Friday, April 30, 2010

Some thoughts on Bimsei Me'at

We continue darshening from Arami Oved Avi, continuing the first pasuk:

במתי מעט -- This, as well, falls into the pattern of one element in the short narrative functioning as an arrow pointing at the longer arrow. This is a description of how Yaakov went down with 70 souls, at the beginning of the Galus in Egypt. Sometimes, 70 is a lot, and is the number signifying many. Indeed, before confronting Esav, he related how he started out alone, with only his staff, and yet now, he is comprised of two camps. But perhaps this is relative. It is a lot for a family, perhaps. But it is quite small for a nation! The text pointed at goes from a countable number, 70, to the multitude of the stars. This is, then, perhaps another transition from genai to shevach, and is part of the more general theme of developing into a nation.

ויהי שם -- the derasha is being made not on the word gadol which was cited in this version of the text, but on the word גוי. They became a people. And perhaps on the word גוי combined with the word שם. While there, they became their own nation. They were identifiable, and thus began to develop a national identity. (The citation of the word גדול likely reflects an uncertainty of whether that word should be part of the citation for the next derasha, or not.)

גדול ועצום -- this haggadah, from 1590, appears to cite the pasuk wrong in this derasha! Yet when they cite the whole verse, they get it right. In fact, the Haggadah is not citing the pasuk incorrectly. Rather, it is being true to the Sifrei. For if you look in the Sifrei, you will see that it, too, cites it as gadol ve'atzum.

So perhaps the Sifrei cited the pasuk incorrectly? This is plausible. However, we should realize that in the Samaritan Torah, the text is indeed גדול ועצום ורב. Because of lectio difficilior, I believe that our Masoretic text is accurate here. However, this is an indication that the Sifrei was darshening a non-masoretic text, something we have already seen on parshablog a number of times. 

The small printing of ועצום may be an attempt to fit the word on the line; or to give more emphasis to גדול in the derasha which follows. But I have a suspicion that, in part, it reflect uncertainty that this word should be cited as it was cited.

The indication that they increased to such a great degree may come from multiple sources. I favor a simple linkage between עצום and ויעצמו. But perhaps גדול can come into the picture, as gadol atzum, a mighty increase, proved by all these languages. This latter does not work out so well if the source pasuk was believed to be גדול ועצום, as discussed, for then עצום could not modify גדול. Rather, it stands alone, modifying גוי. Perhaps the multiple languages of increase, גדול, עצום, and רב is reminiscent of the multiple languages of increase.

I wonder if עוצם as a show of strength is intended, so as to lead into the Egyptians' fearful reaction.

ורב -- the derasha is based on the word ותרבי. Why cite this pasuk over any other that has the word רב? Because the point, here, is not the increase. Rather, it means mature. For a girl, it is as described. For a people, it is becoming a nation.

Note that in this same Haggadah, they only cite this one pasuk. They do not cite the bedamayich chayi pasuk. This is because it was initially only intended to be a prooftext about maturity. Only later did it become a reference to the dual blood of korban Pesach and bris Milah.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Egyptian magic and barley seeds

A short response to a DovBear post on Chumash, alas in error. The post is a rant on how Chumash is taught. An excerpt:
If you're like me, you have several friends who pontificate about Egyptian magic. All of their knowledge comes from Rashi, and one of the "facts" they confidently cite is that Egyptian magic had no power over anything smaller than a barley seed.

They're confident of this fact, not because they've done any research, or made any observations, but merely because Rashi reports it. Unfortunately, they've missed the boat.
In the case of the barley seed midrash  Rashi quotes the midrash accurately but provides us with only one of two opinions

Turn to BT Snahedrin  67b. You'll find an argument between  R. Eliezer and R. Papa. R. Eliezer is of the opinion that magicians can produce creatures from nothing, but only if the creature is larger than a barley seed. When he shares this theory with R. Papa, however, it is met with what appears to be anger and disgust:
R. Papa said: By God! [this is an exclamation] he cannot produce even something as large as a camel.
R. Papa goes on to say that the magicians had the power of summoning, but not of creating. R. Papa's view is not recorded by Rashi, and is therefore ignored by the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of O.J so-called scholars who pride themselves on their Torah knowledge, but don't seem able to remember what they have presumably seen on the pages of the Talmud when they discuss Chumash.
The first problem is that DovBear assumes Rashi is basing himself on Rabbi Eleazar, rather than Rav Papa. But see the Rashi:

14. And the necromancers did likewise with their secret rites to bring out the lice, but they could not, and the lice were upon man and beast. יד. וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים בְּלָטֵיהֶם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת הַכִּנִּים וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ וַתְּהִי הַכִּנָּם בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה:
to bring out the lice: To create them (another version: to bring them out) from someplace else. להוציא את הכנים: לבראותם ממקום אחר:
but they could not: Because a demon has no power over a creature smaller than a barleycorn. — [from Sanh. 67b, Tanchuma, Va’era 14, Exod. Rabbah 10:7] ולא יכלו: שאין השד שולט על בריה פחותה מכשעורה:

Note the words ממקום אחר. That, in and of itself, implies summoning, rather than creating. Judaica Press also cites a variant girsa of Rashi which has "to bring them out" (likely, lehotziam, but I am not researching it right now) which would make the summoning even more explicit.

The second problem is that even if Rashi was basing himself on Rabbi Eleazar, Rav Papa doesn't really argue. Rav Papa argues on the ability of shedim to create rather than summon, but Rav Papa agrees that in summoning, they have no power over something smaller than a barleycorn.

