Friday, November 13, 2009

Parsha Notes: Chayei Sarah2009

Most of this is from last year, but there are five or six new things You are strongly encouraged and absolutely permitted to print and distribute these discussions, preferably by leaving them on the shulchan at your favorite place of prayer.

Chayei Sarah

What everyone should know:
The Talmud presents a view that Abraham had a daughter, based on the verse: "
And the Lord blessed Abraham with everything." As the Talmud reasons: What's everything without a daughter? (The Talmud shares a second view on this. One of the Rabbis argues that Abraham had everything means that he specifically had no daughter, and therefore no worries about marring her off.) Related: A clever drash suggests Sarah and her daughter died on the same day]

Famous Argument
- Did Sarah die right after the
akeida? Unclear. Those who say she did have Rashi and the juxtaposition of the stories to hang their hats on; also the verse says "Abraham came", and as the Midrash understand it, he was coming from the akeida. Those who disagree, more plausibly point to the verses that say that after the akeida Abraham and his entourage "rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba." Sarah died in Chevron, which seems like excellent evidence that her death was at some later date. [more]

- Rashi, famously, says that the earth shrank for the servant, allowing him to travel from Abraham to Rivak in just one day. How does he know? To the best of my knowledge, this is Rashi's own drash, and not based on something earlier. Though Josh Waxman says he's darshaning on the word "hayom" I think he's addressing a perceived deficiency in the narrative: We're told about the servant's encounter with Rivka in excruciating detail, so why does the text omit to tell us anything at all about the trip? Answers Rashi: Because there was no trip.

- Was Keturah another name for Hagar?
Probably not, though an often unremarked upon bit of evidence is this: when Yitzchak meets Rachel, we're told he's just returned from Bear Lachi Ro'ee, but no reason for his trip is given. Hagar's last know place of residence, per the text, is Bear Lachi Ro'ee, which supports the possibility that Yitzchak was the agent who brought Hagar back to his father. [more]

Famous Rashi:
Genesis 24:39: Per Rashi, Abraham's servant wanted his own daughter to marry Isaac. How did Rashi know this? See my explanation here and here

Famous Vort
- During Abraham's negotiation with Ephron, the phrase "Kvor maysecha/bury your dead" is used six times,while the words "v'es maysicha kvor/ and your dead go and bury" is said once. This corresponds to the seven people buried in Machpayla. The first six - the Patriarchs and their wives - were righteous, and the righteous never really die; correspondingly six times burial is mentioned before death. The last to be interred in the cave was Esav, who, arguably, was non righteous. The mention of death before burial refers to him. (Vilna Gaon)

Abraham has been assured again and again that all of the Land will be his, yet he's forced to bargain for a death plot with the Hittites. This, I suppose, is why Rabenu Yona considered this episode Abraham's final test.

(1) Gen 23:5-6: וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי־חֵת אֶת־אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר לֹו שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתֹוכֵנוּ בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ קְבֹר אֶת־מֵתֶךָ אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת־קִבְרֹו לֹא־יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ׃
Gen 23:14 וַיַּעַן עֶפְרֹון אֶת־אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר לֹו אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶׁקֶל־כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ מַה־הִוא וְאֶת־מֵתְךָ קְבֹר׃
In both places the MT gives "lo / to him" which is a problem because nowhere else in the story in the formula "לֵאמֹר לֹו" employed (see verses 8,10, and 13 where its לֵאמֹר alone) Alter suggests that in the two instances where the MT gives lo, the word isn't lo but "lu / pray." He notes that "lu adoni / Pray, my Lord" is a formal, polite way to introduce negotiations.

(2) Gen 25:8 ויגוע וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע ויאסף אל־עמיו׃
The MT has only "sated." The Peshita, the LXX and the Samaritan give us the more common "sated with years"

(3) Bethuel is present at one point in the story but missing at others. Rashi, following the midrash, tell us he died during the night. Using ANE documents which describe how bridal negotiations were conducted in that time and place, Robert Alter
gives another view.

(4) Gen 25:6: Rashi "[The word pilagshim] is written lacking [ie, with no yud, to denote] that there was only one concubine, [ie Hagar]" In the MT the word is malay (spelled with a yud.) Even the Saperstein chumash concedes this can only mean that Rashiw as working from a text that was, here at least, different from the MT

Historical Accuracy
-Abraham weighs out the payment for the cave and field. This is accurate for the period, which predates the use of coins.
-When the servant propositions Rivka he presents her with a nose ring.

Motif Alert
The first of many betrothal scenes appears this week, all of which have the following elements in common: A well, a heroic act, someone rushing to deliver the news to others, and a meal. This week scene is unique in that a surrogate appears for the groom, and the woman, not the man, draws the water. This portrayal is in keeping with how Isaac and Rebecca are characterized: In other stories, he is week, bedridden, and withdrawn, while she is active, scheming and dramatic.

Changed Midrash
When Yitzchak brings Rivka into his tent, he's comforted. Rashi tells us the comfort came from the fact that three miracles that Sara enjoyed reappeared. The Midrash, however, says there were four miracles.

Camels in Genesis, the critics allege, are a problem as they were not domesticated until many years after the Patriarchal period. If so, how can they feature prominently as a prop in the betrothal scene at the well? See my solutions
1 and 2

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