Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why exile, and why until the Kohen Gadol's death?

Summary: See the first two paragraphs which follow. Plus, I offer my own suggestion, based on a parallel to Kayin and Hevel, based on Ancient Near Eastern law, and based on the idea of the Kohen Gadol having a ritual role.

Post: Why should the accidental killer receive a punishment of exile? And why should he go free when the Kohen Gadol dies? It seems a bit strange, and some reason behind these details would be nice. Chazal have a machlokes whether darshinan taamah dikra. Do we try to find the reason behind mitzvos. Even though we decide against, that is only as it impacts halacha, such that we do not say that where the reason fails, the commandment fails. But it still is a mitzvah of Talmud Torah to engage in such inquiry.

Rambam and Ibn Caspi discuss what the motivation behind these details might be, from (what seems to me to be) a rationalist perspective.

Thus, in Moreh Nevuchim, chelek 3, perek 40, Rambam writes:

"That which the accidental killer is exiled, it is to calm the soul of the blood relative, such that he does not see the one via whom the mishap occurred. And his return is predicated upon the death of the Kohen Gadol, for this is a natural matter for humans, that anyone who misfortune falls, when it impacts one like him, or one greater than him, he finds comfort on what happened to him. And there is no greater occurrence of death by us than the death of the Kohen Gadol."

And Ibn Caspi, in his commentary on Masei, writes:

"Until the death of the Kohen: Hashem wants, because of the righteousness of His laws, that his exile should not be forever. And there is no greater boundary than this, combined with this the reason of Rabbenu Moshe za'l. (Moreh Nevuchim, perek 40 from the third chelek)"

These explanations do make sense, and is consistent but one could imagine other explanations making equal sense.

I recall hearing the following Ancient Near Eastern law, though I have never seen it inside to confirm. That was that when someone killed another person (maybe by negligence), his penalty was having to move into the town and taking over for that other person. I am not sure if this included marrying the fellow's wife. The point being that he deprived the town of their citizen, and so he had to make them whole.

This exile could be cast as a spin on that sort of law. He must take his place in a city of exiles. Or a statement against this idea, that he must be exiled for a time.

I can see this as a reenactment of the punishment of Kayin. He deliberately killed his brother, and his punishment was not being able to settle, but being forced to wander over the face of the earth. And he feared that anyone who saw him would kill him. This was subsequently relaxed, to various degrees. He had a special sign to prevent anyone from killing him, and eventually we hear of him building a city.

On one side, we have the goel hadam who would like to take blood-vengeance. And on the other side we have the fact that this was more or less accidental -- perhaps somewhat negligent. As stated, the law is a middle position between the two. We could say that since it was accidental, and Hashem brought this about to his hands, he should get off scot-free. But he did take a human life, as well as cause harm to the living relatives. And so, he reenacts Kayin's penalty, by going into exile, with the goel hadam serving as a sort of enforcer.

Why go free at the Kohen Gadol's passing? Like this, there is an end, to indicate that the sin was not so grievous that there is no end to the penalty. But more than that, the Kohen Gadol has a ritual role. And so, when he dies, they might consider it as atonement effected on their behalf. As the Yerushalmi in the beginning of Yoma reads:
למה הוא מזכיר מיתתם ביום הכיפורים? ללמדך שכשם שיום הכיפורים מכפר על ישראל, כך מיתתם של צדיקים מכפרת על ישראל
And of course, this is not due to deliberate human action. Rather, it is the natural order, and Hashem's hand, which brings the death of the Kohen Gadol about, which makes a fitting end for the period of atonement for the accidental murderer, where Hashem brought it to the accidental murderer's hand.

Devarim sources -- 2011 edition

by aliyah
rishon (Devarim 1:1)
sheni (1:12)
shelishi (1:22)
revii (1:39)
chamishi (2:2)
shishi (2:31)
shevii (3:15)
maftir (3:20)
haftara (Yeshayahu 1), with Malbim and Ibn Ezra

by perek

Friday, July 29, 2011

Was Baba Elazer murdered to bring mashiach?

Update: read the note at the end.

I didn't know about this until a few minutes ago, when I read about it on Yeranen Yaakov:
The murderer (!) recently gave Shiurim in Elad.  One of the attendees reported: "Just yesterday, he gave an informative shiur in the synagogue about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and Sinat Hinam and caused many people from the audience to cry."  Someone else said, "He recently requested from us to pray that Mashiah Ben Yosef should not die.  He expressed the idea that the Mashiah is here and it's forbidden to allow him to die."

Again, a murder that makes absolutely no sense at first glance...
Time will tell, and this will all be sorted out. But it sounds like there was some connection between this fellow, Rabbi Asher Dahan's, messianic beliefs and his actions. Did he think that Rav Eliezer Abuchatzera was somehow preventing the arrival of mashiach.

I'll obliquely mention that I was recently worried about certain Jewish apocalyptic bloggers, who seemed to think their opponents were causing spiritual and physical harm to the Jewish people, and were therefore halachically 'rodfim'. Could this be such an instance, I don't know. Maybe he thought that by murdering Baba Elazar, he would bring mashiach, or prevent mashiach ben Yosef from dying. Or maybe he thought Baba Elazar was mashiach ben Yosef, who had to withdraw before mashiach ben David arrived.

I would point to this earlier story, in which Rav Elazar Abuchatzeira links his withdrawal with the arrival of mashiach, though not in precisely this manner:
With Divine Providence, I found out the reason why the Kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira Shlita stopped seeing the public... In this week's edition, 7 Nissan 5768, the religious newspaper Maayanei HaYeshua brought this fabulous, earth-shattering, exciting story... 

"...This week I had the opportunity to drive with a Rav. Never in my life did I experience such a conversation as I had with this Rav.

After a long silence, the Rav asked me, "Do you know that Moshiach is already here!?"

"What?!" I looked at him in wonder, "What does the Rav mean?" I asked.

The Rav answered, "Didn't you hear about the Mekubal in Be'er Sheva?" At this point, the Rav mentioned the famous Mekubal's name (nk: Kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira Shlita). "He has decided to stop seeing the public. His chasiddim explain that the Rav said that Moshiach is hiding amongst the people and all that needs to be done is to discover him. The minute he will be 'discovered', Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira told them, "Moshiach will receive the public and therefore, I'll no longer be necessary.

Shock overcame me. "It sounds... in this manner... very serious."

Update: According to this report, it had nothing to do with mashiach:
According to reports, Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira, a grandson of the famed Baba Sali, was allegedly stabbed to death at his yeshiva by a local man who was unhappy with the rabbi's marital advice.

But we will have to see how this shapes up. He had gone in the past for marital advice, so this might be speculation as well...

Further update: Via Matzav and JPost:
The motive for the homicide has not been established at this stage. Dahan’s attorney said that his client said that he did not intend to kill Baba Elazar and he was sorry for his actions, according to an Army Radio report.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

posts so far for parashat Masei


  1. Encoding the masaot to prove the miracles -- Ramban brings together many different opinions.
  2. Masei as the last sidra in the Torah -- Yes, I know there is a whole sefer in front of us, sefer Devarim, but that is Mishneh Torah. We should still consider the first four sefarim as a unit, such that we should expect some closure to the Torah.
  3. Masei sources -- further expanded. For instance, many more meforshei Rashi.
  4. How did Hashem judge the Egyptian deitiesIdols melting, judges judged, or national guardian angels getting their comeuppance
  5. The megillat hamasaot and the parasha of Bilaam -- According to Rav Gifter, both were written separately. The list of  masaot as they made their way through the midbar, and the parasha of Bilaam as something separate. Themasaot were added to the Torah, but the parasha of Bilaam was not, and is not the same as our parashat Balak. I consider this idea.
  6. YU Torah on parshas Masei.


  1. Masei sources -- revamped.
  2. Harmonizing the order of the Bnos Tzelophchad -- Yet another instance of the Samaritan Torah going about its program of harmonizing texts to make them consistent or solve problems.

  1. Masei sources -- links by aliyah and perek to an online Mikraos Gedolos, plus a variety of meforshim on the parsha and haftara. Plus a bunch of meforshim commenting upon Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Targum, Midrash, and the Masora.
  2. Mizrachi's map -- I make no interesting points here, but show an image of a map from Mizrachi in explaining a Rashi. I note this map in this post, about a chassidic school that forbids using / drawing of maps. And see this post at Menachem Mendel about Rashi's maps and drawings.