This is explicit in the aforementioned gemara in Sanhedrin:
Then the magicians said unto Pharoah, This is the finger of God:  R. Eleazar, said: This proves that a magician cannot produce a creature less than a barley corn in size. R. Papa said: By God! he cannot produce even something as large as a camel; but these [larger than a barley corn] he can [magically] collect [and so produce the illusion that he has magically created them], the others he cannot.
DovBear only produced the first half of Rav Papa's statement. The second half is all about the barleycorn distinction. 

And so, Rashi is likely going according to Rav Papa, and even so, correctly cites this distinction. Note that Rashi says שולט and not בורא.

Midrash Tanchuma has this as action, rather than creation or bringing, thought it does likely mean creating:
ויעשו כן החרטומים בלטיהםאמר רבי יוחנן:
בלטיהםמעשה שדים.
בלהטיהםמעשה כשפים.
לפי שאין השד יכול לעשות פחות מכשעורה.
Midrash Rabba has the same as the gemara, with Rabanan instead of Rav Papa:
ויעשו כן החרטומים להוציא את הכנים ולא יכולו אמר רבי אלעזר:
מכאן אתה למד, שאין השד יכול לבראות פחות מכשעורה.

ורבנן אמרי:
אפילו כגמלא לא מצי בראו, אלא האי מכניף ליה והאי לא מכניף ליה.

ויאמרו החרטומים אל פרעה אצבע אלהים היא כיון שראו החרטומים, שלא יוכלו להוציא הכנים, מיד הכירו שהיו המעשים מעשה אלהים ולא מעשה שדים, ועוד לא חששו לדמות עצמן למשה להוציא המכות: 
But even so, by saying אלא האי מכניף ליה והאי לא מכניף ליה, they agree to the barleycorn distinction.

And so, DovBear's friends seem to be absolutely right! Because:
one of the "facts" they confidently cite is that Egyptian magic had no power over anything smaller than a barley seed. 
and there is no dispute about that.
(If not for the fact that demons and magic are not real, of course.)

posts so far for parshat Emor

  1. Emor sources -- revamped, with over 100 meforshim on the parasha and haftara.
  2. The tipecha on tisperu -- analyzing a suggestion that the trup indicates a division which corresponds to the halacha of counting 49 days rather than 50. I believe that it does not pan out.
  3. The difference between karet and ibud, and if there is such a difference, just because different pesukim utilize different terminology.

  1. Shaving, as specifically for a meis? In part one, a possible peshat meaning; in part two, evidence from Yeshaya and Herodotus; in part three, evidence from Iyov and Yirmeyah.
  2. Emor sources -- links by aliyah and perek to an online Mikraos Gedolos, and links to many meforshim on the parshah and haftarah.
  3. Emor veAmarta -- is the duplication just normal Biblical style, or does it convey some special meaning?
  4. Where is the kohen's wife mentioned? Explicitly, implicitly, or not at all? And what is to be done for the married sister?
  5. The day after the Shabbat: what is it? First, why I think there is a compelling argument for the Rabbinic view, that it is the day after the first day of Yom Tov of Pesach. Second, why if we disagree with the rabbinic view, I would sooner adopt an explanation of it after the "week" of Pesach over the Karaite view. Third, the Karaite view, from Aharon ben Yosef, and my reaction to it. Fourth, Rav Shamshon ben Refael Hirsch's defense of the rabbinic position, based also on Rambam. Fifth, Shadal, and with him Ibn Ezra and Kuzari, that the Karaites are correct but that Saturday is just an example, but that it could be any day of Chazal's choosing. Still more planned, but we will see if I get to it.... Yes. Sixth, some concluding thoughts.
  6. Mum's the word -- grappling with the exclusion of maimed sacrifices and kohanim from the Temple service.
  1. LeNefesh lo yitamma beAmav, but which am and whose am? The class of deceased, or of potential actors? Rashi, Shadal, and my own suggestion. I assume in this post that it means the am of kohanim. This year (2009), I intend to offer a different suggestion.
  2. Covering one's sukkah with the arba minim, which might be based in part on a pasuk in parshat Emor. Part ipart iipart iiipart iv.
  • The Blasphemer Left -- But From Where?
    • It states vayetzei - but from where? Rashi: From the world. But which world? Of religiosity, from this world, from Olam haBa?
      Rabbi Levi says the same thing in Toledot about Esav. And refers to Golaith as well.
      Siftei Chachamim has a brilliant suggestion based on semichut, where olam is the immediately preceding word in our parsha. Of course, this is not the case elsewhere.
      An alternative, cited by Rashi: He went out, deriving from the contents of the previous parsha; or that he left the courtroom of Moshe, having lost his case. And some pointers as to what other textual cues spark this interpretation about a court case.
      Ibn Ezra says he left his tent. Perhaps he is reading emotion into this, based on his choice of prooftexts (Datan and Aviram), or perhaps not.
      Tg Yonatan explains that he left Egypt together with the Israelites, an explanation with great homiletic promise.
      Ramban associates it with the target location, betoch benei Yisrael.
      A discussion about what others do with betoch benei Yisrael. And a relation to the conversion of the blasphemer, or perhaps his father.
      Then, my own take on all of this, and the role of vayetzei.
  • No Punishment for Cursing/And Excusing the Woman Who Vows?
    • Cross-listed with Matot. A creative midrashic endeavor without the bounds of narrative and halachic derash.
  • Haftarat Emor: Yechezkel the Torah Scholar, Yechezkel the Prophet
    • Rather than harmonizing apparently contradictory laws between Torah and Yechezkel about who a kohen may marry, I point out what pesukim in Torah Yechezkel is apparently interpreting differently from Chazal. And argue that Yechezkel may do so as a Torah scholar, and not as a prophet. And Elu veElu. And hilchesa kebatrai, so we rely on Chazal's understandings of the same.

