Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Parsha, meaning topic

A while ago on parshat Yitro I claimed that parsha could mean things other that just the Torah portion that we read in a week. I suggested that in terms of Yitro who added a single parsha in the Torah, this meant the specific few pesukim about appointing judges, rather than the entire Torah laining. Of course it could mean the first perek which has petuchot/setumot around it {under a traditional and meaning of parasha}, but posited that because the specific pasuk was named, what was meant was just the few pesukim involving that topic.

What follows are three examples where parsha appears (to me, at least) to have this meaning of topic rather than something surrounded by petuchot/setumot. I would further posit that the reason for the petuchot/setumot is to show in the text one such topic.

My most recent encounter is in Rif on Rosh HaShana 4a {not yet posted on the Rif blog}. There:
There is an explanation from the Gaon. And their question was regarding this that
they taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael that he passes by {the sin} the first time, and this is the Attribute. Rava said: And the sin itself is not erased.
That this of Rabbi Yishmael is established regarding one who fears Heaven, and is always involves in performing mitzvot, and keeps the strict prohibitions and at times violates the minor prohibitions, the Attribute of Hashem is that He passes by the first ones and forgives him, and he is is the category of the righteous; and the sin itself is not erased, but rather it stand suspended until the time of death. At that time, they calculate - if his merits outweigh these specific sins, these sins are passed by rishon rishon, and they are not reckoned against him, and it is as if he never did them. But if these are overpowering, and his deeds are found to be, when they are all combined and weighed against each other, that he has mostly demerits, then each one is reckoned against him; and this is the Attribute listed in the ways of Hashem. And this is the explanation of the 6th Attribute in the parsha of vaya'avor.
And vaya'avor does not seem to be surrounded be petuchot and setumot. Here it is in Shemot 34:6.

Another instance occurs in Rosh Hashana 17a:
And Bet Hillel say: And the Abundant is Mercy {rav chesed} tilts it {of the intermediate people} towards mercy, and upon them David said {Tehillim 116}:
א אָהַבְתִּי, כִּי-יִשְׁמַע ה-- אֶת-קוֹלִי, תַּחֲנוּנָי. 1 I love that the LORD should hear my voice and my supplications.
and upon them is said {our Gemara: David said} the entire parasha {section} - דַּלֹּתִי, וְלִי יְהוֹשִׁיעַ.
I discussed the basis of this derasha in the preceding post. Yet it is clear that this does not extend for the entire perek in terms of the meaning but just until daloti. The rest of the perek has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, and the gemara itself gives an endpoint. Check out Tehillim 116.

One final example is in Pesachim 116a {cited in the Rif here}, where we are told in the Mishna that he darshens Arami Oved Avi until he finishes the entire parsha:

According the comprehension of the son the father teaches.
And he expounds from {Devarim 26:5}
ה וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
until he finishes the entirety of the passage {parsha - either at pasuk 8, as we do it, or pasuk 9}.
What is meant by the entire parsha? If we mean until the setuma, see where it ends. We do not darshen any of these three pesukim.
ט וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ. {ס} 11 And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee. {S}
Perhaps this means we are delivering the haggada incorrectly, but more likely it means that there is an alternate definition of parsha here, which is "topic."

More examples as I come across them.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tilting the Scales In Our Favor

I was just learning through a bit of Rosh HaShana (working on Rif Yomi for that segment, for the future) and I came across an interesting derasha. There is a dispute between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel about what happens to intermediate people, who are neither whooly righteous nor wholly sinful, such that the scale is balanced. Bet Shammai brings Scriptural evidence that such people go to Gehinnom, where they cry out and are lifted up. Bet Hillel claims ... well, see for yourself. From Rosh Hashana 17a:
And Bet Hillel say: And the Abundant is Mercy {rav chesed} tilts it {of the intermediate people} towards mercy, and upon them David said {Tehillim 116}:
א אָהַבְתִּי, כִּי-יִשְׁמַע ה-- אֶת-קוֹלִי, תַּחֲנוּנָי. 1 I love that the LORD should hear my voice and my supplications.
and upon them is said {our Gemara: David said} the entire parasha {section}.
Tosafot and Maharsha give their explanations (see them inside), based on the continuation of the gemara: daloti veli yehoshia. I present my own interpretation:

א אָהַבְתִּי, כִּי-יִשְׁמַע יְהוָה-- אֶת-קוֹלִי, תַּחֲנוּנָי. 1 I love that the LORD should hear my voice and my supplications.
ב כִּי-הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ לִי; וּבְיָמַי אֶקְרָא. 2 Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him all my days.
ג אֲפָפוּנִי, חֶבְלֵי-מָוֶת--וּמְצָרֵי שְׁאוֹל מְצָאוּנִי; צָרָה וְיָגוֹן אֶמְצָא. 3 The cords of death compassed me, and the straits of the nether-world got hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow.
ד וּבְשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֶקְרָא: אָנָּה יְהוָה, מַלְּטָה נַפְשִׁי. 4 But I called upon the name of the LORD: 'I beseech thee, O LORD, deliver my soul.'
Pasuk 3 and 4 are like bet shammai. {Update: Or rather, even like Bet Hillel but specifically for posh'ei yisrael begufan - read on in the gemara.} But I believe that the derasha for Bet Hillel is from pasuk 2.
כִּי-הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ לִי - Bet Shammai interprets אָזְנוֹ to be maaznayim - his scales. and הִטָּה to mean tilt. Thus God tilts his scales for me. This interpretation is obvious once it is pointed out.

Random Thoughts And Things

So Amy, a friend of my wife, visited for Shabbat. She teaches 1st grade, and was talking to Meir (who is about a year and a half) in Hebrew for about 5 minutes, and he gives her this look and says, "What Amy talking about?"

I went to CUNY today to get approval for classes for next semester. I signed up for a seminar class in AI and Robotics, and a Readings class in Computational Linguistics and Speech processing. Hopefully this will help me along my way toward a thesis. It was annoying though since it was 2 1/2 hours travel time and 5 minutes actually registering.

I read a bit of midrash Rabba on the train there, which is always an invitation for random Jewish people to come and strike up conversations. This time it was a non-affiliated fellow who liked midrash, particularly midrash tanchuma, and told me all about his life and philosophy of buying seforim. Quite interesting guy.

In terms of the recent "controversy" with Google not changing their logo for Memorial Day, I say give them a break. They posted a response explaining how generally their sendups of the google logo are somewhat funny, and it is hard to achieve the desired effect and not offend. I think that just because they change their logo for a few events throughout the year does not mean that they must do it for every one. They did Independence Day. I would not see anything to take offense at here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

posts so far for parshat Naso

Year 1
Year 2
Healed at Sinai (Naso/Shavuot)

to be continued...

"The Original Red Bendel Bracelet"

is now one of the sidebar ads. Better than some of the earlier ones, but still quite silly. Besides the grammatical error in the ad ("Don't be fooled by Imitation's"), you have to wonder whether the Original Red Bendel Bracelets all included sterling silver. Thye claim that "The Red Bendel Bracelet brings good luck to those who wear it and wards off evil wishers. String imported from ISRAEL and authentic." Wow! An authentic string! The "testimonials" on the site read mostly like positive feedback from ebay: "Can't say enough. Beautiful bracelet, Great Communication, Fast
Shipping. Bought one for myself and then another for each person in my family including my husband who loved it too. I got the gold one and they each got the sterling silver. Both great looking bracelets.""

This is dumb, and a lowering of an already questionable tradition (dating back to the Tosefta which calls it Chukat Emori).

In related news, this morning while shopping for some whole milk for Meir, I saw the Kabbalah energy drink. Billed as a "Source of Power." Check it out. Somewhat funny, but somewhat more likely to be interpreted the wrong way than another item some people were yelling about a while back.

Kabbalah Energy Drink is a delicious citrus fusion which contains essential vitamins and amino acids that pick you up and keep you going. Kabbalah Energy Drink is a refreshing source of positive energy for your busy whether you need to take your dog for a walk, study for finals, bar-hop with friends or just need a second wind at the office, reach for Kabbalah Energy Drink. Also available in a low-carb Sugar Free variety!

Explaining the Sumerian King List

In the preceding post, I attempted to explain how a shifting definition of the term shana may have yielded these impossibly long "years" in the antedeluvian genealogies.

However, a problem exists in that similar long years occur by the Sumerian King List, with even longer years. Perhaps then, both lists reflect the tendency at the time to ascribe ridiculous ages and length of years.

We may solve the problem as follows. Recall that I suggested that shana meant "repetition" and in the initial list was the unit corresponding to 2 months.

In the Babylonian counting system, 2 months is even more significant. It corresponds to 60 days. The Babylonian system was a base 60 system, which is how the impossible numbers in the Sumerian King List are calculated.

But, if we treat sets of 60 days in Genesis, then perhaps they delineated each of these 60 days as a set of 60 in the Sumerian list. Then, the large numbers correspond to days, not sets of 60 days. (Though of course they will not give a specific reign to the day. This is just their way of writing years - by giving the day = set of 60, count.) We should divide by 60 to get the actual count of two-month years. And another 6 to get the number of years. That is, we should divide by 360.

The numbers will then begin to make sense. And this is good, because the numbers towards the end of the list are quite plausible, just as the numbers in Genesis become more plausible as the counting goes on, reflecting a shift to a definition of shana as a period of 12 months rather than 2 months.

The Sumerian king list (pre-flood) begins:
After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alaljar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridug fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. In Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-ana ruled for 43200 years. En-men-gal-ana ruled for 28800 years. Dumuzid, the shepherd, ruled for 36000 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 108000 years. Then Bad-tibira fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Larag. In Larag, En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 28800 years. 1 king; he ruled for 28800 years. Then Larag fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Zimbir. In Zimbir, En-men-dur-ana became king; he ruled for 21000 years. 1 king; he ruled for 21000 years. Then Zimbir fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Curuppag. In Curuppag, Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 18600 years. 1 king; he ruled for 18600 years. In 5 cities 8 kings; they ruled for 241200 years. Then the flood swept over.

So we have:
Alulim: 28800 years.
28800 / 360 = 80

Alaljar ruled for 36000 years
36000 / 360 = 100

2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years
64800 / 360 = 180
so each for about 90 years

En-men-lu-ana ruled for 43200 years.
43200 / 360 = 120

Dumuzid, the shepherd, ruled for 36000 years
36000 / 360 = 100

3 kings; they ruled for 108000 years
108000 / 360 = 300
which means each king reigned for 100 years

En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 28800 years
28800 / 360 = 80

1 king; he ruled for 28800 years
28800 / 360 = 80

Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 18600 years
18600 / 360 = 51.66

1 king; he ruled for 18600 years
18600 / 360 = 51.66

In 5 cities 8 kings; they ruled for 241200 years
241200 / 360 = 670
/8 = 83.75

Obviously, I am not using the correct calculation for these last three.
The first bunch, however, seem correct. What are the odds that by reading the numbers as days rather than years, we would get such significant spans of time - that is, in the base 10 system, 100, 90, and 80 years each. And this even by groups of kings such that after division it becomes these significant numbers.

I believe this is evidence that what is being counted is days, and furthermore, that it is evidence that a similar redefinition of shana was in use in Genesis.

To continue with the Sumerian king list, we now must consider the kings after the flood. The list continues:
After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kic. In Kic, Jucur became king; he ruled for 1200 years. Kullassina-bel ruled for 960 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 900) years. Nanjiclicma ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 670 (?) years. En-tarah-ana ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 420 years ......, 3 months, and 3 1/2 days. Babum ...... ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 300 years. Puannum ruled for 840 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 240) years. Kalibum ruled for 960 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 900) years. Kalumum ruled for 840 (mss. P3+BT14, Su1 have instead: 900) years. Zuqaqip ruled for 900 (ms. Su1 has instead: 600) years. (In mss. P2+L2, P3+BT14, P5, the 10th and 11th rulers of the dynasty precede the 8th and 9th.) Atab (mss. P2+L2, P3+BT14, P5 have instead: Aba) ruled for 600 years. Macda, the son of Atab, ruled for 840 (ms. Su1 has instead: 720) years. Arwium, the son of Macda, ruled for 720 years. Etana, the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries, became king; he ruled for 1500 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 635) years. Balih, the son of Etana, ruled for 400 (mss. P2+L2, Su1 have instead: 410) years. En-me-nuna ruled for 660 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 621) years. Melem-Kic, the son of En-me-nuna, ruled for 900 years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1560 are the years of the dynasty of En-me-nuna . Barsal-nuna, the son of En-me-nuna, (mss. P5, P3+BT14 have instead: Barsal-nuna) ruled for 1200 years. Zamug, the son of Barsal-nuna, ruled for 140 years. Tizqar, the son of Zamug, ruled for 305 years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1620 + X ....... Ilku ruled for 900 years. Iltasadum ruled for 1200 years. En-men-barage-si, who made the land of Elam submit, became king; he ruled for 900 years. Aga, the son of En-men-barage-si, ruled for 625 years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1525 are the years of the dynasty of En-men-barage-si. 23 kings; they ruled for 24510 years, 3 months, and 3 1/2 days. Then Kic was defeated and the kingship was taken to E-ana.
These numbers are significantly lower. If these are meant to be magically long lifespans, why suddenly are they all magically lower together?

Well, last time 100 was significant. The first king here reigns 1200 years. Let us assume that what is being counted now are months -- that is, sets of 30 days, and so we will divide each figure by 1200. Watch what we get:

Jucur became king; he ruled for 1200 years
1200 / 12 = 100

Kullassina-bel ruled for 960 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 900) years
960 / 12 = 80
900 / 12 = 75

Nanjiclicma ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 670 (?) years
670 / 12 = 55.833
but there is a confusion about the date here

En-tarah-ana ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 420 years ......, 3 months, and 3 1/2 days.
Who rules for half a day?
The months and days cause problems for the theory here, but
420 / 12 = 35

I would guess that these numbers, together with the fractions, were calculated based on some other unit, and thus the awkwardness of the fractions all around.

But whatever the calculations for these two, the other calculations make sense
Babum ...... ruled for (ms. P2+L2 has:) 300 years.
300 / 12 = 25

Should we dividing by 6, like we did in the beginning of Genesis, as we were considering two-month periods to be a shana over there? If so, we would just double the numbers, and have gotten 70 and 50 for the preceding two figures - and so for the next.

Puannum ruled for 840 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 240) years.
840 / 12 = 70
(240 / 12 = 20) (or 40 if dividing by 6)

Kalibum ruled for 960 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 900) years.
960 / 12 = 80

Kalumum ruled for 840 (mss. P3+BT14, Su1 have instead: 900) years.
840 / 12 = 70
900 / 12 = 75

ruled for 900 (ms. Su1 has instead: 600) years.
900 / 12 = 75
600 / 12 = 50

Atab (mss. P2+L2, P3+BT14, P5 have instead: Aba) ruled for 600 years.
600 / 12 = 50

Macda, the son of Atab, ruled for 840 (ms. Su1 has instead: 720) years.
840 / 12 = 70
720 / 12 = 60

Arwium, the son of Macda, ruled for 720 years.
720 / 12 = 60

, the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries, became king; he ruled for 1500 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 635) years.
1500 / 12 = 125
but 635 / 12 = 52.91

Balih, the son of Etana, ruled for 400 (mss. P2+L2, Su1 have instead: 410) years.
400 / 12 = 33.33

En-me-nuna ruled for 660 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 621) years.
660 / 12 = 55

Melem-Kic, the son of En-me-nuna, ruled for 900 years.
900 / 12 = 75

(ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1560 are the years of the dynasty of En-me-nuna .
This is just the sum of the previous two kings, which confirms the count of 660 rather than 621 above.

Barsal-nuna, the son of En-me-nuna, (mss. P5, P3+BT14 have instead: Barsal-nuna) ruled for 1200 years.
1200 / 12 = 100

Zamug, the son of Barsal-nuna, ruled for 140 years.
This does not divide evenly into 12. = 11.66
The same for the next.
Though this might be taken as 12 * 12 = 144

Tizqar, the son of Zamug, ruled for 305 years.

(ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1620 + X .......
1620 / 12 = 135

Ilku ruled for 900 years.
900 / 12 = 75

Iltasadum ruled for 1200 years.
1200 / 12 = 100

, who made the land of Elam submit, became king; he ruled for 900 years.
900 / 12 = 75

Aga, the son of En-men-barage-si, ruled for 625 years.
This does not divide evenly into 12 months. 625 / 12 = 52.083

(ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 1525 are the years of the dynasty of En-men-barage-si.
This is just the sum of the previous two numbers

23 kings; they ruled for 24510 years, 3 months, and 3 1/2 days.
I would guess that these numbers, together with the fractions, were calculated based on some other unit, and thus the awkwardness of the fractions all around.
But 24510 / 23 = 1065.65
1065.65 / 12 = 88.88

Then Kic was defeated and the kingship was taken to E-ana.

It continues:
In E-ana, Mec-ki-aj-gacer, the son of Utu, became lord and king; he ruled for 324 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 325) years. Mec-ki-aj-gacer entered the sea and disappeared. Enmerkar, the son of Mec-ki-aj-gacer, the king of Unug, who built Unug (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2 have instead: under whom Unug was built), became king; he ruled for 420 (ms. TL has instead: 900 + X) years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) 745 are the years of the dynasty of Mec-ki-aj-gacer. (ms TL adds instead: ......; he ruled for 5 + X years.) Lugalbanda, the shepherd, ruled for 1200 years. Dumuzid, the fisherman, whose city was Kuara, ruled for 100 (ms. TL has instead: 110) years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) He captured En-me-barage-si single-handed. Gilgamec, whose father was a phantom (?), the lord of Kulaba, ruled for 126 years. Ur-Nungal, the son of Gilgamec, ruled for 30 years. Udul-kalama, the son of Ur-Nungal (ms. Su1 has instead: Ur-lugal), ruled for 15 years. La-ba'cum ruled for 9 years. En-nun-tarah-ana ruled for 8 years. Mec-he, the smith, ruled for 36 years. Melem-ana (ms. Su2 has instead: Til-kug (?) ......) ruled for 6 (ms. Su2 has instead: 900) years. Lugal-kitun (?) ruled for 36 (ms. Su2 has instead: 420) years. 12 kings; they ruled for 2310 (ms. Su2 has instead: 3588) years. Then Unug was defeated and the kingship was taken to Urim.
Mec-ki-aj-gacer, the son of Utu, became lord and king; he ruled for 324 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 325) years

324 is the more awkward number.
Yet 324 / 12 = 27

Enmerkar, the son of Mec-ki-aj-gacer, the king of Unug, who built Unug (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2 have instead: under whom Unug was built), became king; he ruled for 420 (ms. TL has instead: 900 + X) years
420 / 12 = 35
900 / 12 = 75

(Again, perhaps we should just divide by 6 as in Genesis)

Lugalbanda, the shepherd, ruled for 1200 years.
1200 / 12 = 100

, the fisherman, whose city was Kuara, ruled for 100 (ms. TL has instead: 110) years. (ms. P3+BT14 adds:) He captured En-me-barage-si single-handed.
Perhaps this is meant as a year figure?

