Wednesday, December 07, 2005

parshat Toledot: The Parallelism of Anochi Esav Bechorecha

The third in a series. At this point, I would like to consider Yaakov's statement and how it relates to Yitzchak's query, and compare that to the other, similar Yaakov/Yitzchak exchange.

There is a parallelism between Yitzchak's question and Yaakov's answer. Yitzchak asks מִי אַתָּה בְּנִי and, while thus is its form at surface structure, at deep structure the word מִי begins after the word אַתָּה and undergoes WH-movement. There is thus an exact parallelism between Yitzchak's query and Yaakov's reply of אָנֹכִי עֵשָׂו בְּכֹרֶךָ:
אָנֹכִי אַתָּה
עֵשָׂו מִי
בְּכֹרֶךָ בְּנִי

Both בְּנִי and בְּכֹרֶךָ are nouns with a possessive ending, with Yitzchak asking Yaakov's relation to him (בְּנִי) and Yaakov responding with his relation to Yitzchak (בְּנִי). Thus, my son vs. your firstborn. Semantically, each of the words are roughly equivalent, when taking into account perspective.

I wonder, though, whether בְּנִי means "my son" in its most literal sense. Certainly the first words out of Yaakov's mouth, אָבִי, to which Yitzchak replies הִנֶּנִּי, מִי אַתָּה בְּנִי would imply that בְּנִי means son. And the parallelism and specification of son/firstborn suggests the same.

Why would I think otherwise?

There are many textual parallels between this story and the story of Rut and Boaz at the threshing floor, a subject worthy of its own post, but for now, take this as a given. Compare the Yaakov/Yitzchak exchange with that of Rut and Boaz, in Rut 3:9:

ט וַיֹּאמֶר, מִי-אָתְּ; וַתֹּאמֶר, אָנֹכִי רוּת אֲמָתֶךָ, וּפָרַשְׂתָּ כְנָפֶךָ עַל-אֲמָתְךָ, כִּי גֹאֵל אָתָּה. 9 And he said: 'Who art thou?' And she answered: 'I am Ruth thine handmaid; spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.'
Where we have the question:
and the answer:
אָנֹכִי רוּת אֲמָתֶךָ

Now, the question does not have בִּתִּי in it. For that, we need only look to the end of the perek, to the exchange between Rut and Na'ami:

טז וַתָּבוֹא, אֶל-חֲמוֹתָהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר, מִי-אַתְּ בִּתִּי; וַתַּגֶּד-לָהּ--אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה-לָהּ, הָאִישׁ. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said: 'Who art thou, my daughter?' And she told her all that the man had done to her.
where we indeed have מִי-אַתְּ בִּתִּי.
Perhaps Rut it Na'ami's daughter in the sense of daughter-in-law? Perhaps, but Boaz is not averse to using בִּתִּי as well:
י וַיֹּאמֶר, בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ לַה' בִּתִּי--הֵיטַבְתְּ חַסְדֵּךְ הָאַחֲרוֹן, מִן-הָרִאשׁוֹן: לְבִלְתִּי-לֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי הַבַּחוּרִים--אִם-דַּל, וְאִם-עָשִׁיר. 10 And he said: 'Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter; thou hast shown more kindness in the end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou didst not follow the young men, whether poor or rich.
יא וְעַתָּה, בִּתִּי אַל-תִּירְאִי, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-תֹּאמְרִי, אֶעֱשֶׂה-לָּךְ: כִּי יוֹדֵעַ כָּל-שַׁעַר עַמִּי, כִּי אֵשֶׁת חַיִל אָתְּ. 11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou sayest; for all the men in the gate of my people do know that thou art a virtuous woman.
Both Boaz and Na'ami, by the way, cannot identify Rut at first - Boaz because of the darkness at the threshing floor and Na'ami, perhaps because, as is stated in verse 14, וַתָּקָם בטרום (בְּטֶרֶם) יַכִּיר אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ. Yitzchak must ask this because his eyes are dim.

Thus, "daughter," and by extension, "son," might be what older people designate those younger than them. "Father" could designate an elder.

Still, it seems that in the Yitzchak/Yaakov story, we have the father recognizing that it is his son (at the least because Yaakov addresses Yitzchak as "Father") though not knowing exactly which son it is.

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