Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Vayechi #1: Maaseh Avot Siman LaBanim

This week I was stuck by the various Biblical parallels in the parsha - allusions to previous events. They may be coincidence, examples of maaseh avot siman laBanim, or deliberate actions taken by participants to call to mind and mimic earlier events.

The first one I noticed was the oath Yaakov asks Yosef to swear, that he will bury Yaakov in Canaan. In Bereishit 47:29-31, we read:

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָמוּת, וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי; וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת, אַל-נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם.
וְשָׁכַבְתִּי, עִם-אֲבֹתַי, וּנְשָׂאתַנִי מִמִּצְרַיִם, וּקְבַרְתַּנִי בִּקְבֻרָתָם; וַיֹּאמַר, אָנֹכִי אֶעֱשֶׂה כִדְבָרֶךָ.
וַיֹּאמֶר, הִשָּׁבְעָה לִי--וַיִּשָּׁבַע, לוֹ; וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַל-רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה.
"And the time drew near that Israel must die; and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him: 'If now I have found favour in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.

But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place.' And he said: 'I will do as thou hast said.'

And he said: 'Swear unto me.' And he swore unto him. And Israel bowed down upon the bed's head."

The form and description of this oath are reminiscent of the oath Avraham asks his servant to swear to him in finding a wife for Yitzchak. In Bereishit 24:1-9:

וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן, בָּא בַּיָּמִים; וַה בֵּרַךְ אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, בַּכֹּל.
וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם, אֶל-עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ, הַמֹּשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ: שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ, תַּחַת יְרֵכִי
וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ--בַּה אֱלֹקֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וֵאלֹקֵי הָאָרֶץ: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי, מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ.
כִּי אֶל-אַרְצִי וְאֶל-מוֹלַדְתִּי, תֵּלֵךְ; וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי לְיִצְחָק.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הָעֶבֶד, אוּלַי לֹא-תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה, לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרַי אֶל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת; הֶהָשֵׁב אָשִׁיב אֶת-בִּנְךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-יָצָאתָ מִשָּׁם.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אַבְרָהָם: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תָּשִׁיב אֶת-בְּנִי שָׁמָּה.
ה אֱלֹקֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַנִי מִבֵּית אָבִי וּמֵאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתִּי, וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע-לִי לֵאמֹר, לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת--הוּא, יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ, וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי, מִשָּׁם.
וְאִם-לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה, לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֶיךָ--וְנִקִּיתָ, מִשְּׁבֻעָתִי זֹאת; רַק אֶת-בְּנִי, לֹא תָשֵׁב שָׁמָּה.
וַיָּשֶׂם הָעֶבֶד אֶת-יָדוֹ, תַּחַת יֶרֶךְ אַבְרָהָם אֲדֹנָיו; וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ, עַל-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה.
"And Abraham was old, well stricken in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had: 'Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh.

And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.

But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son, even for Isaac.'

And the servant said unto him: 'Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land; must I needs bring thy son back unto the land from whence thou camest?'

And Abraham said unto him: 'Beware thou that thou bring not my son back thither.

The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.

And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither.'

And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter."

The obvious parallel is in the words and the action of שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי. As Chazal note, this was a serious oath and oaths are made benikitat chefetz. After matan Torah this chefetz could be a sefer torah, but now they swore by the mitzvah they had, which was brit milah.

Now, it could be mere coincidence. Both the marrying off of a child and ensuring one's own proper burial are serious matters that would require a serious oath. Also, perhaps an oath was needed for Yosef for other reasons, such as persuading Pharaoh to let him temporarily leave Egypt. In describing the standard way of administering the oath there must perforce be some overlap of language, and this does not need show a deliberate parallel or allusion.

However, there are more parallels in the situation. First, both *seem* to take place when the person asking for the oath are near the end of their life. By Yaakov, we are told "וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת." By Avraham we are told "וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים."

Now, via calculations based on what we are told the length of Avraham's life was, and events in the course of Yitzchak's life where we are told his age, we deduce that Avraham actually lived well past this date. In fact the Midrash tells us that when Yaakov was cooking lentils (by the selling of the birthright) he was doing this as a meal for the avelut of Avraham who had just died.

Local pshat reading of the story seems to suggest otherwise however. Avraham we are told is old.

When Eliezer brings back Rivkah, we are told this comforts him for the death of his mother, in pasuk 24:67:
וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק, אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ.
"And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother."

This somewhat suggests that Avraham was still around because we are not told this comforts him for his father. However, immediately afterwards we are told that Avraham took Keturah as a wife, had children, passed away and was buried in Mearat HaMachpela.

Some of this might have happened earlier and we are being informed of this so as to understand the distribution of inheritance. But this seems to conclude Avraham's life right here, at the end of the Eliezer story.

Further, Eliezer tells Lavan in 24:36:

וַתֵּלֶד שָׂרָה אֵשֶׁת אֲדֹנִי בֵן, לַאדֹנִי, אַחֲרֵי, זִקְנָתָהּ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ, אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ.
"And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and unto him hath he given all that he hath."

and Yitzchak would presumably not get all of Avraham's possessions except in inheritance. In fact, in dividing his inheritance, after giving gifts to his other sons we see in 25:5:

וַיִּתֵּן אַבְרָהָם אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, לְיִצְחָק
"And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac."

Besides the idea of oath to a dying man, there is the theme of staying rooted in Eretz Yisrael. By Yaakov that is the whole point - he does not wish to be buried in Egypt. For Avraham it is not the main point but an important one nonetheless - He does not want Yitzchak to marry a Canaanite girl. He will not send Yitzchak out of Eretz Yisrael to marry - that is the whole point of sending Eliezer. More important than that - he releases Eliezer of the oath if it would mean Yitzchak would have to leave Eretz Yisrael. Thus there is the shared theme of avoiding a stay in Galut and having permanant residence in Canaan.

Once we establish a parallel narrative, we can learn much from what they share in common but perhaps just as much from where they differ. I am thinking of the Targum Yonatan on the pasuk:

וְשָׁכַבְתִּי, עִם-אֲבֹתַי, וּנְשָׂאתַנִי מִמִּצְרַיִם, וּקְבַרְתַּנִי בִּקְבֻרָתָם; וַיֹּאמַר, אָנֹכִי אֶעֱשֶׂה כִדְבָרֶךָ.

Tg Yonatan translates וַיֹּאמַר אָנֹכִי אֶעֱשֶׂה כִדְבָרֶךָ as ומן בגלל דהוא בריה לא שוי ידיה אלהן אמר אנא אעביד כפתגמך. In English, "and because he was his son he did not place his hand {under Yaakov's thigh} but rather said 'I will do like you words.'"

Perush Yonatan explains this as an extension of the issur Chazal say of entering into a bathhouse with your father.

This refusal is interesting in terms of the extent of kibud av, and whether refusing a request from your father for the purpose of an oath for the purpose of kibud av really works. Also if it was assur one wonders why Yaakov requested it.

Perush Yonatan also tries to show how Tg Yonatan derives that this happens. He suggests it is a diyuk from the fact that it does not say "וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת-יָדוֹ" as it did by Eliezer but rather says he "said he would do like his words." Further, because Yaakov later insists that he swear, which implies that he did not swear immediately. Thus, one the link between the two narratives is established, the differences in the two accounts, slightly different phraseology, or the absence of a now expected statement can convey meaning.

That is all for now. Two more parallels later. The first is the introduction of Ephraim and Menashe with the meeting of Esav, and the second is Yaakov, with fading eyesight, deliberately switching of the younger for older son in his blessing though giving both blessings, in a seeming intentional recreation of Yaakov's theft of the bracha from Esav.

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