Archive for May, 2014

Pirkey d'Rabi Eliezer

The 1st installment in a series examining whether Pinechas (aka Pinchas or Phineas) of the Torah is same personage as Eliyahu ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) of the book of Kings and later Jewish traditions.

Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer, ch. 47:

Rabbi Yehudah says: …Through the counsel of Bilam (Balaam) that he advised Midyan (Midian), 24,000 Israelites fell. Bilam said to them: ‘You cannot overcome this people unless they have sinned before their Creator.’ They immediately made shops outside the camp of Israel, and [the Israelites] could see the daughters of Midyan adorning their eyes (with makeup), and [the Israelites] strayed after them… Shimon (Simon) and Levi had been zealous regarding sexual impropriety, as it says (regarding the incident with Dinah in Genesis 34): ‘Shall he make our sister like a harlot?’ (v. 31). But the nasi (prince) of the tribe of Shimon did not remember what his ancestor had done, and he did not rebuke the men of Israel. Rather, he himself publicly had relations with the Midianite woman. All the nesiim (princes) and Mosheh (Moses) and Elazar and Pinechas saw the angel of death, and they were sitting and crying, and they did not know what to do. Pinechas saw that Zimri was having relations publicly with the Midianite woman, and he was filled with a great zeal. He grabbed the spear from the hand of Mosheh, and ran after [Zimri], and stabbed him. Therefore the Holy One Blessed is He gave him priestly gifts… [Pinechas] stood up as a great judge for Israel… and he struck the men of Israel, and dragged them to every corner of the camp of Israel so the people would see and fear. The Holy One Blessed is He saw what Pinechas had done, and He stopped the plague from upon Israel… Rabbi Eliezer says: The Holy One Blessed is He considered the name of Pinechas like the name of Eliyahu of the inhabitants of Gilad, who cause Israel to repent in the land of Gilad… and He gave him life in this world and life in the World to Come, and He gave him and his children good reward for the sake of eternal priesthood.

While Eliyahu and Pinechas are here equated with one another, it appears clear that they are distinct individuals, compared for similar deeds.

Click here for the next installment.

yerushalmiSee earlier posts in this series for some background.

Note how in the following source, Chiel is depicted as having a pious streak, or at least perhaps having some thoughts of repentance following his tragedy. Achav, however, quickly squelches Chiel’s attempted positive spiritual thrust.

Yerushalmi Sandhedrin 10:2:

It is written: ‘Eliyahu (Elijah) the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilad, said to Achav (Ahab), ‘As the Almighty, G-d of Israel, before Whom I have stood, lives, there shall be in these years no dew or rain except according to my word!’ (I Kings 17:1). Why is this passage juxtaposed to [the account of the death of Chiel’s sons]? Because the Holy One Blessed is He said to Eliyahu: ‘This Chiel is a prominent person. Go, show him your face. (I.e. Visit him to offer him comfort over the death of his sons.)’ [Eliyahu] said to [the Holy One Blessed is He]: ‘I will not go.’ [The Holy One Blessed is He] said to [Eliyahu]: ‘Why?’ [Eliyahu] said to [the Holy One Blessed is He]: ‘When I go, they will be saying things that anger You, and I cannot bear it.’ [The Holy One Blessed is He] said to [Eliyahu]: ‘If they say a thing that angers Me, whatever you decree, I will uphold.’ He went and found them discussing the verse: ‘Yehoshua (Joshua) swore at that time, saying, ‘Cursed before the Almighty is the man who well get up and build this city, Yericho (Jericho). With [the death of] his firstborn he will lay its foundation, and with [the death of] his youngest he will erect its doors.” [Chiel] said: ‘Blessed is our righteous G-d Who upholds the words of the righteous one (i.e. Yehoshua).’ Achav was there. Achav said to them: ‘Who is greater than whom? Mosheh (Moses) or Yehoshua?’ They said: ‘Mosheh.’ He said to them: ‘In the Torah of Mosheh it is written: ‘Guard yourselves lest your heart seduce [you], and you turn away and serve other gods and bow to them.’ What does it say afterwards? ‘The anger of the Almighty will flare against you, and He will stop up the heavens, and there will be no rain.’ Yet there is no idol in the world that I have not served, and every good and comforting thing in the world has come to me! The words of Mosheh are not upheld, yet [G-d] upholds the words of Yehoshua?’ Eliyahu said, ‘If it is as you say, ‘As the Almighty, G-d of Israel, before Whom I have stood, lives, there will be during these years no dew or rain except according to my word!”

In this earlier post, we discussed the meeting between the prophet Eliyahu and King Achav that led to Eliyahu’s decree that the rains be withheld. See my question on this incident there.

I subsequently found another midrashic source discussing this same incident with slight variation.

Tana d’Vey Eliyahu Zuta 8:

Achav (Ahab), King of Israel, inquired of Eliyahu the Tishbite, saying: ‘It is written in your Torah: ‘Guard yourselves lest your heart seduce [you], and you go astray and serve other gods and bow to them. The Almighty’s anger will flare against you and He will stop up the heavens and there shall be no rain, and the earth will not give its crop…’ (Deuteronomy 11:16-17). Yet we serve idols and the rains do not stop! Rather, see how many good things have come to me!’ …Immediately, Eliyahu was filled with a great anger against Achav. He said to Achav: ‘Empty one! You have despised Him Who created the entire world for His honor and Him Who gave the Torah for His honor! By your life, I judge you by your own words!’ As it says: ‘Eliyahu the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilad said to Achav, ‘As the Almighty, G-d of Israel, before Whom I have stood, lives, there shall not be in these years rain or dew except according to my word!” (I Kings 17:1).

Here there is no mention of the two meeting while visiting Chiel during his period of mourning. Furthermore, and more notably, while the passage in the Talmud (at least according to Rashi’s understanding) implies the continued rains hindered Achav’s idolatrous agenda, here Achav gloats of the benefits he’s enjoyed despite challenging the Torah’s promise of retribution for idolatry.

Rimzey Esh, commentary to this midrash, explains that even the seemingly wicked actions of these figures were perpetrated with lofty intent. Achav wished to achieve the highest form of teshuvah (repentance) which must be completely self-motivated, not fomented by outside stimuli. A lower level would be teshuvah motivated by a prophet’s rejoinder or fear of the Torah’s promise of punishment. A yet lower level would be teshuvah motivated by witnessing punishment befall another. The lowest would be teshuvah motivated by punishment that befalls the sinner himself. Achav thought the Almighty would withhold the punishment for idolatry from him so that he could repent in the most ideal way. For this reason Achav refused to repent following the death of Chiel’s sons so as not to diminish his repentance by having it follow another’s punishment, and Achav likewise scoffed at the Torah’s promise of punishment. Eliyahu responds by bringing direct punishment upon Achav by withholding the rain indefinitely, forcing Achav to diminish his repentance to the lowest level, in a way playing “chicken” with Achav, seeing how long it would take him to crack. Eliyahu calls Achav “empty,” for Achav believed his actions to be lofty while his thought process was indeed empty of sense.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 101:4:

Some say that [one one must pray only in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew)] when one is asking for one’s needs, such as praying for a sick person…

Mishnhah Berurah, ad loc:

That is, when [the one praying] is not in the presence of the sick person, but in the presence of the sick person it is permitted [to pray] in any language one desires, for the Holy One Blessed is He is present [in the place of a sick person].

See this post and this post for more on this topic.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 101:4:

When praying alone (i.e. not with a quorum of ten men), one should only pray in the Holy Tongue (i.e. Hebrew)… There are those that opine that even an one praying alone, when asking [G-d] for one’s needs, may ask in any language that one desires, except for the Aramaic language.

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc:

“one should only pray in the Holy Tongue” — because the Ministering Angels are not familiar with the Aramaic language, and so is the case for any language other than the Holy Tongue. However, [when praying] with the congregation, [the congregation] does not require an intermediary, for the Holy One Blessed is He himself accepts their prayers.

“even when praying alone… one may ask in any language… except for the Aramaic language” — [These opinions] maintain that the angels are familiar with all languages, but merely do not submit themselves to the Aramaic language because it is lowly in their eyes.

NOTE: These halachoth (laws) are based on the traditional idea that when not praying in a congregation of ten or more men, the Almighty only accepts one’s prayers through an angelic proxy that is created by the purity of intent of the individual that is praying. This is considered a much less efficacious form of prayer since the power of the angels to carry out this task may vary according to the intent of the one who is praying, as well as many other metaphysical factors and circumstances, while prayer with the congregation supersedes any of these external barriers to which angels may be vulnerable.

The actions by Eliyahu noted in the previous post precipitated an interesting response from a sage of the Mishnaic period, many centuries later. It is well known that Eliyahu was granted immortality, rising to heaven alive, and according to Jewish tradition, continues to visit the Jewish people secretly throughout the generations, and will ultimately reveal himself before the end of days to herald the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113A) records the following incident:

Rabbi Yosey in Tzipori taught [based on the above incident]: ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry man.’ Although Eliyahu would regularly visit [Rabbi Yosey], he hid himself from [Rabbi Yosey] for three days and did not come. When he [finally] came, [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] said to him: ‘You called me an angry man!’ [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Behold, the master has just become angry!’

When I came upon this passage, I wondered that Rabbi Yosey’s retort to Eliyahu seemed brash, disrespectful, even scoffing. Having been shunned by the great and holy prophet Eliyahu, should Rabbi Yosey not have humbled himself to this spiritual giant rather than respond in what seems like an almost childish manner?

Rabbi Yoseph Chayim of Baghdad in his work Ben Yehoyada questions this passage as well, but from the opposite perspective:

The Torath Chayim of blessed memory asked, since in the first place [Rabbi Yosey] called [Eliyahu] “angry” because he got angry at Achav, why did [R’ Yosey] not offer this reason when [Eliyahu] rebuked him for calling him “angry,” rather than answering him that he called him angry because of his present anger? Another difficulty is that since Eliyahu did indeed become angry at Achav, why did he get angry at Rabbi Yosey for calling him an angry person? The resolution appears to me to be that the body of Eliyahu that became angered at Achav was not the body that appeared to Rabbi Yosey. Rather, even though the body that Eliyahu had had previously had ascended in a storm and become purified, he would not descend in the same body anymore to this world when he would appear to the Sages. Rather, he would appear in another, new body that was prepared for him. And if Rabbi Yosey had said, ‘Eliyahu was an angry person,’ it would have implied the holy body of Eliyahu that existed during the time of Achav when Eliyahu actually became angry at [Achav]. But Rabbi Yosey said, ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry person’… Behold, this implies that he was referring to the body of Eliyahu that would appear to Rabbi Yosey and teach him Torah… therefore this body became angry at Rabbi Yosey and did not come to him for three days. When [Eliyahu finally] came and Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] answered him, ‘You called me an angry person!’ [‘Me’ here implies] specifically this (present) body, for this body did not exist in the days of Achav and [therefore] did not become angry at Achav. Rabbi Yosey replied to him, ‘Even according to you, that this body did not exist in the days of Achav, nevertheless, I have not wronged you in this body by calling it ‘angry,’ for presently this very body of yours has become angry and you [subsequently] did not come for three days!’ It further appears to me, with G-d’s help, that after Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ that [Eliyahu] answered him jokingly and calmly, ‘You called me angry.’ I.e. ‘I used to come to you to teach you Torah. Since you called me an angry person, rightly I should not come to teach you Torah, since we learned in the Mishnah that, ‘an angry person should not teach.’ I have therefore acted toward you in accordance with your words.’ Rabbi Yosey therefore answered him jokingly, ‘Behold, the master has presently become angry!’ I.e. You not coming to me [for three days] proves that the master is angry at me, and that you have punished me by withholding your presence for three days. If you had been acting in accordance with my words, because I said [you are] an angry person, and an angry person should not teach, then why did you come today? You should not have come ever again!’ They were speaking to one another jokingly.

In Melachim I (I Kings), chapter 16, we read of the evils of Israel’s wicked King Achav (Ahab). Among other ills, Achav worshipped the idol Baal, built a temple to the same, as well as promulgating Asherah worship. He married the wicked Izevel (Jezebel), a Phoenician princess, who had the true prophets of Israel hunted down and murdered. Achav’s wicked deeds “angered the Almighty more than all the kings who were before him.”

Famously, these events led Achav into a confrontation with the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah), who would command the heavens to withhold their rains pending the king’s repentance (ch. 17), and later the climactic showdown at Mt. Carmel between Eliyahu and the prophets of Baal (ch. 18).

Strangely, though, in the middle of these events, the narrative deviates from the story of Achav to tell us about Chiel (Hiel), who rebuilt the city of Yericho (Jericho), defying the curse of Yehoshua (Joshua), and suffering the consequences, losing all of his sons in the process in accordance with the curse (16:34).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113A) asks why the prophet interjects the story of Chiel between the recounting of Achav’s wicked actions and Eliyahu’s decree that the rains be withheld on Achav’s account. The Talmud explains, with the following story, how the events surrounding the death of Chiel’s sons led to the stoppage of the rain:

Achav was a friend of [Chiel]. He and Eliyahu came to visit [Chiel] during his period of mourning. [Achav] sat and said: ‘…Now the curse of Mosheh (Moses) has not been fulfilled, as it says, ‘If you will turn astray and serve other gods… the wrath of the Almighty will be enflamed against you and He will stop up the heavens [and there will be no rain]’ (Deuteronomy 11:17), and this man (i.e. me, Achav) has erected an idol upon every hillock, yet the rain has not stopped so that one may go and worship it! (I.e. It had been raining so much that the roads were so muddy that it was impossible to travel to a place of idol worship [Rashi].) Yet, the curse of [Mosheh]’s disciple, Yehoshua, (that the one who rebuilds Yericho will suffer the death of all his sons) is fulfilled?’ Immediately, ‘Eliyahu the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilad (Gilead) said: ‘As the Almighty G-d of Israel lives, there shall be no dew or rain…’ (Melachim I 17:1).

While Eliyahu certain seems to have “taught Ahab a lesson” regarding questioning the prophecy of Mosheh, until Eliyahu arrived, it appears that Ahab was right that Mosheh’s prophecy had not come true. Why was it necessary for this discussion to take place before Mosheh’s prophecy was brought to bear? And why did it take a special proclamation by Eliyahu to bring about the stoppage of rain? Why did it not simply happen automatically in accordance with the verse in Deuteronomy? I am still searching for an answer to this conundrum, if any readers can offer insights in the comments.