Mostly from 2008, but with some additions from 2009 and 2010. 1 Internal Parallels (and antithesis)
(a) The angles visit to Abraham vs. their visit to Lot - The guest are eagerly welcomed and fed (duh) (p) - Both men are sitting at an entrance when the guests appear (p) - Abraham's guests arrive at midday; Lot's arrive at twilight (a) - Abraham is at the tent flap; Lot is at the city gate (a) - Abraham feeds his guests the best of the best; Lot serves them nothing but the "poor man's bread" (a) - Sarah laughs; the sons in law of Lot laugh (the same verb is used) (the laughter itself is a parallel, the reason for the laughter is an antithesis.) (Sarah laughs in disbelief; the sons in law laugh out of scepticism.) - Following the visit Abraham asks God to spare a city and fails; Lot also asks for divine mercy but succeeds (a) (b) The destruction of Sodom vs. destruction of the world - The word himtir appears in both places; both are destroyed by precipitation (p) - In each case, moral perversion is the reason given for the destruction (p) - In each case, one family is marked for survival (p) - In each case, the hero becomes drunk immediately afterwards, and is involved in an illicit act. (p) (c) Yishmael's trip to the desert vs Yitzchak's trip to the mountain
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- Abraham "rose early in the morning" both to send Hagar away, and to begin his trip with Yitzchak (p) - Both moments of mortal danger occur in the wilderness (p) - Yitzchak is accompanied by his father; Ishmael goes with his mother (a) - He first puts bread and water on Hagar; next he puts wood on Isaac (p) - In each case an angel intervenes at the moment before death (p) - At the last moment, eyes are opened. (p) - The angel fondly refers to the boy as a na'ar in both cases (P) - In each case the angel promises that the boy will produce a great nation (p) (d) Abraham's grandson Yaakov has 12 sons: so do his brother Nahor (and his first son Yishmoel) 2- External Parallels (a) The sin of Sodom vs the crime of Procrustes (b) The Lord's visit to Abraham vs. Kothar's visit to Dan'el [*], a judge in the Ugaritic epic of Eqhat - Dan'el sits by an entrance - He "lifts up his eyes" to apprehend the divine visitor; and - tells his wife to prepare a meal with the best of the best. 3 - Motifs (a) This week we see the first of several annunciation scenes, all of which share a promise from a divine entity that a child will be born "at this season." The annunciation to Sarah is different in three ways: (1) The promise is delivered to the husband; (2) the woman is post-menopausal; (3) the child appears not in the very next scene but after the intervention of other events. (b) The sister-wife motif returns this week. Based on discovered documents, Sarna argues that "sister-wife" was a category of marriage in the ANE, distinct from concubines, and ordinary wives. (c) Important elements of the angelic visit to Sodom are echoed in the story of the Pilegesh b'Givah suggesting this is also a motif. Ramban notes this and seems of the opinion that the story in Shoftim was written to deliberately echo the divine word in Genesis. 4 - Anomalies (a) Gen 20:13: ויהי כאשר התעו אתי אלהים מבית אבי ואמר לה זה חסדך אשר תעשי עמדי אל כל־המקום אשר נבוא שמה אמרי־לי אחי הוא - The verb is plural, suggesting Abraham is speaking not of God, but "the gods." This is, perhaps, a dodge in deference to his pagan host, but not something our modern sensibilities would expect. (Rashi notes the anomaly and explains it away) (b) Gen 22:2 וַיֹּאמֶר קַח־נָא אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ אֶת־יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ׃ - Scholarship suggests the second term should be yadidcha (your favored one) rather than yechidcha (your only one) (a difference of one letter; the chet and the daled are similar in ktav ashuri.) Alter rejects this, following Rashi, and argues that in Abraham's mind each son is an "only" son of his own mother. (c) Gen 22:13 וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה־אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת־הָאַיִל וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנֹו׃ - The MT has achar (behind) Scholars argue achad (one) better fits the verse and the facts, and note that in ketav ashrui the raysh and the daled are similar. 5 - New understandings (a) We were taught that Lot's wife became a pillar of salt. Following the grammar of the verse, the Ralbag argues it never happened. (b) The Rambam says that the visit of the three angels never actually occurred. All of it was a vision, happening only in Abraham's head. [See famous Ramban below] Neat Ideas - A heh hayediah (the letter hay as definite article) is used in the word ha'kivshan in Genesis 19:28 [He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from thefurnace.] Perhaps this is what pointed interpreters to Nimrod's furnace, and the famous story of Abraham's trial. [Support: Why does the midrash say Nimrod threw Abraham into davka a furnace, ie, a kivshan? Wouldn't it have made more sense to burn him at the stake?] - Genesis says Sodom and the other cities were destroyed with gafris and ash (burning sulfur). When Moshe refers to the event in Deuteronomy 29 he says the cities were destroyed with gafris v'melach (salt and sulfur.) Could this be an early example of biblical interpretation, on the part of Moshe? In the Torah, salt is only mentioned in reference to Mrs. Lot. 6 - Misteachings (a) Small children are taught that Abraham's aishel is an acronyn for Achila (feeding), Shtiya (drinking), and Levayah ("escort") when they should instead be taught that this is Rashi's gloss on the Talmud in Sotah and the Talmud itself says something else. 7 - Mussar - Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, but ends up deflowering them himself (mida kneged mida) - The famous point made by SRH about Avraham's use of the word's "midst of the city"- - The famous point made by SRH about how we are to view non-Jews - Two strange men visit Sodom and are accosted by the mob; a strange couple come to Gerar but are treated with respect by the king (Lesson: Not all Gentiles are created equal)
- Following the akeida we're specifically told that Abraham returns to the men he previously left behind with donkeys. Lesson: Our great moments of inspiration should not set us apart, even from gentiles. Rather we should return to them, with our new discoveries, and attempt to share them. - The men/angles were provided with food and water. The water was brought by someone else and Abraham offered only a small amount (Yukach noh m'at mayim); meanwhile the meal, which he prepared with his own hands, was superfluous. Lesson: Don't overwork people for your own glory. - Abraham moves to the isolated southern part of Canaan in anticipation of his son's birth, yet he's also a resident of Grar. (Vayeshev bein kodesh u'vein Shur v'yagar b'Grar) Though he wishes to protect his son from Caananite influences, ts not his plan to entirely shield his child from the world. From time to time they visit Grar. Lesson: You can't raise a child in a bubble. You have to show him the word, and teach him how to respond to it. [Source: SRH] 8 - Famous Parshanut discussions (a) The mocking of Issac. What was Yishmael's sin? Attempted murder? Rape? Or, something else? Alter cleverly concludes from Sarah's reaction and the appearance of the word metzachek that "we may also be invited to construe [metzachek] as Issac-ing -- that is Sarah sees Ishmael as playing the role of Issac... as presuming to be the legitimate heir." (b) The age of Yitzchak at the Akeiada We were all taught that he was 37 (and therefore Rivka was three at their wedding) The Ibn Ezra and the Balei Tosfot strongly disagree. (c) The punishment in Gerar. Was it plague of infertility or a plague of constipation that afflicted the people of Gerar? Both sides have textual support. Those who say it was constipation ask how a plague of infertility could have been immediately noticed, as the verse tells us it was. The other side points out that this story of infertility is immediately followed by the notice that God had "singled out (pokad) Sarah" to have a child. Singled out, how? Moreover, the plague of infertility guarantees that Issac is Abraham's son.
(d) The treif eating angels When the angels visited Abraham he served them milk, butter and beef, in violation of the kosher rules. Is we assume Avraham kept all Torah laws, how is this possible? Rashi, on the basis of a redundant "asher asah" concludes (the source is the gemarah) that Abraham served the course ones at a time, and because milk is permitted before meat, there was no mixing of foods (In the verse, the milk dishes are listed first.) Daas Zakenim quotes a midrash in which God upbraids the angels for eating milk and meat together. Apparently its author did not agree with the position collected in the Gemarah. A third view is recorded in the Malbim, where he cites a tradition that Abraham served the angles a cow he created using magic powers; thus the cow was no considered meat and mixing it with milk was allowed.
(e) How omniscient is God? Ibn Ezra vs. Ramban and Rashi on what exactly the verse means when it says God had to come down and look at Sdom before deciding how to punish them. Ibn Ezra says it means God doesn't pay close attention to the details unless He wishes. Ramban calls this "foreign philosophy," and the Avi Ezer goes to war in the Ibn Ezra's defense. Meanwhile the Ibn Ezra's two super-commentaries explain Ibn Ezra in a manner that might be acceptable for a rishon, but not for 21st century Orthodox Jews. See Josh's elaboration
9 -Famous Ramban - "God forbid a child raised in the house of Abraham could be raised to murder or worship strange gods" (paraphrase) This is how the Ramban angrily dismisses Rashi's idea that Ishmael sinned by worshiping idols, or by making an attempt on Issac's life.cc - Ramban also angrily dismisses the Rambam's famous idea about the angels visit being a prophetic vision, and not an actual, observable event.
10 Famous Rashi - It's excluded from anything ArtScroll publishes, but the Gutnik edition is nice enough to include the Rashi comment that seems to say that scribes edited troubling biblical verses to make them more palatable. [and here] 10 - Anachronism - Gen: 21:34 וַיָּגָר אַבְרָהָם בְּאֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים יָמִים רַבִּים׃ The Philistines didn't settle on the west coast of Canaan until many centuries after the Patriarchal Period. 11 Plot holes - Where did Lot's daughters find wine? 12 - Unanswered questions - Why is the Davidic line born in sin? Both his lines are the products of illicit acts. (Lot and his daughters on one side, and Yehuda with his daughter-in-law on the other.) A very clever gloss Rashi, following the midrash, says just one of Lot's daughter's is deserving of praise. The other is criticized because she calls her son Moav, which puns on "from the father." Sforno disagrees (with Rashi and, ahem, CHZL) and says both women were sinners, both acted for the sake of heaven, and both women were rewarded with offspring who joined the Jewish people ( Na'amah of Ammon marries Shlomo; Ruth of Moav marries Boaz) This idea of sinning for the sake of heaven was a touchstone of the early Hasidim, i.e., the idea of "descent for the purpose of rising up." Rav Moshe Feinstein additionally credits the women for not claiming the child was fathered by a god. Instead of prefiguring the Christian claim, they told the truth, and in the merit of this honesty, the actual moshiach will be from Moav (the child "from a (human) father") Bogus BibCrit Did Abraham actually kill his son? Some solid observations on the part of the critics produce an altogether specious conclusion.
-- [FN] Incidently, some speculate that the third person mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 is Dan'el, the Ugaritic Judge, not Daniel the lion tamer (Reasons: The other two listed are gentiles, and the book of Daniel was written long after Ezekiel) As Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) has also told me: "Daniel is actually Daniyyeil, with a pronounced consonantal yud. Yehhezqeil mentions DN’L (=Dan’eil), without the important *pronounced* yud that should be there for Daniyyeil."
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