Monday, August 15, 2011

Eikev, Devarim 9:15. And Moshe turned and descended from the mountain. Interesting Twists on the Turn.

וָאֵפֶן וָאֵרֵד מִן-הָהָר,   "And I (Moshe) turned and came down from the mountain."  What does it mean, he turned?  Does it add to the narrative, or to the Halacha?  This sounds like a tiny question, but there are some interesting things said about it.

When Moshe left Har Sinai, it says Vayifen, he turned and went down.
The halacha is that when you leave a holy thing or person you should not turn your back on it, but instead should walk out backwards.  
Applications of this halacha.
Leaving a Shul, walking down from the Aron Kodesh,  leaving a rebbi, what Reb Meir Simcha says about duchenning, and Rav Hutner's subtle hint.
If so, why did Moshe turn his back?
Various answers.
An alternative interpretation from Rabbeinu Chananel and Ibn Shuib and the Alshich.

The Mishna in Yoma says that the Kohen Gadol would walk backwards out of the Kodesh Kadoshim, facing inwards towards the Aron as when he walked in.  The Gemara (53a) goes like this:
יצא ובא לו דרך כניסתו:  מנא הני מילי? א"ר שמואל בר נחמני א"ר יונתן אמר קרא (דברי הימים ב א) ויבא שלמה לבמה אשר בגבעון ירושלים. וכי מה ענין גבעון אצל ירושלים? אלא מקיש יציאתו מגבעון לירושלים לביאתו מירושלים לגבעון: מה ביאתו מירושלים לגבעון פניו כלפי במה כדרך ביאתו, אף יציאתו מגבעון לירושלים פניו כלפי במה כדרך ביאתו.

וכן כהנים בעבודתן ולוים בדוכנן וישראל במעמדן: כשהן נפטרין לא היו מחזירין פניהן והולכין, אלא מצדדין פניהן והולכין

וכן תלמיד הנפטר מרבו לא יחזיר פניו וילך, אלא מצדד פניו והולך

כי הא דר' אלעזר כד הוה מיפטר מיניה דר' יוחנן, כד הוה בעי ר' יוחנן לסגויי הוה גחין. קאי ר' אלעזר אדוכתיה עד דהוה מיכסי ר' יוחנן מיניה. וכד הוה בעי ר' אלעזר לסגויי, הוה קא אזיל לאחוריה עד דמכסי מיניה דרבי יוחנן.

רבא כד הוה מיפטר מיניה דרב יוסף הוה אזיל לאחוריה עד דמנגפן כרעיה ומתווסן אסקופתא דבי רב יוסף דמא. אמרו ליה לרב יוסף הכי עביד רבא! אמר ליה יהא רעוא דתרום רישך אכולה כרכא

The idea is that one who leaves a makom kadosh or his Rebbi must not turn his back, because turning the back is disrespectful.  Instead, he should leave while facing sideways, or, better, walk out backwards, as Rava did when leaving R’ Yosef.  great unknown pointed out that the Gemara is also telling us that although Reb Yosef was blind, and did not know that Rava was walking out backwards until someone told him, the obligation is the same.  The chiyuv to be mechabeid applies even when the person you're being mechabeid doesn't know what you're doing.

This is brought in the Rambam in 7 Beis Habechira 4 regarding the Beis Hamikdash and 5 Talmud Torah 6 regarding one's Rebbi:

כל שהשלים עבודה ונסתלק לו אינו יוצא ואחוריו להיכל אלא מהלך אחורנית מעט מעט ומהלך בנחת על צדו עד שיצא מן העזרה. וכן אנשי משמר ואנשי מעמד ולוים מדוכנן כך הם יוצאין מן המקדש כמי שפוסע אחר תפלה לאחוריו. כל זה ליראה מן המקדש

וכשיפטר מרבו לא יחזור לו לאחוריו אלא נרתע לאחוריו ופניו כנגד פניו

and in the Aruch HaShulchan YD 242:43, where it says
לא יחזור לאחוריו כנגד רבו כדרך ההולכים מהבית, אלא ילך לאחוריו ופניו כנגד רבו, כדרך שיורדין מארון הקודש
Note that the Aruch Hashulchan mentions walking backwards when going down from the Aron Kodesh.

