Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nedarim 7b: Two forms of death

The Gemara states that the source for the precept that poverty is akin to death is from that which it is said (Shemos 4:19) Hashem said to Moshe in Midyan, “Go, return to Egypt, for all the people who seek your life have died.” The Ran explains that this verse, which was said regarding Dasan and Aviram, could not be referring to tzaraas, lack of children, or blindness. They could not have been blind because Dasan and Aviram said about themselves, (Bamidbar 16:14) “even if you would gouge out the eyes of those men themselves we shall not go up.” They could not have been afflicted with tzaraas because it is said regarding Dasan and Aviram (Devarim 11:6) in the midst of all Israel. It cannot be said that they were lacking children, because this would not warrant that they would not be able to stand before Pharaoh. Thus, Dasan and Aviram must have become impoverished, and for this reason they did not have a voice in the royal court. One must wonder, though, why the Torah felt it necessary to describe their poverty in this manner. Perhaps we can suggest that the Torah sought to teach us that poverty is akin to death, and the Torah chose this instance to demonstrate this concept. Yet, it would seem that there is a deeper meaning to the Gemara. When Yehudah told Yosef that his brother had died, Rashi writes that Yehudah uttered a lie out of fear. The Sefer HaKsav V’haKabala (Bereishis 44:20) writes that this does not mean that Yehudah lied outright. Rather, Yehudah made a declaration that could have more than one meaning. When the Torah mentions death, in addition to the conventional meaning of death, one can also interpret death to mean descending a level. Thus, writes the HaKsav V’haKabala, this is the meaning of the Gemara that states that four are akin to death. Death in this sense means that they have descended a level from where most people are at, and this is akin to death. It is for this reason that the Torah chose to state that Dasan and Aviram had died, because by becoming impoverished, they had fallen from their previous stature.


Anonymous said...

I understand the Gemara and your point but still wonder why no mention is made of the earlier reference to pharaoh's death. If pharaoh had tzaraas wouldn't that have been descending a level? Rashi there says that the Torah meant he had tzaraas when it says he died. What is unique enough about this instance to warrant the Gemara mentioning it only?

ben said...

It would seem that your question should be on the Gemara later on 64b which states that 4 are akin to death, and regarding tzaraas the Gemar offers a proof from Miriam where it is said al na sehi kameis. One can ask, why doesn't the Gemara offer a proof from Pharaoh? My main focus is why by Dasan and Aviram the Torah says they died when they didn't actually die. You are correct, though, that the same question applies to Pharaoh's death. Why did the Torah state that he died if he only had tzaraas?