Friday, November 20, 2009

Pasha Notes: Toldos 2009

What everyone should know
Our midrashim lament Jacob's theft of the brochot, and attribute later Jewish suffering to his crime, as follows: "Three tears did Eisav shed. One dropped from his right eye, one from his left and the third he kept back and that tear has salted our bread of exile with tears and made us taste tears in full threefold measure." (Tahnchuma); and "Anyone who says God is not particular with his pious ones deserves to have his inwards torn out. The forbearance of God grants long credit, but the debt needs to be paid in the end. One cry Jacob caused Eisav to make and that was repaid in Shushan when Eisav's descendant caused Jacob's descendant to cry with a 'loud bitter cry.'(Midrash Raba)

I've always considered these exquisite moral teachings.

Famous Argument
(1) Which mitzvos did the Patriarchs keep? This is a six-way disagreement, with Chizkuni, Rashbam, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Ramban and the Seforno all weighing in. Rashi alone says the Patriarchs lived like Rabbinic Jews; the others take a far more limited view. [Summary]

(2) Who did Rivka consult when she went to "inquire of God"? Rashi, of course says it was Shem, but Radak, Rashbam and the midrash have other thoughts. Of note, is the view of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yochanan (quoted in Berayshis Raba) that God certainly would not have spoken to a woman, so of course some intermediary was needed.

(3) Was Issac poor? Ibn Ezra says he was; Ramban objects furiously with the immortal: "Now Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra has erred here exceedingly... I'd like to know who blinded the Ibn Ezra, and made it possible for him to write such a thing."

Famous Rabennu Bechaya
Were the twins fraternal or identical? R' Bechaya says the word וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ comes from the verb root rtsts "struggle"; thus they must have shared a placenta and/or amniotic sac and would have been identical. Rashi seems to say וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ comes from rts "run" and explains (based on BR 63:6) "When she would pass the doorways of Torah study of Sheim and Eiver(*), Yaakov would agitate and rush to come out. When she would pass doorways of idol-worshipers, Eisov would agitate to come out." Elsewhere (on 25:26) Rashi (**) says the brothers were created with two different drops of sperm; thus they were fraternal. (***)

* Some versions mention Sheim alone, leading to mounds of Rabbinic speculation on Rashi's reasons for omitting to mention Eiver. However, both names appear in other, old Rashi manuscripts.
** The comment to 25:26 begins "I heard an Aggadaic exposition that..." but in some Rashi manuscripts it says instead "I, the scribe, heard an Aggadaic exposition that..."
*** It is not clear that either RB or Rashi were aware of the underlying biology. They lived in an age when children often suffered from diseases and poor nutrition. Its easy to imagine that, in their day, nurture often won out over nature and that even genetically identical twins had different phenotypes. It is also not clear RB understood the consequences of his claim, ie. that one placenta/amniotic sac always results in identical twins.

Famous Rashi
(1) "Eisov is compared to a pig as it is said... When the pig lies down it stretches out its hooves as if to say, "See, I am a clean animal." So, too, those who rob and extort yet make pretensions of being honorable." Rashi doesn't spell it out, but it seems obvious to me that he's speaking of Christians. This short comment, therefore, tells us something about how Christians behaved in Rashi's time, and also what Rashi thought of them.

(2) Why was Isaac blind? There are at least five answers, and how Rashi selected just three of them tells us much about his method.

(3) Why did Rivka tell her son to fetch two goats? How much meat did she plan to feed Isaac? Rashi says it was pesach, and one was needed for the korbon, but problems with this suggestion abound. Another drash is that these two kids allude to the two kids that will be later used for deception. The brothers will use the blood of a kid to deceive Jacob, and Judah will send a kid in payment to Tamar after he is deceived by her. I have no better pshat explanation.

The Sforno defines "Calling out in Gods name" as serving as God's agent on earth through acts of public kindness and generosity. Abraham "Called out in God's name" at the beginning of his Canaanite adventure, and blessings followed almost at once. Yitzchak, on the other hand, did not recognize this, and for a time he was living on Avraham's account; thus he was told (Gen 26:24) "I will bless you for Avraham's sake."As Sforno continues, prior to this dialogue with God, Yitzchak's life was full of strife and arguments with the Philistines. In the very next verse Yitzchak is said to "Call out in God's name." Instantly, his troubles with Abimelech and the herdsmen disappear. The very next time they appear (two verses later) their hats are in their hands, and they are suing for peace.

The annunciation and the sister wife return this week. This week's annunciation differs in that the mother is already pregnant when God's oracle addresses her with a promise about her child; the sister wife story is also different: for the first time there are no plagues and no dreams.

Word Play
As Richard Elliot Freedman notes the prophesy וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר is ambiguous. It can mean "and the elder shall serve the younger", but it might also mean "the elder, the younger will serve."

וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ/ and he smelled the scent of his clothing and blessed him
Though the verse says "bigadav" clothing, some sages of the Midrash read is as "bogdov" his traitors. In their imagination Jacob merited blessing because even those descendants of his that became Jewish traitors are valuable before God. [Note: I don't have the date for this midrash so what follows is is a wild irresponsible guess, but I suppose the traitors they had in mind could have been Roman collaborators and/or Judeo Christians.]

Internal Parallels
- Jacob attempts to win his father's heart by cooking a meal (Orach Chayim explaining why Jacob prepared a stew); later in the story Esav attempts to please his mother by taking a non-Canaanite wife

- Esav's וְלָמָּה-זֶּה לִי בְּכֹרָה is similar to Rivka's לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי

- Goats and garments are used to facilitate a deception here. Another goat will be used for the same purpose in the story of Tamar, and both goat and garment are used by Joseph's brothers to fool his father. The verb meaning recognition (hkr) also appears in all three stories.

- Esav sold his birthright to his younger brother for lentils, later Rachel sells a night with Jacob to her older sister for the mandrake, also a plant.

- Esav's first recorded words in the Torah are impetuous and child-like (Quick give me some of the red, red stew, or I'll die) Rachel's first recorded words have the same quality: "("Give me sons or I am a dead woman!")

Alternative Reading
The MT has יָקֻם אָבִי which is a flat command that can be construed as disrespectful. The same consonants however can be vowalized as yakome, which is jussive, respectful, and fully in keeping with our idea of Esav as the epitome of parental respect.

Number Games
The story of the theft of the blessing contains seven scenes of dialogue, and the word blessing appears seven times. This can't be accidental.

Jacob is called אִישׁ תָּם a phrase suggesting innocence or integrity. In action, though, he is a man of guile and one of few scruples. This week alone he twice deceives his brother, and as Robert Alter has noted, when his mother suggests the plot to steal the blessings Jacob displays no moral compunctions. His only worry is that he might be caught.

Earlier, there is a references only to the land of the Philistines providing room for apologists to defend the text. In Gen 26:2 the anachronism is insisted upon: Abimelech is called King of the Phillistines - though Philistines would not settle on the coast until many years after the Patriarchal period.

The rest of the story
The midrash, as cited by Rashi, says Esav deceived his father with a strange question about straw and salt. There's much more to it I think. 1 and 2.

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