Friday, November 10, 2006

parshat Lech Lecha: The Avot Keeping Kol HaTorah Kullah: stam yeinam, yayin nesech, and lo techanem

Last Shabbat I davened Friday night kabbalat Shabbat and maariv at Rabbi Oelbaum's shul, and I picked up an interesting parsha sefer, in which I saw two divrei Torah.

The first was on the following pesukim in parshat Lech Lecha, in Bereishit 14:18-20:
יח וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן. 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
יט וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ, וַיֹּאמַר: בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 19 And he blessed him, and said: 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth;
כ וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר-מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר, מִכֹּל. 20 and blessed be God the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.' And he gave him a tenth of all.
Why, asks the Sheva Semachot, does the Torah state, immediately after mentioning that Malkitzedek brought out bread and wine, that he, Malkitzedek, was a kohen to Kel Elyon?

I would interject and state that, from a peshet perspective, we have either a shem haShem or a shem avodat kochavim -- we shall say shem haShem based on Avraham's subsequent use of it , though when Avraham uses it he takes care to incorporate shem YKVK in it (Hashem Kel Elyon) -- and that shem haShem has never been used before in sefer Bereishit up to this point. So, when Malchitzedek uses this unfamiliar name in his blessing to Avraham and subsequently in his blessing of Kel Elyon, it would be nice to have prior introduction. Furthermore, it would be jarring, from a peshat perspective, to have a random gentile suddenly blurt out blessings to Avraham to El Elyon. Where do the references to Kel Elyon come from.

Therefore, before incorporating Kel Elyon in the blessing to Avraham, and to Avraham's subsequent vow spoken to the King of Sodom, we get the interjection of Malckitzedek's relationship to Kel Elyon. This is thus rather straightforward from a peshat perspective. From a derash perspective, though, this verse is ripe for interpretation. So ends my digression.

Sheva Semachot answers that the reason for the interjection is as follows. The pasuk, again, was:
יח וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן. 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
Note that Malkitzedek brought out bread and wine, which was presumably eaten by Avraham. But, as we know from other midrashim, the Avot kept all of the Torah -- every jot and tittle, even down to the eventual Rabbinic decrees (which they intuited or received word of via God). If so, how could Avraham eat this, chas veshalom?! The bread of an idolater is pas akum, and the wine of an idolater is stam yeinam, or perhaps even yayin nesech! Thus, the Torah must immediately inform you that Malkitzedek was no idolater -- he was a kohen to Kel Elyon, God Most High, so Avraham would have no problem eating and drinking.

I must admit that my immediate reaction was amusement. It is quite a clever and creative analysis, though ultimately I don't believe it true for a minute. It is true that Chazal do on occasion talk of evidence of the Avot keeping all of Torah, but one might argue that this is for homiletic effect. That is, maaseh avot siman labbanim, and the Avot keeping all of Torah, even deRabbanans, serves to connect the practices of the the current community to their forefathers, and encourage them to keep the Torah. (Then again, one might argue otherwise.) Secondly, even where the midrash does advance this, it is in a positive manner. That is, some practice that is hinted at by textual irregularity or some feature that sticks out in the narrative is taken as positive evidence that the Avot kept a specific practice that is parallel to a deOrayta or deRabbanan. However, negative evidence, that is, showing violation of some specific point is not taken as problematic, such that it needs to be answered. (On the other hand, later commentators might be bothered by these issues -- such as Ramban, for example.) Certain cases, such as Sarah becoming a niddah, and thus Avraham not bringing out the uggot, is an example of the former, because we would not be troubled how he could bring it out, but their absence is used to show how he kept the Torah.

One could classify this current case as negative or positive. The fact that pas akum and stam yeinam would be issues, such that we would be troubled at Avraham's actions, seems somewhat silly (to people who share my idealogical and hashkafic background). On the other hand, the point of the answer is to show that Avraham did keep these two deRabbanan's, so one might place this is the positive evidence of keeping commandments category.

Thus, I would say that it is silly to be troubled by such problems, such that it is a real question, but the answer is still quite nice and thus amusing.

What about Sheva Semachot? Was he indeed troubled by the question, such that if the pasuk had not said that he was a kohen to Kel Elyon he would be troubled? Or, is this an example of what is just a certain genre of creative midrashic commentary? I don't know.

The second devar Torah I saw was in a similar vein. This is from the Chatam Sofer. He deals with the subsequent pesukim:
כב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם, אֶל-מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם: הֲרִמֹתִי יָדִי אֶל-ה אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom: 'I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth,
כג אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם. 23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich;
כד בִּלְעָדַי, רַק אֲשֶׁר אָכְלוּ הַנְּעָרִים, וְחֵלֶק הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר הָלְכוּ אִתִּי: עָנֵר אֶשְׁכֹּל וּמַמְרֵא, הֵם יִקְחוּ חֶלְקָם. {ס} 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion.'

