Assignment #4 (11/17/14)
Part I: The differences between Deuteronomy and Exodus and the Pesach Mitzrayim-Dorot distinction
There are significant differences between the laws of Pesach described in Shemot 12 and Deuteronomy 16. Most significantly, in Deuteronomy, it says that the offering can be a sheep or a cow, whereas in Shemot it can only be a sheep; and Deuteronomy allows for boiling (16:7), whereas Shemot is clear that boiling is forbidden, and only roasting is permitted 12:9). The only real similarities is that it cannot be left overnight and that Matzah must be eaten with it. Other laws, such as the fact that it has to be eaten by a household (12:4), age of the sheep (5), the mezuzah ceremony (7), the eating of Maror (8) and the categories of people that can eat it (43-48) are omitted from Deuteronomy entirely.
Why these laws are different and contradictory is hard to say.
Ralbag uses the "classic" answer that the cow referred to in Deuteronomy is for the Korban Chagigah. He doesn't comment on the בשול discrepancy. It is possible to say that the Tzon and Bakar are referring to different offerings; and it is possible that the term "ובשלת" is just a general way of saying "cooking," and it is possible that the text in Deuteronomy was just trying to be more terse and thus left out some of the details found in Exodus. These possibilities can defend the traditional view, though, at the end of the day, the argument is not that compelling.
It is interesting to note that Ibn Ezra cites Rabbi Moshe ben Amram HaParsi (I looked in The Jewish Encyclopaedia (Singer & Adler) and it's not clear who this is, it might be a man named Musa al-Titlisi, though a Google search on him turns up nothing) who simply states that there are different Halakhot for Pesach Mitrayim (described in Exodus) and Pesach Dorot (described in Deuteronomy). Ibn Ezra objects to this view, saying that a) Pesach Dorot is a remembrance for Mitzrayim, so the Halakhot should be the same and b) Divrei HaYamim II 35 says that they gave other offerings, and that is what the cows were for. Ibn Ezra is clearly off here for various reasons: According to the traditional view, some of the Halakhot are different from Mitzrayim to Dorot (such as the blood on the door). His reading of Divrei HaYamim is also lacking. Verse 7 there almost explicitly states that the cows were for the "Pesachim," as well as it being implied in 8 and 9. In classic Ibn Ezra form, he is trying to defend Rabbinic Halakha by mentioning this distinction of Pesach Mitzrayim and Dorot, though this distinction is totally absent from the text itself (while it says by some items that it is l'dorot, it never says that anything isn't l'dorot).
Part II: שירת הים
Similarities between the Shira and the narrative: Egypt chases after Israel, God fighting, "בתוך הים ביבשה", Pharaoh's chariots destroyed
Differences: Moshe complains to God (14:11), Moshe splits sea with his staff (14:16, 21) and returns the waters over the Egyptians (27) (in the Shira, God does everything), God hardens Pharaoh's heart (17) (this part is not mentioned in the Shira), the Shira but not the narrative mentions that the other nations feared Israel afterwards, the Shira mentions bringing them to some place where there is a temple (15:17)
The Shira is a poem, broken up into 3 basic parts: It begins with general praise of God (1-2), verse 3 is a transition, then it describes the specific events that occurred to Israel here (4-10), verse 11 is a transition, and finally 12-17 talks about Israel's special place among the nations and God's selection of Israel. [Verse 18 is a very general concluding statement, and verse 19 is a bit of an anomaly and seems out of place, and I wonder if it is actually part of the song.] This is a logical progression of how a hymn of praise would go: You're so great, here's why specifically, we're so happy to be your people. The differences from the narrative can also be explained: When praising God, it doesn't seem either appropriate or relevant to mention what Moshe did or the less flattering things that God did (such as hardening Egypt's heart).
What's striking is how the beginning and the end of the poem are decontextualized, with no references to the narrative here. It seems possible that this was sort-of a mad-lib poem that existed in Israel that could be used on a number of occasions, including this.
(Please note that my divisions are different than Alter's, mostly because I am not as well versed in the literary nuances he discusses. However, it is interesting that we both notice a tripartite poem.)
Assignment #3 (11/3/14)
Structure of Exodus 12:
Verses 1-2: Nissan is the first month
3-13: God tells Israel how to observe the period leading up the exodus, including the laws of the Korban Pesach and the blood on the door
14-20: God tells Israel that there will be a yearly holiday celebrating these events, and the laws and practices of this holiday
21-27: God commands Moses and the elders to perform the actions commanded above (3-13), and that they should explain this to their children.
28: Moses and the elders do as commanded
29-36: Makkat Bechorot, Pharaoh tell Israel to get out of Egypt, Israel loots Egypt in the process
37-42: Israel leaves, bread doesn't rise
43-49: Laws of Korban Pesach
50: Israel did something, as commanded
51: Israel leaves Egypt
This chapter is very disorganized. It seems to jump around between laws, the narrative, what God commands them to do, and what they actually do. Why are more laws repeated in 43-49? It would have made sense for that to be in the 14-20 section. What do verses 50 and 51 tell us that we didn't already know? What is the purpose of section 1-2, this information about the calendar seems pretty irrelevant at this point.
Maybe the jumbled nature of this narrative reflects the hurry that Israel was in. There was no time; there was a lot to be done before they left, and fast! In fact, they didn't even have time to bake the bread properly! The lack of organization between narrative and commandment in this chapter also conveys a notion of no time; no time to properly learn all the laws, we must be on the move!
1. It would be meaningless to speak of the holiday of Chag HaMatzot without first explaining when it is the "first month," in which this holiday falls. (Ralbag)
2: Matzah was not yet a separate mitzvah (just connected to the Pesach), and was just a testament to the hurry they would be in while eating the Korban Pesach (similar to the obligation to eat the Pesach with their belts tied and shoes on). (Ralbag)
3: No name is given; 7 days long; no chametz all 7; 1st and 7th days are holy convocations when no work except for food may be done; eat matzah during this holiday; this holiday begins the night of the 14th (i.e. succeeding the 14th)
4: It is strongly emphasized that the Ger is totally equal with regards to these laws.
5: Moshe seems to think that the doorpost-blood ceremony will be performed for generations, which God never told him. Assuming events occurred in the order of the text, maybe Moshe was confused when God told him to do the blood ceremony, and then that there also will be a holiday.
6: 430, a number that does not at all add up if you consider that Moshe was Levi's great-grandson. According to Ralbag the counting begins at Brit Bein HaBetarim. Even Ralbag, who often tries to maintain the literal meaning of the text, doesn't understand this point to be literal.
7-8: All the laws mentioned from 43-46 are added. While the command earlier in the perek seems to only be for Pesach Mitzrayim, the latter command is intended for Pesach Dorot (it talks about scnearios in the future of Gerim living with them etc.). The line between the 2 Pesachs is very blurry, but if we assume anything after verse 13 is for Dorot it works out.
The Birth Legend of Sargon of Akkad shares many obvious similarities with the birth legend of Moshe in Exodus 2:2, including: Unknown parents from a priestly family (Moshe's parents are unnamed and Leviim); a secret birth; placed in reed basket sealed with pitch; left in river; drawn out of river; "drawer of water"; and the baby becoming royalty.
Whats is most striking is the differences between the two narratives. In Sargon's legend, Sargon becomes the ruler of all the land and conquers all. Moshe, however, has different priorities. He immediately goes outside the palace and sees the suffering of the Israelites and tries bring a modicum of justice. The Torah may be making a contrast between the Jewish leader and other ancient Near Eastern leaders. Other leaders use their power to conquer and pillage; the Torah's leader uses his power to bring social justice.
Answers to questions:
1) Bat Pharaoh knew Moshe was a Hebrew because he was hidden and thrown into the river (Ralbag). Some Mepharshim read in something more deep--such as Moshe being born circumcised--but I think Ralbag is correct from a Peshat perspective.
2) Ralbag doesn't comment on this, but I think it is implied by the fact that Bat Pharaoh took him as a son (2:10) that he grew up in Pharaoh's house.
3) According to Ralbag either it was just a known thing in Beit Pharaoh, or that Bat Pharaoh told him at some point. From a peshat perspective, this makes the most sense.
4) Moshe was a leader and felt a sense of responsibility to stand up for his people (Ralbag).
5) Like the answer above, Ralbag gives the most rational understanding: That Moshe is willing to stand up for his people and as a leader feels a sense of responsibility both to protect them and promote peace within them.
Some characters have complicated identities in the first 2 perakim of Sefer Shemot, while others are more straightforward. We will see that some of the issues that these characters are dealing with foreshadow the rest of the Torah.
Moshe, arguably the main character of the Torah from this point on, is quite complex in these chapters. He often oscillates between his Egyptian identity and his Israelite identity. When Bat Pharaoh draws Moshe out of the water, he is noticeably Israelite. According to some (quoted in Ramban), this is because he had a Brit Milah from birth. It could also just be a racial identification. In any case, Bat Pharaoh summons an Israelite woman to nurse Moshe. Rashi says that this is because one day Moshe will speak to the Shekhina, so even as a baby he would not suck from impure (non-Jewish) nipples. Obviously the Peshat reason for this is that since Bat Pharaoh did not recently have a child she is not currently lactating, but it is interesting how the commentators make this into a racial issue. In 2:11-13 Moshe saves the Jew from the abusive Mitzri, and attempts to make peace amongst his fellow Israelites. These verses all relate to Moshe’s Israelite identity.
Other verses, however, indicate that Moshe also had an Egpytian identity. His name is given to him by an Egyptian, Bat Pharaoh. He is raised in an Egyptian household. In 2:14, the men say to whom “who put you in charge of us?”, implying that they did not consider Moshe one of them. Finally, though he was identifiably Israelite at birth, Reuel’s daughters identify him as “Ish Mitzri.” The tension between Moshe being one of the people—an Israelite—and somehow fundamentally different than the people will play out throughout the Torah.
The other main character in the Torah, God (identified in this section as “Elohim”), also plays an interesting role in these chapters. All we know about Elohim from these chapters is that He is someone whom people feared (1:17), who rewards those who do good (1:20-21), and who “hears” prayer (2:24-25). What is most shocking about Elohim in these chapters, however, is His absence. Though the pains of Bnei Yisrael are described in depth, Elohim does not intervene. God is probably the most fickle character in the Torah—sometimes wrathful, sometimes merciful, sometimes intervening, sometimes absent—so it is interesting to consider the role of God in each section.
Pharaoh seems pretty straightforward in this section. All we know about him is that he is afraid of Jews and is willing to sanction genocide and infanticide in the interest of getting rid of them. We also know that he seems to be quite ignorant of history (in his not knowing Yosef).
Finally, two really fascinating characters in this section are Ish Levi and Bat Levi, Moshe’s parents. It is interesting that their identities are hidden, considering that later in the Torah we will find out that their names are Amram and Yocheved (although some scholars believe that the two people here are actually not Amram and Yocheved). Ramban says that the hidden identity implies that this was done in a quick and stealthy manner (their marriage and conception of a baby), in order to avoid detection by Pharaoh (Ramban brings compelling textual proofs for this point). Though these mysterious characters are not major characters in the Torah, the shady circumstances surrounding Moshe’s birth could be telling.