Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How did I win any arguments before Google?

Re: The midrash about the non-singing angels and whether or not its author was attempting to humanize the dead Egyptians.

Paraphrased from the Facebook.

Her:  We're allowed to sing! Only the angels were banned from celebrating! Not us!

Me: Yes, and I agree with you that the midrash, as we have it in BT Megillah, is not telling us anything about the humanity of the Egyptians. The lesson, as recorded by its purported author, is simply that God "does not rejoice at the downfall of the wicked."

Her: But bear in mind, God told the *angels* not to sing praises. Not us. We *do* sing praises when those who have oppressed us fall.

Another guy: I have to ask, do you really believe-that there is no lesson for and about human beings in the midrash? About how we ought to emulate God in tempering our joy at the downfall of the wicked? That we ought to be careful to rejoice with total abandon at their suffering, perhaps especially because we ought not to condemn them all equally--the complicit with the instigators, the redeemable with the wholly irredeemable?

Her: Yes, I really do believe that... There's a verse in Proverbs that says "do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy." This is discussed in the Talmud, where it is specified that this means a Jewish enemy or opponent. In Tractate Megillah, this is even illustrated by an aggadeta about Haman and Mordechai where Mordechai uses Haman as a step stool to mount his horse, and Haman says, "Doesn't your Bible say not to rejoice at the downfall of an enemy?" whereupon Mordechai points out that this doesn't refer to non-Jewish enemies.

Me: We can find lessons in anything. I like the fact that some see humanism in the midrash, as much as I dislike the stridency with which others deny it. The humanistic lesson is unmistakably there (though I am not certain the author of the midrash saw it or wanted you to see it.)

Her: If I'm a little strident about it, it's because I'm so godawful tired of hearing people twist the Torah into a touchy-feely liberal parody of itself.


I have to admit: I thought she had a point. See, I do agree that this midrash isn't about the humanity of the Egyptians. (though I, hasten to add, I don't find anything inauthentic about the liberal interpretation of the interpretation. Everything worth keeping gets reinterpreted by its heirs as they filter it through their own perspectives and experiences.) Then I remembered one of the neat things about biblical exegesis: If it sounds reasonable, you can probably find a bold-faced name who said it first. So I went to Google, and hit pay dirt on the first page of results.

************ End Interpolation

Me: Was the Bes Yosef "twisting the Torah into touchy-feely liberal parody of itself" on OC 490:4 where he writes

שבלי הלקט (סי’ קעד סט:) כתב בשם מדרש הרנינו פרשת סוכה שהטעם שאין
גומרין ההלל כל ימי הפסח הוא לפי שנטבעו המצריים וכתיב (משלי כד יז)
בנפול אויבך אל תשמח.

And in the Shibolei haLeqet it is written in the name of the Midrash Harninu that the reason why we do not finish Hallel on all the days of Pesach [only on the first] is because the Egyptians drowned. As it says “do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy ” (Proverbs24:17).

So, the verse you insisted could only refer to JEWISH enemies, is in fact used by the Bes Yosef to explain why we don't finish Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach. He seems to think the midrash contains a lesson about the humanity of the Egyptians and how we lose some of our own humanity when we fail to recognize theirs [For the record, I still think he's reading in] So let me leave you with my opening questions. Is the Bes Yosef  "twisting the Torah into touchy-feely liberal parody of itself?" Please answer.

No answer yet.

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