SALT - Thursday, 7 Adar Bet 5776 - March 17, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we noted the seeming contradiction noted by many writers between the Gemara’s account of Haman’s descendants working as Torah educators (Sanhedrin 96b, Gittin 57b) and the Mekhilta’s comment that converts may not be accepted from the nation of Amalek.  As Haman descended from Amalek, it would seem that any of his descendants who wished to convert should have been rejected.  The question thus arises as to how he ended up having descendants working in Torah education.

            Rav Reuven Margoliyot, in his Mekor Chesed commentary to the Sefer Chasidim (1219), as well as Rav Menachem Kasher, in Torah Sheleima (Shemot 17:16, note 131), noted an alternate version of the text of the Gemara, according to which this question never arises.  This alternate version is indicated by the Ba’al Ha-turim, commenting to Parashat Tetzaveh (28:7).  The Ba’al Ha-turim there notes that the phrase “el shenei” (“to the two”) appears three times in Tanakh, and he attempts to identify the point of connection between the three contexts.  First, this phrase appears in Parashat Tetzaveh as part of the Torah’s description of the priestly garments (specifically, in reference to the shoulder straps of the kohen gadol’s apron, which were attached to the two edges of the apron).  The second instance is the beginning of Sefer Shemuel I (2:34), where God warns Eli, the kohen gadol, of the calamity that would befall his two sons on account of their having disgraced the priesthood.  “El shenei” appears a third time in Sefer Melakhim II (5:23), in reference to Na’aman, the general of Aram who was miraculously cured by the prophet Elisha, whereupon he had two servants bring a special gift to the prophet.  The Ba’al Ha-turim observed that the common thread that runs through these three contexts is the priesthood.  In Parashat Tetzaveh, of course, the Torah discusses the priestly garments, and Eli’s sons were punished for bringing shame upon the kohanim.  Na’aman, the Ba’a Ha-turim notes, showed respect for the service of the kohanim by asking Elisha for some earth of Eretz Yisrael with which he would construct an altar for serving God in Aram (Melakhim II 5:17).  The Ba’al Ha-turim concludes by contrasting the fates of Eli’s sons and of Na’aman: Eli’s sons were killed, whereas Na’aman begot children and had descendants who taught Torah.

            There is no known source for such a tradition – that Na’aman had descendants who became Torah teachers.  It thus stands to reason that the Ba’al Ha-turim had a variant text of the aforementioned Talmudic passage, which read “Na’aman” instead of “Haman.”  According to this version, it was Na’aman, and not Haman, who ended up having children who taught Torah.  While this is certainly ironic, it is entirely plausible, as Na’aman himself, according to tradition, become a Jewish convert (more precisely, a “ger toshav”).  This version of the text quite obviously does not contradict the comment of the Mekhilta concerning converts from Amalek.

            Rav Petachya Menken, in his Pardes Petachya (Parashat Beshalach), argues that the Ba’al Ha-turim’s version must be incorrect.  He notes that the Gemara in this context also mentions two other enemies of Am Yisrael – Sisera and Sancheiriv – who had descendants who taught Torah.  The Gemara mentions first Sisera, followed by Sancheiriv and then Haman, corresponding to their chronological sequence (Sisera lived during the period of the Shoftim; Sancheiriv lived toward the end of the First Commonwealth; and Haman lived after the First Temple’s destruction.)  According to the text of the Ba’al Ha-turim, in which the name “Haman” is substituted with “Na’aman,” this passage does not follow chronological sequence, as Na’aman’s name appears after that of Sancheiriv, who lived after him.  It therefore stands to reason that the prevalent version of the Gemara’s text, which mentions Haman, and not Na’aman, is the correct version.