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From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel) Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 11:56:39 -0500 Subject: Reuven, Joseph, David: Who really Sinned? In the past few months there have been a flurry of MJ on who did and didn't sin. Why did Chazal sometimes appear to cover up what appears to be sins and sometimes tried to attack what appears to be innocent. A variety of texts and attitudes towards such Midrashic statements have been posted. Here is my basic point: The question of whether an action should be perceived as good or bad is NOT a midrashic question but rather a HALACHIC question. The Chafayz Chaiim in his halachik book on Leshon Harah explicitly states that if a person is known as righteous and something unseemly happens then it is OBLIGATORY to explain it positively--we learn this from the fact that Miriam (who loved her brother Moses and risked her life for him) was severly punished (Num 12) for even thinking that Moses could separate from his wife for misguided spiritual reasons. Let us now apply this principle to several biblical people. Note that in our approach the verses cited as proof are AFTERTHOUGHTS: the MAIN proof comes from the above law: 1) Reuven is portrayed as the eldest (Gen 49:3); a leader among his brothers who tried to stop them from committing a murder(Gen 37:22,42:22). Therefore if the Bible indicates a sexual sin we should not interpret it harshly but metaphorically. A possible scriptual support occurs in Gen 49:3 "..you (Reuben) have risen on your fathers bedS"--note the plural "bedS"---so the talmud said he exchanged beds so that his father shouldn't spend more evenings with a female servant then with his (Reuven's) mother... the Bible simply thought to condemn such behavior using more graphic language. 2) Similarly King David is portrayed as a dynamic King, who helped found the state, who wrote many Psalms, who showed mercy to his adversary Saul, who showed manly restraint when he was deprived of Saul's daughter that had been promised to him for a wife and is the predecessor of the Messiah. Therefore when the Bible indicates a sexual sin the Talmud did not interpret this literally but rather emphasized the exposure of Uriah to military danger and the impetuousness in taking Bath Sheva prematurely. A possible scriptural support that David's main sin was against Uriah occurs in Kings 1:15,5,1:14:8. 3) By contrast, say, Esauv, wanted to kill his brother and is identified with Edom(Gen 36:1) who is known in the Bible as a bad enemy of the Jews. Positive reinterpretation of his actions is therefore unnecessary. 4) Finally, say Joseph, in his early years is portrayed as immature(Gen 37:2), a tattletale, someone who brags about future ambitions without regard to other's feelings (Gen 37:4-10) and was "daddy's favorite"(Gen 37:3). If then an "accident" happened with his bosses wife some of Chazal see nothing wrong with interpreting this "accident" as an extension of his early immaturity (which of course he later lossed). I could go on with other Biblical people. I believe that the above approach which emphasizes NOT just grammatical minutae but overall concerns about norms for human personality assessment should raise serious questions about our current attitudes. Hopefully this will lead to deeper understandings. Russell Jay Hendel, Ph.d, ASA, rhendel @ mcs drexel edu