Monday, November 14, 2005

parshat Vayera: An Elderly God?

In the incident in which the angels relate that Sarah will have a son, there is an apparent disconnect between Sarah's reaction to hearing the news and Hashem's reporting of Sarah's reaction to Avraham. When Sarah laughs, we read (Bereishit 18:10-12):

וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו
"And He said: 'I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh
round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.' And Sarah heard in the tent
door, which was behind him."

וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים, בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים; חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה, אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים
"Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to
be with Sarah after the manner of women."

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן
"And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I
have pleasure, my lord being old also?' "

So she only seems to explicitly say that her husband, Avraham, is old - וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן. Yet, when Hashem reports her words to Avraham, He says (18:13-14):

וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד--וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי.
"And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall
I of a surety bear a child, who am old?"

הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן.
"Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto
thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.' "
Now, this is not the best of questions. One could easily say that Sarah's speech אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, "after I am waxed old shall I have pleasure," is the place where she states that she is old, and וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן, "my husband is old," is only adding to that. Thus, when Hashem reports her words, He may indeed have omitted the end of her speech, but nicely summarized the poetic first portion of her speech.

Of course, midrashically, the first part of Sarah's speech is a recognition that there is no problem in terms of herself, such that the only problem is on the part of Avraham, for being too old. (See my analysis in this post on Sarah, Wombs, Chazal and Science.) We can take the word בְלֹתִי to mean mixing flour with oil, and עֶדְנָה as referring to menstruation, such that she is saying that "after I mixed the flour with oil for the cake, I menstruated, such that I know I am capable of having children. But my husband is old!" This is in fact the likely derivation of the related midrash which states exactly this. If so, then there is a clear disconnect between her words and Hashem's report.

Even without this, there still is a disconnect in that she used the word zaken in terms of her husband - וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן , while Hashem makes this word apply to herself - וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי. There is a famous midrash that Hashem is lying here, teaching that for the purposes of shalom bayit, it is permitted to lie.

There is yet another midrash, which relies on several textual features to answer this disconnect. This midrash manages to transform both Sarah's statement וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן and Hashem's report of her statement וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי into a statement that refers to a single Individual. To do this, the midrash revocalizes וַאדֹנִי by replacing the chirik with a kamatz. Thus, Sarah is not saying that her husband is old, but rather that Hashem is old. Just as "old" in terms of Avraham meant that he would not have the capability to provide Sarah with children, "old" as referring to Hashem would mean that it would not be in Hashem's capability to perform a miracle in order to give Avraham and Sarah a child. When Hashem reports this to Avraham, he changes nothing in terms of meaning, but since He is the one speaking, he changes וַאדֹנָי to וַאֲנִי, "and I am old." "I" refers to Hashem, not to Sarah.

This leads in nicely to the continuation of Hashem's complaint:
הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן
"Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.' "

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin