Monday, February 25, 2008

Grammatically Correct but Politically Incorrect

Sometimes an interesting hashkafic view can be found in a somewhat obscure grammatical discussion. Consider the following (Exodus 34:9):

ויאמר אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך ה' ילך נא ה' בקרבנו כי עם קשה ערף הוא וסלחת לעוננו ולחטאתנו ונחלתנו.
Then he said, "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance."
What does the word "כי" mean in this context? Moshe ask God to go among us and forgive us because we are a stiff-necked people. Is "because" the correct translation of the word "כי"? Why is that a reason to forgive us? To the opposite, it should be a reason NOT to forgive us. The commentators deal with this in a number of ways:
  1. Rashi explains that it means "if". If we are a stiff-necked people then God should forgive us.
  2. Ramban explains it as "because" and refers to the prior phrase -- God needs to go among us and not an angel because we are so stiff-necked.
  3. Radak and R. Yonah Ibn Janach explains it as meaning "even though". Forgive us even though we are stiff-necked.
  4. Ibn Ezra explains it as meaning "admittedly". Admittedly we are stiff-necked but please forgive us.
One explanation that I automatically thought of, but could not find, is to read it simply as "because". We are stiff-necked so the sin isn't totally our fault. How can God blame us? We have SNS (Stiff Neck Syndrome). But this politically correct peshat does not exist, which perhaps gives us insight into what our sages would say about such politically correct approaches to life.

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