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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nachshon ben Aminadav

Shevi'i shel Pesah is the traditional anniversary of the splitting of the Red Sea.  On that day this year, my son asked me to explain the extra-biblical tradition which has Nachshon ben Aminadav jumping into the sea before it parted.  Below are the major midrashic sources for this tradition and some preliminary analysis regarding their origins in Scripture.  This turns out to be an excellent example of how aggadot on biblical figures evolved from a careful reading of words and phrases within the Bible itself.

A version of this aggada is found in the Talmud, Sota 36b-37a:

אמר רב חנא בר ביזנא א״ר שמעון חסידא: יוסף שקידש שם שמים בסתר ־ הוסיפו עליו אות אחת משמו של הקב״ה, יהודה שקידש שם שמים בפרהסיא ־ נקרא כולו על שמו של הקב״ה. . .
יהודה מאי היא? דתניא, היה ר״מ אומר: כשעמדו ישראל על הים, היו שבטים מנצחים זה עם זה, זה אומר אני יורד תחלה לים וזה אומר אני יורד תחלה לים, קפץ שבטו של בנימין וירד לים תחילה, שנאמר: (תהלים סח) שם בנימין צעיר רודם, אל תקרי רודם אלא רד ים, והיו שרי יהודה רוגמים אותם, שנאמר: (תהלים סח) שרי יהודה רגמתם . . . אמר לו רבי יהודה: לא כך היה מעשה, אלא זה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים וזה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים, קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב וירד לים תחילה, שנאמר: (הושע יב) סבבוני בכחש אפרים ובמרמה בית ישראל ויהודה עוד רד עם אל, ועליו מפרש בקבלה: (תהלים סט) הושיעני אלהים כי באו מים עד נפש, טבעתי ביון מצולה ואין מעמד וגו׳ (תהלים סט) אל תשטפני שבולת מים ואל תבלעני מצולה וגו׳ . . .לפיכך זכה יהודה לעשות ממשלה בישראל, שנאמר: (תהלים קיד) היתה יהודה לקדשו ישראל ממשלותיו, מה טעם היתה יהודה לקדשו וישראל ממשלותיו? משום דהים ראה וינוס.

I  have highlighted the biblical quotations, none of which are from Exodus, to show how the midrash draws on several verses from seemingly unrelated contexts (Hosea, Psalms) to supplement the biblical narrative.

Here are the aggada's main elements:

  1. Judah and Joseph committed great acts of kiddush Hashem; Joseph's act was private, but Judah's was public. 
  2. The kiddush Hashem performed by the tribe of Judah took place at the Red Sea.  
  3. Rabbi Judah claims that while the tribes were bickering over who would enter the Red Sea first (each tribe refusing to be the first), Nachson ben Aminadav, the prince (nasi) of the tribe of Judah, jumped into the sea.  Rabbi Meir claims that each tribe wished to enter first, and that it was the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah, that acted while the others argued.
  4. In R. Judah's view, the tribe of Judah earned the right of sovereignty as a reward for sanctifying God's name at the Red Sea.  

    Note the following with regard to the Scriptural derivation of the aggada:  
    1. Although Nachshon is said to have entered first, no verse is cited in this version to prove this.  The verses here only support the idea that the tribe of Judah was the first to enter.
    2. The implicit connection between Judah's kiddush ha-Shem and the splitting of the Red Sea derives from three contiguous verses (semikhut pesukim) in Psalm 114.  The first verse, בְּצֵאת יִשְֹרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם is followed immediately by הָיְתָה יְהוּדָה לְקָדְשׁוֹ (verse 2).  Thus, the tribe of Judah sanctified God's name immediately following the exodus, i.e., at the Red Sea.  And, just after the verse mentioning Judah's kiddush Hashem, we read  הַיָּם רָאָה וַיָּנֹס (verse 3) -- implying that the sea parted as a result of Judah's act in the previous verse.  (This reasoning is alluded to in Midrash Tehillim 114, ed. Buber, p. 474).
    3. Psalm 69 is the prayer of a very desperate man -- הושיעני אלהים כי באו מים עד נפש. Hazal heard in this prayer the cries of someone who is literally near drowning.  Aside perhaps from the Book of Jonah (which has its own undersea prayer), the most appropriate context for this Psalm was at the Red Sea. 

    The version of the aggada quoted above has a parallel source in the Mekhilta (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Beshalah 5, ed. Horowitz-Rabin pp. 104-105).  It is a midrash on the following verse (Ex. 14:22):

    וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם

    There are no major variations between the Bavli and the Mekhilta, but the opening verse in the Mekhilta's version is significant.  Note how בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה -- "in the sea on dry land" --  is an oxymoron.  One might therefore read the two phrases, instead, as sequential events:  "The children of Israel entered the sea, which then turned to dry land."  So the idea that someone entered the Red Sea before it parted derived, at least in part, from the structure of this verse (See Shemot Rabba 21:10 - אם בים למה ביבשה ואם ביבשה למה בתוך הים? אלא מכאן אתה למד שלא נקרע להם הים עד שבאו לתוכו עד חוטמן ואחר כך נעשה להם יבשה). 

    But what motivated R. Judah to identify Nachshon as the hero of the story?  One could argue that it is reasonable to assume, once it had been established that the tribe of Judah entered first, that its leader would have personally set the example.  But is there any indication from the biblical text which singles out  Nachshon?

    As background, here is the biblical profile of Nachshon ben Aminadav:

    Nachson was the brother-in-law of Aaron (Ex. 6:23).  In the opening verses of Numbers (1:7), he is named as the nasi of his tribe.  Most significantly, he is the first of the twelve nesi'im to offer sacrifices at the dedication of the tabernacle (Num. 7:12):

      וַיְהִי הַמַּקְרִיב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן אֶת-קָרְבָּנוֹ נַחְשׁוֹן בֶּן-עַמִּינָדָב לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה

    Nachshon is also named in Ruth (4:20) and I Chronicles (2:11) as a direct progenitor of King David.

    The source for Nachshon's role at the Red Sea is made explicit in the following passage from Bemidbar Rabba (13:7):

    נחשון בן עמינדב למטה יהודה. למה נקרא שמו נחשון? על שם שירד תחלה לנחשול שבים. אמר רבי שמעון בן יוחאי: אמר הקב״ה למשה מי שקידש את שמי בים הוא יקריב תחלה וזה היה נחשון וכן עשה הה״ד (במדבר ז) נחשון בן עמינדב וגו׳

    The Sages took note of the fact that in Numbers it was the prince of Judah, rather than Reuben, who made the first dedication offering.  Nachshon must have done something outstanding to merit this honor.  An aggadic tradition developed, here represented by R. Shimon bar Yohai, which  identified Nachson as the man who first entered the Red Sea; the same Nachshon who sanctified God's name after the exodus was invited to step ahead of the other tribes at the dedication of the tabernacle.

    Also, this midrash makes a linguistic connection between the name נחשון and the word נחשול, a large wave or sea-storm (נחשול is of rabbinic, rather than biblical, origin; like many word or name associations in the literature of Hazal, this analogy should be treated as a thematic link, not as true etymology).  Note that a variant of the Mekhilta/Bavli version (e.g., Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, ed. Epstein-Melamed, p. 63) uses the following expression:

    קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב ונפל לו לתוך הים וגליו
    This rendering seems to echo the נחשון / נחשול association.

    It is very interesting to note that both R. Judah in the Mekhilta/Bavli version and R. Shimon bar Yohai in the Bemidbar Rabba version assume that Nachson is the one who had jumped into the Red Sea.  They do not feel compelled to prove it.  This points to a relatively early origin of this tradition.

    I would add that there may be an implicit connection underlying this aggada between Nachson's sacrifice at the hannukat hamishkan and his self-sacrifice (i.e., kiddush Ha-Shem) at the Red Sea:

    The verse וַיְהִי הַמַּקְרִיב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן אֶת-קָרְבָּנוֹ נַחְשׁוֹן בֶּן-עַמִּינָדָב לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה conjures the phrase וּפַרְעֹה הִקְרִיב (Ex. 14:10), describing Pharaoh's pursuit of Israel just before the parting of the waters.  Recall Rashi on this verse -- מהו הקריב? הקריב עצמו ונתאמץ לקדם לפניהם.  It is possible that Hazal "heard" a linguistic and thematic connection between the self-sacrifice of Pharaoh and the first sacrificial offering of Nachson.  This may have contributed to the idea that there was an unnamed character at the Red Sea on "our side" who also engaged in self-sacrifice, especially in light of all the hints in Psalms pointing to Judah's kiddush ha-Shem at that event.

    The main point of this discussion is that aggadot are not fanciful creations of Hazal.  They were developed over centuries to fill gaps in the biblical narrative by drawing on parallels and suggestive language within the Bible itself.  (The seminars and writings of James Kugel are my inspiration for this approach to reading midrash).

    Nachshon is not mentioned in Parshat Beshalah, nor is there any hint there of a debate between the tribes as to who should (or should not) enter first into the sea.  But after reading the parsha, it remains unclear what exactly happened before the sea split.  After all, before the waters part, God first tells Moshe דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל וְיִסָּעוּ (Ex. 14:15) and only in the next verse commands him to use his staff to perform the miracle (14:16) -- 

     וְאַתָּה הָרֵם אֶת-מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה אֶת-יָדְךָ עַל-הַיָּם וּבְקָעֵהוּ וְיָבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה

    As mentioned, the phrase בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה seems deliberately worded as if to say that they must enter the sea before it splits.  To underscore the point, the phrase is repeated verbatim after they crossed (14:22) -- וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְֹרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה.  This may have suggested to Hazal that God expected the Israelites to demonstrate their faith before Moshe split the sea miraculously, and that they indeed did so.  Hints in verses elsewhere, such as in Psalms, contributed other details to the aggada, i.e., that a single individual -- Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Judah -- was the man who took the initiative and thereby sanctified God's name.  Collectively, all of these hints and suggestions formed the basis of a supplementary narrative to the story recorded in the Bible.  

    There is, of course, an ethical statement in this aggada having to do with bitahon and human effort, especially individual effort.  The sea did not split until someone, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, took a single step for a man; one giant leap of faith for his people.  We will leave that theme aside for another discussion.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Reading and Translating Shir Ha-Shirim

    How to resolve the tension between literal and allegorical readings of Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs, henceforth SHS) was a problem that occupied our greatest exegetical minds.  Rashi is a prime and fascinating example.  Fortunately for us, Rashi spelled out his methodology with great clarity in the introduction to his commentary on SHS, a text that should be required reading for any student of Jewish biblical exegesis.  It will be obvious to anyone who reads the full text of Rashi's introduction that his approach is a premeditated duality of contextual, plain-sense interpretation and midrashic embellishment.

    The introductory paragraphs to SHS in the ArtScroll Stone Chumash (pp. 1263ff.) quote Rashi's introduction at length.  Even so, the citation is partial -- Rashi's words have been truncated.  In an apparent act of ideological censorship, the opening and most critical lines of the text were omitted by the editor.

    Such editorial tampering is glaring and surprisingly brazen, considering that unedited versions of Rashi's introduction are widely available to anyone with a basic Jewish home library or an internet browser.  The original text can be found in standard editions of Chumash Mikraot Gedolot, at the back of the Vayikra volume. 

    Here is my translation of the "missing" portion of Rashi's introduction:
    "God has spoken once; twice have I heard it (Ps. 62:12):  A single verse of Scripture may bear multiple interpretations" (Sanhedrin 34a).  After all is said and done, no scriptural verse may be interpreted in a way that deviates completely from the simple, literal meaning.  While the prophets spoke allegorically, one must interpret their allegories according to the structure of the text and the sequence of the verses, one following the next . . . I have endeavored to preserve the literal meaning of the text and to interpret the verses in sequence.  I shall also cite the midrashim of our Sages, each one in its appropriate place . . .
    Based on these words alone, no honest scholar would claim that Rashi's commitment to the simple, contextual meaning is fundamentally weaker than his interest in the midrashic interpretation.

    Rashi implements his exegetical strategy, if somewhat inconsistently, throughout the commentary.  For example, on the verse below (2:12), he first offers a completely literal commentary, which is only subsequently followed by midrashic exegesis.

    הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ

    Below is my translation of the literal portion of Rashi's commentary on this verse:

    הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ -- Spring is arriving, when trees blossom and travelers delight in seeing them.

    עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ -- The birds sing, providing travelers with pleasing sounds.

    וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר -- Read this literally . . . birds sing and chirp in the spring.

    Compare this literal commentary to the ArtScroll Stone translation:
    The righteous blossoms are seen in the land, the time of your song has arrived, and the voice of your guide is heard in the land (emphasis added).

    Now, the Stone translation purports to be "allegorical, based on Rashi's commentary."  But that description is inaccurate and misleading -- the translator should have written, "based on the allegorical layer of Rashi's commentary."  It is abundantly clear that whatever merits they have, ArtScroll's translation and commentary are unfaithful to Rashi's program.  The editors ignored the critical thrust of Rashi's method and excised -- deliberately, in all likelihood -- a key passage from their summary of Rashi's introduction.

    Had Rashi himself translated SHS into his native Old French, I have little doubt he would have based it on the literal thread of his commentary.

    This is not to say that for Rashi, the peshat and derash layers of the text are equivalent or interchangeable -- far from it. The peshat, no doubt, is a means to the deeper, more penetrating derash. Yet the means are indispensable and certainly not invalid.  Rashi insists on a precise mastery of the literal text as a requisite first step in the search for the book's ultimate meaning.   While ArtScroll may dismiss peshat as an illegitimate and even nefarious approach to SHS, it is historically inaccurate and intellectually dishonest to project such an ideology onto Rashi.  Here especially, but also generally in Rashi's biblical commentaries, peshat is the very foundation of proper exegesis.  Without peshat, derash cannot stand.

    Like Rashi, the editor of the Stone Chumash justifies his methodology:
    . . .The Song is an allegory. It is a duet of love between God and Israel. Its verses are so saturated with meaning that nearly every one of the major commentators finds new themes in its beautiful but cryptic words. All agree, however, that the true and simple meaning of Shir HaShirim is the allegorical meaning. The literal meaning of the words is so far from their meaning that it is false. . . . Has it been misinterpreted by fools and twisted by scoundrels? Most assuredly Yes! . . .
    -- R. Nosson Scherman, The Chumash, ArtScroll Series, Stone Edition, (Mesorah, Brooklyn, 1998), pp. 1263-1267. The last sentence appears verbatim in the "Overview" of the original ArtScroll edition; see R. Nosson Scherman, Shir haShirim, (Mesorah, New York, 1977), p. lxvi. This edition also includes the truncated version of Rashi's introduction, on p. 67.
    This statement is quite simply incorrect. "All" do not agree -- certainly Rashi would not -- "that the true and simple meaning of Shir HaShirim is the allegorical meaning." The literal meaning is not, to use ArtScroll's simplistic labeling, "false"; in fact, it is the starting point of a "true" reading of SHS ("true" and "false" are, of course, the wrong categories for this subject).

    The literal layer of meaning in SHS was critically important to Rashi, as it should be to us. And if those who have "misinterpreted and twisted" SHS (presumably, those who have interpreted it literally) are "fools and scoundrels" then, has ve-shalom, the second-century tanna Rabbi Yonatan is one as well. R. Yonatan appears to have read SHS just this way, calling the book divre zemer (poetry or song) and attributing it to a young Solomon.  As stated in Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba (1:10):

    ר׳ יונתן אמר שה״ש כתב תחלה ואח״כ משלי ואח״כ קהלת. ומייתי לה ר׳ יונתן מדרך ארץ. כשאדם נער אומר דברי זמר, הגדיל אומר דברי משלות, הזקין אומר דברי הבלים

    For an approach that is faithful to the spirit of Rashi's method, but in a updated, contemporary format, see the Amos Hakham's introduction and commentary, in Mossad Harav Kook's Da'at Mikra series.

    The rest is commentary (and translation). Go and learn.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Reclining at the Seder

    This shiur is dedicated le-ilui nishmat avi mori ve-rabi, R. Shlomo ben Avraham Leib ZL, who passed away on or le-arba asar two years ago. 
    I would like to say at the outset that the shiur will take the form of an analysis of a sugya, i.e., it is a “shiur in lomdus.”  Needless to say, I will make no practical conclusions halakha le-maaseh, although I will attempt to analyze both the maaseh ha-mitzva, the practice of reclining, and the kiyyum ha-mitzva, its function and meaning.  I hope that my analysis will enrich both, as any worthy "piece of lomdus" should.
    The Talmud discusses reclining as a dining custom in the context of both hilkhot pesah and hilkhot berakhot.  We will begin with hilkhot berakhot.
    The mishna in Ketzad Mevarkhin (source 1) in Tractate Berakhot discusses hotzaa bi-verakha, the option of including fellow diners in a blessing at a group meal.  It distinguishes between two dining postures – sitting and reclining.
    משנה. ברך על היין שלפני המזון ־ פטר את היין שלאחר המזון . . . היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו, הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן

    There are two separate scenarios in this mishna.  The first deals with food served as an appetizer before a meal, and whether the blessing made over the preliminary course can include food eaten later during the meal itself.  The second case deals with how dining posture impacts hotzaa.  We will soon see how these cases are related and why they are contiguous in this mishna.

    We should also note that read simply, the mishna is speaking of berakha rishona, but the gemara assumes it also refers to birkat hamazon.  

    On the question of reclining vs. sitting, the gemara (42b) concludes that the possibility of hotzaa is not limited to the case where the diners have actually reclined.  The gemara states that if a group dined together deliberately, in a pre-meditated manner, they may appoint one member to say birkat hamazon for all, even if they ate sitting.  That is, if the meal was eaten with a sense of community, then hotzaa is possible.   In the words of the gemara:
    כיון דאמרי ניזיל וניכול לחמא בדוך פלן ־ כהסבו דמי.

    Within the shakela ve-taria of this sugya, the gemara quotes a tosefta (source 2) which is very similar to our mishna.   This tosefta is a sort of “Guide to Formal Dining” with respect to the relevant halakhot at each stage of the meal.
    Berakhot 43a (from Tosefta):
    כיצד סדר הסבה (י"ג סדר סעודה)? אורחין נכנסין ויושבין על גבי ספסלין ועל גבי קתדראות עד שיכנסו כולם. הביאו להם מים כל אחד ואחד נוטל ידו אחת, בא להם יין ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמוֹ. עלו והסבו ובא להם מים, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד נטל ידו אחת ־ חוזר ונוטל שתי ידיו. בא להם יין, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד ברך לעצמו ־ אחד מברך לכולם.

    Some historical context: In the Roman period, to which the Mishna and Tosefta belong, nobility throughout the Mediterranean built homes and held banquets in the Roman style (see the illustrations).  Guests arriving at a dinner party entered the host’s villa from the street via a corridor, called the vestibulum (“prozdor” in Hazal, based on the Greek).  The vestibulum led to a central courtyard called the atrium, which was open to the air.  As described in the Tosefta, the guests sat on benches (ספסלין) or on chairs with backs (קתדראות) and were served wine and hors d'oeuvres (parperaot) until all the guests arrived.  Branching off from the atrium were several rooms, including the formal dining room, or triclinium -- “teraklin” in rabbinic Hebrew, e.g., Avot 4:
    רבי יעקב אומר העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא. התקן עצמך בפרוזדור. כדי שתכנס לטרקלין:

    “Triclinium,” based on the Greek, is a “room with three couches.”  The couches, either separate or combined in a single permanent fixture, were normally arranged in a U-shape, surrounding a small table.  The triclinia of wealthy Romans had a built-in stone structure in this shape, covered with cushions during meals. 

    By reading the mishna and tosefta in Ketsad Mevarkhin in parallel, the scene they each describe becomes more clear, and we may further understand why sitting and reclining differ le-halakha.  When the mishna speaks of “lifne hamazon” or “hayyu yoshvin”, it is referring to the preliminary phase of a banquet.  While guests were gathering in the vestibulum and artrium, during what we may call the “smorgasbord,” there was no keviut le-akhila.  They ate standing or perhaps sitting on benches and chairs.  This was considered akhilat arai, "transient eating" rather than dining (though we will soon see how some medieval halakhists offered an updated view of sitting down to eat).  Free men and women would recline, rather than sit, while dining.  Therefore, the mishna says היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו  .  On the other hand, “be-tokh hamazon” refers to the dinner, served only after the guests had reclined in the triclinium.  Since this was the primary and stationary part of the meal, a single diner could include the others in his blessing -- הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן.  This is what the tosefta means by “alu ve-hesevu” – the guests have relocated to the the triclinium and have reclined.  In short, then, “sitting” and “reclining” in both our mishna and tosefta refer to two sequential events within the same meal.  The first event included no option for hotzaa due to its transiencethe second was marked by keviut and therefore included the possibility of hotzaa (I later discovered a similar analysis by Meir Ish Shalom in Meir Ayin al Ha-Hagada [Vienna, 1895], pp. 19ff.; available on  

    It should be noted that reclining during meals far pre-dates the Romans.  It was the custom of elites in ancient Persian and Greek civilization, and is mentioned in Tanakh (SHS: “ad shehamelekh be-mesibo”; Meggilat Esther, “mitot zahav va-khesef”; Haman pleaded with Esther while she was reclining at the banquet). 
    Reclining during a banquet was taken for granted by Hazal.  However, by the medieval period, at least in Christian Europe, it had fallen out of practice.  Tosafot on this sugya (source 3) acknowledges the change in dining customs, and applies the contemporary standard of behavior to the laws of berakhot:
    Tosafot, Berakhot 42a, s.v. Hesevu:
    הסבו אחד מברך לכלן. ואנו אין לנו הסבה אלא בפת בלבד ופת מהני אפילו בלא הסבה. דדוקא לדידהו שהיו אוכלים בהסבה היו צריכים הסבה אלא ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו. שהם היו רגילים כל אחד להסב על מטתו ועל שלחנו אבל עכשיו כולנו אוכלים על שלחן אחד וכשאנו אוכלין יחד היינו קביעותינו.

    This should not be viewed as a radical hiddush since the gemara itself equated sitting with reclining, if there was keviut at the meal.  What is striking about this Tosafot is the acknowledgement that a change in general culture over time may lead to a major deviation from a practice originally mandated by the Talmud.

