Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Toldot #2: The near miss

from the derasha department
In parashat Toledot, there is a near miss, with Yaakov leaving Yitzchak tent just before, or perhaps just as Esav enters. As Bereishit 27:30 states,
וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה יִצְחָק לְבָרֵךְ אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, וַיְהִי אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא יַעֲקֹב, מֵאֵת פְּנֵי יִצְחָק אָבִיו; וְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו, בָּא מִצֵּידוֹ.
"And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting."
The phrase אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא can be taken as him still leaving, or else having just left. It is hard to see at first glance how it could be that Yaakov was in the middle of leaving. That would mean that they met each other, and if so, Yaakov would be in trouble. Perhaps not - after all, it was not strange for a son to visit his father, so perhaps Esav would not have suspected. On the other hand, Yaakov was wearing Esav's clothing, and had those goat skins, so would Esav not have suspected? Further, the feel of the pasuk is that Esav did not see Yaakov. The alternative is that Yaakov left with just enough time that he did not bump into Esav.

The interpretation that Yaakov was still leaving when Esav entered is more attractive from a hyper-literal (and thus midrashic) perspective. (אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא would be "was yet in the midst of leaving" which is closer to the Hebrew literal interpretation than "had scarcely left.") Chazal offer two derashot that explain this pasuk as Yaakov leaving at the same time that Esav entered. Yet, Esav did not see Yaakov. How did they miss each other? One derasha explains that there were two entrances to Yitzchak's tent. Yaakov exited from one door as Esav entered from the other. Another derasha explains that there was a door, and Yaakov stood on one side of the door and was obscured from Esav's view when Esav entered. Yaakov then slipped out.

Good explanations, but where do they get this from? Further, one explanation is sufficient to explain how the two brothers did not meet. What is the basis for the divergence in the explanation?

The answer is at the end of the pasuk. We read וְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו בָּא מִצֵּידוֹ, "and Esav his brother came in from his hunting." However, if we change the tzerei under the tzadi to a chirik, we would get וְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו בָּא מִצִּדּוֹ, "and Esav his brother came from his side." The pronoun his in מִצִּדּוֹ is ambiguous. If could either mean "from Esav's side," or else it could mean "from Yaakov's side." If it means "from Esav's side," then Esav came from his side of the tent, while Yaakov left from the other side of the tent, where there was another exit. If it means "from Yaakov's side," then when he entered he was just to the side of Yaakov, which means Yaakov was on one side of the door and was unseen by Esav.

Thus we see where the midrashim get their explanation as well as the source for the divergence between the two midrashim.

4 comments:

Joe in Australia said...

I don't know whether anyone will ever read a comment to such an old (though still interesting) post, but surely it is obvious how Esau could have entered while Yitzchok exited stage right - Yitzchok inherited Avrohom's tent, which as we know had four doors.

joshwaxman said...

thanks.
nice point. indeed, this might well have been in the midrashist's mind.

Ari said...

Oldie but goodie

(both the post and "Joe in Australia's" comment)

SPACE said...

How to understand Sforno comment on Genesis 25.30 And Esau said to Jacob, "Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint"; he was therefore named Edom.
It says, that he was named "red", because eat red food. Does food affect human color?

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