Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tale of Two Women

Torah Study 4/23 Rabbi Marder
Genesis 16 :1-5

Triangle – Avram – Sari – Hagar
All about ethics and misunderstandings. A tale of two women.

The story is full of emotions:
Pain of infertility, personal sense of failure, inadequacy to give to one you love, class and sexual jealousy.

At the end of chapter 11 we learn of Sari’s being ‘barren’ and in this chapter it softens the description to show it is possible but has not happened.
Sari takes the problem into her own hands to try to find a solution.

Samson Raphael Hirsch: Avram is desperate – he needs an heir to pass on the faith in God. It is a religious mission.
Sari feels she is not able to fulfill her obligation to Avram.

Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno
God didn’t promise Sari – God made the promise to Avram. She conjures the idea of mating Avram with Hagar the Egyptian.

Name: Hagar – in Hebrew = stranger. In Arabic = to flee / flight of Mohamed
related to Haj – the Muslim pilgrimage.

Muslim story is parallel to the Jewish story.
Hagar & baby in the desert and Hagar finds the well at Zamzam – when the Muslim’s go to Mecca they drink from this well.

V2: Sari implies that it is God’s fault that she is childless. She requests that Avram consort with Hagar. And she says that Hagar’s child will be hers.

What is her motivation?
Isaac Abravanel: Sari is afraid that Avram would take another wife. Her offer to give him Hagar was a selfless act. It offered a viable solution.

Sforno: She was afraid for her own position.

Avram is passive in this situation until God gives him the “go ahead”!

Ebone – Ben= son Bennah = build
There is a connection between “building” and “son”

Rashi: if there are no children the family is ‘torn down’ rather than ‘built up’

The child is the ‘building block of the house” “the house of ____”

Hagar becomes arrogant -
The emphasis on Hagar being an Egyptian -
Rashi: She is the daughter of the pharaoh - given to Avram & Sari as they left Egypt.
Exploring why Pharaoh would give his daughter – he saw miracles and thought she would be more powerful in the home of Avram.

One theory is that the enslavement in Egypt is payback for what happened to Hagar.

v3: Sari TAKES maid to give to Avram
TAKE = seems it was forced upon Hagar.
Rashi: Persuaded Hagar - ie Avram was an old man.

10 Years – Significant
Jewish laws of infertility: After 10 years with no child the man is required to divorce and remarry someone else so he can have a child.
Why? It breaks the covenant to be fruitful and multiply.
Mishna – obligation for men to have 2 children = 2 sons or a son and a daughter.
After 10 years with no children the obligation becomes null.

This is not enforced today. It is a tragedy to break up a happy marriage.

Story of a happy but childless couple – celebrates and she was told she could take one prized possession with her – she took her husband.

Progressive evolution of the law.

v4: Hagar conceives
One theory – Hagar conceives the first time they have sex – implied through the Torah Trope.

The status of women in Biblical times depended on fertility.

Ishmael is born – name = God Listens

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Akarah - Childlessness

Rabbi Jennifer Clayman led a terrific discussion ...

Genesis 16:1 - Childlessness
This is first mentioned in Genesis 11:30 – the term akarah – barren but not necessarily infertile
Nachum Sarna – this is more of a literary divice – a focus on Avram’s family.
Notes the recurring theme in Torah of childlessness – Sarah / Hannah / Samson’s Mother/ Rachel
Robert Alter Book: The Art of Biblical Narrative
Reference of the ‘same story repeated with different characters’ - looking from the literary view
Parallel with the Homeric type scenes.
Birth to barren mother
Meeting at a well
Finding a well
Danger in the desert

Duplication may be accidental or intentional from the “Biblical editor” to make a point.

Story of Hagar repeats two times in Chapter 16 & 21 –
gives 2 views and/or to invite comparisons and to make a point.

Sari vs Hannah – Sari laughs / Hannah prays – contrasts in their attitudes.
But clearly Avram is concerned and ‘talks’ to God about the childless situation.

Women’s Commentary page 52 – Discusses fertility as a concern. Highlights the importance of offspring for the family survival – especially in Biblical times. This explains some different attitudes toward the family values.

Contrast Samuel vs Samson – both sons of ‘barren’ mothers.

Question: Is the birth of a child to a ‘barren’ mother a miracle that begets a ‘hero’?

This opens the way for more midrash!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Deep Dark Sleep and The Future

From last week: link to the poem about eagles – ref the “bird of prey”

Genesis 15:12-16 - the deep dark sleep!
There is a mystical dimension here (v12) The sun is about to set – Avram is in a deep sleep – maybe induced type sleep
Similar to the sleep that Adam was in when Eve was created.
“Tardema” a sleep with prophetic visions.

Deep Dark Fear Falls upon him– terror and dread accompany this sleep. - even a reference to sleep paralysis

Rashi – refers to the sorrows and afflictions of the exile

Nachmanides – refers to the 4 exiles
Dread = Babylonia
Dark = Media
Great = Antiochus – Selucid
Fall = Rome

Feet of Clay – from the Book of Daniel -
"Feet of Clay" is a biblical reference. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw a statue whose head was made of gold, but lower down the statue the materials got progressively more base, until the feet were "part of iron, part of clay"; the statue was shattered and destroyed by being struck on the feet, its weakest point. Hence, colloquially, the expression "feet of clay" has come to mean that someone regarded as an idol has a hidden weakness. - from the web page about TerryPrachet’s book named Feet of Clay.

20th cen. Scholar – Ben Jacobs – and Alenek (sp?) from 16th cen. Say it represents the “generations” 3 generations of enslavement followed by 4 generations of freedom.

v13 Descendents will be “Strangers in a Land” - an emphatic statement in Torah
3 stages of suffering: strangers – enslaved – opressed
3 stages of redemption: judgment - freedom - return to the land

How long in Egypt? Here it says 400 years – in Exodus it says 430 years (close enough?)
Problematic – is the 4th generation:
4th Generation = 400 years. While a generation thought of as 20-25 years. Nachum Sarna reconciles this by saying it actually means something else – “not a bad editor”. (ex:There is the generation of the wilderness (40 years)). So this refers to the 4 generations as in periods in history or “Generation” can just refer to a ‘long span of time’.

Kass – book: Beginning of Wisdom - analysis asks “why would Avram even want to have a child after this prediction”?

Avram asks "when am I going to get the land?"
God answers: "You will not" the gift of the land is for his descendants and is tied to ‘Justice’ and moral behavior of his descendants and only after suffering.

Avram’s fate – personally he learns of his death.

He is directed to care “for the sake of the future” not to think only of the immediate personal rewards but to focus to view the long run.

1. Promise: “going to your fathers in peace” “reunited with fathers”
Definitely refers to some type spiritual reunion after death.
2. Hassidic: Seed be strangers, link to Eretz Israel, a reference to the land (before Zionism)
3. Redundant: Strangers in a land that is not theirs - “wherever we live – we are strangers”