Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I've Not Posted Much Lately

As usual, I've been busy, but recently I've been even busier that usual. I started teaching a class at Lander College and another at Queens. I've been teaching myself PHP, and have been working on a machine transliteration problem (perhaps more on this in some later post). I'm also taking a lingustics course at CUNY.

In addition to the many other papers I owe for Revel, I owe a paper for Shir HaShirim. I'm in the middle of reworking the Shir haShirim Frustrated Lovers post from a while back.

I hope to increase blogging as I get acclimated.

parshat Terumah: The Mishkan Reflecting A Changed Relationship With Hashem

Two midrashim in Midrash Rabba really resonated with me this week. The first was a twist on the popular rereading of Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe, from Devarim 33:4:
ד תּוֹרָה צִוָּה-לָנוּ, מֹשֶׁה: מוֹרָשָׁה, קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב. 4 Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.
(While on the topic of this pasuk, I should mention that Meir likes the song and known how to fill in the words "Moshe" and "Yaakov" at the appropriate points.)

The famous midrash is "read not מוֹרָשָׁה but rather מְאֹרָסָה -- betrothed." This teaches that the Torah is an arusa to Israel, as it states in Hoshea 2:21:
כא וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, לְעוֹלָם; וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט, וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים. 21 And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in compassion.
we see in many places the God-Israel relationship described as that of lovers, or a betrothed couple, or a married couple.

The twist in this specific midrash is the role the mishkan plays in this. The God-Israel relationship, before the giving of the Torah, was one of a betrothed couple. In such an instance, when the chatan wishes to visit the kallah, he must visit her in her father's house. Thus, in Shemot 19:3:
ג וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, מִן-הָהָר לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying: 'Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:
But matan Torah was nisuin, so now the couple is married. The chatan no longer needs to enter his father-in-law's house to visit his beloved. Rather, she lived with him. Thus, after matan Torah, we see in the beginning of parshat Terumah {Shemot 25:8}:
ח וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם. 8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
Thus, the Mishkan reflect the changed, deeper, nature of the relationship between God and Israel.

I don't have anything to add to the content of this midrash. It speaks for itself.

Sidra vs. Parsha - The Article

I discovered Dr. Steinfeld's article I mentioned (about sidra vs. parasha). It was sitting on a shelf, in a stack of other articles. Here are scans. Click on an image to zoom in.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Posts so far for parshat Mishpatim

Year 1 (2004)
  1. HaAm = Ziknei HaAm as synecdoche
  2. Ayin Tachat Ayin as metaphor
  3. From parshat Behar-Bechukotai, a discussion of serving LeOlam/until Yovel for the perpetual servant mentioned in the beginning of Mishpatim.
  4. from parshat Ki Teitzei, Eshet Yefat To`ar As Progressive Feminist Legislation, where in the course of discussion, I compare it to Amah Ivriya, the Hebrew maidservant, mentioned in the beginning of Mishpatim.
Year 2 (2005)
  1. Twice Betrayed: A Case Study in Multivalence - part 1
  2. Implementing Biblical Law in Florida
to be continued...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Must read article about the Danish cartoons

by the guy who published the cartoons. "Why I Published Those Cartoons." It is a must read, from start to finish (and it spans two web pages), regardless of your particular take on the the cartoons.

One point, among many, of note:
One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent characteristic of the prophet.
Read it here, in the Washington Post.

Sidra vs. Parasha - Class Notes

In a comment on a previous post, I wrote that I would try to locate my class notes from Dr. Steinfeld's class, in which he described a distinction between sidra and parsha, and used this distinction to resolve difficulties with a sugya starting in Megilla 29a. Thus, certain Rabbinic sources use the term sidra to they speak of the Eretz Yisrael based practice of finishing Torah in a cycle of once every three years, whereas when they use parasha in this context, they are speaking of the Babylonian practice of finishing Torah once a year, such that parsha = our parshat hashavua.

I located my notes. However, I should state at the outset that these notes were taken for personal use, and thus are not as fleshed out as a typical post on parshablog. One needs to really learn through the sugya to decipher the notes.

Furthermore, my notes begin towards the end of a file named sm9.txt (sugyot in moed, class 9) and end in the midst of a file named sm11.txt. I do not have a file named sm10.txt. There are three possibilities. The files were in different directories, and I have on occasion skipped a number in a sequence when this has happened. If so, what follows is class notes for the entire topic. Another possibility is that I did not have my computer, or my computer lacked battery power, such that I took notes on paper, and that paper is lost somewhere in my apartment. A third possibility is that, since makeup classes were being scheduled at this time at awkward hours, I missed this class. If so, I have the beginning and end of the notes. Dr. Steinfeld often repeats a bit of what we had done so far, particularly towards the summation of a topic, so even so these notes might cover everything.

As with everything, this was based on an article written by Dr. Steinfeld. I cannot locate the article at the moment, but it is written by him and has the word לכסדרן in it -- or else לסדרן, for that is the emendation he makes based on sources. Perhaps if someone knows the name and location of the article, (s)he could post it in a comment? Thanks.

The class notes follow:

New topic:
reading the 4 parshiyot.

megilla 29a.
have a mishna.
our reading of torah problematic.
only place in torah was hakhel.

rosh chodesh adar shechal lihyot beshabat - korin parshat shkalim. if fell in middle of the week, push to prev shabbat, and mafsik to next shabbat. {rashi: so people should know that need to bring machtzit haShekel in Adar, so bring teruma chadasha. budget of temple started from nissan.}

did they read something else? not clear. prob not.

if push back one, mafsik one week.

rosh choshesh adar beShabat :
1 shekalim
8 zachor
(14-Friday) Purim
22 para aduma
29 hachodesh hazeh lachem
chamishit, chozrim to normal cycle.

First day of Adar not on Shabbat, start Shekalim in Shevat.
-7: shekalim
1: nothing
(12) Purim
10: zachor

but look at case of rosh chodesh on shabbat.

what does it mean lekesidran. pg 6 in handoput. rabenu chananel. first see the long rashi, shows how it comes out all those days.
rabenu chananel. he has lisidran mai.

elsewhere, shows it is lisidran.
pg 2 shows cover of ktav yad kaufman. best mishna that we have.
here have kisidran.
in cambridge manuscript: lisidran
meiri: has lisidran.

why not clarify to which order.

sperber: cites ezra fleischer - who found a fragment of siddur, that showed they started earlier and ended later, so did not have to repeat for lack of psukim.

we had a machloket, on pg 6.
what is the seder?Rabbi Ami - to seder parshiyot. R Yirmiya - to seder haftarat.
Rashi: seder parshiyot: that during these shabbatot paused and did not read the regular parshat haShavua. only zachor, shekalim, hachodesh, para.
just like on Yom Tov, we stop and read only special reading for Yom Tov.
seder haftarot - until here, did haftara of those shabbatot. Now go back to haftara of regular parsha.

so acc to r yirmiya - had to read parshat haShavua + Shekalim/ Zachor /Para /Hachodesh + special haftara.

now, if have machloket between amoraim - was there a problem in the mishna to say quickly.

also in nidda - mishna: did something shelo kesidran.and showed us that leSidran was an alternate girsa. see pg #2. frontpage. kaufman.

mishna in kaufman has punctuation. but diff hand. nakdan.

has the mafsikim interrupting - belonging to that mishna. it has leSidran.

later - mishna 8 - keSidran.

manuscript - pg 4: William Henry Lowe - copying cambridge manuscript. full manuscript. one of the best/.
and he did not publish a faximile, but is copying. and when there is a diff between printed edition and manuscript, write Ken Hu BeKtav Yad.

has leSidran.

Rabenu Chananel - pg 6=-
leseder mai: lisidran mai.

why is the mishna not specifying? such that need a machloket.

suggest very simple solution.

in Yiddish: the sedra - rather than parsha.

now see the sources.
pg #7:
those people in maarava {=E"y} that finsih torah in 3 years.
rashi: and not we do in 1 year.

another tradition - 3 and 1/2 years.
makes sense because shmitta is 7 years. so have 2 cycles in a shmita.

pg 9. very important book.Disputes Between Anshei Mizrach and Benei E"Y.
prof margoliot put tagether diff nuschaot.
Yam Shel Shlomo-maharsha. brings a page - diff minhagim from e"Y from benei bavel.
look at chiluk 48: bavel: every simchat torah
e"y: once every 3 and 1/2 years/

we know this is a geonic work.

ANOTHER chiluk: 47: bavel: read in *parasha* both the shliach tzibur and the populace. (shnayim mikra veEchad Targum) and people of e"y: the people read *parasha* and shliach tzibur reads sedarim.

so still reading seder of e"y, but influenced by babylonians, reading the parasha. (finishing in 1 year)

so yiddish not correct, because use seder to = parasha.

copied a few pages from margoliyot.
pg 11, 12, etc brings each minhag and analyzes.

bavel = 54 divisions (which is good, bec 54 weeks in a leap year)
e"y: diff sources. pg 18: masechet sofrim: halacha 10: therefore established 175. and terminology -sedarim.
another source - ester rabba petichta 3: minyan shel koneh (kuf nun heh = 155)
dvarim 28:68: ... veEin koneh

prob related to 3 vs 3 and 1/2
tanach koren - marks torah with sedarim. has 175.
have some evidence what the sedarim were.
in e"y uysed to have shorter reading bec longer drasha.

medrash was developed. teaching the parasha. read 1/3 of what we reading.

change in concept of kriyat haTorah. originally, to teach. not idea of being YOTZEI by hearing each word/

go to another part.
pg 16: masechet sofrim. halacha 4: he thought read 7, read less, goes back and reads, on condition that it is BeSeder 21 to distribute. and if less, add from another parsha so that enough.

pg 17: bavli: zevachim.mid page. beshlishi beParashat kedoshim.

back to mishna:
simple meaning. to the seder haParshiyot.
go back to the seder.
if so, why machloket?
rabbi ami: seder haParshiyot.
what with R Yirmiya: wants to reconcile the second minhag. used to read parsha as well. wants to justify his minhag. but original meaning of mishna was prob as rabbi ami, but with parsha rather than seder.
abaye's proof.
pg 6: abaye: rabbi ami makes sense. for tnan: laKol mafsikin - roshei chodoshim, chnauka, purim, fasts.
rashi: from reading inyin olam and reading from inyan haYom. (yet we do only maftir rosh chodesh. we take many sefer torah. ttanit on shabbat.

taaniyot only on chol.
so cannot say chozrin leSeder regarding haftarot, since no haftarot on chol.
rashi: perforce, must not be referring to shabbat.

so see abaye himself (justifying r ami) but was in bavel.
veIdach - how will r yirmiya explain mishna - in case that have haftara, return to haftara. in case dont have, return to seder parshiyot.

another source - abaye: read from parashat haShavua. tetzave + parashat haChodesh. so had minhag bavel but explains mishna acc to r ami.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

King Tut's White Wine and The Absence of Evidence

Well, absence of evidence until now.

Until now, it was thought that white wine (/white grapes) did not exist in Egypt until 3rd century CE. Yet thye just discovered King Tut was buried with white wine. (Or at least, so they think.) This is 1600 years earlier.

So the absence of evidence of white wine for 1600 years in Egypt is not evidence of absence.

See the article in New Scientist:

Rosa Lamuela-Raventós and her colleagues from the University of Barcelona, Spain, used liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse the residue from six of the jars in Tutankhamen's tomb. All contained tartaric acid, a chemical characteristic of grapes, but only one contained syringic acid, found in the skin of red grapes. It's this skin that gives red wine its colour.

The absence of the chemical in the other five jars suggests the wine in them was white. Because it is unlikely Egyptian wine makers would have removed red grape skins to create white wines as modern wine makers do, white grapes probably did exist in Tutankhamen's time.

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.

parshat Beshalach: עָזִּי vs. עֻזִּי in actual practice

Last week, on parshat Beshalach, I noted Rashi's explanation of עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת קָהּ, וַיְהִי-לִי לִישׁוּעָה, which was based in large part on the fact that the word was עָזִּי rather than עֻזִּי, where we would expect the latter if it meant "my strength."

Yet in shul this past Shabbat, the Rabbi lained Az Yashir and he distrinctly said oozee. Is this a flaw in Rashi's argument?

The answer is no, for the Rabbi of my shul is chassidish, and oozee = עָזִּי.
Had he instead lained the word as eezee, then it would = עֻזִּי


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Daf Yomi: Pesachim 2a-3a: Reconstruction of the Original Sugya

In previous posts, I addressed the true meaning of Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda's statement about the definition of אור, showed how Mar Zutra's proof fit in to that end, and showed how a great many difficulties can be thusly resolved. What I would like to do it reconstruct the original sugya in the beginning of Pesachim, and explain what each statement means and how it fits in with the whole.

Reconstructing the original sugya is a fairly easy task in this instance. All that is involved is citing the statements by named Amoraim and omitting the rest, which is stamaitic.

The sugya I can reconstruct in this was is as follows:

דף ב, א משנה אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר כל מקום שאין מכניסין בו חמץ אין צריך בדיקה ובמה אמרו ב' שורות במרתף מקום שמכניסין בו חמץ בית שמאי אומרים ב' שורות על פני כל המרתף ובית הלל אומרים שתי שורות החיצונות שהן העליונות:

דף ב, א גמרא מאי אור רב הונא אמר נגהי ורב יהודה אמר לילי
דף ב, ב גמרא מיתיבי מר זוטרא
דף ג, א גמרא המפלת אור לשמונים ואחד בית שמאי פוטרין מקרבן ובית הלל מחייבים אמרו <להן> [להם] בית הלל לבית שמאי מאי שנא אור שמנים ואחד מיום שמנים ואחד אם שיוה לו לטומאה לא ישוה לו לקרבן
תני דבי שמואל לילי ארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר
דף ד, א גמרא אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק בשעה שבני אדם מצויין בבתיהם ואור הנר יפה לבדיקה אמר אביי הילכך האי צורבא מרבנן לא לפתח בעידניה באורתא דתליסר דנגהי ארבסר דלמא משכא ליה שמעתיה ואתי לאימנועי ממצוה
The אור of the 14th we search for chametz by the light of a candle. Any place where we do not bring in chametz does not require searching. And regarding what did they discuss two rows in a wine-cellar? A place into which we bring chametz.
Bet Shammai say: Two rows over the entire cellar;
and Bet Hillel say:The two outer rows, that are the uppermost.

What is אור?
{We might think this is equal to its Aramaic cognate, אורתא, and thus means the late afternoon of the 13th, going into the 14th, and thus the Mishna states אור לארבעה .עשר}
Rav Huna said: Naghei.
And Rav Yehuda said: Leilei.
{Both agree, and are saying that אור means night and not late afternoon.}
Mar Zutra attempted to prove this {from the Mishna in Keritut 9b}: If a woman miscarries on the אור to the 81st. Bet Shammai exempt from a{n additional} korban and Bet Hillel require. Bet Hillel said to Bet Shammai: Why should the אור of the 81st differ from the day {=morning} of the 81st. If it is equivalent to it in terms of ritual impurity {that if she saw menstrual blood, she would be considered a niddah at this time}, should it not be equivalent to it in terms of korban?
{This proves that אור is night and not late afternoon, because late afternoon is still part of the 80th day and if she saw menstrual blood she would not be considered a niddah.}
Indeed - in the academy of Shmuel they taught {the Mishna as}: Leilei of the 14th we search for chametz by the light of a candle.
{Thus, it is clear that they regard אור to be leilei, which is not and not late afternoon. Now, why at night, and perhaps, why not earlier, in late afternoon?}
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: At the hour that people are found in their houses and the light of the candle is good for searching.
Abaye said: Therefore a Torah scholar should not begin his seder of learning on the אורתא of the 13th which goes into the נגהי of the 14th lest his learning draw him in and he will then come to neglect the precept.
Perhaps rather than מיתיבי we should have something along the lines of תא שמע. Also, perhaps one can argue on my interpretation of Abaye's usage of אורתא, and thus manage to undermine this entire tower I have just built up. Comments welcome. :)

Stay tuned for a treatment of whether one may in fact do bittul on Pesach itself, and perhaps an analysis of Shamma Freidman's article on this issue, mentioned by mavami in a comment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Daf Yomi: Pesachim 2b-3a: Mar Zutra's Proof

On daf 2b-3a, Mar Zutra offers a proof that אור means אורתא as opposed to יממא:

המפלת אור לשמונים ואחד בית שמאי פוטרין מקרבן ובית הלל מחייבים אמרו <להן> [להם] בית הלל לבית שמאי מאי שנא אור שמנים ואחד מיום שמנים ואחד אם שיוה לו לטומאה לא ישוה לו לקרבן מדקאמר ב"ה לב"ש מאי שנא אור שמונים ואחד מיום שמונים ואחד שמע מינה אור אורתא הוא שמע מינה

This is difficult for a number of reasons.

