Monday, October 22, 2007

Eliezer and the 318 men

I've spent the better part of the morning composing a viscious note to my kid's school, objecting to the teacher who told my kid that Abraham went to war against the 4 kings with only Eliezer at his side.

Here's the back story.

In the 14th verse of the 14th chapter of Genesis we're told: וישמע אברם כי נשבה אחיו וירק את־חניכיו ילידי ביתו שמנה עשר ושלש מאות וירדף עד־דן׃ (When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained ones, who were born in his house, three hundred and eighteen [men], and went in pursuit as far as Dan)

On this verse Rashi has two comments:

1 - His trained servants. It is written "his trained one," referring to Eliezer whom he trained to observe the mitzvos....
2 - Three hundred and eighteen. Our Sages said that it was Eliezer alone. And it [the number 318] is the gematria equivalent of his name.

Here are the problems:

1 - The verse does not say "his trained one." The verse is written in the plural, (trained oneS) not the singular (a difference of one letter, the yud) [*]

2 - In the following verse it says: "He divided his forceS against them by night, and he and his servantS attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus," making it perfectly clear that the expedition consisted of more than 2 people.

So what gives?

Simple. According to the Gur Aryeh, one of history's foremost authorities on Rashi, nothing written here should be construed to negate the plain meaning. There actually were 318 armed men. Rashi's point, is simply that Eliezer was the power behind them, and that without him Abram's victory would have been impossible.

In other words, this moron teacher has misunderstood Rashi, misled my kid, and opened the gates of heresy under his feet. My kid is not an idiot. He can read and translate a verse. He can see that the plain meaning is that Abraham was accompanied by more than one person. But because this teacher is not only in love with aggadot, but aggadot that he doesn't understand, my kid was forced to choose between his teacher and the words as they appear on the page.

I know from experience that isn't a good place to be.

[*] More on this perplexing comment in the next post

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