Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Vayigash III: Can Peshat be Inspirational? (Part II)

(ח) יעקב ובניו - יעקב מחשבון שבעים נפש כמו שמוכיח לפנינו לפי הפשט כל נפש בניו ובנותיו של יעקב ולאה הכל שלשים ושלש עם יעקב. ורבותינו פירשו זו יוכבד שנולדה בין החומות:

(כו) יוצאי יריכו הבאים מצרימה כל נפש ששים ושש - כי יעקב שהוא מחשבון של שלשים ושלש של לאה אינו בכלל יוצאי יריכו, כי יוצאי יריכו לא היו כי אם ששים ותשע. וכי אמר משה בשבעים נפש ירדו אבותיך מצרימה, שיעקב ובניו היו שבעים:

One of the problems that vexes a host of commentators is how precisely the genealogy given in Bereishit 46 yields 70 people. In particular, Leah’s subclan is said to contain 33 people and yet only 32 are listed! How can it be that a passage that seems to be so careful in building up to the number 70 can miscount?

In these comments, Rashbam reveals what, to my mind, is the indisputable plain sense of the verses here. A close reading of the list of names here reveals the fact that none of the brothers except Reuven is mentioned separately; most are introduced by saying ובני שמעון and then listing their children. It is understood that this count includes both them and their children. Similarly, when is says בכר יעקב ראובן, this is intended to make us count Ya’akov as one of the 70. The other language in the passage bears this out: Whereas with the other three wives, it simply says כל נפש, thus totaling up how many people were contributed by each wife, the language when detailing Leah’s descendants is כל נפש בניו ובנותיו, the third-person possessive highlighting the fact that Ya’akov himself is included in that count. This also neatly solves the problem above of Leah’s subclan, which led to the midrash imagining that Yocheved, Levi’s daughter, was born as the family entered Egypt, thus contributing to the count of 70, but not being worthy of mention among those who came down to Egypt. While this reading is intriguing, it obviously suffers from the fact that Menashe and Efraim are named despite the fact that they did not make the journey down to Egypt as well as from the fact that Dinah and Serah are mentioned despite being women. If you just agree to count Ya’akov as part of the 70 and to recognize that the text is associating him with his first wife, all problems disappear.

This, in contrast to the previous post, is an example of the power of peshat, and, I think, its inspirational possibilities in restoring the clarity of the text such that it can once again speak with a full voice.


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