As for walking out of shul, the Mechaber does not say that this is necessary,  but the Magen Avraham (end of 132, alluded to but not brought explicitly by the Mishna Berura SK 18) says that the same does apply to one who is walking out of a shul or walking away from the Aron Kodesh platform.  כשיצא מבית הכנסת לא יצא ואחוריו להיכל אלא יצדד וכן בירידתו מהתיבה.    (Walking backward out of shul is not common in the Litvishe community and I did not see this by my Roshei Yeshiva.  I have seen it mostly among Sefaradim.  Chasidim also do this when leaving a Rebbe, and theoretically it applies to Litvaks too.  Rav Hutner, I'm told, had a buzzer on his desk that unlocked the door, and when someone left him, he wouldn't unlock the door until the person realized that he was supposed to walk out backwards and turned to face Rav Hutner.)

Another example:  After Kohanim say Birkas Kohanim, they say
  עשינו מה שגזרת עלינו עשה עמנו מה שהבטחתנו השקיפה ממעון קדשך מן השמים וברך את עמך את ישראל
This is a surprising expression, isn't it?  Hashem, we did that which You decreed upon us, now You, too, do as You promised and bless your people, Klal Yisrael.  The expression "what you decreed upon us," מה שגזרת עלינו,makes it sound like it they had been ordered to do a difficult or unpleasant task.  What's so hard about blessing Klal Yisrael?  So Reb Meir Simcha (14:Tefilla 12) explains

לפי מה שמצאנו בסוף סוכה שבבית שני היו אומרין אבותינו היו פניהם כו' ואחוריהם למערב ואנו כו' ועינינו כו' וכאן אמר הגמרא לעולם תהי' אימת הציבור עליך שהרי כהנים פניהם כלפי העם ואחוריהם כלפי כו' לכן אמר כד מהדרי אפייהו מצבורא, אומרים רבש"ע עשינו מה שגזרת עלינו שאנו עשינו זה בהכרח לפי שגזרת עלינו.
that for the Kohanim to turn their backs on the Aron Kodesh is disrespectful and inappropriate, but the exigencies of Birkas Kohanim and Kvod Hatzibbur require that they do so.  Therefore, after they finish duchenning, they state their reason for having turned their backs on the Aron, that blessing Klal Yisrael is vitally important, and they ask that Hashem give effect to the bracha.

Getting back to our parsha:
If it is disrespectful to turn one's back when leaving a holy place or person, and it is a Torah value to avoid doing so, asks Rabbeinu Bachay, why does it say that Moshe turned away and walked down from Har Sinai?  Rabbeinu Bachaya says that he turned away because he had to run down to see what was going on with the Eigel, and at times like that, every moment counts, and one should not spend the time on protocol.

A possible problem with Rabbeinu Bachay's answer is that the Torah uses the same expression regarding the second luchos in this parshah as well, in 10:5, and there was no eigel the second time. 

One would naturally suggest a simple answer, that as soon as Moshe received the Luchos, Har Sinai no longer had any kedusha.  Its kedusha, as expressed in the din of Hagbala, ended immediately upon Moshe's descent.  But this is not correct.  Rashi in Beitza 5b D'H Michdi and Rashi in Taanis 21b DH El Mul.  True, the Gemara in Yoma 4b implies the opposite, but Tosfos Yeshanim there explains that the Shechina remained there until the Mishkan was built but that it was somewhat attenuated.

The Yalkut Shimoni brings a Medrash that Vayifen means he turned to the side, not that he turned away.  Dr. MZ pointed out that we find vayifen used that way by Moshe and the Mitzri.  Of course you might argue, as did LW, esq., that the fact that the Torah had to modify it by the Mitzri implies that an unmodified vayifen means to turn away, not turn to the side.  I think that looking for linguistic proofs is futile, because it can say וַיִּפֶן בִּנְיָמִן אַחֲרָיו, (Shoftim 20:40), and it can say  וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה (Shemos 2:12.) Also, why did the Torah have to mention his turning at all?  Just say that he left and went down to the people without saying vayifen.  There's got to be some chiddush or some mussar haskeil in Vayifen.

The Netziv here and in Ki Sisa, Shimos 32:15, says that of course Moshe didn’t turn his back.  But since he was carrying the luchos and walking down a mountainside, he was afraid he would fall down if he walked backwards, as happened to Rava in the last part of the Gemora in Yoma I quoted above, to the effect that he was full of bruises.  So the Netziv learns that although Moshe did walk down backwards, the word Vayifen here means that he turned to the side to make sure he wouldn't fall over something behind him.

I mentioned to my shiur that the Rogotchover asks why in 9:15 it says that Moshe was carrying the Luchos in his hands (וָאֵפֶן וָאֵרֵד מִן הָהָר וְהָהָר בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וּשְׁנֵי לוּחֹת הַבְּרִית עַל שְׁתֵּי יָדָי), while in 10:5 it does not say that Moshe went down with the luchos in his hands (וָאֵפֶן וָאֵרֵד מִן הָהָר וָאָשִׂם אֶת הַלֻּחֹת בָּאָרוֹן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי וַיִּהְיוּ שָׁם כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוַּנִי), and he answers that in 10:5 it's talking about the second Luchos, and the second Luchos were given to Moshe Rabbeinu on Yom Kippur, and Moshe couldn’t carry the luchos down, since Har Sinai, a teil hamislakeit, was a reshus hayachid, and the machaneh was a reshus harabbim.  (Yes, there is a good question about chai nosei es atzmo, but no better a question than Masa Bnei Kehas).  If so, there would be no reason for the Netziv's “vayifen” in 10:5.  The kashe was just for fun, because the Rogotchover and the Netziv are learning completely different pshatim.

This just in:
First let me tell you the back story. When I discussed this with my son in law, he said that it's possible that ואפן means that he remained facing the Ribono shel Olam.  I firmly disagreed, and said that if that's true, then Klal Yisrael must have walked backwards in the Midbar, because it says פְּנוּ וּסְעוּ לָכֶם.  Furthermore, I said, if that's what it means here, why does the Gemara in Yoma 53 have to derive a convoluted proof for walking backwards from the passuk by Shlomo Hamelech, when it is befeirush by Mattan Torah.  The best thing I said was that such a pshat is  מגלה תורה בפנים שלא כהלכה.  (That line doesn't say what you think it says.  You have to say it out loud in order to appreciate it.)

And then, Eli sent me a mareh makom to Rabbeinu Chananel and Ibn Shu'ib (last paragraph on the first page and the following paragraph on the next page), who say exactly what my son in law suggested.  The Ibn Shuib is here on page 20 in the right column, or here.  And worse yet, they say that it is a drasha- not just that this is pshat, but מלמד that he walked backwards.  Bishlema if they just said that's pshat, I would say that only after we learn the concept of kavod from the passuk by Shlomo Hamelech do we understand that when it says Vayifen by Moshe, it must mean that he faced Hashem while leaving.  But they say מלמד, that you learn from here, that it's a drasha.  This is incompatible with our Gemara in Yoma.  If this is a drasha, it's a better drasha than the passuk by Shlomo Hamelech and the Gemara should have brought this passuk.  I'm not asking this as a kashe.  It's not the first time one of the mefarshei hatorah says different than a Gemara.  I'm just pointing out that this pshat is definitely not how our Gemara learned, so it does not answer our basic question. 

(Rabbeinu Yehoshua Ibn Shuib is a talmid of the Rashba and the rebbi of the Tzeida Laderech and one of the early mekubalim.  Drashos al Hatorah  is the sefer he is best known for.)

Having seen these mefarshim, I followed up on my son in law's claim that the Targum Yonasan says this, too.  I looked at Shemos 32:25, and the Targum Yonasan says ואתפני ונחת משה מן טוורא, which is just another way of saying pana, which proves nothing.  But here, the Targum Yonasan says וכוונית ונחתית מן טוורא.  I don't know what he changed pshat in pana from Shemos to Devarim, and I don't know if he means to say anything special with וכוונית.

Then he mentioned that he believed that the Alshich says the same thing, and he's 100% right.  The Alshich is in Ki Sisa, here.  He says that
the Medrash Rabba in Shemos perek 12 says this is the pshat in the Vayifen from Pharaoh in Parshas Bo, but it is not in our Medrashim.   Eli points out that the Alshich was preceeded by the Ibn Ezra who brings this from a R' Yeshua in Shemos 10:6.  Eli says that the word on the street is that this R' Yeshua was a Karaite.  Nevertheless, the Ibn Ezra does quote him.
In any case, as I said, these pirushim are contrary to Shas Bavli, and so have no effect on the discussion above.  שבעים תורות לפנים.

I just saw that the Brisker Rov talks about this in the Shai LaTorah II Ki Sisa, Shemos 32:15.  Here's a photo:


  1. Daniel commented that he doesn't like the Netziv's idea that Moshe turned to avoid injury as he walked down, and that it seemed to him to be a banal and, especially in this context, a pedestrian thing to say. My only response is that the week is far from over.

  2. a) regarding walking backwards/sideways, see the Kesef Mishna, 7 Bais Habechira 4.

    b) Rava's behavior teaches a lesson about the meaning of respect for Torah, in that Rav Yosef was blind and was unaware of Rava's behavior until informed.

    c) The issue of chai nosei es atzmo cannot be dismissed so easily because
    i) the Torah calls it a massah
    ii) while the luchos may have been nosai es atzmam, what about the aron - which was not just tofel to the luchos but had an individual din of kli shores. Of course it weighed several tons [I don't have the time now to reproduce the calculations I did decades ago] even not counting the kapores, and it had a metzius of nosei es nos'av.
    Which even ignoring chai nosei es atzmo makes the whole sugya very difficult

    d) The Rogatchover's approach requires [surprise, surprise] a lot of deep thought - after all, it was the tenth of Tishrei, but not Yom Hakippurim. Was anybody fasting?
    Was this a din like leil shimurim?
    Was it Yom Hakippurim b'ko'ach even if not b'peol? Was there already an inyan of shlosha sforim niftachim?

  3. A) I saw the Kesef Mishna. So he says it doesn't really mean walking backwards. Maybe that will help me understand the Netziv, which I re-read, and can't make head or tail from. Very annoying.

    B) So walking backwards is as important for the effect on the student as it is for the teacher's awareness of the honor.

    C) Nosei es nos'av applied to the Aron when the luchos were inside. I personally believe that there is no din hotza'a on helium balloons, and the limudim from Masa Bnei Kehas is only regarding carrying above ten tfachim in reshus harabbim, but not regarding an object that carries itself.

    D) I looked at the Rogotchover again, and he does say that it was because of Yom Kippur. Why wouldn't it be Yom Kippur? Weren't the mitzvos chal at the first mattan torah? And although we associate Yom Kippur with Moshe coming down the second time, that doesn't mean that it wasn't nikva until then. I was hoping that the second luchos were on Shabbos, like the first, but seven times 17 weeks is 119, so apparently the second luchos were on Friday.

  4. R. Yaacov Kamenetzky (Ki-Tisa) says that since Hashem told Moshe קום רד מהר מזה, he went as fast as he could. Again, this does not explain the second time. However, in a footnote the editor brings another version in which R. Yaacov said that since he went down as a Shli'ach of Hashem, he didn't have to go backwards. This idea could apply to the second time as well.

    See also Or Hachayim in Ki-Tisa (32:15).

  5. Using Otzar Hachochma I found this:

    So R. Chanan'el and R"Y Ibn Shueib both understood ואפן to say exactly the opposite - i.e. to say he was going backwards.

  6. Thank you, Eli. I've written it into the post.

  7. updates:

    1. R"Y ibn Shueib's pshat (actually he also quotes R"Ch) is in his Sefer here (right, l.20)

    2. Rav Kasher quotes the Alshich and comments he did not find this Midrash anywhere, so there is probably no point looking.

    3. R. Yeshu'a, brought in Ibn Ezra, Shmot 10:6, preceded the Alshich (btw, I believe he was a Karaite)

  8. Incorporated. Have a good Shabbos. Still waiting for news from the Nobel nominating committee.