Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vay-hi in the days of Achashverosh

Summary: Regarding the deduction that any instance of vay denotes tragedy.

Post: In the previous post in this series, I presented the beginning of Agadat Esther. Now, I present the next segment. Some comments I embed within {curly brackets}. This is basically a retelling of the discussion in Bavli Megillah 10b, so I will just take it from there:
ויהי בימי אחשורוש אמר רבי לוי ואיתימא רבי יונתן דבר זה מסורת בידינו מאנשי כנסת הגדולה כל מקום שנאמר ויהי אינו אלא לשון צער (אסתר א) ויהי בימי אחשורוש הוה המן (רות א) ויהי בימי שפוט השופטים הוה רעב (בראשית ו) ויהי כי החל האדם לרוב וירא ה' כי רבה רעת האדם (בראשית יא) ויהי בנסעם מקדם הבה נבנה לנו עיר (בראשית יד) ויהי בימי אמרפל עשו מלחמה (יהושוע ה) ויהי בהיות יהושע ביריחו וחרבו שלופה בידו (יהושוע ו) ויהי ה' את יהושע וימעלו בני ישראל (שמואל א א) ויהי איש אחד מן הרמתים כי את חנה אהב וה' סגר רחמה (שמואל א ח) ויהי <כי> [כאשר] זקן שמואל ולא הלכו בניו בדרכיו (שמואל א יח) ויהי דוד לכל דרכיו משכיל [וה' עמו] ויהי שאול עוין את דוד (שמואל ב ז) ויהי כי ישב המלך בביתו רק אתה לא תבנה הבית והכתיב (ויקרא ט) ויהי ביום השמיני ותניא אותו היום היתה שמחה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא כיום שנבראו בו שמים וארץ כתיב הכא ויהי ביום השמיני וכתיב התם (בראשית א) ויהי <בקר> [ערב ויהי בקר] יום אחד הא שכיב נדב ואביהוא והכתיב (מלכים א ו) ויהי בשמונים שנה וארבע מאות שנה והכתיב (בראשית כט) ויהי כאשר ראה יעקב את רחל והכתיב ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד והאיכא שני והאיכא שלישי והאיכא טובא אמר רב אשי כל ויהי איכא הכי ואיכא הכי ויהי בימי אינו אלא לשון צער חמשה ויהי בימי הוו ויהי בימי אחשורוש ויהי בימי שפוט השופטים ויהי בימי אמרפל (ישעיהו ז) ויהי בימי אחז (ירמיהו א) ויהי בימי יהויקים 
Or, in English -- rather than translate, I am going to rely on the Point by Point Summary:
(a) (R. Levi): We have a tradition from Anshei Keneses ha'Gedolah that 'va'Yehi' (and it was) always denotes pain"
1. "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Achashverosh" there was Haman.
2. "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Shefot ha'Shoftim" there was a famine.
3. "Va'Yehi that man began to multiply" Hash-m saw that great is the evil of man.
4. "Va'Yehi when they traveled from the east" - "Let us build a city.
5. "Va'Yehi In the days of Amrafel" they made war.
6. "Va'Yehi Yehoshua biYricho" - "His sword drawn in his hand."
7. "Va'Yehi Hash-m Im Yehoshua" - Benei Yisrael transgressed.
8. "Va'Yehi Ish me'Ramasayim" - Chanah was barren.
9. "Va'Yehi when Shmuel grew old" - "His sons did not go in his ways."
10. "Va'Yehi David was succeeding in all his ways and Hash-m was with him" - "Sha'ul put his eye on David".
11. "Va'Yehi when the king sat in his house" - "But you will not build the Beis ha'Mikdash."
(b) Question: But is says, "Va'Yehi on the eighth day (of Chanukas ha'Mishkan)"!
1. (Beraisa): That day there was a Simchah in front of Hash-m like the day Heaven and earth were created.
2. In both places it says "va'Yehi."
(c) Answer: Nadav and Avihu died.
(d) Question: "Va'Yehi in the 480th year (the Beis ha'Mikdash was completed)"!
(e) Question: "Va'Yehi when Yakov saw Rachel"!
(f) Question: "Va'Yehi evening and it was morning, one day"!
(g) Question: There is also the second day, the third day, and more!
(h) Answer (Rav Ashi):  "Va'Yehi" is sometimes good, sometimes painful. "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei is always pain. In five places it says "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei":
1. "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Achashverosh", "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Shefot ha'Shoftim", "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Amrafel", "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Achaz", and "Va'Yehi bi'Ymei Yehoyakim."
I am not sure if this really "saves" the masoret. If it is a tradition, it is a tradition! How can you change that? And if you change it, is it the minor change that Rabbi Levi, or Rabbi Yochanan, meant to say Vayhi biymei in his statement? If so, what sort of masorah do you need for this? We can examine those five cases and determine that indeed, there was pain introduced in context in each of those places! (Though admittedly Achaz might be a question.) The point of such a masorah would seem to be able to apply it, as a midrashic tool, to new cases. If sometimes it applies and sometimes not, then what good it is? How can we know. Also, I understand why vay hi would mean this -- it was 'woe'! But is there anything intrinsic to the word בימי that suggests woe?

