Wednesday, June 22, 2016

is Torah written from the perspective of the omniscient reader?

The Torah tells us in Parshas Naso that the Nes'im brought gifts to dedicate the Mishkan. Who were the Nesi'im? The Torah describes them as "heim nesi'ei ha'matos, heim ha'omdim al ha'pekudim." (7:2) Rashi explains that they were the leaders who assisted Moshe in the count of Bnei Yisrael that we read about in last week's parsha.

Many of the meforshei Rashi are bothered by the chronology here. The count in last week's parsha took place in Iyar. The chanukas haMishkan when the Nesi'im gave their gifts took place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. It would have been impossible for Moshe or anyone else to know the Nesi'im at that time as the "omdim al ha'pekudim" as the count had not yet occurred.  So how could the Torah describe them as such?  (Abarbanel interestingly suggests that the parshiyos are in chronological order.  When the Torah speaks of the chanukas hamishkan, it does not mean "opening day," 1 Nisan.  It means the first day in which individuals offered their own korbanos, as opposed to korbanos tzibur.  The Nesi'im were given the honor to inaugurate this new type of avodah, and the date was sometime post 1 Iyar.)  

The answer Maharal proposes is that from our perspective – the perspective of the omniscient reader – we already know what happened in last week's parsha.  The Torah is speaking from our point of view, not from the point of view of a character in the storyline.

I don't know why this idea doesn't sit well with me and off the top of my head I don't have a source to challenge it, so it must just be me. 

Another example illustrating the same idea:

In Parshas BaMidbar Moshe is told to count every Levi from one month old and up. Rashi explains that the threshold of one month is the demarcation between a viable living child and a neifel. Rashi then continues and offers a Midrashic explanation of why Levi alone was counted from such an early age when all other shevatim were counted from age 20 and up. The Torah tells us that there were seventy members of Ya’akov’s family who came down to Egypt.  However, if you tally up all the people listed, the total comes to only 69. The missing person, says Rashi, is Yocheved, who was born just as they entered the city. We see from here that even a baby Levi is counted. Moshe’s count just continued the tradition.

Meforshei Rashi ask: isn’t Rashi self-contradictory? First Rashi tells us that you can only count a child older than 30 days old to ensure that the child is not a neifel. Then Rashi tells us that Yocheved was counted from the moment of birth – even younger than 30 days old. If she is the model, then why not count everyone from birth?

Again, Maharal explains that the Torah is speaking from the perspective of the omniscient reader. Had someone in Ya’akov’s family taken a count, he/she would have excluded Yocheved, as he/she would have no way of knowing until 30 days passed whether she was a neifel or not. When Moshe counted the members of the tribe of Levi, he had to exclude everyone younger than 30 days as there was no way he could tell whether that child was a neifel. However, we, the readers, know that Yocheved did live a long life. We, the readers, know that she was not a neifel. Therefore, from our perspective, she counts as the seventieth member of Ya’akov’s family entering Egypt.

The truth is that this issue comes up in the very first parsha in the Torah. The Torah (Braishis 2:14) describes the third river of Eden, Chidekel, as flowing “kidmas Ashur,” east toward Ashur. There obviously was no nation of Ashur yet – if you told someone standing in Eden to look for the river that flowed toward Ashur, he would have no idea what you are talking about. The gemara (Kesubos 10) explains that this proves “kasav k’ra l’asid,” the Torah was written in a way that anticipates what would happen in the future.  Is that the same thing as saying Torah is written from the perspective of the omniscient reader?  Or do you think it means something else?


  1. I thought about this too. Here are some other examples:
    1)The kohanim are called "the ones who approach G-d" before they are anointed (Shemot 19:22) (some mepharshim explain kohanim are referring to the bechorot ,but others say it refers to bnei aharon k'pshuto)
    2) Whenever the Torah says "Ad haYom Hazeh" (e.g. Breishit 22:14)
    3) I believe somewhere in Bereishit it says a certain people had not yet settled in k'na'an.

    1. also ad asher tifreh and many others