And so we have reached the half way point in Tractate Brachot.
When learning Talmud one is often faced with what appear to be arbitrary changes of quoted texts by the Rabbis. We need to be sensitive to the internal logic of this ancient text. At the beginning of today’s daf the Koren notes one such interesting methodological tool found often in the Talmud:
ואמר רבי אלעזר: משה הטיח דברים כלפי מעלה, שנאמר: במדבר י”א ויתפלל משה אל ה’, אל תקרי אל ה’ אלא על ה’
And Rabbi Elazar said: Moses [also] spoke impertinently toward [God] on High, as it is stated [in the verse following the sin of those who murmured against God in the desert:] “And Moses prayed to the Lord [and the fire subsided” (Numbers 11:2) and this verse is interpreted homiletically:] Do not read to (el) the Lord, [but rather] onto (al) the Lord [which indicates that he spoke impertinently].
Koren note: Alef into ayin
Interchange of guttural letters was very common in the Galilee. Nearly all guttural letters were obscured and swallowed when pronounced in this region, and were all ultimately pronounced the same. Some Sages utilize these interchanges, some of which appear in the Bible in certain roots, in the homiletic interpretation of the verses. The interchange of the heh and het was most common; however alef and ayin were also interchanged. This was done not only by those in the study hall of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov, but also according to the approach of Rabbi Meir.
Part of the first page of today’s daf deals with the sin of the Golden Calf and Moses’ conversation with God as to how to deal with the Jewish people. Several times in the Torah God threatens to destroy a group of people of even the Jewish people. The key prophet at the relevant time has responded in very different ways.
Noah is told of the destruction of mankind and hardly raises an eyebrow. Abraham is told of the pending destruction of 2 cities and argues strongly with God. On today’s daf we are told the following:
ועתה הניחה לי ויחר אפי בהם ואכלם ואעשה אותך לגוי גדול וגו’ – אמר רבי אבהו: אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאומרו; מלמד, שתפסו משה להקדוש ברוך הוא כאדם שהוא תופס את חבירו בבגדו, ואמר לפניו: רבונו של עולם, אין אני מניחך עד שתמחול ותסלח להם
“Now leave Me be, that My wrath will be enraged against them and I will consume them; and I will make of you a great nation” [Exodus 32:10]. Rabbi Abahu said: Were the verse not written [in this manner] it would be impossible to utter [it, in deference to God. The phrase: Leave Me be,] teaches that Moses grabbed the Holy One, Blessed be He, as a person who grabs his friend by his garment [would], and he said before Him: Master of the Universe, I will not leave You be until You forgive and pardon them.
This is a remarkable piece of Talmud that describes Moses as treating God as a friend – someone he can grab hold of, and make demands of. Maybe this teaches us that Moses valued the importance of human life above everything else. He would even go so far as to jeopardise himself in order to save the Jewish people!