Sunday, November 12, 2006

parshat Vayera: How Long After Avraham's Bris Did Hashem Appear? How soon after Sarah laughed did she give birth to Yitzchak?

The standard answer is 3 days. I would suggest it was 0 days. Then, I suggest it was 90 days. Let us examine some of the assumptions that go into the standard answer.

The end of the previous parsha had Hashem's command to Avraham to circumcise all male members of his household. And, in response to that command:

כו בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, נִמּוֹל אַבְרָהָם, וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל, בְּנוֹ. 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.
כז וְכָל-אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ יְלִיד בָּיִת, וּמִקְנַת-כֶּסֶף מֵאֵת בֶּן-נֵכָר--נִמֹּלוּ, אִתּוֹ. {פ} 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house, and those bought with money of a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
Immediately thereafter, our parsha, parshat Vayera, begins: Bereishit 18:1:

א וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. 1 And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
Note that it does not say vayera el Avraham, but rather elav. The person of whom we are speaking is obvious, and thus this is not a new, separate section, but rather a continuation of the previous.

Along with this goes several midrashic interpretations. Thus, why was Avraham sitting keChom haYom? Because Hashem took the sun out of its usual container so that it could shine in full force and heal Avraham, because this was three days after Avraham's bris, when it is the most painful. (And we know that the third day is the most painful because of Bereishit 34:25, from the incident with Dinah.
כה וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיוֹתָם כֹּאֲבִים, וַיִּקְחוּ שְׁנֵי-בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אֲחֵי דִינָה אִישׁ חַרְבּוֹ, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַל-הָעִיר, בֶּטַח; וַיַּהַרְגוּ, כָּל-זָכָר. 25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unawares, and slew all the males.

Avraham's running to greet them is read into this fact.

Another data point that enters into this is that Hashem appears to Avraham in elonei mamreh. From where do we know this Mamre? From the fight to save Lot, who had been captured. From Bereishit 14:13:

יג וַיָּבֹא, הַפָּלִיט, וַיַּגֵּד, לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי; וְהוּא שֹׁכֵן בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא הָאֱמֹרִי, אֲחִי אֶשְׁכֹּל וַאֲחִי עָנֵר, וְהֵם, בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית-אַבְרָם. 13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew--now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram.
Note the dash connecting berit to Avram rather than baalei. This is read midrashically as they were the owners/masters of the berit of Avraham. Thus, he consulted with them about his brit, and circumcised himself upon their advice. Thus, mention of Mamre here also connects this incident to the berit.

There are other midrashic features, which we need not get into. See, for example, the Chatam Sofer.

What really makes one say that this happened three days afterwards? The answer to this may be found by considering another question: How soon after Sarah laughed did she give birth to Yitzchak? It is an explicit pasuk in parshat Vayera. Bereishit 18:10:
י וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו. 10 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.--
and then a bit later:
יד הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן. 14 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.'
What is the meaning of כָּעֵת חַיָּה? JPS, above, translated "when the season comes around." This might be a deliberate attempt at ambiguity, but it matches, more or less, that explanation of Rashi and Ibn Ezra that it means "the same time next year."

There is a grammatical to be made in favor of this. Rashi notes the kametz under the kaf in כָּעֵת, which reflects the definite article. Thus, this is not a single phrase kaEt Chaya -- I would explain that this is because if this is a single phrase with Chaya, and it was construct (semichut), then the definite article would have to appear on Chaya as well. Rather it is: kaEt -- as this time, meaning at this time next year; chaya - she will give birth. And then Sarah will have a son. Others point out that the definite article suggests a known time entity, and thus would be the time that it was right then, just one year from then.

The Targumim, Tg. Onkelos and Tg. Yonatan, also sign on to the interpretation that this will occur next year. Thus, Onkelos writes:
יח,י וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו. וַאֲמַר, מְתָב אֲתוּב לְוָתָךְ כְּעִדָּן דְּאַתּוּן קַיָּמִין, וְהָא בְּרָא, לְשָׂרָה אִתְּתָךְ; וְשָׂרָה שְׁמַעַת בִּתְרַע מַשְׁכְּנָא, וְהוּא אֲחוֹרוֹהִי.
כְּעִדָּן דְּאַתּוּן קַיָּמִין is what he writes, which might be translated as "like the time that you are existing (right now)." Thus, in one year exactly.

Furthermore, when Hashem promises kaEt Chaya, he prefaces it with laMoed. This is possibly meaningful.

Let us look back to parshat Lech Lecha, to Hashem's first promise that Sarah would have a son. In Bereishit 17:21, associated with the command of circumcision (which Avraham did beEtzem haYom hazeh, on that selfsame day), Hashem tells him:

כא וְאֶת-בְּרִיתִי, אָקִים אֶת-יִצְחָק, אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד לְךָ שָׂרָה לַמּוֹעֵד הַזֶּה, בַּשָּׁנָה הָאַחֶרֶת. 21 But My covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.'
Thus, we already know Sarah will give birth to Yitzchak. This time is specified as lammoed, just as Hashem specifies in parshat Vayera, as I mentioned above. Furthermore, this time is לַמּוֹעֵד הַזֶּה, בַּשָּׁנָה הָאַחֶרֶת, at this set time next year. Thus, one instance of promise informs on the other, and clarifies that in Vayera, what was meant was also this set time in the next year.

But how could this be? If much time existed between the two promises, then they could not both be true as the set time next year. Thus, a matter of days, at the most, must have separated the two instances.

One might say it was a matter of no days at all. That is, we could read the first pasuk of Vayera as a close to the previous section, which began in Bereishit 17:1:

א וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-אֵל שַׁדַּי--הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים. 1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him: 'I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted.
as well as a beginning to the next section. Of course, we would need to have some time for the circumcision, etc., but that might have happened after Hashem left.

A better assumption is that it happened the next day, or in the next few days. And then, the fact of circumcision being the most painful in its aftermath on the third day factors in in various ways.

However, I would suggest that in fact three months separated the first incident and the next. Firstly, as Rashbam points out, chaya does not just mean live, but refers to a yoledet. This is true in Targumic and halachic literature. One can find parallels.

One famous connection of birth the chaya is on the pasuk ki chayot heina, what the Egyptian midwives say about the Israelite women giving birth. Shemot 1:19:

יט וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת: כִּי-חָיוֹת הֵנָּה, בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא אֲלֵהֶן הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ. 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: 'Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.'
One could translate, as JPS does above, as "they are lively." Or one could say they are like animals in that they need no midwife. Or, one could translate it as chakiman, as the Targumim do and as many then misunderstand as wise, but which really means that they are midwives, and so do not really need our services as midwives. This demonstrates a connection between chayot and birth, in this case midwives.

Finally, what I would label as peshat. Ki does not mean because here but rather when. When they are in labor = ki chayot heina, then they give birth before the midwife arrives. Thus, this is prime evidence that in Biblical Hebrew chayot means "give birth."

So too here. kaEt Chaya means "like the time it takes for a woman to give birth." That is, in 9 months. Grammatically, perhaps the heh hayedi'a is awkward. But one can have occasional exceptions to the "rule." And if keEt Chaya is an expression, then perhaps one can understand applying the definite article to the beginning of it and making no edit operations within the expression itself. (We see this in English in terms of some expressions, such as a tendency to treat mother-in-law as a single word and thus pluralize as mother-in-laws rather than mothers-in-law.)

Thus, first the "man" states that in 9 months time, the time it typically takes for a woman to bear a child, if he happened to be around, he would see that Sarah had a son. Sarah laughs. Hashem confirms to Avraham saying לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן. The phrase כָּעֵת חַיָּה is a repetition of the earlier statement that Sarah overheard. Perhaps לַמּוֹעֵד refers to the same, but I would argue it hearkens back to the moed that Hashem promised Avraham in parshat Lech Lecha. The set time at the next year.

So, we have two promises. In Lech Lecha, it was the same time next year. In Vayera, it was the time it takes a woman to give birth. 12 - 9 = 3, so there must have been three intervening months.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin