“And Abraham was still standing before G-d” (Genesis 18:22)
Rashi wrote: “It should have been written ‘and G-d was still standing’ (beside Abraham), but this is a scribal correction.” (From Bereshit Rabbah,parsha 49)
Rashi also wrote, on Deuteronomy 28:30, “yishgalenah means to have intercourse as with a concubine, and the Scripture gave it a euphemistic rewording, yishkevenah [will sleep with her], and this is a scribal correction.” In the verse it is written yishgalenah, but we read it as yishkevenah. And so it is written in Numbers 11:14, when Moshe begs of G-d, saying he would rather be killed than to see the evil fate of the Children of Israel. In the Torah it is written, “And I shall not see my evil fate,” and Rashi wrote about this that it should have been written “their evil fate” but the Scripture was reworded, and that this is one of the scribal corrections in the Torah of rewording and language corrections.
And this is the meaning of the words “it is a scribal correction.” It means that the scribes came and corrected what was written in the Torah. If that is so, the sages changed the Scriptural text which was given to Moshe. This should not startle you, for great men have assumed thus. For example, Radak wrote on II Samuel 15:21, “And these words, which are written and not read or which are read but not written, and those which are read one way but written another—it seems as though the books were lost and confused in the first exile, and the sages who knew the Scriptures died, and the men of the Great Assembly who returned the Torah to its previous luster found disagreements in the remaining books and followed the majority thereof, according to their opinion. And where they could not completely clarify the matters, they wrote one thing and did not add vowels, or wrote in the margins and not inside the text, or wrote one in the margins and a different word in the text.” His words are clear: the sages corrected, removed from, and added to what was written in the Torah, based on their own viewpoint. The reason for this was that the books were lost and the scribes became confused, and those who knew the books from the first Temple period died. Therefore the sages corrected the Torah scrolls based on their opinion, according to Radak.
And so it is in Midrash Tanchuma, parshat Beshalach, paragraph 15, “And the Scripture was reworded; this was corrected by the scribes, the men of the Great Assembly, etc., but the men of the Great Assembly reworded these verses, and therefore they are called soferim [scribes or counters], for they would count each letter in the Torah and interpret it.”
The words of Radak contradict an explicit gemara in Nedarim 37b, “Rabbi Isaac said, ‘the Scriptures of the scribes and the embellishments of the scribes and words read but not written and words written but not read are halacha given to Moshe at Sinai, etc., the embellishments of the scribes…” (According to Rashi embellish means to ornament; according to the Rosh it is to remove, as they removed from the words some letters which should have been within them). The Gemara brings an example from our parsha, Genesis 18:5, “And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; after that you will go your way.” The Rosh commented, “It should have had an ‘and,’ meaning you may refresh yourselves and then go on your way” [but it was written without an ‘and’].
To explain the opinion of Radak without contradicting the explicit gemara we will bring the opinion of the Ridbaz who wrote of this in his Responsa, part three, section 594. There he asks two difficult questions about the Gemara in Nedarim which said that it all is Halacha handed down from Moshe at Sinai.
- How it is possible that what is said in Ruth or the other scrolls or in Psalms which were said by David, etc., should be usage handed down to Moshe at Sinai (the Gemara brought examples of words which are written one way and read another from the Writings). And he answered that “all was given at Sinai, even the details which were to be innovated later by some veteran student.” However, his question is much better than his answer. We have already quoted the Rambam in the first root, who says that this is inconceivable (in our page on parshat Lech Lecha).
- Another question: “And if you say that since it is all halacha handed down to Moshe at Sinai, how can we say ‘the Scripture of the scribes’ or ‘a scribal correction’ or ‘the embellishment of the scribes’?” (That is, if the scribes corrected it, then it did not come from Sinai, and if it is from Sinai, why is it called a scribal correction?) And he answered, “The main part is halacha handed down to Moshe at Sinai, but the scribes went into details and said ‘this ought to be this way and that the other’ even if it was not halacha handed down to Moshe at Sinai, etc., and it is not clear why did the scribes go into details, for this is how it should have been.”
In this, his answer is better than his question. Understand well his words, for they are one of the bases of the Halachic Judaism. That when one says, “Halacha given to Moshe at Sinai” he does not mean that Moshe received it from the Divine Presence and handed it to the sages and down through our time, but that the sages were exacting, using their own opinion that this was what should have been written. They changed, through their own opinion, what was written, and then determined it was halacha handed down to Moshe at Sinai. This is the opinion of Radak; and it is said in many places: “They forgot them and went back and reestablished them” (Shabbat 104a).
We will bring a strong proof for our words based on Tractate Sotah 31a, which comments on the verse “He may well slay me, I have no hope” (Job 13), “And you see that were it written lamed–aleph it would be ‘lo’ [no], and if lamed–vav it would be ‘lo’ [to him], but the meaning is both this way and that.”
That is, the Gemara admits that the word “lo” with an aleph could be interpreted as refusal and negation and could also be interpreted as “lo,” to him. That is, in the times of Talmud these two meanings were spelled one way —lamed–aleph, and the exact meaning was understood from the context. Only the people of the Mesorah in the later generations started to distinguish between these two meanings by different forms of spelling, and so we do until this very day. And now we can clearly understand the words written one way and read another in Exodus 21:8, “and if she proves displeasing to her master, who designated her not [‘lo’ with an aleph], he must let her be redeemed,” which is read “who designated her for himself [‘lo’ with a vav] he must let her be redeemed.” For the sages at the time of the Talmud, when they meant “to him”, did not know to distinguish between ‘lo’ spelled lamed–aleph and ‘lo’ spelledlamed–vav, and therefore wrote lamed–aleph in the Torah and in the margins specified it to be read as lamed–vav, according to Radak.
And we will conclude with the words of Ridbaz in Responsum 594, who answered his questioner as follows, “You should not believe those who say that confusion and error occurred in the books, but everything was halacha handed down to Moshe at Sinai as is written by us today. So do not believe the words of those who say that Ezra the scribe and the scribes who followed him made distorted corrections, G-d forbid, for there was no distortion. Do not believe the words of those who say these are unclear matters and that what is read but not written is a commentary which the sages commented. Do not listen to all those explanations but be innocent with your G-d and believe what our Rabbis OBM said.”
And the opinion of Rabbi Abraham, the son of Rambam, is the complete opposite to that of Ridbaz. “For you must know that all who want to support a known view and elevate the one who said it and to accept his view without inquiry and understanding the issue, whether the view is true or not — this is a bad idea and is forbidden by the Torah and by the intellect.”
See, I have placed before you the blind faith of Ridbaz and the honest inquiry of the son of Rambam; choose the inquiry, the examination, and the logical analysis until you find out the real truth and it will gladden your soul.
Words of True Knowledge