Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Daf Yomi: The Doubled Cave

In yesterday's Daf Yomi, we encounter this gemara (Eruvin 53a):

מערת המכפלה רב ושמואל חד אמר שני בתים זה לפנים מזה וחד אמר בית ועלייה על גביו בשלמא למאן דאמר זה על גב זה היינו מכפלה אלא למאן דאמר שני בתים זה לפנים מזה מאי מכפלה שכפולה בזוגות (בראשית לה, כז) ממרא קרית ארבע א"ר יצחק קרית הארבע זוגות אדם וחוה אברהם ושרה יצחק ורבקה יעקב ולאה (בראשית יד, א) 

"The Mearas Hamachpela [doubled cave], Rav and Shmuel, one said it was two rooms [caves], one within the other, and one said it within another was a house and an attic over it [that is, one cave over the other]. All is well according to he who says one over the other, this is Machpela [doubled]. But according to he who said two houses, one within the other, what is Machpela? That it is doubled with pairs. [How so? The pasuk says] Mamrei Kiryat Arba -- Rabbi Yitzchak said: Kiryat haArba Zugot [of the four pairs]: Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah."

When I was learning the above gemara with my son, he asked a good question. How could there be an argument over the definition of the Mearas Hamachpela? Let them go and look!

Indeed, both of them studied in Eretz Yisrael at some point. And there were other Amoraim who were traveling back and forth. Isn't this dispute readily resolvable?

Perhaps the answer is that they didn't know precisely where the Mearas Hamachpela is. (And if so, maybe neither do we, despite an identified site.)

According to Wikipedia (because I haven't researched this), Herod built a structure over Mearas Hamechpela:
Situated beneath a large rectangular Herodian era structure, the series of subterranean chambers is located in the heart of Hebron(Al-Khalil)'s old city in the Hebron Hills. According to tradition that has been associated with both the Book of Genesis and the Quran, the cave and adjoining field were purchased by Abraham, and Abraham, IsaacJacobSarah,Rebecca, and Leah, considered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, are all believed to be buried there. 
And further:
Herod the Great built a large, rectangular enclosure over the caves, the only fully surviving Herodian structure. Herod's building, with 6-foot-thick stone walls made from stones that were at least 3 feet tall and sometimes reach a length of 24 feet, did not have a roof. Archæologists are not certain where the original entrance to the enclosure was located, or even if there was one.[6]
This could then be the answer, that it was already obstructed in the days of Rav and Shmuel.

In terms of the continuation of the gemara, I don't think the question the stama degemara poses to one of the Amoraim, Rav or Shmuel, is a strong one. Indeed, the reason they have a dispute of whether it was a cave one over the other or one within the other is that they are arguing about the definition of machpela, whether it meant doubled internally or one over the other. So whoever said one room inside of another was interpreting machpela. It is therefore invalid to assert that that Amora has no way of explaining machpela.

What is happening, I think, is that the setama is operated on a different assumption than the original Amoraim. Firstly, not necessarily taking the bayis ve'aliya as an interpretation of machpela. But more so, operating under the methodology by which a derasha needs to be impelled by the absence of another viable interpretation. Since they have this hanging derasha, of machpela referring to the pairs of patriarchs and matriarchs buried there, it would be either optimal or required to associate this with one of the two Amoraim in this dispute. And so they identify the "pairs" with habayis vealiya al gabav. But the Amoraim could well have said -- and I think they do generally in Midrash not first processed by gemara -- that there are two interpretations upon the words of the pasuk. If you want, one as peshat and one as derash. (Or else you could even say that there is a third position, that the cave was not doubled at all, in which case it is strange for Avraham at his point to refer to it as Mearas Hamachpela.)


Avi said...

And so they identify the "pairs" with habayis vealiya al gabav.

I think you got this backwards.

YY said...

see here


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