Firstly, this proof is surrounded on both sides by other מיתיבי's. Each of these others is an anonymous setama degemara. The sole exception is this proof by Mar Zutra. Thus, Mar Zutra appearing in the middle of a large segment of setama is a bit off. We find this upon occasion by Rav Papa, who is an interesting case in his own right.

Because this was unusual, I thought that perhaps this reference to Mar Zutra could be the result of a scribal error. If
מיתיבי appeared at the end of a line, and there was not enough space to finish the word, the sofer would have repeated it on the subsequent line. If that repetition were mangled, it could produce something that could be mistaken for מר זוטרא. That is, we have the mem, and the tav could be mistaken for a resh and a separate zayin, and from there, it could produce מיתיבי מר זוטרא. However, I checked the manuscripts available online and they all had מיתיבי מר זוטרא or something close, and so we would only plead for this as a very last resort. Instead, we shall make every effort to incorporate the fact of Mar Zutra's authorship of the statement into any explanation of the sugya.

Secondly, why even bother to give this proof, if we have already provided sufficient evidence that אור means night? After the end of the proofs based on pesukim, the first proof based upon Tannaitic sources is:

מיתיבי: ר' יהודה אומר בודקין אור <לארבעה> [ארבעה] עשר ובארבעה עשר שחרית ובשעת הביעור מדקאמר רבי יהודה בודקין אור ארבעה עשר ובארבעה עשר שחרית אלמא אור אורתא הוא ש"מ

This is a citation of the third Mishna, in which both Rabbi Yehuda and his disputants, the Sages, use אור to mean night, for they both say that if he did not search on אור of the 14th, he should search in the morning of the 14th. And the gemara concludes שמע מינה, that we may indeed conclude from here that אור means night. If so, why does the gemara proceed to offer further proof? And why does Mar Zutra offer his proof, if this first proof is sufficient?

Rabbenu Chananel is bothered by this very question, and explains that although this first proof is sufficient, the gemara will demonstrate that one can prove that אור means night from other sources.

I believe that the question is stronger than the answer. After all, the proof from the third Mishna is more than sufficient. It, unlike the rest, shows the definition of אור specifically in the context of אור of the 14th when one should search for chametz. The only better proof is the final one, in which the academy of Shmuel (or of Rabbi Yishmael, depending on one's girsa) have a different version of the first Mishna, which is the very Mishna under discussion, which has לילי rather than אור. But all the rest are extraneous -- even if they show אור means night, we already have sufficient evidence in the present context.

Perhaps one can say that the gemara wishes to demonstrate comprehensively that אור always means night. Or perhaps the gemara's style is to offer a wide array of proofs, even where strictly unnecessary, perhaps even to highlight the meaning of אור in those other contexts.

Even so, Mar Zutra's proof seems unnecessary in the present context, and so I would consider it a difficulty with which we must deal.

Thirdly, once again approaching the sugya from the perspective of academic scholarship, we generally assume that the stama degemara was written much later than the statements by named Amoraim. If so, Mar Zutra I preceded the composition of the anonymous setatma degemara. Why then would Mar Zutra offer such a comparatively weak proof that אור means night? Mar Zutra could have offered the proof from the third Mishna of the present masechet, Pesachim, in the exact same context of searching for chametz during the אור of the 14th. Why bring proof from a Mishna in Keritut 9b, from the wording of Bet Hillel's argument?

Perhaps we could say that this is proof that the setama actually preceded Mar Zutra's statement. But in general, it has been demonstrated that setama follows named Amoraim chronologically.

Thus, it is difficult that Mar Zutra did not see fit to bring proof from the closer and in context third Mishna of Pesachim. Perhaps the third Mishna in Pesachim has some problem that renders it insufficient proof? We will consider this later.

Fourthly, Mar Zutra should not need to prove that אור means night as opposed to day, yet this is exactly what he does with this

In this previous post, I noted that Hebrew אור is the cognate of Aramaic אורתא, such that it should be obvious that אור means night. Furthermore, the thrid Mishna makes it clear that אור means night as opposed to day. If Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda are telling us that אור means night, is this not obvious? Otherwise, it is like helpfully explaining that barzel is parzela, or asking how Bava Kamma can state that there are ארבעה אבות, when we only know of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, while the full phrase is ארבעה אבות נזיקין. What chiddush are Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda coming to teach us? In answer, I note Abaye's statement that a Torah scholar should not start learning in the late afternoon (אורתא) of the 13th which goes into the night (נגהי) of the 14th. Thus, אורתא means something different than נגהי. Since the Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר, the night to the 14th, one might think this is the late afternoon of the 13th going into the 14th. Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna are teaching us the chiuddush that אור is not equal to אורתא. This is true of many cognates from different languages, in which they take on specific connotations in their respective languages. Thus, maison in French is a house, while mansion in English is a lange and fancy house. Thus, I demonstrate that the Amoraim had a specific meaning of אורתא - late afternoon - not shared by the setama degemara, and Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna are teaching us that this is not the implication of אור.

At odds with this theory is Mar Zutra's statement. He tries to prove that אור means night rather than day, rather that trying to prove that אור means night as opposed to late afternoon. But Mar Zutra, as an Amora, should be aware of this Aramaic implication of אורתא, and should then understand the import of Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna's statements. He should know how naghei differs from אורתא, since he is an Amora just like Abaye. Yet this entire line of proofs is there to show that אור must mean night rather than day, and operates under the initial assumption that naghei means day. Of course, once we conclude that אור must means night, the gemara reinterprets naghei to mean night, matching Abaye's usage of the term to mean night. However, as I said above, this should not even be a question to Mar Zutra. He should know אורתא is distinct from נגהי and thus understand the import of Rav Huna's statement, and barring that, he should at least recognize אור as the cognate of אורתא, such that it certainly would not mean day.

I believe that if we take these difficulties together, a solution becomes readily apparent. Indeed, Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda wish to teach us that אור is not the same as its Aramaic cognate אורתא and that rather than meaning late afternoon, אור means night. This is also what the academy of Shmuel attempts to teach with its variant of the Mishna, לילי לארבעה עשר. This resolves the fourth difficulty.

Mar Zutra knows this and desires to prove that אור means night rather than late afternoon. This is why Mar Zutra cannot simply cite the third Mishna. The third Mishna merely proves that אור means night as distinct from, and earlier than, morning (shacharit), but does not specify when exactly this night period is. One can read the third Mishna, without great difficulty, as stating that if he did not search in the late afternoon going into the 14, then he should should on the 14th in the morning.

The second difficulty was why Mar Zutra felt compelled to provide this prove from a Mishna in Keritut when a local Mishna which was even more to the topic had already addressed it. The resolution of this difficulty is that the third Mishna is not sufficient for what Mar Zutra wants to prove.

This also resolves the third difficulty, which is that if Mar Zutra preceded the setama chronologically, why did he not chose better proof of the third Mishna. In answer, the third Mishna does not prove what Mar Zutra wishes to prove.

How does the Mishna in Keritut prove what Mar Zutra desires to prove. Let us examine it again.

