Monday, November 21, 2005

Smarter schoolteachers please

Hebrew words you will need for maximum enjoyment of this post:

AiSHeL: Genesis 22:33 tells us Abraham established an 'ashel' in Be'er Sheva. There are a few views (Sotah 10a) on what this word means. Some say that an ashel is an orchard which produced fruit Abraham shared with his guests. Others say it was an inn. The Midrash (Tehillim 92:14) says that the word ashel is an acronym for Achilah (food) SHtiya (drink) and Lina (lodging).

Levaya: to escort or to accompany (for this reason levaya is also our word for funeral.)

The eldest DovBearling came home this weekend with a terrifying teaching. Her class had been studying Abraham's ashel, and instead of giving the traditional interpretation, her teacher offered a new and frightining wrinkle.

According to her teacher, Aishel is an acronym not for achila, shtiya and lina, but for achila, shtiya and levaya. (I suppose the thought is that Abraham did more than feed, water and lodge his guests. He also walked them out. ) "It's very important to escort guests to the door Daddy," said my little girl, "Because if you don't have the Lamed ("L") in aishel you're left with aish (fire). Once a man didn't walk his guests to the door, " she continued, "and his house burned down."

Ye freaking Gods.

Not only is it irresponsible to fill my daughter's head with such nonsense, it's also an unnecessary twist of the Talmud (Sotah 10a) Midrash (Tehilliam 92:14) where lina (lodging) and not levaya (escort) is our L word.

Furthermore, the underlying logic of this little diatribe is nonexistant. Houses burn down because of how words are spelled? Should we also assume that if I water and lodge my guest, but give them nothing to eat we'll all get diarrhea (the SHiLs?) And if I feed them but give them nothing to drink will this summon EL, the chief Ugaritic God to my house?

I just hope my daughter doesn't freak out the next time I permit a guest to find his own way out.

Note: On Sotah 10A Rashi modifies the midrash, and writes that Aishel is an acronym for achila, shtiya and levaya, rather than lina. Why does he change the midrash? Perhaps because the discussion on Sotah 10A is about Abraham's tent, and though the Torah shows us that Abraham did escort his guests for a bit after they'd finished eating, there's no indication that he ever took overnight guests. Rashi, in general, is more sensitive to the text than the midrash.