Thursday, September 07, 2006

Daf Yomi - Sukkah 5 - Moshe and the Malach

Posted by David Farkas
The shechina never descended below 10 amos, etc. – Mharatz Chajes offers a characteristically interesting explanation, that the shechinah never interfered with man’s free will, and never made man into an angel. But if so, how did Moshe remain in the heavens for forty days when he received the Torah? In the Gemara (Shavous) we say that a man who swears not to eat for a week is forced to eat immediately because such a vow is impossible – how, then, did Moshe not eat for 40 days?

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I would suggest a novel approach to this conundrum, which I paste hear from my notes to Chumash: The Talmud (Bava Metzia 86a), deduces from two separate incidents that a man should always follow the custom of the place he finds himself in. “Moshe went up on high [where the angels live] and did not eat; angels came down to Earth to visit Abraham, and they ate. Now, [continues the Gemara] can it be they actually ate? Rather, it appeared as if they were eating.”

Now, if these two incidents are juxtaposed by the Gemara, and it is written there that the angels only appeared to be eating, does it not stand to reason that Moshe also only appeared to be fasting? In other words, perhaps the meaning is that Moshe did not eat or drink regularly, but rather sustained himself with a morsel here, and a drop of water there. A similar idea is mentioned concerning Jacob, that upon leaving the study house of Shem and Ever, he slept for the first time in fourteen years. There, all the commentators explain, the idea is that he then slept a full night sleep for the first time, not that he had not slept at all until then. If we can say the same thing here, it would resolve all the difficulties involved with the concept of a human being transforming – even temporarily -into an angel. The verse itself is no difficulty, because it can be interpreted to mean that Moshe appeared not to be eating, the same way that the word “and they ate” (Genesis 18,8) is so interpreted, i.e., they appeared to be eating..

The problem with this is, of course, that Moshe himself says that he fasted. It is one thing to interpret a narrative figuratively. It is quite another to say the same of a personal narrative. Besides, this is not the only time in Tanach we find mention of a man fasting for 40 days. In Kings I, 19:8 ח וַיָּקָם, וַיֹּאכַל וַיִּשְׁתֶּה; וַיֵּלֶךְ בְּכֹחַ הָאֲכִילָה הַהִיא, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה, עַד הַר הָאֱלֹהִים, חֹרֵב, Elijah traveled on the strength of one meal for the exact same time of forty days – interestingly, the verse there continues, “until he reached the mountain of God, Horeb [Sinai]”!

Thus, this is how we might resolve the problem of Moshe. Returning to Succah however, we might offer an alternative explanation. We know that mankind yearns for leaders who are better than them. They do not want their leaders to be on the same plane as them, although they do not want them impossibly far from them either. Thus, it could be that Hashem lowers himself, as it were, to our level, but never descends beyond a demarcation line of 10 amos. There is a line that must not be crossed between God and us. This should be seen in contra-distinction to the Christians, who actually made a god out of a man.


Anonymous said...

So, at the end you're not answering the question...correct?

David said...

Well, yes and no. I do suggest, based on the Gemara in BM, that Moshe did eat and drink, but only small amounts at a time. But I acknowledge that there is at least one other source where a man is said to have gone 40 dyas on one meal. So my solution to the question is not - how do they say it? - muchrach.

Anonymous said...

...but didn't Moshe himself say that he fasted?

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add something to this inyan me and a friend have had an interesting hashkafah conversation about Kiddish Levanah where I posed the question we say "vein anachnu yachlim lingoah bah" yet Neil Armstrong did and i add it also says "Hashomayim Shamayim Lahashem Vhaaretz Nosson Lbnei Adam"
so two issues today he sent me this email in response:
Astronauts on the moon - Succah 5a

We once discussed the possuk 'kshem sheani royked knegdaych veayni
yochol lingoa boch kach loi yoichloo kol oyvay lingoah bee leraah' (I
wrote out the whole possuk just b/c it's fun). We tried to figure
out how astronaouts did land on the moon a few times (although it's a
rare occurrence and the moon walkers were living in an artificial

We also discussed the other possuk that says 'The Heaven, heaven is
for God, and the Earth was given to sons of Adam' (translation mine -
do you like it?). This possuk also needs explanation in light of the
fact that many astronauts regularly visit outer space and even live
there, not to mention commercial aircraft. Well, the Gemara Succah
5a already asked the question - didn't Moshe and Eliyahu go up to
Heaven for extended periods of time? The Gemara reaches the
conclusion that Earth means the actual physical ground up to a height
of 10 tefachim, and Shamoyim means the actual Heaven (no definition
given) and up to 10 tefachim below that place. All the airspace and
atmosphere between those 2 points is neither heaven nor earth and you
can refer to it arbitrarily as either heaven or earth.

The Gemara then asks that Moshe actually went up and grabbed
the 'throne of God' (keesay hakavod), and the gemara assumes that the
keesay must be in 'Shamoyim'? To this the gemara answers that the
God picked up the throne and moved it to more than 10 tefachim below
Heaven in order to allow Moshe to grab on to it - b/c of course Moshe
did not go into 'Heaven' since Heaven is reserved for God while Earth
is for people.

Of course the Gemara asks how it could be that God does not go onto
Earth, and the gemara answers that God stays above 10 tefachim like
it says 'God appeared from atop the kapores which is above the aron'
which we all know is 10 tefachim high (except according to R Yehuda
who maintains that it's only 8.5 tefachim high)Just wanted to share it with everyone

Avromi said...

You are very right - i think, the possuk is referring to Hashem, not the moon - however you remind me of a famous episode. There is a machlokes between Rambam (yad and moreh) and Ramban (breishis) if the moon is a gas or solid. Someone went to Reb Dovid Solivetchik when n armstrong landed on moon and said "you see, the ramban is right and rambam is wrong." He waved with his hand and said "Ah, Da Amerikaners are a band fun shakranim!!"

David said...

The Rambam actually said the moon, and the planets, were ALIVE. He could not be any clearer. He says that the moon knows that it is Mr. Moon, and the Jupiter knows it is Mr. Jupiter. ( He brings proof from the phrase "hashomayim misaprim kivod keil", among others). It is hard to beleive, but that is what he says.

For many the landing on the moon would have thus been a great challenge to thier emunah. Not to get into an old debate, but the Rambam himself said many times that chazal, and he himself, certainly, could be wrong on science, and that he was only writing from the then current scientific perspective.

He got lots of other astronomical data wrong too. Like the relative size of the moon and the sun, and other things. It's all in the Yad.

Avromi said...

reb yaakov kaminetzky said that the first four or six (not sure) of the rambam in yad is like a hakdoma and it was written with philosophy and that is why it would seem that there he didnt have it right, but we can't say that on the rest of yad.

Anonymous said...

Thats from the infamous Making of a Gadol.Am I correct?

Avromi said...

i actually believe that its in the emes lyaakov on breishis