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Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Analysis or Tradition

Harav Yosef Carmel

We have discussed in the past Chazal’s identification of Eliyahu HaNavi as Pinchas. Now, we shall discuss the general, fundamental question as to the methodology used in making such determinations. Do Chazal base the statement that Ploni is the same person as Almoni on tradition, or are their conclusions based on tools of analysis of Tanach that are parallel to the 13 principles of learning halacha from the p’sukim? In our new book, Tzofnat Yeshayahu (on Sefer Yeshayahu – see pg. 17) we call the phenomenon of the same words appearing in the two contexts whose characters are to be equated, “footnotes.”

Let us ask the question in regard to Pinchas the son of Elazar, a junior leader in the period of Moshe and Yehoshua. Pinchas is mentioned by name at the time of the Judges (20:28). Eliyahu arises hundreds of years later, as a prophet at the time of King Achav. Was there a tradition that he was the same person or is there some scriptural hint to connect the two? According to the second approach, the hint might not necessarily indicate that they are literally the same person but that there are spiritual connections between two distinct people. (While it is surprising that Pinchas would live hundreds of years, there is no reason to dismiss it as a possibility.)

Let us take a look at the book of Ruth (by chance, the sefer where we learn of Ploni Almoni). When, within the period of the Judges, did this story happen? One opinion in the gemara (Bava Batra 91a) is that Boaz was the judge Ivtzan. This puts the chronology close to the end of the era of Judges. In contrast, Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta in Seder Olam Rabba (12) puts the story and its characters in the time of Ehud (before his rebellion against Eglon), which is toward the beginning of the period of the Judges. As support, Seder Olam cites the pasuk “in everything in which they went out, Hashem’s hand was against them” (Shoftim 2:15).

What does Seder Olam learn from that pasuk? Naomi, speaking to her daughters-in-law, says how hard things were for her and that “the Hand of Hashem has been against me” (Ruth 1:13). Seder Olam sees this coincidence of terminology as a means of linking the two stories to each other. There is actually a linguistic hint to the gemara’s identification as well. Ruth’s story is based around the town of Beit Lechem, where Boaz lived and operated. Ivtzan is also identified as hailing from and being buried in Beit Lechem (Shoftim 12:8-10).

What we have not yet solved is whether in the case of Pinchas and Eliyahu, the connection is based on tradition or exegesis. In any case, we bless all that we will be careful in our observance of tradition and that we will also be proficient in Torah study, with a style of analysis which we have learned from our rabbinic predecessors.

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