יום ראשון, 1 בדצמבר 2013

From the place where we are right Flowers will never grow In the spring.

Al tiragzu baderekh
Pinchas Leiser
After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and asked them to bring their father he equipped them with wagon loads of food and clothing and sent them off, telling them, Do not become quarrelsome[al tirgzu] on the way.
The biblical commentators of various generations have attempted to explain the meaning of this send off.
Following the RaMBaM, Rabbi Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio, a 19th century Italian exegete writes:
al tirgzu - this refers to fear, and it says that the fact that they are carrying grain, bread, and food during a draught should not lead them to be afraid of bandits on the road, and similarly during their return [to Egypt] when they will be taking all of their possessions with them. They should remember that he is the governor of all the land of Egypt and he holds the life of all those lands in his hands. All will be in dread of his fearfulness, and therefore they [Joseph's family] will come and go in peace.
RaShBaM interprets the word tiragzu similarly, but gives a different explanation of why they need not fear:
al tirgzu - do not be afraid at all of bandits on the road, because I am at peace from every direction.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch takes a similar approach:
Go on your way in good spirit and do not worry about the future.
What can assuage fear? Joseph's fearfulness? Peaceful relations? Faith and hope?
Perhaps each commentator chose the calming factor with which he was acquainted. In contrast to these, Ibn Ezra writes:
The meaning of al tirgzu - lest each one be angry with his brothers because of his [Joseph's] having been sold.
Rashi and others think that this is the plain meaning of the text, but Rashi mentions two midrashic explanations found in the tractate Ta'anit (10b) before explaining the plain meaning:
Do not quarrel on the way - Do not engage in a halakhic discussion lest the way cause you to stray.
Another explanation: Do not walk with large steps, and enter the city while the sun is shining.
According to the simple meaning of the verse, we can say that since they were ashamed, he (Joseph) was concerned that they would perhaps quarrel on the way about his being sold, debating with one another, and saying, "Because of you he was sold. You slandered him and caused us to hate him." (Judaica Press translation)
ShaDaL (Italy, 19th century) surveys the uses of the root ragaz throughout Scripture and chooses Rashi's plain reading of the verse.
If we consider the Joseph's words in their broader context, we can find that the emotions aroused in the brothers when Joseph made himself known to his brothers fall into a certain sequence. First:
...but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence. (45:3)
The initial shock and panic arose, perhaps, from a combination of anxiety, confusion, and guilt feelings. Joseph feels the need to address these feelings of guilt and calms them:
But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.
For already two years of famine [have passed] in the midst of the land, and [for] another five years, there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance.
And now, you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt. (45:5-7)
Joseph is telling his brothers: In fact, my sale was organized "from Above"
Perhaps we may therefore perceive the shock and panic that develop into feelings of guilt. The feeling of guilt can certainly arouse fear of punishment, and the need to ward off strong feelings of guilt over the sale of Joseph might generate reciprocal accusations amongst the brothers. Therefore it is possible to view the various interpretations, beyond their philological content, as relating to different points upon a continuum of emotions.
It is interesting to note that Rashi chose the midrashic gloss, "Do not engage in a halakhic discussion" as his first and preferred interpretation.
True, Rashi (on Bereishit 37:17) states that "a Biblical verse never loses its plain sense, but sometimes - here, for example - he mentions a midrashic interpretation before giving the plain interpretation of a verse. Apparently, he does so because he believes that here the Sages' midrash has something of great importance to teach us.
On the one hand, we are left with the task of understanding Rabbi Elazar's dictum (from Ta'anit 10b) that Rashi cites; on the other hand, we must think about the significance of the exegetical choices Rashimade in connection with our verse.
What is the connection between engagement in halakhic conversation and rogzat ha'aretz ["the way leading you to stray"]?
In their commentaries on the Talmud, Rashi and others (e.g., the Meiri) point out the need to pay attention to the route of one's journey and warn that engagement in halakhic conversation might cause one to lose one's way. The authors of the Tosafot mention an opposing derasha which points out the dangers of ceasing to engage in halakhic discourse, and they write: "Do not desist from halakhic discourse." The Gemara itself first brings a statement in the name of Rabbi Elai that appears to contradict Rabbi Elazar's dictum and then attempts to strike a compromise between the two opposing positions.
The MaHaRaShA, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his wake, point out the possible danger of halakhic disagreements leading to quarrels. Indeed, one should not discount the possibility of a halakhiccontroversy coming to take on a personal dimension; it may be affected by irrelevant factors and influence the relationship between the parties to the disagreement. The Talmud offers us explicit literary descriptions of this phenomenon, telling us how the lives of Rabbi Yohanan and Resh Lakish ended in tragedy and how the great Rabbi Eliezer was placed under a ban in the story of Tanuro shel Achnai'i.
True, we are all familiar with the braita that is employed as a prayer and introduction to the Kaddish DeRabbanan, which proclaims that "Torah scholars increase peace in the world," but it may be assumed that this describes an ideal that is not always realized. That is why Rabbi Elazar (perhaps the same Rabbi Elazar [ben Pedat?] who set up the ideal of "Torah scholars increase peace in the world" and who tried unsuccessfully to reconcile and calm Rabbi Yohanan after the death of his beloved student-colleague, Resh Lakish) said: while on the way - do not engage in halakhic discussion. Journeying requires that people walk together, and the unnecessary tension that halakhic discourse can generate should be avoided. The tensions could harm the possibility of walking together and accomplishment of the shared goal.
If so, what is the connection between this midrashic dictum and the instruction Joseph gives his brothers? Did the Sages really think that Joseph's brothers were yeshiva students who wrangled over a difficult passage of Tosafot?
I think that Rabbi Elazar understood that in every generation the greatest dangers arise from debates over "matters of halakha," that is to say, a discussion in which each side is convinced that its position is correct and is unable to listen to and accept any other position, especially when the issue involved is thought of as a matter of principle that is beyond compromise.
That is why Rashi gave a midrashic explanation that, while apparently removing Joseph's instructions to his brothers from its "concrete" historical context, converts the possible quarrel between the brothers into a calculus of ascribed guilt "in accordance with Torah law."
We know that "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they settled court cases according to [the strict letter] of Torah law." People who debate over "justice" cannot walk together or solve a shared problem when each party to the conflict is certain of the absolute justice of his cause, especially when the conflict involves religious aspects.
As the poet Yehuda Amichai put it (in his poem, "In the Place Where We are Right")
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
(Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchell, translators)

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