Thursday, January 13, 2011

Westbound locusts -- was Rashi a Flat Earther?

Summary: Why, according to Rashi, did the locusts come from the east? Nimukei Rashi investigates, as do I.

Post: In parashat Bo, we encounter the following pasuk, which explains how the locusts were carried in:

13. So Moses stretched forth his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord led an east wind in the land all that day and all the night. [By the time] it was morning, the east wind had borne the locusts.יג. וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת מַטֵּהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַי־הֹוָ־ה נִהַג רוּחַ קָדִים בָּאָרֶץ כָּל הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וְכָל הַלָּיְלָה הַבֹּקֶר הָיָה וְרוּחַ הַקָּדִים נָשָׂא אֶת הָאַרְבֶּה:

and when the locusts were carried away, we get the following pasuk:

19. and the Lord reversed a very strong west wind, and it picked up the locusts and thrust them into the Red Sea. Not one locust remained within all the border[s] of Egypt.יט. וַיַּהֲפֹךְ יְ־הֹוָ־ה רוּחַ יָם חָזָק מְאֹד וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת הָאַרְבֶּה וַיִּתְקָעֵהוּ יָמָּה סּוּף לֹא נִשְׁאַר אַרְבֶּה אֶחָד בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם:

There might be some confusion as to what Ruach Kadim might mean (a damaging wind?), and especially there might be confusion of what Ruach Yam might mean, since they are blown into the Yam Suf. But Rashi clarifies in both these instances what this means.

Alternatively, is an East wind a wind from the east blowing westward, or a wind from the west blowing eastward?

Alternately, Rashi might be concerned as to why they would come from the East and leave to the West.

At any rate, on pasuk 13, he writes:

 The 'kadim' wind
: An east wind carried the locusts, for they came against it, for Egypt is in the Southwest, as is explained in another place.
ורוח הקדים: רוח מזרחית נשא את הארבה, לפי שבא כנגדו שמצרים בדרומית מערבית היתה, כמו שמפורש במקום אחר:

This is my own translation, since at the moment, Chabad's English translation of Rashi is down. "Another place" refers to Bemidbar 34:3, and Rashi's comments there:

3. Your southernmost corner shall be from the desert of Zin along Edom, and the southern border shall be from the edge of the Sea of Salt [the Dead Sea] to the east.ג. וְהָיָה לָכֶם פְּאַת נֶגֶב מִמִּדְבַּר צִן עַל יְדֵי אֱדוֹם וְהָיָה לָכֶם גְּבוּל נֶגֶב מִקְצֵה יָם הַמֶּלַח קֵדְמָה:

Meanwhile, the west wind, Rashi explains as follows (again, my own translations):

A 'yam' wind: A west wind.
רוח ים: רוח מערבי:

Towards the Sea {Yam} of  Suph: I say that the Yam Suph was partly in the west, opposite the entire southern side, as well as in the east of the land of Israel. Therefore, the west wind thrust the locusts into the Yam Suph opposite it. And so do we find in terms of borders, that it faces the east, as is states (Shemot 23:31) 'from Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines,' from the east to the west, that the Sea of the Philistines was in the West, as is stated regarding the Philistines (Tzefania 2:5) 'the inhabitants of the sea-coast, the nation of the Keritites'.
ימה סוף: אומר אני שים סוף היה מקצתו במערב כנגד כל רוח דרומית וגם במזרח של ארץ ישראל, לפיכך רוח ים תקעו לארבה בימה סוף כנגדו. וכן מצינו לענין תחומין שהוא פונה לצד מזרח, שנאמר (שמות כג לא) מים סוף ועד ים פלשתים, ממזרח למערב, שים פלשתים במערב היה, שנאמר בפלשתים (צפניה ב ה) יושבי חבל הים גוי כרתים:

(I would warn that when it states "Omer Ani", it is often a cue that it is NOT Rashi writing it.) To the right is a useful map for picturing the path of the locusts. See how Egypt is indeed southwest of Eretz Yisrael, and see how the Red Sea is to the east of Egypt, such that a wind from the west would blow them east into the Yam Suf.

I saw a fascinating question on this Rashi in Nimukei Rashi.

To summarize / provide a rough translation.

"These words of Rashi are not understandable at all. Are these coming from a chamber in Eretz Yisrael in this instance? Every place in the world has four directions {ruchot}, and an east wind {ruach} carried the locusts to Egypt. And why should it matter to me if Egypt is in the Southwest of Eretz Yisrael, as Rashi explains there in parashat Masei, 34:3? Or, were the land of Egypt in America below {South America?} as well, it would not be strange to say that an east wind carried the locusts.

And it appears that Rashi za"l had a source from some midrash or some other known basis that the place of breeding of locusts is in a desolate land, in the Arabian desert, or further east, in the land of the Chinese or Japanese, based on what it states {Yoel 2:20}, כ וְאֶת-הַצְּפוֹנִי אַרְחִיק מֵעֲלֵיכֶם, וְהִדַּחְתִּיו אֶל-אֶרֶץ צִיָּה וּשְׁמָמָה--אֶת-פָּנָיו אֶל-הַיָּם הַקַּדְמֹנִי, וְסֹפוֹ אֶל-הַיָּם הָאַחֲרוֹן; 'But I will remove far off from you the northern one, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the eastern sea, and his hinder part toward the western sea', such that perhaps its place is in the East there, and thus the east wind brought it to Egypt as it brought it in the days of Yoel to the land of Israel, while the west wind returned it to its place, to the eastern sea, as I have explained in my sefer, Eileh Divrei Habris, volume 1, chapter 6, section 3; that the east sea is not the Dead Sea, but rather the Arabian {?}, while the Yam HaAcharon is the Ocean -- see there. And perhaps the place of its abode is more to the North, in the lands of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and so on. And because of this, Yoel called it הַצְּפוֹנִי, the Northern, and that the locusts placed פָּנָיו אֶל-הַיָּם הַקַּדְמֹנִי, their face to the East sea, and from there its path is to the North of its land, but the wind carried it to a barren and desolate land, where it dies and its stench rises up. And perhaps there was to Rashi za"l a midrashic source for the abode of the grasshoppers in these places, and therefore he designates here correctly that Egypt is in the Southwest, and that an eastern wind carried the locusts from the the Northeast to Egypt. And there is no question that, were the abode of the locusts in the North, there would need to be a south wind; for in truth, there was there a south wind which carried the locusts to half of the island {?} of Sinai, and from there an east wind which was in the land all the day and all the night carried the locusts, and the locusts ascended upon all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the border of Egypt."

As I mentioned in my previous post on this broad topic, and if we consult the map we saw above -- repeated here -- the breeding grounds of locusts are in the Red Sea, to the East, and there have been winds which carry locusts from the North, from the Mediterranean Sea. This on the testimony of scientists who study them, rather than sevara.

I don't think that the locusts were coming all the way from China or Japan. And I don't think Rashi had a source, midrashic or otherwise, which indicated a typical abode of the locusts. And I don't think that Rashi was bothered by the possibility of the locusts coming from America, either.

To remind you of Rashi's words, here they are:
שמצרים בדרומית מערבית היתה, כמו שמפורש במקום אחר:

Even though in that other place, in Masei, it is clear that this is to the Southwest of Israel, I believe that Rashi might mean much more than this. He might well mean that it is in the Southwest of the world. Imagine a flat earth, with no America, and a large Egypt. At the end of the entirety of the land mass would be ocean. Presumably, there would be no place in the ocean for the locusts to breed, and Hashem didn't create the locusts yesh me'ayin. Thus, it must have come from the east, rather than from the west.

See also Mizrachi, who explains Rashi based on a flat-earth assumption.


Natan Slifkin said...

Rashi subscribed to the Babylonian cosmology of Chazal, so he did believe in a flat earth. See Rashi’s comments to Ta’anis 25b, s.v. Bein Tehoma. And Rabbeinu Tam also subscribed to it.

joshwaxman said...


Devorah said...

In my extremely humble opinion, there is no question at all regarding the "east wind".

An East Wind is a wind blowing
from the East.

It is not a west wind blowing east.
That would make it a West Wind.

The rest of this blog post is too much for me.... I have no further comment.

Have a great day - or night...

joshwaxman said...

i agree with you that this is the simplest and most straightforward meaning of east wind, and that Rashi is correct on this score.

kol tuv,

Z said...

Thank you for this post! I was having some trouble with this rashi last week and this clarifies things. I was also unaware of the sefer Nemukei Rashi which you quoted. Anyone have any biographical information on its author? S.? I see he says some borderline controversial things such as the next piece where he says that rashi didn't have a map, etc. I also noticed that the sefer has no approbations. Maybe he couldn't find any other rabannim in America in those days.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by saying that when it says "Omar Ani" it's a cue that it's not rashi?
Thank you.

E-Man said...

Rabbi, why did you not bring this Rashi as a clear proof that Rashi holds the world is flat and that at the end of the world the sea touches the sky? Or did you? If you did, how did anyone respond to this CLEAR AS DAY proof?

E-Man said...