  1. What did the king of Arad hear? Did he hear that they were coming, or did he hear of the death of Aharon and that the Israelites were vulnerable?
  2. "And Moshe Wrote" -- does this indicate extra material tacked on? And how this relates to the dispute between Ibn Ezra and Ramban whether al-pi Hashem is connected to the Israelites' travels or with Moshe's writing.
  3. Furthermore, Ibn Ezra's reading is against the trup. But is it possible that Ibn Ezra did not realize this? I think it likely.
  4. Did Joshua add the section about Arad? Why would we think that, and how we can resolve this.
  5. The Egyptians, occupied with burial. And how that may easily translate to Rava's midrash about why "the land which consumes its inhabitants" was a good thing for the spies.

  1. Was any daughter of Tzelaphchad smarter than any other? The dispute between Rashi and Rashbam, in interpreting the relevant gemara.
  2. The marriage of the daughters of Tzelaphchad, and marrying in birth order.
  3. *If* Yovel comes -- can Yovel cease?
  4. Moshe Rabbenu's Beis Medrash. Was Torah not in Shamayim, even in the days of Moshe?

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's support for Nir ben Artzi

While many prominent rabbanim have spoken out against Nir Ben Artzi, one who has given him some measure of support is Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

As Rabbi Glazerson said over in his name,
R' Shmuel Eliyahu said that there's no prohibition in listening to a psychic who is telling people to do Teshuva.
He is, of course, entitled to his position. But I am not sure how to really parse this statement. Does he think that the psychic is real, and psychics in general are real, and so long as it does not turn people towards idolatry or other sins, it is not Biblically prohibited as chukas Emori, or tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha, or being a navi sheker? Or does he believe that the psychic is not real, but that is irrelevant, because the ends justify the means? My impression from this one quote is that it is closer to the latter.

Considering the first possibility, some people will not like my saying this, but someone can be a great scholar and rabbi and yet be plagued by superstitious beliefs. I don't know the scholarly level of Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, but I am willing to grant him that status. But on the other hand, he is part of an extremely superstitious culture. Let me give you an example.

As the Guardian reports:

Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).
We would (hopefully) laugh at this. No, they have not been invoking djinns, and if they were, it would be to no effect. But this is something taken seriously in Iran, in the general culture. And when people believe such superstitious nonsense in the general culture, then even really smart Jewish people may very well take it as the metzius, and work from there. So that a rabbi, even a great rabbi, believes in superstitious nonsense, does not mean that there is substance to the nonsense.

Considering the second possibility, I am reminded of what a fellow blogger told me about a visit from Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak, with his false apocalyptic threats as a mechanism of moving people to teshuva. He spoke in shul, and while it was not this fellows cup of tea, it was something that resonated well with the Sephardic audience.

I find this distasteful and an improper approach. But for the sake of argument, let us grant this position legitimacy. The quote again was:
R' Shmuel Eliyahu said that there's no prohibition in listening to a psychic who is telling people to do Teshuva.
What Rav Shmuel Eliyahu might not realize is that this is not the only thing this psychic has been telling people. That is why many of the aforementioned rabbanim were concerned. Thus, from the Maariv article:
"In those years, accompanied Ben Artzi quite a few allegations that he messed up marriages with his observations and advice to couples, to the extent of even open a divorce case. Rav Aviner wrote: "To those women who came to get advice, he sometimes emphasized with authority the faults in their husbands as a result, produced dislike and distance in the relationship between the couple. And: "He announced to peacefully-living-together couples that they do not match from heaven and thus disturbed their shalom bayis." Furthermore, he "made matches including very young girls. And an older single girl, he informed that according to the root of her soul she can not get married."
It is not all positive, as Rabbi Eliyahu seems to think. And there are also real casualties in telling people, as Nir does, that the end is near, such that they must move immediately and frantically to Eretz Yisrael. This is not just 'teshuva'. I will cite one story, but I have heard others as well:
Leah said:
I have been so burnt out from all this predictions ,I believed everything specially the warning that we must leave America before Rosh chodesh Sivan, I even Made Aliyah My family suffered greately from culture shock lack of parnassa I depleted all my savings, came back to the states, My family is super messed up: academically ,issues w/ depression,anxiety,and the person who encouraged all of this hardly ever blogs or even says that the presumably Moshiach past away.You are the only one who is very cautious about all these "PREDICTIONS' I wish I WOULDNOT HAVE BEEN SO NAIVE and saved my family and I so much heartache. 
I wonder what Rav Eliyahu would say when confronted with such instances of harm from listening to a psychic who is telling people to do teshuva.

Further, there have been other times in the past where rabbis, even Gedolim, approved of things for the sake of kiruv, and it has led to worse. I am thinking of the haskamos for facilitated communication for autistics. Reading these letters of approval, it seems that it is really only for the sake of kiruv, but should not, for example, be used for setting policy or halacha. Yet they have long since crossed that line, and are somewhat akin to a cult, or a separate sect.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

YU Torah on parashat Masei

Audio Shiurim on Masei
Rabbi Chaim Brovender: These are the Voyages 
Rabbi Ally Ehrman: Lessons Learned From Our Trek In The Desert 
Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg: Power of Tefilah 
Rabbi Shmuel Hain: Altar Asylum, Blood Avengers and Cities of Refuge: An Analysis of the ABC's of Unintentional Killing
Rabbi Ari Kahn: Destination and Traveling
Rabbi Aryeh LebowitzTravel Through Aveilus of Churban 
Mrs Ilana SaksTravel Logs 
Rabbi Baruch SimonGalus and Torah Sheb'al Peh 
Mrs Shira SmilesJourney of Faith 
Rabbi Michael TaubesWhich Haftorah do you read 
Rabbi Yaacov ThalerThe Role of the Kohen Gadol
Rabbi Ari ZahtzWhy List All The Stops 

Articles on Masei
Rabbi Asher BranderWanderings
Rabbi Ozer GlickmanSerious Texts For Serious Readers
Rabbi Meir GoldwichtWhy is Arei Miklat the Last Mitzvah in Bamidbar?
Rabbi Avraham GordimerSignificance of the Masa'os
Rabbi Maury GrebenauExile of a Murderer: Justice Served?
Rabbi Josh HoffmanThere's Something in the Air
Rabbis Stanley M Wagner and Israel DrazinThe Torah Does Not Call Israel Holy
Rabbi Avigdor NebenzahlTaking A Human Life Seriously
Rabbi Reuven SpolterA List of Names

Rabbi Jeremy WiederLaining for Parshat Masei
See all shiurim on YUTorah for Parshat Masei

 New This Week


The megillat hamasaot and the parasha of Bilaam

Summary: According to Rav Gifter, both were written separately. The list of  masaot as they made their way through the midbar, and the parasha of Bilaam as something separate. The masaot were added to the Torah, but the parasha of Bilaam was not, and is not the same as our parashat Balak. I consider this idea.

Post: First read this previous parshablog post, and this one, about the reason for encoding the masaot. It includes a discussion of Ibn Ezra and Ramban on the instruction of vayichtov, and whether al pi Hashem applies to that verb or to their travels.

Rav Mordechai Gifter, zatzal, writes:

"Ibn Ezra explains that al pi Hashem is connected to their travels, as in 'on Hashem's word they traveled and on Hashem's word they encamped.' And Ramban writes that if so there would be no seen, for we already know that it is so. Therefore he explains that it is connected to vayichtov Moshe.

And this seems to be puzzling, for it is known that all that he wrote was by Hashem's command, for Hashem said and he wrote. Rather, his intent in this that he wrote is that the reason for the writing of the masaot were a secret which was not revealed to us. And all that is known to us is that which was in His will to reveal. And perhaps his intent is that here was a particular command on the writing of the masaot, for in all the Torah there was not in the writing a commandment of writing, but rather this was part and parcel of the giving of the Written Torah, while here it was a particular command of the writing of the masaot.

And perhaps it is possible in this that Moshe was commanded to write the megillah {scroll} of the masaot {Josh: as it was happening through the midbar}, and in this the Scripture would be explained, that Moshe would write after they left from their encampment to travel further, and this is 'and Moshe wrote motza'eihem lemasa'eihem.' And according to this, there is to say that the Torah first set out in general, 'these are the masaot of the Israelites', and afterwards it explains, 'which they left' -- as in 'as they left from Egypt', then 'Moshe wrote, etc.', that with their leaving Rameses, Moshe was commanded to begin the writing of the scroll of the masaot. And consider it carefully.

And see Bava Batra 14b: Moshe wrote his sefer and parashat Bilaam. And see there in Rashi. And the Ritva explains that this is not parashat Bilaam which is written in the Torah, for that one, Hashem wrote it just like the rest of the Torah. Rather, it is a separate parasha of its own which he wrote. And he goes on at length more, and you can look at it.

