Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who buried Moshe? and what this has to do with post-Mosaic authorship

Summary: A most straightforward local reading of the pasuk is that an unspecified human being buried Moshe. Considering the context, why this is difficult to say, and why midash, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the Karaites all say otherwise. And how the alternative is a very late authorship for the last eight pesukim.

Post: Because the Torah states that "Moshe died there", Chazal discuss whether Yehoshua wrote the last eight pesukim of Chumash, or whether Moshe wrote it with tears. But there is another pasuk, just after this, which often flies under the radar. That pasuk reads:

6. And He buried him in the valley, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Pe'or. And no person knows the place of his burial, unto this day.ו. וַיִּקְבֹּר אֹתוֹ בַגַּיְ בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב מוּל בֵּית פְּעוֹר וְלֹא יָדַע אִישׁ אֶת קְבֻרָתוֹ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:

What does it mean "he buried him", וַיִּקְבֹּר אֹתוֹ? If someone buried Moshe, how could the end of the very same pasuk state that "no person known the place of his burial until this day"? Whoever buried him would know!

That the identity of this person is not specified is not problematic. This is where, typically, a parshan would say vayikbor -- hakover. The unspecified person who buried him buried him. Compare this to the end of sefer Bereishit, with Rashi's commentary.

1. Now it came to pass after these incidents that [someone] said to Joseph, "Behold, your father is ill." So he took his two sons with him, Manasseh and Ephraim.א. וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיֹּאמֶר לְיוֹסֵף הִנֵּה אָבִיךָ חֹלֶה וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי בָנָיו עִמּוֹ אֶת מְנַשֶּׁה וְאֶת אֶפְרָיִם:
that [someone] said to Joseph: One of the tellers, and this is an elliptical verse. Some say, however, that Ephraim was accustomed to study with Jacob, and when Jacob became ill in the land of Goshen, Ephraim went to his father to Egypt to tell him.ויאמר ליוסף: אחד מן המגידים, והרי זה מקרא קצר. ויש אומרים אפרים היה רגיל לפני יעקב בתלמוד, וכשחלה יעקב בארץ גושן, הלך אפרים אצל אביו למצרים והגיד לו:

vayomer without specification who did it. So who told? One of the tellers, that is, an unnamed person. Yet we don't say here vayikbor -- echad min hakovrim. And this is because then there would be someone who knew of Moshe's precise burial place, which would go against the end of the very same pasuk.

Thus, in zot haBracha, Rashi writes:

And He buried him: i.e., The Holy One, blessed is He, Himself, in His very glory [buried Moses]. — [Sotah 14a] Rabbi Ishmael, however, says that [the words“And he buried him” mean that] Moses buried himself. And this אֶת in the phrase here וַיִּקְבֹּר אוֹתוֹ is one of the three instances of the אֶת in Scripture which Rabbi Ishmael expounded on in this way [i.e., where the suffix attached אֶת is understood to be reflexive, meaning “to himself” , “to themselves” , and so on]. And similar to this case [are the following two instances]:“On the day when his Nazirite vow is completed, he must bring him (אֹתוֹ) ” (Num. 6:13), which means, “he shall bring himself” [i.e., present himself]. And likewise,“And they cause them (אוֹתָם) to bear the sin of their guilt” (Lev. 22:16). Surely does this refer to others causing them to bear that sin? Rather, the verse must mean that they cause themselves to bear the sin. — [Sifrei Nasso 32:124]ויקבר אותו: הקב"ה בכבודו. רבי ישמעאל אומר הוא קבר את עצמו, וזהו אחד משלשה אתין שהיה רבי ישמעאל דורש כן. כיוצא בו (במדבר ו, יג) ביום מלאת ימי נזרו יביא אותו, הוא מביא את עצמו. כיוצא בו (ויקרא כב, טז) והשיאו אותם עון אשמה, וכי אחרים משיאים אותם, אלא הם משיאים את עצמם:

vayikbor is thus referring to the actions of Hashem. Why? Because this way no man saw, or knows, his burial place. Alternatively, he buried himself, and it is reflexive. And Rabbi Yishmael darshens other ets in this manner, as reflexive. It can work out grammatically, or one can put forth a solid argument that it does. Yet it still feels a bit forced.

Ibn Ezra argues, as well, that it was Moshe burying himself, and gives other textual evidence of this grammatical phenomenon. Thus:
לד, ו]
ויקבר אותו -
הוא קבר עצמו, שנכנס במערה בגיא.
וכן: וירעו הרועים אותם.
ויראו שוטרי בני ישראל אותם. 

He is driven by the same motivation, to make the peshat in this pasuk work.

Shadal subscribes to the first explanation proffered by Rashi, or something akin to it:
ו ויקבור וגו ': כלו ' נקבר ברצון ה ' דרך נס בלא קובר.

I saw a rather interesting explanation from R' Eleazar miGermayza. He is bothered more by the precise specification of the place of Moshe's burial, followed by the assertion that no man knows the place. We could answer that there is a difference between general area and precise location. But what he writes is:

ולא ידע איש את קבורתו וכו' ה׳ זוגות
נקברו במערה ג׳ נגלות וב׳ נסתרות:
הגלויים הם אברהם ושרה יצחק ורבקה יעקב
ולאה : והנסתרים הם אדם וחוה משה וצפורה
ואע״פ שעל משה נאמר ויקבור אותו בגי, זהו
למשל, כי זה הפסוק מכחיש לזה שאמרו לא ידע
איש את קבורתו, אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים:
אמת שלא ידע איש את קבורתו אלא המלאכים
והראי׳ כי מנגד תראה הארץ ושמה לא תבא
בעצמך אלא יביאך בטהרך וזה למה ששם נקבר
משה על ידי המלאכים : ועל אדם וחוה יש להן
ענין קבלה לזה מדרבנן, ע״כ :

I hope I am interpreting this correctly. Moshe and Tzippora were one of the pairs buried in the Maarat Hamachpelah. The well-known pairs are Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah, and Adam and Chava. But he is adding here Moshe and Tzipporah! That the pasuk explicitly states otherwise, that he buried him in the valley is not true on the literal level. For if it were so, the Torah also states that no man knows his burial place. Eilu veEilu, but just it is not literally, or historically. Rather, it is true on an allegorical level. He doesn't explain just what that allegorical meaning is. I think it is dangerous to label random narrative pesukim as allegorical. Who knows? Next he may be saying Avraham and Sarah never existed, but were stand-ins for tzurah and chomer. :)

At any rate, no one human knows Moshe's burial, because they angels buried him, and this was in the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Here is the Chizkuni on the matter:
ויקבור אותו בגיא •
שלשה סימנים נתנו במקום קבורתו של משה שאמר
בגיא ובאי זה גיא בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב ובאי זה מקום מול בית
פעור ואפילו הכי לא ידע איש את קבורתו ללמדך שלא
קברו איש: עד היום הזה ־ שלא יקבר איש אצלו
כענין שנעשה בבית אל ושלא ידרשו בו שואלי מתים

Thus, no man knew his burial, despite all these particular identifying details of the location, is because no human being buried him. Until this day -- that was buried by him, as was done by Bet El, and so that those who consult the dead don't do so for him.

So Chizkuni also understands that there was no human burier. There are other meforshim who say the same, either similar to the first or second answer of Rashi, but I will not belabor the point.

But again, if we ignored the context of the end of the pasuk, what would seem the most straightforward, from a grammatical perspective, is that there was a human being who buried him.Perhaps Yehoshua, or perhaps whatever chevra kadisha they had in those days. And that that this was after he descended from the mountain he ascended in the first pasuk of the perek. And he was buried in the valley, and the people who buried him, and Yehoshua, certainly knew where he is buried.

Despite this, the end of the pasuk states וְלֹא יָדַע אִישׁ אֶת קְבֻרָתוֹ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. I would point out that ad hayom hazeh is a bit strange, even for Yehoshua to write. If Yehoshua wrote it just after Moshe's death, is a day or two ad hayom hazeh? Is it surprising? I suppose it could be 40 years later, after the partial conquering of the land of Canaan, but even this doesn't feel like it merits an "even until this day". They didn't know the place, and the same folks still don't know the burial place? Where is the chiddush? (In answer, we could always say that this was written beRuach haKodesh for any future time.)

