Friday, June 5, 2009

2:705; 3:19 - Question on Bialik; The Concern for the Persecuted

A note about this week's reading, and a note from my efforts to catch up.

The text at 3:19 is an impressively long and adamant assertion that God is on the side of the persecuted. Yes, it's part of our culture, secular as well as religious, but it's encouraging to see this statement with so many examples adduced, including examples where the same character, Shaul, is on both sides, as the victim of the Philistines and as the persecutor of David. That combination conveys the important lesson that the divine sympathy that one has through being persecuted can be forfeited if one then turns into the persecutor.

It's interesting to see 3:23 at the same time as 3:19. 3:23 contrasts the Jewish and non-Jewish calendrical systems, the former a lunar calendar (actually a combination lunar-solar, but let's go with the midrash) and the latter a solar one. The midrash draws the parallel to Esav and Ya'akov -- Esav as the prototypical Gentile is seen as large in stature and having a calendar focusing on the large celestial body (the sun), while the supposedly-slight Ya'akov follows the smaller celestial body (the moon). Then the midrash sticks in the homiletic knife -- the sun rules only by day, but the moon rules by night and by day; in the same way, the Gentiles will have life in this world (the visible one, corresponding to the day), but the Jews will have life in this world and in the next world (the hidden one, corresponding to the night). The "first one now will later be last" theme of this midrash reinforces the message of 3:19.

And a note about 2:705, or actually about a footnote on 2:705. This recounts a poem that Rava commissioned when he was about to cross the turbulent Tigris River. The last two lines of the poem say, "Ta'inu me'aharecha k'isha miba'alah/ Al taznihehu k'ot mei marah." The first of these is something like "We have strayed from you like a wife from her husband." The second begins, "Do not reject him [Rava] like ...." The question is what is meant by "ot mei marah." B&R have a footnote connecting this to the waters of Marah (Ex. 15:22-25), and saying something connecting the divine rejection to the disappearance of bitterness from the waters in that story. However, the reference of "ot mei marah" would seem clearly to be to the Sotah ritual in this week's parasha, where the ink from the written curses dissolves into the "waters of bitterness" (mei hamarim). That's why this line of the poem follows the line about the straying wife, and it explains the word "ot" (letter). Rashi makes this clear, explaining "k'ot mei marah" as "with which the Sotah wife was examined." Why did B&R explain this with reference to the Exodus passage?

1 comment:

Richard Friedman said...

Apologies -- I should have supplied the cite to the Talmudic passage. It's Moed Katan 25b.