  • An "Eye" for an Eye: The Concept of Proportional Punishment
    • A discussion of "an eye for an eye" as it appears in parshat Emor. Chazal say it means monetary payment. I agree as a matter of peshat, not just derash. I examine the psukim in context, which is a contrast between the death penalty for one who murders a man, as opposed to monetary payment when one kills an animal. This contrast is repeated, framing the verses stating "an eye for an eye." One does not pay wergild for deliberately murdering a man, nor does one lose his life for killing an animal. We do see such payment in parshat Mishpatim if one's animal kills a man, and we see in the same chapter that there is monetary payment for injuring one's fellow (as opposed to being injured oneself). I made another analysis, coming to the same conclusion, for the "eye for an eye" mentioned in parshat Mishpatim.
  • The Blasphemer
    • A contrast between the Midrash which states that the Egyptian killed by Moshe in Egypt for striking the Hebrew was the father of the blasphemer, and that he had just slept with Shlomit, and the Midrash which states that when Moshe looked to and fro and saw there was no man, he saw into the future that there would be no descendant who would be part of the Jewish people. An obvious harmonization is that the reason Moshe looked for descendants was not that the merit of such descendants would save the Egyptian, who deserved what he got, but that by killing the Egyptian, he would be preventing said descendants from coming into being. This parallels the bloodguilt Kayin had not only for Hevel but for all of Hevel's descendants. Even had the blasphemer been an upright guy, he had already been conceived. I consider this idea and others in more detail on a post on parshat Shemot.
  • Is Blasphemy A Crime Even In America?
    • I note the case of a Hindu man suing a company for blaspheming Ganesh.
to be continued...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The difference between karet and ibud

Usually, when Hashem specifies a Divinely-imposed punishment, it is kares. Yet, in Vayikra 23:30, there is a seemingly different punishment:
כט  כִּי כָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תְעֻנֶּה, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה--וְנִכְרְתָה, מֵעַמֶּיהָ. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.
ל  וְכָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה כָּל-מְלָאכָה, בְּעֶצֶם, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה--וְהַאֲבַדְתִּי אֶת-הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּהּ. 30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any manner of work in that same day, that soul will I destroy from among his people.

What is the difference between these two, between וְנִכְרְתָה and וְהַאֲבַדְתִּי? In either case, it seems that it is imposed upon הַנֶּפֶשׁ. Though nefesh might mean "soul", or might mean "person", "individual".

Rashi gives the following explanation:

I will destroy: כָּרֵת (“excision” or “cutting off”) is stated [as a punishment] in many places [in Scripture] and I do not know what that means, when God says [explicitly] “I will destroy,” [coinciding with וְנִכְרְתָה in the preceding verse,] this teaches us כָּרֵת means only “destruction” [i.e., premature death, and not that the body is to be cut up or that the person is to be exiled]. — [See Be’er Basadeh on this verse and on 22:3 above; Torath Kohanim 23:180]והאבדתי: לפי שהוא אומר כרת בכל מקום ואיני יודע מה הוא, כשהוא אומר והאבדתי, למד על הכרת שאינו אלא אבדן:

As noted in the translation, Rashi pulls this from Torat Kohanim:
כי כל הנפש אשר לא תעונה בעצם היום הזה
ונכרתה הרי זו עונש עינוי. והאבדתי מה
תלמוד לומר לפי שהוא אומר כרת בכל מקום
ואיני יודע מהו. כשהוא אומר והאבדתי לימד
על הכרת שאין אלא אבדן.

This makes sense, on a peshat level. See how a phrase is used in similar context, and assume that one is a synonym for the other. Do not assume that slight variance in word-choice means that a completely different punishment is in play.

Despite Rashi saying it, and despite it being a matter of theology encoded by Chazal, Ibn Ezra does not agree with this conflation in terms in order to arrive at a definition of the one. Thus,
כג, ל]
והאבדתי -
יש הפרש בינו ובין ונכרתה ולא אוכל לפרש.
That is, there is in fact a difference between the two. But he is unable to explain it.

I am not certain what Ibn Ezra means that he is unable to explain it. He could mean one of two possible things. Either that he does not know the difference, but is certain that there is a difference. Or, he could mean that he knows the difference, but since this is a deep spiritual matter, he is unable to explain the difference to his readers, the uninitiated. Either seems possible to me.

Ibn Caspi, though, feels himself perfectly capable of explaining the difference. He writes:
וכל הנפש אשר תעשה כל מלאכה . היטיב א"ע במה
שאמר: יש הפרש בין ונכרתה ובין והאבדתי ולא אוכל לפרש. ואמת
כי העירו בזה להיות שני אלו הפסוקים סמוכים והבדיל ביניהם ואמר
על הפורע הענוי עונש כרת, ועל העושה מלאכה עונש איבוד, וכבר
התבאר כי כרת הוא המחת זרעו ושמו, וזה עונש גופני, והאבוד חמור
מזה, ובלי ספק ראוי שיהיה עונש העושה מלאכה יותר חמור:

That is, Ibn Ezra writes well, and there is indeed a distinction between these two. And still, it is correct that these two pesukim are juxtaposed, and yet that there is a distinction between them. The one who does not practice inui on Yom Kippur gets the punishment of karet, and this was already explained as a destruction of his lineage and his name, and this is a physical punishment. And אבוד is more severe than this; and without a doubt it is appropriate that the punishment of one who performs labor should be more severe.

