Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chayyei Sarah: The Benei Chet: Good For Purchasing Burial Plots From, But No Good For A Shidduch

At the beginning of parshat Chayyei Sarah, we have the exceedingly polite exchange between Avraham and the Benei Cheit. Yet in the very next perek, when choosing a wife for his son Yitzchak, Avraham passuls the shidduch. Why the difference?

First off, this may serve as a good maaseh avot siman labanim for us, or as a role model for us, as we interact in modern society. Just because you have strictures preventing forming close bonds such as marriage with gentiles, this does not mean that you cannot be civil to them. There can be mutual respect, even as religious and theological differences exist. Conversely, just because one must be polite to other humans, who were created in the image of God, this does not mean that one must sacrifice one's principles and religious ways.

Why did Avraham insist on a wife for Yitzchak from the city of Nachor? We might look to Shadal, who writes:

אשר לא תקח אשה לבני מבנות הכנעני : שאם היה מתחתן בהם, שוב לא ייתכן לישראל להוריש הכנעני מארצו אחרי היותם אחים, כמו שלא יתגרו מלחמה במואב עמון ואדום. והיה ג"כ מכוונת התורה באריכות הסיפור הוה להרחיק את ישראל מהתחתן בכנענים

Thus, the concern was twofold: so that there should be no issue driving out the Canaanites later on, if they were family; and as a lesson for future generations reading the story to distance the Israelites from joining with the Canaanites.

I would suggest a different reason -- so as to preserve the monotheistic tradition. After all, the Canaanites were idolaters.

After all, in Devarim 7, we read:
א כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי--שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ. 1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
ב וּנְתָנָם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְפָנֶיךָ--וְהִכִּיתָם: הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִים אֹתָם, לֹא-תִכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם. 2 and when the LORD thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them;
ג וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן, בָּם: בִּתְּךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לִבְנוֹ, וּבִתּוֹ לֹא-תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ. 3 neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
ד כִּי-יָסִיר אֶת-בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי, וְעָבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים; וְחָרָה אַף-ה בָּכֶם, וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר. 4 For he will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and He will destroy thee quickly.
Was Lot any better? Was Rivkah? Well, based on the words coming out of his mouth in the narrative, it seems that they believed in Hashem. Perhaps this was a belief that ran in Avraham's family, even in the city of Nachor. Sure, Avraham was chosen, but that did not mean that others in the family did not have, or adopt, his beliefs.

Thus, when Eliezer interacts with Avraham's extended family, Lavan says {Bereishit 24}:
לא וַיֹּאמֶר, בּוֹא בְּרוּךְ ה; לָמָּה תַעֲמֹד, בַּחוּץ, וְאָנֹכִי פִּנִּיתִי הַבַּיִת, וּמָקוֹם לַגְּמַלִּים. 31 And he said: 'Come in, thou blessed of the LORD; wherefore standest thou without? for I have cleared the house, and made room for the camels.'
and a bit later, we have:
נ וַיַּעַן לָבָן וּבְתוּאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ, מֵה יָצָא הַדָּבָר; לֹא נוּכַל דַּבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ, רַע אוֹ-טוֹב. 50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said: 'The thing proceedeth from the LORD; we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.
נא הִנֵּה-רִבְקָה לְפָנֶיךָ, קַח וָלֵךְ; וּתְהִי אִשָּׁה לְבֶן-אֲדֹנֶיךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.'
Shadal understands this as originally being other speech, such as using Elohim, which the Torah adapted to match the Israelite speech pattern. Thus:

ברוך ה' : אין צורך שיהיה זה ממש מאמר לבן, כי התורה העתיקה דיבור זה מלשון המדבר ללשון ישראל, וכן אמרה : ברוך ה', גם כי לבן לא ידע את ה', ואמר : ברוך אלהים , או כיוצא בזה

However, we might treat them as monotheists, or else as polytheists who counted Hashem among other deities. This would then be the most optimal solution for Yitzchak's shidduch.


Anonymous said...

"originally being other speech, such as using Elohim, which the Torah adapted to match the Israelite speech pattern"

You're too funny. "The Torah adapted to match the Israelite speech pattern?" Books aren't people; the Israelite adapting the story did the adaptation--and that's why it matches Israelite speech patterns.

joshwaxman said...

potato, patahto.

dibra Torah kilshon benei adam.

Anonymous said...

"potato, patahto."

potato, tomato.

"dibra Torah kilshon benei adam."

Because they wrote it, duh. What did you expect them to write it in? Dolphin?

joshwaxman said...

Also, how am *I* being too funny? I am explaining Shadal's position, and this is what approximately he says, as I pasted above:
כי התורה העתיקה דיבור זה מלשון המדבר ללשון ישראל.

Anonymous said...

So when I quote a Seinfeld line I'm not being funny?

joshwaxman said...


are you by any chance the same anonymous as before?

Anonymous said...

I don't think so.

joshwaxman said...

Your short, snarky posting style makes me suspect so.

I don't know why I am wasting my time on "arguing" with you here, since this is not even an argument, since you are acting snarky, and since you are anonymous.

First and foremost, I plan on deleting any reply you post unless you choose a pseudonym.

In my post, I mentioned in passing the idea raised by Shadal that the words of Lavan were originally different. I *translated* his words, then *argued* with them to give my own suggestion.

My made a snarky, anonymous comment criticizing this choice of words, which are after all my straightforward translation.

Furthermore, it is an idiom. Of *course* the Torah does not change something, but rather the author changed something. But that is the idiom. Just like in the idiom, Dibra Torah..., the Torah is not *speaking*, but it was written in a specific language. And yes, it was written by an Israelite. Do you think Shadal does not believe Moshe wrote the Torah? Last time I checked, Moshe was an Israelite.

And that is partly what I meant by Dibra Torah..., that it was written in accordance with Israelite speech patterns.

You perhaps want to make this into some argument about adaptation of ancient sources, and that is perhaps what you mean by potato, tomato. That is so beside the point of this post it is almost off topic.

But I think your snarkiness is unwarranted, and I am left wondering what chip you have on your shoulder motivating you here.

joshwaxman said...

"My made" should read "You made"

Anonymous said...

What would it mean to be a polytheist who counts H' among his deities? If someone is a monotheist then whatever single god he recognises is necessarily the same as our single god, but what features would a polytheist's deity have in common with ours?

joshwaxman said...

indeed. just because we call a deity "God," or YKVK, if we change enough details, what makes it the same God? I've had the same question. Yet Chazal hold that for gentiles, shituf is permitted, so there must be some conceptual answer.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...



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