Monday, November 13, 2006

parshat Vayera: Sending Eliezer to Look for Guests -- Min `an Hanei Milei?

On Bava Metzia 86b we get the following midrash:

מאי כחום היום אמר רבי חמא בר' חנינא אותו היום יום שלישי של מילה של אברהם היה ובא הקב"ה לשאול באברהם הוציא הקב"ה חמה מנרתיקה כדי שלא יטריח אותו צדיק באורחים שדריה לאליעזר למיפק לברא נפק ולא אשכח אמר לא מהימנא לך היינו דאמרי תמן לית הימנותא בעבדי נפק איהו חזייה להקדוש ברוך הוא דקאי אבבא היינו דכתיב (בראשית יח) אל נא תעבור מעל עבדך

"What is meant "in the heat of the day?" Rabbi Chama beRabbi Chanina said: That day was the third since the circumcision of Avraham, and Hashem came to visit Avraham {as in visiting the sick}. Hashem brought the Sun from its container so that the tzaddik should not be bothered by {human} guests. He {=Avraham} sent Eliezer outside {to check for guests}. He went out but did not find. He {=Avraham} said "I do not believe you." This is what is said there, "there is no trustworthiness in servants." He {=Avraham} went out, and saw that Hashem was present by the entrance. This is what is written {Bereishit 18:3}:
ג וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. 3 and said: 'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.
One might think the source for this midrash is only the single pasuk cited, but indeed, many many details of the midrash can be found to have been drawn from the pesukim, if one looks closely enough.

1) How do we know it was the third day since the circumcision? I spoke about this in greater depth in an earlier post, but the short of it is:
a) Immediately above, Avraham had just commanded to perform circumcision on the members of his household and he did so on that selfsame day.
b) The continuation is vayera elav Hashem, rather than el Avraham, which strongly suggests this is a continuation. So he would have just had his brit.
c) We see from the incident with Dinah that the third day since circumcision is most painful.
d) Hashem promises that Yitzchak will be born lamoed, kaet chaya, which is interpreted by pashtanim such as Rashi and Ibn Ezra as meaning in exactly a year's time (and they give grammatical arguments), yet in perek 17, before the command for brit, Hashem promised Yitzchak would be born next year at the same time. So they must have happened pretty closely together.
e) Note that in the above linked post, I argue that it actually happened three months later, but this is irrelevant in terms of evidence entering into the midrash.

Finally, and this people might not realize, and I did not mention it in that earlier post -- this seems to be a derasha on the words כחום היום. After all, the entire midrash begins מאי כחום היום.

Again, in the incident with Dinah (Bereishit 34:25):
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.
The implication was that the third day is especially painful and thus a prime time to attack.

כחום would then not mean "in the heat" but rather "in the intensity of the day." Thus, this first detail did not arise yesh meAyin.

2) Similarly, Hashem bringing the Sun out of its container is also derived from keChom haYom.

3) How do we know that Avraham was hoping for guests? The pasuk states וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים. Lifting up his eyes can convey effort, that he was specifically looking out to see if there were guests. And we have the general theme here (and by Lot) of wanting to have guests.

4) How do we know that Eliezer went out first to look? Well Eliezer as the servant of Avraham would be the one sent, so we need not find a specific reference to Eliezer. But how do we know that anyone was sent out to look? The answer, to my mind, is once again that the pasuk states וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא. Why state elav rather than el Avraham, if this is a new section, with a petucha separating it from the previous section, and in any case is a new incident that occurred on a different day? The answer, midrashically, is that it was elav, using the pronoun, to him, rather than to someone else? Who else would it be? It would have to be Eliezer.

5) How do we know that Avraham did not trust Eliezer? Well, Avraham did come out himself. Plus, in parshat Chayyei Sarah, he makes Eliezer swear.

6) How do we know that when Avraham, who had been inside the tent, came out to check for guests, it was there that he chanced upon Hashem, who had been waiting at the entrance? Again, the pasuk was וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. The phrase וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל is taken to refer to Hashem rather to Avraham! Wow!

Also, there is the repetition of vayar: וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה. The first might be taken to refer to Avraham seeing Hashem, and the second, to him seeing the guests.

7) Finally, what about the prooftext? וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. One way of interpreting this is that Avraham said this to the "three men." We interpret here instead that Avraham said this to Hashem, that Hashem should not leave even though Avraham is running after these guests.

But also -- and this part of the pasuk was not cited -- there is a kametz in adonay, rather than a pathach. Thus, it can readily (and appears to more readily) refer to Hashem rather than one of the men.

This is a good example, in my opinion, of a detailed midrash in which almost all details stem from the Biblical text, though it is quite often overlooked.

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