“Elementary, My Dear Watson”
“…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Sherlock Holmes”
As Moses gets ready to return to Egypt and start the process of Redemption, God advises him:
“Return to Egypt, for all the men that were seeking your soul have died.” Exodus 4:19
The prime rabbinic commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), explains that God is referring to the dangerous duo of Datan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuben. They plagued Moses from his first foray in Egypt and through the desert, until their unnatural demise during the story of Korach. The obvious question is why does God refer to them as dead, if they are still very much alive? Rashi answers that they had become impoverished and according to the Torah, someone who is penniless has the status of the deceased.
Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) is not satisfied with the curt answer and proceeds to investigate in detail how Rashi came to such a conclusion. He starts by referencing the relevant Talmudic passage (Tractate Nedarim 64b):
“There are four that are considered as if they are dead:
– the pauper,
– the leper,
– the blind,
– and one without any children.”
Hizkuni then combs through the biblical text to determine which of the above situations might apply to Datan and Aviram:
In Number 16:14 they tease Moses and say: “Will you poke out our eyes (i.e. do you think we are blind),” ergo – they are not blind.
In Numbers 16:27 it refers to their “wives and sons and children,” ergo – they have children.
And one cannot say that they were lepers, as they were found within the Israelite camp, where lepers were not permitted, ergo – they are not lepers.
So if you eliminate leprosy, blindness and childlessness, and they are still walking around, the only category of “death” that Datan and Aviram can possible fit, though one might think improbable – is poverty.
May God spare us from all forms of “death” and instead give us the opposite: health, vision, children and wealth and may we enjoy “life” with them.
In memory of Dr. Sherman Weidenbaum, Shlomo Zalman ben Chava, of Waterford, CT., the father of our friend and neighbor, Abby Dishi.
He was a man who combined chesed, creativity, strength, and integrity. He was a master educator, communicator, and friend to the world. For just a little bit about this wonderful man, who lived life to the fullest, click here.