Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Did Levi outlive Ephraim?

Summary: This is unlikely. Rashi's mention of shevatim who died is perhaps imprecise -- he means Yosef's brothers, which would not include Ephraim and Menashe.

Post: In parashat Vaera, a pasuk and Rashi, in Shemot 6:16:
16. And these are the names of Levi's sons after their generations: Gershon, Kehath, and Merari, and the years of Levi's life were one hundred thirty seven years.טז. וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי לֵוִי לְתֹלְדֹתָם גֵּרְשׁוֹן וּקְהָת וּמְרָרִי וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי לֵוִי שֶׁבַע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה:
ושני חיי לוי וגו': למה נמנו שנותיו של לוי, להודיע כמה ימי השעבוד, שכל זמן שאחד מן השבטים קיים לא היה שעבוד, שנאמר (שמות א ו) וימת יוסף וכל אחיו, ואחר כך (שם ח) ויקם מלך חדש, ולוי האריך ימים על כולם:

In English: Why were the years of Levi enumerated? To inform how many years were the servitude, for so long as one of the shevatim were alive, there was no servitude, for it is written (Shemot 1:6) 'and Yosef died, and all his brothers {and all that generation}' and after that (Shemot 1:8) 'and a new king arose', and Levi lived longer than all of them.'

Now, despite the use of the word shevatim, which might indicate all the people who eventually were the heads of the tribe, I don't believe that Rashi intended by this Ephraim and Menashe. My basis for this is that Rashi's prooftext is from Shemot 1:6, that all of Yosef's brothers died. And even if you continue reading 6:1 to include the part Rashi doesn't cite, וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא, Ephraim and Menashe are not part of that generation. Furthermore, he makes the point that Levi lived longer than all of them, which would be relevant for people who were born more or less the same time, as Yaakov's direct children were. But there is a difference of perhaps 40 or 50 years to Ephraim and Menashe! So, while Yaakov's blessing to Yosef's two lads makes them into shevatim, don't read Rashi so deliberately, and so cause Rashi to say something he never intended.

Therefore, I feel I must differ with the Taz, who considers Rashi to be saying just that, and therefore harmonizes this statement a midrash that has Ephraim mourning his sons when they try leaving Egypt just 30 years prematurely. It must be that Ephraim is looking into the future prophetically, and this is why he cannot be consoled at the loss of his sons -- when he is mourning, they are still alive, and one cannot be consoled for someone who is still alive. (One would think that having had this prophecy, he would have given them warning and averted this disaster.) Often, I feel that the correct way of dealing with questions on Rashi, gemaras, etc., is to question the assumptions which led to the question in the first place.

Here is the Taz:
"And the years of Levi's life, etc." -- 'that so long as one of the shevatim were alive there was no servitude.' There is a supremely difficult question by force of this, for behold, we say in a midrash in parashat Beshalach that the sons of Ephraim attempted to hasten the end time to leave from Egypt by thirty years, and because of this they were killed by the men of Gath, who were the Philistines, and so is explained in the piyut of the seventh day of Pesach {in the Chazarat HaSha"tz of Shacharit, in the first piyut, Eimat Nore'otecha}, {that Hashem turned the path of the Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt in order} 'to prevent them from seeing the {Philistine} troops and the bones of Zavad and Shutelach'. which are the sons of Ephraim as is explained in I Divrei Hayamim 7, 'and the sons of Ephraim, Shutelach his son, etc., and the men of Gath slew them for they descended to take their cattle, and Ephraim their father mourned for many days, and his brethren came to comfort him'. The implication is that Ephraim and his brethren were living at the time of the killing of Zavad and Shutelach, and this is impossible! For behold all of the shevatim died before the beginning of the servitude, as is mentioned here, and so how can it be said that Zavad and Shutelach were killed close to the exodus from Egypt?! And it seems fitting to answer that after we further analyze this pasuk closely there, we note that it states that 'Ephraim mourned many days' and so, did not accept comfort from his brothers, more than the customary measure. Why was this? Rather, the matter is as follows -- that 
the sons of Ephraim were not killed in his lifetime. Rather, he saw prophetically that in the future they would be killed. And the intent of the Scriptures by 'and they killed' was that afterwards they would be killed, just as in {Bereishit 20:11, regarding Avraham and Sarah} 'and they would kill me {veharaguni} on the matter of my wife', that the explanation is about the future. And regarding that which it states 'ki yardu lakachat mikneihem', the yud {in yardu} has a kamatz, which makes it past tense, which would mean that at the time of the killing, this event had already occurred, of descending to take the cattle. And therefore he was mourning for them, and it was for many days, for in truth they were still alive, and we don't {emotionally} accept comfort upon someone who is still alive, as we say regarding Yaakov in parashat Vayeshev, 'and he mourned for his son for many days' for this reason {that Yosef was not really dead}. And so it was, absolutely, by Ephraim, that his sons were still alive within his lifetime. (So appears to me correct, and true, with the aid of Heaven.)

