Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vayishlach: Did Esav Kiss Yaakov?

The pasuk says he did. But perhaps it does not. Bereishit 33:
ג וְהוּא, עָבַר לִפְנֵיהֶם; וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַרְצָה שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים, עַד-גִּשְׁתּוֹ עַד-אָחִיו. 3 And he himself passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
ד וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ, וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיִּבְכּוּ. 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.
We can parse it as וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ being Esav, and וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ, and וַיִּבְכּוּ being the two of them. Or we can parse it as the entirety until וַיִּבְכּוּ being Esav.

There are dots over the word וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ. There is basis in Chazal for this being a scribal notation that perhaps these words to not belong. See here for elaboration.

Rashi takes off on these dots:
and kissed him Heb. וֹיֹשֹקֹהֹוּ. There are dots over the word. There is controversy concerning this matter in a Baraitha of Sifrei (Beha’alothecha 69). Some interpret the dots to mean that he did not kiss him wholeheartedly. Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai said: It is a well known tradition that Esau hated Jacob, but his compassion was moved at that time, and he kissed him wholeheartedly.
Thus, this may read as that the word conceptually should not be there, because though he kissed him, he did not mean it. And Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai argues. I would argue that there is a thematic point which is motivating Rashi here. True, there are dots over the letters, but that is not his concern so much as Esav's emotion, attitude, and goals. Compare with what Rashi writes of Lavan's motivations, when also kissing Yaakov:
that he ran towards him He thought that he (Jacob) was laden with money, for the servant of the household (Eliezer) had come here with ten laden camels.[from Gen. Rabbah 70:13]
and he embraced When he (Laban) did not see anything with him (Jacob), he said, “Perhaps he has brought golden coins, and they are in his bosom.” [from Gen. Rabbah 70:13]
and he kissed him He said,“Perhaps he has brought pearls, and they are in his mouth.” [from Gen. Rabbah 70:13]
Esav also hugs Yaakov. Rashi explains this as well:
and embraced him His compassion was moved when he saw him prostrate himself all those times. — [from Gen. Rabbah 78:8]
This is all a peshat concern -- did Yaakov really make up with his brother here, or not. And Rashi is willing to say, and cite, that that is not the cause for the dots. (Or at least that is the first impression one gets from Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai's dismissal of the matter.)

Shadal discusses the dots in a more peshat oriented manner. For Esav's intent creating those dots is more a midrashic take. Instead, Shadal discusses whether the word should be present:

ד] וישקהו : יש שאמרו כי הנקודות שעל המילה הזאת, להורות שבקצת ספרים לא היתה כתובה, ושכן אוריגנס לא מצא אותה בספריו. ואמת הוא כי על הרוב אין נפילה על הצואר בין האוהבים אלא לנשק, וא"כ היה אפשר שיאמר הכתוב ויפל על צואריו ויבכו בלא מילת וישקהו, והיתה הנשיקה מובנת מאליה, כמו ביוסף עם יעקב ( למטה מ"ו כ"ט ) ויפל על צואריו ויבך על צואריו עוד ; שנשק אותו אעפ"י שלא נכתב. ואפשר ג"כ כי בחוזק ההתפעלות יישאר האוהב על צוארי האוהבו משתאה ומשתומם ולא יישקהו, וייתכן שכן היה הענין ביוסף עם יעקב, אבל יעקב ועשו אין ספק כי לא היתה ביניהם חיבה יתרה, ולא היה שם חוזק התפעלות שיגרום לאחד מהם שיישאר משתאה ומשתומם.
Thus, he notes that in fact in Origen the word is not present. And he gives good reason that the word is implicit and thus unnecessary, or else that the word is unwarranted.

I would note that as written, with the word present, there is a certain poetic symmetry to the verse. This would be a reason to say it should be present, IMHO. Thus:

ד וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ, וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיִּבְכּוּ. 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.
Whether it is Esav in the first and Yaakov in the second, or Esav in both first and second, the fact is that we have:
וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ
followed by
וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ
which is parallel syntactic form, and similarly develops semantically.

One final note on this -- the word וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ has a similar root to אבק. To get there, switch one guttural for another. Indeed, in last perek, by Maavar Yabbok, on the wrestling, Shadal writes, citing Rashi: ורש"י פירש מל' חבוק, וכן בל' ארמית אביק, ענינו דבוק וחבוק, ולזה דעתי נוטה.

Thus, they are related in meaning and quite possibly in etymology. Perhaps this is deliberate, to match off the struggle with the angel with the meeting with Esav.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the dots on "vayishkehu" hint that the koof should be changed to a kaf, thus "he bit him"?

joshwaxman said...

yes, I believe there is a midrash which suggests this.


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