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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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rachel has Joseph - Jacob negotiates with Laban

Torah study 7-21 Genesis 30:22-34

Rachel has a son...Joseph

Jacob leaves. Or tries to leave. Laban argues.

Wage of spotted goats and sheep.

News courtesy of Michael concubines... In Israel…(somewhat shocking)
Israel Hayom | Kosher concubines

V 22 Rachel finally has a child. "God remembered ..."

RamBam - Issues of the anthropomorphic reference...
N. Sarna. Remembering by God is a focus and an action..
Eli Munk - womb opened. She was barren and God opened her womb. rachaels name does not include the letter hay... The letter is the sign of fertility.

Hay added to Abraham and Sarah before they had children.

Birth of Joseph. Name v24.. God taken away her shame. She has a child. Joseph - She immediately says ...Let God give her another son.

The next son will take her life.

Importance of Joseph. - He is different.

Benjamin with the tribe of Judah and survives forever.

Is there a connection between Dinah's birth and Rachel's giving birth...?

Leah knew there was to be 12 sons ... But she was pregnant ...this was the reason she had a daughter.

V25 plot turns around. Jacob wants to leave...

V26 give me my wives and my know the avodah/labor he has given them.. Jacob is a servant and has served his term in servitude.

Reference to the laws of servitude.

Completed his responsibilities to Laban,

Formulaic phrase...send me forth and I will go."

Used in other places.

Another issue... Jacobs mothers parting words when he left home...she implies that she will send for him.... Hints that this may have happened.

Negotiations between Jacob and Laban

Laban has prospered because of Jacob...v28. Name your wages... He is ignoring the request to leave.

SRH. Laban hoped that Jacob would continue to work for free,

V29... Jacob reminds Laban that he has been of value...livestock prospered.

Rashi...through your blessing came to me(Laban)

Did Laban have sons? Mentioned in next verse ... Since Jacob came Laban had sons and more wealth.

How much? Livestock is payment...

The deal...

V32-36 going to walk through flock. You take out the speckled or spotted ones. Thus the abnormal ones...are his wages.
Laban thinks this is a good deal...

Remember Laban's propensity for time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A daughter - Dinah

Howard's notes
14 July 2012 – Rabbi Jon Prosnit [his first stint at leading Torah study – a trial by fire]

30:21. And afterwards, she bore a daughter, and she named her Dinah.
  • 30:21, Dinah is born, the first daughter.  She’s the eleventh: before, Leah had six; Bilhah and Zilpah, two each.
  • What is not in 30:21 that’s in other verses involving birth (30:17, Issachar; 30:12, Asher; 30:10, Gad; 30:7, Naphtali; 30:5, Dan):
    • Connection to Jacob; however in 34:1 Jacob is mentioned as Dinah’s father.  Also in 29:32-25, for the births of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Jacob is not specifically mentioned.
    • Reason for (or explanation of) the name
    • Mention of God
Bottom line: in those days, a daughter’s birth was not as significant as that of a son.  However, daughters usually married into another tribes often as way of forming alliances.
  • Does this verse mark the end of a section?
    • Perhaps it’s a later addition or gloss [Speiser, Anchor Bible, page 231] to provide context for story of rape of Dinah in 34:1ff.  In other words, this verse is from a different source than other verses.
    • Alter (page 161) disagrees; the source of the name “Dinah” is not mentioned because she will not found an eponymous tribe.  “The absence of a naming etymology for Dina is by no means an indication … that this verse derives from a different source.”
  • Parallel with today’s Torah portion involving daughter of Tzlafchad
  • Name “Dinah” 
    • Rashi - Our Sages explained that Leah pronounced judgment (דָּנָה or דן) upon herself. [She reasoned:] If this is a male, my sister Rachel will not be [esteemed even] as one of the handmaids. So she prayed over him, and he was turned into a female (Mishnah Berachot 60a).
Leah’s having a daughter would enhance the status of Rachel; suggests cooperation rather than competition.  Leah was looking out for Rachel; she knew there would be 12 tribes, each for a son.  She wanted Rachel to have no fewer sons than maidservants.  In other places, narrative suggests competition, such as in the mandrake episode.
Summary of Jacob’s children’s births
  • Reuben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Dan
Bilhah (Rachel)
  • Naphtali
Bilhah (Rachel)
  • Gad
Zilpah (Leah)
  • Asher
Zilpah (Leah)
  • Issachar
  • Zebulon
(Not numbered because she did not establish a tribe – get over it, feminists!)
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin
  • Rashi writes that the name דינה, “Dinah,” is connected to the term for judgment דין, “deen.” 
Our Sages explained that Leah pronounced judgment (דָּנָה) upon herself. [She reasoned:] If this is a male, my sister Rachel will not be [esteemed even] as one of the handmaids. So she prayed over him, and he was turned into a female (Talmud Berachot 60a).
  • Leah reasoned that since Jacob was ordained to have twelve sons who each would found a tribe; she already had six; and the maidservants two each; then two more would be born.  If this child is a male, then Rachel will have only one son and will not be the equal of the maidservants [Scherman, The Chumash, Artscroll Series, citing Talmud B’rachot 60a; however, Midrash Rabbah says that Rachel made this deduction.].”  Thus, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah (also Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel) prayed together for a daughter.  The fetus was switched with the next child of Rachel (Joseph), who had been destined to have a daughter.
  • Thus, the etymological link is “dayenu,” enough sons [Midrash Rabbah 72:6].
  • Is changing the gender of fetus with a prayer a miracle?
    • This prayer seems to be one in vain, where outcome is already known; an empty prayer.  Sex of fetus is already determined.  Therefore, Leah’s bracha is contrary to rabbinic tradition because she offered an empty prayer.  Gemara in Brachot 54a asks this and answers that in Leah’s case it was OK: an extraordinary miracle.  Mishnah Zedarim-Brachot 9:3 gives several examples where blessing for apparent miracles that benefit the Jews should be recited, such as ridding the land of idolatry; or certain natural phenomena -- temporary or permanent -- such as, earthquakes, thunder, winds, lightning, hills, seas, rivers, deserts, rain; or good or bad events.  Evidently, changing the sex of a fetus was such a miracle.
    • But in Brachot 60a, 
[the Talmudic sages] cannot cite a miraculous event [in refutation of the Mishnah, which states (Zedarim-Brachot 9:3), if his wife was pregnant and he says, “May it be his will that my wife bear a male child,” this is a vain prayer]. Alternatively I may reply that the incident of Leah occurred within forty days [after conception], according to what has been taught: 
Within the first three days a man should pray that the seed should not putrefy; from the third to the fortieth day he should pray that the child should be a male;
From the fortieth day to three months he should pray that it should not be a sandal [A kind of abortion resembling a flat-shaped fish called sandal];
From three months to six months he should pray that it should not be stillborn;
From six months to nine months he should pray for a safe delivery. 
But does such a prayer [that the child should be a male] avail? Has not R. Isaac the son of R. Ammi said: If the man first emits seed, the child will be a girl; if the woman first emits seed, the child will be a boy? [Which shows that it is all fixed beforehand.]  — With what case are we dealing here, if, for instance, they both emitted seed at the same time?  [Soncino online edition with footnotes in italics]
  • Today, is it appropriate to pray for genetic health of a fetus?  Modern rabbis say, no, it’s predetermined.
  • Rachel and Leah prayed for sons before they got pregnant; outcome was not pre-determined.
30:22. And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and He opened her womb.
30:23. And she conceived and bore a son, and she said, "God has taken away my reproach."
  • 30:22-23 - finally, Rachel has a son.
    • Parallels story of Hannah (1 Samuel 19) and of Sarah in terms of opening womb because God “remembers.”
    • But can God “remember?”  It’s really a metaphor per Rambam; God cannot be anthropomorphic. Humans are limited by language.
      • Kaplan: “special consideration” – same verb use for God and Noach in 8:1.
      • Fox: “kept Rachel in mind”
    • Rashi (citing Midrash Rabbah 73:2-4) – God is the reason for the birth.  The Midrash asks, what was Rachel’s merit that God “remembered?” and cites a number of reasons.
      • The conception was on Rosh Hashanah, a day of favorable remembrance for all Jews, because on that day, Jews proclaim allegiance to God.
      • The merit of Abraham and Jacob in Psalm 98:3, He remembered His kindness and His faith to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God, in which the Midrash renders “His” as referring to Abraham for his kindness and Jacob for his faithfulness, contrary to the plain meaning of “His” as God.
      • Rachel was Jacob’s primary wife, as stated in 46:19.  Elsewhere, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah are not called “wife.”
      • In Psalm 55:19, He redeemed my soul with peace from the battle that came upon me, because of the many [people who] were with me, it is David who is speaking, but the Sages write that this verse applies to Rachel, who was “redeemed” from the need to marry Esau (the “battle”).  The “many who were with me” refers to Rachel’s bringing Bilhah to conceive on her behalf; to Leah’s prayers; Rachel’s remaining silent when Leah was given to Jacob; and to other matriarch’s prayers.
      • God’s attribute of strict justice אלוהים, is used here, though one would think יהוה, the attribute of mercy, would be more appropriate.  The Sages explain that Rachel deserved to be remembered because of the justice of bringing a rival Bilhah to bear Jacob’s sons.  This act changed justice to mercy in the same way that Leah was heard by אלוהים, in 30:17 so that she could bear Issachar; and like אלוהים remembering Noach in 8:1 so that the waters receded.
      • Opening a womb (i.e., fertility) is one of three aspects of nature over which God has direct control.  The other two are resurrection and rain, for which the Midrash gives proof texts.  It is stated directly in 30:22 that God opened Rachel’s womb.
    • Munk (page 412) – Rachel is by nature barren because her name had no ה, a sign of procreation or fertility. Abraham and Sarah had this letter added to allow them to procreate.  
      • In Genesis 2:4, Rashi comments that the word בְּהִבָּרְאָם [could mean} He created them with the letter “hey,” as it is written (Isaiah 26:4):“for in Yah (יָה) , the Lord, is the Rock of eternity.” With these two letters [“yud” and “hey”] of the Name, He fashioned two worlds, and it teaches you here that this world was created with a “hey” (Menahot 29b)
      • However, Rachel was given the providential ability to procreate even without the letter ה.  It was a miracle, especially since she was declared barren in 29:31.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sibling Rivalry and Mandrakes

Torah Study with Rabbi Marder 7 July 2012  (from Howard S)
  • The continuing saga of Leah vs Rachel as a sibling rivalry
    • Sylvia Rimm, Psychologist [from]: 
In addition to genetic differences, competition among siblings does affect the development of other children in the family, and may be the most important reason why children raised in the same way are so different.  Sometimes, second or third children feel inadequate by comparison to a first sibling and thus search for different areas of expertise. Parents often reinforce those differences because they want to encourage self-esteem in each child and also fear that the second or third child may not be as skilled as the first child. That process often results in parents labeling their children.  
Leah the fertile one; Rachel the lover.
  • Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and sibling relationships can change dramatically over the years. Events such as a parent’s illness may bring siblings closer together, whereas marriage may drive them apart, particularly if the in-law relationship is strained. Approximately one-third of adults describe their relationship with siblings as rivalrous or distant. However, rivalry often lessens over time. At least 80 percent of siblings over age 60 enjoy close ties. []
  • An anecdote showing that sibling rivalry, once quieted, can erupt later [from “How to Care for Your Mother” by Annie Murphy Paul.  New York Times Book Review.  May 27, 2011.  The Book reviewed is A Bittersweet SeasonCaring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves by Jane Gross.  Alfred A. Knopf)]:
“Their squabbles over how their mother should be cared for only intensify a longstanding sibling dynamic, as the author candidly observes. ‘My self-righteous behavior was surely not helping . . . but rather hardening the old stereotypes of good-goody sister and screw-up brother, which had been tamped down until this situation kicked up all the old dust.’”
  • Examples of sibling relations in Shakespeare
    • King Lear’s daughters
    • Richard III and brother Edward
    • Kate and Bianca in Taming of the Shrew
    • Orlando and Oliver; Duke Frederick and Duke Senio in As You Like It
  • … in TV and film
    • Bart and Lisa Simpson
    • Malcolm and Reese in Malcolm in the Middle
    • Michael and Fredo Corleone in The Godfather
  • Let’s not forget Cain vs Abel, Jacob vs Esau, and Joseph vs his brothers.
14. Reuben went in the days of the wheat harvest, and he found dudaim in the field and brought them to Leah, his mother, and Rachel said to Leah, "Now give me some of your son's dudaim."
15. And she said to her, "Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband, that [you wish] also to take my son's dudaim?" So Rachel said, "Therefore, he shall sleep with you tonight as payment for your son's dudaim."
  • 30:14 on mandrakes (דוּדָאִים) dudaim
    • Reuben goes out during the wheat harvest (Shavuot), typically May, and finds dudaim.
Anita Diamant’s take on this event in The Red Tent (page 47): “Rachel tried every remedy, every potion, every rumored cure [to get pregnant]… Of course, when anyone … found a mandrake – the root that looked so much like an aroused husband – it would be bough to Rachel and handed over with a wink and a prayer.  Reuben once found an especially large one, and brought it to his auntie with the pride of a lion hunter.”
  • What’s a “mandrake?”
    • According to Rashi, a “mandrake” is an herb, [called] jasmine in Arabic.
    • It’s in the nightshade family and its root resembles human torso. 
    • Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary.  Genesis, page 209] on the pharmaceutical properties of this plant.
It’s a small, tomato-like fruit ripens during early spring.  Chemical analysis reveals it contains “emetic, purgative, and narcotic substances, which explains its widespread medicinal use in ancient times.”  The plant also has a “distinctive and heady fragrance;” this, along with a human torso shaped root, suggests that the plant was considered an aphrodisiac.
  • The term דוּדָאִים resembles the word for beloved, דּוֹד, which appears in many biblical verses in different forms [Sarna, pages 209, 365].
    • Song of Songs 7:3-14, 1:2-4
    • Ezekiel 16:8, 23:7
    • Proverbs 7:18
  • Josephus – use dog’s strength to pull mandrake out of ground and die a vicarious death, i.e., dog dies instead of you [cited in Chidiac, Elie J. et al,  “Mandragora: Anesthetic of the Ancients.” Anesthesia and Analgesia, special article published ahead of print May 14, 2012.  This article, a PDF found in a Google search, had more background on the myths and legends of this plant and its early use in surgery.]
  • Rambam comments on the superstitions about this plant in his Guide For the Perplexed, 3:9.
  • Some believe that it’s a charm that facilitates pregnancy.
  • Even Shakespeare got into the act.
    • Othello (Act 3 Scene 3) – as sleeping potion or sedative
    • Antony and Cleopatra (Act 1 Scene 5) – the Ambien of those days.
    • Romeo and Juliet – as she’s taking the sleeping potion, her mind wanders, thinking about life and death, about awakening in a field of bones or in a sealed vault.  Her senses are assaulted "with loathsome smells, / And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth” (Act 4, Scene 3)
  • John Donne, ”Song”, about virtuousness vs beauty, a cynical poem.  ”[The poem] is an example of some of the humorous works Donne would come up with for the drunken jokers of English taverns to recite when out of favor with the ladies … Donne uses the fantastic and impossible examples of catching falling stars; pregnancies with mandrake roots; and hearing mermaids singing to describe just how hard it is to find a beautiful woman who will stay true and loyal to her husband (from, accessed 8 July 2012).
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
            And find
            What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
            And swear,
            No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find'st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
            Yet she
            Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.
  • Eliezer Ki-Tov commentary - human knowledge vs deeper understanding; in this case there is more going on, a mystery.
  • 30:14-15, why this story is told:
    • Rashi - [This is] to tell the praise of the [progenitors of] the tribes. It was harvest time, and he did not stretch out his hand upon stolen property, to bring wheat or barley, but only upon an ownerless thing, which no one cares about. — [Genesis Rabbah 72: 2].  I.e., Reuben is an honest guy.
    • Sforno – Reuben saw that his mother was depressed because she had no more children, so he wanted to help.
    • Ramban – he brought only flowers for fragrance, not medicine.  Rachel doesn’t need this; she has faith in God – see v. 22 [not 17] – not the mandrakes that cause pregnancy.  
Ramban first cites Abraham Ibn Ezra, who questions the efficacy of mandrakes to facilitate conception.  Then, he writes, “[Rachel] wanted them … to enjoy and take pleasure from their scent and not for medicinal purposes.  For it was through prayer that Rachel’s barrenness was alleviated, not through medicinal means.”
Rachel did not conceive until several years later in verse 22 – and God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and He opened her womb.  Ramban was a physician and skeptical about the alleged benefits to facilitate conception. [Blinder, Yaakov.  The Torah: With Ramban’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and ElucidatedBereishis/Genesis Volume 2.  Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications. 2004]
  • Some class comments on this story: 
    • Sisters come together; they finally talk to each other.
    • Editor’s choice … a delaying tactic to alleviate boredom of the story
    • Motif of Leah’s unhappiness over Jacob’s lack of love and motif of Rachel’s unhappiness at lack of children come together.
    • People are constantly looking for human ways to implement God’s will.  They are not convinced of God’s control.  Yet human desperation is not necessary; God is always operating quietly in the background.
  • Mirror of the Jacob-Esau exchanges: Rachel says, give me mandrakes; Esau says, give me lentil stew.  In each case, it’s a desperate plea for some plant substance [was Rabbi Marder being facetious?]
    • Alter – first dialogue between sisters. 
Alter writes, “The narrator has mentioned Rachel’s jealousy of Leah and Rachel has referred too ‘grappling’ with her sister, but his is the first actual dialogue between the sister.  It vividly etches the bitterness between the two, on the part of the unloved Leah as well as of the barren Rachel.  In yet another correspondence with the story of Jacob and Esau, one sibling barters a privilege for a plant product, though here the one who sells off the privilege is the younger, not the elder.”  [If Rabbi Marder was not being facetious, perhaps Alter was.]
  • Samson Raphael Hirsch has a contrary view – it was not a serious transaction.  “It is hard to imaging that Leah, whose whole life was centered on gaining the love of her husband, would say with any seriousness, ‘you have got my man, and now you want my dudaim also?’ as though any importance can be attached to a few dudaim; as thought these are of any significance in comparison with one’s husband’s love!
“Rather, it appears that the whole episode is a reflection of the friendship that marked the relationship between the two sisters.”  After the boy Reuben brings the dudaim from the field and Rachel requests some of them, Leah answers jokingly, “what a presumptuous request!” but then gives the dudaim to Rachel.
  • Norman Cohen [Self, Struggle & Change, Jewish Lights, 1995, page 143] points out that it is Jacob who is bartered [instead of a birthright].
  • Cohen further comments (page 143) that Rachel wanted what Leah had: good relationship with son; Rachel wanted to be close to a child, another layer of poignancy; Jung – each is a shadow of the other.
Cohen writes, “[Rachel] desperately need some of Reuben’s [mandrakes].  Rachel desired what her sister had – both Leah’s fertility and the very close relationship … with her firstborn.  May she means, ‘Please give me some of your son’s dudaim – your son’s love and affection.  Whatever Rachel desires, we know how important it is to her as well as to her sister when Leah exclaims [in 30:15]: ‘was it not enough for you to have taken my husband, that you would also take my son’s mandrakes?’  Rachel desire for the mandrakes is seen to be a crucial in Leah’s eyes as her winning Jacob’s affection.”
The triangle relationship among Jacob, Rachel, and Leah takes a twist because (1) Jacob is being bartered and (2) Leah as the older takes the initiative, in contrast to Jacob and Esau where the younger Jacob initiates the bartering.  Leah comes across as wanting to take advantage of her sister, as did Jacob with Esau.  In each case, Esau and Rachel thought of short-term gratification.
“Just when we seem to have a handle on one or all of the characters … they change… As sides or shadows of the symbolic whole, we should not be surprised when they act in completely contradictory ways.  We, too, occasionally behave in very different ways, exhibiting our contrary sides.  Yet, we derive hope that we can bridge the sides of our own natures from the coming together of Leah and Rachel.”
  • Novelist Lynne Reid Banks (Sarah and After.  Five Women of the Old Testament.  Pages 133-134) tells the story using figs instead of mandrakes.  Leah is unhappy that Jacob will not longer sleep with her.  Zilpah suggests that figs might help.  Although Leah was skeptical, she asks Reuben to get some.  As he brought the figs into Leah’s tent, Rachel shows up and asks Reuben for some of them.  Leah refuses, “with a knife in her voice.”  She and Rachel argue until a bargain is reached.
“’[Rachel proposes] Give me some of the figs and say a prayer over them to the God of women Who blesses you with a son each time Jacob comes to you.  In exchange, I will send him to you whenever you wish, until you again conceive.  After than I shall have no power to withstand him.’
When Leah asks, “how can you do this?” Rachel responds, “I can do as I will with him.  That is not your concern.  Give me the figs and bless them.  If the gods will it, we shall both have sons.”
  • Leah’s response in 30:15 - And she said to her, "Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband, that [you wish] also to take my son's dudaim?"
    • Ramban – Leah is the nursemaid and housekeeper, implying that Rachel is a trophy wife.  Ramban writes that Leah’s actually asked, “Is it an insignificant thing for you that you took my husband for yourself, as if you his man wife and I were the maidservant, that you now even make yourself a mistress over me to take the dudaim whose sent I am enjoying?”  In other words, Leah believes that Rachel’s “taking of my husband” and “taking the dudaim” implies an attitude of superiority over her older sister.
    • Midrash – Jacob’s primary residence was with Rachel; yet Leah has all the children.  Should he be living with Leah?
    • Rashi – it's a question, but seems sarcastic.
    • Women’s Commentary (page 167) – the sisters are ready to give what the other wants; they collaborate and appear to reconcile.  “The turning point in the sisters’ relationship comes with their readiness to enter into an exchange – to give each what the other lacks.  Symbolically, Leah is willing to give fertility (via mandrakes) to her barren sister and, in turn, Rachel gave Jacob to Leah, who longs for his love.  Whereas Jacob will fist draw a truce with God (32:25-31) and then negotiate an icy peace with his brother (33:1-17), Rachel first strikes a deal with her sister and then wins the ability to [pro]create from God.”
  • Rachel’s response in 30:15 - "Therefore, he shall sleep with you tonight as payment for your son's dudaim."
    • Sarna (page 209) – verb יִשְׁכַּב, “lie with,” is not used in sense of marital relations – it’s demeaning and basal.  “The pathetic nature of this barter arrangement is underlined by the striking fact that the verb בכש, when employed in Genesis with a sexual nuance, never connotes a relationship of marital love but is invariably used in unsavory circumstances.”
Used elsewhere in Genesis:
  • 19:32-35 Lot and daughters
  • 26:10, Avimelech and Sarah
  • 34:2,7, Sh’chem and Dinah 
  • 35:22, Ruben and Bilhah
  • 39:7,10,12,14, Potiphar’s wife and Joseph
… and many other places in the bible
  • Jacob seems to be the pawn here since the women manipulate him; it’s his comeuppance. 
16. When Jacob came from the field in the evening, and Leah came forth toward him, and she said, "You shall come to me, because I have hired you with my son's dudaim," and he slept with her on that night.
  • 30:16, Jacob coming in at the evening
    • Jacob was a dedicated worker; he worked a full day until dark.  This verse is the basis for halacha on day’s labor, although the law had not yet been given [Me’Am Lo’Ez (Rabbi Ya’akov Culi, 18th century Turkey, written in Ladino)].
[From Genesis Rabbah 72:4 and Mishnah Bava Metzia 83a-b] “If one hires day laborers and subsequently stipulates with them to arise early for work and to remain at work until dark, the law is as follows: If they live in a place where the laborers are accustomed not to arise early for work nor to remain until dark, he has no right to compel them to do so.”
When someone hires workers, he can stipulate the length of the workday.  The Mishnah applies to when no such stipulations are offered.  The Midrash continues to discuss when a laborer’s workday begins and ends, including on Friday.  However, the employer cannot compel people to work longer than is customary.  There is even more detail in Gemara Bava Metzia 83b.
  • Leah comes out to meet him and gets assertive, “you will come to me tonight,” used as though they were having sex for first time.  Norman Cohen writes (page 142), “This surely [her name is Leah, not Shirley] is not the quiescent, vulnerable and self-deprecating Leah … encountered before. לֵאָה  וַתֵּצֵא, va-tetze Leah – Leah went out to the field to meet him, as Rachel had gone out to shepherd the flock … in the past.  The roles seem to be reversed as Leah behaves much more like her younger sister.”
  • Deliberate use of בכש suggests that he did stop sleeping with her.
  • I have hired you – שְׂכַרְתִּיךָ. Pirke Avot 2:20 (2:15 in some compilations), "The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master of the house is insistent."  In other words, life is short so don’t waste time on trivial pursuits.  Instead, study Torah – however difficult -- as God insists and where the rewards are joy and happiness.  In this case, it appears that Leah is the insistent one.  She doesn’t have much time left to procreate; giving birth and caring for children is difficult but the payoffs are great.  So, she says, let’s get down to business!
  • Alter – Rachel and Leah come across as imperious and bitter; Jacob is exhausted and allows the women to manipulate him.
Alter writes (page 160), “In his transactions with two these imperious, embittered women, Jacob seems … acquiescent, perhaps resigned.  When Rachel instructs him to consort with her slave girl [Bilhah], he immediately complies, as he does here when Leah tells him it is she who is to share his bed this night.  In neither is there any report of response on his part in dialogue.  … That Leah uses this particular idiom for sexual intercourse (תָּבוֹא אֵלַי, literally, ‘to me you will come’), ordinarily used for intercourse with a woman the man has not previously enjoyed, is a strong indication that Jacob has been sexually boycotting Leah.”
  • הוּא בַּלַּיְלָה, that night – should be ההוא; הוא refers to ha-kadosh baruch hoo.  
    • Rashi/Munk – God was present with them and allowed the conception to occur.  [Munk] Use of הוא is an indirect reference to the Holy one, blessed be He (הוא ברוך  הקדוש).  Recall that in 29:35, Leah is described as no longer giving birth.  It was divine intervention that allowed her to have two more sons.  [Rashi] “The Holy One, blessed be He, assisted that Issachar should be born from that union.”
    • When a child is born, there are three partners: man, woman, God.
  • Radak [Rabbi David Kimhi, 12th -13th century France] - Efficacy of dudaim is shattered – it was God who was responsible.
17. And God hearkened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.
18. And Leah said, "God has given [me] my reward for I have given my maidservant to my husband"; so she named him Issachar.
  • 30:17-18 - Issachar is an odd name.  [I’ll bet Leah didn’t think so.]
    • Radak – there is a reward for good deeds:  שָֹכָר יֵש  (yesh sachar).  
    • Sarna commentary (page 210):
      • The same root שכר is used for Leah “hiring” Jacob in 30:16.  This gives a folk etymology for the name Issachar.
      • Verse 18 follows directly from 30:9, where Leah stops consorting with Jacob and offers Zilpah.
      • The phrase שָֹכָר יֵש, which also appears in Jeremiah 31:16 and 2 Chronicles 15:7, is an affirmation of divine presence in childbirth.
    • Pronounced with one שֹ though spelled with two. יֵש  + שָֹכָר = יִשָֹּשֹכָר  
    • Munk - This tribe was devoted entirely to study of Torah, as stated in 1 Chronicles 12: 32, The sons of Issachar … had an understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do; their chiefs were two hundred, and all their brethren obeyed their word.  
      • Just as Leah was “rewarded” for birthing Issachar, the descendants of Issachar will receive their reward from studying Torah, as it is written in Mishnah Peah 1:1, the study of Torah encompasses and exceeds the all other mitzvot combined, and in Proverbs 8:21, “There is substance to give inheritance to those who love me, and I will fill their treasuries.”  Rashi reads the “there is,” יש, as “there is with me a great inheritance [to those who love me].”  
      • Also, the word יש, “there is” in Proverbs, is an allusion to שצר יש, there is a reward [Me’Am Lo’Ez, citing Zohar].
      • But what is the reward in studying Torah?  According to Ibn Ezra, יש can also mean an everlasting possession that is acquired for eternity.  According to Chafetz Chaim, “those who love me” [“righteous” in other translations] need to be reassured about the “great inheritance.”  The reward for studying Torah is immeasurable, but the word יש shows that God has sufficient resources to grant merit to all who study Torah  [cited in Ginsberg, Eliezer.  Mishlei.  Proverbs.  A New Translation with Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources. Volume I. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 1998]
    • One opinion is that Issachar must have been born on Shavuot, he and his descendants were destined to study Torah [Me’Am Lo’Ez, footnote]
  • Dinah’s birth, why different?  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Siblings and Handmaidens and Sons

(Howards notes from Torah Study 6/30)
Genesis 30:9-19
30 June 2012
  • Leah and Rachel are still struggling with one another.  Domestic details and drama are important in the Torah.
  • Naomi Rosenblatt, Wrestling With Angels:  it’s a story of people wrestling with “their better angels,” as Abraham Lincoln once said/wrote.  People have polygamous leanings, but we do it one spouse at a time.  A monogamous relationship is run on trust; once a third party enters the picture, trust vaporizes and is replaced by jealousy.  We must acknowledge the polygamous nature of society and take measures to sustain the monogamous.
Rosenblatt writes (pages 277-278), “The most profound lesson of this triangular marriage is [that] monogamy, for all its restrictions, works.  Polygamy, despite its apparent advantages, doesn’t. We may feel far removed from a polygamous society.  But our sequential monogamy through multiple marriages and divorces, combined with the prevalence of extramarital affairs, underscores our polygamous leanings.”  [Speak for yourself, Ms Rosenblatt!] … We must acknowledge those leanings and deal with them.
“It takes discipline to sustain a monogamous relationship [Duh!]. Sexual intimacy and trust can thrive only between two people.  When a third person enters the picture, trust and intimacy are quickly supplanted by jealousy, suspicion, and anger. … If we’re serious about preserving a [monogamous] relationship [then] some issues are nonnegotiable.  Sexual fidelity is one of them.”
If people are polygamous by nature, how can monogamy flourish?  Through maturity, realistic expectations, and respect for the exclusivity of the relationship -- a conscious, on-going effort.  This means mediating those polygamous desires with serious commitments to fidelity, saying “no” when “yes” seems irresistible.
  • 30:9. When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing [children], she took her maidservant Zilpah, and gave her to Jacob for a wife.
    • Leah stopped bearing.  Hearkens back to Chapter 29, “she stopped bearing.” Since Jacob stopped having sex, Leah turned her servant Zilpah over to Jacob.  The term שִׁפְחָתָהּ, maidservant for life, is related to base שפח, clan or family.
    • Ramban – Leah’s motive is different than Rachel’s – any child born from Zilpah is also Leah’s.
Ramban doesn’t understand why Leah offered Zilpah.  After all, Leah was not barren as were Rachel and Sarah.  He concludes (citing Midrash Rabbah 72:6 and Rashi on 29:34) that the matriarchs were all prophetesses who know that Jacob was destined to father twelve sons that would eventually become 12 tribes.  Leah wanted a majority of those twelve to be from her or Zilpah, thus making her a preeminent matriarch.
Ramban also proposes that Rachel and Leah knew that the fourth generation of Israelites who would leave Egypt would return to inherit the land (prophecy to Abraham in 15:16).  According to Midrash Rabbah 74:13, Bilhah and Zilpah were daughters of Lavan but from a different wife.  To ensure that the prophecy would come true, Leah and Rachel wanted Jacob to not marry a stranger, but someone in the clan.
  • 30:10. And Zilpah, Leah's maidservant, bore Jacob a son.
    • Unlike previous verses, there is no mention of pregnancy or conception.
    • Rashi cites Genesis Rabbah 71:9, which states that Lavan tricked Jacob into thinking Zilpah, the younger servant, was Rachel.  Was Lavan a sneaky politician or what!
In the case of all of them (i.e., all Jacob’s wives), conception is mentioned, except for Zilpah, because she was the youngest of them all and so young in years that her pregnancy was not noticed. In order to deceive Jacob, Laban gave her to Leah, so that he would not perceive that they were bringing in Leah, for this was their custom, to give the older maidservant to the older [daughter] and the younger [maidservant] to the younger [daughter]. 
  • 30:11. And Leah said, "Luck has come"; so she named him Gad. 
    • “Gad” was a pagan deity [No, not an early translation of mazel tov, “gad luck”], according to Nahum Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary) corresponding to the Greek term for “Luck” and the Roman for “Destiny.”   However, Leah is using “luck” as an abstract noun, like the English “Lady Luck.”
Sarna also writes that this deity is mentioned in Isaiah 65:11 where it is paired with “destiny” and in other places in Joshua referring to town names.
  • Rashi [I don’t need no stinkin’ pagan deity!] writes,
Hebrew. בָּא גָּד. Good luck has come [Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel] similar to (Talmud Shabbat 67b)“ May my fate be lucky (גָד גַדִּי) and not fatigued,” and similar to this (Isa. 65:11), “who set a table for Gad.” According to the Aggadah [Midrash Aggadah in the name of “some say”], he was born circumcised גָּד, meaning, “cut off”), like Dan. 4:11,“cut down (גֹּדוּ) the tree,” but I do not know why it is written as one word (בָּגָד) [in our verse]. 
Another explanation: Why is it read as one word? בָּגָד is like בָּגַדְתּ ָבִּי, you betrayed me when you came to my handmaid, as a man who has betrayed (בָּגַד) the wife of his youth.
  • Also, the word is like גדד, to cut or gash, in I Kings 18:28, when Elijah faces off against the prophets of Baal and the latter resorted to gashing themselves when they lost the first round.
  • Ibn Ezra- the name is also related to גְּדוּד, g’dood, for troop.
'A troop has come,' that is, Leah has had a troop of sons,' or 'let him be considered as many children [, accessed 2July 2012]
  • Hirsch, in the same vein as Ibn Ezra, comments that גדוד connotes a small military force that conducts quick raids; drives a wedge in the enemy lines; and thus changes the fortune of a battle.  Similarly, Leah believed that her latest son brought her good fortune.
  • More Ibn Ezra [?]: another related word is בָּגַד, ba-gad, betrayal, relating to Lavan treachery in the above verse?
Maybe not.  Elie Munk, citing Zohar, answers Rashi question on why the two-word phrase for “good luck has come” is written as one word.  Gad was a child of good fortune, but his descendants chose to separate themselves from the other tribes and settle in Transjordan.  They “swerved from the right path and went astray” like a crooked turn of a river.  They “voluntarily alienated themselves from the source of sanctity which the Holy Land represented.” Thus the one-word phrase to indicate that part of their good fortune was missing.
  • 30:12 And Zilpah, Leah's maidservant, bore Jacob a second son
Zilpah did not behave like the arrogant Hagar, so she remains a maidservant and is always called that.
  • 30:13. And Leah said, "Because of my good fortune, for women have declared me fortunate"; so she named him Asher.
    • The name אָשֵׁר, Asher, means happy or good fortune [from the stem ישר, according to Sarna]
    • Hirsch on this word in Psalm 1, like a tree near a stream.  Happiness is moving forward.  Ashur – a step, to go forward, like Proverbs.  Happiness is always progressing toward something, moving forward, of value, and advancement; not what you’ve accumulated.
The first word in Psalm 1:1 is אַשְֹרֵי, praiseworthy, referring to the man who does not follow the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners and sit in the company of scorners but instead desires the God’s Torah and makes it his own, like a tree absorbing water from a stream [Rashi on Psalm1:2]
The reference to Proverbs is 29:18 – “Without vision the people become unrestrained, but he who keeps the Torah is fortunate [or praiseworthy].”  In other words, by ignoring the prophets, people degenerate.  People freely exposed to Torah, by prophets or the sages, will be set on the proper path toward righteousness. [Plaut, Book of Proverbs, UAHC, 1961, page 293; Ginsberg, Eliezer.  Mishlei  (Volume II).  Brooklyn: Mesorah, 2009, citing numerus sources]
  • Much class discussion on slavery, Zilpah’s feelings, inheritance, surrogacy, and the womb as storage place for a baby (homunculus).
  • Norman Cohen on incessant struggle between siblings: (before Naftali’s birth in 30:8) it’s a literary pattern.  We struggle with ourselves, our shadows, constantly.  Characters struggling with themselves, their shadows, the dynamics of self-struggle.
A hypothetical conversation between Leah and Rachel, adapted from Cohen, pages 140-141
Rachel, upon birth of Naphtali: “I have engaged in a god-like struggle with my sister and have prevailed through Bilhah’s pregnancy with Jacob.”  She feels that her mothering role has prevailed over her barren self.
Leah, either now barren or having a sexless relationship with Jacob, feels her bond with Jacob has become shaky: “I’ll give my handmaiden Zilpah to Jacob to regain his love.”  
Leah, after birth of Gad and Asher: “what luck, what fortune!”  She feels vindicated and even triumphant.
Cohen concludes, “The shifts in the fortunes of the sisters … and the constant role reversals … underscore … the ongoing dynamic and tension between these two symbolic sides of every person.  As different as they are, the two sisters experience their conflict in similar ways, just as each of us vacillates between feelings of control and vulnerability.”
What a script for a soap opera!
  • Mandrakes – a love plant?  Stay tuned.