Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bereishit II: Day and Night

ויהי ערב ויהי בקר - אין כתיב כאן ויהי לילה ויהי יום אלא ויהי ערב, שהעריב יום ראשון ושיקע האור, ויהי בוקר, בוקרו של לילה, שעלה עמוד השחר. הרי הושלם יום א' מן הו' ימים שאמר הק' בי' הדברות, ואח"כ התחיל יום שיני, ויאמר אלהים יהי רקיע. ולא בא הכתוב לומר שהערב והבקר יום אחד הם, כי לא הצרכנו לפרש אלא היאך היו ששה ימים, שהבקיר יום ונגמרה הלילה, הרי נגמר יום אחד והתחיל יום שיני:

Here Rashbam reveals his willingness to go well beyond conventional modes of thinking in his search for peshat. The notion that the Jewish day begins at night pervades all of Jewish practice and discourse. But a close reading of the Tanakh reveals voices that do not necessarily hew to this pattern. Vayikra 23:32 features a command to begin observance of Yom Hakippurim, which is set for the 10th day of the seventh month, בתשעה לחדש בערב, מערב עד ערב. Rabbinic tradition explains this to refer to the notion of תוספת יום הכיפורים, the requirement to begin Yom Kippur (and by extension, Shabbat and Yom Tov as well) somewhat earlier than the normal start time of sunset (see Bavli Rosh Hashanah 9a). But one might also read this verse as implying that all other days begin at dawn, whereas this one is distinct in beginning the night before.

Our verse here is said to serve as proof that the Jewish day begins at night (see Talmud Bavli Berakhot 2a for one example). This reading assumes that the words ויהי ערב ויהי בקר area kind of review of how the order of the day went. Rashbam suggests otherwise. He reads the verse as the end of the day’s narrative. God’s creative work happened during the daylight, it then got dark (ויהי ערב), and then it got light (ויהי בקר), thus concluding day one and commencing day two.

For more on this controversial interpretation and the high stakes with regard to Shabbat, see Ibn Ezra on Shemot 16:25. And see the comment over at Believing is Knowing.


At October 12, 2007 at 2:18 AM , Blogger David Guttmann said...

As you know rashbam on the beginning of breishit was ommitted from earlier editions of Mikraot Gedolot because of this comment. Last week when learning the parsha with some teenagers we had the Mossad Harv kook chumashim and the regular MG reprinted with the non Chavel Ramban (A "frum" edition). They took out this Rashbam but forgot to erase the earlier comment on Vayavdel Elokim bein haor where he alludes to this too!

Almost as bad as christian censorship!

At October 12, 2007 at 8:27 AM , Blogger EMT said...

Yes, I have heard some reservations as to whether it was really that comment that caused the "censorship" or whether it was actually a manuscript issue, with the front of it falling off and being unavailable. Do you know anyone who has written about this in a more thorough way? [I have not yet gotten my hands on a copy of Martin Lockshin's translation and commentary, which, I suspect, addresses this question.)

At October 12, 2007 at 12:22 PM , Blogger David Guttmann said...

I cannot remember where I read about the earlier censorship but this edition that I refer to is clearly censored as it leaves out only this passuk.

At October 18, 2007 at 7:56 AM , Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Thanks to David G. for highlighting this wonderful blog!

Just as an aside, it is clear from the pesuqim that Pesah/Hag Hamatsot is also supposed to begin in the evening, and to end in the evening. So while Rashbam may be correct about the cosmic day and night, the normative parameters are still well rooted in Torah Shebichtav.

At October 18, 2007 at 1:06 PM , Blogger EMT said...

Yes, though Rashbam might actually marshal that as support for his argument by saying that Pesah is singled out as being an exception, just like Yom Hakippurim. He might argue, based on the peshat, that the verse is emphasizing that the ban on consuming hametz begins not on the morning of the 15th, but in the evening, at the time when the Korban Pesah is consumed. And the note that the ban continues until the night on the 21st is intended to clarify that the ban is in effect on the 21st itself, as opposed to ending with daybreak on the 21st. But you are right to note that Yom Hakippurim is not the only place where the evening is singled out as having calendrical significance.

At October 28, 2007 at 3:33 AM , Blogger Avromi said...

The Netziv and Chasam Sofer (I think) say that prior to matan Torah, the day began by day and ended at night for everyone. We have some vestige of that in respect to the korbanos.


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