Saturday, 3 November 2018

Pick Your Parshanut Preferences - Yaakov and Esav

Originally published on Nishmablog on 12/21/10, 9:13 am.

Which approach do you prefer?

A. Choice #1. Genesis 25 / Hebrew Bible in English / Mechon-Mamre
27 And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.
28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint.
30 And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said: 'Sell me first thy birthright.'
32 And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?'
33 And Jacob said: 'Swear to me first'; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So* Esau despised his birthright.
* new JPS has "Thereby"

Or

B. Choice #2. FREE Online Youngs Literal Translation. Genesis Chapter 25:1-34.
GEN 25:27 And the youths grew, and Esau is a man acquainted `with' hunting, a man of the field; and Jacob `is' a plain man, inhabiting tents;GEN 25:28 and Isaac loveth Esau, for `his' hunting `is' in his mouth; and Rebekah is loving Jacob.GEN 25:29 And Jacob boileth pottage, and Esau cometh in from the field, and he `is' weary;
GEN 25:30 and Esau saith unto Jacob, `Let me eat, I pray thee, some of this red red thing, for I `am' weary;' therefore hath `one' called his name Edom `Red';
GEN 25:31 and Jacob saith, `Sell to-day thy birthright to me.' GEN 25:32 And Esau saith, `Lo, I am going to die, and what is this to me -- birthright?'
GEN 25:33 and Jacob saith, `Swear to me to-day:' and he sweareth to him, and selleth his birthright to Jacob;
GEN 25:34 and Jacob hath given to Esau bread and pottage of lentiles, and he eateth, and drinketh, and riseth, and goeth; and Esau despiseth the birthright.

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Questions:
Kayyom - do you prefer "first" or "to-day"?
Vayivez do you prefer "And Esau" vs.
"So/Thereby"
C. How does Yaakov come across differently across the 2 translations?
D. How does Esau come across differently across the 2 translations?


Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Toldot, "Quid Pro Quo?"


It's often assumed that Esav exchanged his Bechora for Yaakov's bowl of lentil soup, "Lechem unzid adashim." (Beraishit: 25:30)

Well, I question that premise! The passage does lend itself to that interpretation, but IMHO that is a bit imprecise.

Look at Esav's reaction. It shows him dismissing Yaakov's proposal, not giving his consent. Esav doesn't seem to say, "Deal!" Esav seems to say, "Take the Bechorah and shove it. I'm starving! Feed me. " 

Given Esav's reaction - what was Yaakov's proposal? 

My interpretation is simple. Yaakov was only proposing to negotiate for the Bechorah over dinner. He delayed Esav's dinner in order to induce Esav to enter into negotiations. Esav, however, completely dismissed these negotiations. Since he thought the bechorah worthless, he gave it to Yaakov.  Only then did Yaakov begin to feed Esav

Go over and parse the P'suqim carefully and see which model you prefer.

To "quid pro quo" Or NOT to "quid pro quo"

Did Esav swap a dish of lentils for his Bechorah? Or did he simply refuse to bother with any haggling while starving, and so just tossed the Bechorah aside?

To be fair to the usual assumption, Yaakov did take advantage of Esav's condition, and Esav might have had "seller's remorse" after sating his appetite.  The bottom line may seem a "quid pro quo" anyway.

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Toldot, "Be Careful of What You Pray For, Your Wish may be Fulfilled!"


 Yitzchak's Tefilla & Unintended Consequences. 

וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה' וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ. 

"We see that it is possible for a tefilla to be answered even when, unbeknown st to the mispallel, the desired answer is ultimately injurious. The one who is praying knows nothing about the collateral effect of the answer to his tefilla. He is only doing what the Torah teaches- when you need something, pray. But if he davens well enough and hard enough and long enough, sometimes the tefilla is answered as he desires, and this sets into motion a cascade of unintended and unexpected and unwanted consequences.
It's like Robert Merton's law of unintended consequences. a widely quoted admonition that intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Does this sound reasonable to you?" (Havolim)


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Toldot, "Sometimes a Concordance is better than a Dictionary"

Quite a while ago, a friend asked me, what does "gadalta" mean in Tehillim: 104:1?
Why does it say that Hashem is very great? If Hashem cannot be defined by SIZE, then how can Hashem grow bigger or older?
In order to answer my friend's question, I picked up a Concordance.

Eureka!

One of the first entries for the word, "gadalta," is found in Parshat Toldot at the start of shlishi, the third aliyaBereishit: 26:13Vayigdal Ho'ish ...
In this context, Yitzchak Avinu wasn't growing spiritually. Instead, his r'chush - possessions, property, and portfolio - were all increasing! Yitzchak was becoming a "billionaire."
Let's look back at Tehillim:104:1. It's talking about the tz'va hashamayim; the wonders of the heavenly bodies.
Here, the words of praise mean that,  Hashem, YOU possess a magnificent portfolio of astronomical proportions. The words are praising Hashem's possession, not His Self or His Middot.  Hashem is GDL, great, in the sense of "Koneh Shamayim va'aretz." His property is Heaven and Earth.

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Tangentially, this peirush directly relates to the piyyutim found in Birkat YotzeirKeil Adon and Eil Baruch GD'oL dei'ah. Through reciting this magnificent "Kapittel" on Rosh Hodesh, we remember the Creator and His creation.
In summary:  we've illustrated what I call the "Concordance Technique for Parshanut" and have learned how to parse Psalm 104.
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Years ago, I learned this technique from Rashi, Z"L. He often uses the TaNa"Ch itself as a resource when he explains a difficult word without using the TalmudMidrash or Targum.  Through this technique, Rashi both presents a peirush and teaches us how to create our own original peirushim
BE"H I will illustrate Rashi's usage and a few of my own based upon following Rashi's methodology

Shalom,
RRW

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah & Toldoth, "Navi vs. Halachah"

There is a story told in Y'shivot

Hossid will give you
15 answers to a single question
Litvak will give you 
a single answer to 15 questions.

Here are two related knotty problems.

In Hayyei Sarah, Avraham assigns Eliezer to find Yitzchak a mate. The Talmud admonishes us that we should not act the same way since Eliezer's technique involved "Nichush."  If so, then how could Eliezer use this means to select a proper shidduch? Alternatively, how can it be that Yitzchak's great match was manifested through such "under-handed" means?

Similarly, in Toldot, Yaakov "usurps" the brachah from Esav via deception.One may not excuse Yaakov's behavior on the grounds that he was obeying his mother, since one may not violate Halachah on the say so of a parent. So how was Yaakov permitted to engage in such a masquerade?

My approach is similar and simple. In each case, the alleged offense was committed under the instruction of a Prophet/Prophetess; Scripture actually makes this quite clear on a P'shat level

Avraham told Eliezer that a Malach will accompany him and that Hashem will cause him to succeed. Given this CONTEXT, his Nichush was under Divine Providence and therefore did not involve superstition or "dark forces"

Similarly, Hashem told Rivka [directly so - if we set aside Rashi] that "Rav Yaavod Tsa'ir." Given that this n'vuah is also in the text, her command to Yaakov is therefore that of a prophetess and not simply that of a Mom. Yaakov is therefore engaged to commit this deception in this extraordinary circumstance.

This also explains why the text orders these Prophetic pronouncements just before the questionable behaviour. It does so to set up a proper context so that we would understand the dynamic here and not learn the wrong lessons about Nichush and deception

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "K'turah"

This came from another list:
This past Shabbat, totally out of the blue, a congregant came up to me and asked me a question. Apparently, I must have missed that class. I didn't know the answer. Forgive me as I post my ignorance, but as I do not have the answer, I turn to you...

When Sara hears that she will become pregnant, her response includes the fact that she says Abraham is old. She implies that he is not exactly the stallion he may have been in his younger years.

Much later on, we discover that Abraham has married Ketura and had more children. How did he do it?

---"Reuven"

Here are two approaches:
  1. Both Abraham and Sara had a rebirth/rejuvenation (reJEWvenation?) when their names got changed because of the principle that a Convert is like a newborn [ger shinisgayer kekatan shenolad dami].

  2. Ein mukdam um'uchar batorah. This story is out of sequence. It's just here as part of a flashback sequence to fill us in on the old news that Abraham had previously married another woman named Keturah.  It's placed right next to Abraham designating Isaac as his successor (excluding Isaac's half-siblings) before Abraham's own death.

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "Sh'nei Hayyei"

The pun on Sh'nei Hayyei Sarah offers much in the way of Drash when read as "Sarah led [past tense] TWO lives"
Here are some of my favourites...
  1. A life here in Olam Hazzeh, and another life in Olam Habba.
  2. A life as a wife, and another life as a mother.
  3. A life as a public figure, and another life as a private figure, for example, as both mother and wife.
  4. Similar to #1 a Life as a real alive human being, and a postmortem life as a Matriarch and iconic legacy for the ages.
Shalom
RRW