Friday, November 01, 2013

IN WHICH I EXPLAIN A MIDRASH (The blindness of Isaac)

As you know, I am not a big fan of explaining midrashim. Most of the time, I think the author of the midrash means what he says and intends no special figurative or metaphorical interpretation. Also, most of the interpretations people supply deserve nothing but disdain, as they add nothing to the narrative and are usually trite, self-evident 'lessons'. [eg "We learn from how Paro's daughter's arm stretched out that we should always try our hardest!!" Right + Yawn.] 

But this one here, that I am about to share, is different I think.

Five reasons are given for Isaac's blindness. Perhaps the best known one is cited by Rashi on Gen 27:1

"Another explanation: When Isaac was bound on the altar, and his father was about to slaughter him, the heavens opened, and the ministering angels saw and wept, and their tears fell upon Isaac’s eyes. As a result, his eyes became dim."

Questions on the Midrash: How does an angel cry? And why would their tears damage someone's eyes? And why would that damage be delayed until old age?

Questions on Rashi: Why choose this one (and two others) from among the five explanations given by the midrash? And if we assume (as we do!) that Rashi chooses midrashim that address textual anomalies or narrative difficulties, what is this midrash solving?

My answers: We don't mean literal tears, and we don't mean literal crying. We mean that the experience of being tied to an altar and threatened by a knife-wielding father scarred Isaac emotionally. He felt rejected and abandoned. He felt unloved. As a result he overcompensated with his own son Esav, and being unwilling to put Esav through the traumatic experience of feeling what he felt, Isaac blinded himself to Esav's shortcomings. This is what forced Rivka to resort to her scheme to secure the blessings for Jacob and why Rashi includes this interpretation in his commentary. The question he is addressing is: Why did Rivka mislead her husband; the answer the midrash gives is that the experience of the Akeida left Isaac unable to contemplate disowning his son.

 Search for more information about midrashim

No comments: