Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Malbim, that Avraham created the calf via Sefer Yetzira

Summary: The Malbim on Vayera, about Avraham creating a calf via Sefer Yetzira.

Post: As part of a previous post on Vayera, I developed a cute theory that Avraham created the cattle via sefer Yetzira, as a way of harmonizing seemingly conflicting referents of who performed what action. Then, I used this to answer how the malachim could have consumed basar beChalav. See there. As an Anonymous commenter pointed out, the Malbim says this explicitly. Therefore, either baruch she-kivanti that I arrived at a similar or identical conclusion from consideration of the pesukim, and / or, since I had indeed heard it in the past, it was in the back of my brain and guided my interpretation. Here is the Malbim. People often attribute this position to him, and stop there, but in fact he attributes this view to Chazal, so we should really try looking further to identify the midrash.

The relevant psukim, in Vayera:

7. And to the cattle did Abraham run, and he took a calf, tender and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hastened to prepare it.ז. וְאֶל הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח בֶּן בָּקָר רַךְ וָטוֹב וַיִּתֵּן אֶל הַנַּעַר וַיְמַהֵר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתוֹ:
8. And he took cream and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed [them] before them, and he was standing over them under the tree, and they ate.ח. וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֶן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּתֵּן לִפְנֵיהֶם וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ וַיֹּאכֵלוּ:
Malbim writes:
"And to the cattle ran [Avraham]..." by himself. And according to its peshat, that which it states וַיִּקַּח, "and he took [cream and milk...]" refers to the the youth, that the youth took cream and milk and put it before them first, and {then} after the meat was roasted he {=the lad} brought before them the calf. Meanwhile, וְהוּא, meaning Avraham, stood over them under the tree, so that they would not be sitting alone. And there is, to Chazal, that the calf ran from before Avraham {Josh: presumably darshened from וְאֶל הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם} and Avraham created another via Sefer Yetzira, for upon this is written וַיְמַהֵר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתוֹ, that he {J: meaning Avraham, such that we keep Avraham as actor} made it via Sefer Yetzirah. It appears that they {meaning Chazal} wished to answer with this how he fed the angels basar beChalav, and they said that the meat was created via Sefer Yetzira such that it did not have the status of meat; and this that it states that וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֶן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, the intent is that since he made it via Sefer Yetzira they were able to eat it with milk. Yet, at its simplest there is no difficulty, for he placed before them first cream and milk and they ate, and after this, after he prepared the calf he placed before them the meat."

My own thoughts on this are as follows. I offered this somewhat tongue in cheek, but it is good midrash. I don't know that I would agree that Chazal were necessarily guided by the basar beChalav concerns. There is enough pronoun ambiguity between the two verses that one would be guided into this. I discussed this in my previous post, and we see Malbim grapple with this as well. It seems as if Avraham is the sole actor in pasuk 8, yet he tells the naar in the previous verse to prepare it. We could resolve it like Malbim, or else just bring the naar into verse 8 for the act of preparation, or else, my inclination, that Avraham made it via delegation. Compare to when Bilaam saddled his donkey to travel to Balak, which midrash makes a big deal out of, and indeed compares to Avraham saddling his own donkey by the Binding of Yitzchak. But Ibn Ezra writes there:

[כב, כא]
ויחבוש -

It could be the same here as well. But at any rate, while other midrashim concern themselves with the basar beChalav, I don't really see the necessity to bring this in here. Sefer Yetzira would only be necessary to bolster the idea of Avraham making it himself.

At any rate, it is clear that this midrash is something Malbim has heard elsewhere, and has attributed to Chazal. I don't know where this is found. It might well be in kabbalistic sources, and kabbalah would be reckoned as Chazal. I've seen the running after the calf in both Pirkei De'Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 36):

and in the Zohar. But I don't yet know of a source for Avraham creating the calf via Sefer Yetzirah, earlier than Malbim, that is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "midrash" mentioned by Malbim of Avraham creating the calf using Sefer Yetzirah is this Yalkut Reuveini, which, while being a collection of midrashim, also contains many interpretations of the author himself, as he says in the introduction. I suspect this is one of them.


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