[b-hebrew] yorenu (teach US)
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plowman has been replaced by "Israel" (plural, "he said to THEM").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
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.
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