Rabbi Slifkin or Waxman

joshwaxman said...

which Rashi? the prsent one, or the one discussed in the post regarding Mizrachi?

joshwaxman said...

intersting. see here and here for some biographical info.


joshwaxman said...

in terms of omer ani, from what i recall from dr. hurwitz's class, we would think that when Rashi says omer ani, he is giving his own opinion. (but isn't it all his opinion?) and echoing his ancestor Rabbi. but if we look, a whole bunch of these omer ani's are not in very early texts of Rashi, and start off as marginal or extra notes by a student of Rashi. and the author of this note took pains to distinguish it from Rashi, by preceding it with "and I say..." thus, one should be suspicious of anything that begins with this.

kol tuv,

E-Man said...

The one in taanis. Rashi is explicit that he thinks that the ocean and the sky meet at one point.

S. said...

>. Anyone have any biographical information on its author?

R. Chaim Hirschensohn was brilliant and controversial. His basic biographical info can be found here

However it doesn't mention that he studied in the Hildesheimer Seminary, and ran majorly afoul of the Chareidim in Eretz Yisrael, not only for his association with Ben Yehuda, but also for his journal Hamisderonah which was basically a modern scholarly type journal. Since it was published in Jerusalem it drove them crazy. See here. In addition, he taught in the Laemel School. He was put into cherem in 1887.

Eventually he settled in America and became rav in Hoboken. He published several volumes of sheelos uteshuvos, was a brilliant talmid chochom, etc.

Re haskamos, in 1929 he was of sufficient stature and age that he didn't ask for haskamos - people asked him for them.

You definitely pegged him right re borderline controversial things.

joshwaxman said...

interesting... i'm not sure i've seen that rashi in Taanis. do you know the daf? to speak in generalities i am fairly confident without all this that Rashi believed in a flat earth, since this seems to be THE standard belief of Chazal. one might distinguish Rashi explaining Chazal and Rashi giving his own position. Rashi on gemara is explaining the gemara. Rashi on Chumach can more often be explaining the position of Rashi.


E-Man said...


It was the Rashi Rabbi Slifkin mentions. I looked it up and it is an explanation of the Gemara, but it is clearly Rashi's personal thoughts on how to explain the Gemara.

He explains a statement in the Gemara that says something to the extent of where the waters of the heavens meet the waters of the deep. Here is the exact part with soncino translation:

א״ר אלעזר כשמנםכין את המים בחג תהום
אומר לחבירו אבע מימיך קול שני ריעים
אני שומע שנאמר 2תהום אל תהום קורא
לקול צנוריך וגו׳ אמר רבה לדידי חזי לי האי
רידיא דמי לעיגלא(תלתא) ופירםא?< שפוותיה
וקיימא בין תהומא תתאר; לתתומא עילאת
לתהומא עילאה א״ל חשור מימיך לתהומא
תתאה א״ל אבע מימיך שנא׳ 3הנצנים נראו
בארץ וגו׳

R. Eliezer said: When on the Feast of Tabernacles the water libations are carried out, Deep says to
Deep, ‘Let thy waters spring forth, I hear the voice of two friends’,10 as it is said, Deep calleth unto
Deep at the voice of Thy cataracts etc.11 Rabbah said: I myself have seen Ridya.12 who resembles a
three years’ old heifer, with its lips parted; he stands between the lower deep and the upper deep; to
the upper deep he says. ‘Distil thy waters’, and to the lower deep he says. ‘Let thy waters spring
forth’, as it is said, The flowers appear on the earth etc.13

Rashi says there, explaining where Ridya is standing (between the lower deep and the upper deep):

סהומא עילאה לסהאה. בין הרקיע
לאוקיינוס היכא דנשקי ארעא ורקיע:

Between the lower deep and the upper deep: Between the sky and the ocean where the land and the sky touch.

(Sorry if some of the hebrew has the wrong letters, I copy pasted from hebrewbooks) (Also, the Rashi translation is my own)

Clearly Rashi is explaining where he thinks this Ridya character is standing and not just explaining what the Gemara thinks. No? And isn't this a clear proof that Rashi thought the Earth was flat, otherwise, how would the sky and earth touch?

joshwaxman said...

thanks; i'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

זוהר ויקרא דף י,אויך אין תוס' ע"ז מא. זאגט תוס' ככדור. שהעולם עגול כדאיתא בירושלמי שאלכסנדרוס מוקדון עלה
למעלה עד שראה כל העולם ככדור ואת הים כקערה פי׳ ים אוקינוס שמקיף את כל העולם:

joshwaxman said...

yes; i know those sources. see here for Yerushalmi.


WFB said...

by the way, re: "rashi" on ta'anis, the maharatz chajes (beginning of ta'anis) points out that it is not by rashi.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin