Saturday, 3 December 2016

Parallels Between Sulam Yaakov and Migdal Bavel

Guest Blogger: R Shaul Robinson
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In Israel last week I bought the Sefer "Parshut' of Rav Chaim Navon. I am a big fan of the 'pshuto shel mikra / inter textual analysis' of Chumash...

One of the ideas he discusses on the parsha was a real eye opener for me because I'd never heard of it before - the textual similarities between Ya'akov's dream and the Tower of Bavel. The examples are very persuasive - Rosh bashamayim pen nafutz vs ufaratzta - Bavel as 'Gate of G-d' vs Sha'ar Hashamayim, going to and from Kedem etc...

After reading as much as I could about this (and sites like vbm , Bar Ilan all have a number of shiurim on these parallels) I was left with the following question. None of the Rishonim from what I can see, noted this parallel. Neither, more significantly, it would appear did Chazal (at least from checking Torah Sheleimah - and , one can often find a lot of the 'new' style of p'shat interpretation anticipated in Midrashim) ... So what do we conclude from this complete absence in traditional sources of something that seems textually compelling? That it must be wrong / irrelevant because Chazal would have pointed it out? I.E. its 'outside the masorah' of exegesis..or that the links are there, but the Masorah is that it's not important, because we are supposed to draw other lessons from the story of Ya'akov's dream? Or that even though the Rishonim never said it, its a completely valid form of interpretation that one can in good conscience teach as the Emet of Torah

Kol Tuv,

Parsha: Vayetzei, "Reflecting upon Quality Control"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in a Free Society here in North America. People are free to talk and say what they want. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find yourself a soap-box, then speak. 
One consequence of this freedom of speech is that  you sometimes 'get what you pay for it!" I've lately realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah". Perhaps more insidious, how many inaccuracies are passed off by speakers as 'fact" when they are really misquotes or half-truths
I worked for many years in data processing. Usually some kind of quality control went into a product. Rarely was anything written without testing or some kind of peer review.  At any rate, users easily found most errors, often with embarrassing results.

Many years ago, I heard a mistake. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] attended a local parsha class. He would share some of the weekly speaker's thoughts with me every Friday night on the way home from shul. One week, he told me a D'var Torah about Vayetzei, claiming it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah without any Parsha breaks. 
I exclaimed: "That isn't true! Parshat Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" In fact, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if it weren't the ONLY exception but I felt disappointed that the speaker wasn't more careful about his facts.

Fast Forward to a subsequent Friday Night. Although the speaker's Dvar Torah was mostly excellent, he inserted a very misleading interpretation at the end. He stated that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov hadn't slept during all of the 14 years he spent studying at Yeshivat Sheim V'Eiver. (Rashi, quoting Midrash Rabbah
I privately corrected the speaker later on, explaining the implication is something very different. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, had meant that he had not "LAIN DOWN to sleep" not that, in fact, he had never slept!  The Gemara, Nedarim, states that it's impossible to to never sleep for x number of days.  
OTOH, not lying down for a period of time just shows Ya'akov as an ascetic, not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann, related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. 
Did Yaakov sleep? Yes. Did he lay down? No. 
Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar interprets lack of Shechiva to mean that Yaakov didn't lay down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM
What's the point?  A story of Ya'akov's p'rishut and hatmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story through a lack of attention to the details!

However, I'm still on my soap box! Once, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. He claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! The passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI"  God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchot and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past; I didn't wish to become a pest! But it's a shame that his audience may be unaware of his error.

Just a few hours ago, I was informed of another mistake. Yesterday, someone had given a Dvar Torah claiming that the argument between Yaakov and Shimon/Levi concerned assimilation; Yaakov was in favor, while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience was shocked! Even though we may question Dinah's motives "lir'ot bivnot ha'aretz" as a possible wish to to assimilate local fashion into her wardrobe, it is quite a stretch to attribute assimilation to Ya'akov himself.

Maybe Torah authors and speakers should have their writings go through quality control before they present them. In the meantime, caveat emptor.