Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How was Moshe saved from Pharaoh's sword?

Summary: Two different midrashim, rather than Rashi's spin on a midrash. Which is why it is important to know Rashi's sources, as well as not leap to conclusions based on the sources we have.

Post: In the beginning of parashat Yitro, we encounter the following pasuk and Rashi:

4. and one who was named Eliezer, because [Moses said,] "The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh's sword."ד. וְשֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֱלִיעֶזֶר כִּי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי בְּעֶזְרִי וַיַּצִּלֵנִי מֵחֶרֶב פַּרְעֹה:
and rescued me from Pharaoh's sword: when Datan and Aviram revealed the matter of the {slain} Egyptian, and he sought to kill Moshe, his neck was made like a pillar of marble.ויצלני מחרב פרעה: כשגילו דתן ואבירם על דבר המצרי ובקש להרוג את משה, נעשה צוארו כעמוד של שיש:

On the level of absolute peshat, I would assert that this "saved me from Pharaoh's sword" is an idiom. When he fled to Midian after the matter of the slain Egyptian was discovered, Moshe was escaping the executioner's sword. But not that the physical sword was brought to his neck and a miracle occurred. This midrash, however, makes this literal, and thus adds to the Biblical narrative.

A neck turning into a marble pillar is not unknown in midrashic lore. Compare when Yaakov met Esav, in parashat Vayishlach:

4. And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.ד. וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ:
ויחבקהו: נתגלגלו רחמיו כשראהו משתחוה כל השתחוואות הללו:
 And kissed him: There are dots above it, and there are those who argue about this matter in the brayta of the Sifrei (Behaalotecha 69). Some expound this dotting to say that he did not kiss him with all his heart. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: It is a known tradition that Esav hated Yaakov, but his love overcame this at that hour and he kissed him with all his heart.וישקהו: נקוד עליו, ויש חולקין בדבר הזה בברייתא דספרי (בהעלותך סט), יש שדרשו נקודה זו לומר שלא נשקו בכל לבו. אמר ר' שמעון בן יוחאי הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב, אלא שנכמרו רחמיו באותה שעה ונשקו בכל לבו:

There is a famous midrash on this, which Rashi does not cite. Rashi just has him not kissing him with all his heart. Bereishit Rabba 78:9 has:
אמר לו ר' ינאי:אם כן, למה נקוד עליו?
אלא מלמד, שלא בא לנשקו אלא לנשכו, ונעשה צוארו של אבינו יעקב של שיש, וקהו שיניו של אותו רשע.

ומה ת"ל ויבכו? 
אלא זה בוכה על צוארו וזה בוכה על שיניו. 
"Rabbi Yannai said to him: If so, why are their dots above it? Rather this teaches that he did not come to kiss him but rather to bite him, and Yaakov Avinu's neck became of marble, and they blunted the teeth of that evildoer. And what does it teach with 'and they cried'? That this one cried about his neck and this one cried about his teeth."

Local to parashat Yitro, what is the source for Rashi? It would appear to be Yerushalmi Berachot 63a, in a derasha from this same Rabbi Yannai as above.
 אבל הקב"ה הציל את משה מחרב פרעה הדא הוא דכתיב (שמות יח) ויצילני מחרב פרעה.  אמר רבי ינאי כתיב (שמות ב) ויברח משה מפני פרעה ואפשר לבשר ודם לברוח מן המלכות.  אלא בשעה שתפס פרעה את משה חייבו להתיז את ראשו וקהת החרב מעל צוארו של משה ונשבר'.  הדא הוא דכתיב (שיר השירים ו) צוארך כמגדל השן זה צוארו של משה.  ר' אמר רבי אביתר ולא עוד אלא שנתז החרב מעל צוארו של משה על צוארו של קוסנתירו והרגתו.  הדא הוא דכתיב (שמות יח) ויצילני מחרב פרעה.  לי הציל וקוסנתר נהרג.
"But Hashem saved Moshe from the sword of Pharaoh. This is what is written {Shemot 18}, "and he rescued me from Pharaoh's sword." Rabbi Yannai said: It is written {in Shemot 2}, "and Moshe fled from before Pharaoh". Now is it possible for a flesh-and-blood person to flee from the government? Rather, at the time that Pharaoh seized Moshe, he judged him liable to have his head cut off, and the sword was blunted from upon Moshe's neck and broke. This is what is written {Shir Hashirim 7:5}:

ה  צַוָּארֵךְ, כְּמִגְדַּל הַשֵּׁן; עֵינַיִךְ בְּרֵכוֹת בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן, עַל-שַׁעַר בַּת-רַבִּים--אַפֵּךְ כְּמִגְדַּל הַלְּבָנוֹן, צוֹפֶה פְּנֵי דַמָּשֶׂק.5 Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes as the pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim; thy nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.

This is the neck of Moshe. Rabbi {?} cited Rabbi Evyatar: And not only that but the sword bounced back from the neck of Moshe to the neck of the executioner and killed him. This is what is written {Shemot 18}, "and saved me from the sword of Pharaoh" -- to me he saved, while the executioner was killed."

Rabbi Yannai is thus consistent. Now, this is a hard-to-find midrash. It is hidden somewhere in a Yerushalmi. Compare this to the Mechilta or Midrash Rabba, which is a running midrashic commentary on the pesukim. Such midrashim are much easier to locate.

If we look to find Rashi's basis, and we don't know of this Yerushalmi, then we are hard-pressed. The closest we find is in the Mechilta:
יח, ד] שם האחד אליעזר כי אלהי אבי בעזרי ויצילני מחרב פרעה - ר' יהושע אומר:
אימתי הצילו המקום?
באותה שעה שאמר לו דת: מי שמך לאיש שר ושופט עלינו וגו'. וישמע פרעה את הדבר הזה. אמר: תפסו את משה והעלוהו לבימה וכפתוהו והניחו הסייף על צווארו, באותה שעה ירד מלאך ונדמה להם בדמותו של משה, תפסו את המלאך והניחו את משה,

ויש אומרים: עשאן המקום כתים כתים, אלמים חרשים וסומים והיו אומרים לאלמים: 
היכן הוא משה?

ולא היו מדברים ולחרשים ולא היו שומעים ולסומים ולא היו רואין, כענין שנאמר: ויאמר ה' אליו מי שם פה לאדם או מי ישום אלם וגו'. לכך נאמר: כי אלהי אבי בעזרי. 

Thus, an angel appeared in the form of Moshe and it was he that they seized, leaving Moshe alone. Or, Hashem struck them such that they were blind, deaf, mute, etc., such that they were unable to catch Moshe.

This is most decidedly NOT the same midrash, as the one Rashi cites, but rather provides different answers, and even some extra textual cues.

Mizrachi refers us to Shemot 4:11, and the Rashi there:

11. But the Lord said to him, "Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?יא. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֵלָיו מִי שָׂם פֶּה לָאָדָם אוֹ מִי יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ אוֹ פִקֵּחַ אוֹ עִוֵּר הֲלֹא אָנֹכִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
מי שם פה וגו': מי למדך לדבר כשהיית נדון לפני פרעה על המצרי:
או מי ישום אלם: מי עשה פרעה אלם שלא נתאמץ במצות הריגתך, ואת משרתיו חרשים, שלא שמעו בצוותו עליך, ולאספקלטורין ההורגים מי עשאם עורים, שלא ראו כשברחת מן הבימה ונמלטת:
הלא אנכי: ששמי ה' עשיתי כל זאת:

which would then be the midrash as brought down in the Mechilta, that people were struck mute, deaf, and blind (but not the aspect of the angel). I would say that there may indeed be conflicting midrashim, and one should not try to harmonize them.

Mizrachi writes:
"His neck was made like a pillar of marble" -- this implies that because his neck was like a pillar of marble and the were unable to kill him, he was saved and went off. Yet, in the Mechilta, Rabbi Yehuda {?} said that they sought to kill Moshe, they seized Moshe and brought him up to the platform, bent him over, and placed the sword at his neck, and an angel came and appeared to them like the image of Moshe, and they seized the angel and left Moshe alone. And were it not for the angel they would have killed him.

And perhaps there is to say that this is what it means to say -- they placed the sword on his neck and were unable to kill him, for his neck was made like a pillar of marble, and they endeavored to kill him in another way, and when the angel descended and appeared like Moshe, they siezed him and left Moshe alone, and the latter went off by himself.

For if you do not say this, where did Rashi find that his neck was made into a pillar of marble?

And that which they darshened by {Shemot 4:11, as above}, that "or who makes [one] dumb" means "who made Pharaoh mute, that he did not make a great effort in the command of your killing, the intent is not that he did not make such an effort at all, in the beginning or the end, to bring you from before him {?}, for if so, how was it that he turned him over to the executioner and he placed the sword on his neck without a command of Pharaoh? Rather, this is the explanation. That after he was turned over into the hand of the executioner, by the command of Pharaoh, who commanded this initially, and his neck was made like a pillar of marble, and the sword had no impact on him, and they were seeking a means to kill him, all of them were made like blind people and he fled from the capital city. And they did not see him, and Pharaoh was made mute and was unable to command to pursue after him to bring him. And now, it comes out good that which they darshen regarding "or seeing or blind" {same pasuk} that the guards {/executioners} became blind and did not see when he fled from the platform and was saved, which implies that because of the fleeing he was saved, and not because his neck was made like a pillar of marble such that the sword had no impact.

But that which they darshened regarding "or deaf" that his servants were made deaf and did not hear Pharaoh in his command upon you, that is a question, for if it was speaking of before the fleeing, how did they seize him and place a sword on his neck after they were made like deaf people, and did not hear his command. And if it is after the fleeing, what was the intent upon him to kill that it is speaking of, for did they not already darshen regarding "or who makes [one] dumb" that He made Pharaoh mute and couldn't muster the strength to command to pursue after him to bring him.

