You are currently viewing archive for February 2008
Posted by: Benjamin
The Virtual Beit Midrash, and the people and organizations quoted on, are in no way associated with and views expressed here.



The Exodus - "Peshat" and "Derash"
by Rav David Silverberg

I. Introduction

Parashat Vaera focuses on the ten "makkot," the plagues that bring havoc and destruction upon the land of Egypt in response to Pharaoh's refusal to free the Hebrew slaves. This extended process of ten plagues reveals that God's plan involves more than His nation's freedom. If He intended solely to liberate the slaves from Pharaoh's rule, a single miraculous blow would have sufficed. But, as the Almighty Himself tells Moshe, He has an additional goal in mind, as well: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites from their midst" (7:5). Last week, we read of Pharaoh's defiant response to God's order to set the slaves free: "Who is God that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know God, nor will I let Israel go" (5:2). The redemption process must therefore entail an exhibition of divine strength that brings the Egyptian empire to its knees.

Our shiur this week will address the question as to whether any corresponding process was necessary on Benei Yisrael's part. Did God demand anything from them to earn their freedom? Were they charged with any religious responsibilities or obligations as prerequisites for their emancipation? Much later in Tanakh, in the book of Yechezkel, we find explicit proof to the fact that God had, indeed, called upon the Hebrew slaves to repent: "When I made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt" I also said to them: cast away, every one of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt" (Yechezkel 20:5,7). In the Chumash itself, however, no such explicit indication is to be found. We will try to demonstrate that the "peshat," or straightforward reading of the narrative in the book of Shemot, and the "derash," the homiletic tradition of our Sages, point us in two opposite directions. As we will see, this issue serves as a beautiful example of the interplay between these two levels of interpretation, which will hopefully enhance our appreciation for the study of peshat on the one hand, and for the brilliance and power of derash, on the other.

I must assume this is a poor choice of words - demonstrating that the "peshat" meaning and the "derash" tradition point us in two opposite directions. Let's assure the "derash" tradition does not lead one from the "peshat" understanding of the Torah.

Deuteronomy Chapter 4
1 And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which YHWH, the God of your fathers, giveth you.
2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of YHWH your God which I command you.

The well-known statement of the Talmud ein mikra yotze midei peshuto (Shabbat 63a; Yev. 11b, 24a) is rendered in the Soncino translation, "A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning."
- Louis Rabinowitz,
The Talmudic Meaning of Peshat
Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 6:1, 1963.

There are two possible indications of an obligation on Benei Yisrael's part in preparation for the Exodus, one in Parashat Vaera, and another in Parashat Bo. We will study each instance and contrast the peshat approach with the homiletic interpretation.

» Read More

Posted by: Benjamin
Ami Hertz, and the people and organizations quoted on, are in no way associated with and views expressed here.

All Torah was written down
Ami Hertz
October 23, 2004

This page is part of the book Critique of the Oral Torah.

In this chapter, I show that, contrary to Rabbinical claims about the Oral Torah, Moses wrote down all of the Torah.

1. Many passages throughout the Jewish Bible say that Moses wrote down the Torah. Here are some examples.

Moses wrote down this Teaching [ha-torah - התורה] and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of YHWH's Covenant, and to all the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy Chapter 31
9 And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, that bore the ark of the covenant of YHWH, and unto all the elders of Israel.
10 And Moses commanded them, saying: 'At the end of every seven years, in the set time of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,
11 when all Israel is come to appear before YHWH thy God in the place which He shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear YHWH your God, and observe to do all the words of this law;
13 and that their children, who have not known, may hear, and learn to fear YHWH your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over the Jordan to possess it.'

And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before YHWH your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read [tiqra - תקרא] this Teaching [ha-torah] aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people - men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities - that they may hear and so learn to revere YHWH your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching [divrei ha-torah - דברי התורה]. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere YHWH your God as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. (Deut. 31:9-13)

This passages says that Moses wrote down the Torah. He commanded that the Torah be read every seventh year in the presence of all the people, so that the people learn to follow this Written Torah. Moses makes no mention of following another Torah, in addition to the one that he wrote down.

Deuteronomy Chapter 31
24 And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,
25 that Moses commanded the Levites, that bore the ark of the covenant of YHWH, saying:
26 'Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of YHWH your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.
27 For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against YHWH; and how much more after my death?
28 Assemble unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to witness against them.
29 For I know that after my death ye will in any wise deal corruptly, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the end of days; because ye will do that which is evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke Him through the work of your hands.'

When Moses had put down in writing the words of this Teaching [divrei ha-torah] in a book [sefer - ספר] to the very end, Moses charged the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH, saying: Take this book of Teaching [sefer ha-torah] and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH your God, and let it remain there as a witness against you. Well I know how defiant and stiffnecked you are: even now, while I am still alive in your midst, you have been defiant toward YHWH; how much more, then, when I am dead! Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, that I may speak all these words to them and that I may call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that, when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path that I enjoined upon you, and that in time to come misfortune will befall you for having done evil in the sight of YHWH and vexed Him by your deeds. (Deut. 31:24-29)

» Read More

Buy me a coffee ($3)