Thursday, December 12, 2013

How could Yaakov see? Weren't his eyes dim from old age?

In Bereishit perek 48, Yaakov encounters Yosef and his sons.

ח  וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-בְּנֵי יוֹסֵף; וַיֹּאמֶר, מִי-אֵלֶּה.8 And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said: 'Who are these?'
ט  וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף, אֶל-אָבִיו, בָּנַי הֵם, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן-לִי אֱלֹהִים בָּזֶה; וַיֹּאמַר, קָחֶם-נָא אֵלַי וַאֲבָרְכֵם.9 And Joseph said unto his father: 'They are my sons, whom God hath given me here.' And he said: 'Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.'
י  וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת; וַיַּגֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֵלָיו, וַיִּשַּׁק לָהֶם וַיְחַבֵּק לָהֶם.10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.
יא  וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יוֹסֵף, רְאֹה פָנֶיךָ לֹא פִלָּלְתִּי; וְהִנֵּה הֶרְאָה אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים, גַּם אֶת-זַרְעֶךָ.11 And Israel said unto Joseph: 'I had not thought to see thy face; and, lo, God hath let me see thy seed also.'

In pasuk 8, וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל.
In pasuk 10, וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת.
In pasuk11, רְאֹה פָנֶיךָ לֹא פִלָּלְתִּי; וְהִנֵּה הֶרְאָה אֹתִי אֱלֹהִים, גַּם אֶת-זַרְעֶךָ.

A silly question: I thought Yaakov couldn't see (pasuk 8)? So how did he see Yosef's sons (pasuk 8)? And how did he see in Yosef's face and Yosef's sons (pasuk 11)?

One possible answer is that "see" doesn't mean literally seeing. In parshat Balak

ב  וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי.2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

need we claim that he literally saw with his eyes? If he had reports from scouts what Israel had done, wouldn't that be sufficient to say that he "saw"?

This is what Ibn Janach says, more or less:

 וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל -- that is, it was known to him and he sensed their coming, even though he did not [literally] see them, as was written וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת. (Sefer Hashorashim, 462)

Of course, there are degrees of blindness, such that he could possibly have recognized people he knew but in day-to-day life be functionally blind.

I was also thinking about the role of this interjection, of וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת. Why is it necessary for the Torah to stress this, and right here? Here are a few answers, but I don't think they are all simultaneously true. That is, if it comes for reason X, then we should know that it is not coming for reason Y.

a) To explain why they should approach Yaakov. (But they should approach anyway, so that he could rest his hands upon them as he blesses them.)
b) To draw the parallel to Yitzchak's accidental blessing of Yaakov. Yitzchak confused his firstborn and second born, in part because of his blindness. Indeed, Yitzchak also asked Yaakov to draw near to him, and Yaakov only was able to deceive his father because of the fur.
c) To explain Yosef's mistaken impression later (in pasuk 18) that Yaakov had mistaken the older for the younger. וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אָבִיו, לֹא-כֵן אָבִי:  כִּי-זֶה הַבְּכֹר

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