Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why does Yaakov privately refer to Esav as his master?

The Brisker Rov,
Rabbi Yitzchok Zev
HaLevi Soloveitchik
The Brisker Rov has an interesting analysis of Yaakov's instructions to his servants / address to Esav, where Yaakov says כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו. This analysis differs, but falls in line, with something I heard from Dr. Steiner about the role of this phrase.

We begin with the pasuk in Vayishlach, in Bereishit 32:5:

 And he commanded them, saying, "So shall you say to my master to Esau, 'Thus said your servant Jacob, "I have sojourned with Laban, and I have tarried until now. ה. וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב עִם לָבָן גַּרְתִּי וָאֵחַר עַד עָתָּה:

Yaakov not only refers to himself as a servant within this text to be quoted to Esav. He also, in speaking to his own messengers, refers to Esav as his master. This is not something for Esav's ears, and yet he places Esav as his master.

The Brisker Rov writes, in Chiddushei HaGriz:

"וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב -- And this requires explanation, why it states כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו. This was, after all, what he said to his messengers, so why should he say "to my master?!" And what seems is that the word לֵאמֹר requires further explanation, for its meaning it "say to them", and if so, why should any further כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן etc. be necessary?! Didn't he already say 'say to him', when he said לֵאמֹר? And the conclusion compelled by this analysis is that they need to say to Esav as well the words "כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן etc.", that he said to them that they should say to Esav. For so did he say to them "כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו". And therefore he said לַאדֹנִי, since they said this to Esav, as I wrote."
This is a nice analysis, whose conclusion -- that לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו was part of the message related to Esav -- I have encountered elsewhere with some very good backup. I'll get to that in a minute.

However, I am not sure I agree with the details of the Brisker Rov's analysis. Specifically, I would argue that לֵאמֹר actually means "as follows", not (a command) "to say". It is true that Chazal often take לֵאמֹר -- perhaps midrashically -- to mean a command to say to others. (See e.g. Rashi on Vayikra 1:1) Thus, the famous vayomer Hashem el Moshe leimor is a command by Hashem that Moshe should say to others. And thus, when that is followed by a further command to say, then it is sometimes cause for midrashic discussion.

But while that is an established way of interpreting leimor, I would argue that it means "as follows". If so, וַיְצַו אֹתָם לֵאמֹר means that Yaakov instructed the messengers as follows, and there is no repetition! If so, כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן can readily be his instruction to his servants, rather than a quoted phrase to repeat to Esav. As to why Yaakov would use the term "my master" to his servants, we could answer that he was indeed assuming a subservient role in his placation of Esav, and this was getting into character; or a way of impressing this idea upon the messengers who were to believe and deliver the message.

However, in Dr. Richard Steiner's class -- I think it was in Galilean Aramaic, where we saw the Bereishit Rabba in question -- he presented us with a solution to this, along similar lines. That is, that לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו was part of the words quoted to Esav. I wrote this up in greater detail here, and used it to react to a claim by Speiser that this idea was against the trup and Chazal.

The idea is that there is a "routine epistolary formula", such as in Akkadian: to my lord X say, thus (speaks) your servant Y. And we see an instance of this in Ezra 4:11:

יא דְּנָה֙ פַּרְשֶׁ֣גֶן אִגַּרְתָּ֔א דִּ֚י שְׁלַ֣חוּ עֲל֔וֹהִי עַל־אַרְתַּחְשַׁ֖שְׂתְּא מַלְכָּ֑א עבדיך (עַבְדָ֛ךְ) אֱנָ֥שׁ עֲבַֽר־נַהֲרָ֖ה וּכְעֶֽנֶת׃

And that this in Vayishlach was an epistolary formula was known to Yehuda Nesia, as the following Midrash Rabba makes clear (for those read the midrash and who also recognize the epistolary formula from elsewhere):
מדרש רבה פרשה ע"ה

ה וַיְצַו אֹתָם, לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן, לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו
רבינו אמר לרבי אפס
כתוב חד אגרא מן שמי למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
קם וכתב
מן יהודה נשיאה למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
נסבה וקרייה וקרעיה
אמר ליה כתוב
מן עבדך יהודה למרן מלכא אנטונינוס
אמר ליה רבי מפני מה אתה מבזה על כבודך?
אמר ליה מה אנא טב מן סבי?!
לא כך אמר
כֹּה אָמַר, עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב
'And he commanded them saying, so say to my lord Esav'
Rabbenu said to Rabbi Apas:
'Write a letter from me (lit. from my name) to my master the king Antoninus.'
He (R Apas) got up and wrote: From Yehuda Nesia (the Prince) to our master the king Antoninus.
He (Yehuda Nesia) got up and read it and tore it up.
He (Yehuda Nesia) said 'Write: From your servant Yehuda to our master the king Antoninus.'
He (R Apas) said, 'Rebbi, for what cause do you degrade your honor?'
He (Yehuda Nesia) said to him, 'What, am I better than my ancestor?! Does it not say: So says your servant Yaakov?'

One could perhaps argue whether כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן should be placed as part of the quote or not, but certainly לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו should.

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