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, February 20, 2013

Sons and Behavior and Consequences Later

(Howards Wonderful Notes from our class with Rabbi Marder 2/16!)

Who is the worthy author that will write a novel based on this episode?  Watch out, Anita Diamant!
·      More on 35:22-26
*      Verse 22 - “… and Israel heard [of it]” is a sentence with no object; what does Israel [Jacob] hear?  He says nothing in the text, but saves his admonition of Reuven for a deathbed speech in Chapter 49.
*      The use of “Israel” and “Jacob” seems random, although commentators have plenty to say about that; see above at 35:9-10.
*      There is an abrupt transition to “the sons of Jacob were twelve” with a gap or pause (פ) in the text itself.
+Munk – Jacob feared that he has one bad son, but Reuven’s transgression did not result in banishment from the clan, like Ishmael and Esau.
+The exact purpose of [what Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary) terms a paragraph that ends with the middle of a verse] is unknown.  There is much more to the story than this bit of text.
+Jacob was able to forgive his son; there was no split or rupture.  Is there a precedent here?   Shimeon and Levi killed many people but stayed in the family.
+Physical separation of the text suggests that parties involved needed time to recover from the incident, to settle down, gather their wits, to separate themselves from the incident and one another.
*      Twelve sons but Dinah is not mentioned.
+Midrash Rabbah 24 (cited in Munk’s commentary on this verse and on 46:27) - The number 12 is engraved on Creation.  The above-mentioned pause indicates that the “latter part of the verse a celestial response to Jacob’s anguish [that] was expressed before the pause …”
-Twelve signs of the zodiac
-Twelve months of the year
-Twelve hours of daylight [the average throughout the year]
-For the first time, the Torah uses this number to count the tribes of Israel.  Thus, the “Future Jewish nation was established on the same solid and immutable foundation as that which govern the laws of nature.” 
The problem is that twelve zodiac signs and twelve months of the year are human constructs, hardly laws of nature.
+The family is complete – Jacob no longer had intercourse with Leah -- so it’s time to count them; but where is Dinah?
+Sons of Leah are mentioned first; then Rachel, then Bilhah, then Zilpah – order of the marriage.  Compare this with episode before the encounter with Esau, where Jacob is preparing for battle: the order is reversed.  Concubines’ sons, Leah’s sons, Rachel’s sons.  Literary theory: the order is not random but is purposeful.
+Patterns of the ordering – a leitmotif – especially who is first in Jacob’s life; who takes precedence.  Jacob is driven to be first.  But at Isaac’s funeral, Esau is mentioned first.
+Order of Avot prayer: originally, Leah came before Rachel; she was Jacob’s first wife.  In latest Mishkan Tefillah, Rachel comes before Leah because:
-He met Rachel first and was his best love.
-From Rachel comes Joseph …
-What about Bilhah and Zilpah?
·      Verse 26 - יֻלַּד is a singular verb, suggesting the brothers were one tribe.
·      35:27story continues from before Dinah [alleged] rape
*      Jacob finally comes home to Hebron, the primary residence of the patriarchs.
*      Eric Auerbach – Torah leaves open spaces to reader to fill in. [lacunae?  I hope so; it’s such a cool word.]
*      Expectation of mentioning of Rebecca; where is she?  Commentators say she died.  Jacob loses the opportunity to say goodbye to her.
*      גָּר [from root גור] refers to temporary sojourn, not the same as ישב, dwell or reside.
*      Sforno – coming back to place where grandparent lived will get make you in high regard if the forebears were in good stead.
*      Isaac’s death may be out of chronological order.  Isaac lives much longer and establishes a relationship with Jacob.  Torah is not written in chronological order, but in thematic order.  This one concludes the theme of Jacob; next one is Joseph.
+Rashi explains this in his commentary to 35:27 and 28:9, but if you can follow it, you deserve an extra hammentaschen or latke, depending on who wins the debate.
+In JPS Torah Commentary.  Genesis, page 369 (footnote 17), Nahum Sarna has a much simpler explanation.
-Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born (28:6-9).
-Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery (37:2), making Jacob 91+17 = 108.
-Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born (25:26), making Isaac 108+60 = 168 when Joseph was sold into slavery.
-Isaac died at 180 (35:28) and thus lived 12 years beyond Joseph’s sale. Joseph’s story begins in Chapter 37 before Isaac’s death.
·      35:28-29 Isaac dies
*      He takes his last breath; dies; and then is gathered to his peoples.
*       Sarna (JPS Torah Commentary to Genesis 25:8)– the words “gathered to his kin” suggests that there is an afterlife.  Eli Munk’s commentary to 25:8 and 15:15 says much the same.
*      There is no reference to “he lived” (חי) as with Abraham (25:8).

