Friday, May 27, 2005

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

First, those of you joining us from the yeshiva world are probably wondering about the quote we used to slug this latest entry. It is a line from a famous poem by Samuel Coleridge, and if you stick around you will see why it was chosen. A poem, for those of you joining us from the Hasidic world, is a vivid and imaginative way of conveying experiences, ideas, or emotions. Yeah, just like a Nigun.

Today we're off to ancient Egypt. Snap quiz: During the first plague (blood) what happened whenever an Egyptian touched water? It turned to blood, right? So the Egyptians had to buy all their water from the Jews, right? And the Jews got rich, right? But as soon as the Egyptians put their hands on the purchased water, it turned to blood, too, right?

This says, the Ibn Ezra, is seriously weird. Because (I'm translating his comment to Exodus 7:24) "if so, why wasn't this miracle recorded in the Torah? ...we should stick to what it says in the text [acharai hacatuv nirdaf]"

And in fact, the Torah does imply that the Egyptians had no trouble acquiring water on their own. Here's Exodus 7:24: "The Egyptians dug around the Nile for drinking water, since they could not drink any water from the river."

Unfortunately, this isn't a clean win for fans of pshat. One of the commentaries on the Ibn Ezra, Avi Ezer (written by R. Shlomo HaKohen of Lissa, 18th Century), disagrees with this entire approach. He will have none of the Ibn Ezra's reasonableness, and would perfer you look away from the words of the torah as they appear in Exodus 7:24. He writes: "Everyone knows that the Jews got rich during the plague of blood.. this Ibn Ezra comment is obviously the work of a wayward student [talmid to'eh] who is poor in knowledge."

A wayward student! What a great way to disqualify an idea you don't like. How long before the Republicans says that whole mistake we call the Bill of Rights was actually the misguided work of some student of Thomas Jefferson? Will that work on anything?

Here's another possibility. Perhaps the Ibn Ezra's comment was changed by some sinister force. Paging Alexander Haig!