Monday, January 11, 2016

carrot or stick?

One quick follow up on the post I did last week re: kaddish.  My wife noted that given that kaddish is just one small ingredient in what can be done l’aliyas neshoma, there is no reason for women to feel deprived of anything just because they cannot say kaddish.  There is much that they can do that is just as meaningful.  (Aside from issues of mingag and possibly migdar milsa, the question of whether a woman may say kaddish hinges on whether there is a tziruf to the minyan from someone standing in the ezras nashim.  See R’ Wahrman in his Kol Avinoam siman 53 who presents the case against; see R Henkin's grandson in Shu"T Bnei Banim 2:7 for a defense of his grandfather, who took the opposing view.)
After reporting that Moshe told Pharaoh that he will go and pray that makkas barad stop, the Torah tells us that the flax and barley crops had been destroyed, but not the wheat and spelt, as they had not yet fully grown.  The Torah then continues that Moshe went out and davened for the plague to stop (9:29-33).

All the mefoshim are bothered by the placement of this “damage report” here.  Wouldn’t it make sense to place it beforehand or afterwards, not right in the middle of Moshe’s conversation with Pharaoh and the tefilah that followed?
Ramban and R’ Sadiah Gaon both answer that the damage report was in fact part of what Moshe told Pharoah, not an aside by the "narrator."  The quote marks that get opened in pasuk 29 with Moshe telling Pharoah that he will daven don’t get closed until after pasuk 32, after Moshe tells Pharaoh that the crops that had not yet grown were spared.  Ramban and R”SG differ, however, on what the meaning of the message to Pharaoh was.  According to RS”G, Moshe was telling Pharaoh that even though part the barley and flax had been destroyed, if he did teshuvah now he would at least have something left.  Ramban reads the words as a threat, not a promise of hope.  Moshe was telling Pharoah that if he reverts to his old ways, the late growing crops will be destroyed just as the early ones were. 
Perhaps there is a philosophical nekudas hamachlokes underlying the parshanut issue.  According to RS”G, it sounds like Moshe was presenting a risk/benefit calculation to Pharoah – the upside to teshuvah would be sparing any damage to the wheat; there would be very little downside at this point because Bnei Yisrael were clearly not going to remain as slaves.   Perhaps Ramban held that Pascal’s wager – risk/benefit calculations – don’t count as a commitment.
Or perhaps more simply, the neukdas hamachlokes is psychological.  Which is more effective – the carrot or the stick?  RS”G reads Moshe as stressing what Pharaoh has to gain; Ramban sees the stress on what he has to lose.

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