Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eliezer makes a netilas yadayim and hamotzi

Summary: But how does the Baal HaTurim know to add these additional details to the midrash?

Post: In parashat Chayei Sarah, perek 24, Eliezer says the following to Rivkah's family:

33. And [food] was set before him to eat, but he said, "I will not eat until I have spoken my words." And he said, "Speak."לג. [ויישם] וַיּוּשַׂם לְפָנָיו לֶאֱכֹל וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֹכַל עַד אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי דְּבָרָי וַיֹּאמֶר דַּבֵּר:

in his short commentary, Baal HaTurim writes about how Eliezer sensed that Betuel poisoned his food, and gave an excuse that he could not eat until, as was his custom in his master's house, he said the blessings of Netilat Yadayim and Hamotzi. Thus, לֹא אֹכַל עַד אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי. He figured that that would protect him from the poison, just as a cup of [wine of] blessing [of Birkat HaMazon] combines to good but not to bad [in terms of sheidim]. And indeed, he was saved, when the angel switched the plates of food, thus offing Betuel.

Here is the Baal HaTurim inside:

Birchas Yitzchak, R' Yitzchok Horowitz (a previous Melitzer Rebbe) writes:

 ויאמר לא  אוכל  עד אם  דברתי  דברי .  כתב  הבעל  הטורים  שאליעזר
 לא  רצה  לאכול  עד  שיברך  ברכת  על  נטילת  ידים  והמוציא
 לחם  מן  הארץ ,  וזה  שאמר  עד  אם  דברתי  דברי .  ויש  להבין  איך
 משמע  מזה  שרצה  לברך  שתי  הברכות  האלו .  ונראה  לומר  דלכאורה
 יש  לדקדק  למה  נכתבו  תיבות  אם  דברתי  שמשמע  על  העבר ,  אם
 דברתי  כבר ,  ולא  אמר  אם  אדבר  דברי .  אבל  באלו  התיבות  נרמזו
 הברכות  האלו ,  כי  דברת״י  בגימטריא  תרי״ו  וזה  כמספר  ״המוציא
 לחם  מן  הארץ״ .  ואם  נחשוב  שתי  התיבות  א״ם  דברת״י  המה
 בגימטריא  תרנ״ז  ועם  האותיות  עוד  ז׳  הרי  הם  בגימטריא  תרס״ד
 וזהו כמספר  התיבות  ע״ל  נטיל״ת  ידי״ם  ועם  הכולל  עוד  אחד
 ג״כ  עולה  תרס״ד .  ( ושמחתי  כי  נראה  שזהו  כמעט  מה  שכיוון
 הבעה״ט  הקדוש  ז״ל  בזה ) .ש

וגם יש  לומר  כי  הלשון  אם  דברתי  שמשמע  אם  שאדבר  קודם  וזה
 בדברים  השייכים  לומר  בתחלה  כי  הדין  הוא  כי  הברכות
 צריכים  לברך  עובר  לעשייתן . . .ש

Thus, he cites the Baal HaTurim that:
Eliezer did not wish to eat until he blessed al netilas yadayim and hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz, and that this is the implication of לֹא אֹכַל עַד אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי דְּבָרָי. And there is to understand how it is implied from this that he wished to bless these two blessings. And it appears to say that apparently, there is to analyze why the words אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי are written, which imply the past, 'if I had already spoken', and he did not say 'if I will speak my words.' But with these words are hinted these blessings, for דִּבַּרְתִּי is in gematria 616, and this is the same as the number of המוציא לחם מן הארץ. And if we consider the two words אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי, they are in gematria 657, and with the [seven] letters [of the two words] there are another 7, such that it is, in gematria, 664. And this is the same as the gematria of the words ע״ל  נטיל״ת  ידי״ם, with an encompasser [for the word itself], an additional 1, which sums to 664. (And I rejoiced because it seems that this is almost just what the holy Baal HaTurim za'l intended in this.)
And there is also to say that the language אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי implies 'if I have already spoken', and these are words which are appropriate to say beforehand, for the law is that the blessing require one to bless before that to which they apply.
I think it is doubtful that this was Baal HaTurim's true intent, as much as it would give great joy to the Birkas Yitzchak. The Baal HaTurim does not shy away from gematria, but he also does not leave the derivation (or secondary derivation of already darshened facts) out. The Baal HaTurim could have readily given those gematriot. Also, playing around with word selection (out of the greater phrase), adding the number of words or adding 1 to a number, one can often jiggle gematriot to get them just right.

Here is what I think is the most likely basis for specifically these two berachot. There was already the midrash, found e.g. in Bereishit Rabbati, about Betuel (or Lavan) trying to poison Eliezer. And we can find that in the disappearance of Betuel from the narrative, among other things. And וַיּוּשַׂם can be takes to refer to sam, poison. (And there is a krei and ketiv in place on the word.) He finds a clever additional support based on the other use of the term in Tanach.

Now, he said "I can't eat until I have spoken my words." And the very next pasuk,

34. And he said, "I am Abraham's servant.לד. וַיֹּאמַר עֶבֶד אַבְרָהָם אָנֹכִי:

Thus, Baal HaTurim can derive that it has to do with something religious, that he is the servant of Avraham. We already have from elsewhere that Avraham kept the entire Torah, even unto eruv tavshilin. So it makes sense to make this into a ritual matter.

And what ritual matter involves speaking prior to allowing oneself to eat? The obvious answer is al netilas yadayim and hamotzi. As to why two blessings, well, that encompasses what one says before eating. Plus, we can look to the plural of דְּבָרָי.

I don't think we need to find any difficulty in the phrasing of עַד אִם דִּבַּרְתִּי, 'until I have spoken'. This seems perfectly natural on a peshat level. And we don't need to ask 'What is bothering Baal HaTurim?' This seems to me like a retrojection of a specific attitude towards drash onto the Rishonim, such as the Baal HaTurim and Rashi. Rather, there are surely textual irregularities which sparked the initial midrash, but Baal HaTurim is acting as an artist here, creatively painting in additional colors and details by clever reinterpretation of various pesukim. One need not find difficulties in each of this Biblical pre-texts which compel Baal HaTurim, almost against his will, to reinterpret the verse in this new way.

Of course, Birchas Yitzchak himself is creatively adding layers, not of details but of further support to the details Baal HaTurim already provided. And there is room for that. Even so, I don't think that these derivational details reflect Baal HaTurim's initial intent.

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