Monday, November 17, 2003

Chayei Sarah #2:

In parshat Chayei Sarah, Avraham negotiates the purchase of the Mearat HaMachpeilah.
There are a few things which stick out in the language of the narrative.

Bereishit 23:3-4

וַיָּקָם, אַבְרָהָם, מֵעַל, פְּנֵי מֵתוֹ; וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי-חֵת, לֵאמֹר.
גֵּר-וְתוֹשָׁב אָנֹכִי, עִמָּכֶם; תְּנוּ לִי אֲחֻזַּת-קֶבֶר עִמָּכֶם, וְאֶקְבְּרָה מֵתִי מִלְּפָנָי.
"And Abraham rose up from before his dead, and spoke unto the children of Heth, saying:

'I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'"

This reads straightforwardly. וַיְדַבֵּר matches לֵאמֹר, and conveys the message that X spoke to Y saying Z. Even though Vaydaber Hashem El Moshe Lemor is taken to mean that Hashem told spoke to Mosher and told him to say, that is, X poke to Y and told Y to say Z. But not resorting to a hyper-literal reading of midrash, vaydaber...lemor means the former.

If so, later, in Bereishit 23:5-6:

וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי-חֵת אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, לֵאמֹר לוֹ.
שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי, נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ--בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ, קְבֹר אֶת-מֵתֶךָ; אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, אֶת-קִבְרוֹ לֹא-יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ.
"And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him:

'Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us; in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.'"

Why in the first pasuk is there the extra word לוֹ in לֵאמֹר לוֹ, when לֵאמֹר would suffice?

Later, in Bereishit 23:10-11:

וְעֶפְרוֹן יֹשֵׁב, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי-חֵת; וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן הַחִתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָהָם בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי-חֵת, לְכֹל בָּאֵי שַׁעַר-עִירוֹ לֵאמֹר.
לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי--הַשָּׂדֶה נָתַתִּי לָךְ, וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ לְךָ נְתַתִּיהָ; לְעֵינֵי בְנֵי-עַמִּי נְתַתִּיהָ לָּךְ, קְבֹר מֵתֶךָ.
"Now Ephron was sitting in the midst of the children of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying:

'Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee; bury thy dead.'"

In the second pasuk, what is the meaning of the word לֹא in לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי? Isn't Ephron agreeing to Avraham's request. Rashi and Ibn Ezra feel compelled to explain, and the explanation is simple - he want to refuse payment. But that is not clear in light of the fact that eventually Ephron asks for money and Avraham gives it. So what is his refusal? Their explanation might be valid, but the word לֹא still sticks out as something to be addressed.

In Bereishit 23:13:

וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן בְּאָזְנֵי עַם-הָאָרֶץ, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אִם-אַתָּה לוּ, שְׁמָעֵנִי: נָתַתִּי כֶּסֶף הַשָּׂדֶה, קַח מִמֶּנִּי, וְאֶקְבְּרָה אֶת-מֵתִי, שָׁמָּה.
"And he spoke unto Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: 'But if thou wilt, I pray thee, hear me: I will give the price of the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.'"

Here we have a curious phrase לוּ שְׁמָעֵנִי, "I pray thee, hear me." I will return to this phrase later.

In Bereishit 23:14-15

וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, לֵאמֹר לוֹ.
אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי, אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶׁקֶל-כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ מַה-הִוא; וְאֶת-מֵתְךָ, קְבֹר.
"And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him:

'My lord, hearken unto me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.'"

In the first of these two psukim, we again have the extraneous word לוֹ in the phrase לֵאמֹר לוֹ.

I offer the following suggestion in answer, which involves changing the nikud and end of psukim in several instances. Simply note the phrase in Bereishit 23:13, לוּ שְׁמָעֵנִי, "I pray thee, hear me." All of the instances of לו at the end of a pasuk are followed with שְׁמָעֵנוּ or שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי. I would suggest that Al Tikra Lo Elah Loo in each of these cases, and move the word to the next pasuk, and so each time each party begins their address with "I pray thee..."

The remaining problematic word is לא from 23:11
לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי--הַשָּׂדֶה נָתַתִּי לָךְ, וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ לְךָ נְתַתִּיהָ; לְעֵינֵי בְנֵי-עַמִּי נְתַתִּיהָ לָּךְ, קְבֹר מֵתֶךָ.

An aleph and a vav are called Imot HaKriah, words which assst in reading by suggesting a specific vowel but are not themselves pronounced. We can (and in many instances do) have nikud other than what we would expect for the aleph, heh, or vav at the end of the word. Change this Lo also to a Loo, and we have a consistent pattern of speech, and no issue of what Ephron is saying no to.

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