Thursday, July 31, 2008

Masei: What Did The King Of Arad Hear?

In parashat Masei, we read:
לט וְאַהֲרֹן, בֶּן-שָׁלֹשׁ וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּמֹתוֹ, בְּהֹר הָהָר. {ס} 39 And Aaron was a hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor. {S}
מ וַיִּשְׁמַע, הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ עֲרָד, וְהוּא-יֹשֵׁב בַּנֶּגֶב, בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן--בְּבֹא, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 40 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the children of Israel.--
מא וַיִּסְעוּ, מֵהֹר הָהָר; וַיַּחֲנוּ, בְּצַלְמֹנָה. 41 And they journeyed from mount Hor, and pitched in Zalmonah.
We do not hear the result of his hearing, which is battle. What did he hear? The way this pasuk is structured, with the first ב in בְּבֹא, it seems that he heard X, and he heard this when the Israelites were coming.

Rashi writes:
(מ) וישמע הכנעני -
כאן למדך שמיתת אהרן היא השמועה, שנסתלקו ענני הכבוד וכסבור שנתנה רשות להלחם בישראל, לפיכך חזר וכתבה:
Or in English:
The Canaanite…heard To teach you that it was the news of Aaron’s death that he heard, for the clouds of glory had withdrawn, and he thought that permission had been granted to wage war against Israel. This is why it [Scripture] repeats it [here]. — [R. H. 3a]
The repetition Rashi is referring to is that this already was related in parshat Chukat, at the beginning of Bemidbar 21:
א וַיִּשְׁמַע הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ-עֲרָד, יֹשֵׁב הַנֶּגֶב, כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל, דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים; וַיִּלָּחֶם, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּשְׁבְּ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁבִי. 1 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.
ב וַיִּדַּר יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶדֶר לַה, וַיֹּאמַר: אִם-נָתֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּיָדִי--וְהַחֲרַמְתִּי, אֶת-עָרֵיהֶם. 2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.'
ג וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה בְּקוֹל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי, וַיַּחֲרֵם אֶתְהֶם, וְאֶת-עָרֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם, חָרְמָה. {פ} 3 And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah. {P}
and there, Rashi makes a similar comment:
The Canaanite… heard He heard that Aaron had died and that the clouds of glory had departed… as is stated in [Tractate] Rosh Hashanah (3a). Amalek was always a chastising whip for Israel, ready at any time to mete out punishment. — [Midrash Tanchuma Chukkath 18, Num. Rabbah 19:20]
If we actually examine the gemara in Rosh HaShana, there is no mention of the fact that the repetition in parshat Masei is that which informs of the content of the shmua. Indeed, the gemara in Rosh HaShana 3a only quotes the first few words of the pasuk, such that it is unclear whether the pasuk in Chukas or in Masei is intended. And the preceding pasuk, in both Chukas and Masei, tells over Aharon's death. And the gemara goes on to make a derasha based specifically on the pesukim in Chukas, where "and Israel saw" becomes "and Israel feared." And indeed, the Torah Or assumes that the gemara is referring to Bemidbar 21, in Chukas, rather than Bemidbar 33, in Masei.

Indeed, running with the idea, in theory, that it is only a derasha in Chukas, what could have told us this?

I could suggest that we have parallel in Bereishit 45:
א וְלֹא-יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק, לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, הוֹצִיאוּ כָל-אִישׁ מֵעָלָי; וְלֹא-עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ, בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו. 1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried: 'Cause every man to go out from me.' And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
ב וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹה. 2 And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.
There, the crying aloud causes וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹה. Similarly, at the end of Bemidbar 20, we have the crying by the Israelites:
כט וַיִּרְאוּ, כָּל-הָעֵדָה, כִּי גָוַע, אַהֲרֹן; וַיִּבְכּוּ אֶת-אַהֲרֹן שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם, כֹּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel. {S}

This concept of repetition in Masei, is then Rashi's chiddush, and is not explicit in the gemara. What motivates Rashi in this assertion that the repetition is what causes this interpretation?

You may have noticed that the JPS translation provided with these verses, and how it differs from what Rashi has been saying. They say that he heard of the coming of Israel. This is in line with Ibn Ezra's explanation in Chukas:
ואם תבקש מה שמע הנה מפורש.
I do not believe Ibn Ezra is saying that it is explained here, that it is the death of Aharon at Har HaHar, though one could possibly read that into his words. Rather, he is comparing Chukas with Masei. Continuing to read in Ibn Ezra, it states:
ואם תבקש מה שמע הנה מפורש.
כי בא ישראל דרך האתרים -
as the next dibur hamatchil, and as a continuation of the pasuk.

The fact is, in Chukas, one can easily read the כי of כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים as "that." Thus, we have the peshat that the king of Arad heard that the Israelites were coming. We then do not need to go looking for other things that he heard. However, when it is repeated in Masei, we have instead בְּבֹא בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. Thus, in Masei, it is more difficult to say that the ב in בְּבֹא means "that." This then informs us about Chukas that the כי does not mean "that" but rather "when."

This, then, is Rashi's point. It is the repetition in Masei which is key, for in its repetitious, it becomes clear that it is not the Israelites' coming that he hears of, or "that Israel came by the way of Atharim." If so, vayishma stands alone. And what is left to do is look in the context shared by both Chukas and Masei. And that shared context is the death of Aharon in Har HaHar. Then, they could make that derasha on the preceding pasuk in Chukas.

But it is then not just a derasha. I think Rashi intends this as peshat. That he heard is stated, and on a peshat level, ki means when, as we know from Masei. What he heard must be implicit from the context, and that context is that Israel was down, right after Aharon's death.

What Ibn Ezra would do is force the pasuk in Masei to also mean that he heard "that" Israel was coming. And this is what the JPS translation does. I am not sure it is optimal local peshat, but it certainly is optimal global peshat.

This also relates to my earlier post, about the role of Masei. If Masei was assembled by culling, interpreting and summarizing other pesukim in sefer Bemidbar, this type of construction can be the result.

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