Thursday, February 10, 2011

Arrange the lamps, or estimate the lamps?

Summary: I don't think Ibn Ezra is actually endorsing Yefet ben Ali's novel theory.

Post: At the start of parashat Tetzaveh:

21. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the dividing curtain that is in front of the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it up before the Lord from evening to morning; [it shall be] an everlasting statute for their generations, from the children of Israel.כא. בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד מִחוּץ לַפָּרֹכֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל הָעֵדֻת יַעֲרֹךְ אֹתוֹ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו מֵעֶרֶב עַד בֹּקֶר לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתָם מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:

Upon this pasuk, Ibn Ezra writes:
אמר יפת:

כי יערוך. כמו בערכך הכהן. שיערוך שמן שיספיק להיות הנרות מאירים מערב ועד בקר. וככה נרות המערכה. 
ונכון הוא להיות טעם יערוך –
בעבור היות הנרות כחצי עגול. ועוד אדבר על זה.
"Yefet {ben Ali, the Karaite scholar} said that יַעֲרֹךְ  is like בערכך הכהן, "when the kohen assesses for you", that he estimates enough oil such that the lamps will light from evening to morning, and so were the neirot hamaaracha. And it would be correct for the meaning of יַעֲרֹךְ  to be because the lamps were {arranged} in a half-circle. And I will speak more about this."

(Looking at Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite, I think it is somewhat ambiguous how he interprets it. But his supercommentator explains his words as in accordance with Yefet. ****)

I don't think that just because Ibn Ezra cites someone's assertion, it means that he supports that assertion. Rather, it could be that he cites a position to make clear to his readership just what he is arguing against. When he argues against a famous midrash or a Rashi, he often does not cite that position, but we might infer that this is what is prompting his comment. But not everyone read Karaitic literature, and so Ibn Ezra might just be citing it here to show why his point is any chiddush at all.

This, especially because Ibn Ezra refers to his own, differing position, as nachon, "correct". Perhaps Yefet questioned why yaaroch as "arranging" would be appropriate in this context if they were all in a line, and so Ibn Ezra is explaining that they were actually arranged in a half-circle.

The Chasam Sofer, who apparently is a big Ibn Ezra fan, adopts Yefet's peshat as that of Ibn Ezra and runs with it:

Still, even if the point pasuk doesn't mean that with the words יַעֲרֹךְ אֹתוֹ, presumably they put in a certain amount of oil into the lamps such that it would last the night. And so the extra time spent burning could be a miracle, etc., etc.

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