Ibn Caspi does not specify just what this more severe punishment is. But in stressing that kareis is physical, gufani, the implication seems to be that אבוד is spiritual. (See Ibn Caspi earlier on karet and ibud, though.)

And just what is kareis? (See Sanhedrin 64b, and varying levels.) There are a number of possibilities. It could be cutting off, as in early death. (Say, before age 60.) It could be cutting off descendants. It could be some spiritual punishment, such that the soul is severed, distanced, from Hashem, after death. It could be destruction of the soul, such that it ceases to exist. Or it could be some combination of these, or something else entirely.

Conflating the terms allows for extreme definitions of karet. Dividing the terms allows for general karet to be less severe. For example, Ibn Caspi regards karet as a physical punishment, and ibud as something more severe. This might be more extreme physically, or likely spiritually. Ibn Ezra makes a distinction, but does not outlay precisely what. If so, karet might be spiritual, as well. Given that ibud is the name of the more severe, and given that some medieval Rishonim (I am thinking Rambam and Ramban) discussed the utter destruction of the soul, the distinction might be between punishment and destruction.

I see now that a short while ago, on Hirhurim, Rabbi Gil Student discussed several medieval Jewish conceptions of kareit. See his post. This intersects with the discussion above.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unlocking the Torah Text: Vayikra -- A Review

A few weeks back I received a review copy of Unlocking the Torah Text: Vayikra, by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin. (Available for purchase here.) And I have held off a review until I finished the book, which was a few weeks ago. You can read all about the author here. An excerpt of his bio:
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, New Jersey, since 1984. With a membership of over 700 families, Ahavath Torah is the largest orthodox synagogue in Northern New Jersey.

He is an instructor of Bible and Philosophy at the Isaac Breuer College and the James Striar School of Yeshiva University; the founding director of and lecturer at The Eve Flechner Torah Institute-an institute of Torah study located in the Bergen County community; and has served on the faculty of numerous other institutes. Rabbi Goldin is past President of Rabbinic Alumni of Yeshiva University, past President of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and former Chairman of its Kashruth Committee. He is a member of other various prominent Jewish organizations and is the founder and chairman of Shvil Hazahav...

Here is a photo of him, to the left. On to my review...

It is difficult to write an engaging book on sefer Vayikra, and the author discusses this in the introduction. To put it in my own words and thoughts, and to expand on the idea quite a bit, Vayikra is very detail-oriented. And these details repeat over and over, with slight variations. And while kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash may have readily understood and applied these laws, such that practical experience would open up the sefer and render it both useful and easily understood, we do not have a Beit Hamikdash or Mishkan before us to make this entirely comprehensible. This repetition of now-arcane detail makes the text of Vayikra simultaneously dense and boring.

And that which we can partly understand, and have the will to consider, we have difficulty relating to. Living in the Western World, in the 21st century, can we really relate to korbanot? It is something we might grapple with. Why should Hashem want us to kill and tear up a poor defenseless animal, and burn its parts and fats on the mizbayach? Why should a non-corporeal, all-powerful God demand this of us? What are we to make of the strange rituals for the leper? There are answers, good ones, but many a modern reader still has difficulty relating to this, and understanding the deep meaning.

And even without all these difficulties, to put it plainly, narrative is usually much more interesting than law. And while one is relatively unconstrained in offering interpretation of narrative (though whether one may argue with midrashim is perhaps a good, modern debate), one is (usually) extremely constrained in interpreting the Torah's legal codes. The end result is that if an Orthodox author offers interpretation, it is a rehash of the midrash halacha and the gemara on these matters. And this material is already out there, and does not truly engage a typical modern reader. The types of derashot -- kelal ufrat, gezeira shava, miut achar miut, etc., might excite lawyers, but not the Jewish reader at large.

Different authors take different approaches to Vayikra. For example, midrash halacha will simply analyze the text. Rashi will present a consistent traditional interpretation, based on midrash halacha, but will also include a bit of homiletic material. Certain midrashim, which are usually narrative midrashim, may find the deep homiletic meanings inherent in the laws, or else tie in other Biblical incidents into the laws. Some meforshim may try to explain how the halacha is peshat, despite other possibilities, when fighting with Karaites. Some (e.g. Rashbam) may provide alternate interpretations of law codes, under the label of peshat, though of course one should not act on it. Some (e.g. Ibn Caspi) may simply side-step many of the tough and boring areas entirely, pointing out that for a good traditional interpretation, one may simply consult with Rashi. Some, such as myself, may focus on a tangential matter, such as matters of trup and masorah, and thus find material that is interesting to some. Yes, Vayikra is different, and an author must grapple with this.

Rabbi Goldin's goal appears to be to create an engaging text on Vayikra by sidestepping the discussions of arcane and intricate details, for the most part, and focusing instead on the deep questions raised by the text. These deep questions are precisely what would otherwise make the text difficult to relate to. How can a transcendent God demand physical korbanot? What, then, is the meaning of korbanot? Is it not unfair to exclude a disfigured person from serving as a kohen? How come there are different castes of Israelites -- regular Yisraelim, Leviim, and Kohanim? "Is there any rhyme or reason to the laws of kashrut"? What is the import of shogeg?

In all of these, he does not initially try to innovate. Rather, his goal is to present to the reader the classic opinions on these matters, in a clear and orderly fashion. Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni take this approach. Rambam and Abarbanel take this other approach. His presentation often involves some elaboration, developing the ideas further than they might exist explicitly in the text. And at the close of each chapter, he includes a section called "Points to Ponder", which is a further developed idea, and a take-away message / thought, often with an illustrative story.

All in all, very nice. And I think he accomplished his goal, which was to present an array of opinions within traditional Jewish thought on a number of "difficult" topics, and to tie these in to the parashat hashavua such that it provides an engaging and entertaining commentary on each week's Torah portion.

That was the "good". Now, for the slight critique.

I usually learn parashat hashavua with Junior, my five-year-old. And when I sat down one Shabbos morning to read this book, Junior requested that I learn it with him, and read it aloud to him. I wasn't sure it was age-appropriate, but I agreed. We began with the portion of Vayikra, and the question of why Hashem demands korbanot. Junior raised a number of objections, among them wondering just what the difficulty was. I explained, if Hashem is non-physical, and All-Powerful, then why does He need korbanot? Junior explained patiently that there is a difference between "want" and "need". Hashem does not require korbanot. He just desires korbanot! But why, I asked? Well, answered Junior, because he likes the sweet smell. It is a pasuk, that it is a reach nichoach isheh laHashem.

Now, I will not deny that the question is a deep one: What is the purpose of korbanot? After all, many a Rishon grapples with this question. Rambam suggests it was a requirement because of a society which had yet to be weaned off idolatry. If this were not a difficult question, it would not have sparked such discussion throughout the ages.

But perhaps, where we are uncomfortable with Biblical theology, it is are own fault. The Torah will often come into conflict with modern culture, mores, ethics, and attitudes. In case of such a conflict, there are at least, and approximately, four possibilities.

(A) The Torah's morality and approach is the correct one, and we live in a krum, corrupt society. (Feminism? Feh!)
(B) Our modern approach is the correct one, and that the Torah differs betrays a fault in the Torah. (How can a Divine Torah not be feminist? The Torah must be not of Divine origin! How can a Divine Torah not be Marxist, which is obviously the correct approach? It must not be from the Divine! How can a Divine Torah not be Democratic? Socialist? Fascist?)
(C) The Torah was one expression, and was appropriate given the existing ancient society. Dibra Torah kileshon benei Adam. And it is misguided to judge the Torah unfavorably by modern standards. (Given that the alternative was starvation for the poor, and given the protections afforded her and the possibility of emerging from pauper-status, the laws of amah ivriya are actually quite positive and progressive.)
(D) We must interpret the Torah in light of our modern knowledge and morals. Since we believe in Communism, we will show how the Torah really promotes Communist ideals. Or it is really a feminist tract. And so on and so forth.

All these difficult things Rabbi Goldin grapples with, and which several Rishonim and Acharonim preceded him in grappling with -- perhaps one should not grapple. And in adopting approach (D), one may really be perverting the Torah's ideals. (In one chapter, "A Decades-Old Bar Mitzvah Challenge", Rabbi Goldin admits that his discomfort with the disqualification of a blemished kohen is not shared by Rashi and other Rishonim, and considers why that might be.)  But the values of the next generation will not equal that of the present generation, just as the values of the present generation was not equal to that of the previous generation. We consider this progress, but perhaps it is simply difference. Perhaps Junior's approach is the better one.

Despite this difference of opinion, I should note that Junior enjoyed what I read him of the book. I week after reading the initial chapter, I posted a link to a Hirhurim mention of it a while back, which included a cover image, and Junior saw the thumbnail and excitedly said, "Hey, it is Unlocking the Torah Text! That must be the one one Sefer Bamidbar, or on Sefer Devarim!" (He likes the idea of complete sets.)

My second critique is a bit harsher, but I should stress up front that it is not directed at the author, but at his whole system of Biblical exegesis. My beef is not with Rabbi Goldin, but with Nechama Leibovitch. And asking me to review this book is then a bit like asking Bet Shammai to review Bet Hillel.

The problem goes to a deep issue, which is the very definition of pshat and drash. Rabbi Goldin indeed agrees that there is a distinction between them, and that making this distinction is critical. Thus, in his introduction, Rabbi Goldin writes:

Thus, he does make the distinction, and decries those who conflate these two approaches to text. As he writes, "when we ignore the pshat and instead offer drash as the literal interpretation of the text -- we end up understanding neither of these interpretive realms. In our studies, therefore, we will make every attempt to distinguish between pshat and drash and to present each approach appropriately."

However, I emphatically disagree with his definitions of pshat and drash. As described in the excerpt above, pshat is the concrete, ("true") meaning of the text, together with deep analysis which reveals deep, unexpected meaning. Whereas, (following "many authorities") drash is never "meant to be taken literally, nor is it meant to be seen as an attempt to explain the factual meaning of a specific Torah passage.

My own approach to peshat and drash is somewhat different. There are not only two distinct approaches, but three or more. (I write his pshat and drash without using e for the shva na, while my own I write peshat and derash with an e

Derash -- is result of the application of a set of particular midrashic analytical methodologies to discover hidden meaning which is not apparent on simple, the surface level of the text. Thus, e.g., a gezeira shava, or a reinterpretation of a distant text, or understanding gam to be inclusive of something else. Also, it involves playing extreme attention to details and nuance, past where one usually pays attention. And it involves a sort of hyper-literalism, in which the literal meaning of a word is taken to its extreme, often ignoring context or usual patterns of speech in natural language.  The result of such derash might be something entirely believable to the modern reader, or perhaps not. But derash is discovered meaning, by applying midrashic methods.

Peshat, on the other hand, is the simple, consistent meaning of the text without application of these midrashic methods. I am extremely hesitant to use the word "literal", because while it is indeed the literal meaning, midrash is often more literal than peshat. For example, in terms of the "nefesh" that they (=Avraham and Sarah) "made" (asu) in Charan, on a peshat level it means something along the lines of acquiring many servants. But hyper-literally, one might assume that they "made" (rather than acquired) "souls". And this could involve creating golems via Sefer Yetzira; or it could involve converting people to monotheism, Avraham the men and Sarah the women. Which is peshat and which is derash? The peshat is often NOT the most literal interpretation, but a realization that dibra Torah kilshon bnei Adam and trying to find the interpretation that makes the least waves and the most sense in context.

Derush -- is interpreting the Biblical text in order to arrive at some homiletic lesson. Often, in this type of midrash, the texts are not prooftexts to the thesis, but rather pre-texts.

That is my set of definitions. Rabbi Goldin, or rather the general school to which he appears to subscribe, does not make these distinctions. If so, I believe that certain types of interpretations are assigned to the wrong categories. Namely, since pshat had been defined as things that are true and the result of close reading, then midrash aggadah we believe to be true, and derived from close reading is pshat! (I would label it derash.) Further, any aggadah which we do not believe to be true, we assume was meant allegorically (instead of sometimes saying that we differ with Chazal as to the plausibility of the matter), and so it is drash (=my derush). There is no middle ground of midrash which we would consider fantastic but was meant as historically true. It is either pshat or drash, where the latter = derush.

I often decry both approaches. The latter, about assuming every midrash we disagree with must be allegorical, I complained about, for example, in this post. But the former is also extremely problematic, because the end result is that one often conflates derash, or worse, derush, with peshat. An example of this, from Unlocking the Torah Text: Vayikra. This, from parashat Vayikra. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes:

Alas, his "question" is based on a close reading, and presents a deep meaning of the text -- perhaps something that is now "unlocked' -- and so he appears to believe that this is peshat. The pasuk states asher nasi yecheta, rather than ki nasi yecheta. That implies a certainty that he will sin. It is when a leader will sin, rather than if a leader will sin.

This need not be the peshat. Nor must it be intended as peshat rather than as derush. The first one to make this connection, that I know of, is Rabbi Moshe de Leon, in late 13th century. In Zohar (III, 23a) adds, vadai yecheta. He is followed in this idea by Rabbenu Bachya (d. 1340). And also, by Seforno (1475-1550). (However, perhaps it appears earlier, if Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni take steps to counter it.)

Now, this might well be derush, not even derash. Certainly, the point of the Torah text, on a peshat level, is to detail the korbanot a nasi must bring in the event of sinning. The idea that he will sin is meant to be commentary on human nature, and is entirely orthogonal to the main peshat point of the text. It strikes me as homiletic, and as pre-text rather than prooftext. So I would label it derash. (The difference between ki and asher is of no consequence; natural language varies, and a speaker can sometimes use one term and sometimes use a synonym.)

Yet this derasha is "famous", and it seems to be a deep insight that the Torah is trying to convey to us. Furthermore, pshat is literal, and there is surely a difference between the common word  If so, goes the school of thought, it must be peshat. And if famous pashtanim do not advance it, then we must explain why they do not do so.

Rashi writes as follows:
כב) אשר נשיא יחטא - לשון אשרי, אשרי הדור שהנשיא שלו נותן לב להביא כפרה על שגגתו, קל וחומר שמתחרט על זדונותיו:
Happy is the generation whose prince sets his heart to bring atonement upon his accidental sin, and (/for) all the more so, that he regrets his intentional sin. This is a citation of Horayot, daf 10, where it is the words of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai.

Why does Rashi not cite this derasha found in Zohar? Well, first demonstrate to me that Rashi knew the Zohar. Even if it was around in his time, there seems to be little evidence that Rashi was one of the yechidei sugulah who knew of it.

Furthermore, it is Rashi's general approach to cite midrashim to explain pesukim; this, although everyone considers him the pashtan, who only comes to give the peshuto shel mikra. And what Rashi cites here is most certainly derush, not derash.

So, the question amounts to why Rashi preferred a derush he knew to a derush he did not know, and might not have even existed in his time. Yet see how Rabbi Goldin summarized this:
"A number of commentators are unwilling to take this phrase at face value... The Ibn Ezra and the Chizkuni... 
There are scholars, however, who are willing to embrace the pshat {emphasis mine} of this phrase and the troubling philosophical message it conveys. This straightforward approach is mirrored in the comments of the Sforno"
But this is absolutely NOT peshat, and Rashi's non-citation of this should not be read as reluctance.

So too Ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra writes:
[ד, כב]
אשר נשיא יחטא -
וכן הוא אשר יחטא הנשיא והוא דבק באשר למעלה: ואם כל עדת ישראל כאילו אמר: ואם אשר יחטא הוא נשיא שבט או נשיא בית אב:
That is, asher means im. This may be motivated by the existence of the derasha, which Ibn Ezra is trying to oppose. Or, there may be more grammatical concerns at play. See Mechokekei Yehuda. Since nasi is a noun, it does not seem to make grammatical sense to say asher nasi. And so, it is hafuch, the equivalent of the reverse, and going on the verb, that which sins the nasi. And to show that this is the meaning, he takes a verse with parallel meaning, such that above was one situation, and this is another situation. Or some explanation of this sort. Ibn Ezra might not even be responding to the derasha as it appears in the Zohar, that asher conveys "when" as opposed to "if".

