Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Early Modern Midrash on Tolerance?

My brother found the following 'modern midrash' in a book he happened across at shul one day, called כל אגדות ישראל ("All the Legends of the Jewish People") by י"ב לבנר; the book describes the lore it contains on its title page as
ערוכות על פי המקורות הראשונים וכתובות בלשון המקרא לפי סדר הזמנים
arranged according to the first sources and written chronologically in biblical hebrew

He found section #1 of 5, and the edition was the 13th — "New Israeli" — printing, published by תושיה in 1956. No idea when it was originally written. It includes aggadot from a wide variety of sources, including in this case — aggada #62 in the book — at least one from מורה נבוכי הזמן by R' Nachman Krochmal.

„מוסר“ שדי
מורה נבוכי הזמן בסה"ס בשל"ק

The Almighty's “Moral Lesson”
Guide for the Perplexed of [Our] Time bsh"s(?) bšl"q(?)

It was in those days, and Avraham was sitting in the doorway of his tent at sunset, and then he saw — behold — an old man, weary and exhausted, was walking along and approaching him. So Avraham got up and ran towards him, and said:

"Please, sir, do not bypass your servant; stay over here tonight, and rest, and then you can wake up early in the morning and continue on your way in peace."

And then the old man answered Avraham, saying:

"No thanks, I'll stay here under the tree."

But then Avraham urged him greatly, and so the old man turned aside to his tent.

Then Avraham took butter and milk, and put them before him; and he baked leavenless bread — and the old man ate and was satisfied.

And so it was after he ate and drank, that then Avraham told him:

"Please, sir, bless the God of the Heavens and the Earth, who gives food to all bodies!"

But the old man said:

"I do not know your god, and I will not bless any other than my own god(s) who I made with my own fingers!"

And then Avraham continued speaking to the old man, and told him about the kind acts of God, and God's greatness and might; and he explained to him the empty nature of idols, which give no benefit and do not save those who trust in them. And he spoke to his heart, attempting to convince him to believe in God and to thank God for the acts of kindness that God performs every day.

And so the old man listened to Avraham's words, and said:

"What problem is there between you and me, that you come to turn me aside from following my god(s)? Leave me alone — for I will not listen to your words that you say to me!"

And then Avraham became enraged with the old man, and said:

"Get out of my house this instant!"

And so the old man hurried and left the house, and walked out into the wilderness during the dark of night. And the incident was very evil in the eyes of God, on behalf of the old man, and God appeared to Avraham, and said:

"Where is the man who came to you tonight?"

And so Avraham answered, saying:

"The old man was very difficult; I spoke to his heart, attempting to convince him to believe in you, God, so that it would be good for him for all time, but he did not want to listen to me. And so he got me very angry, and embittered me, and then I kicked him out of my house...!"

And then God said:

"Did you pay attention to what you did?... See, please, see — behold, I have been willfully overlooking that old man's sins many many years already; and I clothed him, and supported him, and considered all his lacks my responsibility — and he came to you tonight, and you troubled yourself to feed him; but then you forgot your mercy in anger, and kicked him out of your presence!!"

And so Avraham pleaded to God, saying:

"Please, God, forgive me this time and pass my sin away!"

But God then said:

"I will not forgive you until and unless you humble yourself before the old man who you harmed, and he forgives your transgression!"

And so then Avraham hurried and ran into the wilderness, and searched for the man, and found him, and then he fell before his feet and cried, and pleaded with him, saying:

"Please, forgive my sin which I committed against you!"

And then the old man listened to the voice of Avraham's supplications, and said:

"I have forgiven, according to your words."

And Avraham did not loosen himself from the old man until he had brought him back to his house, fed him and gave him to drink, and did much good for him; and then he gave him provisions for the way.

And then the word of God came to Avraham once again, saying:

"Since you have now done that which is right in my eyes, I will also remember my contract for your descendents after you — although when they will sin, I will punish them with a human rod, I will never remove my contract with them forever!"



Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

You mean "new medresh" as opposed to the Chaza"l (mishna/talmud era) midrashim?

Once I heard a midrash telling a story about Yehoshua B.N. very similar to Oedipus Rex, but a friend who's a Chaza"l/rishonim researcher told me that's a bogus and comes from the Greek story.

5/30/2007 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does coming from a Greek story make it any less a midrash? That's where Chazal could have picked it up from.

My epiphany about this? When I went to a Nati Helfgot shiur about midrash and figured out the probable source for the midrash (which apparently showed up in the Middle Ages) about the staff Yisro planted in his garden, that no one could pull out until Moshe came along and was able to.

The midrash's origin was immediately obvious to everyone but me, who had grown up reading The Little Midrash Says and had probably heard both stories around the same time.

5/30/2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

Anon -

Not so sure myself. I'll have to ask that guy next time I'm in Erets HaKodesh. If I ubderstand correctly there is a bulk of Tannaic/Amoraic midrashim that are somehow different than agados. Then there were newer books added along the generations, which aren't really part of the original medresh. IIRC, that Oedipus/Yehoshua medresh was presented as coming from Chaza"l but wasn't so really.

5/30/2007 5:27 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

from what i've seen, 'modern midrash' seems to be the standard term for contemporary midrash-style literature.

what's the Yehoshua‘/Oedipus midrash?

5/30/2007 7:59 PM  
Blogger J. "יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי" Izrael said...

"what's the Yehoshua‘/Oedipus midrash?"

I first heard it when someone brought it up in a conversation, and I was pretty incredulous. The story in short: it was predicted that YBN would kill his father and mrry his mother, so his parents threw him in the river, but he was fished out by another nation, he became the executioner, and later his father went to that city and committed a capital offense and was executed by his son. Then he got back to the Jews and married his mother, but when they were at home her breasts started to flow milk and they understood that the prophecy came true.

I later asked the aforementioned researcher friend who told me that it's not a Chaza"l midrash but apperas in a book pretending to be one. The story could have slipped in there in the middle ages. That's all the info I have so far.

5/31/2007 7:52 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

That's a shiny midrash...Though the question is whether or not it would apply to people trying to kiruv non-religious Jews as opposed to people trying to convert non-Jews...then again, we know we're not supposed to seek converts, so one can deduce that this story is meant to teach us about kiruv. Or so I think...

You should post this on Beyond BT or something and see how many angry comments you get...also, add in some Q's! [though actually there's Ta post in which you can comment with this midrash that should be up in the enar future. I have some inside information :) ]

5/31/2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is from ben franklin:

1. And it came to pass after these Things, that Abraham sat in the Door of his Tent, about the going down of the Sun.
2. And behold a Man, bowed with Age, came from the Way of the Wilderness, leaning on a Staff.
3. And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy Feet, and tarry all Night, and thou shalt arise early on the Morrow, and go on thy Way.
4. And the Man said, Nay, for I will abide under this Tree.
5. But Abraham pressed him greatly; so he turned, and they went into the Tent; and Abraham baked unleavend Bread, and they did eat.
6. And when Abraham saw that the Man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
7. And the Man answered and said, I do not worship the God thou speakest of; neither do I call upon his Name; for I have made to myself a God, which abideth alway in mine House, and provideth me with all Things.
8. And Abraham's Zeal was kindled against the Man; and he arose, and fell upon him, and drove him forth with Blows into the Wilderness.
9. And at Midnight God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the Stranger?
10. And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy Name; therefore have I driven him out from before my Face into the Wilderness.
11. And God said, Have I born with him these hundred ninety and eight Years, and nourished him, and cloathed him, notwithstanding his Rebellion against me, and couldst not thou, that art thyself a Sinner, bear with him one Night?
12. And Abraham said, Let not the Anger of my Lord wax hot against his Servant. Lo, I have sinned; forgive me, I pray Thee:
13. And Abraham arose and went forth into the Wilderness, and sought diligently for the Man, and found him, and returned with him to his Tent; and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the Morrow with Gifts.
14. And God spake again unto Abraham, saying, For this thy Sin shall thy Seed be afflicted four Hundred Years in a strange Land:
15. But for thy Repentance will I deliver them; and they shall come forth with Power, and with Gladness of Heart, and with much Substance.
Its in his collected writings, and has an earlier source--- there is a whole academic lietarure on this.

6/01/2007 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

פרקי דרבי אליעזר פרק לט
ר' לוי אומ' אותו המטה שנברא בין השמשות נמסר לאדם הראשון מגן עדן ואדם מסרו לחנוך וחנוך מסרו לנח ונח לשם ושם מסרו לאברהם ואברהם ליצחק ויצחק ליעקב ויעקב הוריד אותו למצרים ומסרו ליוסף בנו כשמת יוסף ושללו ביתו נתנה בפלטרין של פרעה והיה יתרו אחד מחרטומי מצרים וראה את המטה ואת האותות אשר עליו וחמד אותו בלבו ולקחו והביאו ונטעו בתוך הגן של ביתו ולא היה אדם יכול לקרב אליו עוד כשבא משה לתוך ביתו נכנס לגן ביתו של יתרו וראה את המטה וקרא את האותות אשר עליו ושלף ידו ולקחו וראה יתרו

This seems pre-medieval, and certainly pre-Jewish exposure to Arthruian legends

6/01/2007 1:35 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Well, i actually did try to somewhat mainstream my transliterations, and use some more actual Hebrew instead also.

I am not interested in getting angry comments. I don't need the stress.

(great name, btw)

that's amazing! do you think you could fill me in on a bit more of the academic literature on it? like what the earlier source is?

and thanks for the Pirqey Deribbí Eli‘ezer quote; it seems to me that in the "original", pre-Arthurian version, no one was able to approach the staff, and Moshe's taking of the staff shows that not only could he approach it, he could pick it up as well. i think the re-emphasis on "pulling the staff out of the ground" could very well be a post-Arthurian slight change in details.

6/01/2007 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abraham's Lesson in Tolerance
George Alexander Kohut
The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Oct., 1902), pp. 104-111

6/01/2007 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of the Enlightenment
Nancy Sinkoff
Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 133-152

6/01/2007 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If my grandmother had told me this story it would be called a bubbe mayse.

6/09/2007 3:32 PM  
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