, whose father was a phantom (?), the lord of Kulaba, ruled for 126 years.
/ 12 = 10.5 years

Now the following figures are absolutely regular, so perhsps they are year figures.

Ur-Nungal, the son of Gilgamec, ruled for 30 years.

, the son of Ur-Nungal (ms. Su1 has instead: Ur-lugal), ruled for 15 years.

La-ba'cum ruled for 9 years. En-nun-tarah-ana ruled for 8 years.

, the smith, ruled for 36 years.

(ms. Su2 has instead: Til-kug (?) ......) ruled for 6 (ms. Su2 has instead: 900) years.
900 / 12 = 75

Lugal-kitun (?) ruled for 36 (ms. Su2 has instead: 420) years.
This one is particularly interesting, for 420 / 12 = 35/ So different manuscripts might have different ways of recording the same spans.

12 kings; they ruled for 2310 (ms. Su2 has instead: 3588) years.
2310 / 12 kings / 12 months brings it to a normal span of about 16 and change, but that is not the correct starting number.
We should expect to divide the number by the 12 kings and find a normal number for each king, whereas 2310 / 12 gives us 192.5, not the best number.

However, 3588 / 12 kings = 299. They wanted an even number in each case, so they used 299. Let us now read this 299 as 300, and so 300 / 12 months = 25.

Then Unug was defeated and the kingship was taken to Urim.

Then, the years become regular years once again:
In Urim, Mec-Ane-pada became king; he ruled for 80 years. Mec-ki-aj-Nanna (ms. P2+L2 has instead: Mec-ki-aj-nuna), the son of Mec-Ane-pada, became king; he ruled for 36 (ms. P2+L2 has instead: 30) years. Elulu ruled for (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2, P3+BT14 have:) 25 years. Balulu ruled for (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2, P3+BT14 have:) 36 years. (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2 have:) 4 kings; they ruled for (mss. L1+N1, P2+L2, P3+BT14 have:) 171 years. Then Urim was defeated and the kingship was taken to Awan.

In Awan, ...... became king; he ruled for ...... years. ...... ruled for ...... years. ...... ruled for 36 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 356 years. Then Awan was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kic.
so there is no need to explain.

The same pattern continues throughout, but the king list is extremely long, and so I will leave it at this.

Thus, the Sumerian King list might also use differing calendar systems at different times, and there is no reason to assume that insane timespans are mixed with completely dull and normal timespans. And so we do not see a tendency to make up legendary dates. And the same applies to Genesis, as I discussed in the previous post.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Antediluvian Years - A Possible Explanation

The years that people lived before the flood, and before Avraham, were a lot more than current lifespans, and indeep more than livespans of later generations recording in Torah.

Many explanations are possible - miracle, mythology, exaggeration, the lifespans were severely shortened since them, etc.. It is useful to compare to the antediluvian Sumerian King Lists, which also had long reigns for kings (around 30,000 - if we take the base system to be base 60), but the conclusion of such a comparison is not obvious.

However, some people see these large numbers and decide that the first few perakim of Bereishit must be nonfactual. (This despite the fact that they also would adopt the Documentary Hypothesis, which would divide these extreme years from accounts of other events.)

I don't know if anyone has suggested this yet, but here is one of several ideas I've had on the matter.

How do we know the meaning of words? We see the words in common usage. Yet sometimes meanings of words change over time, and if we ascribe the new meaning to the old word, we end up with nonsense. Consider the intro to the Flinstones where they "have a gay ol' time." Or consider the archaic usage of "awful," to mean "inspiring awe or admiration or wonder." The gemara gives a list of words that have changed meanings over time, as I discuss in this blogpost on the permissibility of circuses.

How do we know that shana means year? It usually means lunar or solar year, which consists of 12 months. But do we know that it always meant that? Shabbat occurs every 7 days in Hebrew, but in Akkadian the possibly unrelated word shappatu occurs once a month, on the 14th or 15th day.

Another thing to note is the ratio between ages of having a first child and total lifespan. While the people in the beginning of Bereishit live much longer lives, they have their first child relatively late - around 100 to 13o years old. Meanwhile, people who live later on have shorter lifespans but have their first child much earlier.

Perhaps this is a deliberate artifice, because otherwise they would not live long after having their children. However, why assume so off the bat?

Specifically, let us assume that shana comes from the word repeat (shny, and not from yshn), and is thus related to the word shnayim, two. Further, let us assume that in the time in which the initial genealogical list were recorded, chodesh is a month, and shana is a two-month period. We could say this even without the etymology. If so, we would need to divide each "year" by 6 to get the actual year. (This is just an exercise to see if it works out. I have know way of knowing exactly how long a "year" was.)

What do we have, then?
Bereishit 5:
Adam begat Shet at 130 years.
130 / 6 = 21.66
and died at 930
930 / 6 = 155

Shet begat Enosh at 105 years
105/ 6 = 17.5
and died at 912
912 / 6 = 152

Enosh begat Kenan at 90 years
90 / 6 = 15
and died at 905
905 / 6 = 150

Kenan begat Mehalalel at 70
70 / 6 = 11.66
and died at 910
910 / 6 = 151

Mehalalel begat Yared at 65
65/6 = 10.83
and died at 890
890/6 = 148.3

Yared begat Enoch at 162
162/6 = 27
and died at 962
962/6 = 160.3

Enoch begat Metushelach at 65
65/6 = 10.83
and died at 365 years, a young age (also the number of days in a year)
365/6 = 60.8

Metushelach begat Lemech at 187 years
187 / 6 = 31
and died at 969
969 / 6 = 161.5

Lemech begat Noach at 182 years
182 / 6 = 30.3
and died at 777 (he was Lubavitch)
777 / 6 = 129.5

These numbers are more in sync with other ages in Tanach. Of course, we must assume some early puberty for Kenan, Mehalalel, and Enoch, but it is more possible.

Noach appears to have had his sons at the age of 500, but do not be fooled:
לב וַיְהִי-נֹחַ, בֶּן-חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד נֹחַ, אֶת-שֵׁם אֶת-חָם וְאֶת-יָפֶת. 32 And Noah was five hundred years old; and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
The pasuk says vayhi rather than vaychi. Rather than giving his first son, it gives all his sons. And the date he lived afterwards (at the end of perek 9) is not dated from his first son but from the flood. The listing of the sons is carried over, or anticipating the next perek where they are listed. So we do not know how old Noach was when he had his first. This is likely the age when he was told to build the ark. But if he lived until 950, then 950 / 6 = 158.

The genealogy resumes in perek 11.

Shem begat Arpachshad at 100 years.
100 / 6 = 16.6
and lived 500 (more, presumably) years.
600 / 6 = 100

We actually do not know if this is total age or age after first begetting, but perhaps can assume the latter based on earlier usage.

Here is where things begin to be messed up.

Arpachshad begat Shalach at 35 years
35 / 6 = 5.8!

This is impossible. Note, though, that suddenly there are much shorter lifespans. In fact, about half the lifespan.

I would suggest that at this point, there was a shift in the meaning of shana, and now it meant season. A season is four months, which is twice the previous shana. Thus, each year we would have to divide by 3, rather than 6.

35 / 3 = 11.6
which is the same age as Kenan when he begat his son. (He was purportedly 70.)
Note that this shoft occured about the Shem/Arpachshad time, so perhaps Shem's total age should also be less.

Arpachshad lived 403 (more years), or lived to 146, which is about the same lifespan as preflood people.

And the same for all the people up to Nachor.

We should not think that Terach was 70 (/3 =23) when he had his first child, for we again have an interlude, and all three children are listed:

כו וַיְחִי-תֶרַח, שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר, וְאֶת-הָרָן. 26 And Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
כז וְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹט. 27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot.
The final shift to current twelve month years would have occurred in the days of Avraham, such that his and Sarah's old ages would truly be considered old for having a child, a fact evident from the text.

Perhaps other suggestions later...

I should have mentioned two points:
First, something that might be interpreted to mean that lifespans were being shortened. In Bereishit 6, right before the Mabul:

ג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה. 3 And the LORD said: 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.'
but we see that people lived longer years that 120 after the flood.

And furthermore, in the Mabul narrative, there is a mention of the year put against months and days, in Bereishit 7:

יא בִּשְׁנַת שֵׁשׁ-מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, לְחַיֵּי-נֹחַ, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי, בְּשִׁבְעָה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ--בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, נִבְקְעוּ כָּל-מַעְיְנֹת תְּהוֹם רַבָּה, וַאֲרֻבֹּת הַשָּׁמַיִם, נִפְתָּחוּ. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
though assuming a two-month year, this verse can be resolved.

Update: For those who feel that this is only speculation -- which it is -- and therefore "improper scholarship", I disagree. But here is some data for comparison, in the Sumerian King list, which I discussed next. That might back it up a bit.

Parshat Bemidbar: The Duel Between Reuel and Deuel

Moshe Abalesz over at Sedra Sorts (another parsha blog) has a post on Reuel vs. Deuel that caught my interest.

He notes the famous issue of Reuel vs. Deuel. In Bemidbar 1:14, we have:
יד לְגָד, אֶלְיָסָף בֶּן-דְּעוּאֵל. 14 Of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel.
while in Bemidbar 2:14 we have:
יד וּמַטֵּה, גָּד; וְנָשִׂיא לִבְנֵי גָד, אֶלְיָסָף בֶּן-רְעוּאֵל. 14 and the tribe of Gad; the prince of the children of Gad being Eliasaph the son of Reuel,
So which is it, Reuel or Deuel?

I would add that in perek 7 and 10 of Bemidbar it is also Deuel, so this seems to weigh in favor of Deuel. But still, what accounts for this discrepency?

He writes:
Modern commentators do not have a problem with this, after all the only difference between a daled and a resh ("ד" and "ר") is that the daled’s head runs slightly over the vertical line. Therefore, at some point a scribal error occurred and the name was recorded incorrectly. Alternative manuscripts of the Bible seem to confirm this.
In terms of alternate manuscripts, there is, e.g. Reuel in Bemidbar 1:14 in LXX. (See here.) However, one must take caution, for there is always the urge to harmonize. That is, the LXX reading might be an attempt to make all the names the same. After all, we are not the only ones who can spot this obvious divergence, and we see quite often (e.g. in the Samaritan Targum) efforts to harmonize. Thus, the different reading might not reflect the original reading.

Moshe Abalesz wrote about ktav ashurit, but the same is true for ktav ivrit - Paleo-Hebrew. Look at the resh and daled, and see that the resh just has an extra line.
Or perhaps better, based on this one:

where daled and resh are even closer.

He gives some suggestions. First, based on Ramban that someone might have two different names with identical meanings (Tzochar vs. Zarach -- though one would note the similarity in the sounds of these names), these might be two names which mean the same (he says "one who is close to God," since re'u means friend and de'u means knows, thus acquaintance).

He then cites Cassuto who explains by Deuel vs. Reuel and similarly by Dodanim vs. Rodanim that perhaps the full name was Deruel, which was shortened sometimes to Deuel and sometimes to Reuel.

I don't find this particularly convincing, though it brought a smile to my face.

As a creative exercise, could we explain this divergence in names in other ways? I came up with two.

Firstly, it is well accepted that there were more Hebrew letters than we currently have in the Hebrew alphabet. The spoken alphabet had more letters, but when choosing a written alphabet, the alphabet had fewer letters. Therefore, there was a folding of letters onto the orthographic signs. Different languages made different decisions about this. Thus, there was /d/, /z/, and /dh/ (pronounced as "th" in "either") and Hebrew chose the zayin for dh while Aramaic chose the daled for dh. The same for th, which was mapped onto the tav in Aramaic and the shin in Hebrew. And so on. Perhaps we could say Reuel/Deuel and Dodanim/Rodanim reflects such a distinction, at a time/locale where the daled was rolled more resh-like than usual. (We know Egyptian has both a d and a dh/dj -- see here.) Thus, perhaps the divergence reflects two efforts to record the specific sound.

Another suggestion. Perhaps this fellow changed his name from Reuel to Deuel. Why would he do such a thing? Well, my brother-in-law (in an unrelated context) likes to point out something about Achira ben Ainan, who is mentioned in the next pasuk.

יד לְגָד, אֶלְיָסָף בֶּן-דְּעוּאֵל. 14 Of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel.
טו לְנַפְתָּלִי, אֲחִירַע בֶּן-עֵינָן. 15 Of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan.'
What is the meaning of Achira. It certainly seems to be Achi + Ra, where Ra is the name of the Egyptian deity. This is similar to Ra-Mses. Compare the other names in the list.

Perhaps Reuel, spelled resh ayin vav aleph lamed (and perhaps even without the em kriya there) had connotations of Ra + El = Ra is mighty/god. (To be confused with the alien cult.)
Perhaps then, after witnessing the Exodus, he wished to remove the idolatry from his name and changed it to Deuel.

Note these are just creative speculations.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Kavana in Kriyat Shema

will likely be the next in my series. This article in Machanayim by Prof. Yisrael Ta Shema is a good source for this - that while there is a general dispute whether mitzvot require intent, by Shema there is a separate issue, and definition, of Kavana to accept the yoke of God that is required. See Rashba, Rambam, and suppercommentaries there. I don't have the time to process all this right now, but it is something worth checking out.

Orthopraxy III - Remembering What Amalek Did

This is the third post in the series exploring whether halacha (and specifically halacha which is relevant today) requires belief or just action. That is, can someone who does not believe in God or who does not believe in the historicity of the Torah still keep all of halacha, and thus be Orthoprax? Or does part of the prax involve dox? Are there mitzvot which can only be when one believes?
(part 1, part 2 of the series)

The next commandment I want to consider it the positive Biblical commandment to remember what Amalek did. There is a pasuk in parshat Zachor, at the end of parshat Ki Teitzei, and the Rambam considers this a commandment. To cite him, in his hakdama to mitzvot aseh, he writes:

קפט לזכור מה שעשה עמלק תמיד, שנאמר "זכור, את אשר עשה לך עמלק" (דברים כה,יז).ר

And in sefer shoftim, hilchot melachim, perek 5, he writes:

ה וכן מצות עשה לאבד זרע עמלק, שנאמר "תמחה את זכר עמלק" (דברים כה,יט); ומצות עשה לזכור תמיד מעשיו הרעים ואריבתו, כדי לעורר איבתו--שנאמר "זכור, את אשר עשה לך עמלק" (דברים כה,יז). מפי השמועה למדו, "זכור" בפה; "לא, תשכח" (דברים כה,יט) בלב, שאסור לשכוח איבתו ושנאתו.

Thus we see that it is a mitzvah to always remember Amalek's evil deeds.

This implies that one believes that the evil deeds mentioned in Torah indeed happened. This typically entails belief in Torah. One who believes it to be a myth cannot remember what they did. He can remember that there is a myth that they did X.

Furthermore, the Rambam continues with something mippi haShemu'a - (perhaps Torah sheBaal Peh, or as halacha leMoshe miSinai backed up by asmachta from the pasuk) - "Zachor" is to mention it in one's mouth. "Lo Tishkach" - "do not forget" is in one's heart, for it is required to maintain a specific emotional state regarding Amalek.

This is based on Megillah 18a, embedded in a discussion about whether one fulfills reading the megillah by merely thinking about it, and they want to show that actually reading it is required. To that end, they discuss Zachor and what it means in terms of Amalek.
[דתניא] (דברים כה) זכור יכול בלב כשהוא אומר לא תשכח הרי שכחת הלב אמור הא מה אני מקיים זכור בפה...

Thus, clearly, we have a halacha that involves internal thought processes and beliefs. Thus, halacha does sometimes mandate certain emotions or beliefs - things internal to one's heart/mind.

Can someone who does not believe Amalek did anything - because the Torah is a fictional account - can he really have these emotions? Can he be said to be actually remembering anything?

parshat Bemidbar: The Closed Garden As The Exit From Egypt

While reading through Midrash Rabba this week, I encountered one particular midrash which I liked immensely. It is based in part on Shir Hashirim, and midrashim on Shir HaShirim are always interesting to me because the status of peshat and derash in this book are unique. (That is, it is difficult to speak of peshat and derash in the first place - Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and other classic commentaries understand the entire work as an allegory, where the mashal is a relationship between two lovers while the nimshal is the relationship between God and Israel -- the entirety of this is what we one might loosely call a peshat level, and the meaning of just the literal mashal level of the story does not necessarily have value (see e.g. Ibn Ezra on this point -- or Rabbi Akiva). There are also derashot made on Shir haShirim independent of this. Modern scholars who dismiss an allegorical interpretation but take the book as love poetry still admit symbolism throughout - overtly mentioned in text, as in Shir haShirim 1:14 - אֶשְׁכֹּל הַכֹּפֶר דּוֹדִי לִי בְּכַרְמֵי עֵין גֶּדִי, as well as non-overt, such as 1:6 - כַּרְמִי שֶׁלִּי, לֹא נָטָרְתִּי.)

We begin with a pasuk in Tehillim 68:7 - מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת - which the Midrash takes to refer to the taking out of the Israelites from Egypt.
ה שִׁירוּ, לֵאלֹהִים-- זַמְּרוּ שְׁמוֹ:
סֹלּוּ, לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת--בְּיָהּ שְׁמוֹ; וְעִלְזוּ לְפָנָיו.
5 Sing unto God, sing praises to His name; {N}
extol Him that rideth upon the skies, whose name is the LORD; and exult ye before Him.
ו אֲבִי יְתוֹמִים, וְדַיַּן אַלְמָנוֹת-- אֱלֹהִים, בִּמְעוֹן קָדְשׁוֹ. 6 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation.
ז אֱלֹהִים, מוֹשִׁיב יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה-- מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים, בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת;
אַךְ סוֹרְרִים, שָׁכְנוּ צְחִיחָה.
7 God maketh the solitary to dwell in a house; He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity; {N}
the rebellious dwell but in a parched land.
ח אֱלֹהִים--בְּצֵאתְךָ, לִפְנֵי עַמֶּךָ; בְּצַעְדְּךָ בִישִׁימוֹן סֶלָה. 8 O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people, when Thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah
ט אֶרֶץ רָעָשָׁה, אַף-שָׁמַיִם נָטְפוּ-- מִפְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים:
זֶה סִינַי-- מִפְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים, אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
9 The earth trembled, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God; {N}
even yon Sinai trembled at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Now, there are derashot which utilize the principle of omnisignificance - looking at a selection of a pasuk very closely without regard to context. Here, though, classic meforshim do indeed understand the phrase to refer to the Exodus from Egypt on a peshat level. And the Israelite slaves scattered through Egypt were gathered to a single place - to Raamses, and brought out into prosperity with the property of the Egyptians.) Indeed, throughout this praise of God, one can see allusions to Exodus related events scattered throughout - thus we see God going before His people (in 8) in the wilderness, and what seems to be mention of matan Torah. On some level, hearing about the bringing out prisoners in this context (deliberately) calls to mind the Exodus from Egypt.

The midrash explains that מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת means that Hashem brought out the prisoners - the Israelite slaves - via the kosharot - feminine plural of kasher - those women who acted in a kosher manner. The famous ("lucky" ?) midrash - is one in Sotah 11b, that in the merit of the righteous women who ensured the continuity of the Jewish people, the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt:

"Rav Avira expounded: In the merit of the righteous women who lived in that generation, the nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. When they went to draw water, the Holy One, Blessed be He, arranged that small fishes should enter their pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half full of fishes. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had marital relations with them among the sheepfolds. . . ."

That is, the partial basis for the midrash is pasuk 14 - a bit on in the perek -
יד אִם-תִּשְׁכְּבוּן, בֵּין שְׁפַתָּיִם:
כַּנְפֵי יוֹנָה, נֶחְפָּה בַכֶּסֶף; וְאֶבְרוֹתֶיהָ, בִּירַקְרַק חָרוּץ.
14 When ye lie among the sheepfolds, {N}
the wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold.
The gemara continues - because of the merit of lying among the sheepfolds, the Israelites merited the spoils of Egypt - the wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold. Once they became pregnant they returned to their houses until it was time to give birth, and then they gave birth in the field under the apple tree, as it states in Shir haShirim 8:
ה מִי זֹאת, עֹלָה מִן-הַמִּדְבָּר, מִתְרַפֶּקֶת, עַל-דּוֹדָהּ; תַּחַת הַתַּפּוּחַ, עוֹרַרְתִּיךָ--שָׁמָּה חִבְּלַתְךָ אִמֶּךָ, שָׁמָּה חִבְּלָה יְלָדַתְךָ. 5 Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple-tree I awakened thee; there thy mother was in travail with thee; there was she in travail and brought thee forth.
The midrash continues, and I am not going to get into how each of the details of the midrash are deduced - but it fits in well with the explicit theme in the pesukim of the work intending to curb the Israelite's population growth.

One thing that was not made clear from reading this "famous" midrash in Sotah 11b until we see the midrash in midrash Rabba was how R' Avira knew this was the result of the merit of righteous women - namely, מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹת. Just an example how not every aspect of a midrash is explicitly derived, and one has to look around a bit and engage in philology to fully understand a midrash.

Now on to the midrash in Midrash Rabba that I did want to consider. The verse in Tehillim is taken to mean that in the merit of righteous women the Israelites were redeemed. For what, exactly? To supplement this initial derasha with details, the midrash turns to Shir HaShirim 4:12.
יב גַּן נָעוּל, אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה; גַּל נָעוּל, מַעְיָן חָתוּם. 12 A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
The derasha is as follows - because of the righteous Israelite women in Egypt who did not engage in zenut/promiscuity. גַּן נָעוּל = the virgins; גַּל נָעוּל = the married women; מַעְיָן חָתוּם = the penuya - unmarried woman. (We see from here -- and other places -- that Chazal were not in favor of unmarried women sleeping with their boyfriends.) The specific derivations I will leave to the classic commentators of midrash - check them out inside - but perhaps the semichut on achoti to גַּן נָעוּל and the semichut of kallah to גַּל נָעוּל played a role.

How do we know that it was this merit that caused the Israelites to be redeemed? For the next verse in Shir haShirim reads:
יג שְׁלָחַיִךְ פַּרְדֵּס רִמּוֹנִים, עִם פְּרִי מְגָדִים: כְּפָרִים, עִם-נְרָדִים. 13 Thy shoots are a park of pomegranates, with precious fruits; henna with spikenard plants,
where שְׁלָחַיִךְ is taken to mean "your sending out," linked to Shemot 13:17:
יז וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. 17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
Thus, one midrash links the Exodus to the merit of righteous women encouraging and engaging in marital relations, while the present midrash links the Exodus to the merit of righteous women refusing to engage in extra-marital relations (or and relations outside the sanctity of marriage.)

It is interesting to note that this midrashic explanation of Shir HaShirim which takes the closed garden to be a reference to chastity - is well rooted in the literal understanding of Shir HaShirim as love poetry. Modern scholars understand the verse the same way. The full context is:

יב גַּן נָעוּל, אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה; גַּל נָעוּל, מַעְיָן חָתוּם. 12 A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
יג שְׁלָחַיִךְ פַּרְדֵּס רִמּוֹנִים, עִם פְּרִי מְגָדִים: כְּפָרִים, עִם-נְרָדִים. 13 Thy shoots are a park of pomegranates, with precious fruits; henna with spikenard plants,
יד נֵרְדְּ וְכַרְכֹּם, קָנֶה וְקִנָּמוֹן, עִם, כָּל-עֲצֵי לְבוֹנָה; מֹר, וַאֲהָלוֹת, עִם, כָּל-רָאשֵׁי בְשָׂמִים. 14 Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.
טו מַעְיַן גַּנִּים, בְּאֵר מַיִם חַיִּים; וְנֹזְלִים, מִן-לְבָנוֹן. 15 [Thou art] a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and flowing streams from Lebanon.
טז עוּרִי צָפוֹן וּבוֹאִי תֵימָן, הָפִיחִי גַנִּי יִזְּלוּ בְשָׂמָיו; יָבֹא דוֹדִי לְגַנּוֹ, וְיֹאכַל פְּרִי מְגָדָיו. 16 Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his precious fruits.
Note I put [Thou art] in brackets in verse 15. Robert Gordis explains thusly: until verse 14 is the man who praised his beloved's qualities but complains that she is a closed garden. She responds in 15-16 inviting him to come into his garden and eat his precious fruits. It continues through 5:1.

We could also read the first part as a reference to her other suitors. Some scholars read these all as wedding songs (see e.g. the prohibition to sing it as such) and so can read verse 16 to refer to relations within the context of marriage.

This midrash is thus a fusion of the allegorical interpretation - reading Shir haShirim as the history of God's relationship with Israel - and the most literal interpretation - in which "closed garden" refers to a woman being chaste.

(We might imagine other interpretations, and can find such in midrashim. Just off the top of my head - how else could we have interpreted gan na'ul? We might say this is Israel being distant from God, and then we return and reestablish the relationship of old. We might consider the word pardes in the next sentence. We might say that the secrets of Torah are inaccessible, and only the select few can enter the pardes. We might say that this relationship with God is one that is available to Israel but not to other nations. Thus, it is interesting how the midrash fuses the interpretation of the symbolism on the literal level (avoid the word peshat) with the allegorical level reading this as a history of the relationship of God and Israel.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Orthopraxy - II - Sitting In A Succah

Can one not believe in God and simultaneously keep all of halacha? (first post in the series here)

I am defining Orthopraxy as the keeping of halacha even as one has doubts or does not believe in the existence of God. The question: to what extent does halacha mandate belief in God in order to fulfill various positive and negative commandments.

In the previous post, I mentioned the first few the Rambam mentions, and highlighted specifically the following commandments: (1) belief in the existence of God; (2) loving God; (3) fearing God; (4) seeing oneself as though he left Egypt with his forefathers. Read that post for more details.

The next example is well summarized by R' Student at Hirhurim, in a post titled "Sukkah Intentions".
The Tur (Orah Hayim, 625; and later the Shulhan Arukh, ad loc.) introduces the laws of living in a sukkah by saying that the mitzvah is so that we remember that God had us live in sukkos in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. R. Yoel Sirkes, the Bah, asks why the Tur mentions this theological idea in his practical compendium. He answers that this idea has a practical application. The Torah tells us that we must live in a sukkah "in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:43). Therefore, writes the Bah, when one sits in a sukkah one must consciously remember the historical origin of the sukkah in order to fulfill the commandment.

This innovation of the Bah is accepted by all major posekim, with the only debate centering around the case of someone who failed to remember this historical origin. Has this person ex post facto (be-di-avad) fulfilled the commandment or must he repeat it? Many (e.g. Bah, Bikkurei Ya'akov, Derekh Pekudekha) hold that he has not fulfilled the commandment while others (e.g. Peri Megadim, Mishnah Berurah) hold that he has and need not repeat the mitzvah act.
The post happens to continue with a question about the methodology - this appears to be a post-Talmudic textual derivation. In a post on parshablog (here) I gave a possible explanation of the gemara in the beginning of Succah such that perhaps one might read this into the gemara (namely, the reading of the pasuk to mean that one must be cognizant of the fact that he is living in the Succah can by extension be that he should be aware of this fact so that (and the pasuk continues) he can know that Hashem sat the Israelites in Succahs (or in Clouds of Glory) ).

According the Bach and others in his camp, one cannot fulfill sitting in a Succah if he does not know that the Israelites sat in Succot when they came out of Egypt.

Now, someone who does not believe in God does not believe that He took the Israelites out of Egypt. (And one who is unsure also does not know - limaan yede`u.) How can he know a fact that is not true? If so, the Orthoprax person will not have fulfilled his obligation.

It gets worse than that. How can the Orthoprax person make a blessing on sitting in the Succah? He cannot fulfill the mitzvah, and so this is a bracha levatala! Thus, another violation of halacha.

We do not have to rule like the Bach. The Orthoprax can rely on the Peri Megadim and the Mishnah Berurah that he has fulfilled the commandment bedieved. But bedieved means that he did not fulfill the commandment in the ideal way, in the way that Chazal/Torah intended.

{Update: Plus, if we assume that the fact that the Bach darshens it means that he reads this as a Biblical command to know, then perhaps even according to Peri Megadim where it is lechatchila, he still is not fulfilling this separate Biblical imperative.)

More to follow in the series, be'ezrat Hashem.

Orthopraxy - I

Can one not believe in God and simultaneously keep all of halacha?

It seems to me at first glance not. Never mind the particulars of specific mitzvot - whether tefillah counts as tefillah if you do not believe that you are directing your words to an Entity. That is something worth exploring in its own right. But just as there are some mitzvot that kohanim can only perform but Leviim and Yisraelim cannot (and vice versa - e.g. pidyod haben for Yisraelim), and there are some mitzvot that men can perform and not women and v.v., there seem to be several mitzvot for which a belief in God is quite clearly a prerequisite. Yet these mitzvot are taluy on every individual (there is no concept of being patur from them), and so someone who does not believe in God is not keeping all of halacha.

Looking at the Rambam, in hilchot yesodei haTorah, we find:
יש בכללן עשר מצוות--שש מצוות עשה, וארבע מצוות לא תעשה; וזה הוא פרטן: (א) לידע שיש שם אלוה; (ב) שלא יעלה במחשבה שיש שם אלוה זולתי ה'; (ג) לייחדו; (ד) לאוהבו; (ה) ליראה ממנו; (ו) לקדש שמו; (ז) שלא לחלל את שמו; (ח) שלא לאבד דברים שנקרא שמו עליהן; (ט) לשמוע מן הנביא המדבר בשמו; (י) שלא לנסותו. וביאור כל המצוות האלו בפרקים אלו.
Which of these positive commandments require belief in God? Obviously (1). (2) does not really require it. (3), we might say is an outward action fulfilled by saying Shema. (4) and (5) certainly require it. How can you love and fear God if you do not believe that He exists? The remainder perhaps one might argue do not really require belief.

So straight off the bat, at least 3 positive Biblical commandments cannot be fulfilled.

(Obviously, this is besides the fact that Rambam considers the first, belief in God, to be יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון).

What are the sources for these Biblical commands? From the first perek:
ד [ו] וידיעת דבר זה מצות עשה, שנאמר "אנוכי ה' אלוהיך" (שמות כ,ב; דברים ה,ו). וכל המעלה על דעתו שיש שם אלוה אחר, חוץ מזה--עובר בלא תעשה, שנאמר "לא יהיה לך אלוהים אחרים, על פניי" (שמות כ,ב; דברים ה,ו); וכפר בעיקר, שזה הוא העיקר הגדול שהכול תלוי בו.

from the beginning of the second perek:
א האל הנכבד והנורא הזה--מצוה לאוהבו וליראה ממנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים יא,א) ונאמר "את ה' אלוהיך תירא" (דברים ו,יג; דברים י,כ). [ב] והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).

Are there other Biblical and Rabbinic commands that require belief, where such belief is predicated in belief in God?

I believe that there are. I hope to post some examples of these soon. Here is one - I would consider this a diOrayta, but perhaps others would say it is a derabanan. The Mishna in Pesachim 116b:

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים שנאמר (שמות יג) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים

How can one envision that he himself went out of Egypt, like his forefathers (with the explanation that if not for yetziat mitzrayim, he would still be there) if he does not believe in God and so does not believe in an Exodus from Egypt? A person is required to envision himself part of an imaginary event? Perhaps one might say that there was a (smaller) Exodus but God wasn't part of it. Yet God is explicitly mentioned in the verse as the cause of the Exodus. Perhaps one can kvetch out of this.

And there is an even easier way out of this particular one. Namely, the question is whether we should vocalize the word לראות as lir`ot or lar'ot. If the former, he must envision, which kind of assumed belief. If the latter, he must show himself as if he himself went out, by speaking in such a manner, namely by saying "asa hashem li, betzeiti, etc." If I recall correctly, there is a reading in the Rambam to that effect.

To be continued in further posts -- if I find the time...

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Dangers of Midrashim?? A Fisking

I last week's "Five Towns Jewish Times," there was an article by Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal, entitled "The Dangers of Midrashim." I feel this article is misguided and wrong, and so I dissect it piece by piece here. His main thesis is that we should make clear to children that midrashim are not to be taken as true accounts, but rather exist to teach moral/ethical/homiletical lessons. And this is the only correct approach.

One problem, among many, is that I do not believe that this is indeed the attitude of Chazal, or of various Rishonim, when they presented many midrashim, and the resulting reinterpretation of the midrashim and discounting of initial intent is misguided. The easiest way to do away with uncomfortable beliefs/statements is to declare them metaphorical. Anyhow, on to the article:
As part of the interview into high school, I often challenge incoming students with questions that contrast the p’shat of a Chumash story with its Midrashic counterpart. The reaction is always the same: the student looks at me like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
In an interview situation, one often feels put on the spot, and that is not the best time for giving reasoned responses to sudden, complex questions. One needs to approach a problem like this calmly, and with access to all the relevant information. To expect a 14-year old kid to answer you al-regel achat - on one foot - deep philosophical questions such as the relationship between peshat and derash - or, for example, tzadik vera lo, or how Yechezkel can detail laws of kohanim which seem counter to Torah and halachic law (see two posts previous) is unfair.

Especially because the kid is nervous already, wants to get into school, and is afraid how her answer will be judged. And she is being interviewed by someone with whom she has (as yet) no social/emotional connection.

Wait until the middle of the year, when she has developed a connection with her teacher, learn the relevant sources which show a difference between peshat and derash, and open it up for a class discussion, and you might very well get a different result.

Back to the article:
The other day, the student was an eager young lady named Leah. I asked her the following question: If you were able to go back in time to the moment when Pharaoh’s daughter saw baby Moshe in his basket, what would you see? Would you see Pharaoh’s daughter requesting her maidservant to fetch the basket—as the pasuk tells us—or would you see her arm grow 25 feet long (like Mister Fantastic) and rope in the basket—as the Midrash says?

I felt at that moment as if I had asked Leah to choose between her two parents at a divorce proceeding. She knew that the Torah was an authority and correct and the Midrash was an authority and correct. Her mind was telling her both versions could not be simultaneously true! Therefore, she was frozen and unable to respond.
First, show her the pasuk inside. Show her the midrash inside.

(Before proceeding, let me note that I answer for this specific instance, but I would have to -- and could -- answer for every such instace.)

Secondly, this is a false contrast, between what the pasuk says and what the Midrash says. It is not a difference between what the pasuk says and what the Midrash says. Rather, it is a difference between what one specific peshat interpretation of the pasuk says and what one specific midrashic interpretation of the pasuk says.
The pasuk says {Shemot 2:5}:

ה וַתֵּרֶד בַּת-פַּרְעֹה לִרְחֹץ עַל-הַיְאֹר, וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ הֹלְכֹת עַל-יַד הַיְאֹר; וַתֵּרֶא אֶת-הַתֵּבָה בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף, וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת-אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ. 5 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it.
Ignore the English translation for a moment. This English translation is what Rabbi Rosenthal labels "what the Torah says" or "what the pasuk says."

What the Torah says is וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת-אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ. What does this mean? What does אֲמָתָהּ mean? It turns out that there are two possible meanings for אֲמָתָהּ on the level of peshat, though one might be favored over the other. אֲמָתָהּ can either mean "her maidservant" or "her arm," and this on the level of peshat.

If we understand it to mean that she sent forth her arm, and we add to this the Midrash that her arm extended, there is no contradiction between peshat and derash on this pasuk. Might we say that this is how Chazal understood אֲמָתָהּ? (And then further, that they took she *stretched* out her arm literally.)

To cite Rashi:

Heb. אֲמָתָהּ, her maidservant. Our Sages (Sotah 12b), however, interpreted it as an expression meaning a hand. [The joint from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger is known as אַמָּה, hence the cubit measure bearing the name, אַמָּה, which is the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.] Following [the rules of] Hebrew grammar, however, it should have been vowelized אַמָּתָהּ, with a dagesh in the mem. They, however, interpreted אֶתאֲמָתָהּ to mean her hand, [that she stretched out her hand,] and her arm grew many cubits (אַמוֹת) [so that she could reach the basket].
(Note that in characteristic midrashic style, אֲמָתָהּ is taken to mean multiple things. First, her arm, and second, that it extended many אַמוֹת.)

Now, one might say because of the lack of the dagesh, we cannot say that this is the peshat in the verse. And Rashi seems to say as much. But that does not mean that Chazal (namely, those in Sotah 12b) agreed to this grammatical judgement.

Even if we grant that they considered peshat to be "maidservant" and derash to be "arm," it is not clear that they did not consider the derash to supercede the simple literal meaning of the verse. We are Pharisees, after all, and so were Chazal. They feel that Torah was written by the Author in such a way that there are hidden meanings to verses that may be brought out via hermeneutical methods, middot shehaTorah nidreshet bahen.

As he writes, "She knew that the Torah was an authority and correct and the Midrash was an authority and correct. Her mind was telling her both versions could not be simultaneously true! Therefore, she was frozen and unable to respond." Yet we might say that the Torah is an authority and correct, and the Midrash is showing what the Torah means. The way he lays it out, it is as if they are in absolute contradiction to one another, rather than the Midrash being a specific interpretation of the text in the Chumash.