But even if Ibn Ezra is countering the derasha, this is not because he regards it as peshat, yet he is unwilling to embrace the peshat because of the uncomfortable philosophical message! Who says this is good peshat?! Over and over on parshablog, I have demonstrated how Ibn Ezra argues on midrashim, even rather famous midrashim, such as Arami Oved Avi, because he is interested in peshat and not derash. This heightened focus upon asher rather than ki strikes me as hyper-literal. And Ibn Ezra, when discussing the differences between the language of the first and second luchos (in his "short" commentary), writes at length that the meanings of words are comparable to the spirit, while the overt lexical form of the words are comparable to the spirit. Who cares whether one says Shamor and one says Zachor? The meaning is the same, and the enlightened scholars of language will focus on the neshama and not the guf. And so, he opposes many a derasha based on a slight divergence in word form. (Though this parasha, parashat Emor, is an exception, as I discuss in another post about karet vs. ibud.) If so, Ibn Ezra would not consider ki vs. asher to be a peshat-based concern, and so the question is no question. So too the hyper-literalism on the word asher. That is a midrashic concern. In context, of course the word means "if", and that is its spirit. For Ibn Ezra, then, the better peshat is what he presents. And it is not due to discomfort with the philosophical message that he rejects the peshat.

One would only think so if one has already wrongfully conflated the realms of peshat and derash and derush. Then one is bothered why an uber-pashtan like Ibn Ezra would not present the derush as the peshat.

What about Chizkuni? He writes:

It seems to me that his concern is grammatical, in terms of the order of the words, just like Ibn Ezra, and he follows in Ibn Ezra's recommendation of swapping about the words. He points us to Megillat Esther, and the verse 6:8:

ח  יָבִיאוּ לְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת, אֲשֶׁר לָבַשׁ-בּוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ; וְסוּס, אֲשֶׁר רָכַב עָלָיו הַמֶּלֶךְ, וַאֲשֶׁר נִתַּן כֶּתֶר מַלְכוּת, בְּרֹאשׁוֹ.8 let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set;

where the meaning is not "that the royal crown is set on his head," but rather the reverse, "the crown that is set upon his head. This too, is the laws about the nasi who sins, the nasi asher yecheta.

Perhaps Chizkuni is motivated by "if" vs. "when", but it is harder to see this here. Rather, the focus may well be on dikduk, as well as setting up different parallel cases -- when all the congregation sins, where the kohen gadol sins, where the nasi sins.

But even if he is motivated by the "if" vs. "when" question, that does not mean that he disregards that interpretation because of discomfort with the philosophical repercussions. Nothing in his words indicates that. Rather, it could well be because he is functioning as a pashtan, and not a darshan, and the Zohar's explanation of the pasuk is solidly in the realm of derush.

Indeed, both Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni surely know the explanation of Rashi, who cited Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai! One could more readily ask why Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni did not give Rashi's explanation. And the answer is that Rashi's explanation is solidly derush. Well, the same goes for the explanation in the Zohar.

I will close this critique with a note that while I focused on just this short excerpt from the book, I could have similarly focused on many other sections, to similar effect. And this is because of this disagreement as to the definitions of peshat and derash. Too much in the book strikes me as derash and derush, but seems presented as if it is peshat.

This is enough for a critique. I hope I have not been too harsh. As Hirhurim posted recently, this is how not to write a review:

Despite this strong methodological disagreement with the author about peshat and derash, overall, it is a worthy book. Clearly a lot of time, effort, and thought went into its construction, and as I wrote earlier, it has its many merits, and it is a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

You can purchase the sefer via the link below:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Women in Tanach and Talmud

from Kollel Yom Rishon. For men and women. Registration is here.

Some thoughts on Vayered Mitzrayma

Having finished a discussion of the first derasha in the parasha of Arami Oved Avi, we may turn to the next derasha. First, though, what is the big idea of darshening from Arami Oved Avi? I would suggest that the Mikra Bikkurim was chosen because it is short, and something that one can memorize. It is a sort of index to the greater story, which would take forever to tell over. (Consider how long maggid is today.) It is an index because each word or phrase in this compact retelling refers to a much larger point. Further, it allows for sippur yetzias mitzrayim as well as intellectual discussions for chachamim, nevonim, etc. One is engaging in midrash aggadah. And once we start darshening, we might continue darshening the pesukim in other ways as well. 

I don't know that the Mishna, in demanding a derasha based on Arami Oved Avi, had in mind the precise derasha as found in the Sifrei. Certainly this was a valid form of derasha, and since it was extant, it makes sense that this was what it had in mind. But perhaps dorshin from this text meant that any good midrashic expansion / exposition was valid. This would allow for a fixed base text, namely the pesukim, as well as giving ample room for creativity and personal expression.

On to the derasha of vayeired mitzrayma. The text:

וירד מצרימה -- What is the mechanism of this derasha? It is an interpretation of ירד not as descent but as imposition, rodeh. Compare with Bereishit 1:26:

כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ.26 And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'
Thus, he was compelled to go there, against his will.

What is the purpose of making such a derasha? Perhaps to emphasize how this was all part of the Divine plan, rather than human plan. And in turn, this was part of the Divine plan laid out at the Bris Bein Habesarim.

We could also connect the phraseology of this to the derasha found a bit earlier in Sifrei, on Arami Oved Avi, that  מלמד שלא ירד יעקב לארם אלאט(לאובד)ש.

ויגר שם as well. Perhaps one could say that the choice of verb is unimportant, and that the focus, on a peshat level, was the increase in population, such that their initial settlement was with relatively few people. But we consider it important, and a reference to Yaakov's statement that they were coming merely לגור, which represents a fairly temporary state of dwelling.