I think the answer is that midrash is not in fact always systematic. Even though Shimon HaAmsuni darshened all ess-in in the Torah, and then disavowed it all when he found one he couldn't darshen, this does not have to be the case everywhere. Even though Chazal say that every na is leshon bakasha, they don't say that the prohibition to eat the korban Pesach na means that one cannot say "please" and must be rude while eating it. And there are na's that mean now. And not every mayim in the Torah means Torah; sometimes it could be water. Would you have a hava amina that Yosef's brothers would throw him into a pit with a sefer Torah on it, that the Torah must inform us otherwise. That the mesorah says כל מקום could simply mean to apply this to the general case, but not to the obviously inapplicable cases.

(In terms of Yaakov, though, he cried when he saw Rachel! Pashut peshat is that this was in joy, but various midrashim put this as that he came penniless while Eliezer had come laden with gifts, or that he saw that Rachel would not be buried with him.)

Anyway, after this introduction the Midrash (found also in Ester Rabba Prologue 11) continues, addressing the Vayhi in the days of Achaz, where no pain or tragedy was pointed out, at least in the gemara. I would say this is no question. The pasuk itself makes clear the tzara. In Yeshaya 7:
א  וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אָחָז בֶּן-יוֹתָם בֶּן-עֻזִּיָּהוּ מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה, עָלָה רְצִין מֶלֶךְ-אֲרָם וּפֶקַח בֶּן-רְמַלְיָהוּ מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל יְרוּשָׁלִַם, לַמִּלְחָמָה, עָלֶיהָ; וְלֹא יָכֹל, לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ.1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it; but could not prevail against it.

Yes, they did not prevail, but as we see in II Melachim 16, they did besiege him. That was likely not pleasant. And Haman didn't prevail in the end either. That does not mean that there was no tzaar. On the other hand, the midrash at hand, as discussed in the previous segment, found a different reason for the vay in the days of Achashverosh -- the preventing of the building of the Beis Hamikdash. At any rate, back to the midrash!

{See here for some Midrash Rabba on this.}
And those five are: {Esther 1:1} Vayhi in the days of Achashverosh -- there was there Haman the wicked, and so sought to destroy the enemies of Israel {using a euphemism to refer to Israel}. {Bereshit 14:1} Vayhi in the days of Amrafel -- Avraham was cast into the fiery furnace. {Note that this uses a midrashic explanation, rather than the peshat context mentioned by the gemara, that they went to war.} {Ruth 1:1} Vayhi in the days of the judging of the judges -- there was famine, and Elimelech and his two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, died. {Yeshaya 7:1}, Vayhi in the days of Achaz -- and what straits were there? {Yeshaya 9:11} Arameans on the east and Philistines on the west. Achaz said, if there are no young kids, there will be no he-goats; if there are no he-goats, there will be no livestock born; if there is no livestock, there is no goatherd; if there is no goatherd there is no world. And so did Achaz say: if there are no children there are no older ones {learning Torah}; if there are no older ones, there are no students; if there are no students, there are no Sages; if there are no Sages, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there are no synagogues and study halls; if there are no synagogues and study halls, He will not manifest His Presence in the world. What did he do? He shut up the synagogues and study halls, which is what Scripture states {Yeshaya 8:16}

טז  צוֹר, תְּעוּדָה; חֲתוֹם תּוֹרָה, בְּלִמֻּדָי.16 'Bind up the testimony, seal the instruction among My disciples.'

