Sunday, November 8, 2015

The story of Giants in Tanach

The story of Giants in Tanach
Aryeh Klein (photo above - Aryeh  learning in The Gush Beit Midrash)
Gush Shana Bet

Throughout tanach, there are a whole bunch of individuals who are mentioned as being giants, either explicitly by the pesukim, or by midrashim surrounding them. There are a few different approaches among the rishonim as to, who or, what these giants were and based on that perhaps we can understand what the Torah is doing by including them in tanach.

As a background there are three groups of giants in the tanach. The first set is Sichon and Og, the brothers who led their people in war against the Jews as the Jews travelled from Egypt towards Israel. The pasuk by Og says explicitly that he slept in an iron bed[1]  nine cubits long implying that he was a giant. The second set are shashay, talmi, achiman, and their giant father  who is not mentioned by name in the pesukim, who are first mentioned by Rashi as the reason behind the name of the city Kiryat Arba[2]. It was called Kiryat Arba, explains Rashi, because of these four giants who inhabited the city. Based on the mefarshim, these are also the giants that the spies encountered when they scouted out the land of Israel and returned with the report "Bnei Anakim Rainu Sham"[3], that we saw the children of the giants as we scouted.  This set of giants makes their final appearance in Sefer Yehoshua where they are driven out of the land first by Kalev[4] and then by shevet Yehuda[5]. The third set of giants is the famous Goliat who was defeated by David, and his three brothers who in Sefer Shmuel are defeated by David's lieutenants[6]. In Divray Hayamim 5:5 they are referred to as the children of Harpah, who the gemara in sotah says this is the same person as Orpah, Ruth's sister who separated from her and her mother in law following the death of Machlon and Kilyon. The Ruth Rabba explains that on the night that she separated from Naomi, Orpah slept with 100 uncircumcised men and according to some even a dog, and from that night she gave birth to 4 giant sons as a reward for the 4 mil she accompanied Ruth and Naomi.

The question that arises from all of this is, from where do these giants come from and were they really giants.

Perek vav of Bereshit says:

א  וַיְהִי כִּי-הֵחֵל הָאָדָם, לָרֹב עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; וּבָנוֹת, יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם.
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
ב  וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה; וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ.
2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives, whomsoever they chose.
ג  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה.
3 And the LORD said: 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.'
ד  הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וְגַם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם:  הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם, אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם.  {פ}
4 The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. {P}
These nefilim mentioned in pasuk daled are the first time giants are mentioned in tanach and the mefarshim understand these pesukim in a few different ways. The first approach is that of the midrashim brought down by Rashi. Rashi here and more explicitly in Parshat Shalach writes how these nfilim are angels who fell from heaven during the generation of Enosh. The midrash explains that when the angels saw Man beginning to sin they immediately came before God claiming that God should never have created Man, as he is so prone to sin. God responded by saying that the Yetzer Hara is so strong that even you angels could not have done better. Hashem sent the angels down to Earth, and immediately the angels succumbed to their Yitzrei Hara and began sinning with the daughters of man. The children they had from these relationships were the nefilim mentioned in pasuk daled and these were the forerunners of the giants mentioned later in the Tanach.

The Malbim takes a completely different approach. The Malbim starts off quoting the medrashim quoted by Rashi that Bnei Elokim refers to angels who literally fell from Heaven. He expands this opinion saying that some people go so far in it, claiming that this is the source behind people viewing the rulers of the Egyptians as semi-divine. He then completely rejects this whole approach. Instead, he translates the nefilim and Bnei Elokim as just a term for great people, the leaders of the generation, similar to how we use the word idolize nowadays about people we respect. Why then are they called nefilim? Because they caused the world to fall. These people were the leaders of the generation, and they did not lead their people properly. The Malbim in general throughout tanach would view these giants as giants in stature, and not necessarily giants in physique.

The Ramban has a third approach similar in that to the Malbim. Instead of viewing these nefilim as some type of supernatural creatures as the midrashim do, the Ramban translates Bnei Eolkim as additional children of Adam and Chava. The pesukim say by Adam and Chava that they had more children after giving birth to their first three that are mentioned by name, and this pasuk is referring to those children. Adam and Chava were created בצלם אלקים and it would reason to claim that their children were just more perfect then other humans as they were directly descended from those that God had created himself.

To summarize so far, we have seen three approaches as to how we view these supposed Giants. Rashi supported by the Midrashim views them as actual Giants. Born from both man and angel, these beings were just stronger, larger, and greater than normal humans. The Malbim holds that these are just the leaders of the world. They were people that were looked up to, and when they failed to lead their generation properly, their entire generation fell. The Ramban in a similar vein says that they were normal humans, just slightly better ones due to their genes.

I believe that no matter which way you go here in regards to who these giants were, the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. If you go in the direction of Rashi that these are angels and descendants from angels, then we see even angels succumbing to the Yetzer Hara despite the fact that they are a lot closer to perfect than Man. If so, the question arises why did God create Man if they are bound to fail? To answer this question I want to relate an idea that Rav Bick gave over in a shiur on teshuva. He posed the question “What was the world missing that perhaps was a catalyst for Gods creation of humans”? The answer he gave was the idea of improvement. God is perfect, and as such there is no idea of improvement or progress. We as humans, who are far from perfect, can, and should, always work on ourselves to improve. This is one lesson that can be derived from the Giants appearance in these pashiyot.

If you take the view of the Malbim and the Ramban a completely lesson comes forth from these pesukim. The Torah here is telling us that in the generations of Enosh, Moshe, and of David there were leaders in the world that people looked up to and respected. These leaders had tremendous potential to do well and lead their people in the right direction. However, they failed, and failed so badly that the Torah refers to them as nefilim. They were the ones who brought the world around them crashing to the ground. The Torah expects leaders and those with leadership potential to take responsibility for people around them and events around them. Those who don’t are literally causing the world around them to fall and crumble to the ground.

[1] Devarim 3:11
[2] Bereshit 23:1
[3] Bamidbar 13:28
[4] Yehoshua 15:14
[5] Shoftim 1:10
[6] Shmuel Bet 21:15-22

No comments:

Post a Comment