Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Ibn Ezra concludes from the wording “the people found fault” rather than “all the people” (as is stated in the case of the manna) that there were two parties within the nation; one that had no water - they strove with Moshe, and the other, that still had some water left from Alush - they simply wanted to put the Lord to the proof. To the fault-finders, Moshe answered, “why do you find fault?” - let us all cry to the Lord. To the testers he said, “why do you put the lord to the proof?”
(a) What is Ibn Ezra’s proof that there were two parties?
(b) Find another passage in our sidra that lends itself to a similar explanation.
(c) Is Ibn Ezra’s approach here similar to that of Cassuto or Ha’amek Davar or entirely different?
(a) In addition to the unique wording that “the people found fault” rather than “all the people” we find that Moshe provided two separate and distinct answers to the complaints (verse 2):
1. ”Why do you find fault with me?”
2. ”Why do you put the Lord to proof?”
The concluding verse of the whole incident specifically alludes to two reasons for the double name of the place Massah U’meriva: “because the Israelites quarreled and because they tried the Lord saying “Is the Lord present among us or not?”
(b) In chapter 4 verse 10 when the Israelites saw the vast Egyptian army approaching, the text suggests at least two different groups. In verse 11 we find one group in terror fearing death. In verse 12 we find a second group expressing a preference for serving the gods of Egypt. From the response of Moshe we find him addressing the two groups. To those who were simply frightened, he calmed them by assuring them of Egypt’s imminent destruction. To the group that rejected God, He answered that God
would wage war on their behalf and that they should be quiet! (verses 13 and 14)
(c) Ibn Ezra’s approach contains both Cassuto’s approach and the approach of Ha’amek Davar. Group I that he projects i.e. those who were actually thirsty, follows the approach of Cassuto. Group II which actually had a reserve of water represents the explanation of Ha’amek Davar.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem