Monday, January 03, 2011

Moshe, and Yonah's, reluctance

Summary: A cute vort from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, reinterpreting the kal vachomer.

Post: In parshat Vaera, Moshe makes a kal vachomer:

12. But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, "Behold, the children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of closed lips?"יב. וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי ה לֵאמֹר הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם:

and Rashi cites the midrash that this is one of ten kal vachomers in Tanach. See my analysis here. As I discuss in that post, a famous question on this kal vachomer is that there is a rebuttal, a pircha, to the kal vachomer. The Taz suggests a resolution such that the kal vachomer stands, and I suggest that it is a kal vachomer despite the pircha.

But Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz takes a different, creative approach:

 וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי ה לֵאמֹר הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה  -- "Behold, they ask upon this kal vachomer, that the Bnei Yisrael did not hearken to him because of shortness of spirit {see above, pasuk 9}, so how is there a proof that Pharaoh won't listen to him. And it seems {rather} that the intent of Moshe was for the benefit of Israel, just as Yonah did regarding Ninveh, that he fled, for the reason that is the pagans turned from their evil path while Israel did not return to Hashem, there would be, forfend, anger upon Israel. And so was the matter by Pharaoh -- since Israel did not hearken to me, if Pharaoh will listen to me, there would be, forfend, anger upon Israel. And therefore he refused the agency."

It would seem, therefore, that he parses the pasuk against Rashi and the midrash as הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי, behold, the children of Israel don't listen to me;  וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה, and so how could I set it up that Pharaoh might listen to me.

A beautiful vort; of course, Rashi is the better peshat in the pasuk.

My thoughts about Yonah refusing his shlichus can be read here, in "Yonah's rebellion and Yonah as metaphor."

Elsewhere, Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz fixes up the kal vachomer by explaining that in מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, the avoda kasha refers to the negative influence of avoda zara. And this would naturally impact Pharaoh, an actual idolater, to a greater extent. So I think he is not dead-set against reading it as a kal vachomer. He is just open to exploring this issue in all sorts of creative ways.

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