Saturday, April 07, 2007

Women, N'shika, and Prophecy

Daf Notes on Moed Katan 28 quoted the ma'amar which states that Miriam, like her brothers, also died through n'shika, which is usually alluded to in the Torah by the code words "al pi HaShem". In a comment there, I noted that this implies that HaShem has a tzad zachrus, and asked for clarification on this idea.

Ben, one of the ba'alei hablog, connected n'shikah to prophecy. I had never thought of making this connection before, but it seems to be a very logical understanding of death by n'shika, especially in light of a literal reading of the passuk, to say that it is a form of death that occurs when one is in the throes of prophecy, the greatest high that a physical human being is capable of (which makes the jump to absolute spirituality at the sh'as misa less jarring). He quoted a medrash* which says that HaShem never appeared to a woman, and even when He did, it was only through a pretense, as such would otherwise not be dignified. This seems, though, to turn back to my question of why HaShem is considered to have a tzad zachrus that would make an intimate interaction with a female undignified.

In a later comment there, I suggested:
I suppose that each individual difference between men and women can be understood in terms of one side or the other having some addition which the other lacks or having some deficiency which the other does not have. This being the case, one can, indeed, say (k'v'yachol) that HaShem combines everything that one side has and that the other doesn't - and in this sense, He would have a tzad zachrus. I don't know how to connect this directly to n'shika though.
Upon further thought, the answer would seem to lie in something regarding the merging of the whole and the deficient or the positive and the negative, but my grounding in the equivalent kabbalistic concepts is non-existent.
* Regarding the medrash itself, I'm not sure how to square it with the ma'amar Chazal that there were 7 prophetesses, especially Chuldah, who seems to be a regular intermediary with HaShem a la Yirmiyahu and Tzefaniah. Perhaps her prophecy was conducted in a different way through a second intermediary (maybe akin to that of Zechariah ben Berechiah?). Or perhaps the medrash is referring to envisioning HaShem through an aspaklaria ha-me'ira, in which case being that Moshe was male, the statement is automatically true. (One could perhaps bring up as a counterpoint the
medrash that says that the vision of a shifchah by kri'as yam suf (to connect it to inyana d'yuma) was greater than that of Yechezkel, but perhaps a public vision is different - or perhaps this is a different sort of vision altogether.)



At 4/08/2007 3:18 PM, Blogger miriam said...

According to these midrashim Miryam _did_ get death by neshikah, it's just not nice to say so explicitly. (Leaving aside the question of how nice it is for the rabbis to say it if the Torah chose not to,) this might imply not that Hashem has gender (or "tsad" gender), but that God is _perceived_ as gendered, which is certainly true. So, when it comes to the actual interaction with Miryam, the fact that she is a woman doesn't disable her realtive to her brothers. But, when it comes to publicizing that interaction, the Torah chooses its words carfully. For me, this reaises the question of why reinforce the (mistakenly?) gendered perception as opposed to pointing out that Miryam did get neshikah (which would, presumably, point out to those paying attention that God is not a man!).
(This does not deal with the statement of Rabbi Yehuda BR Simon re: god not speaking to women, but, with all due respect, that statement seems to be an outlier inconsistent with many other statements of Tanakh and Hazal that, while it may have some meaning, does not need to be harmonized with everything else...)

At 4/08/2007 4:54 PM, Blogger Josh M. said...

That's an interesting idea, that the perception of God as male may be the reason why such terminology is not used; it fits in very well with dibrah torah k'lashon bnei adam.

My read was not that she was disabled by virtue of her being a woman, but rather that even though she rose past this threshold, no other woman did, and this potential conflation of Miriam and other women provided an impetus for her mode of death to be hidden. (In order for this to work, one must also understand a woman's inability to receive this type of prophecy as being a matter of propriety, rather than of absolute capability, as otherwise there would be nothing wrong with explicitly stating that Miriam achieved what other women did not. It occurs to me that another way to express this idea is that I'm imputing to Miriam herself a tzad zachrus, so that her interaction with God's tzad zachrus would itself be ok, but if Miriam did not have this tzad zachrus, like the average woman does not, it would be problematic in some way. I'd like to re-emphasize that the tzad zachrus is not epitomized in this case as a capability, but rather as something that indirectly affects propriety, as the deficiency which I mentioned can be deeper than merely an inability to reach a certain level. Had I had more time to write this while racing against the clock on EYo"T, I would try to state what I'm saying in a less convoluted way.) MM"N, your answer works well, and has the added advantage of not requiring handwaving and purposeful omissions like mine does.

God's popular perception of being masculine is a symptom of the masculine pronoun being used more often than the feminine when God is referred to in the Torah. (I can't think of off the top of my head any of the cases where the feminine pronoun is used, but do recall that they exist). Perhaps this is due to dibrah torah k'lashon bn"a - which seems to be a more important ideal in the Torah than eliminating wrong ideas.

Where does this ma'amar of RYb"RS appear? In truth, one can always explain contradictions between ma'amrei Chazal as being due to arguments and dei'os yachid, but the way of Chazal is to try to assume agreement when at all possible.

At 5/01/2007 6:58 PM, Blogger ben said...

These words need a lot of contemplation, but I would just like to add that we see that the Shechinah is referred to in the feminine form. Perhaps we can explain that neshikah means a form of hashraas hashechinah, and normally there is only hashraas hashechinah on a man (see Gemara Nedarim 38 regarding hashraas hashechinah on a gibor, ashir, chacham, anav)because the shechinah is feminine and the recipent is male, whereas by a woman it would be feminine to feminine, which is not one complementing the other. In short, neshikah is a union of masculine and feminine, and this only works for a male human.


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