Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bereishit/Vayeshev: The Appropriately Named Er and Onan

As I've covered before on this blog, Hevel, Er and Onan, and Machlon and Kilyon all seem quite appropriately named. Now, a peshat-based explanation of this phenomenon -- that this was not in fact their names, but they were called this after their death.

This is what Shadal cited about Hevel:
ב] את הבל : לדעת קליריקוס נקרא כן אחרי מותו, כי היתה מציאותו הבל
Thus, Clericus asserts that this was not Hevel's name when Hevel was alive, but rather that he was called this after death, for he came to naught.

There is an unspoken, non-explicit impetus for this explanation. Besides that it is quite "lucky" for one named Hevel to come to this end -- and the same for Machlon and Kilyon, Er and Onan -- the unspoken impetus may be found in the pesukim, in Bereishit 4:
א וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ; וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן, וַתֹּאמֶר, קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-ה. 1 And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: 'I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.'
ב וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת, אֶת-אָחִיו אֶת-הָבֶל; וַיְהִי-הֶבֶל, רֹעֵה צֹאן, וְקַיִן, הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה. 2 And again she bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Thus, Kayin gets an etymology for his name, but Hevel, in the next pasuk, does not. Later, in the same perek, we have:
כה וַיֵּדַע אָדָם עוֹד, אֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ שֵׁת: כִּי שָׁת-לִי אֱלֹהִים, זֶרַע אַחֵר--תַּחַת הֶבֶל, כִּי הֲרָגוֹ קָיִן. 25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bore a son, and called his name Seth: 'for God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel; for Cain slew him.'
Thus, even the next brother gets an etymology for his name, but Hevel does not. This all fits well with the idea that Hevel is not the real name, but was ascribed after death.

And indeed, Hevel, Machlon, Kilyon, Er, and Onan all died without having children.

Also, perhaps we can say that the etyomology is Hevel is given in the aforementioned pasuk, in 25: תַּחַת הֶבֶל כִּי הֲרָגוֹ קָיִן.

The problem with saying this with Er and Onan is that mother and father named them. As we have in Bereishit 38:
ג וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, עֵר. 3 And she conceived, and bore a son; and he called his name Er.
ד וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, אוֹנָן. 4 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she called his name Onan.
ה וַתֹּסֶף עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ שֵׁלָה; וְהָיָה בִכְזִיב, בְּלִדְתָּהּ אֹתוֹ. 5 And she yet again bore a son, and called his name Shelah; and he was at Chezib, when she bore him.
which is presumably why Shadal does not suggest the same over here.

It might be readable into Machlon and Kilyon in the first perek of Rut.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard from someone at Gush that Machlon and Kilyon are positive names, derived from machol=dance and klilah=perfection respectively. And only now when the word frequency in Hebrew has shifted do the names remind us of sickness and death. Sound reasonable?


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