דרכי ציון אבלות

דרכי ציון אבלות
מִי יִתֵּן רֹאשִׁי מַיִם וְעֵינִי מְקוֹר דִּמְעָה וְאֶבְכֶּה יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה אֵת חַלְלֵי בַת עַמִּי

4/20/14

Yom LeYabasha Nehefchu Metzulim, Shira Chadsha Shibechu Geulim! - A response to another blog

Erev Shevi'i Shel Pesach

A recent Dvar Torah was published as a guest post on a well-known blog. What troubled me with the latest Dvar Torah was the heavy impression that the author shot his metaphorical arrow, and then painted his Torah-digeh target around where the arrow landed. IOW, he knew what he wanted to say, and then used the sources to back him up.  Maybe I'm wrong, but this is what I have to say about it (poster's DT in blue italics, my comment in basic black):

Poor 7oP [7th day of Pesach]The Seventh Day of Passover seems to get no respect, despite its being a bona fide biblical holiday. It has no special custom, command or ceremony all its own. Compare this to the end of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret; the Talmud (Sukka 48a) already enumerates six special traits of the day in Temple times, to which another half-dozen have been added in the two millennia since. Meanwhile, 7oP remains forlorn, a sort of Anticlimaxodus.

Shevi'i Shel Pesach gets no respect?  Ths is the culmination of Pesach! The traditional anniversary of the splitting of Yam Suf.  The day six days after leaving Egypt, after perhaps not being sure how successful their "escape" would be, Moshe says to them, "thats it. Shoin geneeg.  As you've seen Egypt today, you will never see them again."  The day on which, as per tradition, a maidservant saw greater prophetic sights than Yechezk'el ben Buzi!  What a magnificent, empowering day!
By the way, Shmini Atzeret is not the end of Sukkot, but rather the seventh day of Sukkot is, later known as Hoshana Rabba, not such a huge festivity. Shemini Atzeret is a separate Chag, parallel not to the Seventh of Pesach, but rather to Shavuot (known as Atzeret by Chazal). Since it is a separate Chag, it gets its own Paza"r Kasha"v.
Shevi'i Shel Pesach is far from forlorn. Think about it, Sukkot's final day is just a Chol Hamoed day with some beautiful Hoshanos and Piyutim, but not much else.  Shevi'i Shel Pesach is a full-fledged Yom Tov, "Yom LeYabasha", Shirat Hayam!



True, tradition tells us (specifically, R. Hanina bar Papa in Talmud Sota 12b) that the 21st of Nisan was the day of the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the subsequent Song of the Sea. But this sequel to the Ten Plagues feels a bit underwhelming: once again, the Israelites face hardened-heart Pharaoh; once again, Moses raises his staff; once again, God performs a miracle; once again, the Israelites are spared and the Egyptians are smitten (but not in a good way). However, since we celebrate at the Seder as freemen, it's hard to muster up much emotion about Pharaoh 2.0. Instead, he seems to fit into the familiar pattern of "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat."

Theres a good question here.  What is the deal with "Oh no, he's back - Pharaoh the Sequel"?  However, there is a message we can take from here. Pharaoh sent us away on the 15th of Nissan, and de facto made us free men.  And then, everything should be smooth-sailing for us, right?  Like the Kingdom of Israel, the Hasmonean Kingdom, the Golden Age of Spain, the emancipation of Central European Jewry,everything's gonna be okay now, right?  Well, as we know, these happy occasions didn't last forever.  So Pharaoh's coming back for us taught us about how to relate to the different "freedoms" we were to achieve in the future - watch your back, hope to God (and do what you can to protect yourself - sorry about the Zionistic digression).
And, there may be a huge lesson here.  Even if God hardens one's heart, it is his/her responsibility to overcome that "hardship",and do the right thing.  "What could I do? The Lord hardened my heart" is never an excuse.

But I do like the song "They tried to kill us we survived let's eat"


The next portion of the DT I quote here argues with Eylon Aslan-Levy's idea that the gradual onset of the ten plagues were part of a war ethic.

But I would like to argue that the events of the Seventh Day are in fact vital and integral to our Passover experience. A week ago, Eylon Aslan-Levy posted "The Ten Plagues and the Ethics of Modern Warfare," in which he argues that "For Moses, the Death of the Firstborn was the nuclear option." I have a number of issues with the piece, but first and foremost, I am dismayed by the portrayal of the Slaying of the Firstborn as some sort of weapon of mass destruction, introducing lethal force into the equation for the first time.
The fact is that in their first appearance before Pharaoh (Ex. 5:3), Moses and Aaron already use threatening language: "And they said, 'The God of the Hebrews has met with us: let us go, we pray you, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.'" As the Plagues strike Egypt, it's very hard to imagine that there were no casualties from the week-long lack of drinking water, the invasion by wild animals, the death by pestilence of all domesticated animals and a raging plague of boils (a disease which causes limbs to fall off; see Talmud Ketubot 20b).

Yes, Moshe and Aharon did not threaten Pharaoh with "if you don't let us go, then we're going to say 'let my people go' again!" How effective would that have been?  And the first six plagues may have been deadly to some.  When civilians are tragically killed in a war against those who are out to destroy you it's terrible (in Gaza or wherever else), but has the human race yet found an effective alternative? I hope they have.
Hashta D'atit L'Hachi, one more question.  Had the Allied forces 70 years ago refused to execute any attack on the Germans that may kill or injure innocent civilians, where would you be today?  I probably would be an unborn son to my father who would not have been liberated from his underground bunker in the Przemysl (Galicia) ghetto.  So not everything in life is 100% perfect and easily justifiable.  But the pain over loss of life is still just as painful, with that I agree fully.

Still, let's assume that the first six were nonlethal. That still brings us to unlucky number seven, flaming hail. The Torah is explicit about this one (Ex. 9:19-25):
For upon every man and beast that shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die. He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses. And he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field... And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and broke every tree of the field.
So Egyptians were dying; more importantly, their animals and slaves were dying for their masters' disbelief. That is equally true of the Slaying of the Firstborn:

That is correct, Rabbi.  Often it is not God who kills people, rather people kill people.
And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. (11:5)
And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. (12:29)
Pharaoh, the cause of all this, does not die; all other firstborn of Egypt, including slaves and animals, do.
It may be convenient for us to think of the Slaying of the Firstborn as a powerfully destructive and indiscriminate weapon, but this plague is very personal, as we read in the Haggada: God Himself does the killing. It is not modern ethical warfare; it is ancient tribal warfare, in which Egypt is bad and Israel is good, and no other distinction is relevant. To contend that "Moses took every reasonable step to shield civilians from their leadership’s callousness and indifference to their plight" is laughable.

It wasn't modern ethical warfare, but there was no "shoot on site, take no prisoners" attitude.  Egypt may have been bad, but Chazal describe Israel as being not so pious either.  The point seemed to be that one side was using treacherous power over the other.  The Midrash of the angel Gavriel showing the brick with a dead Israelite baby embedded inside it my be just a Midrash, but it seems to be teaching us that if we ever think of waging a deadly war against an enemy, there had better be a good reason for it.
By the way, your characterization of opinions with which you disagree as "laughable", smells of cynicism, disresect for others, and Leitzanus. And it doesnt add substance to your argument.


That is why we need the Seventh Day of Passover. The final chapter of the Exodus, the Splitting of the Sea, shows us an evolving ethic. This time, it is not Egyptian slaves or civilians who suffer, but Pharaoh's war machine (Ex. 14:28): "And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them." As the Psalmist puts it (136:15), "And He hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of Reeds, for His kindness is everlasting."

Well, we could have pummeled the "war machine" instead of having plagues brought on the innocent Egyptians in the first place.  So we didn't need Shevi'i Shel Pesach for that.  True, we as human beings are always evolving ethically (I hope).  But God, who according to our tradition does not evolve, did have a "hand" in everything that transpired.  And, more often than not, He does not explain to us why things had to be the way he executed him.  That is part and parcel of the dillema of the believing Jew.  We're probably not going to understand everything.  But it is our responsibility to be moral beings, and not use the excuse "well, if God can do it...."

In fact, in the Talmud (Megilla 10b), we find:
For the Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked. And R. Johanan further said, What is the meaning of the verse, "And one came not near the other all the night" (Ex. 14:20)? The ministering angels wanted to chant their hymns, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said, "The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and shall you chant hymns?"
Once we can distinguish between the good Egyptians and the bad Egyptians, we can distinguish between the good and the bad within each Egyptian. Once we can identify the villains, we can have compassion for the enemy. That is the most provocative idea of Passover, and we can only embrace it once we are safely on the other side, on the Seventh Day.

As Jews, sons of Avraham Avinu the great defense lawyer of Sedom Va'Amora, we know that there is some good and some bad in everyone.  We have compassion for the "enemy" since the days of the Great Avraham.
Once we were safely on the other side, we were exactly that - safe.  That means a lot to today's Survivors and their descendants; it means a lot to me, whose best friend and army companion was murdered in a terrorist attack.
The compassion we already had. We must never lose it. But, the removal of the threat was reason enough for the great day of Shevi'i Shel Pesach.

Hag sameah.

Chag Sameach to you and yours, and "a gezinte zimmer"




4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the analysis, but Aslan-Levy's contention was that the Plagues follow the rules of modern ethics. He even titled his article that way, so that's what I responded to As for the question about collateral damage, you are ignoring the fact that the Slaying of the Firstborn is personal. Moses did not have a God-bomb; he had God, who chose to kill the firstborn slaves and animals. As for the comparison, yes, Hazal call Shavuot atzeret. But the Torah does not: it reserves that term for the eighth of Sukkot and the seventh of Pesach (hag hamatzot).
    .

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  2. Well, I found Aslan-Levy's slightly complicated legal language a bit confusing as to understand what he really meant to say. The way you describe his thesis, it does sound like he shot an arrow and then painted the target in order to prove that all parties on the Jews' side were super-mega-ethical, which I don't accept at face value.
    My point about God killing all the firstborn was not to justify Him ethically, but rather I was pulled in by mistake into the discussion of what we do about collateral damage as imperfect human beings. Aslan-Levy was sort of trying to contort the plagues into following the rules of modern ethics, and I don't think that's a very easy task, perhaps even impossible and maybe, just maybe, lacking some intellectual integrity (My apologies to Aslan-Levy). To put it in my simple language, why God does some of the thinks He does - God knows.
    And for the Shavuot comparison, it is on the 50th day of Pesach, regardless of Ibur Hachodesh, so we have to use the Omer count in order to know when it is. Like Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day of Sukkot, even though it's
    not really Sukkot, but we just use the number eight in order to count and thus know when the holiday occurs
    My train of thought in my post was expressing my suspicion that the last day of Pesach is a Yom Tov (7oP), but the last day of Sukkot is just a day of Chol Hamoed. Maybe that is an incorrect observation., because the Torah does say "Bayom Hashemini Atzeret Tihyeh Lachem", so it is the final day of Sukkot, but then why no more Sukkah and 4 Minim? I guess that's for a post for Simchat Torah.
    Thanks for your explanation. Always interesting to read your point of view.

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  3. But there is a distinction: Shemini Atzeret is always identified as the eighth day, while Shavuot is never referred to as "the fiftieth day" of Pesah or anything else. The number fifty is only mentioned in Emor, and there it is unclear if Shavuot is day 50 or 51. Of course, based on the traditional chronology on, I think, Shabbat 88a, the Torah was given on day 51.

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    Replies
    1. Ok, true, Shavuot is either after we finish counting fifty days or on the day
      we count fifty (thats how I understand Vayikra 23:16
      And, I'm afraid of taking up too much of your time, but as perhaps a final point for now: even if the Torah was given on day 51, maybe that doesn't completely contradict the fact that Shavuot for us in on day 50, perhaps because Shavuot isn't Chag Matan Torah according to Torah Shebichtav anyway,and maybe because a day off here or there doesn't take away from celebrating Matan Torah in any case.
      Maybe something to elaborate on for Shavuot.

      Cheers

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