Monday, November 04, 2013

Why do we say the angels cried into Isaac's eyes?


Every school kid knows that Isaac went blind because the angels wept into his eyes while he was tied up and awaiting slaughter. Or, that's one of the five reasons given by the midrash anyway. This post will attempt to explain how the idea of the crying angels developed.

The tears the angels shed at the Akeida are said to have done two things. (1) They landed in Isaac's eyes, later blinding him and (2) They melted Abraham's knife (GR 56 6) which is why, in Gen 22:12,  the interfering angel told Abraham not to cast his *hand* against the lad. The previously-mentioned knife was already gone, see?

But before the tears could be invoked to solve textual problems like the missing knife and the blindness of Isaac which Gen 27:1 says was caused "מֵרְאֹת", i.e,  from seeing something,  first the tears had to be established in their own right. Genesis Rabbah 56:5 tells us how this happened

According to GR 56:5 the existence of these tears is derived from Isaiah 33:7. Here's the verse

הֵן, אֶרְאֶלָּם, צָעֲקוּ, חֻצָה; מַלְאֲכֵי שָׁלוֹם, מַר יִבְכָּיוּן. ח נָשַׁמּוּ מְסִלּוֹת, שָׁבַת עֹבֵר אֹרַח; הֵפֵר בְּרִית מָאַס עָרִים, לֹא חָשַׁב אֱנוֹשׁ.

In the first part of the Midrash angels, specifically angels associated with Jerusalem, ie Moriah, are imagined to cry bitter tears after screaming "Chootzah" In the midrash, R' Azariah imagines Chootzah to mean "This is unnatural!" It is unnatural for a father to kill his son.

The next verse, Isaiah 33:8, is construed by the midrash as the angelic defense of Abraham. 

Here's my attempted translation of the whole passage:

The Arielim, that is the angels associated with Ariel, ie Jerusalem (Moriah) cried "Chootzah= Its unnatural"! (for a father to slay his son) and the angels of peace, or if you prefer, the angels of  Salam ie, Jerusalem (Moriah) cried bitter tears saying:

"The paths are waste [Without Abraham to show hospitality to strangers] the wayfaring man ceaseth [connection to Sarah: unclear] he hath broken the covenant [ie the covenant established with Isaac will be broken if he is slaughtered] he [ie Abraham] hath despised the cities [which is why he lives in the desert seeking guests] he regardeth no man [but He, i.e, God, should regard Abraham who has merit!]"


So to sum up, first a drasha on Is 33:7 gave us Akeida tears; later those tears are used to solve two different
textual problem


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