Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Running commentary on parashat Chukat , part i

Parshas Chukas begins {Bemidbar 19}:

א  וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר.1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying:

We know from Behaalotecha that Hashem does not regularly speak to Aharon, and not in the same manner as he does to Aharon. And in the regular course, two people do not receive the same prophecy. I can't recall which Rishon said it, but in these regular el Moshe veEl Aharon, it was only said to Moshe, and Moshe was instructed to say it over to Aharon. Or, Aharon was mentioned because this relates to the kehuna in generate, and so kohanim are the target of the instruction. Especially here, I think, where it is Eleazar in play rather than Aharon. (See also Ramban who writes: והנה עשה הקב"ה גם אהרן נביא במצווה הזאת, והוא ומשה רבנו יתנו אותה לאלעזר ). 


ב  זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה לֵאמֹר:  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל.2 This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.

Rashi cites Chazal:

This is the statute of the Torah: Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]זאת חקת התורה: לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה:

What is bothering Rashi, and what is bothering Chazal? Why should Satan, and the nations of the world, taunt from specifically here? There are other difficult matters of tumah and tahara? See Ramban who discusses how this, being outside the camp, like the seir hamishtaleach, might cause them to think that this is to seirim.

But I think that what is bothering Chazal is the unnecessary repetition. Pasuk 1 introduced the matter. So what is the function of זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה לֵאמֹר? In answer, they reinterpret the phrase as 'this is the gezeira of the Torah, which Hashem commanded'. And thus this text, transformed, makes up the body of the midrash.

Perhaps, as an alternative, this section was initially said in a different context, arranged and moved here. See Ibn Ezra for a reason for placement. (And see Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite that ain mukdam, and it was given earlier.) And then the function of pasuk 1 is introduction to this section as something from Hashem and targeting the kohanim.

See Rashbam about how זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה refers to the segment to come about adam ki yamut beohel.

וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ implies that is should be from the community.

פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה  -- Perhaps 'brown cow'. How now? Compare to adama, earth. Names of colors might refer to a wide range within a defined spectrum in Biblical Hebrew. See how yarok in the gemara can refer to green, yellow, or blue. And see how Yaakov's lentils were האדום האדום הזה, when cooked lentils are brown.

תְּמִימָה  -- does this refer to complete brownness, lack of blemish, or that it is of age? Ibn Ezra says age:
פרה אדמה תמימה -שלא תהיה קטנה. 

Rashi cites the traditional interpretation, that two black hairs disqualify:
perfectly red: Heb. אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה, lit., red, perfect. It shall be perfect in redness, so that two black hairs disqualify it. — [Sifrei Chukath 5]אדמה תמימה: שתהא תמימה באדמימות, שאם היו בה שתי שערות שחורות פסולה:

and Shadal says that it means no blemish:
תמימה אשר אין בה מום: כפל לשון, כמו (ויקרא כ"ב כ"א) תמים יהיה לרצון כל מום לא יהיה בו.

The Sifrei had entertained this "no blemish" as an alternative to "redness" in tamim, but rejects it because, as a midrash halacha, every phrase is meaningful, so there is no kefel lashon.

Just so that one does not dismiss Rashi / Chazal as not peshat, consider that the Karaites thought that is meant perfectly red as well:
The trup separates 
פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם
פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה
אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם

thus placing temima with aduma. But then, continuing the separate the three word clause, it breaks it into:

פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה

so perhaps one could argue the trup can also support an alternate parse.

Shadal sounds most like peshat to me.

אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם -- would then be kefel lashon, or else giving a deeper explanation of what temima means.

אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל -- on a peshat level this need not be mere placement. Rather, it is idiomatic for not having been worked. Halacha appears otherwise:

Perhaps this total perfection, and lack of devotion to any other chullin purpose, has something to do with restoring a ritually impure person to this pristine state, able to appear before God and function before Him.

Next pasuk:
ג  וּנְתַתֶּם אֹתָהּ, אֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן; וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו.3 And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, and she shall be brought forth without the camp, and she shall be slain before his face.

Why to Eleazar HaKohen? Rashi writes:
Eleazar: The mitzvah was performed by the deputy [to the kohen gadol]. — [Sifrei Chukath 8]אלעזר: מצותה בסגן:

which is interesting. There is a lot to investigate here in Rashi's words. See Ramban, and see the Baal HaTurim, who writes a shorter version. Ramban writes:

והנה עשה הקב"ה גם אהרן נביא במצווה הזאת, והוא ומשה רבנו יתנו אותה לאלעזר שהוא גדול הכהונה אחרי אהרן והוא המשוח בשמן המשחה, וזה רמז לדורות שתעשה בגדול הכהונה והוא הכהן הגדול. 

Thus, the choice might be between kohen gadol and kohen hedyot, rather than a segan

Perhaps given the events in the very next perek (20), in which Aharon dies and Eleazar takes over as kohen gadol, we can view him in the role of Kohen Gadol here.

וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה -- this would be Eleazar taking it out of the machaneh. Thus, the choicest of Kohanim takes the most special, unprofaned of cows, and brings it outside the camp, where usually the ritually impure are cast out. The idea may be to rescue and consecrate the profane.

וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו -- Who does this? There was no change in antecedent, to make us think that it is not Eleazar haKohen. But both Rashi and Ibn Ezra assert, on a peshat level, that it is some other kohen who acts here, while Eleazar watches. The proof to this is the word לְפָנָיו. And it certainly seems like peshatלְפָנָיו refers to Eleazar, so some other "he" slaughters it before him.

Yet surprisingly, this is a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel in Yoma 42a. A wonderful way of phrasing the machlokes:
איתמר שחיטת פרה ופרו רב ושמואל חד אמר פרה פסולה פרו כשרה וחד אמר פרו פסולה פרה כשרה תסתיים דרב הוא דאמר פרה פסולה דאמר ר' זירא שחיטת פרה בזר פסולה ואמר רב עלה אלעזר וחוקה שנינו בה

The continuation of the gemara there is an analysis of how Rav and Shmuel (or rather, the traditions they are citing) respectively understand the pesukim. Shmuel allows for a zar, a non-kohen. And Rav disallows. But doesn't Rav, who invalidates for a zar, see the word לְפָנָיו? He says that it means no hesech hadaas.

Thus, Shmuel: שאני התם דכתיב (במדבר יט, ג) ושחט אותה לפניו שיהא זר שוחט ואלעזר רואה
And Rav: ורב שלא יסיח דעתו ממנה

and then it turns to see where Shmuel deduces this halacha.

This is dochak in that it is hard to see Rav as saying peshat. And this anonymous give and take, where each halacha and each word in the pasuk needs to be accounted for, in an overly-systematic fashion, is the mark of the setama degemara.

I'm not convinced that the setama degemara, composed by the Savoraim, is accurately capturing Rav's interpretation of the pesukim. I am admittedly not presently embedded in the sugya, but I would like to take up Rav's cause.

Perhaps according to Rabbi Zera, we can maintain that  לְפָנָיו means that Eleazar watches as another person slaughters, but that the identity of that other person is not determined. He is not Eleazar, but that could mean either a zar or a kohen hedyot. And then other factors can come in to select a kohen hedyot. For instance, see the heh hayediah of וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן in pasuk 6, where it cannot be who who burnt in pasuk 5.

But with Rav, and his slightly cryptic statement that אלעזר וחוקה שנינו בה, it does seem as though he views Eleazar as the actor and the chuka being that this selection of kohen is ledoros.

If so, we need another interpretation of לְפָנָיו. And so:

וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו -- And he, [Elazar] shall, slaughter it before it [, the camp].

That is, before the aforementioned machaneh.

This is the pattern of being outside looking in, but directing oneself towards the holy. Compare with the next pasuk:

ד  וְלָקַח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, מִדָּמָהּ--בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ; וְהִזָּה אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, מִדָּמָהּ--שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים.4 And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.

where the Kohen stands outside the camp (and in later times, outside Yerushalayim), and directs the sprinkling from a great distance  אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד.

On the other hand, we can match לְפָנָיו meaning "before him" with pasuk 5's  וְשָׂרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה, לְעֵינָיו.
But, back to the first hand, it does not say לְעֵינָיו here, only the ambiguous לְפָנָיו.

מִדָּמָהּ--שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים -- perhaps this is to hark to the service of Yom Kippur. Though that sprinkling is all the way in the inner sanctum, in the kodesh kodashim, while this is all the way out of the tent. And this may be the purpose.

Next pasuk,

ה  וְשָׂרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה, לְעֵינָיו:  אֶת-עֹרָהּ וְאֶת-בְּשָׂרָהּ וְאֶת-דָּמָהּ, עַל-פִּרְשָׁהּ יִשְׂרֹף.5 And the heifer shall be burnt in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall be burnt.

Perhaps we can see a dual role in this -- outside the camp is the place of burning of invalidated korbanot, which have become impure. But this is like a burnt offering, being wholly burnt. It is לְעֵינָיו of Eleazar so that he has this role of presiding over the entire affair.

ו  וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן, עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב--וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת; וְהִשְׁלִיךְ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה.6 And the priest shall take cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.

The same items are found for the sprinkling of the metzora, with an addition of a live bird. The homiletic reasons which apply there (about making oneself small) don't seem to apply here. I don't have enough info to evaluate this. Ibn Ezra sees a link, and says that there, by metzora, he hints to the sod.


ז  וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו הַכֹּהֵן, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמַּיִם, וְאַחַר, יָבֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וְטָמֵא הַכֹּהֵן, עַד-הָעָרֶב.7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.

Rashi says it is a mikra mesuras:

and the kohen shall be unclean until evening: Transpose it [the verse] and explain it [thus]: He shall be unclean until evening, and then he may enter the camp.וטמא הכהן עד הערב: סרסהו ודרשהו וטמא עד הערב ואחר יבוא אל המחנה:

The Karaites agree, that it is a mikra hafuch. This makes sense, without needing any transposition. After certain cleansing steps, including washing and bathing, he may enter the camp. By the way, the tumah lasts until evening. So he cannot enter the camp until then.

So, Ibn Ezra:
וטמא הכהן -וכבר ישב טמא. 

That he was already sitting tamei until evening. But he also mentions:

ויש אומרים: 
שיהיה טמא עד הערב, שלא יאכל מן הקדשים.

which, if I understand it correctly, means that he has already entered the camp, but has a bit of ritual impurity until evening, that he cannot eat of kodoshim.

Finally for this section:

ח  וְהַשֹּׂרֵף אֹתָהּ--יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו בַּמַּיִם, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמָּיִם; וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב.8 And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.

We see from the repetition that the soref is not the same as the one who cast the hyssop etc. into the fire.

I don't know that it strikes the modern reader as strange, that these people involved in the purification process, become temporarily ritually impure. Computer scientists know about flip-flops, which toggle between states. Plus, if indeed the role is to form the bridge between pure and impure, between outside the camp and the holy of holies, then temporary distancing of the participants in the ceremony perhaps makes sense.

But here I must bring in the famous story, to teach us about the very nature of tumah and tahara, relating to the para aduma. In Midrash Rabba on Chukat:
שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין נראין כמין כשפים
אתם מביאים פרה ושורפין אותה וכותשין אותה ונוטלין את אפרה ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו ב' וג' טיפין ואתם אומרים לו טהרת
אמר לו לא נכנסה בך רוח תזזית מימיך?
אמר לו לאו
ראית אדם שנכנסה בו רוח תזזית?
אמר לו הן
א"ל ומה אתם עושין לו?
אמר לו מביאין עיקרין ומעשנין תחתיו ומרביצים עליה מים והיא בורחת
א"ל ישמעו אזניך מה שאתה מוצא מפיך
כך הרוח הזו רוח טומאה דכתיב (זכריה יג) וגם את הנביאים ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ מזין עליו מי נדה והוא בורח
לאחר שיצא אמרו לו תלמידיו רבינו לזה דחית בקנה לנו מה אתה אומר?
אמר להם חייכם לא המת מטמא ולא המים מטהרין!
אלא אמר הקב"ה חקה חקקתי גזירה גזרתי אי אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי דכתיב זאת חוקת התורה
A certain gentile (idolator) asked Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai: These acts which you do appear like sorcery!
You bring a heifer and burn it, and crush it, and take its ashes, and if one of you is impure from a corpse you sprinkle upon him two or three drops and you tell him he is pure!
He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai) said to him: Have you ever had a ruach tezazit{spirit of delirious fever} enter you in your life?
He said to him: No
He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai) said to him: Have you ever seen someone who aruach tezazit had entered him?
He said to him: Yes.
He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai) said to him: And what do you do for him?
He said to him: We bring {medicinal} roots and cause them to smoke under him, and we inundate it with water, and it {the ruach tezazit} flees.
After he {the idolator} left, his students said to him (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai): To this one {the idolator} you have pushed away with a reed {that is, engaged in apologetics}; to us {who know better}, what will you say?
He said to them: By your lives! The corpse does not cause tum`a and the water {of the ashes of the Parah Adumah} do not cause him to be tahor!
Rather, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, said: A chok I have established, a decree I have decreed, and you are not permitted to violate my decree. As it states {in the second verse of parashat Chukat}: זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה - "This is the statute of the law."
I believe that what Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was saying was this: There is no such thing astum'a and tahara - impurity and purity. They are not physical, nor spiritual conditions. Rather, Hashem made a decree that we should relate to someone or something that has touched a corpse as if he was impure. And similar to the decree that we should treat this as if it were impure, there is a decree that if one sprinkles Parah Adumah on him, we treat his as if he is no longer impure.

So too for the individual actors in this process. As we will see on the next pasuk, 
ט  וְאָסַף אִישׁ טָהוֹר, אֵת אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, וְהִנִּיחַ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, בְּמָקוֹם טָהוֹר; וְהָיְתָה לַעֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת, לְמֵי נִדָּה--חַטָּאת הִוא.9 And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification from sin.

Ibn Ezra says regarding this ish tahor:
איש טהור -איננו הכהן השורף.

Thus, perhaps the process of rendering each kohen impure in turn, as the act out their part, is to ensure that different kohanim enact each part. For after performing, they are tamei and cannot participate further.

1 comment:

MP said...

We know from Behaalotecha that Hashem does not regularly speak to Aharon, and not in the same manner as he does to Aharon. And in the regular course, two people do not receive the same prophecy. I can't recall which Rishon said it, but in these regular el Moshe veEl Aharon, it was only said to Moshe, and Moshe was instructed to say it over to Aharon.
See RaShY on Vayiqra 11:1.

Or, Aharon was mentioned because this relates to the kehuna in genera[l], and so kohanim are the target of the instruction.
See RaMBaN on Vayiqra 11:1. Isn't that type of answer a rationale for any parasha we find in Seifer Vayiqra?


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