Friday, March 27, 2009

Competing versions of the same midrash

Why do we bring sacrifices? Continued....

As discussed yesterday the Rambam thought sacrifices were commanded only to wean us from idolatry [Note to Chardal: I said ONLY(see #1 below)]

Attempting to defend the Rambam, his wingman Don Issac Abrabanel cites a midrash:

"It's analogous to the case of a prince who turned villainous(?) and acquired the habit of eating disgusting food [נבלות וטרפות] Said the king: Let him eat the disgusting food at my table [יאכלם על שולחני ] and he'll come to break the habit" [Continues Don Issac] Likewise, the Israelites were steeped in idol worship, including sacrifices... Said God: Let them bring those sacrifices to me at the Tent of Meeting, and from this they'll come to break the habit..."
Unfortunately as pointed out later by R. Dovid T. Hoffman, it appears the Abrabanel text had a mistake in it. The text used by Abrabanel says the King invited his son to bring his disgusting food to the royal table, whch fits with Rambam's idea that the Jewish order of sacrifice was created to wean us from the disgusting habit of bringing any kind of sacrifice. If we must bring sacrifices, the midrash seems to say, at least let us bring them for the glory of the one God, rather then for the glory of idols.

However, Arabanel's text appears damaged in a way that would obviate the Midrash's support for the Rambam's idea.

Where Abrabanel had יאכלם על שולחני / eat it at my table, RDTH has זה יהיה תדיר על שולחני / he should become a regular guest at my table and, presumably, eat proper royal food, rather then the disgusting food. This change in language changes the message. In Abrabanel's version the king is making a concession - "eat your disgusting food if you must, but at least do it at my table." In RDTH's version the king is saying: "Come to my table, and leave your disgusting food behind."

The difference? In A's version sacrifices are seen as a concession, and something that should not exist under ideal circumstances, but if you have to do it, do it for God. In RDTH's version sacrifices are a perfectly approriate way to worship, so long as they are directed to God and not to idols.

1. Why only? Here's the Rambam: It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other; the nature of man will not allow him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.... the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in temples containing images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these modes of worship; for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man... For this reason God allowed these rituals to continue: He transferred to His service that which had formerly serves worship of created beings, and things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple... I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other things; as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary end. [Read the rest.]

No comments: