Tuesday, November 06, 2007

rashi and anachronistic reading: did Lot really eat matzah?

It may be easier to come to grips with the question of anachronism with a concrete example. When the Angels come to Lot we are told that he served them matzos. Rashi comments (19:3): “Pesach haya” – it was the holiday of Pesach.

Rabbi Maroof commented on an earlier post – “Is it really rational to assume the Avot commemorated events that had not yet occurred? Most ritual mitsvot revolve around Yetsiat Mitsrayim which was centuries after their deaths.”

Fair point, but then what do we make of Rashi? Rashi seems to be addressing a simple textual question – why mention the seemingly insignificant detail of what bread was served. If you dismiss Rashi as “derash” and not pshat, what does that mean? – did Rashi waste his time composing “fictional” answers to explain troublesome details in the text? Or to put it another way, if Rashi knew it was irrational or improbable for Lot to have really kept Pesach and eaten matzah, then hasn’t Rashi failed to answer the textual question he posed?

24 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:53 PM

    There's a well-known Maharal directly addressing RM's question (which undoubtedly has not escaped you)

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  2. anon16:05 PM

    R'Mayer Twersky would often comment that the days of the year with kedusha were created that way from the beginning and as a function of that, the special events would occur on that day. SO it's not that 15 Nissan is special because Yetzias Mitzrayim happened - YM happened then because 15 Nissan was always special (and hence the long list of other events throught history which occurred then in the piyut at the end of the seder vayehi bachatzi halaylah. See here
    http://torahweb.org/torah/1999/moadim/rtwe_pesach.html
    ---for further discussion. RMT says it much better than I can. He used to elaborate on this idea in shiur as well.

    With all of that said, I don't know that it follows that Lot necessarily ate matzah for that reason or that the Avos literally kept all of the mitzvos as we do. As to whether Rashi is not answering the pshat question that he raises is a fair point -- but not every Rashi that just quotes a medresh needs to be taken as literal pshat.

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  3. Anonymous7:53 AM

    the brisker rav famously said that it's not that we have to eat matzo because we left mitzrayim in a hurry, but rather we had to leave mitzrayim in a hurry because of matzo.

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  4. >>>I don't know that it follows that Lot necessarily ate matzah for that reason

    So lets drop labels like pshat and drash - how do you explain why Rashi would tell you that Lot did keep Pesach if it's not true?

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  5. There is an elegant and simple answer.

    The conceptual and textual parallels between Yetsiat Lot Misodom and Yetsiat Mitsrayim are overwhelming.

    Both were trapped in a corrupt society that was being plagued by Hashem as a result of its wickedness. Both Lot and Bnei Yisrael were sent 'malachim' ("vayishlah malach vayotsienu mimitsrayim") and given the chance to leave because of zechut avot. Both situations reached there breaking point at night, although the actual departure was delayed until morning. And both stories use the verb "l'hitmamehah", which is not found anywhere else in the Torah.

    The theme of Hashem's providence punishing the wicked and facilitating innocent people's separation from an unjust community is manifest in both.

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  6. How does that answer the question? To explain why the text highlights matzah Rashi writes that Lot observed Pesach. Is that historical fact or fiction?

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  7. RJM,

    that is a very nice mehalech.

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  8. Posting on behalf of Nachum who e-mailed me this comment -

    regarding Lot, he obviously ate matza , the passuk says that , not rashi.
    rashi's comment seems to be driven by the past tense of Lot " made [ past tense] matzot "
    so *obviously * he didnt just make them for his guests but was eating them anyway , why - obviously pessach.
    not withstanding the machloket in tosafot that suggests that this whole incident is at sukkot time.
    i think it is fair to say that meshech chochma, netziv, and maybe rashi, as opposed to the "Chassidic seforim which impose an entire system of meta-halachic concerns for tikunim and birurim on the acts of the Avos" are trying to show how the details as well as values of current halachot can be shown to be compatible with or even immitative of the anachronistic activities of the avot
    nachum

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  9. R'Chaim, time to show your cards!

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  10. I'm not done thinking about it, but it seems to me that it's no more anachronistic to assume the Torah’s text conforms to the halachic system than to assume that pre-Newton’s discovery of the laws of gravity people could not float in mid-air. Just as a “rationalist” would reject an interpretation of a text that would suggest Avraham could fly because he lived pre-Netwon, a “halachist” might reject interpretations that assume Avraham could eat or serve basar b’chalav (just to take a random example). That may not conform to a rationalist's model of what Torah interpretation should be, but all that proves is that rationalism was not the guiding principle behind the parshanut of many achronim and rishonim.
    Did Lot celebrate Pesach? I think one must assume Rashi would answer "Yes".

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  11. anon13:20 PM

    If Avraham Avinu and the avos celebrated Pesach (Rashi this week talks about Yitzchak eating a korban pesach), presumably so did the shevatim and their children and their children etc. until Yetzias Mitzrayim? Even if some/many/most of klal Yisrael lost their way, what about Shevet Levi and their leader Amram, of whom the gemara in Bava Basra says that he never did an aveira? THat's not a a stretch from Levi to Amram, there is only one generation in between, so the Jews or at least some of them should have been celebrating Pesach in mitzrayim.

    Does that make sense on any level? Doesn't make it sense to say none of this is literal?

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  12. anon13:38 PM

    Just to clarify when I said "none of this is literal" all I was referring to was midrashim that don't lend themselves to literal interpretation.

