Friday, December 16, 2016

Vayishlach thoughts

Yaakov's Gift of Camels
Yaakov sends many different species as a gift to Esav (Bereishis 32:15-16), and for each of them, sends males and females. The exception is camels, where he sends nursing camels and their young.
גְּמַלִּים מֵינִיקוֹת וּבְנֵיהֶם שְׁלשִׁים פָּרוֹת אַרְבָּעִים וּפָרִים עֲשָׂרָה אֲתֹנֹת עֶשְׂרִים וַעְיָרִם עֲשָׂרָה:
It is unclear why camels are the exception. Rashi explains the peshat, that it means the camel calves with them, but also brings a midrashic understanding* (from Bereishis Rabba 76:7) that it refers to the male counterparts of the female camels. The Torah is discreet specifically by camels and not by any of the other species listed because the camel's modesty in intercourse. Thus, Rashi writes:
גמלים מיניקות שלשים: ובניהם עמהם. ומדרש אגדה ובניהם בנאיהם, זכר כנגד נקבה, ולפי שצנוע בתשמיש לא פרסמו הכתוב:
I would say that the camel calves are deliberate. That camels were used, at this early point in their domestication**, primarily to give milk. Thus female nursing camels were the gift. But a nursing camel has to suckle her young, or else it will stop producing milk***. That is why the female nursing camels, specifically, needed to be accompanied by their young.
When Yitzchak is weaned, we read (Bereishis 21:8):
וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַיִּגָּמַל
I say that vayigmal is the word used for "weaned" because that is the time he transfers from drinking human milk to drinking camel milk. Or simply because of the association of camels with milk. Camel milk is the popular milk choice for nomads in the wilderness.
* Also see Rashi on pasuk 15, when talking about male : female ratio, in which a 1:1 ration for camels is given. This Rashi, citing the same siman of midrash, as well, assumes that the "וּבְנֵיהֶם " are rather בַּנָאֵיהֶם.
** Many modern scholars say the Torah is anachronistic when it comes to camels, since they hadn't been widely domesticated yet. This claim can be questioned, based on various findings, and how one interprets the evidence. But, for instance, "In a Sumerian text from Nippur (19th Century B.C.), we find reference to camels’ milk, which seems to allude to some domestication of the animal."…/5-things-you-need-to-kno…/
*** "Their thirteen-month gestation period must conclude in a live birth followed by suckling, else the female camel will stop producing milk. Unlike a dairy cow which is parted from her calf when it is born and then gives milk for six to nine months, a camel can share her milk with the farmer and her calf for twelve to eighteen months." See


Daf Yomi question, based on the Mishna in today's daf (Bava Metzia 80a, towards the bottom):
If one rented a donkey to transport wheat, and instead he transported buckwheat, and an injury results, is he liable?
Do we say that it is kasha ke-masuy?


The small bottles
That Yaakov went back for small bottles, and was therefore alone to grapple with the angel, is not explicit in the pesukim. It is Rashi citing the midrash found in Bereishit Rabba 77:2 and Chullin 91a.
What the pesukim themselves say is:
כד וַיִּקָּחֵם וַיַּעֲבִרֵם אֶת הַנָּחַל וַיַּעֲבֵר אֶת אֲשֶׁר לוֹ:
כה וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר:
"And he took them [namely, his family] and brought them across the stream, and he took across what was his.
And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn."
ויותר יעקב לבדו אמר רבי אלעזר שנשתייר על פכין קטנים מכאן לצדיקים שחביב עליהם ממונם יותר מגופם וכל כך למה לפי שאין פושטין ידיהן בגזל
"And Yaakov was left alone - Rabbi Eleazar said: that he remained because of the small vessels. From here that the money of the righteous is dearer to them than their bodies. And to such an extent, why? Because they don't stretch their hands forth in theft."
What is the derivation? The derasha seems to sit on the words:
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ
in which case it could be (re-)interpreted as something was left over to Yaakov alone. The prior pasuk had said that he had brought over his family and all his possessions. So this is something which was left over, but only from the perspective of a tzaddik like Yaakov. This then works well with the midrashic talk about possessions specifically of the righteous.
That strikes me as the most likely derash. Alternatively, we can go back a bit and try to darshen the "et" in:
וַיַּעֲבֵר אֶת אֲשֶׁר לוֹ
as something extraneous, additional, to all that he had. And these would be the pachim ketanim.
Chanukkah tie-in: The pachim ketanim and the pach shemen.


Mamash Malachim
In pashas Vayishlach, Yaakov sends Malachim. Are these malachim angels or human messengers? This is actually a question about a good many instances of "malach" throughout Tanach. (Indeed, even where Malach Elokim is used, as Ralbag will interpret that as human prophetic messenger.)
A famous Rashi at the start of our parsha cites one of two opinions in Bereishis Rabba (75:4), that these are actual angels. The other position in the midrash is that these are human messengers (1). Onkelos is fairly clear that these are humans, as he translates malachim as izgadin, while two pesukim back, at the end of parshas Vayeitzei, he translated the malachei Elokim as malachaya.
We get very different pictures about Yaakov power in the situation. Does he operate like other humans, subject to derech hateva, and is thus clearly vulnerable? Does he have actual heavenly angels at his command, which take not only God's instruction but his own? (Thus, midrash having the various groups of angels beating up Esav.)
Aside from our own inclinations as to how to answer the above question, as we try to assess the peshat of the pasuk, we have to decide how much context weighs in. In the preceding pesukim, Yaakov encountered two camps of malachei Elokim which, Ralbag aside, is easy to see as actual angels. And these may be the same angels he saw ascending and descending in his dream. If peshat places angels there, and we are not going to divide between narrative threads, then should we NOT be inclined to interpret the malachim as the malachim which Yaakov has just encountered and are, in some way (as per the dream), at his disposal. And in the same parsha, Yaakov grapples with an angel. On the flip side of this, and putting midrashic expectations aside, Esav isn't shocked to recieve these angels, and who says that the angels would follow Yaakov's instructions as if they are his servants? We would expect him to send humans, and malachim literally means messengers. Perhaps we shouldn't be overly swayed by the context, and also shouldn't take the global popular interpretation (since that is how we most often will encounter it) of malach as angel.
(1) מלאכים
אלו שלוחי בשר ודם.
רבנן אמרי:
מלאכים ממש.

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