Monday, November 12, 2012

Did Abraham have a daughter? More than you ever wanted to know about his female offspring

Did Abraham have a daughter? Well, maybe. The problem starts with the word bakol in Genesis 21.

וְאַבְרָהָ֣ם זָקֵ֔ן בָּ֖א בַּיָּמִ֑ים וַֽיהוָ֛ה בֵּרַ֥ךְ אֶת־ אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּכֹּֽל
Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him bakol [=with all things]

What does the word bakol mean?

Everyone and his uncle has a different answer to this question. Possibilities include:

1: Land (which is why this is noted immediately after the purchase of the burial plot)
2: Completion of the trials (works only for those who say purchasing the burial plot was one of them)
3: Wealth, honor, long life
4: Ishmael's repentance

5: R' Levi Berditchver says that Gen 21: 1 refers to the satisfaction and fulfillment of god's original promise to Abraham. At the very beginning of his career, God tells Abraham:
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a [source of] blessing.
A righteous person, R' Levi says, wants nothing for himself. What he wants is to help others. The blessing of bakol, therefore, was that everyone around Abraham became blessed with health and wealth and the rest. A nice idea. 

6: BT Bava Basra records an argument between R. Meir and R. Yehuda. The former says the bakol blessing was that Abraham had no daughter. The thinking, I suppose, is not that daughters are inherently a burden, but that having one would impose extra stress on Abraham in particular. He'd have to protect her from the neighbors and find her a husband. (*So how did Abraham, who [wink, wink] kept all the commandments fulfill the biblical obligation of  "peru u'revu" with no daughter?]

7: The view of Rabbi Yehiuda is that bakol means everything, and everything means everything. Therefore Abraham had to have had a daughter. 

On the spot, Tosfos asks a great question. If Abraham had a daughter, why couldn't Issac do what his grandchildren did (as per one view) and marry his sister? Tosfos gives two answers:

        a: She was too young! Those of you who attended yeshiva are probably a bit shocked. "Too young?" you're asking, "Wasn't Rivka three?" Well, sunshine, this may come as a surprise but the matter of Rivka's age on her wedding day is far from settled. Plenty of bold names (tosfot included!) say she was at least 12*. 

        b: She was Hagar's daughter and therefore an inappropriate match for Father Isaac. (Later Rabbinic wisdom suggests evaluating a girl's character by examining her brother. If this daughter was, indeed, Hagar's her brother was Ishmael. 'Nuff said!.

* R. Shimshon Shwab offers a cute reconciliation. Drawing on midrashim that say Rivka was a reincarnation of Sarah he points out, rather obviously, that such a reincarnation could not have occurred until after Sarah died. Issac married Rivka three years after his mother died so, in that sense (the reincarnation sense) Rivka was only three, though in people years she was already at least 12) 

Maharal Diskin (I think) points out something else that, in my view, supports the "she was too young" POV. When Abraham goes to Hebron to bury Sarah the verse tells us:

ותמת שרה בקרית ארבע הוא חברון בארץ כנען ויבא אברהם לספד לשרה ולבכת
And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; (that is Hebron*) in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her

*The gloss is in the MT, and suggests strongly that at some point an editor wanted to make sure that his audience did not misunderstand something an earlier audience would have known

In the Masoretic text the word ולבכת has a small kof. When a small letter appears, reading the word without the diminished letter is a common method of interpretation (See Leviticus 1:1 and the small alef) Without the kof the word become u'livitah [=and her daughter]

If this daughter died at the same time Sarah did, we can finally understand why Abraham began looking for Isaac's wife immediately afterward (and also why he waited to begin the search until Isaac was 40). Abraham's original plan was to marry the siblings to each other, and he (per Tosfot A above) was waiting for the girl to get a little older. When she unexpectedly died, a new plan was needed.

Great moments in Torah commentary:  Acheirim [ = "others"; understood to be students of the Tannaim, or alternatively, Rabbi Elisha ben Avuya,] say the girl's name was BAKOL.  Ibn Ezra argues that Acherim must be wrong, because had the Torah meant to tell us that the daughter was named BaKol, it would have written B'BaKol, ie with Ba|Kol. In response, the Ramban says,
"Now had the commentator who prides himself in knowing Torah secrets known this one (i.e. the mystical bat attribute) his lips would have been silent, and he would not have derided the words of the Rabbis. Therefore, I wrote this (i.e several paragraphs about the bat attribute) to shut down the moth that speaks against the righteous ones." 
What a good thing the Ramban didn't own a blog, right? Had he spoken that way against Ibn Ezra online, everyone would have lined up to scold him about his nasty tone.

No comments: