Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rashi, and permission to predict the ketz

Summary: I offer up a different way of interpreting that famous gemara in Sanhedrin, that there is in fact NO prohibition of predicting the ketz.

Post: In Sanhedrin 97b, we read:
What is meant by 'but at the end it shall speak [we-yafeah] and not lie?' {Chabakuk 2} — R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: Blasted be18  the bones of those who calculate the end.19  For they would say, since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet he has not come, he will never come. But [even so], wait for him, as it is written, Though he tarry, wait for him. 
One could say that this is a rather unambiguous prohibition on predicting the end-time, because Rabbi Yonatan even interprets the pasuk as cursing someone who does this. And it speaks of negative repercussions that are likely to occur when someone mispredicts the predetermined time.

Yet, among several other Rishonim, Rashi in Daniel calculates a ketz. And indeed, in that gemara itself, we see discussions of the end time by Tannaim and Amoraim! How can this be? Would R' Shmuel bar Nachmani, and R' Yonasan, be cursing them?!

I think the answer is straightforward, in how Rashi interprets this gemara. But I am not so sure that it is obvious how Rashi interprets this gemara. And so, I will present my understanding of Rashi here.

The gemara reads:
מאי ויפח לקץ ולא יכזב א"ר שמואל בר נחמני אמר ר' יונתן תיפח עצמן. של מחשבי קיצין שהיו אומרים כיון שהגיע את הקץ ולא בא שוב אינו בא אלא חכה לו שנאמר אם יתמהמה חכה לו
I would suggest that Rashi understands the gemara as follows. The pasuk in Chabakuk reads:

ג  כִּי עוֹד חָזוֹן לַמּוֹעֵד, וְיָפֵחַ לַקֵּץ וְלֹא יְכַזֵּב; אִם-יִתְמַהְמָהּ, חַכֵּה-לוֹ--כִּי-בֹא יָבֹא, לֹא יְאַחֵר.3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it declareth of the end, and doth not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.'

and it obviously has its peshat meaning. But let us parse the gemara, according to Rashi.
ויפח לקץ - תיפח נפשו של מחשב הקץ שלא היה לו לכזב ולומר כיון שהגיע וכו':
He has nafsho rather than atzman. The point, perhaps, is that the mechashev haketz should rather allow his nefesh to be blasted, to admit that he was wrong in his calculations and that he accidentally misled everyone. For he should not lie, וְלֹא יְכַזֵּב, and say that he was right all along, and that he predicted the ketz correctly, but that its lack of arrival means that it is never coming. Rather, as the pasuk continues, אִם-יִתְמַהְמָהּ, חַכֵּה-לוֹ. Wait for it, though it tarries. It will eventually come.

As Rashi says:
יחכה ה' - הוא עצמו מחכה ומתאוה שיבא משיח:
He himself, this mistaken predictor, should eagerly await the arrival of mashiach.

Thus, it is not a curse, chas veShalom, on those who predict the ketz. Nor is it a prohibition. Rather, it is an instruction on how they are to conduct themselves.

And such is necessary. You put yourself out there. You gain followers. And then the day arrives and mashiach does not. What a blow to the ego! Do you protect yourself and your reputation, at the expense of the messianic hopes of your followers? Or do you admit that you miscalculated?

Consider the response of Harold Camping, when the end-times did not arrive as he had calculated:

Clearly, this is a reaction of someone who believes. He does not strike me as someone who was stringing people along, for financial gain. He was shocked that this didn't occur, and he needed to mull it over to figure out what was happening.

A bit later, he determined that he had indeed miscalculated, just as he had done in predicting a rapture for 1994. Thus:

In a rambling discourse to reporters outside his Family Radio International office, Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer, indicated he had misread the signs in predicting that the faithful would be lifted up to Heaven Saturday, leaving sinners to suffer through five months of disasters until the Earth was consumed in a fireball on the End of Days.
God did “bring judgment on the world,” on Saturday, he said, but there will not be any terrible buildup to the end. When it comes, it will happen quickly, he said.
“We have to be looking at all of this a little bit more spiritual, but it won’t be spiritual on Oct. 21,” he said. “Because the Bible clearly teaches that then the world is going to be destroyed altogether.”
I've also heard that he claimed that he did not miscalculate. There was something significant that occurred on May 21st, namely a 'spiritual' ending. But the physical ending would be October 21st. From what I read immediately above, this is a claim that spiritual judgement was indeed pronounced On High on May 21, though we did not sense it. So it is the beginning of the end.

So he is not admitting error. Although it seems possible that this October 21 date he had in mind from before, as the time of ultimate destruction -- just that the rapture component would be earlier.

We will see what happens when the world does not end on October 21, 2011. I would imagine that reporters are going to be following up on this story.

Anyway, back to Rashi. As I write in another post, on whether Rashi predicted mashiach in 2011 -- he did not -- Rashi wrote:
עד עידן ועידנין ופלג עידן - קץ סתום הוא זה כאשר נאמר לדנייאל סתום הדברים וחתום ודרשוהו הראשונים איש לפי דעתו וכלו הקצים ויש לנו לפותרו עוד כאשר ראיתי כתוב בשם רב סעדיה...
until a time, two times, and half a time: This is an obscure end, as was said to Daniel (12:4): “And you, Daniel, close up the words and seal,” and the early commentators expounded on it, each one according to his view, and the ends have passed. We can still interpret it as I saw written in the name of Rav Saadia Gaon...
That is, Rashi understands that this is each commenter expounding according to his view, but these ends have passed, so obviously, they were wrong. And we can acknowledge that and move on, with another prediction / calculation.

This in contrast to how some others claim, that when a Tanna, or Amora, or Gaon, or Rishon, or Acharon calculates a ketz and it does not come to be, it really was right. Just on some spiritual plane. Or this was a potential, more than any other time, that did not come to pass. Or that it was one step in the process. All sorts of excuses / interpretations can be proffered. Yet I don't think that this was deemed a plausible answer in the gemara, as Rashi interprets it. It either was the end time but the end time has been cancelled, or else it was not and it was a miscalculation.


Devorah said...

Can you fix that link, it doesn't work: "on whether Rashi predicted mashiach in 2011"
Thanks !

joshwaxman said...

now fixed.


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