Sunday, January 25, 2015

Teva, and the Authenticity of the Zohar

Summary: Is the use of teva to refer to nature unique to Zohar, or is there precedent in the Talmud Bavli? Continuing to debunk the debunking of the debunking of the Zohar. Here are some earlier posts responding to the article on the basis of Rabbi Yesa, Rabbi AbbaCappadociaKefar KanyaArcheih, Yellow, and Guardians, as mentioned in the Zohar.

Post: To continue analyzing Rabbi Moshe Miller's attack of the analysis of the Zohar's language by Jewish scholars, we turn to consider what he says about the word tava. 


To cite from his article,
The claim is that Hebrew expressions first used in medieval times were used by the author of the Zohar, showing that it must have been compiled by someone [i.e., Moshe de Leon] during this era. As demonstrated below, many of these expressions are also found in early sources, contrary to the skeptics' claims.
But what does he mean by "found in early sources"? Let us say that some text X uses bulb to mean light bulb. This would indicate that it was written fairly late, after the invention of light bulbs. If I show that an early text uses bulb to refer to tulip bulbs or garlic bulbs, this other usage does not demonstrate that bulb has early use and thus text X can similarly be early. This, even if light bulbs were not a fairly recent invention, but even if the application of this lexical item to an existing concept was not in use until recently. This was the case for "yellow", as we saw earlier.

Here is another example. Rabbi Moshe Miller writes:
Tava (Zohar Chadash, Midrash HaNeelam maamar Tadshe 2) in the sense of "Nature." But this is also obviously the sense of Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 ("HaKadosh Barchu tava kol adam b'chotmo"). See also Niddah 20b ("Tava d'bavel garma li"); several more occurrences of the word are found on that same page.
Consider that Mishna in Sanhedrin. It appears in Sanhedrin 37a. (Hebrew; English) The Mishna reads:
ולהגיד גדולתו של הקב"ה שאדם טובע כמה מטבעות בחותם אחד כולן דומין זה לזה ומלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה טבע כל אדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון ואין אחד מהן דומה לחבירו לפיכך כל אחד ואחד חייב לומר בשבילי נברא העולם
IF A MAN STRIKES MANY COINS FROM ONE MOULD, THEY ALL RESEMBLE ONE ANOTHER, BUT THE SUPREME KING OF KINGS,42  THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE, FASHIONED EVERY MAN IN THE STAMP OF THE FIRST MAN, AND YET NOT ONE OF THEM RESEMBLES HIS FELLOW. THEREFORE EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS OBLIGED TO SAY: THE WORLD WAS CREATED FOR MY SAKE.43
But tava there comes in context of matbei'a. Consider the expression matbaya shetavu bo Chachamim. This appears in Yerushalmi Berachot, 62b:
אמרו לו אין לך רשות להוסיף על מטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות

'Coining', whether by blessings or body and facial structure, is being used as a metaphor. This does not mean that Nature is the meaning of the word טבע, in the time of Chazal.

Yet this is the closest Rabbi Miller gets to his desired meaning. Yes, he wrote that:
 See also Niddah 20b ("Tava d'bavel garma li"); several more occurrences of the word are found on that same page.
with the implication that 'Nature' is the meaning of those several more occurrences. If we actually examine them, we find:
אמר רבי זירא טבעא דבבל גרמא לי דלא חזאי דמא דאמינא בטבעא לא ידענא בדמא ידענא למימרא דבטבעא תליא מלתא והא רבה הוא דידע בטבעא ולא ידע בדמא כל שכן קאמר ומה רבה דידע בטבעא לא חזא דמא ואנא אחזי

Or, in English:
R. Zera remarked: The Babylonian coinage was the cause of my refusing to examine blood; for I thought: If I do not understand the coinage system would I understand the nature of blood? This then implies that capability to examine blood depends on an understanding of the coinage; but did not Rabbah in fact understand the coinage system and yet did not understand the qualities of blood? — He was really drawing an inference a minori ad majus: If Rabbah who understood the coinage system refused to examine blood, should I2  examine it?
Thus, it means its meaning we already knew, "coin" or "coinage". Why does Rabbi Moshe Miller think this makes for good proof?!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bo: Rashi's choice of midrashim

I am short on time this week, but I answered a question on Mi Yodea about Rashi's choice of midrashim in parashat Bo. I will reprint the question and my answer here.

The question:

Why does Rashi on Shmos 12 (41) not quote the Sifrei which he does quote on Devorim 32 (48)?

In relation to the words בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה and the Exodus from Egypt, the Sifrei there says,
“Scripture states, “On that very day, the Lord brought [the children of Israel] out [of the land of Egypt]” (Exod. 12:51). The Egyptians said: “We swear by such and such, that if we notice them about to leave, we will stop them! And not only that, but we will take swords and other weapons, and kill them!” So, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said: “I will bring them out in the middle of the day, and let anyone who has power to prevent it, come and prevent it!”
This would seem to be a relevant quote on Shmos 12 (41).
My answer:
Rashi on Chumash channels midrashic works, selecting those midrashim that fit his stated criteria and reworking them to form a commentary.
Rashi has favored midrashim on different chumashim.
On sefer Shemot, he channels the Mechilta, which is a midrash composed on Shemot. Indeed,follow your link to Shemot 12 and see how many of his sources are from the Mechilta. This forms the main body of his commentary, will only occasional digressions to bring in salient points from other sources.
On sefer Devarim, he channels the Sifrei, which is a midrash composed on Devarim. Indeed, follow your link to Devarim 32 and see how many of his sources are from the Sifrei. This forms the main body of his commentary, will only occasional digressions to bring in salient points from other sources.
The citation from the Sifrei in question reads:
וידבר ה' אל משה בעצם היום הזה: בשלשה מקומות נאמר בעצם היום הזה, נאמר בנח (שם ז, יג) בעצם היום הזה בא נח וגו', במראית אורו של יום, לפי שהיו בני דורו אומרים בכך וכך אם אנו מרגישין בו אין אנו מניחין אותו ליכנס בתיבה, ולא עוד אלא אנו נוטלין כשילין וקרדומות ומבקעין את התיבה. אמר הקב"ה הריני מכניסו בחצי היום, וכל מי שיש בידו כח למחות יבא וימחה. במצרים נאמר (שמות יב, נא) בעצם היום הזה הוציא ה', לפי שהיו מצרים אומרים בכך וכך אם אנו מרגישין בהם אין אנו מניחים אותם לצאת, ולא עוד אלא אנו נוטלין סייפות וכלי זיין והורגין בהם. אמר הקב"ה הריני מוציאן בחצי היום וכל מי שיש בו כח למחות יבא וימחה. אף כאן במיתתו של משה נאמר בעצם היום הזה, לפי שהיו ישראל אומרים בכך וכך אם אנו מרגישין בו אין אנו מניחין אותו, אדם שהוציאנו ממצרים וקרע לנו את הים והוריד לנו את המן והגיז לנו את השליו והעלה לנו את הבאר ונתן לנו את התורה אין אנו מניחין אותו. אמר הקב"ה הריני מכניסו בחצי היום וכו':
And the Lord spoke to Moses on that very day: Heb. בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. In three places Scripture employs the phrase: בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה [which has the meaning, “at the strongest light of the day”]. First, regarding Noah, Scripture states,“On that very day (בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה) Noah entered [… the ark]” (Gen. 7:13), which means in the glare of full daylight. Noah’s contemporaries said: “We swear by such and such, that if we notice him about to enter the ark, we will not let him proceed! Moreover, we will take axes and hatchets and split open the ark!” So the Holy One, Blessed is He, said: “I will have Noah enter at midday, and let anyone who has the power to prevent it, come and prevent it!” Second, regarding Egypt, Scripture states, “On that very day, the Lord brought [the children of Israel] out [of the land of Egypt]” (Exod. 12:51). The Egyptians said: “We swear by such and such, that if we notice them about to leave, we will stop them! And not only that, but we will take swords and other weapons, and kill them!” So, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said: “I will bring them out in the middle of the day, and let anyone who has power to prevent it, come and prevent it!” Likewise here, regarding Moses’ death, Scripture states,“on that very day (בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה) .” The children of Israel said, “We swear by such and such, that if we notice Moses [ascending the mountain to die], we will not let him do so! The man who brought us out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea for us, brought the manna down for us, made flocks of quails fly over to us, brought up the well for us, and gave us the Torah-we will not let him!” Thereupon, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said: “I will have Moses ascend the mountain [to his resting place] in the middle of the day!” - [Sifrei 32:47]
It appears in Sifrei on this verse at the end of Haazinu (in Sefer Devarim), but serves to analyze three pesukim throughout Torah which contain this phrase -- one in parashat Noach (sefer Bereishit), one in Bo (sefer Shemot), and one in Haazinu. And Rashi cites the local midrash on the local verse.
Meanwhile, in parashat Bo in Shemot, Rashi cites from his go-to midrash for Sefer Shemot, the Mechilta, and writes:
ויהי מקץ שלשים שנה וגו' ויהי בעצם היום הזה: מגיד שכיון שהגיע הקץ לא עכבן המקום כהרף עין, בחמישה עשר בניסן באו מלאכי השרת אצל אברהם לבשרו, בחמישה עשר בניסן נולד יצחק, ובחמישה עשר בניסן נגזרה גזירת בין הבתרים:
It came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it came to pass in that very day: [This] tells [us] that as soon as the end [of this period] arrived, the Omnipresent did not keep them [even] as long as the blink of an eye. On the fifteenth of Nissan, the angels came to Abraham to bring him tidings. On the fifteenth of Nissan Isaac was born; on the fifteenth of Nissan the decree of “between the parts” was decreed. — [from Mechilta]
To restate your question with this new information, you are asking why, if Rashi finds the midrash in the Sifrei relevant to Devarim, and that Sifrei is also commentary on the pasuk in parashat Bo, then why does Rashi in parashat Bo not make use of the same midrash and the same explanation of the phrase?
And, I think the answer is that Rashi does not see the need to be consistent and always proffer the same consistent explanation across Tanach. Rather, his aim is to present a midrashically grounded traditional approach that explains salient points of the text, and particularly those which address issues of peshat or make sense of irregular phrases in a way that works well in the overarching context. In order to do this, he reworks classical works of midrash.
Here, local to parashat Bo, he already had a midrash from the Mechilta which addressed the phrase בעצם היום הזה, and one which fit into his framework of other midrashim from the Mechilta. He therefore had no need to look for a non-local midrash to explain the phrase. This even though he used that non-local midrash elsewhere, in a place where it was, in turn, local.
Note: I think the above answer is correct and answers not just this question but a plethora of other questions. However, an interesting related question is why, in parashat Noach, Rashi turned to this Sifrei and not to the parallel midrash (with the same idea as presented in the Sifrei) from Bereishit Rabba:
בעצם היום הזה בא נח אמר רבי יוחנן, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: אם נכנס נח לתיבה בלילה, עכשיו יהיו כל דורו אומרים כך: לא היינו יודעים בו, ואלו היינו יודעים בו, לא היינו מניחין אותו ליכנס! אלא בעצם היום הזה בא נח, דרגיש ליה ימלל.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Posts so far for parshat Vaera

Jan 2015

1. Some Samaritan emendations from the beginning of Vaera. And brief analysis of the nature of these emendations.

2. Crocodile bile. Drawn from the news, we find a matching belief from the time of Rabbenu Bachya.


Dec 2013 - Jan 2014

1. *Now* you will see. Why the emphasis on the word now? A midrash, now as opposed to later. That midrash also speaks about the war against the 31 kings. Why?

2. Could Pharaoh have simply let them go? No, because this was Hashem's plan all along. Until this point, Hashem was "merely" the Creator. This creative act wasn't witnessed by anyone, and it seems plausible that various nations could even attribute this feat to their own local deity. For example, Marduk slaying Tiamat and making from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth.

By waging war of Egypt and all its imaginary deities (ובכל אלהי מצרים אעשה שפטים) Hashem is taking concrete action in the world and displaying His יָד חֲזָקָה. Of course He could do these mighty acts, and indeed these mighty acts are beneath him, because He could just cause the Egyptians to blink out of existence if He so willed it. But all this Divine power was just in potential, not brought into being.
3. Why we don't know Yocheved's mother's name. Perhaps because the author of the editorial insertion would not dare to insert into the Torah information he could not derive from another pasuk.



Jan 2012

  1. Vaera sources -- further expanded
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  2. Darshening psiks in Vaera --  Or should that be munach legarmeihs? Two such vertical bars, and a distinction to be made between Moshe's description of what would be (Moshe hitting the water) and what was (Aharon hitting the water).
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  3. YUTorah on parashat Vaera. As well as for Jan 2013.
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  4. Should we translate כָּבֵד as אִתְיַקַּר or יַקִּיר, in Onkelos?  Some printers follow Rashi's emendation. But did he intend it as an emendation, or was he arguing with Onkelos?
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  5. A Staff swallowing staffs, or a snake swallowing snakes?  A tradition like the peshat, that the snake swallowed snakes. Should we then reinterpret Rashi against what he says fairly plainly? No.
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  6. Is marrying two sisters intrinsically or extrinsically obnoxiousWe consider the perspective of Rashi (intrinsically), Ibn Ezra (based on the land), and Ibn Caspi (who rejects Ibn Ezra and gives a rationalist reason for the prohibition). I suggest that it is extrinsically bad, based on intent and social mores.
Dec 2010 - Jan 2011

  1. When did the Bnei Yisrael say חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ? It makes sense, chronologically, that it would fall somewhere in Va'era. I explore some approaches which are open and closed canon to varying degrees.
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  2. Va'era sources -- further expanded. For example, many more meforshei Rashi.
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  3. Moshe makes a kal vachomer -- Considering the ten kal vachomers in the Torah (really, Tanach).
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  4. Did Levi outlive EphraimThis is unlikely. Rashi's mention of shevatim who died is perhaps imprecise -- he means Yosef's brothers, which would not include Ephraim and Menashe.
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  5. Yocheved His Aunt, and the Length of the Servitude -- If Yocheved was literally Amram's aunt, it is difficult to make the servitude 210 years, and even more, 400 years. Relax this and you have more leeway. Rav Saadia Gaon and the Targum Hashiv'im give us this leeway.
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  6. Who said 'I am the LORD'?  A silly change in Divine appellation, by Samaritan scribes, at the start of Vaera.
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  7. Moshe, and Yonah's, reluctance --  A cute vort from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, reinterpreting the kal vachomer.
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  8. How did the chartumim turn water to blood?  One possible suggestion, based on Shadal's approach. Plus, is magic real in general.
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  9. The abomination of Egypt?   If so, how could Moshe Rabbenu say this to Pharaoh?
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  10. A liver is the heart of Pharaoh --  So goes a midrash or two. What this may indicate in terms of whether Chazal literally saw the heart as the seat of the intellect.
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  11. Rabbenu Bachya, Locusts, and Crocodiles --  Rabbenu Bachya has two fascinating explanations of pesukim regarding the makkos, and Moshe's removal of them. Unfortunately, at least one of them is demonstrably false.
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  12. What was Arov?  Wild beasts, or vicious flies. What do Jewish sources say?
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  13. What is meant by leimor in Vayikra 1:1? Zehu midrasho --  Further, does Rashi intend this as peshat or derash?
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  14. One big frog -- did derash become peshat?   Just because Rashi lists one giant frog as derash and 'frog' as collective noun does not mean that he did not think both were historically true.

January 2010
  1. Is the derivation of Putiel's name knowableCan we know the derivation of the name Putiel? A four-way machlokes between Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ibn Caspi, and Shadal reveals something about their methodology, and their approach to peshat..
  2. Vaera sources - links to over 100 meforshim on the parsha and haftara.
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  3. Was Pharaoh's heart hard, or did it become hardEvaluating Rashi's emendation of Onkelos, from an itpa'el verb to an adjective, on the basis of the dikduk of the Hebrew word being translated.
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  4. Getting Pharaoh to play ball -- What was Pharaoh doing at the bank of the Nile? Ibn Caspi visits Egypt, and emerges with some realia with which to understand the Biblical narrative. Also, a difference between peshat and derash..
  5. Dodato as female first cousin -- An alternative way of translating dodato, from Rav Saadia Gaon and in the Septuagint, which eliminates a strong chronological difficulty in Yocheved and Moshe's birth.
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  6. Spontaneous generation of frogs and lice -- Ibn Caspi, a Rishon, explains the workings of two of the plagues based on the scientific workings of spontaneous generation. This should be taken as additional evidence that Rishonim can be wrong in matters of science.
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  7. How do we count the 430 yearsAssuming we take the 430 years in Egypt literally how do we reckon it? Also, how the Samaritan Torah differs, and whether this is persuasive.
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  8. Egyptian magic and barley seeds -- A short response to a DovBear post on Chumash, alas in error.
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  9. Was Pinchas descended from Yisro or Yosef?  Or both? Should we indeed follow the gemara's harmonization? A study in Rashi, and in approaches to midrash aggada.

2009
  1. Vaera sources -- links by aliyah and perek to a mikraos gedolos, and a whole slew of links to meforshim on the parashah and haftarah.
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  2. 430 years or 210 years? -- and how Shadal feels compelled to say it was 430 years, and explains how the generations of Levi, Kehat, and Amram, span that time.
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  3. Did the Egyptians dig, or did they dig for water? A minor difference which may manifest itself at the level of trup.
2008
  1. Executing judgments against the gods of Egypt, or making use of the gods of Egypt in executing judgment.
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  2. Were the ten plagues natural? An explanation of Shadal's take on the matter, which I decided to present in partial response to a complaint about a 2007 post about how the Egyptian magicians created frogs.
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  3. How did one frog become many? An exploration of the themes in the midrashim.

2007
2006
  • Did The Avot Not Know Shem Hashem?
    • Yet many times through Bereishit the Shem YKVK is mentioned. There are all sorts of possible answers -- Moshe changed it after the fact, editorially, the Documentary Hypothesis solution, grammatical distrinctions, nodati vs. hodati, etc. In this post, I focus on names not just being names, but carrying very specific implications -- something we get a sense of from the text itself (and which Rashi mentions as well).
      Finally, two of my favorite dealings with this issue, from Tg Yonatan and Rashbam, in how they manage to reparse the pasuk. (And I always like reparsings.)
2005
  • Spitting blood and whistling frogs: the tzadi - quf switchoff (2005)
    • Two midrashim which I argue stem from a linguistic tzaddi -- quf switchoff. Thus, yishretzu becomes yishrequ, whistled, and thus the frog whisted in the process of yishretzu. Second, eretz mitzrayim becomes roq mitzrayim, and thus even their spittle turns to blood. More details in the post.
  • Pharaoh's multivalent dreams (2005)
    • Another way of interpreting Pharaoh's dreams -- as a fall from power, which finds fulfillment in this week's parsha.
  • Why couldn't the magicians create lice? (2005)
    • Daat Zekenim has an amusing answer. Just as we know by the story with Shimon ben Shetach and the witches, witchcarft draws power from the earth, but the plague had turned all the earth to lice!
  • Ganymedes Copies Military Tactic From Hashem (2005)
    • Depriving the Egyptians of their water supply. And Caesar responds the same way the Egyptians of old did, according to one way of reading the pesukim, and that they managed to circumvent the makkat dam.
2004
  • All's Well That Ends Well (2004)
    • Were the Egyptians successful in their attempt to get water by digging around the river? Or did these wells also produce blood? Targum Yonatan's textual insertion. Ibn Ezra's take, against Chazal, that they were indeed successful, and the ever-frum Avi Ezer's reaction to this (that it was a mistaken student, and not, chas veshalom, Ibn Ezra who wrote this). Plus, a connection to Yitzchak's wells, a homiletic lesson we may draw, and a joke.
  • Why was Pharoah in de Nile? (2004)
    • The textual source for Pharoah using the Nile as his bathroom. And a new reason -- to do magic on it. And how this fits in with the narrative. Both from Tg Yonatan.
to be continued...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crocodile bile

In the news recently was the tragic tale of many people killed of hospitalized because of accidental consumption of crocodile bile in beer served after a funeral.

To cite the article in Forbes:
Crocodile bile is literally the digestive juice from the gall bladders of the Nile crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus. Its use traces back to witchcraft accusations in 1899, according to Professor N.Z. Nyazema, in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Zimbabwe, writing in the Central African Journal of Medicine in 1984 and 1985. The university, in Harare, is about 300 miles southwest across the Mozambique border from where the poisonings occurred.
Bile contains detergent molecules, called bile salts or bile acids, that animals use to dissolve or emulsify fats. They also bind to hormone receptors that regulate their own production. But more simply, bile salts or bile acids could conceivably be quite toxic in very high concentrations, as would any strong detergent. However, this isn’t consistent with the amounts allegedly used in traditional poisoning cases.
Professor Nyzema explains,
It is widely believed that the bile from the gall bladder of a crocodile is very poisonous. The bile nduru is used as poison which is added to beer or stiff porridge, sadza, of an unsuspecting victim. It is not easy to buy this poison neither is it easy for anyone to kill a crocodile solely for the purpose of obtaining the bile. But with a good fee one can obtain some of the poison from a special n’anga [a traditional healer of the Zimbabwean Shona tribe]. At times the n’anga may undertake to poison the victim thus adding mystery to the ingredients of the poison. It is reported that the poisoning occurs at special occasions like beer drinking: The nduru is said to be introduced into the beer by dipping the finger or nail where a small amount is placed: This will suffice for the purpose. The unfortunate victim is supposed to die within 24 hours. The poison is supposed to manifest itself when the patient develops pains mainly in the abdomen. 
However, as the article discusses, there is not enough poison in the crocodile bile itself to kill or even injure. Rather, it seems that it is one of the other ingredients in the crocodile bile concoction that kills.

I would note that many centuries ago, Egyptian doctors were writing about crocodile poison which can can injure someone who touches it even after the crocodile's death. As I discuss here, Rabbenu Bachya on parshat Vaera (who asserts that tzrafdea are crocodiles) cited these doctors and reported this as fact. I fixed up this quote from the Revach site's translation.
"Even to this day... there is an animal called an 'Altimasa' or crocodile that lives in the Nilus. Every now and then it will come out and swallow two or three people in one shot. It cannot be killed with spears or arrows unless it is struck in its stomach. It has a poison that can harm people who touch it even after it is already dead. 
Rabbenu Bachya does not say that the poison is on its body, just that it has a poison which can injure someone who touches the crocodile after death. So this might be a reference to the same.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Some Samaritan emendations from the beginning of Vaera

Here is a snip of Vetus Testamentum, from the beginning of parashat Vaera. The Samaritan text is to the left and the Masoretic text is to the right. Dashes mean no change and asterisks mean that the text is missing.


1) The first interesting change is from עתה (now you will see) to אתה (you will see). Perhaps this fluidity reflects how the gutturals ayin and aleph were pronounced, or not pronounced.

2) The next is that instead of the Masoretic Elokim, they have YKVK. On the surface, this makes more sense, since later in the verse God says "Ani YKVK". Furthermore, see how one pasuk earlier (Shemot 6:1), it is "YKVK spoke", not Elokim spoke. If we join pasuk 1 with pasuk 2, then the shift in Divine name is somewhat jarring. The Christian division is to join pasuk 1 with pasuk 2, which is why perek 6 begins with pasuk 1. Meanwhile, the Jewish division is to join pasuk 6:1 with what came before, at the end of perek 5. Perek 5 ends with YKVK speaking. And then, after 6:1, there is a setuma break, as well as a sidra break.

I wrote about this change elsewhere, suggesting this is deliberate transition, and that the Samaritan change is one of harmonization.

3) Instead of ובשפטים, the more common ובמשפטים.

4) The Samaritans insert a non-existent pasuk here, to have the Israelites say somewhere it would be relevant, חדל נא ממנו. The impetus for this is that the Israelites at the Reed Sea say, in Shemot 14:12:

יב  הֲלֹא-זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְנוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְמִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, חֲדַל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנַעַבְדָה אֶת-מִצְרָיִם:  כִּי טוֹב לָנוּ עֲבֹד אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, מִמֻּתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר.12 Is not this the word that we spoke unto thee in Egypt, saying: Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.'

Rather than assuming that this was something they said, but just hadn't been explicitly mentioned earlier (an open-canon approach) or that the text had summarized this very reaction in Shemot 6:9 ('And Moses spoke so unto the children of Israel; but they hearkened not unto Moses for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage'), the Samaritans just insert this quote in its logical place, between 6:9 and 6:10. See also here, where I discuss what meforshim say in greater detail.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saadia Gaon on שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר

In parashat Vayechi, Yaakov crosses his hands when blessing Ephraim and Menasheh. Thus, the pasuk and Rashi:

But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn. יד. וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר:
He guided his hands deliberately: Heb. שִׂכֵּל. As the Targum renders: אַחְכִּמִינוּן, he put wisdom into them. Deliberately and with wisdom, he guided his hands for that purpose, and with knowledge, for he knew [full well] that Manasseh was the firstborn, but he nevertheless did not place his right hand upon him. שכל את ידיו: כתרגומו אחכמינון, בהשכל וחכמה השכיל את ידיו (לכך, ומדעת), כי יודע היה כי מנשה הבכור, ואף על פי כן לא שת ימינו עליו:


It turns out that Saadia Gaon translates sikkel similarly, as sechel, and thus chochma:

Targum Onkelos then translates כִּי as arum, 'because'. I don't speak enough Arabic or Judeo-Arabic to see this, but according to Torah Shleima, Saadia Gaon translates כִּי here as 'despite':

בתרגום
 רס״ג ז״ל, נתן שכל לידיו לעשות כן אף
 כי מנשה היה הבכור:

Similarly Ibn Ezra, on both points:

[מח, יד]
שכל את ידיו -
כאלו ידיו השכילו, מה שהוא רוצה לעשות.

כי מנשה הבכור -אע"פ שמנשה הוא הבכור. 
וכן: כי עם קשה עורף ורבים כן.
This reflects one approach to sikel. The competing approach, or Rashbam and Ralbag, is to recognize the sin / samech switchoff, and to find the parallel in סכל, meaning to cross or make not straight. For instance, סַכֶּל-נָא in II Shmuel 15:31:

לא  וְדָוִד הִגִּיד לֵאמֹר, אֲחִיתֹפֶל בַּקֹּשְׁרִים עִם-אַבְשָׁלוֹם; וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד, סַכֶּל-נָא אֶת-עֲצַת אֲחִיתֹפֶל יְהוָה.31 And one told David, saying: 'Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.' And David said: 'O LORD, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.'

which is to be taken as 'divert', rather than 'make foolish', And similarly in Yeshaya 44:25:

כה  מֵפֵר אֹתוֹת בַּדִּים, וְקֹסְמִים יְהוֹלֵל; מֵשִׁיב חֲכָמִים אָחוֹר, וְדַעְתָּם יְסַכֵּל.25 That frustrateth the tokens of the imposters, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;


taken again as 'divert'. Consider the parallels in this pasuk, of mashiv achor.

Shadal (after listing the positions of Rashi et al and Rashbam et al) adopts as correct the position of his student R' Yitzchak Pardo, that he positioned his hands in a manner that those who saw would think that they had no knowledge, for after all, Menasheh was the Bechor. he notes that Abarbanel says similarly, though not precisely the same, using the term in a way contemporary philosophers used it, though that is not valid Biblical Hebrew.




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why does Yaakov privately refer to Esav as his master?

The Brisker Rov,
Rabbi Yitzchok Zev
HaLevi Soloveitchik
The Brisker Rov has an interesting analysis of Yaakov's instructions to his servants / address to Esav, where Yaakov says כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו. This analysis differs, but falls in line, with something I heard from Dr. Steiner about the role of this phrase.










We begin with the pasuk in Vayishlach, in Bereishit 32:5:

 And he commanded them, saying, "So shall you say to my master to Esau, 'Thus said your servant Jacob, "I have sojourned with Laban, and I have tarried until now. ה. וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב עִם לָבָן גַּרְתִּי וָאֵחַר עַד עָתָּה:

Yaakov not only refers to himself as a servant within this text to be quoted to Esav. He also, in speaking to his own messengers, refers to Esav as his master. This is not something for Esav's ears, and yet he places Esav as his master.

The Brisker Rov writes, in Chiddushei HaGriz:



"וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב -- And this requires explanation, why it states כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו. This was, after all, what he said to his messengers, so why should he say "to my master?!" And what seems is that the word לֵאמֹר requires further explanation, for its meaning it "say to them", and if so, why should any further כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן etc. be necessary?! Didn't he already say 'say to him', when he said לֵאמֹר? And the conclusion compelled by this analysis is that they need to say to Esav as well the words "כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן etc.", that he said to them that they should say to Esav. For so did he say to them "כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו". And therefore he said לַאדֹנִי, since they said this to Esav, as I wrote."
This is a nice analysis, whose conclusion -- that לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו was part of the message related to Esav -- I have encountered elsewhere with some very good backup. I'll get to that in a minute.

However, I am not sure I agree with the details of the Brisker Rov's analysis. Specifically, I would argue that לֵאמֹר actually means "as follows", not (a command) "to say". It is true that Chazal often take לֵאמֹר -- perhaps midrashically -- to mean a command to say to others. (See e.g. Rashi on Vayikra 1:1) Thus, the famous vayomer Hashem el Moshe leimor is a command by Hashem that Moshe should say to others. And thus, when that is followed by a further command to say, then it is sometimes cause for midrashic discussion.

But while that is an established way of interpreting leimor, I would argue that it means "as follows". If so, וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר means that Yaakov instructed the messengers as follows, and there is no repetition! If so, כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן can readily be his instruction to his servants, rather than a quoted phrase to repeat to Esav. As to why Yaakov would use the term "my master" to his servants, we could answer that he was indeed assuming a subservient role in his placation of Esav, and this was getting into character; or a way of impressing this idea upon the messengers who were to believe and deliver the message.

However, in Dr. Richard Steiner's class -- I think it was in Galilean Aramaic, where we saw the Bereishit Rabba in question -- he presented us with a solution to this, along similar lines. That is, that לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו was part of the words quoted to Esav. I wrote this up in greater detail here, and used it to react to a claim by Speiser that this idea was against the trup and Chazal.

The idea is that there is a "routine epistolary formula", such as in Akkadian: to my lord X say, thus (speaks) your servant Y. And we see an instance of this in Ezra 4:11:

יא דְּנָה֙ פַּרְשֶׁ֣גֶן אִגַּרְתָּ֔א דִּ֚י שְׁלַ֣חוּ עֲל֔וֹהִי עַל־אַרְתַּחְשַׁ֖שְׂתְּא מַלְכָּ֑א עבדיך (עַבְדָ֛ךְ) אֱנָ֥שׁ עֲבַֽר־נַהֲרָ֖ה וּכְעֶֽנֶת׃

And that this in Vayishlach was an epistolary formula was known to Yehuda Nesia, as the following Midrash Rabba makes clear (for those read the midrash and who also recognize the epistolary formula from elsewhere):
מדרש רבה פרשה ע"ה