מיתיבי מר זוטרא המפלת אור לשמונים ואחד בית שמאי פוטרין מקרבן ובית הלל מחייבים אמרו <להן> [להם] בית הלל לבית שמאי מאי שנא אור שמנים ואחד מיום שמנים ואחד אם שיוה לו לטומאה לא ישוה לו לקרבן מדקאמר ב"ה לב"ש מאי שנא אור שמונים ואחד מיום שמונים ואחד שמע מינה אור אורתא הוא שמע מינה

This Mishna records a dispute between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. (see summary here) If a woman gives birth to a baby girl, she has the status of niddah for the first 14 days. Then, until the 80th day, she does not have the status of niddah, even if she sees blood. On the 81st day, in the morning, she brings korbanot. Now, if she has another baby, or miscarries, within this time, she need not bring other korbanot, for anything born during this time, until the first korbanot are brought, is covered by the first korbanot.

At issue in the Mishna is what the law is when she miscarries on the night of the 81st day, where night precedes day in the Hebrew calendar, so that this is the night following the 80th day. On the one hand, she still has not yet brought the korbanot, since the korbanot may only be brought during the day. On the other hand, this may just be a circumstance particular to the bringing of korbanot, that they may not be brought at night. Indeed, we see that the time span in which she may see blood and yet not be declared a niddah expires at the termination of the 80th day.

Bet Shammai excuse her from an additional korban because she has yet to bring her korban. Bet Hillel object that this should not differ from ritual impurity which would result from seeing blood. Just as if she saw menstrual blood on the night of the 81st, she would be ritually impure, so too if she miscarried on the night of the 81st, she would need to bring an additional korban, for this time span has elapsed.

The way Mar Zutra's proof is typically taken, as as explained by the setama degemara, from the fact the Bet Hillel says that
מאי שנא אור שמונים ואחד מיום שמונים ואחד, we may derive that אור is distinct from יום, and thus must mean night as opposed to day.

Since I posit that Mar Zutra is attempting to prove that אור means night as opposed to late afternoon, I will now demonstrate that one may prove this from the Mishna, and specifically from Bet Hillel's usage. If אור meant late afternoon, then Bet Hillel could not claim that if she saw blood she would be ritually impure, for the late afternoon is still part of the 80th day. Rather, אור must mean the night, during which time if she saw blood she would be ritually impure.

As I noted earlier, Mar Zutra could not prove the same thing from the third Mishna in Pesachim, for while that Mishna distinguishes between אור of the 14th and שחרית of the 14th, it does not distinguish between night and the late afternoon which precedes it.

Thus, we may well understand why Mar Zutra chose to put forth this proof, rather than prove from the third Mishna, or let the proof from the third Mishna stand alone.

We may now resolve the first difficulty, that of finding Mar Zutra embedded in a long segment of proofs by the setama. Mar Zutra was actually the first proof in the gemara, and he intended to prove that אור in the Mishna meant night rather than late afternoon. This was because he understood the terminology of Amoraim, since he lived during that time. He understood that Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna were trying to state that אור in the Mishna was dissimilar to its cognate in Aramaic, אורתא. He understood that נגהי as used by Rav Huna meant night, just as it meant night in Abaye's statement.

However, the setama degemara, composed a bit later, did not have the same definition of terms, since the meaning had shifted. אורתא now simply meant night, and it was unclear whether נגהי meant night or perhaps meant day. Therefore, Mar Zutra's proof was understood by the setama degemara to be a proof that אור meant night and not day. In response to this, the setama added its own proofs. It added a series of proofs from pesukim, and it added a series of proofs from Tannaitic statements, which demonstrated that אור meant night. The best proof of this was from the third Mishna in Pesachim, and so this was added to lead off the proofs from Tannaitic statements.

Stay tuned for another post reconstructing and explaining the original sugya, on the basis of what we have developed in these posts.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Daf Yomi - Pesachim 2a: `or does NOT mean `oreta`

The first Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר. What does אור mean? The gemara begins מאי אור רב הונא אמר נגהי ורב יהודה אמר לילי קא סלקא דעתך דמאן דאמר נגהי נגהי ממש ומאן דאמר לילי לילי ממש. Then, the gemara goes off on a tangent, trying to demonstrate that אור means night or that אורmeans day. In the end, because of many strong proofs, the gemara concludes that this was not in fact a dispute of definitions but rather merely reflect a difference in dialect. Both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda agree that אור means night, but in Rav Yehuda's locale they call night leilei while in Rav Huna's locale they call night naghei.

However, at this point we should shout "Peshitta!" This is obvious! Of course אור means אורתא, night. Why should both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda feel compelled to tell us that אור means אורתא?

Tannaitic sources use אור to mean night. (The pesukim were ambiguous and furthermore were not using אור as a standalone noun for time of day.) Furthermore, the Amoraim, speaking Aramaic, use the word אורתא. At no time does אורתא mean daytime, only night. And Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא are cognates. It should be readily apparent that אור = אורתא, such that it should not be necessary for Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda to provide comment, or the academy of Shmuel to provide translation (leilei). It is as if the Mishna had stated barzel and many Amoraim spoke up to helpfully tell us this is parzela. (Although we do in fact see just this phenomenon elsewhere, but for more arcane items.) Is this not obvious?

Furthermore, in close proximity in the third Mishna, both Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages use the word אור, where it is clear that it means night and not day:

ר' יהודה אומר בודקין אור י"ד ובי"ד שחרית ובשעת הביעור וחכ"א לא בדק אור י"ד יבדוק בי"ד לא בדק בי"ד יבדוק בתוך המועד לא בדק בתוך המועד יבדוק לאחר המועד ומה שמשייר יניחנו בצינעא כדי שלא יהא צריך בדיקה אחרי

Clearly אור cannot mean day, because if he did not search during אור of/to the 14th, he searches in the morning of the 14th. This is something that should be so obvious that an Amora should feel strange putting it forth. The Amoraim all knew the Mishnayot (though may not know some braytot), and certainly they would know other Mishnayot in the same perek, and certainly one only two Mishnayot later. Why should Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda both feel the need to put forth that אור means night?

There is a story of a student at a certain yeshiva (famous for learning things in extreme iyun) who began learning Bava Kamma, and read the first Mishna:
ארבעה אבות
He objected to his chavruta, "But we know there were only three Avot - Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Are we counting Yosef? Terach?"
His chavruta objected, "But if you look at the next word, we see the phrase is
ארבעה אבות נזיקין."
"Don't answer me from bekiyus," he responded.

Indeed, the third Mishna is brought fairly early on in the gemara as proof that אור means night, and thus that Rav Huna must agree to Rav Yehuda that the אור in the Mishna means night, but it is difficult to understand how Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda thought this was something which required clarification in the first place.

I believe that the answer is that אור does NOT mean אורתא. The key to understanding this sugya may be found in the statement of Abaye.

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק בשעה שבני אדם מצויין בבתיהם ואור הנר יפה לבדיקה
אמר אביי הילכך האי צורבא מרבנן לא לפתח בעידניה באורתא דתליסר דנגהי ארבסר דלמא משכא ליה שמעתיה ואתי לאימנועי ממצוה

To translate Abaye: Therefore a Torah scholar should not begin his regular learning seder at oreta (evening) of the 13th which is the naghei (night) of the 14th, lest his learning draw him in and he come to neglect the precept (of searching for chametz).

Thus, in Aramaic, אורתא means late afternoon while נגהי means night. Another Aramaic term which also means night is לילי, as it is used by Rav Yehuda and the academy of Shmuel. We can see clearly from Abaye's statement that אורתא is not the same as נגהי, and that אורתא is earlier that נגהי.

I mentioned earlier that Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא are clearly cognates. They certainly are, but cognates in each language take on particular meanings that they do not in the other language. Thus, mansion is a very big and fancy house in English, but maison in French is merely a house. While Hebrew אור and Aramaic אורתא both refer a time when it is dark, which is not day/morning. However, while אורתא is late afternoon, אור might mean something else, and according to both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda, it means night.

