Friday, November 25, 2005

parshat Chayyei Sarah: The sons of Keturah

At the end of parshat Chayyei Sarah, we are told that Avraham took another wife, Keturah, and had six children from her, and from them, grandchildren. Bereishit 25:1-6:
א וַיֹּסֶף אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה, וּשְׁמָהּ קְטוּרָה. 1 And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah.
ב וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ, אֶת-זִמְרָן וְאֶת-יָקְשָׁן, וְאֶת-מְדָן, וְאֶת-מִדְיָן--וְאֶת-יִשְׁבָּק, וְאֶת-שׁוּחַ. 2 And she bore him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.
ג וְיָקְשָׁן יָלַד, אֶת-שְׁבָא וְאֶת-דְּדָן; וּבְנֵי דְדָן, הָיוּ אַשּׁוּרִם וּלְטוּשִׁם וּלְאֻמִּים. 3 And Jokshan begot Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim.
ד וּבְנֵי מִדְיָן, עֵיפָה וָעֵפֶר וַחֲנֹךְ, וַאֲבִידָע, וְאֶלְדָּעָה; כָּל-אֵלֶּה, בְּנֵי קְטוּרָה. 4 And the sons of Midian: Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
ה וַיִּתֵּן אַבְרָהָם אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, לְיִצְחָק. 5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.
ו וְלִבְנֵי הַפִּילַגְשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לְאַבְרָהָם, נָתַן אַבְרָהָם מַתָּנֹת; וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם מֵעַל יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ, בְּעוֹדֶנּוּ חַי, קֵדְמָה, אֶל-אֶרֶץ קֶדֶם. 6 But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.
Did he really marry Keturah after Sarah's death. I thought he had everything (24:1) he could want?! Is he having a last fling with a second family? Furthermore, what is the point in giving us all these seemingly unimportant details?

Another question. Yitzchak's birth was miraculous, not just because Sarah was old but also because Avraham was old. Yet here he marries another woman after Sarah's death, such that he must be even older, and yet he is able to bring forth six sons!

I believe the correct answer, on the level of pshat, is: who says that he married Keturah *after* Sarah's death? Ain mukdam umeuchar baTorah. And there is a very good reason why here Ain mukdam umeuchar baTorah applies.

In some of my postings on parshablog, I refer to the Documentary Hypothesis. I do *NOT* accept it, in that I do not think there were multiple authors. However, the One Author composed it in multiple streams, or perspectives. What they like to call "P" is concerned with the macro-scale of events, and typically covers the lives of people in one or two psukim. In contrast, what they call "J" is more focused on the personal. Thus, "P" acts as a framework in which "J" highlights specific events, zooms in on them, and tells all the relevant details.

When a "P" account is placed after a "J" account, the reader might be confused in thinking that one happens immediately after the other. In fact, what happens is a summary of the life of the person, and his descendants, for we are now moving on to the next person. If a "J" account is placed after a "P" account, it is zooming in on one of those details mentioned in the "P" account, but there might be events in the "P" account that happened after the "J" account. For an example of this, see my recent post on Lech Lecha about the order of Hashem's command of Lech Lecha, and Avraham's leaving Ur Kasdim, leaving Charan, and Terach's death:

Now, Avraham was having difficulty having children. He asks God about this in Bereishit 15:2 and on. God promises him descendants. Later, Sarah gives her handmaiden Hagar to Avraham so that he will have children, and they will be reckoned Sarah's children. See "go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her" in Bereishit 16:2. Compare with the same language used by Rachel in giving her maidservant to Yaakov.

This does not preclude Avraham from taking other wives (concubines) at the same time. Even while other wives produced children, Sarah still would want her own, either through her maidservant or when that soured, directly. Keturah might have been taken before or after Yishmael's birth, and even before Sarah gave him Hagar.

Bereishit perek 24, the finding of a wife for Yitzchak, is the last detailed event in Avraham's life, and thus we find out the specific details. It is a "J." (YKVK is used in 24:1.) However, that story terminates in 24:67.

The next pasuk begins a macro, genealogical account, to sum up Avraham's life and all of his descendants, which ends at the end of parshat Chayyei Sarah (or more possibly, the first pasuk of parshat Toledot). Parshat Toldot begins another one of these personal, detailed accounts.

Why mention all these details? If you read Beowulf, you'll see similar genealogical lists. To cite one summary:
The poem begins with a genealogy of the Danish royal family. Scyld Shefing, the founder of the dynasty, becomes King of the Danes not through wealth (for he comes from an impoverished family) but through his ability to sack the enemies. He has a son named Beow (called Beowulf), also called a great king because he gave his treasures to his men "to make sure that later in life his beloved companions will stand by him." Upon Scyld's death, the people bury him and his treasures at sea in a traditional Germanic ceremony. Beow comes to the throne, and has a son, Healfdene. Healfdene, in turn, becomes the father of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes at the beginning of the story.
People back then *loved* genealogical lists. Furthermore, whereas we have no clue who any of these people are, and so it seems an irrelevant detail, people back then knew many of the names mentioned. Many are the start of new nations - Midian, Sheva, etc. There is a significance of which we are simply unaware. The genealogical list here is relevant to show God's fulfillment of His promise to Avraham to make him an Av Hamon Goyim. At the same time, the pasuk tells us that they were sent away with other gifts, and Yitzchak is considered the only legitimate heir.

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