Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Avraham did not consume pas akum or stam yeinam, redux

A while back, in 2006, I considered a dvar Torah that grappled with how Avraham could have eaten pas akum and stam yeinam from the hands of Malkitzedek, and dismissed this sort of concern.

Now I see that this idea was already put forth, in a slightly different form, in Or HaChaim. He considers the question of the interjection of Malkitzedek between the King of Sodom coming out and the relating of his words to Avraham. He gives an answer, about the difference between the conduct good and bad people. (See the first paragraph in the Hebrew below.) Then, he writes (second paragraph in the Hebrew):

"Furthermore this is desired based on what Chazal said, that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, even eruvei tavshilin which was a rabbinic ordinance. And therefore the Scriptures informed us that Avraham was an honored and great prince in everyone's eyes; and when the king of Sodom went out to him, naturally he would have greeted him with a present of bread for him his servants, and his warriors. And since Avraham kept away from food -- from the bread, because of pas akum, and from the wine because of stam yeinam, therefore, the king of Sodom he was clever and endeavored to make the gift of food via a trustworthy person, who was Shem [=Malkitzedek]. And from the hand of Shem to the hand of Avraham. And the Scriptures are informing us of a novelty, that even bread and wine, which was only Rabbinic, Avraham was insistent upon. And certainly, the other matters which have a worry of a Biblical prohibition."

An interesting approach, though one I disagree with. Still, even within this disagreement, there is a slight difference in attitude between this dvar and the previous one -- between insisting that Avraham could not have done X because it goes against a derabbanan, and then finding a solution; and noting a textual irregularity and answering it as another instance or proof of Avraham keeping even derabbanans.

I don't think that, historically, Avraham kept all relevant Biblical commandments, let alone Rabbinic institutions. There are midrashim that assert that he did. It is possible that the authors of these midrashim believed this to be historically true, just like Or HaChaim and plenty of other people, rabbanim. It is also possible that the authors of these midrashim were speaking homiletically, and did not really believe that Avraham kept all the mitzvos. As such, they would dismiss as irrelevant instances of Avraham serving milk and meat, or Yaakov marrying two sisters, and so on.

There is a famous teshuva of the Rashba (1:94) that the Avos kept the Torah. But it is more nuanced that that, I think. Let us examine the words of the Rashba, at the end of that teshuva:

"And in terms of what they [, Chazal,] said, that Yaakov kept the 613 commandments, and that this is hinted in the words (Bereishit 32) עם לבן גרתי, and it is difficult to you how he kept them, when he was not yet commanded; and further, that Yaakov married two sisters.

Know that they, za'l, said that Avraham kept even the eruvei techumin as is written (Bereishit 27) וישמר משמרתי מצותי חקתי ותורותי. And do not be astonished, for you have already been awakened to know that there is not, in all the details of the commandments, a commandment which does not hint to matters of chochma, such that the chochma should come {?} so that the shefeilim should be found in actions, and in the hints that they hint to the chochma, so that it comes out that the chochma compels the action and the inaction. And the action and inaction inform what is hinted to them from the chochma.

And the patriarchs reached, with their great wisdom, to these fundamentals, just as Chazal said regarding Avraham that his two kidneys expressed to him chochma like two teachers. And so too all the patriarchs, such that Yehuda, who received from his fathers, kept the commandment of yibbum, even though he was not yet commanded upon it, and he commanded it to his son in that language itself that the Torah commands it, and this is via the aspect I have spoken.

And regarding that which Yaakov married two sisters, know that the Torah stands on three pillars:

  1. time
  2. place
  3. vessels

The time, that not all days are forbidden in labor as on Shabbat and Yom Tov. And one is not prohibited in chametz like on Pesach. And one is not obligated in Succah and lulav like on Succot.

And the place, that not every place is obligated in terumah and maaser, and is prohibited in untithed foods, as in the land of Israel. And one is not obligated in sacrifices as in the Bet HaMikdash.

And vessels, that not with every possible item can one fulfill, in exchange for the lulav and etrog, and not every thing can one offer, like cattle and sheep, turtledoves and doves, and not everyone is fit to offer like a kohen. And I am not able to explain further, and one who contemplates the matter will find."

Now, just because the Rashba endorses the idea -- or R' Eliyahu Mizrachi, or Gur Aryeh -- do we need to agree. Or even find it (or a simplified version of it) convincing, or non-silly.

But note that it is not, according to the Rashba, a simple anachronism. Since the mitzvos in the Torah are rooted in spiritual fundamentals, by spiritual knowledge, one could recreate or intuit the details of the mitzvos. And he seems to be saying that not everything will be applicable to every time, place, or situation. He is dealing in general, but mentions the particular of Yaakov marrying two wives, and this is reminiscent of Ramban's distinguishing keeping the Torah based on place.

One could ask: How could Avraham or Yaakov have descended to Egypt, when it is an issur of traveling to Egypt? One could say that it was a prohibition of returning to Egypt. Or rather, that the time for this issur had not yet set in.

It is more than that. Before mattan Torah, in this different place, time, and available vessels, the spiritual principles could yield different appropriate actions. In terms of mitzvos, obviously it was crystalized in its specific form, but beforehand, not so. And so you won't find an exact match to every single commandment, Biblical and Rabbinic.

If so, I would expect that even Rashba would not be so bothered by every single "problem" that bothered later meforshim, ad hayom hazeh, in trying to put the square peg of the patriarchal narrative into the round hole of Rabbinic Judaism.

Thus, I don't believe that Rashba would have had to find a kvetch to account for how Avraham could have married Hagar (as I've seen in others). For Hagar, recall, was a maidservant to Sarah. And she stayed a maidservant, which was why she could revert to Sarah's control later. And one can only give a maidservant to a manservant, whether an eved kenaani or an eved ivri. (Such as saying that Sarah was a prophet and he was following her as a horaas shaah.) I would guess that he would likely find an "out" based on his three conditions, rather than figuring out a specific halachic way that it would have worked out, and advancing that as peshat.


yaak said...

Not only De'oraitas and not only Derabbanans did Avraham Avinu keep, but even the Tikkunim of the Ariza"l , and Has Veshalom to say otherwise! - according to R' Yaakov Abuhatzeira.

Yes I know that there are various opinions out there about this.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. nice.

bluke said...

Take a look at the Daas Zekainim at the beginning of Vayera. He has a fascinating explanation of what Chazal meant when they said Avraham kept even Eruv Tavshilin. He says it means that Avraham served the malachim first milk then meat, explaining the words literally that he know how to arrange the order of the food so that they would not violate an issur.


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