ה וַיְצַו אֹתָם, לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן, לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו
רבינו אמר לרבי אפס
כתוב חד אגרא מן שמי למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
קם וכתב
מן יהודה נשיאה למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
נסבה וקרייה וקרעיה
אמר ליה כתוב
מן עבדך יהודה למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
אמר ליה רבי מפני מה אתה מבזה על כבודך?
אמר ליה מה אנא טב מן סבי?!
לא כך אמר
כֹּה אָמַר, עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב
'And he commanded them saying, so say to my lord Esav'
Rabbenu said to Rabbi Apas:
'Write a letter from me (lit. from my name) to my master the king Antoninus.'
He (R Apas) got up and wrote: From Yehuda Nesia (the Prince) to our master the king Antoninus.
He (Yehuda Nesia) got up and read it and tore it up.
He (Yehuda Nesia) said 'Write: From your servant Yehuda to our master the king Antoninus.'
He (R Apas) said, 'Rebbi, for what cause do you degrade your honor?'
He (Yehuda Nesia) said to him, 'What, am I better than my ancestor?! Does it not say: So says your servant Yaakov?'

One could perhaps argue whether כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן should be placed as part of the quote or not, but certainly לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו should.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Derech eretz for Avraham and Bilaam

In Taama deKra on Vayera, Rav Chaim Kanievsky points out an interesting discrepancy between Rashi on Vayera and Rashi on Balak:
That is, the pasuk and Rashi in Vayera (Bereishit 22:3) read:

And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him.ג. וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבשׁ אֶת חֲמֹרוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים:

his two young men: Ishmael and Eliezer, for a person of esteem is not permitted to go out on the road without two men, so that if one must ease himself and move to a distance, the second one will remain with him. — [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 31; Gen. Rabbah ad loc., Tan. Balak 8]את שני נעריו: ישמעאל ואליעזר, שאין אדם חשוב רשאי לצאת לדרך בלא שני אנשים, שאם יצטרך האחד לנקביו ויתרחק יהיה השני עמו:

while the pasuk and Rashi in Balak (Bemidbar 22:22) read:

God's wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of the Lord stationed himself on the road to thwart him, and he was riding on his she-donkey, and his two servants were with him.כב. וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל אֲתֹנוֹ וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ:

and his two servants were with him: From here we learn that a distinguished person who embarks on a journey should take two people with him to attend him, and then they can attend each other [so that when one is occupied, the other takes his place]. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 8, Num. Rabbah 20:13]ושני נעריו עמו: מכאן לאדם חשוב היוצא לדרך יוליך עמו שני אנשים לשמשו וחוזרים ומשמשים זה את זה:


In both cases, Rashi states that this is derech eretz to have two men to attend him. However, in Vayera, Rashi states explicitly that it so that if one attendant needs to defecate, which requires moving to a distance, the other can remain with him. Meanwhile, in Balak, Rashi appears to say that besides attending him, they are attending each other. [The bracketed text in English in the second Rashi is an attempted harmonization, rather than something explicit in Rashi.] This seems to indeed be a discrepancy.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky offers a rather clever resolution. He points to Sanhedrin 104b [the citation in the text which has 105b is in error] which states:

Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that two men [Jews] were taken captive on Mount Carmel, and their captor was walking behind them. One of them said to the other, 'The camel walking in front of us is blind in one eye, and is laden with two barrels, one of wine, and the other of oil, and of the two men leading it, one is a Jew, and the other a heathen.' Their captor said to them, 'Ye stiff-necked people, whence do ye know this?' They replied, 'Because the camel is eating of the herbs before it only on the side where it can see, but not on the other, where it cannot see.1  It is laden with two barrels, one of wine and the other of oil: because wine drips and is absorbed [into the earth], whilst oil drips and rests2  [on the surface].3  And of the two men leading it, one is a Jew, and the other a heathen: because a heathen obeys the call of Nature in the roadway, whilst a Jew turns aside.' He hastened after them, and found that it was as they had said.4  So he went and kissed them on the head,5  brought them into his house, and prepared a great feast for them. He danced [with joy] before them and exclaimed 'Blessed be He who made choice of Abraham's seed and imparted to them of His wisdom, and wherever they go they become princes to their masters!' Then he liberated them, and they went home in peace.
The relevant portion of this tale is that the captive Jews reasoned that ahead of them on the road was one Jew and one gentile, 'because a heathen obeys the call of Nature in the roadway, whilst a Jew turns aside'. If so, for Avraham and his servants, the explanation of turning aside works. Meanwhile, from Bilaam and his servants, the explanation of turning aside does not work.

This is a rather neat resolution. I suspect that, besides a bekius in Shas, the connection was aided by the proximity of Sanhedrin 104b, with this tale, to Sanhedrin 105a, which discusses midrashim about Bilaam, in reference to the events of parashat Balak.

Still, I don't think that this resolution is correct. Here are a few objections:

_____

1) Avraham went with Eliezer and Yishmael, and Bilaam went with two servants. The ones who would distance themselves in this scenario would be Eliezer, Yishmael and [not] the two servants. If so, the contrast is not between Avraham and Bilaam, but of their attendants. Still, this particular objection can be readily dismissed. Eliezer (as an eved kenaani) and Yishmael (as son of Avraham) would be expected to conduct themselves appropriately, distancing themselves when relieving themselves.

2) More to the point, when these Rashis speak of derech eretz for an adam chashuv, the idea is that this is conduct with dignity. Both Avraham and Bilaam momentarily abandoned that dignity, Avraham for zerizut for the mitzvah and Bilaam for hatred (see the Rashis in proximity). Yet here, in taking two attendants, they are conducting themselves with dignity.

When the gemara in Sanhedrin speaks, in the tale, of the difference between Jews and heathens, in that Jews will turn aside while the heathens will defecate in the middle of the road, the point of distinction is that the Jews are conducting themselves with dignity. Bilaam, conducting himself as an adam chashuv, would not defecate in the middle of the road. What of the attendants? Do you really think it dignified for Bilaam to be attended upon by a servant while the servant defecates next to him on the road?

3) The wording of Rashi (drawn from Midrash Tanchuma) is מכאן לאדם חשוב היוצא לדרך יוליך עמו שני אנשים לשמשו וחוזרים ומשמשים זה את זה. That is, we, who are Jewish people, are supposed to derive a lesson of proper conduct for a Jewish adam chashuv from this. Would the midrash really, then, substitute a weaker reason (of them attending one another) which only is relevant to non-Jews?

____

Some commentators note this discrepancy in Rashi and attempt to harmonize. For instance, see Siftei Chachamim on the Rashi in Balak, where the "attending on one another" is that one does the attending that the other would do, when one of them excuses himself to use the bathroom.


Etz Yosef on the Midrash Tanchuma in Balak says likewise. This is a plausible harmonization, though one needs to force it into the words a bit. The simpler meaning is that the attendants attend one another. The man is so chashuv that even his attendants have attendants!

I would rather not focus (for now at least) on the meaning of these two statements. Maybe one should harmonize, and Tanchuma means the same as what Rashi said in Vayera, and maybe one should not harmonize.

However, I would guess that the reason for the difference in Rashi stems from a difference in wording from Rashi's sources. That is, Rashi does not typically make things up, based on sevara, but rather channels midrashim. We saw Rashi's sources cited above. Let us repeat them. In Vayera:

And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him.ג. וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבשׁ אֶת חֲמֹרוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים:

his two young men: Ishmael and Eliezer, for a person of esteem is not permitted to go out on the road without two men, so that if one must ease himself and move to a distance, the second one will remain with him. — [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 31; Gen. Rabbah ad loc., Tan. Balak 8]את שני נעריו: ישמעאל ואליעזר, שאין אדם חשוב רשאי לצאת לדרך בלא שני אנשים, שאם יצטרך האחד לנקביו ויתרחק יהיה השני עמו:


I've looked at Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, perek 31, and saw no reference to adam chashuv. I think they are simply sourcing the identification of these two young men as Yishmael and Eliezer. This identification indeed appears in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer. See line 23-24:


Bereishit Rabba 55:7 has this source for Rashi:
ויקח את שני נעריו אתו. 
אמר רבי אבהו:שני בני אדם נהגו בדרך ארץ: אברהם ושאול. 
אברהם, שנאמר: ויקח את שני נעריו. 
שאול, (ש"א כ"ח) וילך הוא ושני אנשים עמו. 
"And he took his two young men with him. Rabbi Abahu said: two people conducted themselves with derech eretz, namely Avraham and Shaul. Avraham, as it is said 'And he took his two young men with him'. Shaul, (I Shmuel 28) 'And he went, and two men with him'."
Note that Rabbi Abahu here does not reckon Bilaam as one who conducted himself with derech eretz. Bilaam is not on the radar.

Neither of these two sources speak specifically about the reason for two attendants. Perhaps Rashi supplemented this himself. Perhaps he looked to the distance, and was indeed interpreting Tanchuma on Balak. I still would not leap to say that he drew this from Balak. Perhaps there is still some other midrashic source which states this explicitly.

The pasuk and Rashi in Balak were:

God's wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of the Lord stationed himself on the road to thwart him, and he was riding on his she-donkey, and his two servants were with him.כב. וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל אֲתֹנוֹ וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ:

and his two servants were with him: From here we learn that a distinguished person who embarks on a journey should take two people with him to attend him, and then they can attend each other [so that when one is occupied, the other takes his place]. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 8, Num. Rabbah 20:13]ושני נעריו עמו: מכאן לאדם חשוב היוצא לדרך יוליך עמו שני אנשים לשמשו וחוזרים ומשמשים זה את זה:


We can safely ignore Bamidbar Rabba, which is likely post-Rashi and does not serve as Rashi's source (and which says the same as Tanchuma anyway). Rashi got this from Tanchuma Balak, which states:
ושני נעריו עמו זה דרך ארץ, אדם חשוב היוצא לדרך, צריך שנים לשמשו, וחוזרין ומשמשין זה לזה. 
Note that Tanchuma on parashat Vayera takes no note of Avraham taking along two attendants.

The picture I am trying to draw here is of two midrashim which operate in parallel, which do not know of each other. Rabbi Abahu in Bereishit Rabba only knows of Avraham and Shaul and does not know of Bilaam. Midrash Tanchuma only knows of Bilaam and does not know of Bilaam. If so, the reasoning within these two midrashic traditions also do not need to match. (To return to the topic of whether one should harmonize, this might help strip our impetus to harmonize the Rashis.)

And don't complain to Rashi about discrepancies. Rashi in Balak did not say the explanation of an attendant distancing himself to defecate because he was citing Midrash Tanchuma verbatim. He would not have changed the midrash without cause. Perhaps one could complain to Rashi about his explanation in Vayera, but then, we don't necessarily have Rashi's source.

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