[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)

Gabe Eisenstein gabe at cascadeaccess.com
Mon Jul 7 14:38:39 EDT 2008


Thanks very much for the additional linguistic history and grammatical 
information. I appreciate your time.

I'm somewhat puzzled by the time you spend showing that the Biblical 
text (by way of Septuagint, etc.) intended "teach him", which I never 
questioned (although I was initially confused because I thought "-nu" 
was always first person plural). In the original, the "plowman" was the 
object and he is obviously singular. But in the Talmud parable, the 
plowman has been replaced by "Israel" (plural, "he said to THEM").

I can't claim to follow your whole argument from the Talmudic 
manuscripts. You look for a yud between the resh and nun, and find it in 
one manuscript but not the other. If it is missing, that means we must 
read "him"; but if it is present, we may still read "him". Okay, I 
accept that this is another piece of evidence for "him" -- as at least 
the tradition by the time of those manuscripts.
I can't follow the relevance of ycrkm. It seems you're saying that 
"inclination" (in "curb your inclination") would need to be plural in 
order to read "teach us"; but "inclination" was already singular in the 
first sentence "the evil inclination rules over us", so I would expect 
it to continue singular, whether the final clause is "teach us" or 
"teach him". Also the "his" (final vav) of "his god" must agree with 
"inclination". --This seems obvious, so I think I'm probably 
misunderstanding your point.

Now I think I should pause, because it seems that all that remains is a 
matter of interpretation between us. I came here in search of linguistic 
help and have received more than I expected. I have nothing of my own to 
contribute, except the efforts I have made to make sense of the text 
with my elementary Hebrew and limited range of reference materials. So 
perhaps I'm done. What follows is written out of a spirit of 
reciprocation, but please instruct me as to whether further interpretive 
argument is: 1) of interest to no one; 2) worth pursuing in private 
email exchange; or 3) of interest to others on the list.

Okay, you have clarified the difference between our readings. I read 
that we can repent with God's guidance. You read that we can't do it 
even with God's guidance; insofaras we are ever freed of the hindrances 
to repentance, it is only God's doing and none of our own.
May I ask whether you find this lesson (on your reading) in any way 
illuminating? To me it seems a message of pointless fatalism, or perhaps 
predestination. I cannot see the point when  you say "Israel cannot do 
it themselves, and when God orders them to, they require God to do it." 
Why would God "order them" to do it, if He knows in advance (as He 
surely must) that they not only aren't INCLINED to do it but are in fact 
INCAPABLE of doing it? He might as well order dogs to fly.

Looking at the context...  (Your page numbers are off by 10, yes? 
Discussion of R. Yehuda's defense begins at 102b in my edition.) Of 
course I know that this is the encompassing section going back to the 
mishnah; by "subsection" I meant to indicate that this 
mishnah-demarcated section naturally divides into several smaller parts, 
for example the subsection consisting of interpretations of verses from 
Lamentations. I consider the final subsection to begin with "Who 
enumerated them?" My reading takes the whole chapter (from "All Israel 
has a share...") as context, and especially the pages on the 3 kings 
starting at 101b and going through 105a. But since you brought it up, 
let's consider R. Yehuda. His argument is anything but fatalistic, for 
he seeks to pardon Manasseh on the basis of his meritorious repentance. 
Yes, you may say that Manasseh was "forced" to repent by his captivity; 
but the subsequent discussion emphasizes not only his moment of 
extremity but the 33 years after his captivity, during which he proved 
his repentance in the absence of further force. The crucial indication 
that the discussion aims at repentance as an act undertaken by the 
human, and not merely something God performs for His own amusement, is 
given by R. Yochanan's remark in support of R. Yehuda on 103a: He who 
condemns Manasseh "weakens the hand of penitents". This anticipates the 
odd notion developed on 105a, that humans somehow have a say in the 
determination of eternal matters; and it takes Manasseh as 
representative of a broad class of sinners -- presumably including those 
who are in the audience (or, as my allusion to R. Ashi's dream indicated 
earlier, to all of us, who are in need of repentance).
 From this I conclude that what we think matters. It matters, not only 
in regard to tradition, but in regard to our own situation as candidates 
for "the world to come" and as sinners who need to repent. If, on the 
other hand, we have nothing to do with our own redemption, then none of 
this -- not our discussion, nor the Talmud, nor the Bible -- matters. 
Alternatively, you may take the whole Talmudic discussion as simply 
referring to Israelites of a past age who have nothing to do with us, in 
which case I would say that the discussion then no longer matters to me.
As for the narrower context... you want it to start with Rav and Shmuel, 
giving parables about defiance and incorrigibility. Together with R. 
Nahman, they talk about God "forcing himself" on Israel. But I say that 
the previous two sections initiate a more specific theme: contending 
with God and/or tradition. The Great Assembly contends with David and 
heavenly voices regarding Solomon; the Doreshe Reshumoth mercifully 
disagree with all the mishnah's (or is it God's?) condemnations; the 
"Knesseth Yisrael" cite scripture to justify themselves to the prophet; 
the "ten men" question the "marriage contract" with God (while Resh 
Lakish indicates that their questioning was itself divinely foreseen, 
that is, necessary); R. Nahman sharpens the conflict to one of "fury", 
and says that the conflict itself is the way to redemption; and Abba bar 
Kahana indicates that the conflict is a rational confrontation that may 
(God willing) lead to repentance. The expression "his god" emphasizes 
the divine origin of sin; and since sin itself ultimately was created by 
God, part of understanding or the way to wisdom consists in 
understanding the evil inclination itself. All the groups in the text 
(Great Assembly et.al.) represent us ourselves, in our effort at such 
understanding. (And I might add that the plowman in Isaiah is also not 
some incorrigible, defiant character whom God has to punish; he is 
rather an everyman who is led to mishpat, judgment -- another term that 
to me confirms the cognitive aspect of God's guidance.)
There is another important difference in our interpretations: you speak 
of "removing" the evil inclination. But I don't think that this is the 
Talmudic teaching about it at all. It isn't to be removed but "tamed", 
which I take to mean, channeled and encompassed by a higher perspective. 
See Yoma 69 (=Sanhedrin 64). I maintain that this "taming" has a 
cognitive as well as an emotional or volitional aspect. Therefore I say 
that it is a matter of teaching.

Now the whole argument about the meaning of the text started with 
Soncino's apparent mistranslation "teach us", but the question about the 
theological vision of the passage really is a separate issue. I can 
still accept "teach him" in my reading, if the textual evidence is that 
compelling. For I take it that "he", the evil inclination, is an aspect 
of ourselves.

When I said that I was surprised by your vehemence, I was thinking of 
the interpretive argument, not the grammatical one. I apologize for 
seeming to twist your words into an endorsement of the grammatical 
possibility of the "us" reading (although it still seems that it was a 
logical possibility, whose probability you have reduced further with the 
evidence of old manuscripts. Only the general interpretation made it 
into an "impossibility".) What puzzled me was why you reacted so 
strongly to the general interpretation -- I assume that there is some 
theological difference you perceived between us. But maybe it was just 
the twisting-your-words thing. If there is a deeper point to the text 
that I am still missing, that is, if my perception of your reading as 
fatalism or as applying only to some historical figures, rather than 
ourselves, is wrong, let me know.

Gabe Eisenstein

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