And there is to say that the midrash that his neck was made into a pillar of marble and the midrash that they did not see that he fled are conflicting aggadot, and Rashi za"l brought down both of them as was his custom in many places. For so we find explicitly that they argue in the Mechilta, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Eliezer. For Rabbi Yehuda says that the sword was placed on his neck and the angel descended and appeared to them in the same appearance as Moshe, and they grabbed the angel and left Moshe. And Rabbi Eliezer says that those poeple who seized him, Hashem made them mutes, deaf people, and blind people. And they said to the mutes, where is Moshe, and they did not speak, and to the deaf, and they did not hear, and to the blind, and they did not see, just as is said, "or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind?"

Mirzrachi makes an excellent point here, which is that when we hear of Hashem confounding the people, was this at the time when Pharaoh was initially seeking him, or in the aftermath of a physical attempt to kill him. (The point he raises of otherwise, where does Rashi know of the neck turning to marble is a non-question once we know of the existence of this other midrash, in the Yerushalmi.)

I would answer this question as follows. The way that the Mechilta is presented, it seems rather clear that these are conflicting midrashic explanations of how Moshe escaped Pharaoh's sword. According to the first explanation, he was caught and there was a physical sword of Pharaoh that was placed on his neck. The angel took on his form and, I would guess, location, while Moshe slipped away unnoticed. There is then no need for people unable to speak, etc., to point him out. The alternative explanation is that Moshe was never caught. People went out to arrest him, but the Egyptian populace who saw him were unable to speak or hear, others couldn't see him, etc. Thus, Hashem saved Moshe from the cherev Pharaoh.

In terms of the other two midrashim, as found in Rashi, they would both seem to be once Moshe had been caught. The sword broke on his neck, or bounced back and killed the executioner. Then, as Rashi said, "as you fled the platform" there were all these difficulties which allowed you to flee. Pharaoh first had difficulty even speaking the order to arrest and kill Moshe. When he managed to get the command out, people didn't hear, etc., etc.

I didn't cite the Yerushalmi in full. It goes:
אבל הקב"ה הציל את משה מחרב פרעה הדא הוא דכתיב (שמות יח) ויצילני מחרב פרעה.  אמר רבי ינאי כתיב (שמות ב) ויברח משה מפני פרעה ואפשר לבשר ודם לברוח מן המלכות.  אלא בשעה שתפס פרעה את משה חייבו להתיז את ראשו וקהת החרב מעל צוארו של משה ונשבר'.  הדא הוא דכתיב (שיר השירים ו) צוארך כמגדל השן זה צוארו של משה.  ר' אמר רבי אביתר ולא עוד אלא שנתז החרב מעל צוארו של משה על צוארו של קוסנתירו והרגתו.  הדא הוא דכתיב (שמות יח) ויצילני מחרב פרעה.  לי הציל וקוסנתר נהרג.  רבי ברכיה קרא עליו (משלי כא) כופר לצדיק רשע.  רבי אבון קרא עליו (משלי יא) צדיק מצרה נחלץ ויבא רשע תחתיו.  תני בר קפרא מלאך ירד ונדמה להן בדמות משה ותפסו את המלאך וברח משה.  אמר רב יהושע בן לוי בשעה שברח משה מפני פרעה נעשו כל אוכלוסין שלו אילמין ומהן חרשין ומהן סומין אמר לאילמין היכן הוא משה ולא היו מדברים.  אמר לחרשין ולא היו שומעין.  אמר לסומין ולא היו רואין.  הוא שהקב"ה אמר לו למשה (שמות ד) מי שם פה לאדם או מי ישום אלם וגו' תמן קמת לך והכא לית אנא קאים.  הה"ד (דברים ד) מי כה' אלהינו בכל קראינו אליו.

So we also have the angel taking the place, from Bar Kappara. And we have that they all became dumb, deaf, and blind "when he fled from before Pharaoh". So maybe there is indeed room for some combination. But then, כל אוכלוסין שלו would seem to be all of his populace. And "from before Pharaoh" would seem to be just a reiteration of the pasuk ויבקש להרוג את משה, ויברח משה מפני פרעה.

The source for Rashi in מִי יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם would appear to be midrash Tanchuma, on the pasuk which speaks of his fleeing, in Shemot 2. There, we read:
וישמע פרעה את הדבר הזה שעמדו דתן ואבירם והלשינו עליו, לפיכך ברח למדין ועשה שם כ' שנה, והיו ראויין ישראל לגאולה, מיד,
ויבקש להרוג את משה, ויברח משה מפני פרעה העלו את משה לבימה ובקש פרעה להרגו, עשה הקב"ה לפרעה אלם, ולסגנין חרשין, ולספקלטרין עיוורים, וברח משה מפני פרעה.

דאמר ר' יוחנן:
שבשעה שאמר משה לא איש דברים אנכי.
השיבו הקדוש ברוך הוא: מי שם פה לאדם, שאמר פרעה מפיו, העלו את משה לבימה להורגו. או מי עשאו אלם, או חרש, מי עשה הסגנין חרשין, או ספקלטרין עיוורים, או מי עשאך פקח שתברח מפני פרעה? הלא אנכי ה'.

Thus, in this version of the midrash, it is clear that he was placed on the bima.

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