The Chatam Sofer asks: How could Avraham have taken a vow, swearing off all reward, all sechar, even the sechar tircha? After all, there is a pasuk that states lo` techanem, which is taken to mean lo titein lahem matnat chinam. By not accepting even sechar tircha, he is giving them a free gift! This is a problem, just as in the previous devar, because of the assumption that Avraham kept all the Torah.

He answers based on a midrash, which states that when Og came to inform Avraham of Lot's capture, it was Pesach night. Thus, stated the Chatam Sofer, when Avraham pursued them and fought, it was on Pesach. Now, sechar tircha on Shabbat and Yom Tov we do not take. And even though meikkar hadin one can take it, it is a middat chassidut not to do so. (And this would overcome issues of lo techanem.) If so, it was Avraham's keeping of every jot and tittle that caused him not to take this sechar tircha.

Again, my reaction was amusement as well as esteem for the incredible creativity, breadth of knowledge, and connecting of dots. Whether Chatam Sofer actually thought that his question was really a problem is another issue. I suspect that this was just a creative midrashic commentary within a certain defined genre.

(Note that some others would be aggravated by the devar Torah, and would not be able to appreciate the creativity, complexity, and beauty of the solution. Others would actually see the questions to be real questions. One fellow I told this over to thought that the Sheva Semachot devar was amusing but there were questions of real substance in the Chatam Sofer.)


b said...

Completly not true.The ramban takes it as 100% true in eretz yisroel.

b said...

It's not silly.The rashba held like this.

joshwaxman said...

that you disagree does not make something "completely not true."

I wrote:
However, negative evidence, that is, showing violation of some specific point is not taken as problematic, such that it needs to be answered. (On the other hand, later commentators might be bothered by these issues -- such as Ramban, for example.)
if you look at Ramban's actual words (see here), rather than relying on memory and attacking, you will see that this is the case. Ramban does in fact ask based on this negative evidence:
ויש לשאול, אם כן איך הקים יעקב מצבה (להלן כח יח): ונשא שתי אחיות...

that he gives a teretz does not mean that does not take the "negative evidence" as problematic.

In fact, Ramban there gives two answers. He says that the midrash is based on the position that ואם כן יהיה כל זה בנוי על דעת שהיה אברהם מקיים ומשמר את התורה עד שלא נתנה. But NOT adopting the position, he suggests what each of the phrases of בקולי, משמרתי , etc. refer to. Thus, Ramban writes:
ואולי נאמר, משמרתי - שניות לעריות של בני נח, ומצותי - גזל ושפיכות דמים, חקותי - אבר מן החי וכלאים של הרבעת בהמה והרכבת אילן, ותורותי - דינין ואסורי עבודה זרה, שאלו כולן נצטוו בהן בני נח, והוא השומר והעושה רצון בוראו ומשמר אפילו דקדוקין וחומרות במצות שלהן, וכמו שהזכירו ע"ז של אברהם אבינו ארבע מאה פרקי הוות (ע"ז יד ב).

This is writing at length explaining the pasuk not according to the midrashic assumption.

Yes, he teitches up Chazal, by writing:
והנראה אלי מדעת רבותינו שלמד אברהם אבינו התורה כולה ברוח הקדש ועסק בה ובטעמי מצותיה וסודותיה, ושמר אותה כולה כמי שאינו מצווה ועושה, ושמירתו אותה היה בארץ בלבד

but that was not the ONLY thing he wrote. and indeed, he goes on to explain it otherwise, "al derech hapeshat".

ועל דרך הפשט נאמר, שיהא משמרתי - אמונת האלהות שהאמין בשם המיוחד ושמר משמרת זו בלבו, וחלק בה על עובדי העבודה זרה, וקרא בשם ה' להשיב רבים לעבודתו. מצותי - ככל אשר ציווהו בלך לך מארצך, ועולת בנו, וגרישת האמה ואת בנה. חקותי - ללכת בדרכי השם להיות חנון ורחום ועושה צדקה ומשפט ולצות את בניו ואת ביתו בהם. ותורותי - המילה בעצמו ובניו ועבדיו ומצות בני נח כלן, שהן תורה להם

I understand you are perturbed by the methodology. That is alright.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

"It's not silly.The rashba held like this."

firstly, your second statement does not prove the first.

but that is not what i said. and it is not what the rashba said, imho, either. see what he writes at the very end of the teshuva, about the impact of time, place, and keilim. it seems quite possible that he would not apply this reasoning to this over-the-top case.

kol tuv,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin