Monday, July 24, 2006

Questioning the leadership of Klal Yisrael

Moshe Rabeinu cries out to Bnei Yisrael that he alone was unable to bear their burdensome complaints and fighting - torchachem u'masa'achem v'rivchem (1:12). On the train this morning Rashi's explanation of masa'achem caught my eye. Now, let me just preface this by saying I was quite amused by seeing my name associated with being a "fundie" [i.e. fundementalist] elsewhere, and use of the A-word - Apikores - is sure to rankle, so I am just going to note what Rashi says and why I thought it suprising. Make of it what you will.
Rashi writes "Masa'achem - this teaches that Bnei Yisrael were apikorsim". When I see that word, my immediate association is with issues of ikarei emunah. But Rashi continues and explains - If Moshe left home early, they said why is he leaving early, perhaps his home life is unsettled. If Moshe left home late, they said he is plotting evil plans against the people. Mashma to me: the label of apikorsus applies not only to questioning ikkarei emunah, but to undermining Moshe Rabeinu, the leader of Klal Yisrael, by questioning his integrity.


  1. yehuda2:09 PM

    Despite rashis usage of the word apikros over here the general understanding of the word apikorus is based on the gem sanhedrin and the rambam and well justified.However perhaps rashi paskens like the gem sanhedrin whice says a mevazeh talmid chocom(moshe in this case)is an apikoros.

  2. I was not questioning the "usual" use of the word apikores - precisely because of the usual use this spot stood out. From Rashi it sounds like these people were speaking about Moshe behind his back - is that included in being mevazeh a t"ch (i.e. where there is no public disgrace involved)?

  3. yehuda5:46 PM

    Sanhedrin 99b. What is considerd mevazeh talmid chochom?Like those who SAY what benefit do the talmidey chachomim bring us.That gem implies merely speaking not in the prescence of the TC is also considered mevazeh TC.The RIF and ROSH both quote it verbatim.I admit I'm unclear about the RMBM as he only says "either B'fonov or not" by the more severe halachos of kovod rabbo (TT5:5)but not in hilcos teshuve where he says mevaze TC ain lo chelek l'olam habo.However I see no reason to say he argues on the RIF and ROSH and pashtus of the gem.Moreover in SO YD 343:7 it says a mevazeh TC after his death is also chiyuv niduy and surely there we aren't talking B'fonov.

  4. yehuda6:09 PM

    Nor do the cases above imply public disgrace.

  5. You are right; thanks for the mareh makom.

  6. Anonymous2:12 PM

    Yehuda-The Ramban also says that one who is mevazeh a dead Talmid Chochom is chiyuv niduy.In fact it is first on his list ot the 24 niduiem in hilcos Talmud Torah6;14.Reb Chaim- the mhorsha sanhedrin 99b says the word apikorus also means chatzifus [as in speaking against Moshe Rabbanu]

  7. anon19:10 AM


    from the Gush website daily dvar Torah (called SALT)- by R'David Silverberg. His stuff is worth reading on a daily basis.

    In Parashat Devarim, Moshe recalls the frustration he encountered trying to lead the nation single-handedly, to the point where he exclaimed, "How can I bear alone your trouble, your burden and your quarreling?" (1:12). Rashi, based on the Sifrei, explains the word masa'akhem (which we translated as "your burden") as follows:

    This teaches that they were apikorsim: If Moshe left [his home] early, they would say, "Why did the son of Amram leave? Perhaps things are not peaceful in his home." If he was delayed in leaving, they would say, "Why did the son of Amram not leave…"

    According to Rashi, masa'akhem refers to the unfair scrutiny to which the people subjected their leader, how they would seize every opportunity to arrive at speculative, accusatory conclusions about his personal life and commitment to his constituents.

    Curiously, Rashi introduces this commentary by describing the people with the word apikorsim. Generally, this word refers to heresy or agnosticism, theological opposition to the fundamental beliefs of the Torah. As unfairly and insensitively as the people treated their leader, this treatment seemingly reflects poorly only on their characters, not on their ideology. Why would they be deserving of the epithet apikorsim for their excessive scrutiny of Moshe?

    Before answering this question, let us first examine the etymology of the word apikorus. The Siftei Chakhamim, commenting on Rashi's remarks, understands the word apikorus as a contraction of the words apik resen, or "removal of restraint." The term denotes the refusal to subject oneself to restrictions on conduct, the decision to break free of all limitations and act freely. Others claim that the word evolves from the name of the famous Greek philosopher Epicurus, who founded a school of thought (Epicureanism) that saw pleasure as the ultimate purpose in life. Either way, the term apikorus refers to indulgence and lack of restraint. Indeed, Ibn Ezra (21:20) describes the ben sorer u-moreh (the wayward son, whom the Torah sentences to execution) as "like an apikorus, in that he seeks nothing else in this world other than indulging in all types of food and drink."

    If so, then why was this term adopted as a description of a person who holds heretical views?

    Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in his work Ta'am Va-da'at, suggests that this usage of the word apikorus might stem from the reality that heresy often results not from objective ideological analysis, but rather from a desire to shake oneself free from the dictates of the Torah. In many instances (though certainly not all), specific challenges to Jewish theology are preceded by a general distaste for, and disinterest in, the lifestyle it demands. Heresy therefore became known as apikorsut – an effort to free oneself from the obligations and restrictions of Torah law by conceiving rational arguments against the Jewish faith.

    Similarly, Rav Sternbuch suggests, the accusations against Moshe resulted from the people's desire of apik resen, to free themselves from all restrictions. The most convenient way of ignoring a rabbi's instructions and halakhic rulings is to undermine his stature through allegations of one kind or another. According to Rashi, Moshe saw the rumors that the people spread about him as their attempt to undermine his credentials and thereby absolve themselves of the need to obey his instructions.

    David Silverberg


    Motza'ei Shabbat

    Come study in the VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH - Torah by email

  8. Anonymous12:32 PM

    I really enjoyed looking at your site, I found it very helpful indeed, keep up the good work.

  9. Anonymous4:45 PM

    Nice idea with this site its better than most of the rubbish I come across.

  10. Anonymous6:31 PM

    That's a great story. Waiting for more. video editing programs