Introduction: Pesikta de-Rav Kahana's Literary and Historical Setting
Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (below: Pesikta) is arguably the most structurally complex midrashic composition in the landscape of the classic midrashim. The Pesikta is exceptional mostly because of its unusual organization. As is well known, the composition is not organized as a series of derashot on a particular biblical book. Rather, it has been variously described as a collection of derashot for “special days of the calendar year,” “selected places in the Bible,” or “a midrash on the calendar.”Footnote
The Pesikta, whose very discovery and reconstruction were beset by multiple obstacles, remains in some ways an unsolved mystery; many questions concerning the context in which it was created continue to occupy scholars to this day. Unresolved primary textual questions concerning issues such as the correct text of the Pesikta and the order of the various piska'ot from which it is comprised still persist.Footnote
This makes it even more difficult to deal concretely with foundational issues such as the creation of the composition, its editing, and the sources of its derashot.Footnote
Recently, there even arose some doubt concerning the very editorial unity of the composition. Was the entire Pesikta produced by one editor, or is it an eclectic collection of piska'ot that accrued during a lengthy process?Footnote
In addition to these general questions concerning the entire Pesikta, scholars have raised questions concerning the “originality” or “authenticity” of certain individual piska'ot within the Pesikta, questioning whether they belong to the original redactorial level of the composition or whether they were added at a later period in the history of its transmission. Two phenomena inspire questioning of a piska's originality, one connected to its literary context and the other to its liturgical context:
1. The literary context: If an entire piska is found in another composition it is possible that it was copied into the Pesikta from an outside source. This question was raised especially concerning the five piska'ot based on passages from Leviticus and found in a parallel form in Vayikra Rabbah.Footnote
2. The liturgical context: The authenticity of certain piska'ot has been called into question because the verses on which they are based were not part of the festival Torah readings as practiced during the period of the Pesikta's composition. This question was raised especially concerning piska'ot on Passover and Shavuot that focus on readings from Exodus.Footnote
One piska whose authenticity has been scrutinized is based on “And it happened at midnight” (ויהי בחצי הלילה) (Exodus 12:29), a verse topically appropriate for the first day of Passover. The problem is that M. Megillah 3:4 documents a different Torah reading for Passover: “the section in Leviticus related to the appointed times” (פרשת המועדות בתורת כהנים). Somewhat surprisingly, the Pesikta also includes a piska on “an ox or a sheep” (שור או כשב) (Leviticus 22:27), a reading that accords with the Mishnah's halakhah. In other words there are two piska'ot that seem to be based on Torah readings for the first day of Passover. This led Louis Ginzberg to claim that the “latest arrangers” inserted the piska, “And it happened at midnight,” into the Pesikta, even though this material was not originally composed as a holiday reading, but rather as part of the Torah readings of the regular triennial cycle.Footnote
The assumption that this particular piska was originally part of a homiletic midrashic composition on Exodus also accords with the general theory proposed by Yonah Fraenkel, that the entire Pesikta is a secondary collection of derashot culled from homiletic midrashim on the Pentateuch, such as Vayikra Rabbah or other similar compositions that did not survive.Footnote
Abraham Goldberg continued this trend, deeming the piska “not original to Pesikta de-Rav Kahana,” due to the fact that it is missing in two of the better manuscripts of the composition (א – Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Marshall Or. 24, and צ – Paris, Alliance Israélite Universelle H 47 A). Goldberg further supported this claim with literary-structural considerations, claiming that “This piska deviates from the usual characteristics of the piska'ot of the Pesikta.”Footnote
In his opinion, the relationship between the number of proems (פתיחתאות) and the number of interpretive derashot in each piska can be used to evaluate the authenticity of a piska. Piska'ot original to the Pesikta, so he claims, have more proems than interpretive derashot on verses. The piska, “And it happened at midnight,” which has four proems and nine interpretive derashot, is therefore not “authentic.”Footnote
In a different article, Goldberg described this piska as including “a mixture of proems, topical derashot, a new proem and then back to topical derashot which follow derashot on verses.” In his opinion, “A piska with these characteristics is very typical of Pesikta Rabbati, and perhaps other midrashim as well, but it is not typical of Pesikta [de-Rav Kahana].” Therefore, he concludes that “it was transferred there [to Pesikta de-Rav Kahana] from Pesikta Rabbati.”Footnote
In contrast to Goldberg, Joseph Heinemann posited that “this piska is a product of the editor of the Pesikta himself,” since it is found in most of the Pesikta's manuscripts. The piska, in his opinion, does reflect early Palestinian Torah reading customs, despite the fact that these customs are not documented in halakhic sources or early liturgical poetry (piyyutim).Footnote
Heinemann claims that it is actually the piska “an ox or sheep,” a passage that reflects the Mishnah's halakhah to read this section of the Torah on Passover, that was transferred by copyists to the Pesikta. He rejected the possibility that the piska was copied from “one of the midrashim arranged on the Pentateuch,” for as far as we know there were never “homiletic” midrashim such as Vayikra Rabbah on the other books of the Torah.Footnote
In sum, there are three possibilities that scholars have suggested as to the source of this piska: (1) It was created by the editor of the Pesikta; (2) It was transferred to the Pesikta from an early homiletical midrash on Exodus; (3) It was transferred to the Pesikta from Pesikta Rabbati.
This article will undertake a systematic literary examination of the piska, on the basis of which these three possibilities will be evaluated. The findings that emerge from this analysis lead me to reject the presumption that the piska was transferred from Pesikta Rabbati or from another midrash on Exodus, and bolster Heinemann's position that it was created by the editor of the Pesikta himself. However, this analysis does affirm Goldberg's assessment that the piska “deviates from the usual characteristics of piska'ot in the Pesikta,” although not the precise deviations pointed out by Goldberg. As stated above, these differences led Goldberg to propose that the piska was not the work of the editor of the Pesikta himself. To solve this conundrum, I propose a general theory as to the dating, the nature, and the literary creation of the entire Pesikta.
I see the Pesikta as a unified work, and hold that individual piska'ot should not be considered “secondary” without solid evidence in the Pesikta's manuscripts. However, the Pesikta does include piska'ot that exhibit diverse literary patterns—in another words, there is a distinct lack of literary uniformity among the various piska'ot. Rather than suggesting that one format is “original” to the Pesikta and formats that deviate from it reflect material imported into the Pesikta from elsewhere, I suggest that these variations reflect changes in the Torah reading practices that occurred in the period in which the Pesikta's editor operated and earlier, the same period in which the material available to him was being composed.
During the early amoraic period (third and fourth centuries CE), midrashic material was formed into piska'ot, or at least “proto-piska'ot” around passages from the Torah that were part of the ancient Torah-reading cycle for holidays, the special Sabbaths, and the regular triennial cycle. When available, the editor made use of this material. This explains, for example, the overlap in readings for Leviticus with parallel passages in Vayikra Rabbah. In contrast, readings that became customary during a later period, around the fifth century CE, such as the readings for Passover from Exodus, had less consolidated midrashic material already associated with them. When the editor of the Pesikta wished to compose material appropriate for these readings, he was forced to be more creative, to make secondary use of material originally created for other contexts, and to adapt this material as much as possible to its new literary location. The process of the editorial adaptation of this material did not come to proper completion, with the end result that piska'ot containing uneven patterns were formed.
A Structural-Literary Analysis of the Piska “And It Happened at Midnight”
Piska 7, “And it happened at midnight,” is composed of three units: the opening unit contains four proems (sections 1–4, ed. Mandelbaum, pp. 122–25); the middle unit contains five interpretive derashot related mostly to the first verse of the Torah reading, Exodus 12:29 (sections 5–9, pp. 125–30); and the concluding unit contains three narrative derashot on the plagues and finishes with a concluding derashah (sections 10–12, pp. 130–34). For each of these units I will point out features that deviate from the usual features found in the Pesikta, distinguishing characteristics that differ from those noted by Goldberg. After noting these “deviations,” I will try to explain how they are a result of the editing process typical of this piska.
The Opening Section of the Piska
The opening unit of the piska contains four proems. The second and fourth proems contain features that deviate from the usual structure of proems in classical midrashic literature, including the Pesikta itself. The form of the second proem seems to be very close to the one that precedes it, and it also conceptually completes it. Thus the first two proems seem to be one literary unit. The first is a short proem ascribed to “R. Tanḥum of Jaffa in the name of R. Nunya of Caesarea.” The darshan explains David's words in Psalms 73:16, “So I applied myself to understand this, but it seemed a hopeless task” (ואחשבה לדעת זאת עמל היא בעיני) as referring to the gap between the divine ability to “determine the exact time of midnight” and the human inability to do the same. The proem ends with the typical formula: “And since no being except God can determine when exactly midnight is, that is why it says, ‘And it happened at midnight’” (ולפי שאין בריה יכולה לעמוד על חצי הלילה אלא הוא, לפי' אמ' ויהי בחצי הלילה). The second proem is structured similarly:
ר' אחא פתח אני י"י הוא שמי וכבודי לאחר לא אתן [ישעיה מב:ח] […] ר' נחמיה בשם ר' מינא אמ' אין כל בריה יכולה להבחין בין טפה של בכור לשאינה של בכור אלא הב"ה, אבל אני, עמל היא בעיני, ולפי שאין בריה יכולה לעמוד על חצי הלילה אלא הוא, לפי' ויהי בחצי הלילה [שמות יב:כט].
R. Aḥa opened [interpreted the verse]: I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not yield My glory to another [Isaiah 42:8] […] R. Neḥemiah in the name of R. Mina: No other being in the world is able to distinguish between seed of a firstborn and seed which is not of a firstborn except for the Holy One, blessed be He. But as for me this is too hard for me. And no other being can determine the exact moment of midnight except for Him, therefore Scripture says, And it came to pass [
] at midnight [Exodus 12:29].
As in the first proem, the second proem also uses a verse (this time from Isaiah) to highlight God's ability to make distinctions that human beings cannot. However, the divine ability on which the midrash focuses is different—whereas in the first proem it was the ability to tell precise time, in the second it is the ability to distinguish between a child who is a firstborn and one who is not. Both proems relate to the mention of God in the verse, “And it happened at midnight, and the Lord struck down every firstborn.” The first proem connects the phrase “and the Lord” to the beginning of the verse, as if it implies that only God can determine the exact moment of midnight; whereas the second proem connects “and the Lord” with the words that follow—only God can distinguish between a firstborn and one who is not a firstborn.Footnote
However, the second proem does not conclude in the manner one would expect. Instead, it repeats the conclusion of the first proem, and even the words of the verse cited in the first proem: “But as for me this is too hard for me. And no other being can determine the exact moment of midnight except for Him, therefore Scripture says, And it came to pass [precisely] at midnight.” At this point we were expecting the conclusion to read something like the following: “And since no other being in the world is able to distinguish between seed of a firstborn and seed which is not a firstborn except for the Holy One, blessed be He, that is why Scripture says, And God struck every firstborn” (ולפי שאין בריה יכולה להבחין בין טיפה של בכור לשאינה של בכור אלא הב"ה לפי' וה' הכה כל בכור).Footnote
In my opinion this unusual phenomenon, the lack of accordance between the conclusion of the proem and its content, is a result of the process in which the proem was edited. The editor lifted the conclusion from the previous proem, but stopped in the middle of his creative work before he had finished polishing up the transferred material to accord with its new setting.Footnote
The editor of the Pesikta fashioned this proem out of raw material that we can reconstruct, patterning the conclusion after the structure of the opening proem, but he left the concluding line as it was, without emending it to match its new setting.Footnote
It seems that the editor took the body of the proem from a similar proem found in piska 21, “Arise, give light” (קומי אורי) (ed. Mandelbaum, p. 319):
ר' אחא פתח אני י"י הוא שמי […] וכבודי לאחר לא אתן […] ותהילתי לפסילים [ישעיה מב:ח]. א' הקדוש ברוך הוא כבודי איני נותן לאחר, ואתם נותנים תהילתי לפסילים. ולמי אני נותנו, לציון, קומי אורי כי בא אורך [ישעיה ס:א].
R. Aḥa began: I am the Lord, that is My name […] And My glory I do not give […] Nor my renown to the idols [Isaiah 42:8]. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I do not give My glory to anything else, and you give it to idols? And to whom do I give it? To Zion: Arise, give light, for your light has come [Isaiah 60:1].
The beginning of this proem is almost identical to the proem above, except that there the end of the verse, “And My glory I do not give to others” is connected more tightly to the verse, “And the glory of the Lord will shine on you” (וכבוד ה' עלייך זרח). The editor of our piska used the derashah on the verse, and wove into it the theme of God's ability to discern between firstborns and non-firstborns,Footnote
as if God claims that “My glory” is found in the ability to make a type of distinction that humans cannot make. The editor concluded the proem with a structure he borrowed from the previous proem without adapting it to its new context. Taken together, the first two proems are one literary unit that emphasizes the supernatural nature of the plague of the firstborn, both in terms of time (exactly at midnight) and in terms of deed (ability to know who is a firstborn and who is not).
The fourth proem is based on the verse, “At midnight [חצות לילה] I will arise to thank You for your righteous judgments” (Psalms 119:62), which exhibits clear linguistic affinity to the verse at the center of the entire piska, “At midnight” (בחצי הלילה). The midrashic idea is that David thanks God for all that happened to the forefathers at midnight. The midrash contains three alternative midrashim for the verse “for your righteous judgments.”Footnote
1. For the judgments that God brought on evil Pharaoh, and the righteous acts He performed with Sarah, my ancestress.
2. For the judgments He brought on the nations of the world, and the righteous acts He performed for my ancestor and ancestress (Boaz and Ruth).
3. For the judgments he brought on the Egyptians in Egypt and the righteous acts He performed for our forefathers in Egypt.
The section concerned with Israel in Egypt is placed last—not according to its biblical order, which would have placed it second. This allows the darshan to conclude with the topic at hand, the plague of the firstborn. However, the derashah does not follow the typical pattern of a proem—concluding with the first verse of the public Torah reading. Rather it concludes:
… שלא היו בידם מצות שיגאלו בהם אלא שתי מצות, דם פסח ודם מילה, הה"ד ואעבור עליך ואראך מתבוססת בדמיך ואומר לך בדמיך חיי [יחזקאל טז:ו], בדמיך, דם פסח ודם מילה.
… for they only had two commandments through whose merit they could be redeemed: the blood of the paschal sacrifice and the blood of circumcision. That is what is written: And I will pass over you and see you wallowing in your blood, and I will say to you, ‘Live in your blood’ [Ezekiel 16:6]. In your blood [בדמיך]: the blood of the paschal sacrifice and the blood of circumcision.
As with the case above, Goldberg viewed this conclusion as evidence that the piska is not “original.” In my opinion, however, this is further evidence of an editorial process that was arrested at an incomplete stage.Footnote
The editor used a derashah whose original form is found in midrash Ruth Rabbah (6:1). There, the sections are found in the correct and logical biblical order. The last section, which refers to Ruth, ends with the verse featured in the derashah, “And you put a blessing in his heart, as it says, ‘Blessed are you my daughter to the Lord’” (ונתת בלבו ברכה, שנא' ברוכה את בתי לי"י) (Ruth 3:10).Footnote
The editor of the Pesikta adjusted the order of the sections but did not adjust the ending of the derashah such that it would accord with the structure of a proem. It is possible that he preferred to retain the conclusion because it connected to the topic of Passover eve.Footnote
The Middle Section of the Piska
As stated above, this section includes five interpretive derashot related mostly to the first verse of the Torah reading, “And it happened at midnight and the Lord struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Exodus 12:29). All of these derashot exhibit close affinity to the Mekhilta.Footnote
For example, the first derashah (section 5) opens with a direct quote from a tannaitic source very similar to the text found in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael: “R. Shimon b. Yoḥai taught: Moses knew neither its times. …”Footnote
The second derashah (section 6) also concludes with a tannaitic source parallel to that found in the Mekhilta: “It was taught in the name of R. Natan: On the day that one of their first-born died. …”Footnote
This derashah, which describes the impact the plague of the firstborns had on houses in which the firstborn had already died before the plague, is attached in the Mekhilta to v. 30, “For there was no house in which there was no dead” (כי־אין בית אשר אין־שם מת). It is noteworthy that in the Pesikta it directly continues the derashah on v. 29: “You should be perplexed—a house in which there is no firstborn to the woman or to the man, how can I fulfill [the verse] for there was no house in which there was no dead” (הגע עצמך בית שאין שם בכור לאיש ולא לאשה מה אני מקיים כי אין בית אשר אין שם מת). This shift is an excellent example of the overall aim of our piska's editor to focus on the first verse of the public Torah reading.
The following derashah (section 7) also opens with a teaching that has clear parallels in both Mekhiltot, “From here [we learn] that Pharaoh too was a firstborn”Footnote
and continues with an Aramaic aggadah on the words, “He struck the Egyptian firstborns.”
The derashah in section 8 is of special interest:
ועד בכור השפחה. רב הונא ור' אחא בשם ר' אלעזר בנו של ר' יוסי הגלילי אפי' שפחות המכודנות לריחים היו אומרות רצוננו בשעבודנו וישראל בשעבודן […]
Until the firstborn of the handmaiden. R. Huna and R. Aḥa in the name of R. Elazar, son of R. Yose Hagalili: Even handmaidens tied to millstones would say: We want to remain in our servitude and for Israel [to remain] in their servitude […].
This derashah explains why the firstborns of handmaidens died and were specified in the verse: The punishment is retribution for their wish to remain enslaved as long as Israel too would remain enslaved. While the derashah seems to relate to Exodus 12:29, the phrase, “the firstborn of the handmaiden,” is found only in a parallel verse that appeared earlier, in Moses's speech (Exodus 11:5): “And every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh until the firstborn of the handmaiden sitting behind the mill-stone, as well as all the firstborn of the cattle” (ומת כל־בכור בארץ מצרים מבכור פרעה היֹשב על־כסאו עד בכור השִפחה אשר אחר הרחיִם וכל בכור בהמה). The derashah itself is a tannaitic tradition ascribed to R. Elazar son of R. Yose Hagalili, and it is found in a similar form in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon b. Yoḥai.Footnote
There is no way to determine with certainty why the editor of the Pesikta placed this derashah here, out of its correct place. However, the realization that the editor had sources available to him that were mostly similar to those found in the two Mekhiltot can help us make an educated guess as to why he did so. While the derashah in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon b. Yoḥai (pp. 28–29) is based on the words, “the firstborn of the captive” (בכור השבי), it already shifts the focus to the words “the firstborn of the handmaiden” (בכור השפחה) found in the earlier verse:
כאן הוא אומ' בכור השבי ולהלן הוא אומ' בכור השפחה […] ר' אליעזר בנו של ר' יוסי הגלילי אומ' מפני מה לקו עמהן מפני שהיו אומ' רצוננו נהיה בשעבודנו ויש' יהיו בשעבודן
Here it says the firstborn of the captive and there it says the firstborn of the handmaiden: R. Eliezer son of R. Yose Hagalili says: Why were they [the handmaidens] struck with the rest of them [the Egyptians]? For they said: We wish to remain in our enslavement as long as Israel remains in their enslavement.
We can presume that the editor of the Pesikta wanted to include R. Eliezer's derashah on the verse at hand, “the firstborn of the captive,” but as occurred above, the process of adapting the derashah to its new location was not completed. Thus it looks as if the derashah is related to the words “the firstborn of the handmaiden.” Whatever the actual reason for why this derashah is not found in its proper context, it is clear that the derashot in the Pesikta exhibit a strong connection to those in the Mekhilta. This connection is also manifested in the next derashah (section 9), which also has a parallel in the Mekhilta, from which it too was likely drawn.Footnote
The Concluding Section of the Piska
The third section, which concludes the piska, is composed of three summarizing narrative derashot on the ten plagues, followed by a concluding derashah (sections 10–12). The first derashah (section 10) emphasizes the idea that “the Master of Mercy does not first afflict human beings” (אין בעל הרחמים נוגע בנפשות תחילה). God is cautious not to hurt human beings until all other possibilities of affecting human behavior have first been exhausted. This principle is illustrated with four examples: Job, Mahlon and Kilyon (from Ruth), the scale diseases (נגעים) described in Leviticus 13–14, and the plagues in Egypt. A similar derashah is found in Vayikra Rabbah 17:4 (ed. Margulies, p. 381) but there the order is at first chronological: Job, Egypt, Ruth;Footnote
it then concludes with the topic at hand in Leviticus, the scale diseases. Friedman (Ish-Shalom) seems correct in his proposal that the derashah's original setting was Vayikra Rabbah, where the references are in chronological order.Footnote
The order in the Pesikta was created by moving the stanza concerning Egypt to the end, without also moving the scale diseases stanza before the stanza on Ruth. More significantly, the stanza dealing with scale diseases is interpreted based on verses taken from the portion of Leviticus on which the derashah is located, whereas the stanza referring to the plague of the firstborn is not interpreted at all in reference to verses from Exodus. Rather, the verses it employs are from Psalms. This is a strong indicator that the derashah was created in the context of Leviticus and only later brought to the Pesikta, where it was placed in the context of Exodus. Again, we can see that the editor used a derashah from an earlier source and adjusted it accordingly, such that it concluded with the stanza on Egypt. However, he did not fully adapt it to its new location by referring to verses in Exodus.
The next clause (section 11) includes two topical derashot that survey the ten plagues from an innovative interpretive perspective.Footnote
The first derashah counts the plagues as if they were the “the order of battle of kings” (טכסיס מלכים). The second derashah enumerates them with a look to the future, “the one who punished the former, He is the one who will punish the latter” (מי שפרע מן הראשונים הוא יפרע מן האחרונים). The derashah demonstrates that all of the plagues of Egypt will be meted out to Rome (אדום) in the future. Towards its conclusion the derashah reads:
[…] מה מצרי' חשך אף אדום כן, ונטה עליה קו תוהו ואבני בהו [ישעיה לד:יא] מה מצרי' הגדול גדול שבהם הרגו אף אדום כן, וירדו ראמים עמם ופרים וכו' [שם שם:ז]. אמ' ר' מאיר וירדו רומיים עמם.
[…] Just as there was darkness in Egypt, so too will there be in Edom. He shall stretch over [Edom] the line of [dark] chaos and the plummet of emptiness [Isaiah 34:11]. As with Egypt He killed the greatest, so too, with Edom: Wild oxen [ראמים] shall fall with them [Isaiah 34:7]. R. Meir said: among those to come down shall be the Romans [רומיים].
Another derashah, which serves as a peroration (section 12), follows and continues this derashah:
כי הנה החשך יכסה ארץ וערפל לאומים ועליך יזרח י"י וכבודו עליך יראה [ישעיה ס:ב]. ר' אחא בר כהנא אמ' חשך ואפלה שמשו בארץ מצרים שלשת ימים […] אבל תוהו ובהו לא שמשו בעולם הזה. ואיכן עתידין לשמש, בכרך גדול של רומי, ונטה עליה קו תוהו ואבני בהו [ישעיה לד:יא]. רבנין אמרין אומות העולם שלא קבלו את התורה שנתנה מתוך החשך עליהם הוא אומ' כי הנה החשך יכסה ארץ וערפל לאומים [ישעיה ס:ב], אבל ישראל שקבלו אותה מתוך החשך עליהם הוא אומ' ועליך יזרח י"י וכבודו עליך יראה [שם].
Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon you the Lord will shine, and His glory shall be seen on you [Isaiah 60:2]. R. Aḥa bar Kahana said: For three days darkness and thick darkness served in Egypt. […] On the other hand, dark chaos and emptiness did not serve in this world. And where will they serve in the future? In the great city of Rome: He shall stretch over it the line of [
] chaos, and the plummet of emptiness [Isaiah 34:11]. And the rabbis say: The nations of the earth which have not accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness [over Sinai], of them Scripture says, Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples [Isaiah 60:2]. But Israel, who accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness [over Sinai], of them Scripture says, But upon you the Lord will shine, and His glory shall be seen on you [ibid.].
This derashah connects directly with the verse cited in the previous derashah, Isaiah 34:11, concerning the plague of darkness. The motif of Rome being struck by dark chaos and emptiness is repeated. However, the connection between the peroration and the parashah is weak—it too deals with verses from Isaiah and to a certain extent with the plague of darkness. In reality, the source of the derashah is Vayikra Rabbah 6:6 (ed. Margulies, p. 146), where it serves as a conclusion to the section based on the verse, “If a person sins when he hears a public charge” (ונפש כי תחטא ושמעה קול אלה) (Leviticus 5:1). The conclusion is tightly connected there through the motif of “received the Torah” (קבלו את התורה) found in the words of the rabbis.Footnote
The same concluding derashah is also found in the Pesikta, in piska 21, “Arise, give light” (קומי אורי) where it is well connected to the piska's content. In the piska, “And it happened at midnight” the concluding derashah is not linked closely to the overall topic of the piska. Its main motif is “darkness,” which is not mentioned in the remainder of the piska. The weak connection that the peroration has in our piska, “And it happened at midnight,” with the larger parashah testifies again to the incomplete editorial process that the material in this piska underwent.Footnote
Summary of the Literary Structure of the Piska
In sum, the structure of the piska shows that it has undergone a certain amount of literary editing. Its various sections highlight the plague of the firstborn, and the end of the piska provides a summary of all ten plagues, both topics appropriate to Passover. It is not completely disorganized, as Goldberg claimed. However, there are multiple instances in which the structure of the derashot deviates from the literary norms found elsewhere in the Pesikta. Instead of accounting for these differences by positing that these sections were imports into the Pesikta that occurred at a later stage in its transmission, I have explained these as instances in which the editorial process of adapting literary material to new settings did not come to its full fruition. The editor used available sources to fashion a new piska for a new public Torah reading that had not, as of yet, had a full piska or parashah created for it.Footnote
The proof that these derashot were secondary literary creations by the editor is found in the traces of their original settings left in the derashot. The failure of the editor to fully integrate the material into its new setting is what allows us to trace their history and to reveal his editorial work.
The Liturgical Background of the Piska “And It Happened at Midnight”
One of the main proofs cited by scholars who held that this piska is not original to the Pesikta is the lack of documentation for such a festival Torah reading in early halakhic sources and piyyutim. This claim should be reexamined. According to M. Megillah 3:4, on Passover they read, “the section in Leviticus related to the appointed times” (בפרשת מועדות של תורת כהנים). The Mishnah does not distinguish between the first day of Passover and the other days. The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5), on the other hand, does offer such a distinction:
יום טוב הראשון של פסח קורין בפרשת הנף שבתורת כהנים ושאר כל ימות הפסח מדלגין מעניינות הפסח הכתובין בתורה.
On the first festival day of Passover they read the parashah of the waving [of the Omer] in Leviticus. And on the other days of Passover they skip from one passage about Passover to another that is written in the Torah.Footnote
While the reading mentioned in the Tosefta for the first day of Passover is somewhat problematic, it seems to be consistent with that in the Mishnah.Footnote
In any case, the second line of the Tosefta, “And on the other days of Passover they skip from one passage about Passover to another that is written in the Torah,” hints at a new custom, one that had not yet been fully determined, of reading portions from the book of Exodus on the other days of the festival, a custom that was later more firmly established in Babylonia and recorded in the Bavli.Footnote
A similar shift in Torah readings from Leviticus/Deuteronomy to Exodus occurred with the reading for Shavuot. The Mishnah mentioned above relates that on Shavuot they would read the passage “Seven weeks” (שבעה שבועות) in Deuteronomy (16:9), whereas the Tosefta reports an alternative tradition, according to which they would read “On the third month” (בחדש השלישי), a passage from Exodus (19:1).Footnote
Taken all together, it seems that the Tosefta demonstrates a process whereby readings from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, mostly halakhic passages, were replaced by more narrative passages from Exodus. These readings were perceived to serve as a better basis for derashot that would shape the character of the holiday and attract a greater audience.Footnote
This shift developed and became entrenched over time, a phenomenon we can already detect within the Tosefta itself. For Shavuot, the new custom had already taken shape and therefore it is mentioned explicitly in the Tosefta. In contrast, the new custom of reading from Exodus on Passover seems to still be in formation, and thus it is cited in the Tosefta only for the remaining days of the festival, without any obligatory order as to which passage should be read on which day. Only at a later stage did the custom of reading from Exodus on the first day of Passover take root and replace the older custom. According to this reconstruction, the custom of reading “And it happened at midnight” on Passover is not a Babylonian custom, as Goldberg posited. It is indeed a Palestinian custom, although later than the earlier custom of reading from Leviticus. Ish-Shalom's assertion (adopted by Heinemann as well) that this is an “early Palestinian custom which the halakhah came to uproot” has no supporting evidence.Footnote
Taking these two points into account, it seems likely that this development occurred in Palestine during the Byzantine period, probably sometime around the fifth century. This is also supported by the lists of liturgical poets (paytanim) from the end of the Byzantine period (Moses, Pinḥas) that take account of readings for the intermediate days of Passover, as cited by Heinemann in his article.Footnote
Goldberg rightfully rejected this as evidence for the antiquity of the custom. Nevertheless, in my estimation this finding does provide evidence for the fact that this was a new custom in Palestine itself.
This discussion concerning the custom of reading “And it happened at midnight” on the first day of Passover is also relevant for the custom of reading “And it happened when he sent out” (ויהי בשלח) on the seventh day of Passover. There is no halakhic or liturgical evidence that either of these customs existed in Palestine in antiquity (in the Mishnah and Tosefta).Footnote
In light of the argument above, we can assume that this custom also took shape during the Byzantine period in Palestine, and was alluded to in the Tosefta with the words, “the passages about Passover that are written in the Torah” (עניינות הפסח הכתובין בתורה).
I suggest that the editing of the Pesikta occurred during the same time period as the shift in Torah reading customs for Passover from Leviticus to Exodus was happening. This explains why the Pesikta contains a piska for “And it happened at midnight,” from Exodus, which accords with the new custom alluded to in the Tosefta, alongside a piska for “An ox or sheep,” from Leviticus, which accords with the Torah reading custom referred to in the Mishnah. The same is true for the piska, “And it happened when he sent out” for the seventh day of Passover, also alluded to in the Tosefta. In both cases, we can sense that the customs are in a state of transition, but that this change has not yet been completed. This state of transition is reflected in the halakhic texts by the differences between the Mishnah and the Tosefta, and in the midrashic texts, by the inclusion of piska'ot for both readings. In contrast, for Shavuot, the Pesikta includes a piska only for “On the third month,” which accords with the Torah reading custom mentioned explicitly in the Tosefta. There is no piska whatsoever for “Seven weeks,” the custom mentioned in the Mishnah. It seems that the new custom of reading from the book of Exodus on Shavuot had been sufficiently established to push aside the earlier custom entirely.
* * * * *
We can now evaluate the literary findings that emerge from the analysis of the piska “And it happened at midnight” in light of the theory proposed above concerning the editing of the Pesikta. The piska's editing is coherent; it is not “confused” as it was characterized by Goldberg. It includes three sections of derashot with a consistent theme: The plague of the firstborn is a summation of the entire process of the ten plagues. The composition of the piska and the relationship between the number of proems and the number of interpretive derashot on verses is not “unusual,” and does not serve to indicate any lack of “authenticity.”Footnote
The unusual features that were uncovered in the piska can be understood as the result of an editing process that was not fully completed. This explains, for instance, the two proems whose conclusions do not match the content, as well as the concluding derashah that seems disconnected from its context. This editing process also explains the editor's massive dependence on the Mekhilta in the interpretive sections of the piska, and his adherence to the interpretation of the first verse of the parashah.Footnote
Finally, the same phenomenon explains the secondary use that the editor made of the piska “Arise, give light” (קומי אורי) in the second proem and in the peroration.
All of these unusual features are indicators of purposeful and creative editing of material available to an editor whose aim was to fashion a piska for “And it happened at midnight,” in a midrashic format similar to Vayikra Rabbah.Footnote
The editor of the Pesikta lived at a time when Torah reading customs were evolving, and he may have even wanted to support these changes. This historical background serves to explain why there are differences between the various piska'ot. In other words, the literary differences between the various piska'ot reflect the availability of materials to the editor, and this availability is largely a factor of the antiquity of the Torah reading custom at the heart of the individual piska. Piska'ot for Torah passages that had been part of the Torah reading for a long time, at least from the time of the Mishnah, such as “Shekalim,” “This month,” and others, were simpler for the editor to compose, because a significant amount of midrashic material suited to the common midrashic formula had already accrued on these passages.
In contrast, the composition of piska'ot for readings that had only just been instituted, such as “And it happened at midnight,” “And it happened when he sent out,” or “In the third month,” presented a greater challenge for the editor.Footnote
Here he was forced to be much more creative and to use material that was not created specifically for holiday Torah readings. This explains the intensive use of the Mekhilta in the interpretive sections as well as the secondary use of the piska “Arise, give light” in the proem and conclusion.
The supposition raised by some scholars that the piska was copied, by the editor or by later copyists, from a lost interpretive midrashic composition on Exodus is implausible. First of all, there is no evidence that such midrashic collections existed, not even as fragments that were later embedded into Tanḥuma-Yelammedenu literature.Footnote
But beyond this argument from silence, the analysis of the piska itself makes this supposition unlikely. If this hypothesis was correct, we would expect to find uniformity in the five piska'ot in the Pesikta that relate to readings from the book of Exodus. But in reality, the signs of incomplete editing found in “And it happened at midnight” are not present in other piska'ot based on readings from Exodus, “Shekalim” and “This month.”Footnote
The literary differences between the various piska'ot are well explained by the theory proposed here. For Torah readings that had long been part of the reading cycle, there had already accrued ample midrashic material, whereas for readings that had only recently entered the cycle, the editor was forced to recycle midrashic material lifted from other settings: the Mekhilta, other classic midrashim, and other piska'ot in the Pesikta itself. Moreover, the connections that exist between this piska and the piska, “Arise, give light” negate the possibility that this piska was taken from an edited and fully formed “homiletic” midrash.Footnote
Similarly, the suggestion that copyists took this piska from Pesikta Rabbati and imported it into the Pesikta is problematic. First of all, the piska is found in most Pesikta manuscripts (א1, א2, ק, כ)Footnote
as well as a Genizah fragment (T-S 16.93).Footnote
More substantively, the piska is not structured in the typical style of Pesikta Rabbati, a composition that generally adheres to the Tanḥuma genre of midrashic literature.Footnote
Moreover, in the Parma manuscript of Pesikta Rabbati, which is the most complete manuscript, there is an additional “Tanḥumaic” piska that is parallel to “And it happened at midnight” (ed. Ish-Shalom, pp. 195–7). It is very unlikely that both piska'ot were originally part of the same composition.Footnote
Goldberg is correct in his assertion that “a confusion of proems, topical derashot, a new proem and then a return to topical derashot following derashot based on verses” is typical of Tanḥuma literature, whose structures are looser than those found in classic midrashim.Footnote
However, as demonstrated above, the piska is not entirely “confused.” It has an organized structure of three sections: a proem, derashot on the first verse, followed by a conclusion that summarizes the ten plagues. While this is not the typical structure found in the Pesikta, it is still not so “unusual” as to force the claim that it is a late “Tanḥumaic” creation.Footnote
All in all, it seems that both the literary process—the creation of the Pesikta as described here—as well as the liturgical developments that occurred during the same period—the transition to holiday Torah readings from the book of Exodus—reflect a similar trend. Both of these phenomena are connected to a shift in the rabbinic world to appeal to a broader, less rabbinic audience by changing the festival Torah reading customs and the midrashic rhetoric that accompanied them.Footnote
The Torah reading customs found in the Mishnah, those taken from the chapters in Leviticus and Deuteronomy concerning the festivals, are mostly halakhic in their content. Halakhic topics are more appropriate for a rabbinic audience steeped in the nuances and particulars of Halakhah. For the Torah reading for Shavuot, the Tosefta already documents a shift to the passage in Exodus concerning the revelation on Sinai. The next step in this process seems to have been a shift to reading the story of the Exodus in the book of Exodus itself for the first day of Passover, and the passage on the splitting of the sea for the seventh day of Passover. These readings are mostly narratives; they allow the darshan to relate to the history of the festival and the reason it is observed, and to shape rhetoric that would be more appealing and meaningful to less educated synagogue attendees, and not just rabbis well versed in law. In these historical and social circumstances there developed a need for a literary composition to aid the darshan in coping with the new customs.Footnote
Analysis of the literary phenomena occurring in this piska reveals the rich, surprising, and dynamic world of cross influences between literary and liturgical processes that left a deep mark on the formation of one of the most important and puzzling midrashic compositions from the amoraic period, the Pesikta de-Rav Kahana.