Saturday, December 03, 2011

How do we understand the midrash that replaces 'Leah was hated' with 'Esav's actions were hated by Leah'?

Summary: Minchas Shai rejects the idea that the word שנואה was chaser, against all our texts and our masorah. I agree. Though I disagree on how to understand the gemara, absent a chaser vav.

Post: In parashat Vayeitzei, the following pasuk:

31. And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.לא. וַיַּרְא ה כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת רַחְמָהּ וְרָחֵל עֲקָרָה:

Minchas Shai writes:

"כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה -- The Rama za"l wrote: 
It is malei vav, and the entire Torah like it, malei vav, except for one which is read with a chirik, and is malei yud, and the mnemonic is והיה הבן הבכר לשניאה. And it is a wonder, for in Bava Basra, perek Yesh Nochalin (123a -- and here), they darshen regarding Leah that שנאה is written, chaser vav.
End quote. And while he wonders about the midrash, I wonder about him, for it is not explicit nor really implied in this midrash, for this is what they say there:
It is written And the eyes of Leah were weak.33  What [is meant by] weak?34  If it is suggested [that the meaning is that her eyes were] actually weak, [is this, it may be asked,] conceivable? [If] Scripture did not speak disparagingly of an unclean animal, for it is written, of the clean beasts, and of the beasts that are not clean,35  [would] Scripture speak disparagingly of the righteous?36  — But, said R. Eleazar, [the meaning of rakkoth37  is] that her bounties were extensive.38  Rab said: [Her eyes were] indeed actually weak, but that was no disgrace to her but a credit; for at the crossroads39  she heard people saying: Rebecca has two sons, [and] Laban has two daughters; the elder [daughter should be married] to the elder [son] and the younger [daughter should be married] to the younger [son]. And she sat at the crossroads and inquired: 'How does the elder one conduct himself?'40  [And the answer came that he was] a wicked man, a highway robber.41  'How does the younger man conduct himself?' — 'A quiet man dwelling in tents'.42  And she wept until her eyelashes dropped.43  And this accounts for the Scriptural text, And the Lord saw that Leah was hated.44  What [could be the meaning of] 'hated'? If it is suggested [that it means that she was] actually hated, [surely] it may be retorted, is this] conceivable? [If] Scripture did not speak disparagingly of an unclean animal, [would] it speak disparagingly of the righteous? But the [meaning is this]: The Holy One, blessed be He, saw that Esau's conduct was hateful to her, so he opened her womb.45
And the Rav [=Rama] za'l thought that the author of the maamar darshened שנאה as chaser vav, that is, 'שָנאָה לאה the acts of Esav' (that she despised the acts of Esav).

And it appears to me that he attributed something which was not stated, and really, it never entered the mind of the author of the maamar to darshen the word שנאה being chaser, contrary to all the sefarim and masoret. Rather, we are able to explain the intent of the maamar that the acts of Esav were שנואים in her eyes, and her tears were always found upon her cheeks; and she as well hated herself, in the manner of those whose soul is bitter, that they hate themselves; and she was also hated by others, in the manner of the world, that they flee and distance themselves from sorrow and groaning, so that the sorrow not befall them. For groaning breaks half of a person's body. And because of this, she merited that Hashem open his womb before that of Rachel. and now, it comes out even better, the wording {in the gemara of} 'And that is what is written, "and Hashem saw that שנואה לאה", that the explanation of שנואה לאה is similar to the explanation of 'and they eyes of Leah were weak', for both this and that are because of the crying. Analyze carefully, as well, that it states that שנואים the acts of Esav, and it does not say that שָנאָה Leah the acts of Esav.

And there is a support to this from Midrash Rabba, for it is stated there כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה, that she did the acts of the שנואים, that she said to be married to the שונא. Another nusach: that she was estimated {?} to the שונא, etc., and she would cry, etc.

And the author of Yefei Torah considered this position in explaining the Midrash Rabba, but did not acquiesce to explain so, for there was in perek Yesh Nochalin the opposite, which is difficult to the midrash, for it should have said שונאה. But according to our path, there is no difficulty at all, and the gemara and Midrash Rabba work in tandem, to darshen the word שנואה as malei, just as it is in all the sefarim and in the masoret."

See in Vetus Testamentum, that there is only a solitary variant with שנאה spelled chaser. I am not so pleased with this reading of the gemara. On the one hand, I do appreciate the parallel, not just to midrash Rabba, but to the gemara itself. The gemara had accepted (according to Rav) that her eyes were weak, but that was to her credit. And so here as well, she actually was 'hated', but that was to her credit.

Still, I am not so pleased with this reading of the gemara. The gemara first distances the reading that she was hated, and yet this explanation returns to her being hated, albeit in another fashion. Also, the guts of the explanation, of how 'hated' means that she hated herself and others hated her for being so despondent, is missing from the gemara. Instead, it uses the word שנואים as a passive verb regarding Esav's actions, such that the gemara would really read best if the word שנואים was part of the parse of the pasuk itself.

I think we can accomplish this goal. There is an implicit functional lamed in play. (Perhaps even double the lamed of Leah to get there, but we need not go there.) Thus, understand it as וַיַּרְא ה כִּי שְׂנוּאָה לְלֵאָה, 'and Hashem saw that it was hated to Leah". 

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