When everyone saw this, they began to cry, Vay, Vay! {Once again, there is a straightforward explanation from simple peshat in the pasuk, but the midrash seeks for a more midrashic explanation.} {Yirmeyahu 1:3} Vayhi in the days of Yehoyakim -- the Temple was destroyed and Hashem sought to return the world to Tohu vaVohu, for it is written there {Bereishit 1:1}

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ...2 Now the earth was unformed and void...

and it is written here {Yirmeyahu 26:1}

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, מַמְלְכוּת יְהוֹיָקִים בֶּן-יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ--מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה:  הָיָה הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, מֵאֵת יְהוָה לֵאמֹר.1 In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, came this word from the LORD, saying:

{And thus, the link is formed by the word Bereishit, that Hashem sought to restore it to this initial form.} Therefore it is written "Vayhi in the days of Achashverosh".

{This last part I only include for the sake of completeness, because the midrash includes it. And it does so because it is part of the same sugya, of traditions from the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah.}

I'll draw the translation, again, from the Point by Point Summary for the parallel daf:
(a) (R. Levi): We have a tradition that Amotz and Amatzyah are brothers.
(b) Question: What do we learn from this?
(c) Answer: This teaches like Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani, that a Kalah who is modest in her father-in-law's house merits that kings and Nevi'im will descend from her;
1. We learn from Tamar - "Yehudah saw her and thought that she was a harlot because she covered her face".
2. Question: Normally a harlot does not cover her face!
3. Answer: Rather, because she had covered her face in his house he didn't recognize her now, and she merited that kings and Nevi'im would descend from her.
4. Kings descended from her, i.e. (all kings of Beis) David;
5. Nevi'im descended from her, like R. Levi taught, that Amotz was the brother of Amatzyah (a king of Beis David), and it says "Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amotz". (Since Yeshayahu's lineage is traced to his father, this shows that also his father was a Navi - Megilah 15a.)
(d) R. Levi: We have a tradition that the Aron did not take up any space!
(e) (Support - Beraisa): There were 10 Amos from Moshe's Aron (until the wall) in each direction;
1. It says "V'Lifnei ha'Devir Esrim Amah." (Turei Even deletes the verse of the Cheruvim from the text, for it has no relevance to what we are proving.)
2. There was no space for the Aron! This shows that it stood miraculously.

I will close with the following idea. I recall from back in my undergraduate Bible-class days, there was a position, I think among scholars as well, that the first verse of many seforim were not written by the attributed author of the work but rather by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. (Perhaps consider the gemara in Bava Batra 15a:
Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote (Mnemonic YMSHK)2  Isaiah,3  Proverbs,4  the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Men of the Great Assembly wrote (Mnemonic KNDG)5  Ezekiel,6  the Twelve Minor Prophets,7  Daniel and the Scroll of Esther. Ezra wrote the book that bears his name8  and the genealogies of the Book of Chronicles up to his own time.

) Perhaps because of the often retrospective look, and the other hand telling us throughout where and when this author lived. If we consider, at the end of this gemara, that there are only five items, namely the Vayhi Biymei's, rather than the full list, we will also realize that if we select only three of these five, these are introductions to the sefer. In Rut, the first pasuk. In Esther, the first pasuk. In Yeshaya, the third pasuk of the sefer, but part of these very introductory remarks. And this is a tradition not from just any random Joe, or even from any random Amora or Tanna. This is from the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. Thus, I would suggest, this is a tradition about their own work. And then we need not select every Vayhi, and further, we need not restrict to Vayhi Biymei, but rather specifically those Vayhi's which appear at the start of sefarim. This would then include sefer Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shmuel, Yechezkel, Yonah, Ruth, and Esther. And I think a good case could be made for each of these.

I'll bolster this suggestion by pointing out that while in general, Rabbi Levi says Masores Beyadeinu MeAvoteinu, here specifically he says MeiAnshei Knesset HaGedolah.

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