And it is possible, according to this, that that which they said {in Bava Batra} 'wrote his sefer', this is not the Torah, for the Torah is not called the sefer of Moshe, like the rest of the sifrei Neviim, but the Torah of Hashem [even though the Navi {Malachi 4:4} says 'recall the Torah of my servant Moshe']. Rather his sefer was the megillat hamasaot which he was commanded to write from the time they left from the land of Egypt. And this megillah was referred to as the sefer of Moshe; also the parasha of Bilaam {which differs from the one in the Torah, as Ritva writes}. And perhaps this is the intent of Rashi there who wrote, 'and the parasha of Bilaam, his prophecy and parables, even though they are not the needs of Moshe, his teachings, or his actions'. And if regarding the parsha of Bilaam in the Torah, these words make no sense. Rather, the intent is to the parasha of Bilaam referred to by the Ritva, for this parasha as well was entered into the megillat hamasaot, and it was not of the requirements of Moshe, his teaching, or his actions, within that megillah. And these matters require investigation and explication."

I agree with a good portion of the early comments, and he set them out much better than I was able to earlier. Indeed, this difficulty as why these specifically we are told Moshe was commanded to write is what likely motivated Ibn Ezra to give a forced interpretation. And indeed, Ramban does not merely refer to the writing, but refers to all sorts of reasons, including reasons unknown to us, to prompt the writing, and as the purpose of this writing. And this may be motivated by the question of why we are told that these specifically Moshe wrote al pi Hashem.

It is also a rather fine insight and interpretation into the pasuk, that Moshe wrote this throughout their journey through the wilderness. We would have to take vayichtov as the pluperfect, but this is entirely acceptable grammatically. Moshe had written this throughout, and now it is appended at the end.

I do not agree with the creative reinterpretation of the gemara in Bava Basra. The pasuk in Malachi is famous enough that it came to me immediately as an objection to saying that the Torah is not called Toras Moshe. More than that, in Bava Basra, regarding other neviim, we are told that they wrote their book as well as some other one. And in each case, 'sifro' is the famous one attributed to him:
יהושע כתב ספרו ושמונה פסוקים שבתורה שמואל כתב ספרו ושופטים ורות
I don't think this suggested explanation is peshat in Bava Batra. It is remotely possible but rather implausible.

Ritva asks a good question, and has good motivation in that otherwise, we should just consider it part of sifro. But there is a good answer, and that answer is found in the words of Rashi. No, Rashi does not agree with Ritva. He is explaining why, even though it does appear in the Torah, parashat Bilaam is not encompassed in sifro, such that it needs to be handled separately. The content of the parasha would indicate that it is not typical Torah fare. It is the prophecy and parables of another prophet; and the actions and events directly impacting him. Therefore, we are told that this is indeed also written by Moshe.

I know, this is the standard interpretation of the gemara and Rashi I am putting forth here, but I think it works, and it works much better than this interpretation. (Regardless, the entire dvar Torah is a wonderful construction.)

Separate from this, we could regard parashat Bilaam and the parashat Hamasaot as separate works, both of which were entered into the Torah text at the very end of their stay in the midbar. And I've suggested in the past reading the Torah text with parshat Bilaam yanked out, to see how nicely it flows without the digression.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interesting Posts and Articles #321

  1. At Hebrew Books, Kuntres Techeles veArgaman, by Menachem Adler, 1999. This is presumably against the identification of the murex trunculus as the chilazon.
  2. In the Journal of the AMA, a piece by Harvard researchers suggesting to take overly obese children away from their parents. As a parent of naturally skinny kids, who was exceedingly thin as well in my youth, I can see just where this sort of overreach may end.
  3. At Blog In Dm:

    A Personal Plea About the Boro Park Tragedy!

    Please, guys! Can we, just this once, not write a song/capitalize on this? Thank you!

    At a blog at the Forward, a claim that chassidic musicians are doing just that. So too at DovBear, regarding this Lipa Schmeltzer video / unfinished song:

    I am not so sure about Lipa, at least. I regard him as a sort of blogger, in that people are looking at him to comment on various events of Jewish interest. Or some sort of pop-Rebbe. Thus, his visit to Aron Rottenberg. And he communicated in song. Still, this is something to watch out about.
  4. So too, DovBear notes, is this initiative by Guard Your Eyes. Besides using it to promote their agenda, they are using it to raise money. So too this. What about Misaskim, with their sefer Torah campaign? I understand that they were involved in the search and kevurah, but still. I see that the parents have established a memorial fund. That is different. 
    The Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund is the only effort specifically established and authorized by the Kletzky family. It will be administered by the Kletzky family and their rabbi, Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberger.
    Perhaps I am over-reading into this, but maybe they disliked how others were grabbing their child's name and their tragedy to advance various agendas and to collect money.

  5. Another thing which bothered me is that the public does not know where to stop. 'Achdus' is great, and it was certainly in play in the search for Leiby. And the public is certainly sad. But there is an idea of letting a family mourn. Ten thousand attended the funeral. But the family itself did not attend because it was too painful. Perhaps if it had not been made into such a massive (and overwrought) event, they could have managed to attend. And I wonder how many strangers overwhelmed them with visits during shiva, and whether that detracted from being able to be with people that actually know them / are friends of the family.
    Those making shiva calls said the visits are brief, no more than three minutes long. It is all the family can bear. The small apartment can only hold about 15 people at one time.
    Bach, who spent 12 years on the beat in Borough Park, said he is haunted by Leiby’s father’s anguish.
    “You can see the pain on the gentleman’s face. It’s hard to describe,” said Bach. “Only he can feel the pain. You know, it’s tough.”
    Binyomin Ginsberg came all the way from Minneapolis, Minn.
    “Such a tragedy,” said Ginsberg. “How could I not show support?”
    Ginsberg had never met the Kletzkys until now.
    “We’re supposed to comfort the mourners, but in a sense, everybody coming is a mourner,” said Ginsberg. “We’re all mourning this child.”
    A community of mourners, thousands of them, are coming from far and wide because they couldn’t stay away.
    Perhaps the visits could be more than three minutes long if thousands who don't know them at all would not be coming to visit in this intensely personal time. There should have been a way of turning off the spigot.
  6. Others using the tragedy to advance their agendas are the people who exploit autistics. See Wolfish Musings' complaint about this explanation for the tragedy, from 'Moisheleh':
  7. At Life In Israel, yeshivas putting down revolutions.
  8. A blog dedicated to exposing gypsies posing as Jews, in Kew Gardens Hills, in order to collect tzedaka.

How did Hashem judge the Egyptian deities?

Summary: Idols melting, judges judged, or national guardian angels getting their comeuppance.

Post: In Masei we read that Hashem had executed judgement against the Egyptian deities.

ד  וּמִצְרַיִם מְקַבְּרִים, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה ה בָּהֶם--כָּל-בְּכוֹר; וּבֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, עָשָׂה ה שְׁפָטִים.4 while the Egyptians were burying them that the LORD had smitten among them, even all their first-born; upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

These masaot, in general, form a brief summary of previous events, mentioned in greater detail elsewhere. But while we know of the punishment of the Egyptian firstborn, as the Torah tells us, where is the executed judgement against the Egyptian gods?

Ibn Ezra writes:
ובאלהיהם עשה ה' שפטים -כמו ראש דגון, כי כן אמר השם למשה:
"Like the head of Dagon, for so did Hashem say to Moshe."

The reference is to Shmuel Aleph, 5:3, when the Philistines capture the ark:

ג  וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ אַשְׁדּוֹדִים, מִמָּחֳרָת, וְהִנֵּה דָגוֹן נֹפֵל לְפָנָיו אַרְצָה, לִפְנֵי אֲרוֹן ה; וַיִּקְחוּ, אֶת-דָּגוֹן, וַיָּשִׁבוּ אֹתוֹ, לִמְקוֹמוֹ.3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
ד  וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר, מִמָּחֳרָת, וְהִנֵּה דָגוֹן נֹפֵל לְפָנָיו אַרְצָה, לִפְנֵי אֲרוֹן ה; וְרֹאשׁ דָּגוֹן וּשְׁתֵּי כַּפּוֹת יָדָיו, כְּרֻתוֹת אֶל-הַמִּפְתָּן--רַק דָּגוֹן, נִשְׁאַר עָלָיו.4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands lay cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.

This is punishment for taking the aron. Ibn Ezra is assuming a similar 'punishment' to the Egyptian deities. Now, nowhere is the specifics of the punishment of Egyptian deities explicitly mentioned. But Ibn Ezra agrees that they occurred, for they are described here as having happened, and Hashem had told Moshe that this would happen. In Shemot 12:12:

יב  וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי ה.12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

If Hashem promised it, then it must have happened.

