Thursday, November 04, 2004

Chayyei Sarah #1: לוֹ, לוּ, לֹא אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי

An interesting feature of this week's parsha is the creative alternation of לוֹ, לוּ and לֹא (prefaced with the word לֵאמֹר) together with אֲדֹנִי and שְׁמָעֵנִי as well as pasuk breaks to convey different meanings:

ה וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי-חֵת אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, לֵאמֹר לוֹ.
ו שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי, נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ--בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ, קְבֹר אֶת-מֵתֶךָ; אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, אֶת-קִבְרוֹ לֹא-יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ.

י וְעֶפְרוֹן יֹשֵׁב, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי-חֵת; וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן הַחִתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָהָם בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי-חֵת, לְכֹל בָּאֵי שַׁעַר-עִירוֹ לֵאמֹר.
יא לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי--הַשָּׂדֶה נָתַתִּי לָךְ, וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ לְךָ נְתַתִּיהָ; לְעֵינֵי בְנֵי-עַמִּי נְתַתִּיהָ לָּךְ, קְבֹר מֵתֶךָ.

יג וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן בְּאָזְנֵי עַם-הָאָרֶץ, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אִם-אַתָּה לוּ, שְׁמָעֵנִי: נָתַתִּי כֶּסֶף הַשָּׂדֶה, קַח מִמֶּנִּי, וְאֶקְבְּרָה אֶת-מֵתִי, שָׁמָּה.

יד וַיַּעַן עֶפְרוֹן אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, לֵאמֹר לוֹ.
טו אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי, אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶׁקֶל-כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ מַה-הִוא; וְאֶת-מֵתְךָ, קְבֹר.

I suggested last year that we could smooth all of the לוֹ, לוּ, לֹא into a consistent לוּ, since the letters vav and aleph are after all just to denote the presence of a vowel. We would also start each verse with this word לוּ. This would solve the issue of just what Ephron is objecting to in pasuk 11. Each is entreating the other with the polite word לוּ. We would not have to resort to the slightly midrashic approach that he was here trying to give the field to Avraham for free. (After all, just as before, the root נָתַתִּי is used, so why take it to mean "for free.") This would just be the way people speak when legally effecting a sale.

However, now I would say that we should resist the urge to smooth. It seems to be a delightful literary artifice, to use the same near phrase in different contexts and with different pauses inserted to convey different meaning.

I would note something interesting, however, about the לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי in pasuk 11. If we look at Targum Yonatan, we see that he actually omits the word לא at the beginning of the verse in his translation, and actually translated is as בבעו, which would mean בבקשה, that is, please, or לוּ. However, when לוּ actually occurs in pasuk 13, he translates it as the wordy ברם אם צבו למעבד עמי טיבו, that is "however, if you want to do good for me." And even though Tg Yonatan seems to read לוּ, later on he inserts the word "as a present," that is, instead of selling it, thus following the midrashic tradition that is certainly based on translating/reading the first word of the pasuk as לא, "No."

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