Monday, December 06, 2010

Was the fire in Haifa predicted in Midrash Rabba?

Summary: Absolutely not! Only if you don't know how to read a midrash, or willfully misinterpret it, can it say what some are proposing.

Post: An "inspirational" post, I suppose, over by Rabbi Lazer Brody's site:
While the devastating forest fire on the outskirts of Haifa still blazes, a pointless national witch hunt is going on. Energies here would be much better applied to soul-searching, teshuva, and learning emuna.
We here at the Beams aren't going to participate of the finger-pointing festival. Nor shall we cry in lament like the secular media who says, "if we can't put out a forest fire, how can we defend ourselves?"
We never did defend ourselves - it was Hashem that pulled us out of every fire; this is personal experience talking...
We teach in the principles of emuna that everything Hashem does is for the very best. Everyone asks, how can 42 losses of life and thousands of acres of charred forests be for the best?
The answer is in the following Midrash (Shir Hashirim 2:5, elaborating on the passage, K'shoshana bane ha chuchim): Right before Moshiach comes, Hashem will burn the outskirts of Haifa. See it for yourselves...
Midrash Haifa2
 Below is a close-up image of the above photo:
Midrash Haifa
Get ready, folks.
I agree with Rabbi Brody about the witch-hunt. Yet I disagree with the attempt to find meaning based on tying it to the imminent arrival of mashiach, based on misreading or misinterpreting text. Compare to what people did after the tragedy in Mumbai, tying it to a misinterpretation of Zohar, to "prove" that mashiach would arrive on the eighth day of Chanukkah of that year.

So I dislike the approach. I also think this is a misinterpretation of the source. The pasuk in Shir Hashirim states:

ב  כְּשׁוֹשַׁנָּה בֵּין הַחוֹחִים, כֵּן רַעְיָתִי בֵּין הַבָּנוֹת.2 As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

and the midrash explains that when it comes to the ultimate redemption, Israel will be surrounded by nations like a lily among thorns. To collect it, the owner will have to burn the surrounding thorns. Similarly, to rescue the Israelites in Jerusalem, Hashem will burn the wicked nations in the surrounding areas (including Haifa). This clearly does not match the present situation of arson by the wicked nations, or negligence by teenagers, killing Jews who are living in Haifa.

There are so many Biblical, Rabbinic, Kabbalistic, and Chassidic texts that if one is willing to misinterpret, one can find an "inspirational" connection between any text, and current event, and moshiach.

Anyway, here is the text of the midrash, coupled with the standard commentary of Matnat Kehuna. The midrash:

רבי איבו פתר קרייה בגאולת מחר 
מה השושנה הזו כשהיא נתונה בין החוחים קשה לבעלה להלקט.
מהו עושה? מביא אור ושורף חוצה לה, ואחר כך לוקטה.
כך, (איכה א') ציווה ה' ליעקב סביביו צריו.
כגון: חלמיש לגווה.
יריחו לנועדן.
סוסיתן לטיבריה.
קסטרא לחיפא.
לוד לאונו.
הדא הוא דכתיב: (יחזקאל ה') זאת ירושלים בתוך הגוים שמתיה.
למחר, כשיגיע הקץ, מה הקדוש ברוך הוא עושה? מביא האור ושורף חוצה לה. הדא הוא דכתיב: (ישעיה ל"ג) והיו עמים משרפות סיד.
מה כתיב תמן? (דברים ל"ב) ה' בדד ינחנו. 
And the commentary:

To roughly translate the midrash:
Rabbi Abahu explained the verse {in Shir HaShirim} as referring to tomorrow's redemption {=the coming of Mashiach}. Just as this lily, when it is placed between the thorns, it is difficult for its owner to pluck. What does he do? He brings a flame and burns surrounding it, and afterwards plucks it. So too {Eicha 1}

יז  פֵּרְשָׂה צִיּוֹן בְּיָדֶיהָ, אֵין מְנַחֵם לָהּ--צִוָּה ה לְיַעֲקֹב, סְבִיבָיו צָרָיו; הָיְתָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם לְנִדָּה, בֵּינֵיהֶם.  {ס}17 Zion spreadeth forth her hands; there is none to comfort her; the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that they that are round about him should be his adversaries; Jerusalem is among them as one unclean. {S}

{but also the end of the pasuk, not explicitly cited in the midrash}. Such as Chalamish to Gaavah, Yericho to Noadan, Susitan to Teveriah, Kistera to Haifa, Lud to Ono. {These are all place names, as Matnas Kehuna notes, where the wicked nations of Amon and Moav live.} This is what is written {Yechezkel 5}

ה  כֹּה אָמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, זֹאת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, בְּתוֹךְ הַגּוֹיִם שַׂמְתִּיהָ; וּסְבִיבוֹתֶיהָ, אֲרָצוֹת.5 Thus saith the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem! I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her.

