“Moledet” in the Minds of the Jewish People

In R. Binyamin Lau’s second essay for Parashat Chayei Sara, “’Havei Artzi Moladeti’ BeKefar HaGlobali” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 1, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 60-3), he notes that within Avraham’s instructions to his servant concerning the mission to find a wife for Yitzchak,

(Beraishit 24:3-4, 6-8

3 …Thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. 4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son, even for Yitzchak… 6 And Avraham said unto him: Beware thou that thou bring not my son back thither…   7 The LORD, the God of Heaven, Who Took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and Who Spoke unto me, and Who Swore unto me, Saying: Unto thy seed will I Give this land; He will Send His Angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence. 8 And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither.)

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The Malach HaMavet Makes a Recommendation

The Malach HaMavet Makes a Recommendation 10 25 21

Accounting for an “idiom” that appears in the bible in association with Avraham’s mourning for the death of Sara.

In R. David Steinberg’s Motzoai Shabbat 2018 Devar Tora for Parashat Chayei Sara  (S.A.L.T. – Parashat Chayei Sara | vbm haretzion) he discusses the curious Rabbinic interpretation of a turn-of-phrase in a verse in the Parashat HaShavua:

Beraishit 23:3

And Avraham rose up from before his dead…

Beraishit Rabba 58:6

…This comes to teach that the Angel of Death was opposite him, warning him…

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The Apparently Exemplary Behavior of People like Eliezer

The repetitions in Beraishit 24.

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 1971 Sicha for Parashat Chayei Sara, “The Speech of the Forefather’s Servants” (Parashat Chaye Sara: “The Speech of the Forefathers’ Servants” | vbm haretzion ), he focuses upon the role that an inspiring personal example can play in the development of a religious personality and temperament. The statement in the Midrash that R. Lichtenstein is keying upon, is:

Beraishit Rabba 60:8 (Beraishit 24:32 “…and he gave straw and provender for the camels…”)

Said R. Chama: Better is the conversation of the servants of the forefathers than the Tora of their descendants. The Parasha of Eliezer is two or three pages, with him saying things and repeating them (Beraishit 24); the prohibition against consuming Sheratzim (life forms that are “creepy,” “crawly”) and the fact that any blood coming from such a creature can cause ritual impurity like parts of a human body is derived from a superfluity of a phrase in a verse. R. Shimon ben Yochai says: “Tameh, “ ”HaTameh”  (VaYikra 11:29 “ And these are they which are ‘HaTameh’ [ritually unclean} unto you among the swarming things that swarm upon the earth: the weasel, and the mouse, and the great lizard after its kinds.” The text could have written “Tameh.” The fact that it writes “HaTameh” results in the Rabbinic interpretation.) …

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Parashat Chayei Sara (Beraishit 23:1-25:8) – Questions for Consideration and Discussion III

questions

Rishon: (Beraishit 23:1-16)

 (v. 4) Avraham identifies himself as a “Geir VeToshav.” Why could this be considered an oxymoron?

See RaShI for two approaches to understanding what Avraham is saying. Which do you prefer and why?

 Sheini: (Ibid. 17-24:9)

(v. 4) In this verse, Avraham, when making Eliezer swear that he will not find a wife for Yitzchak from among the Canaanites, uses the word “Moladeti.” Eliezer, when presenting his story to Rivka’s family, defines the word as (v. 38) connoting that he was to go to the “house of his father and to his family.” Is this necessarily what Avraham meant, when he said “Moladeti”?

See Chizkuni, who implies that Eliezer gilded the rose.”

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Offering Hospitality Acknowledges the Godliness of the Other

Offering Hospitality Acknowledges the Godliness of the Other 10 22 21

The interpretation of a single word determines how one is to read Beraishit 18, with which the Parashat HaShavua begins.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2019 essay for Parashat VaYeira, “God and Strangers” (God and Strangers (Vayera 5779) – Rabbi Sacks) he proposes that the text in Beraishit 18 can be viewed in three different ways:

a) Three separate scenes:

1) Ibid. 18:1 A Divine Revelation to Avraham.

2) Ibid. 2-16 Interactions between Avraham and the angels.

3) Ibid. 17-33 Avraham and God Discuss Pardoning the residents of Sodom and its satellites.

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Extolling the Peshat

Extolling the Peshat 10 21 21

What happens to the third of Avraham’s “visitors”?

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first essay for Parashat VaYeira, “Shloshet HaAnashim U’Shnai HaMalachim” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, [revised and expanded], Yediot Acharonot, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018, pp. 44-5), the problem that he concerns himself with is the fact that while three visitors come to Avraham initially:

Beraishit 18:2

And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth.

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A Classical Sodomite Practice and Some of Its Implications

A Classical Sodomite Practice and Some of Its Implications 10 20 21

A striking and well-known example of the Sodomites’ “treatment” of guests.

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s second essay for Parashat VaYeira, “The Essence of Sodom” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 22-3), she notes that Sodom and her satellite cities were destroyed because of their “unethical and morally depraved behavior.” As an example of this type of treatment of human beings, the Talmud offers the following example:

Sanhedrin 109b

…They had beds on which they would lay their guests; when a guest was longer than the bed they would cut him, and when a guest was shorter than the bed they would stretch him.

Eliezer, servant of Abraham, happened to come there. They said to him: Come lie on the bed. He said to them: I took a vow that since the day my mother died, I do not lie on a bed…

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From Sodom’s Negative Example, We Can Learn What We Should Be Doing

Why Sodom was chosen for Divine Destruction. Three biblical sources.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s second essay for Parashat VaYeira, “HaTashtit HaMussarit LeMidina Yehudit” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 50-3), he presumes that the biblical text can reveal the sins, i.e., ethical, economic and sexual, that led to the Divine destruction of Sodom. R. Lau identifies three different occasions when Sodom is displayed as the terrible place that it had become, and therefore the dynamics of these three situations constitute a general cautionary tale of what society must strive to avoid in order not to become like Sodom.

#1 Lot’s choice when he is forced to live apart from his uncle Avraham.

The regular disputes between Avraham’s and Lot’s shepherds (Beraishit 13:7) led to the Patriarch’s decision that Lot had to relocate. When considering his choices for new surroundings, Lot is attracted to Sodom’s geographical characteristics:

Ibid. 10

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well-watered everywhere, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Tzoar.

R. Lau surmises that the equation between the Garden of Eden and Egypt was due to the readiness with which the farmlands could be watered. The Nile regularly overflowed its banks, matching the lushness of Eden which is a matter of record. Lot had spent time in Egypt with Avraham’s family when it fled Canaan due to a famine, and he wished to live in surroundings where he could rely on the place’s protection from famine and wandering in search of pasture land.

(The Tora contrasts in this regard the land of Israel with that of Egypt: 

Devarim 11:10-1

10 For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou didst sow thy seed, and didst water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; 11 But the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down;  

The assumption of the Tora is that man will be more dependent upon God when irrigation can take place only as the result of rain, which is far more irregular than the waters of the Nile regularly being available to farmers.)

The Tora’s third-person aside, commenting that the inhabitants of Sodom were horrible human beings:

Ibid. 13

Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners against the LORD exceedingly.

apparently impressed Lot less than the attractions of the land itself. Either Lot hadn’t bothered to consider the moral quality of the society, or he simply didn’t care:

The Talmud goes so far as to say that these two characteristics, i.e., the fertility of the land and the evil of its inhabitants, were related to one another as cause and effect:  

Sanhedrin 109a

The Sages taught: The people of Sodom became haughty and sinned due only to the excessive goodness that the Holy One, Blessed be He, Bestowed upon them. And what is written concerning them, indicating that goodness? (Iyov 28:5–8) “As for the earth, out of it comes bread, and underneath it is turned up as it were by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and it has dust of gold. That path no bird of prey knows, neither has the falcon’s eye seen it. The proud beasts have not trodden it, nor has the lion passed thereby.” The reference is to the city of Sodom, which was later overturned, as it is stated thereafter: (Ibid. 9) “He Puts forth His Hand upon the flinty rock; He Overturns the mountains by the roots.”  The people of Sodom said: Since we live in a land from which bread comes and has the dust of gold, we have everything that we need. Why do we need travelers, as they come only to divest us of our property? Come, let us cause the proper treatment of travelers to be forgotten from our land, as it is stated: (Ibid. 4) “He breaks open a watercourse in a place far from inhabitants, forgotten by pedestrians, they are dried up, they have moved away from men

#2 The angels’ evening visit to Sodom.

The angels’ attempt to quickly save Lot and destroy the city, was thwarted by all of Sodom’s inhabitants who were determined to do harm to Lot’s guests, and by doing so, sealed the cities’ fate:

Beraishit 19:4-5

4 But before they (the angels) lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. 5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him: Where are the men that came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may “know” them.

R. Lau now quotes R. Yitzchak Arama’s Akeidat Yitzchak Tora commentary, in which he wonders:

Hadn’t the Jews sinned any number of times much worse than this, e.g,, thievery, violence, and all sorts of skullduggery , which the prophets bemoaned as they were teaching and rebuking them day after day, yet the Jews were not punished this severely (the cities destroyed and all of the inhabitants killed). This is amazing!

R. Arama explains that the fundamental difference is a sin of an individual vs. an entire society which had become corrupt. R. Lau cites the prophet Yechezkel’s judgment regarding Sodom’s evil and the Midrash’s comment on this verse:

Yechezkel 16:49

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom (a generalization that applied to everyone who lived there): pride, fulness of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, #25

They were sated with all the produce of the earth, but they did not strengthen with the loaf of bread either the hand of the needy or of the poor, as it is said, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fulness of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy”

Rabbi Yehuda said: They made a proclamation (a basic principle of the entire society) in Sodom (saying): Everyone who strengthens the hand of the poor or the needy with a loaf of bread, shall be burnt by fire…

#3 The screams of a young girl.

R. Lau continues that the Midrash cited in #2 does not stop with the verse in Yechezkel, but rather interprets a verse in the Parashat HaShavua describing the basis for the Divine Decision to Send angels on a “fact-finding” mission to Sodom, and contends that there is a more heart-breaking situation that demanded Divine Intervention.

Beraishit 18:20-1

20 And the LORD Said: Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceeding grievous. 21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.

Although R. Lau points out that the simple, literal meaning of the verse in question is referring to the general cry emanating from the various victims of the persecutions that were taking place in Sodom, the Midrash associates the cry with one specific individual who was engaged in a very pointed prayer to God:

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, #25

… Peleṭit, daughter of Lot, was wedded to one of the magnates of Sodom. She saw a certain very poor man in the street of the city, and her soul was grieved on his account, as it is said, (Iyov 30:25) “Was not my soul grieved for the needy?”  What did she do? Every day, when she went out to draw water, she put in her bucket all sorts of provisions from her home, and she fed that poor man. The men of Sodom said: How does this poor man live? When they ascertained the facts, they brought her forth to be burnt with fire. She said: Sovereign of all worlds! Maintain my right and my cause (at the hands of) the men of Sodom. And her cry ascended before the Throne of Glory. In that hour the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Said: I will now descend, and I will see whether the men of Sodom have done according to the cry of this young woman. I will Turn her foundations upwards, and the surface thereof shall be turned downwards, as it is said: “I will now descend, and I will see whether they have done altogether “HaKeTza’akata” (according to her cry), which is come unto me” “According to their cry” is not written here (in the text), only “According to her cry.” …

Conclusion.

R. Lau writes in conclusion:

…I do not think that the Tora objects to wealth in terms of itself. However, it casts a light upon and warns concerning the sin that potentially affects a wealthy society. Compassion is to be found and spreads from legislation that protects members of the society, particularly those most in need. Perhaps this is the reason for the choosing of the Jewish people—who dwell in a place that is dependent upon rain, a place which is very dependent upon God’s Kindness, and therefore consigns man to dwell in a manner that is a bit more restrained, a bit less secure, and a whole lot more kind.

Discussion.

It seems to me that the question that Sodom raises is whether human nature is such, that inevitably, a “Lord of the Flies” situation will result in one “stronger” group discriminating against another “weaker” one, essentially Sodom is a microcosm of the world destroyed by the Flood, or is this an aberration, and people by and large are better and more sensitive than what was evidenced in Sodom? While a “perfect storm” evolved between the abundant natural resources that were available to the Sodomites and their predilections towards cruelty and bullying, clinically looking at the rampant tribalism from which mankind still suffers, and the insecurity that leads to seek out those over whom one can manufacture a sense of superiority, it would seem that what pertained in Sodom was typical. Only with strict adherence to the rules of the Tora can man hope to rise above these tendencies and live in peace with even those who are different from him, racially economically, and religiously.

An Angel’s Slip of the Tongue

An Angel’s Slip of the Tongue 10 18 21

The angels are not perfect, either.

In R. David Silverberg’s essay for Motzoai Shabbat 2018 of Parashat VaYeira (S.A.L.T. – Parashat Vayera | vbm haretzion), he quotes a Midrash with respect to the two angels that were sent to rescue Lot and destroy the cities:

Beraishit Rabba 50:9 (Beraishit 19:13 “For we are about to destroy this place; because the outcry against them before the LORD has become so great that the LORD has Sent us to destroy it.)

“For we are about to destroy this place”—R. Levi in the name of R. Nachman: The serving angels, because they revealed the mysteries of the Holy One, May He Be blessed, were banished from their places for 138 years…

Said R. Chama bar Chanina: Because they acted arrogantly and said: We are about to destroy this place…

This would appear to hold the angels to an incredibly high standard, in that later in the same verse, no less, they say: “…the LORD has sent us to destroy it,” nevertheless, because their initial statement took personal credit for what they were about to do, when in fact, they were only carrying out orders, condemned them to punishment.

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Parashat VaYeira (Beraishit Beraishit 18:1-14) – Questions for Consideration and Discussion III

questions

Rishon (Beraishit 18:1-14):

(v 2) Despite recently having undergone a circumcision procedure, the bible describes Avraham as “running” to greet his guests. This parallels Avraham’s described alacrity in v. 6-7. What does this say about Avraham?

See Toldot Yitzchak who describes how Avraham girded himself up and did extraordinary things in this instance.

Sheini (Ibid. 15-33):

(v. 15) The bible describes Sara’s denial of having scoffed at the Divine Promise that she would conceive a child, and her denial being rejected by the chief “visitor.” What might this reflect vis-à-vis the history of Avraham and Sara?

See Bechor Shor who contrasts “typical Sara” with her behavior in this instance.

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