Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beshalach: The Five Midrashim Rashi Doesn’t Want You To Know

(Number Three Will Amaze You!)

At the start of parashat Beshalach, Rashi tells us that there are midrashic explanations of a certain pasuk, but that he isn’t going to tell them to us:

17It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt
יז וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם וְלֹא נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי | אָמַר אֱלֹהִים פֶּן יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה:

for it was near: and it was easy to return by that road to Egypt. There are also many aggadic midrashim [regarding this].
כי קרוב הוא: ונוח לשוב באותו הדרך למצרים. ומדרשי אגדה יש הרבה:

It is unclear whether this is a recommendation and referral -- “There are many midreshei aggadah explaining karov, so check them out” -- or a dismissal -- “There are many midreshei aggadah explaining this, but our concern here is peshat and a certain kind of midrash, and those midrashim are not peshat oriented.”

I am of the opinion that it is more the latter. He is saying that these midrashim are outside the scope and concern of his own commentary. You can go to those midrashim if you want to see those midrashim, but here, the focus is on peshat and a certain kind of midrash. Note how he employs the word הרבה (many) regarding those midrashim he does not bring.

This calls to mind his wording in parashat Bereishit, where he wrote:

8And they heard the voice of the Lord God going in the garden to the direction of the sun, and the man and his wife hid from before the Lord God in the midst of the trees of the garden.
חוַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת קוֹל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ מִפְּנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים בְּתוֹךְ עֵץ הַגָּן:
And they heard: There are many Aggadic midrashim, and our Sages already arranged them in their proper order in Genesis Rabbah and in other midrashim, but I have come only [to teach] the simple meaning of the Scripture and such Aggadah that clarifies the words of the verses, each word in its proper way.
וישמעו: יש מדרשי אגדה רבים וכבר סדרום רבותינו על מכונם בבראשית רבה (יט ו) ובשאר מדרשות ואני לא באתי אלא לפשוטו של מקרא ולאגדה המישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אופניו:

There as well, he said that there were many midrashim, which you can look to in Bereishit Rabba and elsewhere, but that isn’t the focus of his commentary. He will certainly bring midrashim -- I would estimate that 80% or more of Rashi is selected from midrashim. But he will bring only a certain type of midrash. And so, it pays to investigate what those midrashim were. By seeing what sorts of midrash he won’t bring down, we might get a better sense of what he sees in the midrashim he does bring down, and from there, his overall aim in producing his commentary. (See what I wrote briefly about those midrashim in Bereishit.)

We can see these midrashim in the Mechilta:

דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא -
הוא הדבר שאמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה: בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון האלהים על ההר הזה.

כי קרוב הוא -
קרוב הדרך לשוב למצרים, שנאמר: דרך שלשת ימים נלך במדבר.

דבר אחר:
כי קרוב הוא -
קרובה השבועה שנשבע אברהם לאבימלך: השבעה לי באלהים אם תשקור לי ולניני ולנכדי, ועדיין נכדו קיים.

דבר אחר:
כי קרוב הוא -
קרובה השבועה, מלחמה ראשונה לשניה.

דבר אחר:
כי קרוב הוא -
בקרוב ירשו כנעניים את הארץ, שנאמר: ודור רביעי ישובו הנה.

ולמה לא הביאן הכתוב דרך פשוטה לארץ ישראל אלא דרך המדבר?
אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: אם אני מביא עכשו את ישראל לארץ, מיד מחזיקים אדם בשדהו ואדם בכרמו. והן בטלים מן התורה, אלא אקיפם במדבר ארבעים שנה שיהיו אוכלים מן ושותים מי הבאר. והתורה נבללת בגופן.

מכאן היה ר' שמעון אומר:
לא ניתנה התורה לדרוש אלא לאוכלי המן. ושווין להם אוכלי תרומה.

דבר אחר:
כי קרוב הוא -
לא הביאן המקום בפישוטן, אלא כיון ששמעו כנעניים שישראל נכנסו עמדו ושרפו כל הזרעים וקבצו כל האילנות וסתרו את הבניינים וסתמו את המעיינות.
אמר הקב"ה: לא הבטחתים לאבותם שאכניסן לארץ חריבה אלא מלאה כל טוב, שנאמר: ובתים מלאים כל טוב, אלא הריני מקיפן במדבר ארבעים שנה עד שיעמדו כנעניים ויתקנו מה שקלקלו.

“By way of the land of the Philistines, for it is near [karov] -- This is what Hashem said to Moshe (Shemot 3:12 [by the burning bush, that the sign would be]), בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם, מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה, “when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”
[Josh: Thus, because the mountain is karov.]

For it is near [karov] - the path is near to return to Egypt, as is stated (Shemot 8:23) דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, נֵלֵךְ בַּמִּדְבָּר, “We will go three days' journey into the wilderness.”

Another explanation, for it is near [karov] -- the oath which Avraham swore to Avimelech is near. (Bereishit 21:23) הִשָּׁבְעָה לִּי בֵאלֹהִים הֵנָּה, אִם-תִּשְׁקֹר לִי, וּלְנִינִי וּלְנֶכְדִּי, “swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son”. And his grandson was still alive.
[Josh: nearness as in proximity or applicability of the oath. Alternatively, perhaps ‘he is a karov’ as ‘he is a relative’.]

Another explanation: For it is near: The oath [sic] first battle is too close to the second one.
[Josh: The first war is properly that between the Philistines and the Children of Ephraim who left Egypt early. The Children of Ephraim were all slain. The second war is this second war which would likely occur if Hashem directed them דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, and which is therefore being avoided.]

Another explanation: For it is near: [Only] recently, the Canaanites inherited the land, for it is written (Bereishit 15:16) [וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי, יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה: [כִּי לֹא-שָׁלֵם עֲו‍ֹן הָאֱמֹרִי, עַד-הֵנָּה, And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither [for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full].

And why didn’t the Scriptures [sic] bring them in a straight path, but rather by way of the wilderness? Hashem said: If I bring them now to the land of Israel, each person will immediately take hold of his field or vineyard, and they will be disengaged from the Torah. Rather, I will take them around in the wilderness for forty years, while they eat manna and drink the water of the Well [of Miriam], and the Torah will be stirred into their bodies. From here Rabbi Shimon said: the Torah was given to be expounded only for those who ate the manna. And equivalent to them, those who eat Terumah.

Another explanation: For it is near: He did not take them in the straight way. For when the Canaanites heard that Israel was coming, they arose and burnt all the plants, cut down all the trees, broke all the buildings and sealed all the springs. Hashem said: I didn’t promise their forefathers that I would bring them [the descendants] to a barren land, but to a land filled with everything good, as is stated (Devarim 6:11) וּבָתִּים מְלֵאִים כָּל-טוּב, “and houses full of all good things”. Rather, I will take them around in the wilderness for forty years, until the Canaanites arise and fix what they ruined.”

It is possible that Rashi simply thought that these midrashim were too good to miss, and so he referred us to them. But it is also quite possible that he is rejecting these “many” midrashim from his peshat commentary because they don’t fit his criteria.

In general, I believe that Rashi will include a midrash if it solves some peshat problem (where the “problem” is a grammatical or otherwise linguistic irregularity, often paired with something missing or off in the narrative.)

Here, there is a definite linguistic irregularity. Namely, the pasuk stated:

לֹא נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא

If translated most literally -- and this entails selecting the most common meaning of each word -- the translation is: “And God did not take them by way of the land of the Philistines, for it was near.”

Rashi does not proffer the following peshat explanation: “And God did not take them by way of the land of the Philistines, though it was near.” This would require taking the word כִּי to mean “though”. Indeed, all of the midrashim take כִּי to mean “for”. In large part, this is because midrash is hyper-literal. Once כִּי means “for”, this introduces a problem. Why should the closeness be a reason to avoid the land of the Philistines? It should be a reason to go that way, rather than to avoid it. Therefore, they consider the various possible meanings, or rather allusions, of the next word, karov. In this way, ki karov is once a reason to avoid that way, and that land.

Rashi often repurposes midrash for his peshat commentary. And he takes כִּי to be for, just like the midrash. Once trapped by that choice, he needs to explain ki karov as a reason to avoid the land. And then from the six midrashim, he selects the one which fits in best with the flow of the narrative, and with the rest of the pasuk. That is, Rashi selects midrash #2:

כי קרוב הוא -
קרוב הדרך לשוב למצרים, שנאמר: דרך שלשת ימים נלך במדבר.
For it is near [karov] - the path is near to return to Egypt, as is stated (Shemot 8:23) דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, נֵלֵךְ בַּמִּדְבָּר, “We will go three days' journey into the wilderness.”

This midrashic-peshat also works out with the rest of the pasuk, which has a second  כִּי. This second  כִּי  certainly means “for”. Thus, כִּי | אָמַר אֱלֹהִים פֶּן יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. Thus, the two reasons are linked. Because it was near, and because Hashem was afraid they would return to Egypt.

In contrast, most of the other midrashic explanations have the first כִּי as a different reason. To give the land time to recoup, to allow the Canaanites their four generations, because the oath to the surviving grandson of Avimelech hadn’t passed, because Hashem wanted them to learn Torah.

I would suggest that when Rashi lists as a criterion (in Bereishit) for including a midrash aggadah, as ולאגדה המישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אופניו, the words דבור על אופניו means that it works out well with the rest of the words in that pasuk, and with the flow of the narrative and the text. And having the two explanations mesh together would then fulfill the criterion.

It is then perhaps surprising that Rashi doesn’t mention the battle waged by the Tribe of Ephraim who fled Egypt early, and were killed by the Philistines. This midrash might be a candidate for inclusion. One battle with the Philistines was too close to another battle with the Philistines. And this, in turn, would be a cause to flee back to Egypt. It fits in nicely with the specific mention of the land of the Philistines. And the milchama would be the milchama with the Philistines. (Or, alternatively, the milchama would be the result of the prior milchama, vis. the corpses of the Ephraimites, as one position in the Mechilta gives it: שלא יראו עצמות אחיהם מושלכין בפלשת ויחזרו להם.) I would answer that indeed, this might have been a selection, but Rashi already selected his one midrash and developed it at quite some length -- in his comment on this phrase as well as in the other phrases in this pasuk. Further, he was already dismissing a bunch of midrashim, and this one went with the bunch. And finally, the one Rashi in fact selected is much more of a peshat-oriented midrash than this one. We don’t have to bring in a whole other story which would be only hinted at / alluded to by a word here or there. Rather, we can make sense of the entire pasuk as a self-contained unit.

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