It is precisely because אור and אורתא are cognates that Rav Yehuda and Rav Huna feel compelled to tell us that אור means night. Otherwise, I might think that אור means אורתא, late afternoon.

This may particularly so because the Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר. The ל in לארבעה means that it is אור of the 14th, but this could be read as אור going into the 14th. If so, it would be similar to Abaye's statement that a Torah scholar should not begin his learning on the אורתא of the 13th which leads into the night of the 14th.

Thus, it is not a יממא vs. אורתא distinction, as the stama degemara suggests, but rather a לילי vs. אורתא distinction, which Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda are making.

I would suggest that by the time the stama degemara arrived on the scene, the meaning of אורתא had shifted and thus at that time meant לילי. Thus, they can discuss whether אור means יממא or אורתא, and perhaps also do not see the chiddush in Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda's statements.

Update: Stay tuned for my upcoming post on Mar Zutra's proof.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Daf Yomi: Pesachim 2a - Posts so far on the word אור

I know Daf Yomi has already started the second perek, but I have another two posts in me on the first word of the masechta, so I'm sticking with daf 2a and thereabouts for a bit longer.

First, a summary of posts so far on this topic.

The first Mishna begins אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר. Based on Rashi's comment that this is the correct girsa, we know that there are other variants in existence. In this post I discuss some of the possibilities. The most likely is JTS's manuscript which has אור ארבעה עשר, which parallels the phraseology in the third Mishna. Another possibility is that of Rabbenu Chananel, which has אור ל)ארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר), with אור ל in parentheses and thus perhaps not present.

The gemara begins:
מאי אור רב הונא אמר נגהי ורב יהודה אמר לילי קא סלקא דעתך דמאן דאמר נגהי נגהי ממש ומאן דאמר לילי לילי ממש
Rashi dislikes the end portion, ומאן דאמר לילי לילי ממש, since of course we would think that leilei, night, means actual night, and in fact that is how we conclude! He proposes emending the text to eliminate this last phrase. In this post, I examine various manuscripts and note that the JTS manuscript omits the word ממש in reference to both naghei and leilei and instead writes:
דמאן דאמר נוגהי צפרא
"that the one who says noghei means morning (tzafra)"
ומאן דאמר לילי אורתא
"and the one who says leilei means evening (`oreta)"
which I believe Rashi would not be so compelled to emend out of existence.

How does אור, which means "light," come to mean "night?" In this post, I discuss how the Hebrew word `or, and its Aramaic cognate which the gemara uses to define it, `oreta, can mean "night." Jastrow gives the basic meaning of the word as break, perforate, and tries to prove this from pesukim and gemaras. Thus, `or can mean break of day, break of night, twilight, etc.. Hasagot haRaavad suggests it is the early part of night when it is still night, and the Ran suggests that the positive word `or is deliberately chosen here because it is the beginning of a masechta.

The gemara concludes that both Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda intend to render the `or of our Mishna as "night." The difference in their formulation is merely a result of different regional dialects. I point out in this post that there could be more to it than that, for Rav Yehuda uses the same formulation as the academy of Shmuel as Nehardea, and Rav Yehuda studied under Shmuel. Perhaps he could be using the exact language as his Rebbe, as we have seen Tannaim and Amoriam take care to do in other instances.

Is the distinction really one of regional dialect? Perhaps the gemara is covering up a real difference in opinion, and naghei must mean light, and thus daytime. In this post, I point out that Abaye uses the word naghei to mean night, and so it is absolutely true that naghei means night and was intended by Rav Huna to mean night. In the same post, I also point out that we know a bit about the biographies and histories of many of those mentioned in the gemara, such that when the gemara states that each one (Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda) is talking in his local dialect, we know where each of these lived. Rav Huna, who says naghei, was the head of the yeshiva at Sura after the death of Rav, and Rav Yehuda, who says leilei, founded the yeshiva at Pumpedita after Nehardea, the academy of Shmuel, was destroyed. However, I point out that Abaye, a leader head of the yeshiva at Pumpedita, does not use leilei, but rather naghei, in seeming contradiction to the gemara's statement. Finally, the academy of Shmuel, at Nehardea, used leilei. I suggested that the gemara intends the loval dialect where they grew up, not where they eventually led the yeshiva, or alternatively, the dialect of both Sura and Pumpedita was naghei, but Rav Yehuda is using the language of Nehardea, for he studied under Shmuel (though he also studied under Rav).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

parshat Beshalach: Az Yashir: Use of the Imperfect to Designate Desire

There are several Rashi's in parshat Beshalach that I found particularly fun. They were all dikduk oriented, and perhaps this is a reflection of my present interest and approach to peshat and more specifically derash. One great one is on a pasuk upon which I've commented before - the meaning of עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת קָהּ in Shemot 15:2. עָזִּי has a yud suffix while וְזִמְרָת does not. Should they both be considered to be possessive - "For my strength and my song is Hashem?" Or should the latter be some sort of construct form - "the song of Hashem" - the awkwardness, and the kametz in וְזִמְרָת instead of the expected patach notwithstanding. Or, as Rashi points out - we should not expect the kametz katon in עָזִּי replacing the cholam chaser, but rather should expect a shuruk. Therefore, even עָזִּי is not possessive. Rather, both are pretty construct forms, and the yud at the end of עָזִּי just prettifies it. Further, וְזִמְרָת refers not to song but shares a root with zemer, pruning, and denotes vengeance. Thus, עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת קָהּ, וַיְהִי-לִי לִישׁוּעָה = "Hashem's strength and vengeance were my salvation."

The Rashi I liked best, however, was on the first pasuk of Az Yashir. The perek begins (Shemot 15:1):
א אָז יָשִׁיר-מֹשֶׁה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לַיהוָה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, {ר} לֵאמֹר: {ס} אָשִׁירָה לַה' כִּי-גָאֹה גָּאָה, {ס} סוּס {ר} וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם. {ס 1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto the LORD, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.
Did this event not happen in the past? If so, how can we use the imperfect form יָשִׁיר. Rashi mentions the famous midrash which states that this is Biblical and Pentateuchal proof of the resurrection of the dead, for Moshe and the Israelites will sing this song in the future.

On a peshat level, it strikes me that one can simply point out that the most common past tense in use throughout Tanach is exactly this form. Enter the vav hahippuch. Thus, in the same pasuk, וַיֹּאמְרוּ. Simply the imperfect יֹאמְרוּ would imply they will say in the future. The Va plus the dagesh in the yud switch around the meaning such that this event happened in the past. (There is a similar vav hahippuch of the form ve which changes verbs from past tense to future.) Thus, with the proper addition, we can utilize this form to convey past tense. And we can simply say that אָז takes the place of the vav hahippuch in this expression, as well as in those other verses that Rashi brings into evidence.

Besides citing the resurrection of the dead and clearly labelling it midrash, Rashi considers the issue from the perspective of peshat. Rashi considers the various possible meanings of this form, which is generally used to convey future tense.

He mentions that in some cases (without vav hahippuch) it is used to signify past action, since the examples one can muster of this are of continuous of of habitual action. Ken Yaaseh Iyyov - So Would Iyyov Do. Rather, he claims that it indicates desire to do some (future) action. He gives other examples of az + y where this is true, and one example without az, of King Shlomo building a house for the daughter of Pharaoh. And also, az + y indicating a desire of King Shlomo to build an altar for the idol Kemosh but not following through on his desire (as explained by the gemara in Sanhedrin 91b).

I would point out that from the (often midrashic) perspective that the verse should not reiterate without cause, there is now a distinction between

אָז יָשִׁיר-מֹשֶׁה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לַה'
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֵאמֹר

The first is the desire to sing, and the latter is the actual carrying out of this desire.