    We can now move on to reclining at the Seder.  The source of this obligation is the first mishna in Arve Pesahim (source 4).  Note that there are three phrases in this mishna.  The first clearly refers to issur akhila be-erev Pesah.  The last addresses the obligation of four cups of wine, i.e. that this obligation applies even to the poor.  The middle phrase is somewhat ambiguous.  The simplest reading connects it to the last phrase, the sefa; i.e., someone who is poor must also observe the reclining at the Seder in addition to the four cups of wine.  However, there is an opposing view quoted in Tosafot (source 5) which reads the middle phrase as a continuation of the first phrase in the mishna, the resha; i.e., that all members of the community, even a starving “ani shebe-yisrael,” must wait until dark to begin the Seder.
    While the Mishna and the Bavli do not provide an explicit “ta'am” for reclining at the Seder, the Yerushalmi does (source 6).  The point to be emphasized in reading the Yerushalmi is that haseva and slavery cannot coexist within the same person; they are mutually exclusive, though in some ways interdependent.  Slavery facilitated reclining.  The slave’s function was to attend to the host and his guests, and therefore slaves were normally prohibited from reclining with their masters.  Indeed, reclining with one's master was a sign of manumission.  Reclining is thus a very fitting expression of “me-avdut le-herut.”  The Rambam expands on this theme (source 7).  Following the mishna in Arve Pesahim – according to the reading which ties “afilu ani” with “lo yifhatu lo” – the Rambam tightly links the obligation of four kosot with haseva, mentioning them almost in the same breath.  Both, in his view, are a kiyyum of “derekh herut” which, in turn, is a kiyyum of “leharot et atzmo” – of personally experiencing the redemption. 
    We have read from the Tosafot in Berakhot, which argues that haseva around a table is equivalent to reclining for the purpose of keviut le-akhila.  We do not find such an explicit argument in any Tosafot in Arve Pesahim.  However, the Hakhmei Ashkenaz from the same period applied the approach of Tosafot in Berakhot to haseva be-lel Pesah (Raavan, Raavia, and Maharil, sources 8-10). 

    The position stating that haseva is no longer required due to the shift from a reclining to a table-and-chairs dining culture has come to be identified with the Raavia (R. Eliezer ben Yoel Ha-Levi, active in Germany around 1200; source 9).  In fact, he was preceded by his maternal grandfather, the Raavan (R. Eliezer ben Nathan, twelfth-century Germany; source 8).  The Rema cites the Raavia’s position in the context of two cases:  Although women are obligated to recline, they do not normally do so (לא נהגו להסב); in this, they can rely on the opinion of the Raavia.  Also, based on the uncontested authority of the Raavia, the Rema justifies the lenient opinion exempting those who forgot to recline from eating matza or drinking the kosot again - כדאי הוא ראבי״ה לסמוך עליו שבדיעבד יצא בלא הסיבה.  The Rema's own ruling, however, is that one must repeat eating matza and drinking the first two cups of wine if they were consumed without reclining (source 11).
    Of the three German halakhists in the sources, the Maharil is the most strident in tone; he insists that one should not recline while eating, since he “resembles one who is ill.”  In Western countries, this is of course as true today as it was in 1400; only those who are very ill eat lying down. 
    Note well that the Raavan and Raavia, given the Mishna and the Bavli, do not argue that haseva is anachronistic; they say that reclining is anachronistic.  Haseva derekh herut is indeed required but it may be defined broadly to include the sitting posture. 
    [Taking a more radical approach to the question of sitting vs. reclining, the Maharal argues that haseva is actually synonymous with yeshiva. This goes far beyond the position of the Baalei Ha-Tosafot who said that ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו.  Maharal's proof is from the Targum on Gen. 37:25, וישבו לאכול לחם – i.e., ואסתחרו, they reclined. This position is untenable, however, considering that Hazal distinguish explicitly between “haseva” and “yeshiva” in the context of hilkhot berakhot and hilkhot pesach.  Moreover, the fact that “sitting to eat” is translated by Onkelos as “reclining” does not imply the reverse, that when reclining is required, sitting may be substituted as an equivalent – reclining may be only a subset of sitting.] 
    Another approach to broadening the definition of “haseva” is taken by Menahem Kasher in the Haggada Shelema.  He claims that the word הסבה is derived from the root סוב, as in “gathering round.”  Thus, haseva refers to the act of communal dining rather than the dining posture of the diners.  So, in line with the views of Tosafot, Raavan, and Raavia, haseva may include any contemporary dining format, including sitting, as long as the meal is shared.  Though I believe Kasher’s analysis correctly identifies the etymological origin of “haseva,” it is hard to argue – as noted by D. Goldschmidt – that the traditional usage of haseva includes anything but reclining.
    Let us now turn to the question (or declaration) about reclining in the Ma Nishtana passage of the Haggada.  As is well known, the version of Ma Nishtana in the mishna omits reclining, and instead includes a question about why the Passover offering may only be prepared by broiling (basar tzali).  This does not necessarily imply that there were always four questions recited at the Seder, and that the mishna's question about broiling was simply replaced by the Haggada's question on reclining.  The Rambam (source 12), in fact, states that five questions were asked bizeman hamikdash, including the question about reclining; after the destruction of the Temple, the question regarding tzali was omitted.  The Vilna Gaon (source 13), on the other hand, argues that there was no question regarding reclining during the Temple period since it was common practice at all meals; it was inserted later in place of the question regarding the korban pesah.  Thus, according to the GRA, since today we are naturally surprised to see the anachronism of reclining practiced at the Seder, it deserves its own question within Ma Nishtana.  In the same vein, the Arukh Ha-Shulhan concedes that while reclining is completely anachronistic, ancient and outmoded dining manners are to be celebrated at the Seder, rather than avoided, as there is no better way to elicit questioning from the children. 

    The approach which I believe is closest to the simple, and likely original, meaning of the question in Ma Nishtana on reclining is that of the Shibolei Ha-Leket (source 14).  In his view, the expression kulanu mesubin -- "tonight we all recline" -- emphasizes the egalitarian nature of the Seder.  On this night, all social classes, including servants, women, and children, were invited to recline.  "We all recline" means that all those present at the Seder must recline, in contrast to the normal practice of bein yoshvin u-vein mesubin, when members of some classes were not permitted to recline.  At the Seder, all classes, especially those who were normally subjugated to the will of others, must experience derekh herut.  Thus, according to Shibole Ha-Leket, the question on reclining in Ma Nashtina would have been appropriate, perhaps especially so, during the Temple period, when elites (only) reclined by default.  

    I end with two conclusions, which are challenges that have been raised by this discussion.  The first is connected to the maaseh ha-mitzva and the second has to do with the kiyyum ha-mitzva.
    1. How should we respond to changing norms and values in the world of which we are a part, when they conflict with our traditions, or when those norms and values make our customs seem outdated?  Despite our often diligent efforts, it is impossible to deny that the world around us changes.  Dress, social behaviors, speech, intellectual and artistic trends, and even moral values – in a word, culture – changes in both general society and in our subculture in parallel, though not necessarily at the same speed, whether we like it or not.  This is especially true today where any cultural barriers between our own community and wider society are voluntary and easily breached.
    The 12th and 13th century Ashkenazic poskim were able to pronounce confidently that ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו  (Tosafot) or that  יוצאין אנו כדרך הסיבתנו ואין לנטות ימין ושמאל (Raavan).  How and when can we apply the same reasoning today to other customs that appear to be obsolete?  Considering the dangers inherent in this activity, this is clearly not something we can do cavalierly.
    A useful approach to this problem may be something like the following: With regard to certain customs, we must not idolize the past simply because it is old.  That is, even within our conservative religious tradition, we should not sacrifice progress on the altar of convention or maintain anachronistic behaviors only out of a sense of nostalgia.  The Hakhmei Ashkenaz ruled unequivocally that in the West one must -- le-hatkhila -- sit at the Seder (in contrast to Rema, who permitted sitting only after the fact, be-dieved), even though this was not in agreement with a literal reading of the Talmud.  It is the science and art of pesak to make determinations of this kind in each generation, as human behavior changes over time.  In short, our Torah is a Torat Hayyim, it is flexible and responsive to change but, to ensure its integrity, it must also be maintained by seyagim.

    2. As mentioned, the Rambam says haseva is a kiyyum of “derekh herut,” which itself is a kiyyum of “Leharot et azmo.”  This is a difficult challenge in modern society.  We may try to demonstrate herut, but there is no universal set of actions that can inspire a feeling of herut, since most of us are so unfamiliar with its opposite.  This was not so at the time of Hazal: As many as 20-30% of the population in Rome were slaves.  During that period, when slavery was commonplace and when masters and slaves reclined together at the Seder, it was much easier to experience a sense of herut (the Rambam cites this as a technique to fulfill sippur yetziat mitzrayim for a קטן או טיפש בן).  So how can one truly experience herut today, as required by the Rambam?
     "וזכרת כי עבד היית" -- כלומר, כאילו אתה בעצמך היית עבד ויצאת לחירות ונפדית

    One way to overcome this challenge is to view sippur yetziat mitzrayim from the perspective of the kabbalists.   They see it not only as the retelling of a national, historical event, but primarily as a  personal, metaphysical narrative of the human quest for inner freedom.  Rabbi Soloveitchik develops this idea in his essay “The Symbolism of Matza” (in Festival of Freedom, ed. Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler, Toras Horav Foundation/Ktav, New York: 2006, pp. 61-62):
    Everyone is in bondage to the unalterable order of things and events, to Pharaoh.  One is born into a slave world, into an environment of rigid causation and regularity.  One is thrust into an alien, indifferent, alas cruel world, where he is not master but slave to events not of his making.  Only through an act of sheer heroism can one free oneself from this order and mold a new inner experience . . . the exodus experience is the dramatic presentation of his encounter, of his combat with and victory over his antagonist, namely, the slave order and slave existence.
    However, freedom is not the ultimate end of man’s questing.  Freedom is only the viaduct leading to something higher and more sublime, to the final destination of man’s fellowship with God . . .

    הסיבה בליל פסח
    1.  Mishna, Berakhot 42a
    משנה. ברך על היין שלפני המזון ־ פטר את היין שלאחר המזון, ברך על הפרפרת שלפני המזון ־ פטר את הפרפרת שלאחר המזון, ברך על הפת ־ פטר את הפרפרת, על הפרפרת ־ לא פטר את הפתֹ בית שמאי אומרים: אף לא מעשה קדרה. היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו, הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן . בא להם יין בתוך המזון ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמו. אחר המזון ־ אחד מברך לכולם
    2.  Berakhot 43a (From Tosefta Berakhot)
    כיצד סדר הסבה? אורחין נכנסין ויושבין על גבי ספסלין ועל גבי קתדראות עד שיכנסו כולם. הביאו להם מים כל אחד ואחד נוטל ידו אחת, בא להם יין ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמוֹ. עלו והסבו ובא להם מים, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד נטל ידו אחת ־ חוזר ונוטל שתי ידיו. בא להם יין, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד ברך לעצמו ־ אחד מברך לכולם
    3. Tosafot, Berakhot 42a, s.v. Hesevu
    הסבו אחד מברך לכלן. ואנו אין לנו הסבה אלא בפת בלבד ופת מהני אפילו בלא הסבה. דדוקא לדידהו שהיו אוכלים בהסבה היו צריכים הסבה אלא ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו. שהם היו רגילים כל אחד להסב על מטתו ועל שלחנו אבל עכשיו כולנו אוכלים על שלחן אחד וכשאנו אוכלין יחד היינו קביעותינו.

    4. Mishna, Pesahim 99b
    משנה. ערב פסחים סמוך למנחה לא יאכל אדם עד שתחשך. אפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל עד שיסב. ולא יפחתו לו מארבע כוסות של יין, ואפילו מן התמחוי.
    5. Tosafot, Pesahim 99b, s.v. Ve-Afilu
    ואפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל עד שיסב. דסלקא דעת דהסיבת עני לא חשיבא הסיבה דאין לו על מה להסב ואין זה דרך חירות. ויש מפרשים דאדלעיל קאי עד שתחשך ואפילו עני שבישראל פירוש אפי׳ עני שלא אכל כמה ימים לא יאכל עד שתחשך
    6. Yerushalmi, Pesahim 10:1
    אמר רב לוי ולפי שדרך עבדים להיות אוכלין מעומד וכאן להיות אוכלין מסובין להודיע שיצאו מעבדות לחירות. ר׳ סימון בשם ר׳ יהושע בן לוי אותו כזית שאדם יוצא בו בפסח צריך לאוכלו מיסב. ר׳ יוסי בעא קומי ר׳ סימון אפי׳ עבד לפני רבו אפילו אשה לפני בעלה? א״ל כר׳ ע״כ שמעתי.

    7. Rambam, Hametz u-Matza (7:6-7):
     ו. בכל דור ודור חייב אדם להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא בעצמו יצא עתה משעבוד מצרים, שנאמר ואותנו הוציא משם וגו׳, ועל דבר זה צוה הקב״ה בתורה, וזכרת כי עבד היית כלומר כאילו אתה בעצמך היית עבד ויצאת לחירות ונפדית. ז לפיכך כשסועד אדם בלילה הזה צריך לאכול ולשתות והוא מיסב דרך חירות, וכל אחד ואחד בין אנשים בין נשים חייב לשתות בלילה הזה ארבעה כוסות של יין, אין פוחתין מהם, ואפילו עני המתפרנס מן הצדקה לא יפחתו לו מארבעה כוסות, שיעור כל כוס מהן רביעית.

    8. Ra’avan, Pesahim 37:

    9. Ra’avia, 525:

    10. Maharil, Seder Ha-Haggada 20:

    11. Rema, Orah Hayyim 472
    ד אשה אינה צריכה הסיבה אא״כ היא חשובה: הגה וכל הנשים שלנו מיקרי חשובות (מרדכי ריש פ׳ ע״פ ורבינו ירוחם) אך לא נהגו להסב כי סמכו על דברי ראבי״ה דכתב דבזמן הזה אין להסב (ד״ע (:
    ז כל מי שצריך הסיבה אם אכל או שתה בלא הסיבה לא יצא וצריך לחזור לאכול ולשתות בהסיבה: הגה וי״א דבזמן הזה דאין דרך להסב כדאי הוא ראבי״ה לסמוך עליו שבדיעבד יצא בלא הסיבה (אגודה פרק ערבי פסחים) ונראה לי אם לא שתה כוס שלישי או רביעי בהסיבה אין לחזור ולשתות בהסיבה דיש בה חשש שנראה כמוסיף על הכוסות אבל בשני כוסות ראשונות יחזור וישתה בלא ברכה (מנהגים) וכן באכילת מצה ולכתחלה יסב כל הסעודה. (מהרי״ב) :

    12. Rambam, Hametz u-Matza 8:2-3
    ב ומוזגין הכוס השני וכאן הבן שואל, ואומר הקורא מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת והלילה הזה שתי פעמים, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה והלילה הזה כולו מצה, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות והלילה הזה מרורים, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין בין מסובין והלילה הזה כולנו מסובין. ג בזמן הזה אינו אומר והלילה הזה כולו צלי שאין לנו קרבן

    13. Vilna Gaon, Perush al Ha-Haggada (reprinted below from Shmuel Klein, Seder Eliyahu al Ha-Haggada, Prague, 1813.  First published by Menahem Mendel of Shklov in Seder Haggada shel Pesah, Grodno, 1805).

    14. Shibolei Ha-Leket, Perush al Ha-Haggada

    Triclinium (House of Julia Felix, Pompeii):

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Matza -- Bread of Affliction?

    Matza is the bread we ate in haste during the exodus from Egypt, and thus represents freedom.  But it is also called  לֶחֶם עֹנִי, commonly translated as "bread of affliction."  What exactly does lehem oni mean, in the simplest reading (peshat)?  To what experience does it refer?

    Here are some thoughts on matza and lehem oni:

    In Exodus, the reason for eating matza is stated unambiguously: We left Egypt in haste and did not have time to bake leavned bread.

    Ex. 12:34ff:

    וַיִּשָּׂא הָעָם אֶת-בְּצֵקוֹ טֶרֶם יֶחְמָץ מִשְׁאֲרֹתָם צְרֻרֹת בְּשִֹמְלֹתָם עַל-שִׁכְמָם: . . .וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת-הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹת כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ כִּי-גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ וְגַם-צֵדָה לֹא-עָשֹוּ לָהֶם:

    The term לֶחֶם עֹנִי appears only in the book of Deuteronomy (16:3), in Parshat Re'eh: 

    לֹא-תֹאכַל עָלָיו חָמֵץ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל-עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי כִּי בְחִפָּזוֹן יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת-יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ:

    Peshat-oriented translations and interpretations of לֶחֶם עֹנִי can be divided into two groups:

    1. Plain (or "poor") matza, i.e., flour and water with no additional ingredients.  This interpretation can be best understood in contrast to the rabbinic Hebrew expression matza ashira -- matza containing eggs, juice, or other "rich" ingredients -- which most likely arose in deliberate contrast to the biblical lehem oni

    2. "Bread of affliction" of the King James Version translation (following, apparently, both the Septuagint and the Vulgate).

    The first interpretation refers to the physical makeup of matza, while the second is connected to an experience of suffering during some part of the bondage in Egypt and/or the exodus.

    The Sifre cites both interpretations, and there is also a discussion in the Talmud (Pesahim 36b) that refers to this tannaitic dispute.  In the Sifre on Re’eh:

    לחם עוני. פרט לחלוט ואשישה (i.e., one may not use boiled bread or bread made with dried fruit).  . . . רבי שמעון אומר למה נקרא לחם עוני? על שם עינוי שנתענו במצרים:

    According to R. Shimon, lehem oni connotes inui or suffering, and refers to Israel’s experience in Egypt, rather the nature of the matza. 

    Below are highlights of traditional exegesis on lehem oni:

    • Rashi opts for the second interpretation --  לחם עוני. לחם שמזכיר את העוני שנתענו במצרים; Ibn Ezra appears to agree.  Ramban considers both to be possible interpretations.  
    • Hizkuni links עוני with עני; i.e., a poor person who has access to nothing but meager ingredients and has no time for the leavening process.  
    • Seforno identifies the "affliction" in this verse with the pressure exerted on the Israelites by their Egyptian taskmasters to leave quickly.  Thus, the "bread of affliction" is so named because it was eaten in involuntary haste.  
    • Finally, Aharon Mirsky (Daat Mikra on Deuteronomy), points to the expression lehem lahatz (I Kings 22:27) as a parallel to lehem oni, i.e., meager bread eaten under oppressive circumstances (Note that this identification was already made by KJV, which renders both lehem oni and lehem lahatz as "bread of affliction."  Similarly, mayim lahatz of Is. 30:20 is "water of affliction" in KJV).

    On a midrashic level, R. Shimon's view connecting oni with inui – aside from the obvious linguistic similarity – appears to be inspired by verses in the Torah which use inui in reference to the bondage in Egypt.  I.e.,:

    Ex. 1:11-12

    וַיָּשִֹימוּ עָלָיו שָֹרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת-פִּתֹם וְאֶת-רַעַמְסֵס: יב   וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ

    Deut. 26:6 
    וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה:

    The fact that Torah repeatedly uses the phrase inui with respect to slavery in Egypt suggests that lehem oni is related to the experience of inui.  I believe the textual association of inui with the Egyptian bondage underlies R. Shimon's opinion, as well as KJV's "bread of affliction." 

    To be clear, this interpretation does not imply that matza was slave-food imposed on the Israelites, or even that unleavened bread, as opposed to hametz, was commonly eaten during the bondage.  More simply, matza is the "bread of affliction” because its meagerness represents slavery.  Read this way, R. Shimon in the Sifre --  למה נקרא לחם עוני? על שם עינוי שנתענו במצרים -- states that matza is a symbol of the Egyptian affliction.  "Bread of affliction" is a metaphor rather than a literal evocation of bread eaten in slavery.

    The notion of matza as slave-food, as noted by the Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, ch. 51), is found nowhere in the Torah or in rabbinic literature.  See, for example, Peshaim 115b, where three different midrashic interpretations are offered for lehem oni, none of which refer to matza in this sense:

     אמר שמואל: (דברים טז) לחם עני (כתיב) ־ לחם שעונין עליו דברים. תניא נמי הכי לחם עני ־ לחם שעונין עליו דברים הרבה. דבר אחר: לחם עני ־ עני כתיב, מה עני שדרכו בפרוסה ־אף כאן בפרוסה. דבר אחר: מה דרכו של עני ־ הוא מסיק ואשתו אופה, אף כאן נמי ־ הוא מסיק ואשתו אופה.

    The idea of lehem oni as slave-food became popular, I think, because of the Ha Lahma Anya passage in the Haggada.  One might render the words, di akhalu avhatana be-ar'a de-mitzrayim, as “which our forefathers ate as slaves in Egypt,” i.e., we ate matza by mandate or by necessity.  But, read more simply, di akhalu refers to events mentioned explicitly in the Torah; either at “Pesach Mitzrayim,” when we ate matza and marror with the korban pesach, or to the period immediately following the exodus, when we ate matza out of haste.

    In fact, a core group of medieval commentaries (e.g., Rashbam, Ritva, Shibole Haleket) on the Haggada state that lahma anya -- Aramaic for lehem oni -- refers to the meager bread that was baked in haste, or to the custom of breaking the matza into pieces.  No mention is made of matza as a staple of the Israelite diet in Egypt.

    The oldest source, I believe, identifying lahma anya with slave-food is the Orhot Hayyim (R. Aharon ha-Kohen of Lunel, France c. 1300) on the Haggada.  He mentions a tale recorded by Yosef Ha-Ezovi regarding Abraham ibn Ezra's imprisonment in India. According to this account, as a prisoner Ibn Ezra was given unleavened bread, due to its tendency to linger in the digestive tract and the relatively small amount required to satiate.  So, Ha-Ezovi concludes, matza was the food given to the Israelites throughout the bondage of Egypt.  Ha-Ezovi's story is also cited by the Abudraham in his commentary on the Haggada, though the captive in Abudraham's version is named Ben Ezra, rather than Abraham ibn Ezra.

    See also the fascinating treatment of this subject in Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, Lo Kakh Katuv Ba-Tanakh (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot, 2004), pp. 92ff.  The authors argue that the Torah's lone reference to lehem oni in Deuteronomy represents a tradition that associated Passover matza with the hunger and oppression of the bondage.  However, the lehem oni tradition was eventually almost completely repressed in favor of the more festive linkage of matza with the korban pesach and the haste of the exodus.