Monday, November 27, 2006

O Forgetful Moses!

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From the Midrash:

"Why were these things duplicated in Deuteronomy? The animals [were duplicated] because of the shesuah and the birds because of the raah vulture -- to teach that one should not be ashamed to say he had forgotten. It is an inference from minor to major; if Moses, the wisest of sages, the greatest of greats, father of the prophets, was not afraid to say he forgot, a person who is not even one of a thousand millions, of multitude of myriads of his disciples' disciples -- how much more so should this person not be afraid to say 'I forgot.'"

The Midrash claims that Moshe forgot about the vulture called ra’ah and about the animal called shesuah. As a result, Moshe duplicated the whole portion, more than a dozen verses, in the Torah. Isn't the Midrash clearly implying that Moshe wrote this portion at least once without dictation from Heaven? Or maybe both times HaShem's dictation was the same, but at least once Moshe failed to record it correctly? In this case, where else might he have erred in recording the words of the HaShem?

There are more than just a few problems with this Midrash. Now I know that may people do not take the Midrash seriously and I know why they don’t. The Midrash has many facets to it, but mostly I believe it serves as a way to reinforce religious faith in the common people. I am not sure if the Rabbis who are quoted in the Midrash actually believed what they wrote, but there is no doubt that they thought others should. Personally, I feel the Chazal used the Midrash as a control on free thinking people who would ask rather obvious questions. By ‘poisoning the well’ with slick diversions and fairy tales, the real questions at hand never need be answered.

This case is classic, where not only does the author try to divert attention from the real question, but he engages in a common and well-known rabbinical argument, thus couching the diversion with the appearance of logical debate, by employing the “Kal ve’chomer”, which means ‘from light to severe’. This is a very common logic scheme utilized throughout the Talmud.

Our Midrash uses the ‘kal v’chomer’ to ‘flip the script’ on the guy asking the good, tough question. Let’s ask the question first to make sure we have it right. Moshe lists the kosher and non kosher animals in one part of Torah and then, later on, repeats the list he already wrote in order to include two animals he neglected to mention the first time around. There are a series of questions that stem from the primary and I’ll list them in order here.

1) If the Torah was either given or dictated to Moshe through Ruach HaKodesh, then how was it possible for him to forget, being that Ruach HaKodesh is not subject to the normal rules of time, space, cognition, and memory?

2) If you say that even those under Ruach HaKodesh sometimes forget, then how can we be sure of anything that anyone who claims Ruach HaKodesh says?

3) If you want to suggest that Moshe was not under the influence of Ruach HaKodesh, then how did he manage to communicate directly with HaShem?

4) Even if one assumes that Ruach HaKodesh wasn’t necessary, one would think that Moshe, of all people, would remember what HaShem said clearly. After all, if HaShem spoke to you, wouldn’t you remember every word from such a profound encounter?

5) In any case, now that we know that Moshe, divinely inspired or not, was prone bouts of forgetfulness when it came to the details of the mitzvos, how many other things did Moshe forget? How many things did he add thinking that he may have forgotten them earlier?

6) Wasn’t anyone proof-reading Moshe’s work? Would he not have at least shown or discussed each mitzvah as it was revealed with either Aharon, the Levi’im, or the Z’keynim? What were they doing?

7) How long did this question linger before any answer was offered at all? Surely, some from the generation, or at least from the ‘multitude of myriads’ who first received the Torah would have noticed the redundancy. So before this clever little Midrash was composed by a rabbi some 1000 years after Sinai, what answer were they given?

8) Could the other two aminals not originally listed by Moshe be inferred by the very rabbinical logic that the Midrash employs to berate the questioner?

9) The Midrash insists that Moshe repeated himself (or HaShem forced him to) in order to teach us to humility and admit when we forget. Then why doesn’t the Torah say anywhere that Moshe admitted he forgot something when he repeated the mitzvos? Certainly, that would have been a great moral lesson, but Moshe never once admits to being senile or overwhelmed.

10) Throughout Torah we are warned many times by Moshe to “Remember and not forget!” Was Moshe reminding the Bnei Yisroel, or himself?

11) Why didn’t HaShem correct Moshe? Certainly, HaShem knew that Moshe had omitted a detail, yet He let it slide. Why?

The above-mentioned questions must leave one wondering how exactly the Torah was given, dictated, and compiled. It is shocking the number of years and effort the rabbis have spent unnecessarily reconciling all these contradictions and without ever asking the sort of questions that would reveal the obvious from the very beginning.

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