The same, Rashi points out, occurs in two other cases. In Yehoshua 10:12:
יא וַיְהִי בְּנֻסָם מִפְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הֵם בְּמוֹרַד בֵּית-חוֹרֹן וַה' הִשְׁלִיךְ עֲלֵיהֶם אֲבָנִים גְּדֹלוֹת מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם עַד-עֲזֵקָה--וַיָּמֻתוּ: רַבִּים, אֲשֶׁר-מֵתוּ בְּאַבְנֵי הַבָּרָד, מֵאֲשֶׁר הָרְגוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בֶּחָרֶב. {ס} 11 And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died; they were more who died with the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword. {S}
יב אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, לַה', בְּיוֹם תֵּת ה אֶת-הָאֱמֹרִי, לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם, וְיָרֵחַ, בְּעֵמֶק אַיָּלוֹן. 12 Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel: 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.'
Yehoshua has seen the miracle (as described in verse 11) and אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, לַה - that is, he desires to speak to Hashem, and then וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל - he speaks these praises/statement to Hashem in the presence of the Israelites. Thus we see fulfillment of the desire, and we also eliminate reiteration which adds nothing.

Similarly, in Bemidbar 21:17, we can cast this az + y as desire followed by elaboration/fulfillment:

יז אָז יָשִׁיר יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת: עֲלִי בְאֵר, עֱנוּ-לָהּ. 17 Then sang Israel this song: Spring up, O well--sing ye unto it--
for we have אָז יָשִׁיר but it is followed by עֱנוּ-לָהּ - sing ye unto it.

The case of Shlomo's desire to build a house for Pharaoh's daughter: (I Kings 7:8):

ח וּבֵיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר-יֵשֶׁב שָׁם חָצֵר הָאַחֶרֶת, מִבֵּית לָאוּלָם, כַּמַּעֲשֶׂה הַזֶּה, הָיָה; וּבַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְבַת-פַּרְעֹה, אֲשֶׁר לָקַח שְׁלֹמֹה, כָּאוּלָם, הַזֶּה. 8 And his house where he might dwell, in the other court, within the porch, was of the like work. He made also a house for Pharaoh's daughter, whom Solomon had taken to wife, like unto this porch.
Finally, Shlomo's desire to build a house but not following through. (I Kings 11:7):
ז אָז יִבְנֶה שְׁלֹמֹה בָּמָה, לִכְמוֹשׁ שִׁקֻּץ מוֹאָב, בָּהָר, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וּלְמֹלֶךְ, שִׁקֻּץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן. 7 Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestation of the children of Ammon.
We see he did not follow through because there is no follow up statement that he built it. (Unless perhaps one takes וְכֵן עָשָׂה from the next verse, though one could argue that one should not.)

This is presented in Sanhedrin as an example where the Torah describes a minor sin of a great man as if he violated a big sin.

People often misunderstand Talmudic statements like this. They are not contradicting the text and saying - "Well, the text says A, but I do not beleive it, so I will say that the text is lying." Rather, they are saying that the text was written in an ambiguous fashion. Very close, midrashic-style, grammatically based, hyperliteral, close reading of this text will reveal the actual sin, but the text was deliberately written ambiguously such that on the most surface level the text describes a greater sin. This is the same that happens elsewhere. For example, Reuven sleeping with Bilhah (vayishkav et) is read literally and thus hyperliterally him causing Bilhah his father's concubine to sleep. Other pesukim describing his sin, from Yaakov's blessing, also feature into this interpretation. But is not more polemics and denial of the text, but rather very close reading and interpretation of the text. (I could show this in greater detail by each case, including the King Shlomo case, but this is not the place.)

Here, we see there is fact a grammatical argument - we have the az + y form indicating desire, as it always does (at least according to Rashi), and no followup with action, and thus Shlommo desired but did not carry out.

In fact, these meanings for the imperfect, including the meaning of desire, are present in other languages, such as English.

Consider this dictionary.com entry for will and its past tense, willed => would. (And related information at Wikipedia.) Will is the same as "will" as in "free will." We have the following uses of will listed:
  1. Used to indicate simple futurity: They will appear later.
  2. Used to indicate likelihood or certainty: You will regret this.
  3. Used to indicate willingness: Will you help me with this package?
  4. Used to indicate requirement or command: You will report to me afterward.
  5. Used to indicate intention: I will too if I feel like it.
  6. Used to indicate customary or habitual action: People will talk.
  7. Used to indicate capacity or ability: This metal will not crack under heavy pressure.
  8. Used to indicate probability or expectation: That will be the messenger ringing.
Uses 1, 5, and 6 are the uses of y that Rashi discusses. We see it can be used for customary or habitual action, as in the case of Iyyov. And (5), indication of intention, is exactly what Rashi claims here.

Perhaps this is different, and unrelated, since we are in fact using the auxiliary verb will here which carries with it the notion of desire. However, it illustrates the fact that a language might in fact use an imperfect form to indicate intention.

parshat Bo`: All Quiet on the Kushite Front

There is a fun midrash in parshat Bo`, relating to the plague of locusts. The pasuk states {Shemot 10:14}:

יד וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה, עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיָּנַח, בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם: כָּבֵד מְאֹד--לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ, וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן. 14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the borders of Egypt; very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

Kush, labelled Nubia on this map, shares a border with Egypt.

The midrash states that the plague of locusts stopped a long-running war/border dispute with Kush. Kush claimed certain areas as their own, and Egpyt claimed those same areas as there own. Since Moshe said that the plague of locusts would affect Egypt, and only Egypt, where
the locusts landed was clearly Egyptian territory, and where the locusts did not land was clearly Kushite territory.

How is this derived from the pasuk?

Well, the pasuk states וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ .מִצְרַיִם Thus we know that the locusts are all over Egypt. What then does וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם come to tell us? This is perhaps the first point.

We might say that וַיַּעַל means they ascended in the air, flying throughout Egypt, and informs us of their descent to and settling upon the ground. Alternatively, we could say that the extra וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם is just asking for midrashic interpretation.

Secondly, there is a distinction between עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם in the first phrase and בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם. Especially if one reads the pasuk hyper-literally (and thus, midrashically), the first suggests the entire area of Egypt, while the second only suggests the border area. It actually depends upon how one reads the bet of בְּכֹל - does this mean within the borders of Egypt, which then means the entire area of Egypt, or does it mean in/on the borders of Egypt, which is a narrow line?

Finally, וַיָּנַח can be taken, as it is on a peshat level, to mean that the locusts settled/rested. Alternatively, it can be taken as reflexive - the borders rested/quieted, or causative - it caused the borders to rest/become quiet. This can be quiet from battle, or rest from its previous state of constant shift from one country to the other.

And what caused this resting in/of the borders, as described in וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם? Exactly what is described at the start of the pasuk: וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ .מִצְרַיִם - that the locusts settled on all of Egypt, and nowhere else, such that God is defining the legitimate borders of Egypt. And why Kush? Well, Kush is the country that borders Egypt.

Thus, we can generate every detail of this midrash.

Hope to have a post on parshat Beshalach up soon.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Urban Legend: Bush's Daf Yomi Shiur!

Update: Check out this post as well about whether Bush pledged allegiance to the Israeli flag.

This is a lesson to keep in mind as Purim approaching. There are idiots and anti-Semites out there, who do not know a joke when they see one, do not want to know a joke when they see one, or are too ignorant of our culture to know a joke when they see one. Therefore, when putting things "out there," we should realize that we have a global audience of fools.

I subscribe to several google alerts to keep abreast of new information in several fields - for example, when a new news article on "copepods" or "biblical archaeology" comes out or is indexed by Google, I know fairly quickly, because Google sends me a daily alert by email. One Google alert I have is for the word "Talmud," and as you might expect, many of the articles are written by anti-Semites, making all sorts of allegations against the Jews.

Here is a really silly one. Do you know that Bush attends a daily Daf Yomi shiur with his Rabbi, Ari Fleischer, learning from an Artscroll gemara?

Neither did I, until I saw the photo evidence on an anti-Semitic web site:

Now, where this photo appears, it always appears with this caption in yellow on top: "Daf Yomi: Everyone's doing the daf."

"Do the Daf" is a slogan to convince people to learn Daf Yomi. It is obviously silly to think that Bush is learning Daf Yomi, and this is clearly a spoof.

In fact, a google image search for the filename as it appears on the anti-semitic website yields the source of the image, and it is clearly labelled a Purim spoof.

From shmais.com, we have the picture, next to the text:


President Bush waves to reporters on the way to his new Daf Yom Shiur with his former spokesman and recently ordained Rabbi, Ari Fleischer.

The photo itself looks like it has been photoshopped as a joke, with someone inserted an Artscroll into Bush's bent arm.

For those readers of parshablog who do not know this, Purim is a holiday in which Jews take it upon themselves to be silly, and make all sorts of jokes, and a spoof like this is not out of the ordinary. No Jewish reader thinks that Bush is actually holding and learning an Artscroll, and certainly not that he attends a Daf Yomi class. It is obviously ridiculous.

However, it made its way into the "news" -- a site listed by Google News, at least. Here is an opinion column by a "quilt designer and author of two books," in which she includes the picture (together with the humorous caption in yellow) and writes:
"If dependant on the mass media, the Religious Right will never hear about his profane outbursts or his Daf Yomi Shiur excursions with his former spokesman and recently ordained Rabbi, Ari Fleischer. Daf Yomi is the daily study of the Talmud (2711 pages). Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with the daily study of the Talmud or any other religious book if he is in fact doing this on a daily basis. But I find it highly unusual that this activity has not come to the attention of the media. If the media boldly revealed Clinton's private soap-opera sexual escapades then certainly we would actually be interested in Bush's more dignified religious activities. Bush received a great deal of support from the Orthodox Jewish community in the 2004 elections. So perhaps Bush merely wishes to be all things to all people — please the Christian constituency and the Orthodox Jewish community as well."
Ummm... Perhaps it has not come to the attention of the mass media, or if it has, they are not reporting it, because it is not true?! Just a bit of research reveals it is a spoof, but this image provides fodder for those who think Bush is too close with those Orthodox Jews.

A little more searching led me to Noachide News, which is most certainly an anti-Semitic website. They display the picture, and write:
"YET Bush carries his Talmud Bavli DAF..."
The same site links to another picture of an Artscroll at Menachem Butler's AJHistory blog.

I'm going to try to submit this one to Snopes.

Update: Other "news sites" that carry this "story":
Houston Indymedia

Update: Here at liberty forum, someone also posted the picture, and some people want to believe it is real even though they acknowledge that it was later clarified to be a Purim spoof. Insane!

As one commenter on the site notes:

Buy a clue. It appeared on a Jewish membership page, among Purim pictures, and it was OBVIOUS to the people expected to view it (namely Jews with some religiosity) to recognize it as a Purim joke. The reference to the non-religious Ari Fleischer as a rabbi sort of highlighted the joke.

I am sure that if anyone had contact Chabad about the background and bona fides of the photo, they would have been told it was a joke. Texe Marrs doesn't trust Jews ... but he'll take this dubious photo without the slightest inquiry....

Update: Also noted in that thread is that the photo has been reversed - as one can tell from the buttons on the shirt and jacket, as well as the parting of Bush's hair - yet the text on the cover of the Artscroll is not reversed, evidence that the Artscroll was inserted after the photo was taken. Furthermore, the Artscroll in the image is apparently identical in shading, etc., to the one in Artscroll's catalog photo.

Update: And now someone is citing the comment by Anonymous to this post as proof that the photo could be real, not knowing enough about Judaism that the comment by Anonymous is a spoof as well. Hah! Note also that in the site I link to here, they stripped off the top part of the picture which labels it a spoof.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

parshat Bo`: Everyone vs. Every House

This week I would like to focus on the midrashim to two pesukim, and how Rashi changes the midrash in his perush.

The Smiting of the Firstborn was the last of the ten plagues, and Moshe announces (Shemot 11:4-6):
ד וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה: כַּחֲצֹת הַלַּיְלָה, אֲנִי יוֹצֵא בְּתוֹךְ מִצְרָיִם. 4 And Moses said: 'Thus saith the LORD: About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt;
ה וּמֵת כָּל-בְּכוֹר, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--מִבְּכוֹר פַּרְעֹה הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל-כִּסְאוֹ, עַד בְּכוֹר הַשִּׁפְחָה אֲשֶׁר אַחַר הָרֵחָיִם; וְכֹל, בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה. 5 and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle.
ו וְהָיְתָה צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר כָּמֹהוּ לֹא נִהְיָתָה, וְכָמֹהוּ לֹא תֹסִף. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more.
Thus, there is stress that this plague will affect everyone, and every strata of Egyptian society. Indeed, when the plague strikes:

Shemot 12:29-30:
כט וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה, וַיהוָה הִכָּה כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִבְּכֹר פַּרְעֹה הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל-כִּסְאוֹ, עַד בְּכוֹר הַשְּׁבִי אֲשֶׁר בְּבֵית הַבּוֹר; וְכֹל, בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה. 29 And it came to pass at midnight, that the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle.
ל וַיָּקָם פַּרְעֹה לַיְלָה, הוּא וְכָל-עֲבָדָיו וְכָל-מִצְרַיִם, וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּמִצְרָיִם: כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
This idea of כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת is a statement that, indeed, everyone was affected. Perhaps for the previous plagues, if someone was not invested in cattle or agriculture, he was not directly affected, but here, every house had a מֵת, across all strata of Egyptian society.

This profoundly affected the Egyptians psychologically. There was no escaping God's wrath, and they each bore the brunt of the anger. And the effect was not just boils, or hail in the streets. It was death! Who knows? They might be next, even though the current plague was only against the firstborn! Thus, Shemot 12:33:
לג וַתֶּחֱזַק מִצְרַיִם עַל-הָעָם, לְמַהֵר לְשַׁלְּחָם מִן-הָאָרֶץ: כִּי אָמְרוּ, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said: 'We are all dead men.'
As Tg Yonatan says, "if we let them stay another hour, we could all be dead." This does not necessarily reflect a belief that the plague of the firstborn was going beyond just firstborns, but could just reflect their state of mind as a result of them all experiencing the plague firsthand, on their close family members.

Thus, on a peshat level, there seems to be nothing amiss.

However, if we take examine the text more closely, we might find some issue, though perhaps that issue might be midrashic -- or perhaps it would be an issue on the level of peshat.

Consider the first account of the Egyptian reaction. Did every house have someone who died in it? With such a large society, is it not possible to find an Egyptian man and woman who were not firstborn themselves, who were childless. Or a household in which all the firstborns had already passed away? The claim that כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת is a strong one.

There are several possible answers on the level of peshat. Simply put, one can answer "Yes," it turned out that every house had a firstborn, who died in this plague. It is a strange demographic phenomenon, but not impossible.

Another possible answer is the same as the previous, except to note that among the firstborn who were slated to die were the firstborn among the animals, and so this widens the group, and so perhaps if no human was a firstborn, at the least there would have been a firstborn among the animals.

Another possible answer is that in "there was no house," house does not mean a physical structure but rather a large family unit or clan. Thus, when the Egyptian midwives for the Israelites feared God, they were rewarded by getting "houses," which does not mean physical houses of stone. Shemot 2:21:
כא וַיְהִי, כִּי-יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם, בָּתִּים. 21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses.
Of course, then I would have preferred the pasuk to have used the term bo as opposed to sham.

Another possiblity is that the Torah speaks in the language of man, and this is an expression used to demonstrate the far-reach of the plague, but was not intended to be absolutely literal, and so the presence of 3 houses in which there was no dead body does not falsify the statement. In other words, nu nu.

One midrash posits another answer in the Mechilta. There, Rabbi Natan explains that the Egyptians kept images of their deceased in their homes, and these were destroyed in the plague, such that it was as difficult as the day of burial. Alternatively, or additionally, the Egyptians buried their dead in their homes, and during the plague, dogs came and dragged out and attacked these corpses, and it was as difficult as the day of burial.

This midrash is probably at least in part based on the aforementioned difficulty, but there are also several other pesukim that factor into it, and produce the final midrash.

Firstly, the role of the dogs comes from Shemot 11:7, which states that
ו וְהָיְתָה צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר כָּמֹהוּ לֹא נִהְיָתָה, וְכָמֹהוּ לֹא תֹסִף. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more.
ז וּלְכֹל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא יֶחֱרַץ-כֶּלֶב לְשֹׁנוֹ, לְמֵאִישׁ, וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה--לְמַעַן, תֵּדְעוּן, אֲשֶׁר יַפְלֶה יְהוָה, בֵּין מִצְרַיִם וּבֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל. 7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.
On a peshat level, one can of course say that this is an idiom, and simply means that they will not come to harm, or even though slightest thought to cause harm, which is in marked contrast to the Egyptians who suffer all these fatalities. However, on the level of derash, if there is a contrast between Israelite and Egyptian, and the Israelites are not having dogs whet their tongues against them, by implication, the Egyptians are to have to worry about dogs.

Secondly, in the pasuk in Shemot 12:29:
כט וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה, וַיהוָה הִכָּה כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִבְּכֹר פַּרְעֹה הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל-כִּסְאוֹ, עַד בְּכוֹר הַשְּׁבִי אֲשֶׁר בְּבֵית הַבּוֹר; וְכֹל, בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה. 29 And it came to pass at midnight, that the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle.
ל וַיָּקָם פַּרְעֹה לַיְלָה, הוּא וְכָל-עֲבָדָיו וְכָל-מִצְרַיִם, וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּמִצְרָיִם: כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
the phrase הִכָּה כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם is ambiguous. What is meant by הִכָּה? It means strike, which could mean kill, or it could mean simply to hit. Shattering images/statues of the dead, and/or attacking corpses, could be implied by the ambiguous הִכָּה. And the cry of the Egyptians was not expressly over killing, as we shall see.

The next verse has כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת. This is not the same as saying "because Hashem caused one to die in each house." The midrash is taking this as the dead already being present in the house before the plague begins. And thus, there is no house in which the dead one was not already present, either in the form of an image or in the form of a corpse, and God struck those. This caused the great cry of the Egyptians.

Of course, even this midrash would not deny that living Egyptian firstborns were struck down. It is merely reinterpreting and rereading several verses very closely in response to a perceived difficulty in the text, such that an addition meaning may be adduced.

A second verse, already mentioned, describes the Egyptians' reaction to the plague. Shemot 12:33:
לג וַתֶּחֱזַק מִצְרַיִם עַל-הָעָם, לְמַהֵר לְשַׁלְּחָם מִן-הָאָרֶץ: כִּי אָמְרוּ, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said: 'We are all dead men.'
How do we account for this reaction of the Egyptians, if we know that only the firstborn were to be affected? And the Egyptians surely knew that only the firstborn would be affected, so why have this reaction?

One could dismiss the issue easily enough. After all, can we really critique an emotional response to tragedy? Perhaps this was a result of confusion, or perhaps the result of a realization that they could be next. Or it could be a way or emphasizing the dreadfulness of the situation - "we, Egyptians, are dying, so let us send the people out as quickly as possible to stop the plague."

Yet, we could come up with solutions to the issue. One midrash -- not one that I initially planned on discussing, (and one I have not seen inside recently) analyzes וַתֶּחֱזַק מִצְרַיִם עַל-הָעָם and suggests that הָעָם is the nation of Egyptians. The firstborn of Egypt are מִצְרַיִם, and they formed and army and attacked their fellow Egyptians because they knew that otherwise they would die -- כִּי אָמְרוּ, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים. Thus, all of them, in this body, felt that they were going to be dead people otherwise. This might also solve the issue of כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת. A house without firstborn might have had people die as a result of this firstborn revolt.

The midrash I wish to discuss, in Mechilta, gives another solution. In explanation of the Egyptian's reaction of כִּי אָמְרוּ כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים, it notes that the Egyptians initially believed Moshe that this plague would only affect the firstborn. However, suddenly, five or six sons died, in a single household, and so they thought the plague was affecting the population at large, including non-firstborns. Thus, they said, incorrectly, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים. What could account for this divergence from what Moshe promised. The Midrash takes advantage of existing knowledge (probably also adducible from pesukim,) that the Egyptian wives cheated on their husbands, and so each of these children who were thought to be non-firstborn were actually firstborn.

This midrash is addressing the shift between the Moshe's promise and the Egyptians' reaction, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים.

However, when Rashi comes to the scene, this latter midrash is moved to address a problem in a different verse, and takes on a different meaning as a result.
for there was no house in which no one was dead If there was a firstborn, he was dead. If there was no firstborn, the oldest household member was called the firstborn, as it is said: “I, too, shall make him [David] a firstborn” (Ps. 89:28) (Tanchuma Buber 19). [Rashi explains there: I shall make him great.] Another explanation: Some Egyptian women were unfaithful to their husbands and bore children from bachelors. Thus they would have many firstborn; sometimes one woman would have five, each one the firstborn of his father (Mechilta 13:33).
Once again, there is a "problem" with the pasuk which states:
ל וַיָּקָם פַּרְעֹה לַיְלָה, הוּא וְכָל-עֲבָדָיו וְכָל-מִצְרַיִם, וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּמִצְרָיִם: כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
How could no Egyptian house not have a firstborn?
Rashi offers two suggestions. First, on the level of peshat, he notes that Biblical usage of the term bechor includes the great one, and thus can mean the eldest or the head of the house. Thus, Tehillim 89:28:
כח אַף-אָנִי, בְּכוֹר אֶתְּנֵהוּ; עֶלְיוֹן, לְמַלְכֵי-אָרֶץ. 28 I also will appoint him first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.
Note how bechor parallels, and thus matches closely in meaning, elyon.

Thus, a house without a literal firstborn could still lose someone called bechor, and every household will have one such person.

Then, Rashi offers a devar aggada, and cited a portion of the midrash from the mechilta. According to this midrash, since the women in Egypt slept around, many were actually the bechor, besides the eldest in a specific household.

The implication of this is that even in those houses in which the head of the household was not known to be a firstborn, he actually was, because the Egyptian women slept around. Or if the firstborn had already died or had left the house, the younger sons were also firstborns. Thus it is possible that every house had at least one dead.

There is a dispute amongst Rashi scholars about how to understand Rashi's statement of purpose of only coming to teach the peshuto shel mikra uleaggadah hameyashevet divrei
hamikra davar davur al ofnav.
This can mean that he will bring a midrash if it fits with the rest of the text when the rest of the text is understood on a peshat level, and if it also answers some peshat based difficulty. Here, he brings a midrash which answers a difficulty.

As often happens with Rashi, the pasuk on which he brings the midrash is not the same as the pasuk upon which the midrash was initially based. And here, there is a reinterpretation that occurs. This specific midrash was driven by the disparity between Moshe's promise and the Egyptians' stated perception. That is, is was focused on the statement that everyone in the house was dying. Rashi moves the midrash to another verse and the midrash now addresses the issue of why every house had at least one dead. This is an entirely different question.

Of course, on the later pasuk, about everyone in the house dying, Rashi repeats the midrash, but only part of it - that several sons died rather than just one. We need to be told to compare with the Rashi on pasuk 30, to realize it is based on the same midrash, and is based on the Egyptian women's indiscretions.
We are all dead They said, “This is not in accordance with Moses’ decree, for he said, ‘And every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die’ (Exod. 11:5), but here, the ordinary people too are dead, five or ten in one house.” -[from Mechilta]
As noted, this reusing of midrashic material in different contexts is common to Rashi's style. The result is often (unintentionally, but perhaps at times intentionally) a new meaning, and new Judaic material and literature, but this unfortunately obscures the derivation of the midrash and severs its connection to the text. Since many are primarily exposed to midrashim through Rashi, the side-effect is to treat midrashim as random Rabbinic legends with no textual basis whatsoever which spring up for no reason at all except for Rabbinic fancy, or in answer to otherwise difficult questions.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin