Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Vayera: Hakadosh Baruch Hu's Tikkun Soferim

Here is "scribal emendation" #1 in Vayera, one you might have missed. In two consecutive pesukim in Bereishit 18:

יב  וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר:  אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן.12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'
יג  וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם:  לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד--וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי.13 And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?

In the first it is וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן, yet in Hashem's report of Sarah's words, it is suddenly וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי. How did Avraham being old transform into Sarah's being old.

The answer, al pi peshat, is that Hashem is not giving a direct quote but a summary. And וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי is a summary of אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה. And the part about Avraham being old is left out, being an afterthought.

The answer, al pi derash, is that Hashem changed the truth in the interests of shalom bayit and so וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן became וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי. And so we learn an important life-lesson from this textual irregularity.

Another answer, al pi derash, is that וַאֲנִי in וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי is the current speaker, Hashem, rather than the quoted speaker, Sarah. And this works out beautifully if we simply revocalize the previous statement וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן as vadonAY zaken. And this hooks into the existing undercurrent of Sarah's questioning whether this is really in the power of Hashem to fulfill, something made explicit in the continuation in pasuk 14, הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵה' דָּבָר?

The answer, al pi a pseudo-scholarly approach I am making up, is to note that the difference between וַאדֹנִי and וַאֲנִי is just the letter daled. Try to work it out with the morphological endings of זָקֵן and זָקַנְתִּי.

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