Besides the inter-Biblical reference to the story of the entrance to Egypt, what is the purpose of making such a derasha? Perhaps to further show that this descent into Egypt was not a conscious choice by Yaakov, but was rather the result of the Divine Plan, established at the Bris Bein Habesarim. They were forced because of the famine, and did not intend to stay long. But Hashem had other plans.

Emor sources

by aliyah
rishon (21:1)
sheni (21:16)
shelishi (22:17)
revii (23:1)
chamishi (23:23)
shishi (23:33)
shevii (24:1)
maftir (24:21) -- missing
haftara (Yechezkel 44:15) (missing beginning, but here)

by perek
perek 21 ; perek 22 ; perek 23 ; perek 24

Judaica Press Rashi in English
Shadal (and here)
Daat -- with Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Rabbenu Bachya, Midrash Rabba, Tanchuma+.
Gilyonot Nechama Leibovitz (Hebrew)
Shadal's Ohev Ger
Tiferes Yehonasan from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz
Chasdei Yehonasan
Toldos Yitzchak Acharon, repeated from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz -- not until Bechukosai
Even Shleimah -- from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich
R' Saadia Gaon's Tafsir, Arabic translation of Torah (here and here)
Collected commentary of Saadia Gaon on Torah
Rashbam (and here)
Torah Temimah
Kli Yakar
Zohar, with English translation
Baal Haturim
Baal Haturim (HaAruch)
Torat Hatur
Ibn Janach
Rabbenu Ephraim
Ibn Caspi
Dubno Maggid
Imrei Shafer, Rav Shlomo Kluger
Ateret Zekeinim
Mei Noach
Arugat HaBosem
Yalkut Perushim LaTorah
R' Yosef Bechor Shor
Ibn Gabirol -- not until Bechukosai
Rabbenu Yonah -- not until Bechukosai
Aderet Eliyahu (Gra)
Kol Eliyahu (Gra)
Sefer Zikaron of Ritva -- not until Chukas
Chiddushei HaGriz -- not until Bemidbar
Noam Elimelech
Michlal Yofi
Nesivot Hashalom

The following meforshim at JNUL. I've discovered that if you click on the icon to rotate sideways, change to only black and white, select only the portion which is text, it is eminently readable on paper.
Ralbag (pg 268)
Chizkuni (102)
Abarbanel (260)
Shach (181)
Yalkut Reuveni (pg 126)
Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite (175)

Daat, Rashi In Hebrew (perek 21)
Judaica Press Rashi in English and Hebrew
MizrachiMizrachi (on Rashi, 214)
Gur Aryeh (Maharal of Prague)
Siftei Chachamim
Berliner's Beur on Rashi
Commentary on Rashi by Yosef of Krasnitz
R' Yisrael Isserlin (on Rashi, 12)
Two supercommentaries on Rashi, by Chasdai Almosnino and Yaakov Kneizel
Rav Natan ben Shishon Shapira Ashkenazi (16th century), (JNUL, pg 103)
Levush HaOrah
Yeriot Shlomo (Maharshal)
Moda L'Bina (Wolf Heidenheim)
Dikdukei Rashi
Mekorei Rashi (in Mechokekei Yehuda)
Yosef Daas
Nachalas Yaakov
Also see Mikraos Gedolos above, which has Rashi with Sifsei Chachamim

Daat, Ramban in Hebrew (perek 21)
R' Yitzchak Abohav's on Ramban (standalone and in a Tanach opposite Ramban)
Kesef Mezukak
Kanfei Nesharim
Rabbi Meir Abusaula (student of Rashba)

ibn ezra
Daat, Ibn Ezra in Hebrew (perek 21)
Mechokekei Yehudah, (Daat)
Mechokekei Yehudah (HebrewBooks)
Mavaser Ezra
R' Shmuel Motot (on Ibn Ezra, pg 37)
Ibn Kaspi's supercommentary on Ibn Ezra, different from his commentary (here and here) -- not until Bechukosay
Mekor Chaim, Ohel Yosef, Motot
Avi Ezer
Tzofnas Paneach
Ezra Lehavin
Also see Mikraos Gedolos above, which has Ibn Ezra with Avi Ezer

Targum Onkelos opposite Torah text
Targum Onkelos and Targum Pseudo-Yonatan in English
Shadal's Ohev Ger
Chalifot Semalot
Avnei Tzion -- two commentaries on Onkelos
Bei`urei Onkelos
Or Hatargum on Onkelos
Targum Yonatan
Commentary on Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi
Origen's Hexapla (JNUL)

Tanach with masoretic notes on the side
Commentary on the Masorah
Minchas Shai
Or Torah
Taamei Masoret -- not until Bamidbar
Masoret HaKeriah
Shiluv Hamasorot
Masoret HaBrit HaGadol
Rama (but based on alphabet, not parsha)
Vetus Testamentum

Midrash Rabba at Daat (21)
Midrash Tanchuma at Daat (21)
Vayikra Rabba, with commentaries
Midrash Tanchuma with commentary of Etz Yosef and Anaf Yosef
Commentary on Midrash Rabba by R' Naftali Hirtz b'R' Menachem
Matat-Kah on Midrash Rabba
Nefesh Yehonasan by Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz

haftarah (Yechezkel 44:15-31)
Haftarah in Gutnick Edition
Rashis in English
In a separate Mikraos Gedolos, with Targum, Rashi, Radak, Ralbag, Minchat Shai, Metzudat David.
Daat, with a link to Yalkut Shimoni
Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite
Radak (217)


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