Thursday, February 16, 2006

parshat Yitro: What parsha did Yitro add?

There is a famous statement of Chazal, and I have seen it quoted in many places, but I wonder if everyone understands the statement correctly. Perhaps I am missing out on a source. If so, please leave a comment.

This famous statement, in Shemot Rabba parasha 27:8 is that Yitro (the man) was called Yitro because he added (יתר) a parsha to the Torah. (There is more to this statement but I will leave it out until the end to build suspense.)

This has been taken as the entire parshat Yitro being added on his account -- from Shemot 18:1 -- וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ -- until Shemot 20:22 -- וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ, עָלָיו. This would then also include mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah.

A related saying, which I am pretty sure stems from this same statement of Chazal (but have not looked sufficiently to rule out other possibilities): That the parsha of Yitro was named in his honor. Thus, we have divrei Torah speaking of what special merit had to have a parsha named in his honor -- and specifically the parsha of the giving of the Torah. Perhaps because he was the first convert?

However, what will we then say in response to parshat Balak? Was Balak, who tried to get Bilaam to curse the Israelites, such a righteous individual that he merited a parsha in the Torah be added, or that the parsha be named in his honor?

In terms of naming, it is not that Chazal chose to name the parsha in his honor but that the parsha begins with his name, in the second word, and so it is the natural choice. The same thing with parshat Balak. And Chazal, at least in this statement, do not say it was named in his honor, but rather that he received this name because he added a parsha to the Torah.

Also, what is meant by "parsha?" Technically, there is a distinction between parasha and sidra. The practice in Eretz Yisrael was to finish the cycle of Torah readings once every (approximately) three years. Each portion was called a sidra. The Babylonian practice was to finish once every year. Each portion was called a parasha.

Thus, a sidra is about a third the length of a parasha. Now, parshat Yitro is exactly three chapters long (though this chapter numbering is Christian in origin). But it divides about evenly into three or four subjects: Yitro's arrival and suggestion about appointing judges; preparation for the giving of the Torah; giving of the Torah; after the experience at Mt. Sinai, an instruction about altars.

Yitro's arrival, suggestion, and departure takes about one third of the parsha, is a single logical unit, and is bracketed on both sides by a petucha {P}. I would guess that this would form a single sidra. I can't find a list of the sidrot online. Perhaps someone can help out in the comments and confirm or negate this.

At any rate, one might say that this is all that Yitro caused to be added to the Torah by arriving, suggesting, and leaving. After all, the giving of the Torah would have taken place anyway. On the other hand, the term parsha is used here, not sidra. Regardless, a statement that mattan Torah was placed in his parsha and thus he must have some special merit seems like a stretch of what Chazal said.

Update: See comments and update at the bottom about parsha.

In fact, I would guess that it means neither. A fuller text of this midrash is:
ד"א יתרו שיתר פרשה אחת בתורה שנאמר ואתה תחזה
"Another explanation {of the name}: Yitro, for he added a parsha in the Torah, for it is stated ואתה תחזה."

The words ואתה תחזה begin pasuk 18:12:
כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. 21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
which spells out the the practice of appointing a judge and the conditions of being appointed a judge.

Thus, parsha is not being used here at all in its popular sense of the full text of the portion of Torah read aloud in shul. Rather, parsha means something akin to "topic," or "subject of law." Yitro added the parsha of minuy dayyanim.

We see this usage in Talmud Bavli.
"Topic/Section" (See update)
Berachot 10a: למה נסמכה פרשת אבשלום לפרשת גוג ומגוג

Berachot 12b: בקשו לקבוע פרשת בלק בקריאת שמע

"section containing Subject of Law"
Berachot 12b:
לימא פרשת רבית ופרשת משקלות דכתיב בהן יציאת מצרים
פרשת ציצית מפני מה קבעוה
Berachat 40b:
פרשת סוטה

So parsha does not necessarily mean the parsha that we read aloud in shul. From context, where the midrash cites the beginning of a specific pasuk, it seems that it absolutely does NOT mean the entire parsha we read in shul.

Note also that this pasuk and segment does not have his name in it (and in fact Yitro has not been mentioned in the reading for a number of pesukim -- instead we have simply חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה from a bit above this until the end.) Thus, this has very little if anything to do with the parsha being named Yitro.

Update: Another interesting point. The Mechilta also has that he was called this because he added a parsha to the Torah, not specifying however what parsha exactly was added. And the Mechilta has this as an explanation of the name Yeter, which fits in better with the explanation שיתר. In contrast, Shmot Rabba (at least the version I was using) puts this on the name Yitro. Rashi cites this with the name Yeter, but specifies what was added - pasuk 21.

Update: In the comments, mivami points out that all of my examples are the pesukim between petuchot/setumot, and indeed, this is the standard definition of parasha in Rabbinic literature. (Thus, my examples above of alternate usage, including the one for parshat Balak, are incorrect.) I mentioned the bracketing of petuchot here, but was not thinking clearly, and so did not note at the time that this may well be the usage here, such that we need not look to the sidra, which anyway, as mivami points out, does not end at the end of the perek.

Still, I am not convinced that even this is the meaning of parasha in this instance. The midrash mentions that he added parasha achat, not parshat Yitro, and furthermore, at least in Shemot Rabba, the midrash points to a specific pasuk, introduced by the term shene`emar. Furthermore, we have at least one instance where parsha seems to target an individual pasuk in Mishlei, such that this reading is indeed possible.

In terms of the definition of parasha as what we read today, I was incorrect in categorization of parshat Balak as "portion." However, at least for the moment, I stand by my distinction between parsha and sidra as outlined above. See my comment below.


mivami said...

פרשה in rabbinic lit never means the parshat shavua we read nowadays. it means the paragraph between 2 petuha/setuma
so the "parsha of yitro" is clearly the same as the first perek of yitro, namely ch. 18. there are a variety of sedarim so its hard to tell exactly but at least in the text im using the first seder begins at 18:1 and ends at 19:6. so its not the same.
and as for balak, as any lainer can tell you, the entire parshat shavua minus the last paragraph with adultery, is one long פרשה so there you go.

joshwaxman said...

"פרשה in rabbinic lit never means the parshat shavua we read nowadays."

Sorry, I will have to argue with you here. there certainly is a different term from "sidra" -- it was brought up in a recent revel class (sugyot in moed) - with Dr. Steinfeld. We did an academic analysis of specific sugyot in Moed, and made such a distinction between parsha and sidra. Reinterpretation of one term to mean the other led to adoption of specific halacha. The sugya in question is Megilla 30b. I'll try to post my notes on this class later on, as well as perhaps a reference to the article.

"it means the paragraph between 2 petuha/setuma"
it certainly *can* mean this, and does mean this in *many, many* sugyot. I know of this definition, but wasn't thinking clearly. Thanks. I will try to update.

However, I am not convinced that it *always* means this. Besides the gemara in Megillah I mentioned, Consider Berachot 63a:

איזוהי פרשה קטנה שכל גופי תורה תלוין בה (משלי ג) בכל דרכיך דעהו והוא יישר ארחותיך

this appears to be speaking about just this one pasuk, not the area between petuchot and setumot. Otherwise, this "small " parsha is 18 pesukim!

The same terminology, פרשה קטנה, is used to refer to the entire first paragraph of Shema, between {P} and {S}, on Shabbat 78b.

"it means the paragraph between 2 petuha/setuma
so the "parsha of yitro" is clearly the same as the first perek of yitro, namely ch. 18."


As I said above, I should have mentioned this explicitly as a definition of parsha.

However, I would not necessarily say that this is what it means *here.* Firstly, the midrash does not say "parashat Yitro," but rather "parasha achat." Furthermore, the midrash rabba refers to a specific pasuk, stating "shene`emar," presumably for the purpose of introducing the section that starts with those words.

Thanks for the seder info, and for your edifying comment in general. BTW, can you point me at the location of that Shamma Freidman article you mentioned?

mivami said...

One should never make general statements prefaced by never... (oops, there i did it again :) )
You're right that sometimes it may be that פרשה refers to what we nowadays call it. i have great respect for dr steinfeld so i eagerly await your class notes to prove me wrong, but until then i still stand by my statement.
as far as a single pasuk being referred to as a parsha, i believe you're misunderstanding the force of the drasha. just as very often the gemara (and rabbinic lit in general) will intend the end of a pasuk by mentioning the first half, so too will it often refer to a whole parsha (my definition) by mentioning one pasuk within it. thus, the proof from משלי means the whole parsha of psukim 5-10. the advice of all those psukim go far vis a vis דרך ארץ. same with parsha ahat of means the entire parsha in which ואתה תחזה is part.
i thought you already knew of the friedman article from yesterdays post! LOL but ok here is the location in yu:
Call Number BM501 .M448 2005

joshwaxman said...

thanks. I'll try to get someone to get it for me. (not at YU at the moment)

Could you clarify what you mean by "(my definition)" (meaning your definition) of a whole parsha? I think you mean something bracketed by petuchot/setumot. But if so, pesukim 5-10 are not bounded by these, at least at mechon-mamre.

we have {P} at the end of perek 2 and another {P} at the end of 3:18, which makes 18 pesukim, no? And if so, would it refer to it as a parasha ketana?

mivami said...

i guess difft tanachs have it difftly arranged. the ones ive looked at have petuchot before 5 and after 10. for example koren and artscroll and others as well.
yes, i meant a parsha bound by petuhot or setumot on either side.

joshwaxman said...

"i guess difft tanachs have it difftly arranged"
I guess so. Alas, I've been exiled from my apartment by a mouse, so I didn't have access to my seforim.

If so, yachol lihyot. (though not entirely convinced)

I certainly agree that in this case the parsha is not the full parsha. The petuchot bracketing works out quite nicely to minimize what is being included, such that it matched what I hoped for in a sidra, so I agree it is a good candidate for the meaning.

Just so long as we do not extract from this midrash that: (A) The parsha was named after Yitro because of some zechut, or (B) Yitro is the one who gives us mattan Torah or gets the parsha of mattan Torah named after him -- I am happy enough.

I would still look at each of these categorizations - be it a word, like "Shekalim", or a partial pasuk, chracterizes the nature of what is important in the segment. Why cite pasuk 21 in perek 18 rather than say Shene`emar Vayishma Yitro? Either because the "parsha" is a conceptual parsha, or at the least because this is the nature of the contribution. Yitro's addition, or the importance of the addition, was not the narrative, but rather the halachot of choosing judges. Indeed, this was the essence of his suggestion to Moshe, and this -- by his suggestion, and not by his arrival -- is how he "added" a parsha to the Torah. And this is why this particular aspect is stressed. So, I would suggest that even if the "parsha" added goes from {p} to {p}, the nature of what was added was the halachot.

Then again, perhaps not.
All the best,

mivami said...

I would still look at each of these categorizations - be it a word, like "Shekalim", or a partial pasuk, chracterizes the nature of what is important in the segment
well i would just say the quoted word or partial pasuk is the *distinctive* feature of the parsha and therefore makes sense to use that as a "code" for the parsha

joshwaxman said...

perhaps. but this is not called parshat ואתה תחזה. rather the midrash says שנאמר ואתה תחזה. it strikes me as a bit weird, and thus seems definitional to me.

joshwaxman said...

On the other hand, I was working from a bias. Namely, I was reading the midrash on the parsha as a commentary local to the parsha. In that context, having to say שנאמר ואתה תחזה seems unnecessary and strongly points to the narrower scope of the pesukim surrounding that pasuk.

However, considering that this is an explanation of *Yeter* (at least according to Mechilta and Rashi's girsa), the midrash is no longer local to the parshat haShavua called parshat Yitro, but rather a midrash based elsewhere. If so, it makes plenty of sense to refer to the entirety of the "parsha" (in the sense of {P} to {P}) and tell us where in Shemot to look - namely, שנאמר ואתה תחזה - by which the section is uniquely recognizable.

I still think that even if so, the choice of the halachic section carries the connotation that it is the "parsha" (even in the sense of {P} to {P}) carrying the specific halachot that Yitro added, and that this stress is to show how Yitro added - by his suggestion, rather than mere circumstance of arriving. Otherwise, Balak also added a parsha, as did Amalek, as did Ephron, etc..

In terms of parsha vs. sidra, I located my class notes. Should be a post up on parshablog soon.

moshe said...

See Aznaim L'Torah where this is discussed (that "parshious" are arbitrary, or at least not Sinaic, thus all these vortaluch are hard to fathom. See there


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