Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nehama Leibowitz on the Bekhor Shor

As a followup to my post on The Two Accounts of Quail & Manna, I wanted to point out Nehama Leibowitz's discussion of the two accounts in her Studies in Bamidbar. She states "...we have very often in Scriptures similar accounts in which a person or group of persons experience on different occasions parallel happenings. They are to teach a special lesson regarding their reactions." Leibowitz's contention is that these are separate incidents and describes that the severe response by God in the second instance was because the situation was much worse since it was a second offense and occurred after they were well provided with manna. "...the Israelites deserved beyond all doubt the punishment meted out to them." Read the full commentary for her insights (The Murmurings: A Repeat Performance, pp 113-120).

Here, however, is what she had to say about the Bekhor Shor's comments on these passages:

...The narrative strikes a familiar note and would seem to echo the murmurings referred to in Exodus (Beshallach). There have indeed been commentators who have maintained that they are indeed one and the same. The passage in Ex. 16, 13: “And it come to pass at even that the quails came up and covered the camp”' is taken to be an incidental reference to the quails described in Num. 11, 31-32:

For had Moses observed that the quails had come on a previous occasion and had been sufficient for them how could he have said: “If flocks and herds be slain for them, will they suffice them?” (Num. 11, 22).
(Bekhor Shor)

Bekhor Shor (medieval French) works out this approach in detail in connection with the story of Moses and the striking of the rock in the wilderness of Zin. He similarly identifies the account of the bringing forth of water from the rock at Horeb with that relating to Massah and the waters of Meribah. Num. 20, 8 is a detailed account of the reference in Ex. 17, 6, where it is also related how Moses struck the rock and water flowed forth. But there the narrative relates how God sustained Israel with the manna, quail and water during their stay in the wilderness. Subsequently each particular event is described in detail in its proper context.

Here is proof that both refer to the same event. In Exodus it is written that “he called the name of this place Massah and Meribah”. In Ve-Zot Ha-berakhah the deed of Moses and Aaron which aroused Divine disapproval is referred to in this manner (Deut. 33, 8): “who tried Him at Massah, contended with Him at the waters of Meribah”. So we see the same event is referred to. Similarly it is stated (Num. 27, 14): “They are the waters of Meribah, at Kadesh, the wilderness of Zin”. There also it is written (Ex. 17, 1): “And they journeyed from the wilderness of Zin”.

This commentator observes that the Torah is here true to the exegetical principle of elaborating in one context what it briefly refers to in another. But while it is common to find such duplications in the Torah where the second and more detailed treatment is designed to fill in the gaps in the earlier account, his explanation here appears improbable because of the different names given to the places where the events took place as well as to the different accounts of the events themselves.

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