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Parsha and Manuscript: Masei - The listing of the journeys: provocation or love?

Thursday, 16 July, 2020 - 8:51 pm

The portion of Masei discusses the enumeration in detail of the forty two travels of the Jewish people after the Exodus in the desert until they arrived on the east bank of the Jordan river before entering the land. The Torah states:[1] ‘These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron.’ The question that arises is: why does the Torah repeat all the places of the encampment of the Jewish people in the desert, when this has been enumerated in detail previously in the Torah in the book of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.

 

The commentators starting from the ancient period right through medieval times, until the 19th century, have addressed this question. Ten reasons are given for the listing of the destinations: a. to remind and rebuke Israel of their provocations towards G-d;[2] b. to recall and praise G-d for the miracles that He performed for the Jewish people;[3] c. to pay tribute to the places that hosted Israel in their travels and the miracles that sustained them;[4] d. to illustrate G-d’s kindness that for most of the time they were not wandering[5] but at rest in one place;[6] e. to reflect the prophecy of Micah[7] that similar miracles will be performed in the final redemption;[8] f. to remove doubt that may arise in future generations about the authenticity of the miracles that occurred;[9] g. by Divine decree, for no reason;[10] h. to praise Israel for following G-d into the wilderness with love of G-d;[11] i. by highlighting the places where events occurred, it is indicating that there were other destinations that the Torah does not record, because no events occurred;[12] j. to make a distinction between travels that were necessary to arrive to the land of Israel and travels that only became necessary after the sin of the spies.[13]

 

Rashi

 

Rashi in his commentary selects c and a, of the above commentaries: 1. The commentary by 11th century, Rabbi Moses Hadarshan, that argues the enumeration of the places is to reflect G-d’s kindness, that Israel was not in a continuous state of wandering during the forty years. 2. Midrash Tanchuma about the provocations of the Jewish people. The commentary of the Midrash Tanchuma in the printed version of Rashi states:

 

R. Tanchuma expounds it in another way. It is analogous to a king whose son became sick, so he took him to a far away place to have him healed. On the way back, the father began citing all the stages of their journey, saying to him, ‘This is where we slept, here we were cold, here you had a headache, etc.’[14]

 

The text as found in Midrash Tanchuma states:[15]

 

These are the journeys: It is analogous to a king whose son became sick, so he took him to a certain place to have him healed. On the way back, the father began to recount all the stages of their journey, saying to him, ‘This is where we slept, here we were cold, here you had a headache.’ So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: ‘Recount to them all the places where they provoked me.’ It therefore says: These are the journeys.

 

Variations in the manuscripts

 

While Rashi appears to follow the text of the Midrash Tanchuma, Rashi veers from its original intent in significant ways. This is highlighted by six different versions of the text of Rashi as found in the manuscripts at Oxford’s libraries:

 

1. In CCCMS165,[16] MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225),[17] MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), and MS. Huntington 425(1403),[18] it is as printed.

 

2. In MS. Huntington 389 (1301-1400),[19] MS. Michael 384 (1399),[20] MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425)[21] and MS. Huntington 445 (1376 -1400),[22] instead of ‘we slept’ (yashanenu), it states: ‘we sat’ (yashavnu).

 

3. In MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[23] it omits ‘we were cold,’ and in MS. Michael 384 (1399),[24] it replaces ‘we were cold, with ‘here occurred to us a certain matter.’

 

4. In MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[25] instead of: ‘you had a headache’ (chashashta b’roshcha), it states: ‘we had a headache’ (chashashnu rosheinu), similar to the other statements: ‘we slept’ and ‘we were cold.’

 

5. The Midrashic teaching in the printed version concludes with: ‘etc.’ In MS. Huntington 389 (1301-1400),[26] it includes from the Midrash: ‘So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Recount to them all the places where they provoked me. It addition, MS. Huntington 389 includes the text: ‘and how many miracles I performed for them in every journey.’

 

6. In MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[27] the introduction to the analogy: ‘R. Tanchuma expounds it in another way’ is omitted.

 

What is the significance of these minor variations in the Rashi commentary, compared to how it is recorded in its source: the Midrash Tanchuma and Rabbah, and the printed version?

 

Mitigating the Midrash Tanchuma

 

The common denominator of the variations is that they aim to mitigate the Midrashic analogy that insists that at each station the Jewish people provoked G-d. This is however problematic since Jewish teaching in Ethics of the Fathers[28] maintains that only on ten occasions did the Jewish people test G-d. The mitigation of the text - moving away from its critical emphasis, as it is found in Midrash Tanchuma, to a more inclusive reading, is presented by two commentators: Rabbi Judah Loew (1520-1609) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson:

 

Rabbi Judah Loew in his commentary Gur Aryeh explains that the analogy is not saying that the Jewish people provoked G-d at every station but rather ‘sleep’ refers to places where they were rested and tranquil, while ‘cold’ refers to discomfort. ‘Headache,’ on the other hand, refers to illness, and, in its interpretation, provocation of G-d. The purpose of relating the journeys, then, is to recall G-d’s love, despite occasional provocations, like a parent who cares for a sick child on a journey, who at times is fine and at times unwell. This analogy, he concludes, should inspire one to serve G-d wholeheartedly.

 

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson takes this further,[29] suggesting that ‘sleep’ and ‘cold’ refer to two places: the journey from Ramses to Sukkot,[30] where they stayed (slept) for one night, and the journey from Sukkot to Eitam, where they travelled for the first time with the clouds of glory they received in Sukkot to protected them (kept them cool) from the heat.[31] In both these places there was no provocation. Accordingly, the third term: ‘headache’ alludes to a third destination: Pi Ha’chirot, where they in fact did complain, but not for lack of food or water,[32] but rationally - alluded to in the phrase ‘headache:’[33] ‘They said to Moses: is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?’ In both the above interpretations, ‘sleep’ and ‘cold’ does not relate to provocation, while in the later ‘headache’ also does not relate to provocation.

 

Understanding variations in Rashi’s manuscripts

 

Based on the above, we can understand the variations of the text of the Midrash Tanchuma as brought in the manuscripts of Rashi compared to the printed text. If the context is the provocations of the Jewish people, the word ‘slept’ is applicable, as it refers to the condition of a person who is unwell. If however, the emphasis is not provocation, the term: ‘sat,’ in the context of a temporary or tranquil state, is appropriate.[34] This would explain the wording in most of the manuscripts[35] that states: ‘yashavnu’ (we sat), instead of ‘yashanenu’ (we slept).[36] Similarly, this may explain the manuscript[37] where instead of: ‘here it was cold,’ it states: ‘Here occurred to us a certain matter.’ This avoids the use of a term that denotes discomfort - thus possibly interpreted as provocation.[38]

 

Based on the above understanding that Rashi’s interpretation of the Midrash is to mitigate its negative meaning, we may explain the inclusion in MS Huntington 389[39] of the ending of the Midrashic text in the Rashi commentary: ‘and how many miracles I performed for them in every journey.’ In the majority of the manuscripts and the printed edition the ending is alluded to by: ‘etc.,’ omitting the actual wording. Based on the above, that the recording of the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert for a second time in the Torah in detail is not to recount the provocations the ending of the text about the wondrous miracles that took place at every[40] journey is appropriate.

 

Finally, this explains also the variation in the manuscript where the introduction to the analogy: ‘R. Tanchuma expounds it in another way’ is omitted. According to Rashi’s interpretation of the Midrash Tanchuma that does not emphasise the provocations, but on the contrary, the kindness of G-d in providing tranquility and shade, and only one of the terms implies provocation, the second commentary in Rashi should not be seen as an alternative interpretation to Rabbi Moses Hadarshan’s commentary – that the reason for the listing of the destinations is to recount G-d’s kindness - but complimentary, as it also focuses on G-d’s kindness.[41]

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, the superfluous repetition of the enumeration of the journeys of Israel in the end of the book of Numbers may be seen in two ways: a part of the rebuke of the Jewish people for their failings and provocations against G-d, and in this light a precursor to the rebuke that begins in the book of Deuteronomy before Moses’ passing. Alternatively, it may be seen as a sign of endearment and love for the Jewish people, expressed by the care and performance of miracles during their time in the desert. Indeed, a third perspective is to combine both perspectives: the kindness of the Al-mighty that allowed stability and peaceful existence for the majority of the period, alongside occasions where there was also provocations. The Rashi quotation of the Midrash Tanchuma, in light of the variations found in the manuscripts that avoid terminologies that denote illness and discomfort, seems to indicate this third perspective. The overall analogy, then, of a parent who cares for a child on a faraway journey to find healing, despite challenges, is indeed suitable in this context.

