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

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Tazria 5765

Mix and Match.

Leviticus 13,1 states, "A man that in his flesh there may be seis, or sapachas or baheres..." Whatever these terms refer to, one thing is certain - they are different afflictions. The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 15,1) wonders how it is determined which of these maladies afflicts a specific person and how justice is served by choosing a specific one. It never explicitly states an answer but it seems to be that Hashem determines specific circumstances and that for each man there is an individual consideration and accounting, even if we may not privy to it. It hints at this answer by pursuing an unrelated verse.

To make wind a quantity and water he had calculated with a measure (Job 28).

The midrash interprets this verse an telling us that Hashem measures everything out exactly and appropriately.

What we focus on currently is a statement that the midrash makes as it goes through examples of G-d measuring out exactly the parameters of wind and water, that it understands to be Spirit and Torah.

To make spirit a quantity... R. Acha said" 'Even the Holy Spirit that rests on the prophets rests in a (set) measure. There is one who prophesizes an entire book and one who prophesized two". R. Simon said: " Be'eri prophesized two things and it was not enough to constitute a book and its was attached to Isaiah. These are they: 'And when they say to you, seek the sorcerers and magicians' and the following verse (Isaiah 8)."

The idea that Prophets and Writings contain interpolations authored by other prophets is striking but not unique. The Netsiv of Volozhin points out that this appears to be standard view of Chazal.

There is internal evidence for this position within the book of Psalms and Chronicles. For example, Rashi Bava Bathra 14b brings evidence from the book of Proverbs itself (24,1) that they were edited and put together by Chezekiah and scholars in the generations subsequent to him; Proverbs as well as Psalms contains chapters ascribed to authors other than David and Solomon.[1] The Vilna Gaon writes (Mishlei 30,1): "For the Men of Great Assembly arranged in every book everything that was said with Holy Spirit on the same subject, such as in Pslams they arranged what Aseph, Heiman, Yedusun said of moral matters, rebuke and words of poetry...and also in Proverbs..."

It is important to realize that this second transcription was under the influence of Ruach Hakodesh, not mere work of men, G-d forbid.

It follows then that at some point of prior to closing of the canon of the Bible, three kinds of books could have existed: those written and already canonized in their final form, such as Judges and Ruth; those written or orally passed on from generation to generation, such as Isaiah, Daniel, or Esther and those not written under the influence of Ruach Hakodesh or containing a mixture of inspired and non-inspired writing. In the case of the latter, it would fall to the Men of the Great Assembly to transcribe or edit them under the influence of Ruach Hakodesh so that they may also join the canon in their final form, or they could remove from them the verses that were written under Divine Inspiration and attach them to a different prophetic book and discard the rest. Alternatively, they may choose to completely or partially exclude such writings from the canon. They could also choose to sift them carefully to be retained as part of Oral Law;[2] in the latter they may be kept as sanctified but without all characteristics of full membership.[3]

Appreciating this point allows us to solve the riddle of the book of Ben Sira. The book of Ben Sira is unique among the Apocryphal books. It is the only such book quoted frequently by the Talmud and Midrash; more importantly, it is at times referred to in a way reserved for quotations from the Tanach itself.[4] This is difficult to reconcile with other statements that prohibit study of this book.[5] In addition, Sanhedrin 100a approvingly quotes a number of verses from Ben Sira and concludes that "good things form it you can read but bad (nonsensical) things from it you may not read." The Talmud brings examples of some of the "bad" things; it is obvious that they are rejected as aphorisms of no great depth or significance.

After what we have established in the preceding discussion, a solution suggests itself after a perusal of the introduction to the book of Ben Sira. This introduction explains that it was written and "almost competed" by Ben Sira "who did not only gather the grave and short sentences of wise men before him but also uttered some of his own..." Farthermore, this Ben Sira lived "in the latter times, after all the people have been led away captive and called home again and after almost all of the prophets".

It may be suggested that Ben Sira represents a work that is a compilation of statements of various prophets and inspired authors that lived before him. However, and crucially important, it had never undergone a second editing under the influence of Ruach Hakodesh; rather it was put together and added to by someone who did not possess Ruach Hakodesh. The Sages were aware which verses stemmed from which source. They did not refrain from quoting or commenting on those that were divinely inspired, even to the extent of referring to them as if they originated for the Scripture. They did not accept the book as a whole, however, for average people were not capable to make this determination and would come to treat verses that are not inspired as if they are.

What was this process of editing like and what form did it take? It is described by the Netsiv in the following words: "Song of Songs -- that was composed out of many separate songs of which many were composed through Ruach Hakodesh by others (not Solomon). For example the song "tell me...(1,7)" was said by Moshe as is explained in the Sifri... Also the verse "kiss me..." (1,2) was received (as tradition) by our Rabbis to have been written prior to Solomon and they asked: "When was it composed?" Similarly "We have a little sister (8,8)" was said at the days of Avraham, as explained in Genesis Rabba, section Lech Lecha. Solomon gathered songs through the Holy Spirit and also added of his own and fashioned it into one song. This is also like this regarding the book of Psalms that his father produced and which was called by his name even though it contains songs that were said by others... So it says in Pesachim 117a that all the praises in the Psalms David said, as it says "completed songs of David son of Jesse", because David edited and added to them. So also Solomon gathered verses that he had at hand and added many others of his own and made of it into one song... There are songs that were composed with a certain meaning at one time and Solomon adjusted it through Ruach Hakodesh for a different time". (Rina Shel Torah 1,1)

"This prophecy (in Micha) is very difficult to understand. It appears that it was pre-existing form the time of the Judges and at the time of Micha it was added to the rest of his words. It states similarly in Leviticus Rabba that two verses in Isaiah were already known for the time of Be'eri (father of Ezekiel) but were added to the book of Isaiah. There are many such instances in Prophets and Writings (He'emek Davar to Genesis 49, 10)". The Netsiv expands on this and cites many other examples in He'emek Sha'ala 166,5, among them that Shema Yisrael was first pronounced by the 12 tribes thorough Ruach Hakodesh and later incorporated by Moshe into the Torah, as per Pesachim 56a. This process of second transcription, he explains, accounts also for the phenomena of Keri and Ketiv, that is for the many words in the Hebrew Bible that are written in one way but are read somewhat differently. The Ketiv represents the original wording as first said through Ruach Hakodesh and the Keri the wording as it was transcribed in its final form the second time around, under Ruach Hakodesh.

I must again emphasize the absolutely central role of Divine inspiration in the process of canonization, or fixing of the final wording and place of some of its books inside the canon of the Bible. I must also reiterate that we do not have authority to assume that this process applied to any books or verses except those specifically pointed out to us by Talmudic sages. It goes without saying that extending this idea to the Chumash is not only unwarranted but constitutes a transgression of a principle of faith, G-d forbid, and anyone suggesting such an idea has possibly have taken himself out of the community of believers.[6]

1 See Psalms 72,20 Proverbs 9,1 ,25,1 (These also are proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.), 30,1 and R. Menachem Mendel's introduction to Vilna Gaon's commentaray on Mishlei cited in Moshe Philip's edition 1,1.

2 Avos 4,14 is a quote from Ben Sira

3 See Megila 7a and Tos s.v. Ne'emra likrot vlo lhikateiv.

4 Bava Kama 92b, See Tosafot ibid s.v.meshulash bektuvim, Chagiga 13a, Eiruvin 65a, and more than a dozen other places. Maharits Chiyos in Kol Sifrei Marits Chiyos, Vol1, p152 maintains that the acceptability of Ben Sira is subject to a disagreement of Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.

5 Bava Kama 92b, See Tosafot ibid s.v.meshulash bektuvim, Chagiga 13a, Eiruvin 65a, and more than a dozen other places. Maharits Chiyos in Kol Sifrei Marits Chiyos, Vol1, p152 maintains that the acceptability of Ben Sira is subject to a disagreement of Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.

6 Some contemporaries submit there may have been some Rishonim who may have held a similar idea in reference to Pentateuch as well. Others have questioned this idea and interpreted such scattered passages differently. This is not the place and time to engage in this ongoing controversy. The congregation of Israel has traditionally held fast to the principles of faith as formulated by Rambam and so should we do so also.