Monday, October 15, 2007

Lech Lecha: What Are Avraham's "Bowels"?

In parshat Lech Lecha, in Bereishit 15:4, according to the JPS translation:

ד וְהִנֵּה דְבַר-ה אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר, לֹא יִירָשְׁךָ זֶה: כִּי-אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ, הוּא יִירָשֶׁךָ. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying: 'This man shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.'
What is meant by Avraham's "bowels"? It can mean small-intestine. It can also mean innards.

Indeed, that is how Judaica Press translates it:
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you."
Ibn Ezra is troubled by this, and suggests that it is a kinui (in this case, euphemism) for the ever, since it is close to it.

My reaction to this is that as a matter of peshat, one need not be so concerned with idioms. I have my doubts that it is such a kinui. Rather, I think that it is used idiomatically to refer to one's own progeny. It perhaps stands as ma'ayim as bowels and from there to innards, and from there to womb. Thus, in parshat Toldot, Rivkah is told {Bereishit 25:23}:
כג וַיֹּאמֶר ה לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ, וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ; וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ, וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר. 23 And the LORD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
Obviously, Avraham does not have a womb, but idiomatically, this appears to have developed in terms of parentage of children.

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