Friday, November 06, 2009

Parsha Notes: Vayerah

Mostly from last year, but with some additions.

- Internal Parallels (and antithesis)

(a) The angles visit to Abraham vs. their visit to Lot
- The guest are eagerly welcomed and fed (duh) (p)
- Both men are sitting at an entrance when the guests appear (p)
- Abraham's guests arrive at midday; Lot's arrive at twilight (a)
- Abraham is at the tent flap; Lot is at the city gate (a)
- Abraham feeds his guests the best of the best; Lot serves the "poor man's bread" (a)
- Sarah laughs; the sons in law of Lot laugh (the same verb is used) (the laughter itself is a parallel, the reason for the laughter is an antithesis.) (Sarah laughs in disbelief; the sons in law laugh out of scepticism.)
- Following the visit Abraham asks God to spare a city and fails; Lot also asks for divine mercy but succeeds (a)

(b) The destruction of Sodom vs. destruction of the world
- The word himtir appears in both places; both are destroyed by precipitation (p)
- In each case, moral perversion is the reason given for the destruction (p)
- In each case, one family is marked for survival (p)
- In each case, the hero becomes drunk immediately afterwards, and is involved in an illicit act. (p)

(c) Yishmael's trip to the desert vs Yitzchak's trip to the mountain
- Abraham "rose early in the morning" both to send Hagar away, and to begin his trip with Yitzchakl (p)
- Both moments of mortal danger occur in the wilderness (p)
- Yitzchak is accompanied by his father; Ishmael goes with his mother (a)
- He first puts bread and water on Hagar; next he puts wood on Isaac (p)
- In each case an angel intervenes at the moment before death (p)
- At the last moment, eyes are opened. (p)
- The angel fondly refers to the boy as a na'ar in both cases (P)
- In each case the angel promises that the boy will produce a great nation (p)

(d) Abraham's grandson Yaakov has 12 sons: so do his brother Nahor (and his first son Yishmoel)

2- External Parallels
(a) The sin of Sodom vs the crime of Procrustes

(b) The Lord's visit to Abraham vs. Kothar's visit to Dan'el [*], a judge in the Ugaritic epic of Eqhat
- Dan'el sits by an entrance
- He "lifts up his eyes" to apprehend the divine visitor; and
- tells his wife to prepare a meal with the best of the best.

3 - Motifs
(a) This week we see the first of several annunciation scenes, all of which share a promise from a divine entity that a child will be born "at this season." The annunciation to Sarah is different in three ways: (1) The promise is delivered to the husband; (2) the woman is post-menopausal; (3) the child appears not in the very next scene but after the intervention of other events.

(b) The sister-wife motif returns this week. Based on discovered documents, Sarna argues that "sister-wife" was a category of marriage in the ANE, distinct from concubines, and ordinary wives.

(c) Important elements of the angelic visit to Sodom are echoed in the story of the Pilegesh b'Givah suggesting this is also a motif.

4 - Anomalies
(a) Gen 20:13: ויהי כאשר התעו אתי אלהים מבית אבי ואמר לה זה חסדך אשר תעשי עמדי אל כל־המקום אשר נבוא שמה אמרי־לי אחי הוא
- The verb is plural, suggesting Abraham is speaking not of God, but "the gods." This is, perhaps, a dodge in deference to his pagan host, but not something our modern sensibilities would expect. (Rashi notes the anomaly and explains it away)

(b) Gen 22:2 וַיֹּאמֶר קַח־נָא אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ אֶת־יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ׃
- Scholarship suggests the second term should be yadidcha (your favored one) rather than yechidcha (your only one) (a difference of one letter; the chet and the daled are similar in ktav ashuri.) Alter rejects this, following Rashi, and argues that in Abraham's mind each son is an "only" son of his own mother.

(c) Gen 22:13 וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה־אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת־הָאַיִל וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנֹו׃
- The MT has achar (behind) Scholars argue achad (one) better fits the verse and the facts, and note that in ketav ashrui the raysh and the daled are similar.

5 - New understandings
(a) We were taught that Lot's wife became a pillar of salt. Following the grammar of the verse, the Ralbag argues it never happened.
(b) The Rambam says that the visit of the three angels never actually occurred. All of it was a vision, happening only in Abraham's head.

6 - Misteachings
(a) Small children are taught that Abraham's aishel is an acronyn for Achila (feeding), Shtiya (drinking), and Levayah ("escort") when they should instead be taught that this is Rashi's gloss on the Talmud in Sotah and the Talmud itself says something else.

7 - Mussar
- Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob, but ends up deflowering them himself (mida kneged mida)
- The famous point made by SRH about Avraham's use of the word's "midst of the city"-
- The famous point made by SRH about how we are to view non-Jews
- Two strange men visit Sodom and are accosted by the mob; a strange couple come to Gerar but are treated with respect by the king (Lesson: Not all Gentiles are created equal)

8 - Famous Parshanut discussions
(a) The mocking of Issac. What was Yishmael's sin? Attempted murder? Rape? Or, something else? Alter cleverly concludes from Sarah's reaction and the appearance of the word metzachek that "we may also be invited to construe [metzachek] as Issac-ing -- that is Sarah sees Ishmael as playing the role of Issac... as presuming to be the legitimate heir."

(b) The age of Yitzchak at the Akeida We were all taught that he was 37 (and therefore Rivka was three at their wedding) The Ibn Ezra and the Balei Tosfot strongly disagree.

(c) The punishment in Gerar. Was it plague of infertility or a plague of constipation that afflicted the people of Gerar? Both sides have textual support. Those who say it was constipation ask how a plague of infertility could have been immediately noticed, as the verse tells us it was. The other side points out that this story of infertility is immediately followed by the notice that God had "singled out (pokad) Sarah" to have a child. Singled out, how? Moreover, the plague of infertility guarantees that Issac is Abraham's son.

9 -Famous Ramban
- "God forbid a child raised in the house of Abraham could be raised to murder or worship strange gods" (paraphrase) This is how the Ramban angrily dismisses Rashi's idea that Ishmael sinned by worshiping idols, or by making an attempt on Issac's life.
- Earlier Ramban also angrily dismisses the Rambam's theory about the angels visit being a prophetic vision, and not an actual event.

10 Famous Rashi
It's excluded from anything ArtScroll publishes, but the Gutnik edition is nice enough to include the Rashi comment that seems to say that scribes edited troubling biblical verses to make them more palatable.

10 - Anachronism
- Gen: 21:34 וַיָּגָר אַבְרָהָם בְּאֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים יָמִים רַבִּים׃
The Philistines didn't settle on the west coast of Canaan until many centuries after the Patriarchal Period.

11 Plot holes
- Where did Lot's daughters find wine?

12 - Unanswered questions
- Why is the Davidic line born in sin? Both his lines are the products of illicit acts. (Lot and his daughters on one side, and Yehuda with his daughter-in-law on the other.)
[FN] Incidently, some speculate that the third person mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 is Dan'el, the Ugaritic Judge, not Daniel the lion tamer (Reasons: The other two listed are gentiles, and the book of Daniel was written long after Ezekiel) As Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) has also told me: "Daniel is actually Daniyyeil, with a pronounced consonantal yud. Yehhezqeil mentions DN’L (=Dan’eil), without the important *pronounced* yud that should be there for Daniyyeil."

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