If I agreed with the question, my first inclination would be to declare these conflicting midrashim, rather than to drastically rewrite the meaning of one of the midrashim. And maybe Rashi here is not endorsing that midrash. After all, in Beshalach, here is how he explains the pasuk:

17. It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egyptיז. וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם וְלֹא נָחָם אֱ־לֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי אָמַר אֱ־לֹהִים פֶּן יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה:
ויהי בשלח פרעה וגו' ולא נחם: ולא נהגם, כמו (שמות לב לד) לך נחה את העם, (משלי ו כב) בהתהלכך תנחה אותך:
כי קרוב הוא: ונוח לשוב באותו הדרך למצרים. ומדרשי אגדה יש הרבה:
בראתם מלחמה: כגון מלחמת (במדבר יד מה) וירד העמלקי והכנעני וגו'. אם הלכו דרך ישר היו חוזרים, ומה אם כשהקיפם דרך מעוקם אמרו (במדבר יד ד) נתנה ראש ונשובה מצרימה, אם הוליכם בפשוטה על אחת כמה וכמה:
פן ינחם: יחשבו מחשבה על שיצאו ויתנו לב לשוב:

No mention is made of seeing the effects of the war the Bnei Ephraim waged with the Pelishtim.

But I would first question the key assumption, that shevatim includes Ephraim and Menashe. With that. the entire difficulty falls away, and we could learn simple peshat in the midrash.

As to this midrash about Bnei Ephraim leaving early, see here and then here.

Note that in terms of peshat in Divrei Hayamim, I don't think that it accords with the midrash. The pesukim in Divrei Hayamim read:

כ  וּבְנֵי אֶפְרַיִם, שׁוּתָלַח; וּבֶרֶד בְּנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ, וְאֶלְעָדָה בְנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ.20 And the sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah--and Bered was his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Tahath his son,
כא  וְזָבָד בְּנוֹ וְשׁוּתֶלַח בְּנוֹ, וְעֵזֶר וְאֶלְעָד; וַהֲרָגוּם, אַנְשֵׁי-גַת הַנּוֹלָדִים בָּאָרֶץ, כִּי יָרְדוּ, לָקַחַת אֶת-מִקְנֵיהֶם.21 and Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son--and Ezer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.
כב  וַיִּתְאַבֵּל אֶפְרַיִם אֲבִיהֶם, יָמִים רַבִּים; וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶחָיו, לְנַחֲמוֹ.22 And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him.
כג  וַיָּבֹא, אֶל-אִשְׁתּוֹ, וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ בְּרִיעָה, כִּי בְרָעָה הָיְתָה בְּבֵיתוֹ.23 And he went in to his wife, and she conceived, and bore a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house.
כד  וּבִתּוֹ שֶׁאֱרָה, וַתִּבֶן אֶת-בֵּית-חוֹרוֹן הַתַּחְתּוֹן וְאֶת-הָעֶלְיוֹן, וְאֵת, אֻזֵּן שֶׁאֱרָה.24 And his daughter was Sheerah, who built Beth-horon the nether and the upper, and Uzzen-sheerah.
כה  וְרֶפַח בְּנוֹ, וְרֶשֶׁף וְתֶלַח בְּנוֹ--וְתַחַן בְּנוֹ.25 And Rephah was his son, and Resheph, and Telah his son, and Tahan his son;
כו  לַעְדָּן בְּנוֹ עַמִּיהוּד בְּנוֹ, אֱלִישָׁמָע בְּנוֹ.26 Ladan his son, Ammihud his son, Elishama his son;
כז  נוֹן בְּנוֹ, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּנוֹ.27 Nun his son, Joshua his son.

Note how it ends Nun beno, Yehoshua beno. The simple implication is that this form introduces son after son, not two parallel brothers. Nun and Yehoshua were father and son, not brothers of someone preceding. If so (despite the connective vav), in pasuk 21, Zavad and Shutelach were not brothers to each other and direct sons of Ephraim. They were father and son to each other, and descendants along the line from Ephraim. This Shutelach was presumably a descendant of the Shutelach in pasuk 20, named after his ancestor. The midrash, in a closed-canon approach, equates the two, in which case perhaps everyone in pasuk 21 are brothers who were killed, but on a peshat level, this is not necessarily the case.

Meanwhile, in pasuk 21, Ezer and Elead are presumably actually direct sons of Ephraim, and brothers to the Shutelach mentioned in pasuk 20. Thus, Ephraim at this point had three sons, Shutelach, Ezer, and Elead. Ezer and Elead (and perhaps Shutelach) were killed by Philistines and Ephraim mourned them. This was well before yetziat Mitzrayim.

The midrash analyzes these pesukim in a different manner. Once it does, there still is peshat in the midrash, and the Taz's harmonization deviates from this peshat to such an extent that it is an entirely different midrash.


jewish tallit said...

Wow very interesting piece!

I might send this to our newsletter list.

Yankel said...

If you start off "this is unlikely," shouldn't the title be "Did Levi outlive Ephraim?"

joshwaxman said...

yes. thank you; i'll fix it.


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