Midrash and Method
Midrash and Method
on the weekly parasha by
Meir Levin

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Shelach 5765

Location, location, location….

Why was the portion of the spies connected to that of Miriam? Because she was punished for speaking evil, and these wicked ones (spies) saw it and did not take form it a moral (As quoted in Rashi, Numbers 13,1).

Appearances to the contrary, rabbinic comments are not haphazard but tend to be occasioned by specific patterns in the Torah. Among these is proximity of Scriptural sections to one another. Classic midrashic works contain 20 instances of "derashos" that zero in on placement of two disparate narratives near each other and derive a lesson from their connection (semukhin). One would expect that the use of this particular midrashic technique would be uniform throughout the Chumash; in other words, the question, "Why is section so-and-so connected proximally to section so-and- so", should be asked as many times in midrashic works on Genesis as in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. This is, however, not the case.

There are approximately twenty midrashic passages that ask this question and provide an answer. Of these, 3(15%) are in Genesis, 1(5%) in Exodus, 1(5%) in Leviticus, 3(15%) in Deuteronomy and 12(60%) in Numbers [1].

This lopsided statistic should provoke some thought. While we are used to the idea that a Biblical commentator, such as Rashi for example, may use midrashic material to answer textual difficulties [2], we do not usually think of Midrashic authors as being informed or motivated even in part by the same concern.

The book of Numbers, as we had seen last week, is conceptually uneven; in fact, it may be three books in one volume. The Netsiv points out in his introduction to this book (as well as in his commentary) that it deals with three quite different time periods. During the first of these periods, their functioning was wholly miraculous; during the last, they began to transition toward a more natural existence, the kind that they will lead once they enter the land. Others suggest that this book can be divided into the time before Jews sinned, the ideal state of the people that could have been but never was, demarcated by inverted nun's in Numbers 10, 34-36, and the time after they sinned, when God withdrew from day-to-day involvement in the life of the people.

R. Moshe Kordovero in the 3rd gate of the Pardes attempts to explain logically why there should be 10 sefiros. He cites the idea that everything in existence that transitions into something else will have within it three main components: the pre-transition substance that contains an admixture of the previous stage, the point of transition and the substance that is transitioning into the next stage and is taking on its characteristics. There are the same three stages within each one of these stages, giving you the total of nine. The specific essence of the stage itself adds up to ten.

Kabbala aside, the concept that the book of Numbers is fluid and contains elements that morph one into another goes a long way to explaining why the Sages looked in it for connections between its components more than they did in other books of the Pentateuch. If correct, this explanation cues us into how sensitive and aware they were of the global context and specific ambience of each Biblical book.

1 Avigdor Bonchek, Darko shel Rashi B'feirush milim mukarot batorah, lfi gishta shel Nechama,in Pirkei nechama, eds. M. Arend, R. Ben-Meir, Sifriat Elinur/ Jerusalem, 2001, G. Ch. Kohen, 170.

2 See a seminal article on this topic by N. Liebowitz , Darko shel Rashi Bhava'at midrashim bfeirusho l'torah, in Lilmod Ulelamed Tanach, Elinor, 1991, p. 106