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Parsha and Manuscript: Shlach - ‘Miriam and the Spies: Why are they juxtaposed?’

Thursday, 27 June, 2019 - 7:55 pm

MS. Huntington 425, fol. 29 (1403) Shlach.png

The portion of Shlach lecha discusses the sending of the twelve spies to scout the land of Israel before entering it. The Torah states:[1]

 

The Lord spoke to Moses saying, "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst."

 

The negative report of the spies about the land caused the people to rebel against G-d and ask to return to Egypt, resulting in tragedy for the Jewish people: a plague befell them, and they had to wander in the dessert for forty years until the generation had passed away, allowing only their offspring to enter the land. This narrative follows immediately from the portion about Miriam who was similarly punished with leprosy and exclusion from the camp for speaking inappropriately about her brother Moses, after he left his wife for the purpose of receiving Divine revelation. The Torah relates:[2]

 

(1) Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!” (2) They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it. (3) Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. (4) Suddenly the Lord called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. (5) The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; (6) and He said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. (7) Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. (8) With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” (9) Still incensed with them, the Lord departed. (10) As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. (11) And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. (12) Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.” (13) So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O G-d, pray heal her!” (14) But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.” (15) So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted. (16) After that the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.

 

This essay will focus on the subject of the juxtaposition of these two texts: the portion of the spies and the portion about Miriam. The commentary of Rashi opens his commentary on the portion of the spies pertaining to this question about the juxtaposition:

 

Send for yourself men: Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people witnessed [it], but did not learn their lesson.[3]

 

MS. Michael 384, fol. 102 Shlach.png

Six versions of Rashi

 

There are six versions of this Rashi commentary in the manuscripts at Oxford:

 

1. The printed version of Rashi states as follows:  Send for yourself men: Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished over matters of speech, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people saw it, but did not learn their lesson. MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[4] and MS. Huntington 445 (1429),[5] all have the same as the printed version.

 

2. In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201–1225),[6] the word ‘because’ (l’fi) is missing and may be read ‘who was punished.’

 

3. In MS. Michael 384 (1399),[7] the question is asked in the reverse: Why is the section dealing with Miriam juxtaposed with the section dealing with the spies?

 

4. In MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425),[8] it was originally missing four words that are found in the printed edition: ‘why’ (lama), ‘because’ (l’fi), ‘matter’ (iskei) and ‘saw’ (ra’u). The words ‘why,’ ‘because’ and ‘saw’ were added in the margin. The word ‘matter’ was left omitted. In addition, it adds the word ‘evil’ (dibah ra’ah) – that Miriam was punished over matters of evil.

 

5. In MS. Huntington 389 (1301–1400),[9] it adds the word ‘leprosy’ (tzara’at): ‘Because she was punished with leprosy,’ and omits the reason ‘over matters of speech.’

 

6. In 12th century MS CCC 165[10] and MS. Huntington 425[11] (North African) (1403) it omits ‘why’ and ‘because,’ phrasing the comment in the passive, as opposed to a question and answer.

 

MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425) Shlach.png
Question

 

Based on the variations of the Rashi commentary in the manuscripts, it would appear that the earliest text of Rashi in MS CCC 165 and found also in MS. Huntington 425 the words ‘why’ and ‘because’ are omitted, but then may have been added in the margin, as can be found in MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425),[12] before being included in the main text, as can be found today in the printed version of Rashi and the majority of the manuscripts. The reason for this appears to be because this is the way it is structured in the Midrash Rabba, the source of Rashi’s commentary - in the form of a question: ‘What did it see to have written after the portion of Miriam: ‘Send out for yourself men?’ In addition, it seems the authentic version of the text of Rashi is not have included the word ‘evil,’ pertaining to Miriam. The question we would like to pose is: what is the significance of whether it is structured as a question with the additional: ‘why’ and ‘because,’ since the commentary remains the same? Secondly, what is the significance of whether it adds ‘evil’ in describing the behavior of Miriam, which is the description of the sin of Miriam ‘Lashon Ha’ra’ – evil speech, that’s punishment is leprosy. Finally, what is the significance about the order of the question, whether it is focused on the spies or Miriam; the question remains the same why are they juxtaposed?

 

I would like to argue that the two versions of Rashi whether it is in the form of a question or passive and whether the word evil is included is subject to two general approaches in the interpretations of the question that is being posed: ‘Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam?’

 

Other juxtapositions

 

It’s interesting to explore an overview of other similar questions that are found in the Talmud and Rashi commentary pertaining to the juxtaposition of portions of the Torah that don’t appear to have an obvious connection. The following are five cases:

 

1. Lighting of the Menorah juxtaposed with the chieftains

 

In states in the Torah:[13] ‘The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.’ Rashi comments: ‘When you light: Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the chieftains? For when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the chieftains, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication-neither he nor his tribe. So G-d said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.”[14]

 

2. Wood gatherer juxtaposed with idolatry

 

It states in the Torah:[15]I am the Lord, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord, your G-d.’ Rashi comments: From the commentary of R. Moshe Hadarshan [the preacher] I transcribed [the following: Why is the passage of the wood gatherer juxtaposed with the passage addressing idolatry? To inform [you] that one who desecrates the Sabbath is regarded as one who worships idols, for it [namely the Sabbath] too [just like the prohibition against idolatry] is as important as [the sum of] all the commandments. So Scripture says in Ezra,[16] “You descended upon Mount Sinai… and you gave Your people the Law and the commandments. And Your holy Sabbath You made known to them.”

 

3. Fringes juxtaposed to idolatry and wood gatherer

 

Likewise, the passage of fringes: why is it juxtaposed with these two passages? Since it too is equally important as the sum of all the commandments, as it states, “and perform all My commandments.”[17]

 

4. Death of Miriam juxtaposed to the red heifer

 

The Talmud poses a question about the juxtaposition of the death of Miriam and the red heifer:[18] Rabbi Ami said: Why was the Torah portion that describes the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the red heifer? To tell you: Just as the red heifer atones for sin, so too, the death of the righteous atones for sin. 

 

5. Death of Aaron juxtaposed to the priestly garments

 

The Talmud poses a question about the juxtaposition of the death of Aaron and the priestly garments:[19] Rabbi Elazar said: Why was the Torah portion that describes the death of Aaron juxtaposed to the portion discussing the priestly garments? This teaches that just as the priestly garments atone for sin, so too, the death of the righteous atones for sin.[20]

 

MS. Huntington 389, fol. 34 Shlach.png

Reasons for juxtapositions

 

From the above cases where reasons are given for the juxtaposition of texts of the Torah, one may understand the premise to the question in our case - ‘Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam?’ - in five ways:

 

1.     Chronology as a reason for juxtaposition

2.     Absence of chronology points to a reason for juxtaposition

3.     Superfluous text points to a reason for juxtaposition

4.     The connecting of two texts that should not be connected due to the nature of the texts points to a reason for juxtaposition

5.     The connecting of two texts that should not be connected due to misconception points to a reason for juxtaposition

 

The first explanation is simply the fact that the Torah is in chronological order as the majority of the Torah. A further four reasons may be offered why there may be a reason for the juxtaposition of the texts of the Torah - in our case, the portion of Miriam and the sending of the spies:

 

1. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi – no chronology

 

Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi explains the premise to the question ‘why the portion of the spies is juxtaposed to the portion of Miriam’ is since the normal reasoning for juxtapositions of texts in the Torah - chronology is absent. For this reason, it lends room to an exegetical reason for the juxtaposition. In the case, the spies and Miriam are not in chronological order:[21] the story ofMiriam ended on the twenty-ninth of Sivan in Hazeroth and the sending of the spies took place immediately afterwards in the wilderness of Paran. Since the story of the rebellion of Korach that took place also in Hazeroth[22] - like the story of Miriam - occurred just prior to the portion of Miriam, the portion about the rebellion of Korach should have come first, followed by the story of Miriam and then the spies that took place in the wilderness of Paran. Since this is not the case, as the story of the rebellion of Korach follows the story of the spies, the reason for the juxtaposition of the portions must be not due to chronology but rater a Midrashic commentary, as quoted by Rashi.

 

2. Rabbi Ovadiah Bertinoro – linking text points to a reason for juxtaposition

 

A further premise to the question is based on the superfluous verse at the end of the portion of Miriam, stating: ‘After that (the story of Miriam) the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.’ This phrase - ‘after that’ - suggests a linkage between the story of Miriam and the spies that follows. In our case where the chronology is not present, as mentioned above, it suggests a specific reason for the juxtaposition of the portions as explained in the Midrash and Rashi.[23]

 

3. Rabbi Ovadiah Bertinoro & Lubavitcher Rebbe – should not be juxtaposed due to nature of the text or misconception

 

15th century Italian Rabbi Ovadiah Bertinoro[24] explains that the premise to the question about the juxtaposition is not due to the issue of the lack of chronology, but that there is reason why these two portions should in fact not have been juxtaposed. The reason for this is since the style of the text of the Torah is not to juxtapose two negative narratives next to each other. This is the reason given in the Talmud[25] for the insertion of the verse about the travelling of the ark in between the portion about the Jewish people ‘fleeing’ Mount Sinai and complaining for meat. The Torah interrupts these two narrative with the verse:[26] ‘So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, Arise, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered and may those who hate You flee from You.’ Similarly, the Torah should not have juxtaposed the portion of Miriam and the spies.[27]

 

Similarly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn (1902-1994) argues that the premise to the question is due to the fact that there is a reason why the texts should not have been juxtaposed since having them juxtaposed gives rise to a misconception: that the sin of Miriam and the sin of the spies are similar types of sins.[28] The idea that Miriam and the spies’ behaviour are not the same may be seen by the different punishments given: Miriam received leprosy, while the spies were killed in a plague, their entire generation had to die in the desert and their offspring were delayed forty years before entering the land of Israel. This in contrast with Miriam who was waited on for seven day before the Israelites continued on their journey out of respect for Miriam.[29] Furthermore, when she passed away, the manner of her death is compared to that of Moses.[30]

 

CCCMS165, fol. 111 Shlach.png


The phrase ‘why’ suggests alternative

 

These approaches may be summarised into two categories: 1. no intrinsic textual reason for them not to have been juxtaposed (other than chronology). 2. a textual reason why they should not have been juxtaposed. These two approaches explains the two versions in the manuscripts: According to the commentaries that explain there is no intrinsic textual reason for them not to have been juxtaposed, it makes sense for the phrasing of the commentary to be in the passive, without the phrase ‘why,’ as the commentary is merely giving a positive reason for the juxtaposition. If, however, the focus of the commentary is to explain why they are juxtaposed despite reason for them not to have been juxtaposed, due to a possible misconception that Miriam and the spies are equal, or merely to make an interruption between two negative texts, then it makes sense the use of the stronger phrase in the question: Why arethey juxtaposed? These two approaches would explains the two versions of the manuscripts: MS CCC 165 and MS. Huntington 425, where the words ‘why’ and ‘because’ are omitted, while in all the other manuscripts it has been added.

 

The word bad

 

These two approaches may also explain the two versions in the manuscripts, whether the word ‘bad’ belongs in the text pertaining to the behaviour of Miriam towards Moses. If the premise of the question why the portions of Miriam and the spies are juxtaposed is because they in fact should not have been juxtaposed due to the very different degrees of righteousness between Miriam and the spies then the word ‘bad’ pertaining to Miriam would not be appropriate, as it suggests the opposite - that they are similar. [31]

 

MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 84 Shelach1.png
Question on the spies or Miriam

 

The above two approaches may also explain the two versions in the manuscripts, regarding the order of the question, whether the question about the juxtaposition is focused on Miriam being juxtaposed with the spies or the spies being juxtaposed with Miriam. If the focus is on the similarity of the two either in itself as a reason why they are juxtaposed or why they should not have been juxtaposed due to them both being negative texts of the Torah involving punishments then the question make sense to be focused on the text that appears later in the text: the portion of the spies. The question is then why does the second portion (spies) follow the first portion (Miriam).

 

According to the premise that the question is based on the rationale why they should not have been juxtaposed due to them being very different in levels of righteousness - since Miriam was profoundly more righteous than the spies, then the question should have been: why is the minor misdemeanour of Miriam juxtaposed to the grave sin of the spies, since it gives rise to a misconception that they are similar. This would explain the variation in the manuscript in MS. Michael 384 (1399), where the question is in fact asked in the reverse: Why the section dealing with Miriam is juxtaposed with the section of the spies?

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, we explained that the commentary of Rashi with the question about the juxtaposition of the story of Miriam with the spies has different versions in the manuscripts, reflecting two fundamental approaches to the nature of the question about the juxtaposition: a. the reason for the question about the juxtaposition is not due to their intrinsic incompatibility but rather their lack of chronology or a phrase that appears to positively link them; b. there is a problem with the juxtaposition that they should not have been juxtaposed, as the texts are intrinsically incompatible, either to them both being negative in nature or a mistaken impression that that they are similar. Based on the interpretation that the two portions should not have been juxtaposed because they are intrinsically incompatible, we explained two of the variations in the manuscripts: a. the reason for phrasing the commentary as a question: ‘why,’ and b. the manuscript that has the focus of the question specifically on Miriam, as opposed to the spies.

 

 


 

[1] Numbers 13:2.

[2] Numbers 12:1-6.

[3] The commentary of Rashi is found in Midrash Tanchuma Shelach 5 and Bamidbar Rabba 16:6. While both sources are extremely similar, the text from Bamidbar Rabba seems closer to the Rashi text as it includes a paragraph that is similar to: ‘Because she was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother.’ The actual text of the Midrash is slightly different: ‘Because she spoke against her brother she was punished with leprosy.’ There is a single manuscript at Oxford, MS. Huntington 389, fol. 34 (1301–1400), that includes ‘she was punished with leprosy’ in the text, while all the other manuscripts, as well as the published edition omits ‘leprosy’ and just writes ‘she was punished (lit. smitten) over matters of slander (iskei dibah).

[4] Fol. 80.

[5] Fol. 29.

[6] Fol. 34.

[7] Fol. 102.

[8] Fol. 169.

[9] Fol. 34.

[10] Fol. 111.

[11] Fol. 29.

[12] Fol. 169.

[13] Numbers 8:1-2.

[14] Tanchuma Beha’alothecha 3.

[15] Numbers 15:40.

[16] Neh. 9:13-14. See Rashi on Neh. 1:1.

[17] Numbers 15:40. Rashi commenatry from R. Moshe Hadarshan.

[18] Talmud Moed Kattan 28a.

[19] Talmud Moed Kattan 28a.

[20] Other comments of Rashi about the proximity of texts include: 1. Leviticus 23:2-3: [For] six days: Why does the Sabbath [designated by God,] appear here amidst the festivals [designated by the Sanhedrin]? To teach you that whoever desecrates the festivals is considered [to have transgressed as severely] as if he had desecrated the Sabbath, and that whoever who fulfills the festivals is considered as if he has fulfilled the Sabbath (Torat Kohanim 23:144). 2. Leviticus 25:1-2: ‘On Mount Sinai: What does the subject of Sabbatical have with Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai? However, just as with Sabbatical, its general principles and its finer details were all stated from Sinai, likewise, all of them were stated-their general principles [together with] their finer details-from Sinai. This is what is taught in Torat Kohanim (25:1).’ 3. Numbers 10:35: ‘So it was, whenever the ark set out: He made marks for it [this passage], before it and after it, as if to indicate that this is not its proper place in Scripture. So why was it written here? To make a break between one punishment and the next… as it is stated in [chapter 16 of Talmud Shabbat, commencing with the words] “All the Sacred Scriptures.”

[21] Talmud Ta’anit 29a: After this, the Jews traveled to Hazeroth, where Miriam was afflicted with leprosy, and it is written: “And Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days, and the people did not journey until Miriam was brought in again” (Numbers 12:15). Including these seven days, they remained in Hazeroth until the twenty-ninth of Sivan before traveling on to Paran, and it is written immediately afterward: “Send you men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan”(Numbers 13:2).

[22] Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:1.

[23] Bartnoro commentary on the Torah (Numbers 13:2:1).

[24] Bartnoro commentary on the Torah (Numbers 13:2:1).

[25] Shabbat 116a.

[26] Numbers 10:35. Rashi: ‘So it was, whenever the ark set out: He made marks for it [this passage], before it and after it, as if to indicate that this is not its proper place [in Scripture]. So why was it written here? To make a break between one punishment and the next… as it is stated in [chapter 16 of Talmud Shabbat, commencing with the words] “All the Sacred Scriptures.”’

[27] Mizrachi rejects this commentary.

[28] Likkutei Sichot vol. 18, p. 144.

[29] Rashi on Numbers 12:14: The people did not travel: This honor was accorded her by the Omnipresent because of the time she remained with Moses when he was cast into the river, as it says, “His sister stood by from afar to know what would be done to him” (Exod. 2:4). - [Sotah 9b].

[30] Moed Katan 28a: ‘Rabbi Elazar said further: Miriam also died by the divine kiss, just like her brother Moses. What is the source for this? This is derived through a verbal analogy between the word “there” stated with regard to Miriam and the word “there” mentioned with regard to Moses. With regard to Moses it says: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab by the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 34:5). For what reason was it not explicitly stated with regard to her, as it is stated with regard to Moses, that she died “by the mouth of the Lord”? It is because it would be unseemly to say such a thing, that a woman died by way of a divine kiss, and therefore it is not said explicitly.’

[31] This would be most consistent with the commentary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who argues that the premise of the question is based on the fact that Miriam and the spies are in fact not at all the same.

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