Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Parsha Notes Mishpatim 5771

Boring, boring, boring. That's both a review of this snoozer of a parsha and a warning about the notes you're about to read. Caveat lector.


What every Jew should know:
According to Rashi, all Moshe wrote down in Exodus 24:1 was: Genesis until the Revelation, and the following laws: Shabas, honoring parents, the red cow, the civil laws, and the Seven Noachide laws [DB: What about gid hanasheh] This is despite the Torah claiming (ibid) that what he wrote down was "all the words of God" [=kol divrei]

Crux Alert
When a slave wishes to remain with his master after his term is up, the verses call for him to be taken to "the elohim. and make him approach the door or the doorpost..." Though the Rabbis read elohim as judges, the word most often means "gods"; indeed ANE scholars have discovered that it was once common for household idols to be kept at the doorpost; moreover, oaths or other declerations relating to the household would take place in front of them. For my money this is the most troubling crux in the whole Torah. Read more See also 22:4

External Parallels
In 21:10 we're told that a man who takes a second wife can't reduce the first wife's food, clothing or conjugal rights. Very nice, but not so ahead of its time as you might think: There are ANE documents which forbid a husband from diminishing a first wife's food, clothing and oils. (I haven't seen anyone who can convincingly construe the MT's 'onah as "oils")

Much of Mishpatim is frighteningly similar to older ANE law codes, including, but not limited to, the Laws of Hammurabi. At the very least, this strongly suggests that Mishpatim did not develop absent outside influences.


The not-yet created Temple [21:13] is declared a place of sanctuary where accused people may flee. Other ANE cultures also respected this protocol. 

Internal parallels
In Exodus 22, the Torah describes the theoretical complaint of an oppressed widow or orphan in language that echos the terms used to describe the oppression of Israel. These include: Abuse, cry out, and hear their outcry. (Robert Alter) 

At the end of the Exodus, the Israelites go "b'toch" the Sea; when Moshe enters the cloud to receive the law, he is said to go "b'toch" the cloud. (Rashi)

God is said to rest his feet on a "brick" Various commentators link this to the brick-building performed in Egypt.

Postdiction
There are various instances of postdiction or, if you want to be pretentious, vaticinium ex eventu. Exodus 23:28 predicts (according to one reading) that Egypt will soften up the Canaanite kings, and the next verse promises the conquests will take some time "lest the land become desolate [of people] and the animals multiply against you, [so] slowly I will drive them out until you are fruitful." With all due respect to the Hebrew scripture this sounds like a justification for something that has already happened. The author of this particular sentence seems to know that the conquest took two centuries, and is trying to provide a reason for the delay in fulfilling the Divine Promise (in Judges three other reasons are given) and to be blunt this reason isn't very convincing: Are we to believe that an ancient Israelite nation of 3 million (enormous by ancient standards) would have difficulty subduing some wild animals, or that time was needed to become "fruitful?"

Deus ex Machina
The verse tells us (Ex 24:6) that Moshe took "half the blood" without telling us who divided it. Rashi's answer: An angel did it.

Motifs
Dogs are once again presented as the lowest of the low in Exodus 22:30 where we're told to feed carrion to them. Aside: Later rabbinic interpretation holds this practice was instituted as a reward -- the dogs didn't bark during the Exodus, and this is their thank you. Alter says that carrion was fed to the dogs because only something as low as a dog is an appropriate receptacle for such disgusting waste.  

Puzzlements
The narrative at the end is, as Rashi has already noted, out of place. It sounds like a description of the events that occurred before the Torah was given several chapters earlier.  Only, Ramban disagrees. So when did these things actually happen, and why isn't the chronology straightforward?


Who is the angel God promises to send in Ex 23:20? Rashi says its the dark angel Metarton, but this is problematic on philosophical grounds. Others say it was Moshe.


Anomaly
In 21:22 the MT has וכי־ינצו אנשים ונגפו אשה הרה ויצאו ילדיה If men strive, and hurt a pregnant woman with child, so that her child departs from her. Other ancient versions, including the LXX, have "fetus." This is a difference of just few spots of ink.






Political aside (1): This is one of several verses which suggest an authentically authentic Jewish view of abortion is more lenient than the evangelical Christan teachings too many Jews embrace and promote as "Torah-true." Read more about some of the ancient Torah and non-Torah true views of abortion here.
Some speculation resulting from an odd Onkelos translation of Exodus 23:5. The word a'zov, in this verse,  clearly means "assist", but Onkelos seems to think it must mean "leave", and as a result delivers a convoluted translation. Additional speculation there. 

Closed Canon alert

We meet Chur for the second time, and Rashi repeats an embellishes the comment he made on Chur's first appearance as follows: "He was the son of Miriam, and his father was Kalev ibn Jafne, as it says [in Divrei Hayamim] " And Kalev took Efrat, and Efrat bore him Chur" and Efrat is Miriam, as is said in [BT[ Sotah." I don't know why Rashi repeats himself here. I don't know why he makes the longer comment here, and not on Chur's first appearance. And I don't know what compels us to say Efrat was Miriam. On what scriptural peg does this identification hang?





Changed Premises
The Israelite "slave girls" described in this sedra are quite obviously concubines. I'm not sure which is worse.

The vigorous beating of slaves was an acceptable practice. In 21:21 we're told that a master isn't responsible if his slave survives a day or two afterwards, and then dies. Try that today.

In 23:12 a rationale behind Shabbos is provided, which is quote different from rationale given in the Ten Commandments. Here we're told to keep shabbos on humanitarian grounds; there the imperative is theological.

In 23:15 these words appear: וְלֹא־ יֵרָא֥וּ פָנַ֖י רֵיקָֽם׃. As Robert Alter points out, the original form of the word is Yiru but it has been vocalized Yay-rah'oo. It seems as if "you shall not see my face/presence" has been modified to "you shall not appear before my face/presence" -- perhaps, as Alter speculates, to "avoid what looked like excessive anthropomorphism."

In 23:31 the borders of Israel are announced. The country is to stretch from the Red Sea to the Euphrates. This does not correspond to any historical reality.

On 24:10 Rashi says "[The elders] looked and cast a glance [at God]" [= nistaclu v'heytsitsu] His supercommentators say that here "looked" means contemplated, but this seems to me like an attempt to revise Rashi so he is in keeping with later theological doctrines. Had he meant to say "contemplate" wouldn't he have used that word?

The parsha ends with a description of a feast enjoyed by the elders at Gods feet. This is one of a few instances of God being depicted corporeally, and in a way later frowned upon by Jewish philosophers. Here's how the Torah tells it: "Anf [the elders] saw the God of Israel, and beneath his feet was [unclear] sapphire brick, like the heavens.... and they beheld God and ate and drank" If you doubt this statement is scandalous in the light of future Jewish theology, consider how Onkelos evasively rewrites it: "And they saw their sacrifices had been accepted as if they had been eaten and drunk."







Political aside (2): I doubt the Ohr CHayim was a pluralist, but his teaching on "You shall incline after a majority" (Exodus 23:2) is one this pluralist can applaud. Longer treatment here.

Previously
In defence of pluralism
Yakkov Menken doesn't know what the word means!
Hashkofa hating

READER SUBMISSIONS
Mussar
In a dispute between Chovos Halevovos and Ramban regarding necessary levels of hishdadlus, Ramban claims that drosha for (Shemos, 21, 19) V'repe Y'rapei, that God gave permission to man to heal is not meant for "a complete servant," and same goes for money:  for them complete faith is enough. R' Yisroel S'lanter says that this opinion is meant solely for those who have made being a servant their profession (chovshei beis medrash) but not for laymen; the laymen must rely on the opinion of Chovos Halevovos that hishtadlus is required. [from Bob]



Parshanut
What was the Sefer Habrit?

Rashi - Sefer Habrit is Breishit through the Ten Commandments - fits nicely with the accepted drash (na'aseh... venishma) and midrash that Bnei Israel accepted the mitzvot sight unseen. Naarative is out of order - Mosheh only goes up the mountain once.

Ramban - Rashi's explanation is unacceptable because you cannot ratify a brit siigh unseen. Narrative is in order, Moshe goes up the mountain twice and Sefer Habrit is the body of Mishpatim which is a pretty good summary of what they are getting themselves into.

Chizkuni - Sefer habrit is Vaikra  (Behar-Bechukotai). Bnei Israel understand the consequences of the Brit before accepting. Fits best with the Midrash of Hashem holding the mountain over them. [by Yannai Segal]



Reconstructed Rashi
Rashi seems to have been tampered with or lost and reconstructed. Ramban (24:1) brings a glaring problem with Rashi's interpretation of verse 3.  There is also a problem in verse 4. Rashi, following the Mechilta, says that "And moshe wrote down all the words of God" refers to "From Genesis until Matan Torah and...the Mizvos commanded at Marah." Rashi is swallowing all this hook, line and sinker without question. Why? Isn't it more likely that this pasuk is referring to the Bris (treaty) made in the beginning of Chapter 19? After all, isn't the similarity between the verses in 19:7-8 and 24:3 what links the two sections? And these writings are even called the "Book of the Bris" in verse 7!

Also strange is the fact that the Rashi on verse 7 repeats word for word what he said 3 verses before. And that the 1st Rashi on verse 16 cuts off mid-sentence.

But the most glaring problem is the second Rashi on v. 16. On verse 12, on the words "And God said to Moshe, ascend the mountain.. and I shall give you the Tablets", Rashi comments 'This is after the giving of the Torah', ie the 10 commandments. But on v. 16, when the verse says "And the cloud covered it for 6 days, and He called to Moses on the 7th day", Rashi says "To say the 10 commandments."  [By Avromie]



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