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rachel dies in childbirth

      35:16-20 on Rachel’s birthing of Benjamin and her death.
·      35:16-17
-      הָאָרֶץ כִּבְרַת עוֹד – still some distance to go; between towns
-     Irony – Rachel is desperate for children, but dies giving birth to one.
-     Midwife says not to fear; it’s another son.  Talmud: birth pains are worse when it’s a daughter.  Also, she says, “have no fear; the son will live.”
-     Comparable passage in I Samuel 4, when Philistines capture Ark of the Covenant.  Daughter-in-law of Phineas also dies in childbirth …
·      35:18 – Rachel’s name for the boy is “Ben-oni”, son of pain, because of the birth situation (also like 1 Samuel 4); then Jacob renames to Benjamin, a radical idea.
-     But Jacob is actually translating Aramaic to Hebrew the name to son of strength, son of the right; the right hand is one of strength.
-     Ramban – Jacob translating is based on love, a good meaning.  Changing pain and future guilt to something more meaningful.
-     Rashi translates as son of the south; facing east means the right hand points south toward Canaan, a land that Israelites will soon take over.
-     Another translation; son of days, ימים בן, where the מ and נ were switched.
-     But Hebrew names are not usually made public until eighth day; not here, so the brit millah came from a later tradition.
-     Text reads that Rachel dies and then names the newborn; perhaps it was the midwife who did the naming?  Or, did the naming come as she was dying, so it is logical that Jacob should step in and rename.
-     Why does Rachel die?  A punishment of Jacob for delay in returning to Bet El?  Of Rachel for buying the mandrake and bargaining with Leah?  Of Rachel’s for here disrespect of older sister by speaking first?  Of Rachel stealing her father’s idols?
-     Ben Johnson’s poem on death of his son
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
    And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
    Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
    As what he loves may never like too much.

-     Isaiah 57:1 – Rachel wasn’t punished; she suffered because she was righteous.  There is often no reason for death…
·      35:19
-     Why is Rachel not buried in Cave of Machpelah, as are other matriarchs and patriarchs?
*  Logistical problem of traveling to the Cave
*  Shame on entering the Land, where two wives are frowned upon
*  Jacob as a prophet – Jeremiah passage read in traditional synagogues on 2nd day Rosh Hashanah – “Rachel weeping …” Exiles will return to this place.
*  Why Rachel’s pleading so effective? Her yearning to be a mother; she gave her life to be a mother.  Her desperation, her sacrifice.
*  From 1 Samuel, the tomb is a landmark, a known site, even today.
*  בְּדֶרֶךְ –on the way; a no-man’s land; a possibly dangerous place, such as Benjamin getting harmed “on the way” to Egypt.
-     Tradition of Joseph praying at this grave (from some Midrash in Ginzberg’s Legends of the Bible).  A poignant prayer about comfort, consolation, pleading to be relieved of suffering.
-     Dying in childbirth – does this speak to her life?  It’s her ultimate sacrifice, considering her desperation to have children.  After all, most of a woman’s worth in those days was based on ability to bear children.
*  In developed world, dying in childbirth is rare, almost shocking and not considered “sacrifice.”
*  Adults walk closer to street with their children, so they’d be struck first by an out-of-control car.  That’s their “sacrifice.”  But child could say, “if you die, that would do me no good with you gone.”
*  Who lives in this situation? Mother or child.