Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Gra's theory of two hornets fighting in Canaan

Summary: It creates a nice elu ve'elu, and works out nicely with the pesukim, but does it reflect original intent of the midrash?

Post: As a followup to the previous post about tzir'ah as hornet, here is what the Gra (in Aderet Eliyahu) has to say about צרעה, mentioned in parashat Ekev.

וגם את
הצרעה • שני צרעות היו אחת של משה ואחת
של יהושע • של משה לא עברה את הירדן
ושל יהושע עברה הירדן ושני צרעות היו משמשות
כמו שאמר הכתוב הנשארים והנסתרים שהנשארי׳
הם שברחו מפליטי המלחמה וישבו בבתים
בהתגליא וזה היה צרעה של משה משמשת שזרקה
ארס כו׳ וננגד הנסתרים שטמנו את עצמם
לזה שימשה של יהושע בחפשה אותם ולכך אמר
וגם את הצרעה כנגר שני צרעות

This is exceptionally novel, yet well-founded on existing midrashim and pesukim. To provide a rough summary, the Vilna Gaon states that there were two types of hornets, which addressed the two types of Canaanites the Israelites encountered in the conquest at the time of Yehoshua. To the nisharim, who fled but were in the open, hornets which were the same as in the time of Moshe Rabbenu shot their poison, etc.. And to those who had hidden themselves after fleeing, the nistarim, there were the hornets unique to the time of Yehoshua, which attacked them. And thus the ribuy of גם, which includes, to indicate these two types of hornet, both of which attacked in the time of Yehoshua.

This represents a very clever reworking of the sources in a way that allows for elu ve'elu between Rav Pappa and Resh Lakish. Even so, I don't believe it accords with the intent of the midrash of the brayta, nor with Rav Pappa's intent, nor with Resh Lakish's intent. Rather, it is neo-midrash, which makes use of existing midrashim in fairly novel ways.

Why do I think that this insight of Gra does not reflect original intent? Let us examine the gemara in Sotah 36a:
A Tanna taught: The hornet did not pass over [Jordan] with them; but behold it is written: And I will send the hornet before thee! {Shemot 23:28, referring to the land of Canaan!}  — R. Simeon b. Lakish said: It stood by the bank of the Jordan and injected a virus [into the Canaanites] which blinded their eyes above and castrated them below; as it is said: Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above and his roots from beneath etc. {Amos 2:9} R. Papa said: There were two hornets, one in the period of Moses and the other in the period of Joshua; the former did not pass over [Jordan] but the other did.
The brayta claims that hornets only acted in Moshe's time, but not in Yehoshua's time. This is the simple meaning of the brayta, and it is likely based on Yehoshua 24:12:
יב וָאֶשְׁלַח לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה וַתְּגָרֶשׁ אוֹתָם מִפְּנֵיכֶם שְׁנֵי מַלְכֵי הָאֱמֹרִי לֹא בְחַרְבְּךָ וְלֹא בְקַשְׁתֶּךָ:

where the two kings of the Emorites would be taken to be Sichon and Og, from the time of Moshe. Now, this is debatable, in that we can understand it as talking about two different Emorite kings, but let us say we accept the traditional explanation, as offered by the classic meforshim, that this is Sichon and Og. Then, as per the brayta, hornets attacked, but they never crossed over the Yarden river and aided the Israelites in fighting the Canaanites. Yehoshua seems to be contrasting these actions of hornets in Moshe's time to what the Israelites had to do, which was fight using only swords and bows.

The gemara (and Amoraim) asks that this seems to contradict the plain meaning of a pasuk in Shemot 23:28, which states that in the time of Yehoshua Hashem will send hornets to attack the Canaanites. Similarly, in this week's parasha, Eikev, there is such a promise:

20. And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish.כ. וְגַם אֶת הַצִּרְעָה יְשַׁלַּח יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּם עַד אֲבֹד הַנִּשְׁאָרִים וְהַנִּסְתָּרִים מִפָּנֶיךָ:

A straightforward answer is that they did not merit it, for some reason. Just as they did not dispossess all the Canaanites in Yehoshua's time, so too it seems they did not merit this special Divine assistance, from these hornets. This would be theologically difficult but, it seems to me, resolvable. And I claim that that is what the midrash in this brayta is claiming. But for this post to go forward, accepting this reading of the brayta is not at all necessary. We can accept Rav Pappa or Resh Lakish's resolution as accurate, if we wish.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish makes a clever diyuk into the language of the brayta. The brayta just said that the hornets didn't pass over. So keep the hornets on the other side of the Jordan, and let them spray their poison from a distance! It works out with the language, and is quite clever -- yet I think it cleverly undermines the very intent of the brayta while adding a fantastic element to the proceedings.

Rav Pappa follows his general Pappaitic pattern of harmonizing and allowing for both to hold true. A sort of eilu ve'eilu between the assertion of the brayta and the straightforward reading of the pesukim in the Torah. They both are true, because they are dealing with different sets, or types, of hornets. The ones described in the last perek of sefer Yehoshua as the hornets of Moshe did not pass over. But another type of hornet did, either by physically passing over or, more to the point, existing in the land of Canaan and being sent before the Israelites. While this is a clever harmonization, it undermines what I believe is the original intent of the brayta. I would still understand the brayta's assertion to be that no hornets aided the Israelites in the time of Yehoshua.

Regardless, that is Rav Papa and Reish Lakish. They argue with one another as to how to resolve the pesukim and the brayta.

But now the Gra comes and harmonizes the two of them! But we don't need to harmonize. According to Resh Lakish, the resolution of the brayta is that the hornets didn't physically pass over the river, but still aided the Israelites. And according to Rav Papa, those of Moshe didn't pass, and who cares? We don't need those specific hornets, when we have a different set of hornets.

But the Gra wants both of them to be true. But if so, the brayta is resolved in two ways simultaneously. I do not believe that this was intended by the Amoraim, who were engaged in dispute. Nor is it driven by anything in the gemara itself -- just a desire to harmonize the two opinions such that they are both right. The connection to remnants and hidden, and the derasha on the word gam, while clever and sensitive to the nuances of the language, are not mentioned anywhere by Resh Lakish or Rav Pappa. Indeed, the pasuk in Ekev is not even brought up at all.

It works as a nice neo-drasha, which is good so long as one distinguishes it from Chazal's original intent.

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