Friday, September 02, 2011

The trail of worms

Summary: Is the pasuk about abolishing the shedding of blood really relevant by the eglah arufah, where we don't know the identity of the murderer? Yes. It depends on what you think it means. But even if you believe it refers to catching the murderer, there is a good reading according to Rashi and according to Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Post: At the end of parashat Shofetim, in Devarim 21, we read of Eglah Arufa:

6. And all the elders of that city, who are the nearest to the corpse, shall wash their hands over the calf that was decapitated in the valley;ו. וְכֹל זִקְנֵי הָעִיר הַהִוא הַקְּרֹבִים אֶל הֶחָלָל יִרְחֲצוּ אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל הָעֶגְלָה הָעֲרוּפָה בַנָּחַל:
7. And they shall announce and say, "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see [this crime]."ז. וְעָנוּ וְאָמְרוּ יָדֵינוּ לֹא [שפכה] שָׁפְכוּ אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה וְעֵינֵינוּ לֹא רָאוּ:
8. "Atone for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, O Lord, and lay not [the guilt of] innocent blood among your people Israel." And [so] the blood shall be atoned for them.ח. כַּפֵּר לְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר פָּדִיתָ ה וְאַל תִּתֵּן דָּם נָקִי בְּקֶרֶב עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְנִכַּפֵּר לָהֶם הַדָּם:
9. And you shall abolish the [shedding of] innocent blood from among you, for you shall do what is proper in the eyes of the Lord.ט. וְאַתָּה תְּבַעֵר הַדָּם הַנָּקִי מִקִּרְבֶּךָ כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה:

In terms of this last pasuk, how are we to understand 'and you shall abolish the innocent blood from among you', וְאַתָּה תְּבַעֵר הַדָּם הַנָּקִי מִקִּרְבֶּךָ? On a peshat level, I would say it is extremely straightforward. We should understand the pasuk based on the previous pasuk. There is blood-guilt upon the people, because of the shedding of the blood of the innocent murder victim. And, by performing this ceremony -- which has ritual aspects but perhaps also conceptual, psychological aspects -- we have done what is proper in the eyes of Hashem,  הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה. We have done what is required of us by Hashem and so, this ceremony has expunged the blood-guilt, הַדָּם הַנָּקִי.

So too Ibn Ezra:
[כא, ט]
ואתה תבער הדם הנקי -
פירושו: עונש הדם הנקי, או יהיה הדם - דם הנקי.

ויש אומרים:
אתה חייב לבער שפיכות דמים.
והנכון בעיני: הוא אשר הזכרתי, כי לא ישפך דם נקי בארצך אם תעשה הישר בעיני ה', כסוד שכר עבירה עבירה ושכר מצוה מצוה.

My translation: "Its explanation: the punishment for the innocent blood, or the blood -- is the blood of the innocent. And some say: you are required to abolish the shedding of blood. And what is correct in my eyes is that which I have mentioned, that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, if you do what is correct in the eyes of Hashem, as in the sod that the reward of a sin is a sin, and the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah."

Rashi gives a different explanation, but I would label this midrash he cites as derash rather than peshat. I am not sure if Rashi himself regards it as peshat, derash, or something in between. Rashi writes:

ואתה תבער: מגיד שאם נמצא ההורג אחר שנתערפה העגלה הרי זה יהרג, והוא הישר בעיני ה':

My translation: "And you shall abolish: This teaches that if the murderer is found after the calf is decapitated, he is killed. And this is 'what is proper in the eyes of Hashem'."

This, then, is a separate action than what is described in the previous pesukim, and a slightly different scenario as well. What could prompt this? Well, ואתה תבער seems like it is introducing new action. Also, back in perek 19, we encountered this phrase as well. Thus,

13. And you shall not pity him, but you shall abolish [the shedding of] the blood of the innocent from Israel, and it will be good for you.יג. לֹא תָחוֹס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וּבִעַרְתָּ דַם הַנָּקִי מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל וְטוֹב לָךְ:

One can read this as the death penalty imposed upon the murderer abolishing the shedding of blood, since it acts as a deterrent. Or one can read it as an expiation of blood-guilt of the community. Or one can read this as removing the one tinged with blood-guilt from the community of Israel. Regardless, we see this phrase used in the context of executing a deliberate murderer, and so it makes sense to transfer that meaning to perek 21 as well.

Even if this is midrasho-peshat, it still seems to the casual peshat reader as coming out of nowhere. No explicit mention is made in the pasuk of finding the murderer afterwards.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in Taama de-Kra, offers another explanation of this pasuk:

"And you shall abolish the innocent blood from your midst: It seems like the place of this verse is not here, for here it is not known who the murderer is. And in the gemara they darshen that 'from here, if the murderer is found after the calf is decapitated, he is killed'. And it still requires clarification, namely that which it ends 'when/for you do what is proper in the eyes of Hashem'.

And there is to say further, based on what the Shalah wrote in the name of Rabbenu Menachem (and similar to this is in Targum Yonasan and in the Rishonim) that if Israel in that generation are are righteous, then worms go out from the calf and travel to the house of the murderer, and Bet Din takes him and judges him. (And see in Paneach Raza, who writes a hint to this, that  וְאַתָּה תְּבַעֵר הַדָּם הַנָּקִי, taking the end letters {and permuting them} yields rima, worminess.) And this is what is stated, 'and you will merit to abolish the innocent blood via the calf, when you do what is proper in the eyes of Hashem', which is when the generation is righteous."

As we have already discussed, the phrase וְאַתָּה תְּבַעֵר הַדָּם הַנָּקִי מִקִּרְבֶּךָ does have a plausible explanation in its place, without appealing to the gemara. But if one rejects that explanation, then indeed it is out of place and can prompt this other explanation about catching and executing the murderer. Rav Kanievsky's concern seems to be how to explain the close of the pasuk of כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה, given the gemara's interpretation of the first part. We should point out that Rashi himself addressed this concern by saying והוא הישר בעיני ה, that the execution of the murderer is the yashar in the eyes of Hashem. Ki is taken, then, as "for". In Rav Kanievsky's alternate explanation, I think that ki is being taken as ka'asher, "when". When you do the yashar in the eyes of Hashem, then you are a righteous generation, and this supernatural occurrence will happen, to allow you do catch the murderer.

I wonder if one can really take a supernatural indicator to execute the murderer, absent other evidence. In the case of Achan, even though the Urim veTumim indicated his guilt, Yehoshua still beseeched that he confessed. What is supposed to happen is Bet Din judges him. And a worm trail is no better than circumstantial evidence. I suppose they can execute him extra-judicially, as they do in other instances where it is certain. Still, this seems a bit strange.

Where can we find this in targum Pseudo-Yonasan? It is actually on the close of pasuk 8, rather than 9:
[8] And the priests shall say: Let there be expiation for thy people Israel, whom Thou, O Lord, hast redeemed, and lay not the guilt of innocent blood upon Thy people Israel; but let him who hath done the murder be revealed. And they shall be expiated concerning the blood; but straightway there will come forth a swarm of worms from the excrement of the heifer, and spread abroad, and move to. the place where the murderer is, and crawl over him: and the magistrates shall take him, and judge him. [9] So shall you, O house of Israel, put away from among you whosoever sheddeth innocent blood, that you may do what is right before the Lord.
In this manner, it is the context and background for the 'putting away' mentioned in pasuk 9.

There is an interesting parallel between this miraculous resolution to the rationalist explanation offered by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. See my discussion of that Rambam in this parshablog post. The Rambam offered a naturalistic explanation, that the 'weird' ceremony would attract attention to the murder and get people talking, and in that manner, perhaps the murderer would be exposed. And according to the worm explanation as well, the purpose of the ceremony -- or at least one purpose -- was to expose the murderer.

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