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  13. I could give you a narrow answer: I think you need to distinguish between the "chomer" and the "tzurah" of the message. Using your example of k.p., there may be a moral or thematic point Chazal wished to draw out by invoking the image of k.p., the "chomer" of the message, but why use the precise imagry of k.p. to transmit that message? The fact that the "tzurah" of k.p. is used also invokes certain halachic criteria. One might then wonder how Yitzchak could eat a korban without setting it aside 4 days beforehand.

    You are asking whether it makes sense to read it non-literally. Of course it does. But how can you glibly dismiss the work of all the achronim who do take a more literal reading?

    More broadly: My gut tells me that the real answer to your question is that the literalists would not be concerned with the issues you raise. My impression is that they view the text and Midrash as discrete entitites to explicate and comment on irrespective of issues like historically whether it makes sense. Limud haTorah to them was like working on a mathematical equation; kashes of historical context or practical concerns would not come into play. The text is a closed system unto itself and the only criteria of truth is internal consistancy. What thinks you of that?

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  14. >>>Just to clarify when I said "none of this is literal" all I was referring to was midrashim that don't lend themselves to literal interpretation.

    And just to clarify as well: I am not advocating wholesale literalism in reading Midrash. I am simply making a case for the fact that historically literal reading of Midrash has played a role in segments of parshanut which we should not lightly dismiss or consider pilpul shem hevel.

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  15. anon15:36 PM

    Here's what I think:

    This doesnt appear to be a kasha on Rashi per se --all Rashi says is that it was pesach -- but we still dont know if he meant that literally or not.

    As for the gedolei olam who seemed to play things out literally, and how can I dismiss that glibly -- you're right, I can't. Afar ani tachas ragleihem and in the world of lomdus, mi-pihem anu chayim. I hear what you are saying about looking at the midrash and the text differently -- but still I don't really get it.

    Even if you say that this is a closed system, looking at the midrash, all of the kashas applying halachic standards to the avos, for e.g., are based on a set of facts, metzius. E.g., Avraham served the malachim milk and meat -- how can it be? The terituzim are often based on ukimtas (e.g., they ate the milk first). So why in looking at do we stop locally and not look at more of the facts? If Avraham and Yitzchak had a seder, why didn't Yaakov, why didnt Levi, Kehas, and Amram? I guess I still don't get that.

    The other thing is that the rishonim -- king of all the rashbam, but even the ramban, were bothered by trying to tie the metzius into the midrashim in a way that made sense. I can deal more with Yaakov and two wives than celebrating Pesach (even if sisters were not arayos for benei Noach techinically, there already was a concept of arayos). The achronim just seemed to go to a place where the rishonim didnt go to.

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  16. The Rashi about Lot's Matzah is not the only example: Others are
    pidyon haben, parah adumah, and the issur of Amon and Moav. R’ Schwab very nicely described the theme of these instances as “Lo hata'am sibbah le'hamitzvah, ellah hamitzvah sibbah le’hataam”

    Also, there are those that say that Parah Adumah is the paradigm of 'chukim' because it was given in Marah, long before the Eigel. After the Eigel, it was 'less' a chok, since Chazal say "tavo ha'eim..."

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  17. I'll try to post on this...

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  18. I posted my takeoff of this post on parshablog, here.

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  19. >how do you explain why Rashi would tell you that Lot did keep Pesach if it's not true?

    You mean "not historical"?

    There are several possibilities, including (1) that Rashi believed it was historical or (2) Rashi didn't care, because:

    Frankly, Rashi was following the view of Chazal stated in more than one place that the Avos observed mitzvos. Rashi accepted divrei Chazal and wasn't driven by a historical sense any more than Chazal were, although it is inaccurate to say that in his time, ie, 1000 years ago, there was no such thing as a historical sense. One does indeed find more of a historical sensibility in certain other meforshim, such as Ibn Ezra, who is less likely to miss anachronism.

    My personal view, which you are free to hate, is that while Chazal themselves believed this, it was a view which arose in opposition to Christian theology which taught that Abraham was "justified by faith alone," that is "Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Galatians 3:6) which refers to Genesis 15:6 וְהֶאֱמִן, בַּיהוָה; וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ, צְדָקָה.

    I think it's plausible that this reading was repugnant to Chazal, who saw Avraham fulfilling mitzvos, cf, Gen 26:5 עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי.

    I mean, what more do you want? It says it right there, Avraham was shomer mitzvos, chukim and Torah.

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  20. MFMcD, why on earth would you say that Chazal's opinion was reactive to Christian philosophy, when the normal assumption is that the Christian attitude on this matter is, as is most Christian philosophy, reactive to Pharisaic/Talmudic philosophy? I've heard many times the self-depracating idea that our Purim costumes stem from Mardi Gras, and our elevation of Chanuka stems from our exposure to the Chrisitan holiday season. This application is not that different.

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  21. Anonymous5:07 PM

    I've heard many times the self-depracating idea that our Purim costumes stem from Mardi Gras, and our elevation of Chanuka stems from our exposure to the Chrisitan holiday season

    Self depreciating? How?
    It just is.

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  22. Anonymous5:12 PM

    How does that answer the question? To explain why the text highlights matzah Rashi writes that Lot observed Pesach. Is that historical fact or fiction?

    He does not write that Pesach was "observed" He does not say that Lot had a seder, or destroyed all his chumetz. Rashi says simply that it was Pesach, and perhaps, to him this was "fact"

    But the fact that it was fact to Rashi doesn't make it fact. Get it?

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  23. >>>But the fact that it was fact to Rashi doesn't make it fact. Get it?

    Your comment has no bearing on the issue at hand. The question is not whether aggadah is "fact", but given that Rashi took it as such how did he deal with the anachronistic element. Get it?

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