I've seen some try to read the ten plagues as these punishments, each targetting specific Egyptian deities. But this is twice (in Shemot and in Bemidbar) associated specifically with the Plague of the Firstborn, not the plagues in general.

Ibn Caspi echoes Ibn Ezra:

So too Targum Yonasan, which adds details:
And the Mizraee buried those whom the Lord had killed among them, even all the first‑born; and upon their idols did the Word of the Lord do judgments; their molten idols were dissolved, their idols of stone were mutilated, their idols of earthenware broken in pieces, their wooden idols turned to ashes, and their cattle gods were slain with death.
While possible, it strikes me as way too midrashic. For their part Ibn Caspi and Ibn Ezra are pashtanim, but the Torah describes something as having happened, and they are willing to take an open canon approach.

I am tempted to see a poetic echo here. We know from Mishpatim that Elohim can mean judges. Executing judgement against the judges resonates well. And it fits in with the idea of the firstborn being generally prominent folk. Not only they were killed, but their rulers / judges would be judged on that night.

Looking around, I see that this idea is put forth by the Baalei Tosafot:

Yet Biblical scholars question that identification in Mishpatim. And there seems to be a more straightforward explanation, though of course all of this is subjective.

Chazal say that the downfall of a nation is preceded by the downfall of its sar.  (See e.g.Vayikra Rabba for a version of Yaakov's dream, with the ascending and descending of various angels.) So perhaps what is not meant is a lifeless idol, but the guardian angel(s) of the nation of Egypt. Thus, the war / punishment against Egypt is wages down below but simultaneously On High.

Indeed, the idea of 70 "bnei Elohim", perhaps corresponding to the 70 nations, might be Biblical. There is the pasuk in Haazinu:

ח בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם, {ס} בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם; {ר} יַצֵּב גְּבֻלֹת עַמִּים, {ס} לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ר}8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.

where the Septuagint appears to reflect an original text lemispar bnei Elohim; and the Dead Sea Scrolls, though extremely fragmentary here, seem to support such a reading as well. Thus, borders apportioned to various angels might well have Biblical precedent. And there is support for this idea in Ugaritic texts, as well.

The Zohar explores a number of these options. See inside, in chelek 2, daf 18a.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Masei sources -- 2011 edition

by aliyah
rishon (Bemidbar 33:1)
sheni (33:11)
shelishi (33:50)
revii (34:16)
chamishi (35:1)
shishi (35:9)
shevii (36:1)
maftir (36:11)
haftara (Yirmeyahu 2:4), with Mahari Kara and Malbim

by perek

Judaica Press Rashi in English and Hebrew
Shadal (here and here)
Daat -- with Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Rabbenu Bachya, Midrash Rabba, Tanchuma+, Gilyonot
Gilyonot Nechama Leibovitz (Hebrew)
Tiferes Yehonasan from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz (nothing on Masei)
Chasdei Yehonasan -- not until Shofetim
Divrei Yehonasan
Toldos Yitzchak Acharon, repeated from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz
Even Shleimah -- from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich
R' Saadia Gaon's Tafsir, Arabic translation of Torah (here and here)
Zohar, with English translation (no separate Masei)
Ibn Caspi
Ibn Caspi - Tiras Kesef -- not until Devarim
Malbim -- only for Matos
Imrei Shafer, Rav Shlomo Kluger
Meiri -- not until vaEtchanan
Ibn Gabirol -- not until vaEtchanan
Rabbenu Yonah -- not until vaEtchanan
Aderet Eliyahu (Gra) -- not until Devarim
Kol Eliyahu (Gra) -- not until vaEtchanan
Sefer Zikaron of Ritva -- not until vaEtchanan
R' Eleazer miGermayza -- not until Devarim
Tanach with He'emek Davar -- Netziv
Nachalas Yaakov -- R' Yaakov ben Yaakov Moshe of Lissa
Divrei Emes -- Chozeh mi-Lublin
Or Hameir, R' Zev Wolf of Zhitomir
Akedat Yitzchak
Melo HaOmer
Baalei Bris Avraham
Rav Yosef Karo
Chasam Sofer
Chasam Sofer al HaTorah
Daat Soferim
Divrei Yaakov
Rabbi Yehoshua Ibn Shoiv, a student of the Rashba
Maharsham -- Techeilet Mordechai


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