What does Hashem do? He brings a flame and burns outside it. This is what is written {Yeshaya 33}:

יב  וְהָיוּ עַמִּים, מִשְׂרְפוֹת שִׂיד; קוֹצִים כְּסוּחִים, בָּאֵשׁ יִצַּתּוּ.  {פ}12 And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire. {P}

{and once again, note the end of the pasuk as well, which speaks of thorns.} What is written there? {Devarim 32}:

יב  ה, בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ;  {ס}  וְאֵין עִמּוֹ, אֵל נֵכָר.  {ר}12 The LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with Him.

This ends the midrash.
I would add a bit to Matnas Kehuna. It is not that all these places are places of the wicked nations. Rather, in each pair, it is a non-Jewish and wicked place next to a place of Jewish settlement. Thus, it is Susita/Hippos, a Greco-Roman city by thje Sea of Galilea, right next to Teveria, and so this is an example of a thorn coupled with a lily.

So too, Chaifa is the Jewish city, and Kastara is a Roman fortification, presumably close by. Thus, in Bava Kamma 98a:
Raba raised an objection [from the following:] 'Redemption [of the second tithe] cannot be made by means of money not in one's actual possession, such as if he had money in Castra or in the King's Mountain9  or if his purse fell into the ocean; no redemption could then be effected'.10  — Said Rabbah: The case [of redemption] of tithe is different, as it is required there that the money should be [to all intents and purposes] actually in your hand, for the Divine Law says, And bind up the money in thy hand,11  which is lacking in this case.12
The midrash is talking about the destruction, perhaps burning, of non-Jewish towns and cities in close proximity to Jewish towns, NOT fire which kills many Jews on the "outskirts of Haifa". And it wouldn't just be near Haifa, either. And it would be towns, rather than thousands of acres of forest.


Hillel said...

That's not fair, Rabbi! If you're going to ding a vort simply because it cherrypicks a few words out of a secondary source and ignores both the context of those words and the content of the source, you've basically killed off 'inspirational Judaism.'

People will be forced to find inspiration from taking the time to read entire sources and think about the meaning. Who has time for that?


Anonymous said...

Once you have a the ability to do a computerized word search and you find the words "haifa" and "fire" in some proximity, does it really matter the context?

joshwaxman said...

I am not certain if you are serious or not...

I suppose that if one wanted to treat midrash rabba as the basis of a "Torah-code", one could say this. But still, this would not be the rabbis of the midrash predicting this happening in Chaifa.


mErA said...

That's a good article, thank you!
People (even rabbis) change the meaning of the psukim very often to show that mashiach is coming, but we must see the real meaning of the verses.

Anonymous said...

I don;t think Rabbi Brody said the sages predicted the fire. I believe he was saying that the proximity of fire and haifa in regards to the end of days is uncanny.

Adam Neira said...

“Perhaps something good will come of this disaster”

Bibi...It will if we want it to. As PM of Israel you have a pivotal role to play. When certain dynamics present themselves it is vital to capitalise on them. Sometimes this involves just waiting, patience and trusting the universe. It can also involve direct contact, communication and movement between people. I think G-d has a plan for the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, the Holy Land and Planet Earth. But he needs his good people down here on terra firma to direct and act on his stage.

There is so much potential in the relationships between all the nations for peace, stability, order, benevolence and expansiveness. Just like the prophecy of World Peace 2050 ! There is not much more terrible than death by fire. I think the Jewish people really need to reflect and act on what is going on right now.

The chance of devastating fires would have been reduced greatly if there had been more rainfall in the region over the last six months. I wonder what Rabbi Ovadiah thinks about the concept of "Good reign for good rain" ?
It is also interesting to note that it looks like the fires were a result of negligence and not arson. Both can have the same terrible effects but the former method is not conducive to simple blame gaming.

I am happy to come to Israel now but only with certain conditions. People find sanctuary in good leadership. I know how the eternal sanctuary can be built...

Prayers for the victims.

joshwaxman said...

Rabbi Brodt wrote more than uncanny juxtaposition. he wrote:
"The answer is in the following Midrash (Shir Hashirim 2:5, elaborating on the passage, K'shoshana bane ha chuchim): Right before Moshiach comes, Hashem will burn the outskirts of Haifa. See it for yourselves..."

and the juxtaposition isn't uncanny, for reasons i explained above.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin