Sunday, December 04, 2005

Further Thoughts on the Sons of Ketura

This is the third post in this series. The first post discussed when Avraham married Ketura, and gave good reason why this marriage may have taken place before Sarah's death and Yitzchak's marriage, even as the genealogical section which mentions it was placed after these events. The second post suggested some reasonable motivations for Avraham marrying Ketura at the later point, such that the midrashic take has no difficulty on that score.

In this third post, I wish to elaborate upon the point made in the first post. I seemed to emply ain mukdam ume`uchar batorah, the principle that events mentions in the Torah are not necessarily mentioned in chronological order, but another order might be at play - e.g. thematic.

I only used that well-known phrase as a melitza, as a way in which people could easily latch on to the idea. However, while application of this principle is somewhat problematic, and is generally only appealed to when there is some difficulty reading the text in a straightforward fashion, such that the principle forms a sort of cop-out. Even as my principle would apply to many of the same verses, it is not a cop-out - nor am I truly always claiming that the narratives are out of chronological order.

Rather, there is the broad discussion of events in the genealogical sections, and the narrow discussion of the particulars in the narrative sections. Since the broad discussion, by its nature, sweeps over large swaths of time, it may well cover also cover something which occurs chronologically after the narrative which follows it. Or vice versa - also mentioning something which occurs chronologically before the narrative which precedes it. This is because the genealogical sections serve to put the narratives into a framework of history. Thus, for example, when we are done with Terach, we will give all sorts of genealogical details, and migrations, and his age at the time of death, even though the death might occur much later. The same with Avraham and with Yitzchak, and with Metushelach. This is a regular literary feature, not a cop-out answer to a textual difficulty, and so we need not be painted into a corner before claiming it, nor should we feel the slightest twinge of awkwardness or guilt in applying it.

In other words, my point is that this is not *really* an "Ain mukdam" - that in genealogical interjections, there is not a continuation of narrative but of bringing us up to speed with various events. I would call it an Ain Mukdam if we took two events - such as Akeidat Yitzchak and the Death of Sarah, and said they were in reverse order.

As an example of this, consider the first pasuk of what we lained this Shabbat - Toledot. It begins {Bereishit 25:19:}

יט וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם: אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק. 19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begot Isaac.
Now, do you think that this is what happened next in the sequence of events? That Yitzchak was born just now? Obviously not - he already was bound in the Akeida and married off to Rivka. But it is not a question - a compelling reason which makes us "appeal" to ain mukdam. Rather, it is a general observation that in general, there are often certain elements in the genealogical summaries that happen before or after the narrative sequences that precede or follow them.

I gave one clear example of this phenomenon - Terach's death, in the post on Lech Lecha, when in fact Terach lived another 60 years. (See Bereishit 11:32.)

Another obvious example: Look at the end of parshat Bereishit, in Bereishit 5:27: "And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years; and he died."

Afterwards we learn of Lemech's birth and death, Noach's birth, his children, etc. That the people were wicked, Noach commanded to build the ark, gather the animals, etc. But if you do the calculations of the years of Metushelach's life, you come to the conclusion that he must have died the same year as the mabul. I believe Chazal say he died 7 days before the mabul.

But how can this be? The pasuk, much earlier, specified that he died! Here is an obvious case, because we have years and can do the calculation, that what we have in the genealogical section is the passing through the various generations until we get to Noach. And so we specify their births, ages, and deaths, and then zoom in to Noach. We do not need to say anything about "Ain Mukdam" because this is no concern at all. We would not expect to leave off Metushelach's death from earlier, and have this as an interjection in the middle of the mabul story.

Another example, which Chazal endorse. Avraham dies and is buried in Bereishit 25:8-10. Then we see that Rachel has twins, and they grow up. Yet the midrash (based on a calculation based on his lifespan) claims that the lentils Yaakov was cooking was for the mourning Yitzchak was doing for Avraham. But we had all these intervening years. Once again, one could sigh and say "ain mukdam," but there is no need to sigh. This is a general rule of the way these genealogical sections interact with the narrative sections.

Another example, which Chazal endorse. Bereishit 35:29 states that Yitzchak died. But he cannot have died yet in the narrative, based on his age. Subsquently, the brothers sell Yosef. Chazal note that Yitzchak was alive, and knew all along that Yosef was alive, but did not tell this to Yaakov. Once again, the narrative section tells of one's death, because it is finished with Yitzchak-centered narrative, but the actual death happens much later.

I could do the same with many *many* other genealogical sections - it is the rule, not the exception, and this is not really "ain mukdam." I agree that saying "ain mukdam" in *other* situations is more difficult. But in a case like this, I see no need even for a compelling reason. This is par for the course.

In terms of Avraham having six children from the age of 137 on, we do in fact have a compelling reason, even though we do not need one.

It is in fact a big deal for Avraham to have children at the ripe old age of 137. Ibn Ezra thought is really difficult for Yocheved to give birth to Moshe when she was 130, which is younger than 130. More to the point, consider Avraham's thoughts in response to Hashem's promise in Bereishit 17:17: "Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart: 'Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?'"

Apparently, in Avraham's day, this was a very farfetched thing.

But again, it is not any farfetchedness that would make me say this happened before. Since marrying Ketura is the beginning of a genealogical section which ends in Avraham's death (which we also know did not happen chronologically at this point, as I mentioned above), there is no reason to date anything in the genealogical section to a specific point - in this case, after Sarah's death and Yitzchak's marriage.

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