Monday, November 03, 2008

In which I provide additional evidence that Esav was a better man than we often assume

Long time readers know, that its my belief that Esau, first son of Issac, was the victim of a rabininc smear job. [In previous posts I have argued that Esav sonei le’Yakov does not mean what and nearly everyone says it means; that Toby Katz's reading was dead wrong; that early midrashim praise Esav; and that he wasn't linked to Rome until after Romans began mistreating Jews in the first century.]Yesterday, I was handed additional evidence

In Genesis 27 both brothers appear before their bedridden father, and both ask him to sit up and have something to eat. According to the MT Jacob says:

אָנֹכִי עֵשָׂו בְּכֹרֶךָ--עָשִׂיתִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ אֵלָי; קוּם-נָא שְׁבָה, וְאָכְלָה מִצֵּידִי--בַּעֲבוּר, תְּבָרְכַנִּי נַפְשֶׁךָ.
I am Esav your first born. I have done as you told me. Rise na'ah and sit up, so that you can eat from my game so that you can solemnly bless me.

The word na'ah can be translated two ways. Most read it as "please"; but it can also mean "now." The former is polite. The latter is not.

When Esav appears in the next scene, he says:

יָקֻם אָבִי וְיֹאכַל מִצֵּיד בְּנוֹ--בַּעֲבֻר, תְּבָרְכַנִּי נַפְשֶׁךָ.
Yakoom my father and eat of his son's game so that you may solemnly bless me.

Though it has been noted (Alter and others) that Esav is speaking in the third person, its hard to know if this was respectful address for that time and place. (Nowadays it sounds condescending; our Yiddish speaking ancestors heard the construiction as a demonstration of great respect.) In any event, the words "Yakoom my father" can easily be construed as something rude ("get up old man.")

Now, here's the very interesting part: The word, as it appears in the MT has no vowels (its written this way: יקם). Yesterday, it was pointed out to me by one of the Jewish geniuses of our time that the correct vocalization should be YaKOME. YaKOME is a 3rd person wish (Let my father stand up) YaKOOM is a command (Stand up my father).

This vocalization, perhaps, was informed by the anti-Esav midrashim. Perhaps we automatically read yaKOOM because Esav is expected to speak disrespectfully. But if you vocalize יקם properly Esav's words are as respectful as we would expect from the man earlier midrashim called the paradigm of Kibud Av. (parental respect)

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