Operating on a peshat level, and for the moment pushing aside theological considerations, a simple answer for all this is that this was written by a much later editor, such as Chizkiyahu, Yirmeyahu, Ezra, or the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. If so, Moshe was buried by a human being, as is the simplest meaning of the pasuk. And they knew precisely where he was buried. But we only know the general area, that it was somewhere in this valley. Nowadays, until today, we don't know where he was buried.

Even Ibn Ezra, who propounds a post-Mosaic authorship of the last twelve pesukim, does not say this. He says that Yehoshua wrote these last pasukim. And that Moshe buried himself. Why doesn't he say as I just suggested? Well, there are theological problems with a really late author, which do not exist if it is a really early post-Mosaic author. Yehoshua was Moshe's attendant, who took over directly from him and who had prophecy. This would be understood as finishing up what needed finishing up, at the direction of Hashem. Late editing, on the other hand, looks much more like corrupting the Biblical text. We see that Ibn Ezra considered the books of Yitzchaki worthy of being burnt (here and here), and strenuously rejected Yitzchaki's suggestion that certain pesukim in Bereishit were written in the days of Yehoshafat.


yaak said...

Never heard that R' Elazar MiGermiza before. It's revolutionary.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The commentary of Daat Miqra interprets "Ad Hayom Hazeh", which appears numerous times in Tanakh, as an idiom meaning "ever", and brings examples to prove the point that it does not imply a later author writing in retrospect.

joshwaxman said...

indeed. ever since i saw it, i've thought about how to include it in a post.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof:
i'll try to check it out. i can justify this logically as "until this very day" where the author knows that the reader, forever, will be reading it.

i'm not sure i would agree with this in all cases. for example, these two seem difficult, given context.
בראשית פרק מח
פסוק ט"ו: וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיֹּאמַר: הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו, אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק--הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, מֵעוֹדִי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

Yaakov is saying that Hashem has aided him his whole life, and now should aid Yosef et al.

במדבר פרק כב
פסוק ל: וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתוֹן אֶל-בִּלְעָם, הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר-רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה--הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי, לַעֲשׂוֹת לְךָ כֹּה; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא.

The she-ass is not saying that she will continue in this way forever. If Camus is mortal, so is this donkey.

דברים פרק כט
פסוק ג: וְלֹא-נָתַן יְהוָה לָכֶם לֵב לָדַעַת, וְעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת וְאָזְנַיִם לִשְׁמֹעַ, עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

I would read the implication that this is now hopefully changing.

שמואל א פרק יב
פסוק ב: וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הַמֶּלֶךְ מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם, וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי וָשַׂבְתִּי, וּבָנַי, הִנָּם אִתְּכֶם; וַאֲנִי הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם, מִנְּעֻרַי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

Shmuel cannot mean he is continuing his leadership forever. He is appointing Shaul!

of course, it does often mean something which continues on and on from the point of origin, especially in naming places. but that doesn't mean that the words "ad hayom hazeh" itself carries that implication.

kol tuv,

Hillel said...

R' Maroof,
Saying "ad hayom hazeh" means 'forever' is also problematic as it is a falsifiable claim. Thus, if in Deut. 3:14 the Torah is claiming the place will be called Chavot Ya'ir forever, or (in 11:4) that Egypt will be utterly destroyed forever, such positions are very difficult to defend. No one calls that place Chavot Yair today (which may be why certain haredim oppose the use of maps?), and Egypt was a world power for over a millennium after the Jews left. I have not seen anyone deal with this issue, but of you know of anything, your insight would be appreciated.

R' Waxman,
Can you clarify R' Elazar M'germaizah's position? After all, if we know (according to tradition) that Moshe is buried in Chevron, doesn't that mean BOTH verses must be interpreted allegorically and not literally? Or is he saying "ad hayom hazeh" meant in the time of Yehoshua, but much later this secret was revealed?

Thanks, and moa'dim l'simcha to all,


joshwaxman said...

i can imagine various answers on Rabbi Maroof's behalf -- e.g. that the point is to establish a terminus ad quo rather than a terminus ad quem, such that the statement is not really false, but just "and onwards". but i haven't read the piece he referred to yet.

as i understand Rabbenu Eleazar miGermayza, he is saying that just the portion of the pasuk which states that Moshe was buried in the valley is not historically true, but is allegory. but that the second half is historically true, and refers to Moshe's burial in Chevron via angels.

kol tuv,


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