Saturday, May 05, 2007

Let's get textual (2)

Rashi changes the location of a midrash

Gen 24:39
ואמר אל אדני אלי לא תלך האשה אחרי
And I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not follow me?

This is Avraham's servant, speaking to Rivka's family. On the spot Rashi comments:

It is written אלי (ie: to me, though we pronounce it אולי perhaps) Eliezer had a daughter and he was looking for an excuse that Avraham should tell him that he is turning to him to allow his daughter to marry [Yitzchok]. Avraham responded to him, "My son is blessed, whereas you are cursed and one who is cursed cannot cleave to one who is blessed.

The anomaly Rashi is addressing here is the misspelling of the word אולי. His solution is that the author of the text (ie God) wishes to indicate the servant's hidden agenda. He says "Perhaps the woman will not follow me," only because he wants Avraham to answer: "Ok. If that happens, my son will marry your daughter." Rashi's source is Berashis Rabah.

However, the midrash he uses to address this textual problem (per A. Botchnik) comes not from Gen 24:39, but from Gen 24:5 where the word אולי is spelled correctly. (ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי אל הארץ הזאת ההשב אשיב את בנך אל הארץ אשר יצאת משם׃) The midrash Rashi has employed, therefore, has nothing to do with how the word is spelled. Yet Rashi takes it from there and uses it here to answer a textual question, a question that has no connection at all to the midrash itself.

Lesson: Rashi's purpose isn't to share midrashic wisdom but to use midrash - even in ways the midrash did not intend to be used - to address problems in the text.

More later

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