 

 

 


 

[1] Numbers 33:1.

[2] Numbers Rabba 23:3 and Tanchuma Masei 3. See Numbers Rabba 19:24, cited by Rabbi Zev Wolf Einhorn of Horodna, (d. 1862), in his commentary Maharzu on the Midrash Rabba, to explain Numbers Rabba 23:3. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi appears to understand the quotation of this Midrash in Rashi light of a rebuke of the provocations and the descriptions of all reflections of provocations..

[3] Rabbi Tobiah ben Eliezer (1050-1108) writes in Lekach Tov (Masei, p. 141), the reason for recording the journeys is that Israel should know what miracles were performed for them, where they provoked G-d and where they accepted the Mitzvot.

[4] Numbers Rabba 23:4: ‘Why were all these stations privileged to be recorded in the Torah? In return for their having received Israel, the Holy One, blessed be He, will in the future give them their reward, as it is written: ‘Desert and wasteland shall rejoice over them, and the plain shall rejoice and shall blossom like a rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, etc.’ See Numbers Rabba 1:2, cited by Rabbi Zev Wolf Einhorn of Horodna, (d. 1862) in his commentary Maharzu on the Midrash Rabba, to explain Numbers Rabba 23:4. The Midrash commentary Maharzu makes a distinction between the desert and the sea and mountains that were not hospitable to the Jewish people, signified by the fact that the seal had to split and the mountains were flattened. The desert, on the hand, remained as a desert and recipient to the Divine miracles that allowed for the existence of the Jewish people. The conclusion of the Midrash is: ‘Now if the wilderness will be thus rewarded for having received Israel, is it not certain that one who receives scholars of the Torah into his house, he will be rewarded even more.’

[5] Polish Rabbi Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619) puts this in the context of the earlier verse (Numbers 32:13): ‘The anger of the Lord flared against Israel, and He made them wander in the desert for forty years until the entire generation who had done evil in the eyes of the Lord had died out.’

[6] 11th century Rabbi Moses Hadarshan, head of the Yeshiva in Narbonne, explains that the journeys are recorded to inform us of the kind deeds of the Omnipresent, for although He issued a decree to move them around from place to place and make them wander in the desert, you should not say that they were moving about and wandering from station to station for all forty years, and they had no rest, because there are only forty-two stages. Deduct fourteen of them, for they all took place in the first year, before the decree, from when they journeyed from Rameses until they arrived in Rithmah, from where the spies were sent, as it says, “Then the people journeyed from Hazeroth and camped in the desert of Paran (Numbers 12:16)”; “Send out for yourself men (Numbers 13:2),” and here it says, “They journeyed from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah,” teaching us that it [Rithmah] was in the desert of Paran. Subtract a further eight stages which took place after Aaron’s death-from Mount Hor to the plains of Moab-during the fortieth year, and you will find that throughout the thirty-eight years they made only twenty journeys. Rashi on Numbers 33:1.

[7] Micah 7:15: ‘As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders.’

[8] Rabbi Tobiah ben Eliezer (1050-1108) in Lekach Tov, Masei (p. 141).

[9] Maimonides (1135-1204) in the Guide for the Perplexed (3:50) writes: the reason for recording the travels in the desert is so that, while the people who witnessed the miracles had no doubt, later generations would, saying that the journey of the Jewish people may have been in the desert, close to civilised surroundings or parts of the desert where food and water can be found. For this reason the Torah lists the places during the forty years to remove doubt that it was due to the Divine miracles that the Jewish people survived the forty years in the desert.

[10] Nachmanides (1194-1270) writes that the true reason for recording the travels is esoteric and due to the will of G-d, as it states (Numbers 33:2): ‘Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys according to the word of the Lord, and these were their journeys with their starting points.’

[11] Italian Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (1475-1550) commentary on Numbers 33:1.

[12] German 16th century Rabbi Simeon Halevi Oshenburg from Frankfurt (Devek Tov Biurei Rashi, p. 172, Published in England, 1914).

[13] Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (1696-1743) in Ohr Hachaim on Numbers 33:1. He explains that the first category of praiseworthy travels is indicated in the verse (Numbers 33:1): ‘These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron.’ The second category due to the sin of the spies is indicated in the following verse (Numbers 33:2): ‘Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys according to the word of the Lord, and these were their journeys with their starting points.’ The statement in the first verse: ‘These are the journeys’ is to make this distinction.

[14] Midrash Tanchuma Massei 3, Numbers Rabbah 23:3.

[15] Numbers Rabba 23:3 and Tanchuma Masei 3. See Numbers Rabba 19:24, cited by Rabbi Zev Wolf Einhorn of Horodna, (d. 1862), in his commentary Maharzu on the Midrash Rabba, to explain Numbers Rabba 23:3.

[16] Fol. 126.

[17] Fol. 97. The words ‘to heal him’ and ‘to recount’ was omitted and corrected in the margin.

[18] Fol. 69.

[19] Fol. 92.

[20] Fol. 117.

[21] Fol. 193.

[22] Fol. 63.

[23] Fol. 89.

[24] Fol. 117.

[25] Fol. 90.

[26] Fol. 92.

[27] Fol. 89.

[28] Numbers 14:22, Talmud Arachin 15a. Ethics of the Fathers 5:4.

[29] Likkutei Sichot 8:391.

[30] Exodus 13:20.

[31] Exodus 13:21. See Talmud Sukkah 11b; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 625 the connection between the definition of a Sukkah and a shade from the sun, similar to the clouds of glory.

[32] Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2; Exodus 17:1, Numbers 11:4; Numbers 20:2; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 21:5. See Likkutei Sichot 8:392, footnote 21.

[33] Exodus 14:11. Rashi commentary: ‘They travelled from Succoth: on the second day, for on the first day they came from Rameses to Succoth.’ Sukkot

[34] See Rashi on Genesis 37:1.

[35] MS. Huntington 389 (1301-1400), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), MS. Huntington 445 (1376–1400).

[36] Although the words are similar in the Hebrew – and a nun can easily become mistaken for a vet when copying a manuscript, in our case, it may not be incidental but rather a deliberate change to reflect the more positive interpretation of the Midrash.

[37] MS Michael 384.

[38] Alternatively, this may refer to the specific provocation of the worship of Peor and promiscuity, as ‘matter’ is used in both contexts. Numbers 25:18: ‘Incident (d’var) of Peor.’ Deuteronomy 24:1: ‘He discovers in her an unseemly [moral] matter (davar).’ Talmud Gittin 90a. A third possibility is, this manuscript argues by this ambiguity (certain matter) that the examples are not indicative of provocations but rather mere illustrations of a variety of (random) events on a journey. In this context, the reason for the enumeration of the journeys is to recall the history of the Jewish people on their journey out of Egypt, as per the analogy. This may be reflected in the first reason given by Rabbi Tobiah ben Eliezer (1050-1108) who writes in Lekach Tov, Masei, (p. 141), the reason for recording the forty two journeys is that Israel should know what miracles were performed for them, where they provoked G-d and where they accepted the Mitzvot.

[39] MS. Huntington 389.

[40] The addition in MS. Huntington 389 writes literally: ‘miracles at each and every journey’ (b’chal masa u’masa).

[41] In Likkutei Sichot 18:390, footnote 4, it gives a different reason for the introduction to the analogy ‘R. Tanchuma expounds it in another way,’ as opposed to the more standard ‘davar acher,’ indicating the second comment as an alternative interpretation, due to both comments being contingent on each other to explain combined the reasons for all the journeys. The reason being since the reasoning of Rabbi Moses Hadarshan that highlights G-d’s kindness that He did cause constant wandering for thirty eight years, would only explain a reason to enumerate the twenty travels that took place during that time. The analogy of Midrash Tanchuma explains the enumeration of the remaining journeys, fourteen before the sin of the spies and eight after the death of Miriam.

 

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