Friday, February 10, 2012

Who's the man? Moshe's the man!

Summary: But why not Yisro, who is called HaIsh is Shemos? And why not another prooftext local to sefer Shemot? The Chasam Sofer answers that it really was a function of Moshe's humility (mentioned in the continuation of the prooftext). Plus my own suggestion.

Post: At the start of parashas Yisro, the following pasuk and Rashi:

7. So Moses went out toward Jethro, prostrated himself and kissed him, and they greeted one another, and they entered the tent.ז. וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה לִקְרַאת חֹתְנוֹ וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ וַיִּשַּׁק לוֹ וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ לְשָׁלוֹם וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֹהֱלָה:

prostrated himself and kissed him: I do not know who prostrated himself to whom. [But] when it says, “one another (אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ),” [lit., a man to his friend,] who is called "a man"? This is Moses, as it is said: “But the man (וְהָאִישׁ) Moses” (Num. 12:3). [from Mechilta]וישתחו וישק לו: איני יודע מי השתחוה למי, כשהוא אומר איש לרעהו, מי הקרוי איש, זה משה, שנאמר (במדבר יב ג) והאיש משה:

After citing this pasuk and Rashi, the Chasam Sofer writes:

"So is it in the Mechilta. And in Nachalas Yaakov it asks that behold, we find that Yisro as well is called ish, as is stated {in parashat Shemot, in Shemot 2:21}: וַיּוֹאֶל מֹשֶׁה לָשֶׁבֶת אֶת הָאִישׁ וַיִּתֵּן אֶת צִפֹּרָה בִתּוֹ לְמֹשֶׁה, "Moses consented to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses." 

Further, there is to analyze. Why did he not bring an earlier pasuk to that one {namely, the one in Sefer Bamidbar 12:3}, namely the one in parashat Ki Tisa {Shemot 32:23}, that is is written, וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱ־לֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ,  "When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: "Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him." "

And there is to say behold, it is a question in the gemara in Kiddushin 33b, 'his son who is his teacher, should his father stand before him.' And the same in reverse, 'should he stand for his father'?

{That gemara is:
The scholars propounded: What if his son is his teacher? Must he rise before his father? — Come and hear: For Samuel said to Rab Judah: Keen scholar!6  rise before your father!7  — R. Ezekiel was different, because he had [many] good deeds to his credit, for even Mar Samuel8 too stood up before him. Then what did he tell him?9  — He said thus to him: Sometimes he may come behind me;10 then do you stand up before him,11 and do not fear for my honour.
    The scholars propounded: What if his son is his teacher; must his father stand up before him? — Come and hear: For R. Joshua h. Levi said: As for me, it is not meet that I should stand up before my son, but that the honour of the Nasi's house [demands it].12 Thus the reason is that I am his teacher:13 but if he were my teacher, I would rise before him.14  — [No]. He meant thus: As for me, it is not meet that I should stand up before my son, even if he were my teacher, seeing that I am his father,but that the honour of the Nasi's house [demands it].

And the doubt is because of kibbud av vs. kibbud talmid chacham. And behold, in this they were equal. Moshe was obligated in honor of Yisro more, since he was his father-in-law, whom he was obligated to honor, just as David called King Shaul 'my father', as is known; that we learn from there that a person is obligated in honoring his father-in-law. And so Moshe honored Yisro. Yet opposing this is that Moshe was a talmid chacham and the teacher of all of Israel, and so Yisro was obligated in honoring him. And since they were equal in terms of precedence of honor, 'I don't know' {says Rashi / Mechilta} 'who prostrated to whom.' However, in truth, it was Moshe, who was humbler than any other person on the face of the earth; without a doubt, Moshe bowed first to Yisro. And this is what Rashi explains: I do not know who bowed to whom, for they were equal in this matter. When it says ish lerei'eihu, who is called here the ish who bowed? Say it is certainly Moshe, as is stated, 'And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble."

This is a beautiful construction. And it explains why this particular verse was selected, and why the opposing verse bolstering Yisro was not selected.

To bolster this interpretation even more, I will note that the text of the midrash itself, in the Mechilta, mentions the obligation of honoring one's father-in-law:
וישתחו וישק לו - איני יודע מי השתחווה למי או מי נשק למי, כשהוא אומר: וישאלו איש לרעהו, מי קרוי איש? 
הלא משה, שנאמר: והאיש משה, הוי אומר: לא השתחווה ולא נשק אלא משה לחמיו. 

מכאן אמרו:
שיהא האדם מוכן לכבוד חמיו. 
One might still ask based on this, if this is going to be a primary source for honoring one's father-in-law, with no kvod talmidei chachamim explicitly mentioned.

Despite how nice I find the construction, I must admit that I don't find it persuasive. If so, it would be a good thing to account for these two details. Why isn't Yisro a viable candidate for האיש, and why not select an earlier pasuk about Moshe being an איש?

(1) In terms of Yisro as candidate vs. Moshe as candidate, I think there is a difference between האיש משה and someone who happens to be called האיש in one particular verse. There are many people / beings who are referred to as איש. Indeed, Moshe's father עמרם is the איש who went from the house of Levi. But האיש משה midrashically equates in one's mind that איש means משה. So even if in one particular verse, יתרו is referred to as האיש -- indeed, even in relationship to his son-in-law Moshe -- it is not the same as setting up this mental equation that Ish = Moshe.

(2) In terms of the other candidate pasuk in sefer Shemot to establish Moshe as the ish, I don't think we should underestimate the force of the famous pasuk. The verse in praise of Moshe's humility is a famous one, on the tip of everyone's tongue. So it is the obvious verse to cite to establish Moshe as the ish. Yes, perhaps the more local pasuk would have served equally well, but it would not necessarily have been the one to come to mind, either in the mind of the midrashic author, or in the minds of his audience.

Along similar lines, the lengthy pasuk about Moshe being late represents the words of the people. But the pasuk about HaIsh Moshe is a narrative statement, or else from the mouth of Hashem himself. This might be a stronger basis for establishing Moshe as HaIsh.


Questioner said...

Doesn't it mean that each asked about the other's welfare? The verb is in the plural.

Z said...

The Ohr Hachaim explains that when the word Ish is used as a substitute for the name of a person then it is not significant but when both the name and Ish are used then it shows a certain chashivus with respect to the person named.


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