Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Parsha Vocabulary

A guest post by Efrex

One that you might find interesting:

Analysis of Ya'akov's deal with Esav (lentils for birthright) has to include consideration of Esav's physical state at the time of the deal. How seriously are we to consider his claim that "I am going to die?" Most commentators seem to take this statement homiletically (see Rashi); however, I think there's reasonable basis in the text to take it more literally.

The earlier pasuk describes Esav as being "ayef," generally translated as "weary," "faint," or "tired." These translations give the idea that Esav was just in need of a good night's sleep; however, this is not the proper connotation of "ayef." Throughout tanach, "ayef" has a connotation of being in extreme need of sustenance. Esav was *objectively* famished from lack of food, and may well have been in dire straights.

I have not comprehensively looked through every source in my concordance, but so far, everywhere I've looked (8 places and counting), Onkelos consistently translates "ayef" as "Meshalhi." This word is the basis (see mo'ed katan 2a) for "bet hashalchin," a field that is in desperate need of watering (and, according to the gemara, can be watered on Chol hamo'ed). Just from the pesukim quoted in the concordance, I would be very surprised to find a different translation elsewhere.

In sum: Esav was not simply exhausted from his sinful ways; he was in significant physical danger, and Ya'akov withheld food until he obtained the bechorah. This does *not* mean that Ya'akov was wrong to do so (the pasuk specifically states that, his physical condition notwithstanding, Esav "despised" the birthright), but it puts the lie to any apologetics as being true to the plain meaning of the text.

Your thoughts?

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