for specifying the aforementioned 12 princes -- that he was working it all into a single peshat, and focusing on האלה as further evidence that this was the meaning of נקבו. But he does not.

The article continues:

Some Problems: Again we ask: So why did the Torah refer them as "men" and not as princes, as the Maharal thinks they should be called? It wouldn't make sense to think that Rashi knows better than the Torah itself!
This is not a problem, and I think that Gur Aryeh would laugh at such a suggestion. Rashi is not saying that he knows better than the Torah, according to Gur Aryeh! Indeed, a few pesukim earlier, the Torah calls them nesiim. But on a peshat level, the Torah need not repeat nesiim every time. Rashi was concerned that some casual reader might be misled, and so explains the intent of the Torah.

Also, it is not that Rashi thinks that they should be called "princes" rather than "men". This is a clumsy restatement of Gur Aryeh. It is that one might think that they were chosen for some reason other than their nasi status, and so Rashi steps into the breach in his role as commentator to remind us. But of course, anashim is appropriate.

The article continues:

Another problem is that Rashi himself says (Numbers 13:3), when the Torah calls the spies "anashim" ("men"), that the term "anashim" always means important people, not ordinary people. And here the Torah refers to these men as "anashim."
So the Gur Aryeh's answer is twice weakened!
Yes, this is Rashi, on this pasuk:

3. So Moses sent them from the desert of Paran by the word of the Lord. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.ג. וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן עַל פִּי יְ־הֹוָ־ה כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה

All of them were men of distinction: Whenever [the word] אִנָשִׁים [is used] in Scripture, it denotes importance. At that time, they were virtuous. — [Mid. Tanchuma 4]כלם אנשים: כל אנשים שבמקרא לשון חשיבות, ואותה שעה כשרים היו:

Chashivut is not necessarily the same as nesiim, princes. Indeed, the focus in the sending of the spies is that they were chashuv in the sense that they were virtuous, kesheirim. Indeed, if we look up that Midrash Tanchuma which is his source, we read:
שלח לך אנשים זה שאמר הכתוב: מקצה רגלים חמס שותה. שולח דברים ביד כסיל (מש' כו ו).
וכי כסילים היו המרגלים. והלא כבר נאמר, שלח לך אנשים. וכל מקום שנאמר בו אנשים, בני אדם צדיקים הן. 

If Gur Aryeh posits that Rashi wished to stress that it was the princely aspect, rather than some other aspect of chashivut, then this is possibly of no help.

Furthermore, this is a midrash. Even though Rashi cited it. On a peshat level, one need not really say that this is so. And in Shelach, kulam anashim, as a stand-alone phrase, might indicate chashivut. But you need not really say, on a peshat level, that this is true across the board.

Furthermore, according to Gur Aryeh, Rashi is trying to combat a mis-impression. Yes, the Torah says anashim, and that means that they were men of distinction. And indeed, Rashi renders it as nesiim. But your typical reader might think that anashim does not mean men of distinction. And so Rashi clarifies it for us. This is no objection to Gur Aryeh. Indeed, it is great support!

The article continues:

Another early commentator, the Mesiach Illmim, offers the following strange answer:
Since the names of the princes include the father's name, like Nachshon son of Aminadav, I might have thought these are two different people (Nachshon AND Aminadav ) and that there were in fact 24 (!) men. Therefore, Rashi's comment is meant to straighten us out by saying "these TWELVE princes."
No real comment here. Yes, it is strange, and it is rather unlikely that anyone would stumble in this matter. And less likely that Rashi would think that others would stumble. On the other hand, the way that supercommentators often operate upon Rashi, ascribing all sorts of farfetched midrashic readings to him on the level of peshat, perhaps this is not so farfetched. I doubt it is correct, though.

The article continues:

The problem here should be obvious: No one would ever make such a mistake. Therefore Rashi does not need to tell us there are only 12 and not 24 men here, I understand that on my own.
I agree with Rabbi Bonchek here. However, this idea that no one would ever make such a mistake is true pretty much across the board. No one, reading the pasuk in context, would really think that some other group than the 12 nesiim were to accompany Moshe and Aharon, yet Rabbi Bonchek presented it above in all seriousness as a "problem" to Mizrachi's explanation. This is very much a subjective matter, and it has very much to do with developing a true sense for peshat.

The article continues:

Why then does Rashi make this comment? This is a real brainteaser. Can you think of an answer?
Your Answer:
My answer(s) were above. And the various supercommentators offered answers which were not bad either. It seems, though, that he is systematically rejecting all the given answers in order to be able to proffer his own. (I've probably done the same.)

His answer, you can read inside. Basically, it is that elsewhere, other nesiim weren't listed by name, and this involved other tribes (of Levi). This, then, is the place that they are first designated as princes.

An interesting idea. But I am not persuaded. Who says that the ones previous, who brought the stones for the ephod, were not the same princes? At least where there was overlap? And is this really Rashi's concern, that these princes are not the same as the previous princes? Unless he means specifically that of Ephraim or Menashe, whoever replaced Levi. It should be apparent that this one was different, since a different tribe was involved. And the link to this far-off pasuk which wasn't in anyone's consciousness in the first place? All this seems rather cryptic, and a round-about way of Rashi telling us this.

It might be a good answer, if there were no better answer. But I think better answers exist, including some from the supercommentators of Rashi, which were rejected for pretty flimsy (IMHO) reasons.

In sum, "What Is Bothering Rashi?" is sometimes a good question. But in practice, based on common methodologies employed, I fear that we do NOT get closer to ascertaining Rashi's intent. Instead, we end up making up all sorts of neo-midrashic material, which Chazal would have never said, and which Rashi would never have said. And in the process, we corrupt the very definition of peshat.

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