Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Beshalach 1

Tosefet Bracha – R’ Baruch HaLevi Epstein
Translated by David Sedley

“And it was when Pharaoh sent the people” (13; 17)

In the Midrash Rabba it states:
“And it was, when Pharaoh sent out the people...”
Was it Pharaoh who sent them? It was G-d who sent them! As the verse states (Bamidbar 23; 22) “G-d brought them out of Egypt”. Rather ‘sent’ in this context means ‘accompanied’.
This Midrash is unbelievable! When the Midrash wants to prove that it was G-d who brought Israel out of Egypt could it find no other source than Bilaam? The whole Torah (from Shemot onwards), and the Prophets are full of quotes that it was G-d who took us out of Egypt. Almost every single parsha attests to this, both in the words of G-d and in the words of Moshe. Why did the Midrash leave all of those holy, trustworthy sources and had to search for this principle in the words of Bilaam! Is this not incredible?
I am amazed that none of the commentaries discuss this, and they all read it without question.
If this proof (that it was G-d who took us out of Egypt) would have been directed at the non-Jewish nations, in order that they should know, perhaps we could have explained that the Midrash wanted to bring a proof from a non-Jewish source (i.e. Bilaam). This would be saying that even their non-Jewish prophet accepts that G-d brought us out of Egypt. However this whole Midrash is clearly directed at Israel and for Israel, in order that we should understand the language of the Torah. It is explaining why the Torah used the word ‘when he sent’ and what it means. The Midrash is bothered as to why the Torah seems to make the Exodus from Egypt dependent on Pharaoh. The verse should have said ‘when G-d brought us out of Egypt’, or like the language of Tehillim “When Israel came out of Egypt” (114; 1). If so, why do we need the proof from Bilaam?
I have thought about this, and found one possible explanation based on something that appears many times in the Tanach and in Aggadata. This is that the word ‘Am’ (people) usually applies to people on the lowest level. This explains the phrase ‘Hamon Am’ (multitude of people – average person). There are many places in Tanach that show this, like in parshat Shelach (Bamidbar 13; 28) “The people that dwells in this land is powerful” and in Yishiahu (49; 1) “The people who are going in darkness” and in Yeremiah (8; 5) “Why is this rebellious people…” and in Tehillim (95; 10) “And errant hearted people are they” and in Iyov (12; 2) “Truly you are people” (meaning that they are unlearned and average). Also in the Midrash (Parshat Balak 20) ‘Every place that it says “Am” it is derogatory language. Rashi also explains based on this in Parshat Beha’alotecha on the verse “And the people were like complainers” (Bamidbar 11; 1) – the word ‘Am’ means wicked people. Also the normal word for unlearned people is ‘Am HaAretz’.
The root of the word ‘Am’ is ‘Amam’, meaning ‘dark (in colour), as Onkelos translates “The plague became darker” (Vayikra 13; 5) as “Amema Nagaah”. Aslo in Yechezkel (31; 8) “Even cedars could not obscure it (Amamuhu)”, or in the Talmud (Pesachim 27b) “Glowing coals” – meaning that they are about to become extinguished. We find similar language in Eicha (4; 1) “How did the gold become dimmed (yu’am)”, meaning that it has lost its shine.
Since most people are dim and their spirit and talents are ‘dark’, therefore they are called ‘am’. (The exception is when it is used with another word to describe holiness, for example “The people of G-d” or “A holy people”.)
It is known that the phrase used to describe the ‘Am’ in Egypt is ‘Erev Rav’. We see this in the Zohar (Parshat Ki Tissa) on the verse “The people (Am) saw that Moshe delayed” (32; 1) – ‘Who are the ‘Am’? The Erev Rav. It is explained in the Midrashim that there were people in Egypt who did not want to leave and they were forced by G-d to leave.
Look also in the Parsha there (Ki Tissa) on the verse “These are your gods Israel”, and “Go down because your people have sinned” (32; 8).
All of the statements of the Torah and the prophets that it was G-d who took the Israelites out of Egypt are only directed at the Children of Israel, who believe in G-d and observe the Mitzvot. Therefore it does not apply to the Erev Rav who abandon G-d and desecrate the Mitzvot.
But when Bilaam said “G-d brought them out of Egypt” he was speaking to Balak, who had said “Behold a people (Am) have left from Egypt” (Bamidbar 22; 5), “Go and curse this people (Am) for me” (verse 6). To this Bilaam responded that even the ‘people’, the Am did not leave on their own but only because “G-d brought them out of Egypt”.
According to this we can explain why the Midrash brings the proof from Bilaam. That G-d brought out the Am is only shown from there, and not from any of the other sources which refer to the Israelites. Since the verse here “When Pharaoh sent the people (Am)” and not the Israelites, the Midrash is correct in questioning that it was not Pharaoh who sent them but G-d. For this it needed to bring the proof from Bilaam.

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