Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Error in the biblical narrative

A guest post by Pen Tivokesh

My son had had his turn, repeating two horrific Sedrah anecdotes that had been taught in school. True I had tolerated only the first one, which was if not factually consistent, at least semi coherent. You see, the second vort was an infantile anagram by some Hasidic Rebbe. I stopped my son mid sentence, and told him that despite his impeccable deliverance, this was a lame vort that had no artistic merit in my opinion. Now that was harsh, and perhaps in retrospect, I should not have done that. Son, I pray that our relationship does not suffer any long term damage as a consequence. Not!

Now it was my turn, my very own Parsha anecdotes. I tell them that in this weeks Sedrah, some commentaries (שפתי חכמים) question the Midrash's reasoning that Isaac was moulded to look just like his father Abraham, to counter those who were sceptical of Isaac's parentage. Given that the look might have been the result of a "Maternal Impression" upon Isaac, with Sarah having gazed upon Abraham often during pregnancy (well not quite, but I didn't want to spell it out to the tee) how would it have resolved the conspiracy theory?

"And next week contains the same error but in the biblical narrative" I add.

"Where is that?" my son asks.

I tell them that Jacob uses "Maternal Imprinting" to increase the quantity of marked sheep within Laban's flock. The boy smiles. He understands that heredity is genetic and that Maternal impression is an out of date and refuted science. I tell them that pregnant women, according to our tradition, ought not to visit the zoo because if they do, they might give birth to a monkey. As my grandma used to say "מען קען זיך פארקוקען".

Also I relate how in the Talmud, Rav Kahana says that Dama Ben Nesina put red dye before a cow so that a red heifer might be born (Avoda Zara 24A), and that the Ya'avetz explains that this was akin to what Jacob had done with the rods before the sheep of Laban. (נ"ב כדרך שעשה יעקב אבינו ע"ה מקלות)

My daughter listening to this Shabbos meal discussion, tells me with a revealing grin that she still believed the stories despite the flaws, "OK", I say smiling, "sure". Perhaps she does, but this in no way inhibits her desire to watch her favourite TV program on the computer come Sunday.

I say that there are some speckled sheep, a breed named Jacob, and that legend has it that this breed descends from the original flock which was unto Jacob our ancestor. I add that just like our own ancestry, this tale too has little basis in reality. The kids laugh.

They are accustomed to my heretical viewpoint. We discuss, we argue and we debate. I do not know if this is a wise path to take, nor do I claim to be motivated by rationality. I have no idea what the consequence of such an education might be. They might take my standpoint, or perhaps might deviate in any direction. A logical possibility though, is that they might become acclimatised to the questions, and thus unlike myself, might settle for mediocre answers.
Search for more information about this weeks parsha at 4torah.com.

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