There are many different approaches as the relationship of peshat to derash. I suggested above that the derash might supercede the peshat interpretation. Indeed, some commentators might say exactly that. For example, one might say (and if I recall correctly, Saadia Gaon does) that there is not peshat, derash as discrete levels of interpretation. Rather, there is the truth as to what the Torah means. Words carry a range of meaning. If there were no compelling reason to assume otherwise, we can interpret the words literally. If there are problems with the most straightforward rendition, we might explore some of the other implications of meaning that the words carry, and thus arrive at the one true meaning of the text via its "derash" meaning.

That is one possible explanation. One might also simply say that the Torah was given in both Written and Oral form, and together with the Torah was given hermeneutical methods for discovering the meaning. Without applying these midrashic methods, we would get one, "literal," meaning. Using midrashic methods we might discover the Torah's true message.

(One could also state that there are multiple levels - pardes. My aim here is not to explore all different approaches, though this is an exemplary goal in its own right.)

Now, everyone likes to cite the Talmudic statement the ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto, that the Torah does not leave from its peshat meaning, even as we add derash meaning. However, first and foremost, Rashi and other medieval commentators do not use it in the sense as it carries in the gemara. (See Rashi scholars on this point.)

And (as I have discussed elsewhere), this phrase occurs only three times in Talmud, and
it is not clear what it means. For example, one instance is in hilchot Shabbat {Shabbat 63a}, where a verse from Tehillim is cited which describes a sword as a glorification. An objection is cited that that verse refers to learning of Torah, and the answer is that ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto. Here we have an allegorical interpretation of the verse, and we are stating that when you have a mashal, both the literal story and its allegorical interpretation are valid. And further, this is stated in an halachic context, in terms of deriving Biblical law. This is not a sweeping statement about Chazal's midrashic approach to understanding pesukim, reading events into the narrative via extremely close reading of the text (which is what midrash is). Rav Kahana is surprised by this statement, exclaiming that even though at the age of 18 he knew all of Talmud at the age of 18, he did not know that mikra does not leave its peshat interpretation. This in terms of halachic ramifications, that both peshat and derash are relevant. Another instance is in Yevamot 11b, again in an halachic context, and it is possible that we should not apply it there. And the last in Yevamot 24a, again in an halachic context, where an extreme literal peshat might have that the son must be named after the deceased, rather than shem taking to mean nachala, inheritance (="title," which encompasses both senses). If so, they will say that here the gezeira shava in which shem means inheritance (by Ephraim and Menashe) elsewhere entirely uproots the "peshat" meaning of actually naming after the deceased.

It is not clear that in general, and in narrative contexts, Chazal in the gemara thought that both the most literal and the midrashic levels were simultaneously true, or even that the literal level, without applying rules of midrashic interpretation, was true. Perhaps they did think that, but it is not obvious. So this question is a very deep one, and different very smart people of different generations took varying approaches.

Back to the article.
Leah was educated in a yeshiva day school. The vast majority of children from the current yeshiva system believe that all Midrashim are part of the literal account of the events that occurred in the Tanach.

Firstly, many children are not educated enough in the peshat meaning of the text and in what the Biblical text actually says, such that they think in many cases that the midrashim are actually written in the Biblical text. I know of one person who looked at one point for the pasuk that stated that Avraham destroyed his father's idols. It is a flaw in the way we teach Tanach. It is also a flaw in how we teach midrashim, in that we do not show how the midrash is derived from the text. In Rabbi Rosenthal's article, he does not address this issue.

However, there were a good many great Sages of years past who also believed that Midrashim are part what actually happened on the ground in Tanach. Other Sages may have disagreed with them, but that does not make the former position entirely illegitimate, to the extent that the belief is flawed. (Note also that it is hard to believe in all midrashim as part of the literal account, because many a times one midrash will argue with another midrash.) This includes medieval Sages, and may very well represent the beliefs on the Talmudic Sages.

Back to the article:

Let me fast-forward to an anthropology class at Queens College. The professor is discussing ancient Egypt. He mentions there is a legend among the Jews about the daughter of Pharaoh concerning her arm stretching out to retrieve baby Moses. Leah raises her hand. She says that it was a miracle and the daughter of Pharaoh had her arm stretched out to save Moshe. Suddenly, all 53 members of her class turn to her and stare. Her face turns crimson. The professor asks her, “Do you believe that actually happened?” Leah feels the temperature rising. She knows that her beliefs are under attack, and that she has been publicly put on the spot. She desperately wants to explain the Torah position in a cogent way, and yet she finds that despite 15 years of yeshiva education, she is unable to do so.

This is clearly a hypothetical, since he was just interviewing her two days ago. So let me pose a similar hypothetical, changing the details only somewhat. (My changes in bold.)

Let me fast-forward to an anthropology class at Queens College. The professor is discussing ancient Egypt. He mentions there is a legend among the Jews about the Nile turning to blood. Leah raises her hand. She says that it was a miracle and Aaron stretched his hand over the waters and they turned to blood. Suddenly, all 53 members of her class turn to her and stare. Her face turns crimson. The professor asks her, “Do you believe that actually happened?” Leah feels the temperature rising. She knows that her beliefs are under attack, and that she has been publicly put on the spot. She desperately wants to explain the Torah position in a cogent way, and yet she finds that despite 15 years of yeshiva education, she is unable to do so.

Yes, Rabbi Rosenthal, not only
midrashim speak of miracles. This I think is your real trouble, as evident by your earlier jibe "like Mr. Fantastic." Will Leah have an easier time explaining the many miracles written in the actual text of the Torah than the miracles mentioned in midrashim? What about all of the plagues? What of the splitting of the reed sea? The destruction of Sodom? The angels blinding the residents of Sodom? The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai? The manna falling every day? The clouds of Glory and the Heavenly fire leading the Israelites in the desert? The widow pouring oil from one vessels into many other vessels? Eliyahu ascending in a chariot of fire? The list goes on. To all these, the anthropology professor can ask, "Do you believe that actually happened?" Jewish beliefs are not determined by anthropology professors at Queens College.

Now, Ibn Ezra takes a similar approach, only accepting miracles explicitly mentioned in
pesukim, in part because of difficulties some midrashim would present in terms of explaining and arguing occurences (such as the population growth in Israel in Egypt) to Arab scholars. Yet "what will the gentiles say" is not a great argument for rejecting Oral Torah and actual Jewish beliefs, if they indeed are Jewish beliefs (though this is what is up for debate).

The article continues:

What is the Torah position on Midrashim?
Not a Torah position on Midrashim? Rather the Torah position on Midrashim. Might there be multiple approaches? In fact, historically there were, and there was, and is, great debate about the nature of derash and peshat, and there relationship to one another. Furthermore, which midrashim? All midrashim? Midrash aggada? Midrash halacha? Aggada in the gemara? Only the midrashim involving miracles or all explanations of narrative rooted in derash and stated in gemara and midrashic seforim?

Back to the article:

Rambam, the great Jewish philosopher, in his commentary to Perek Chelek (Ch. 10 of Sanhedrin) states unequivocally that Midrashim are not to be taken literally, but are a source of deep wisdom. Ramchal, The great mekubal, in his Introduction to Aggadah (found in most editions of the Ein Yaakov) states that the Midrashim are a source of deep and abstract ideas and are not to be taken literally. The Ra’avad on his commentary on the Mishneh Torah (Hil. Teshuva Ch. 3) states that when one takes the Midrashim literally, it is mishabshos es ha’dei’os—it distorts one’s principles of belief. Sadly, this is case with our children. They have been taught Midrashim as fairy tales. The effects are disastrous.

Firstly, why did they have to say this? They had to say this because there were others who disagreed and had other beliefs.

Furthermore, this is selective citing. Can we cite others from the same time-period who propound other beliefs? Is the Rambam saying this under the influence of the incorrect Aristotelian philosophy of his day? Can we demonstrate the Chazal in the time of the gemara actually did belief in the reality of the midrashim?

Further, recall that Rambam was a somewhat controversial figure. His books were banned. Many do not know this about Ramchal, but his kabbalistic books were banned. He wrote mesilat yesharim when prevented from working on his standard kabbalistic fare.

Furthermore, are they talking about all of Chazal's interpretations of pesukim? Or just some of the more fantastic, miraculous midrashim? Are they speaking about every derasha which Rashi cites throughout his commentary on Torah? Or are they speaking about select midrashim which were clearly intended by Chazal to be allegorical, to teach some deep message? I haven't seen them inside in a while, and don't recall, but one can clearly make such distinctions.

Let me give you some examples, because you cannot really discuss this without examples. Chazal say that whoever says that Reuven sinned is only making a mistake. Yet the simplest peshat in the pasuk states that he slept with Bilhah. Bereishit 35:22:
וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת-בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו
Chazal explain that he merely moved his father's bed from Bilhah's tent. This is based on other pesukim in Tanach, as well as the fact that vayishkav literally means "sleep," and so he caused her to sleep alone rather than be with Yaakov that night. This would be labelled by most as a "midrashic" explanation of the verse. Yet would all the aforementioned say that this is not meant to be taken literally and of course Reuven slept with his step-mother? Even if they would, would Rashi? I doubt it.

How about ayin tachat ayin? Most literally it means "an eye for an eye." Do we say that is actual Torah law, and the idea of paying money merely contains a "deep meaning?"

I can demonstrate to you that on the best peshat reading, one of the three angels who appeared to Avraham was really Hashem, which shows that God can assume corporeal form. And that is why, for example, only two angels arrived in Sodom. Read Speiser in the Anchor Bible. Chazal's approach, which is assumed by all the classic commentaries, is that the three angels and God's appearance are separate. Shall we say that these interpretations are untrue in the sense of actually happening, and reflect some deeper message?

The examples above are extreme examples, but less extreme examples abound throughout Rashi's commentary on Torah. He often cites midrashim exclusively, where people (incorrectly, but that is for another rant) try to discover "what was bothering Rashi." Did Rashi truly believe in each of these cases, where he cites Chazal who use midrashic methods, that this is not what actually went on? My sense from reading Rashi is that this is not the case.

I have a few questions, which put to the test the statement that all midrashim are to convey some "deeper meaning." Some have answers of course.

1) If midrashim are to convey a deeper meaning, such as a moral lesson, why must every midrash be derived via exegesis from the text?

2) Why do we find Sages arguing with one another, bringing textual proofs for why the midrash must be X and not Y (such as: Adam ate the fruit because of an argument presented by Chava, because it says, since you listened to the "voice" of your wife. The other: If so, it would have said "the words." Since it says the "voice," we see it was crying.). If they are commenting on the deeper moral lesson of the story, what sense is there to argue with one another, bringing textual proof?

3) If only the deeper meaning is meant, why do we sometimes find narrative midrashim cited in halachic contexts, with halachic ramifications? For just one example, in Chullin 5a, a question is asked based on the assumption that the ravens {in I Kings 17:14} were bringing meat from the butchers of Achav. How is such a question even possible if they did not believe it actually happened but is only conveying a deeper meaning?

The article continues:

I explained to Leah that the Torah’s account is what truly occurred in space and time. The Midrash is there to point to the story behind the story. In my opinion, the seemingly miraculous extension of Pharaoh’s daughter’s arm is directing us to another idea—the great difficulty that she must have faced saving the life of a Jewish baby. Imagine, if you will, a modern day Pharaoh—perhaps a Hitler or a Stalin, or even a Saddam Hussein. How likely would it be for the daughter of such a singularly evil dictator to defy her father’s murderous intentions? Her actions required her to go against her upbringing and the dictates of her father. 
This would of necessity create tremendous conflict for any young woman, but particularly for one in her position of prominence in Egyptian society. The Written Torah’s typically spare prose seems to gloss over this conflict. But the Midrash points to it, and if used properly, makes us stop and examine her motivations. The metaphor of her extended arm is an expression of G-d’s directing the actions of Pharaoh’s daughter. The rabbis are teaching us that her emotional shift towards feeling protective of this baby is as much of a miracle as if G-d had extended her arm 25 feet.

Oy vey. This is a terrible explanation of the midrash. I do not find this believable at all. Firstly, as daughter of Pharaoh she did not necessarity have to worry about the repercussions as much as a common Egyptian. She could have "her" Jew. Indeed, Moshe knew of his Israelite ancestry. Furthermore, the discovery that it was an Israelite child and her having compassion on him happens in the *next* verse, not this verse. For all she knew, it could have been an abandoned Egyptian baby when she saved him. Finally, just from my general knowledge of midrashim, this explanation of the midrash is quite forced. "as much a miracle as *if* her arm had extended...?" Eh.
Now, it is really easy to create justifications. I can create a justification - a deeper meaning - for any midrash and any pasuk. That does not make it true.

However, I have in fact pointed out many times on parshablog the deeper meaning of the midrash, and how midrashim pick up on the theme running through the text, making it clearer.

If we examine the plain text, we find that the narrative is written in a very naturalistic manner. Moshe's mother put him in the Nile, and by chance, Pharaoh's daughter was bathing in the Nile and found him. He was brought up in the palace, then killed an Egyptian and had to flee.

However, it is clear that there is a Divine Hand at work. The same Divine Hand which Yosef explained to his brothers directed him to Egpyt so he could save them is at play here. Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand, or sent her maidservant, to retreive the boy, but this was because God was pulling the strings and directing events. (Alternatively, something along the lines of: when one tries to do a good deed, God helps along.)

The article:

Leah felt as if a load had been removed from shoulders. At age 14, she was taught—for the first time— the relationship between the Torah and the Midrashim. It is my belief that all teachers should only teach a Midrash if they help the students discover its deeper message.

She felt a load lifted from her shoulders because she no longer had to answer the difficult question posed to her during the interview. The interviewer wanted to tell her *the* answer.

And now she knows the one and only relationship between Torah and the Midrashim.

Does he really believe that "all teachers should only teach a Midrash if they help the students discover its deeper message?" This will be problematic for midrashim that do not have deeper messages. But it will be even more problematic in that they will never be able to learn Rashi on Torah without a protracted discussion. Then again, I do not know whether Rabbi Rosenthal realizes the extent of midrashim, or only considers the fantastic ones.

Also, even if there is a deeper meaning all midrashim, are we not to develop other skills by focusing on other aspects of midrashim - how they are derived, how they relate to the text, etc.?

The article:

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW, and Chaya Feuerman, LCSW, in their article “Teaching Midrashim to Children” suggest using the notion of seeking a “moral of the story” for presenting the idea of a deeper meaning of Midrashim to children. Here is a good example:

These are social workers. Now they might have good ideas, but I would also like to hear how a scholar - say, an academic scholar, might approach midrashim. Must we turn every midrash into fluff and psycho-babble?

“Consider the Midrash that contains a strange twist to the plague of frogs. The verse (Sh’mos 8:2) states:
‘And the frog went up and covered all of Egypt.’ The text uses the singular form when referring to the frogs. Of course, the simple explanation (pashut p’shat) is that in Hebrew, as in many languages, an entire group or species is labeled in the singular form. However, the Midrash derives from this choice of words that actually one frog rose out of the Nile. However, each and every time an Egyptian tried to hit the frog, instead of it being squashed and killed, it split into several new frogs. Thus, as the frogs began to jump all over, and Egyptians encountered and hit them, the plague grew worse and worse. (See Rashi.)

“To our thinking, there is no question that any classroom of children who were encouraged to ponder what the real lesson behind this Midrash is would draw powerful insights into the nature of problems and how people get further into them. The inescapable lesson of this Midrash is that when you try to stubbornly and pig-headedly fight a problem—as the Egyptians did— instead of thinking about what has gone wrong, you will end up panicking and making things far worse. The more the Egyptians fought the frogs, the worse it got. Who among us in life has not panicked and made a situation far worse instead of staying calm and using problem-solving skills?”
To their credit, they at least develop the relationship between peshat and derash, such that we get some sense of why they say only one frog ascended from the Nile. They omit the fact that in the next verse we have the plural, וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, such that we are going from one to many. They do not mention how the idea of hitting is derived.

Furthermore, their "moral" really has little to do with the Biblical text. This is a lesson for life, not a lesson in understanding the narrative. Why did Chazal teach this lesson here? We might as well be teaching the children Highlights, with Goofus and Gallant. Obviously one might learn a life lesson from the midrash, just as one might learn a life lesson from pesukim. But I have read a lot of midrashim, and this does not seem to me to even approximate the intent of the midrash.

(By the way, this was Rabbi Akiva's attempt at midrash, which caused Rabbi Eleazer ben Azarya to tell him "don't quit your day job" of midrash halacha.)

In fact, since earlier about the frogs the word sharatz is used, we might consider that the frogs are being used as a stand in for the Israelites. When they came to Egypt, they came small in number. Then, yishretzu, they swarmed. To cite Shemot 1:7:
פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם

What was the Egyptians' reaction? They hit them. They oppressed them. But hitting and oppressing the Israelites just made them increase, with God's blessing and direction. Thus, Shemot 1:12:

וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ; וַיָּקֻצוּ, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

"But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel."

Might *this* be a more accurate explanation of the midrash, rather than the psycho-babble offered above as the supreme example of teaching the children the "true, deeper" meaning of the midrash?? I think so.

He concludes:

As our children enter the 21st century and its scientific mindset, it is obligatory for all educators to ensure that our children see the Torah in its most sophisticated light.
Perhaps. I *also* do not like it when people have an unsophisticated approach to midrashim. But an intellectually honest approach to midrashim might (or might not) recognize that Chazal themselves actually believed these midrashic stories to be true. If we reject these stories, or the idea that midrashim produce true facts, perhaps that makes us (and the Rambam, and quite possibly me) heretics. And giving incorrect meanings to midrashim is not productive. Further, before giving correct meaning, we need to really really know philology and midrashic method. And finally, there are multiple approaches to the relationship between peshat and derash, and let us not think that we know the one true answer.

I will end with the following story from Sanhedrin 100a, and ask you: what does this tell us about Chazal's attitude towards midrashim:
R. Johanan was sitting and teaching: The Holy One, blessed be He, will bring jewels and precious stones, each thirty cubits long, and thirty cubits high, and make an engraving in them, ten by twenty cubits, and set them up as the gates of Jerusalem, for it is written, And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles. A certain disciple derided him saying, 'We do not find a jewel even as large as a dove's egg, yet such huge ones are to exist!' Some time later he took a sea journey and saw the ministering angels cutting precious stones and pearls. He said unto them: 'For what are these?' They replied: 'The Holy One, blessed be He, will set them up as the gates of Jerusalem.' On his return, he found R. Johanan sitting and teaching. He said to him: 'Expound, O Master, and it is indeed fitting for you to expound, for even as you did say, so did I myself see.' 'Wretch!' he exclaimed, 'had you not seen, you would not have believed! You deride the words of the Sages!' He set his eyes upon him, and he turned in to a heap of bones

I have a lot more to write on the subject, but most people are probably not going to even read this far. Perhaps in a later post.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin