Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Parshas Vayishlach 5776

Was Shechem a City?

The Torah writes (Genesis 33:18-19):
And Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram; and encamped before the city. And he bought the parcel of ground, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money.
The Torah writes earlier (Genesis 12:6):
And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land
 The Ramban (ibid) writes:
This was the city of Shechem  and that was the name of that place. And Shechem the son of Hamor was named after the city.
Ibn Ezra (ibid) writes that at the time of Abraham, the city did not exist yet:
Moses called it by that name, for Shechem did not yet exist in the days of Abraham
The Rashbam (Genesis 33:18) says its name was not Shechem:
ויבא יעקב שלם, to the city named Shalem. The construction is similar to ותבאנה בית לחם, “they arrived at Bet Lechem.” (Ruth 1:19)

עיר שכם, the city of Shechem (who subsequently raped Dinah) The description parallels Numbers 21:26 where Cheshbon is described as the city of Sichon, King of the Emorites. Anyone who explains Shechem as being the name of the city errs. We do not find anywhere that a city is described in such terms, i.e. as עיר ציון, or as עיר ירושלים. Invariably such cities are described with the appropriate definitive article ה i.e. as the word העיר following the name of the city in question. Even assuming that the city under discussion was Shechem, the town may have been renamed in commemoration of the heroism displayed by the sons of Yaakov.
According to this opinion, this would be the city of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18):
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
(see also our earlier post discussing that Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim surround Shechem; see also Josh Waxman's parshablog)

The Tree of Shechem

The Torah writes (Genesis 35:4):
And they gave unto Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hand, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth which was by Shechem.
Tosfos (Chullin 6a) says that this terebinth tree was on Mt. Gerizim:
"Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak said: They [i.e. the Samaritans] found an image of a dove on top of Mt. Gerizim and they worshipped it" - in the Midrash it says that these were the idols that Jacob hid under the oak on the mountain in Shechem
The Rashbam (Genesis 49:10) explains that this was a famous tree:
There was open space at Shechem around the famous oak located near Shechem. At that location a mass rally could be held easily. The people would pay homage to the Sanctuary in Shiloh from that vantage point, as it was in their line of vision.
Ibn Ezra (Genesis 12:6) writes similarly:
Alon - like an terebinth, and these are trees and some people say it means "field"
The Radak (Genesis 12:6) disagrees:
אלון is the name of a plain
(see also our previous post,see also Shadal ibid)

Benjamin, the Werewolf

The Torah writes (Genesis 35:17-18):
And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the mid-wife said unto her: ‘Fear not; for this also is a son for thee.’ And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing—for she died—that she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Rabbeinu Ephraim (Genesis 49:27) writes:
There is a certain wolf called a Loup Garou and this is a human being that can change into a wolf ... and thus Benjamin ate his mother for she died from him
and earlier (Genesis 44:29) (also cited in Tosfos haShalem al haTorah [44:22]:
For Benjamin was a wolf that preyed, and sometimes he attacked people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf, as long as he lived with his father, his father provided medicine for him and he did not change [into a wolf]. Therefore it says that "lest he will leave his father and will die" meaning that if he separates from his father he will turn into a wolf, and prey on people, and then anyone who finds him will kill him
There is also a Rashi (Job 5:23) that mentions werewolves (as cited by Dr. Marc Shapiro):
"And the beasts of the field" - this is garove in French
Sefer Lazei Rashi (4208) explains:
Garove - taken from German "werewolf" - from the stories of people who turn into wolves
(See further discussion by R' Natan Slifkin)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Parshas Vayeitzei 5776

Where did Jacob Sleep? 

The Torah writes (Genesis 28:11):

And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.
Rashi (ibid) explains that was Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem [based on the Talmud Hulin 91b]:
The name of the place is not mentioned but it must refer to a location known elsewhere and this is Mt. Moriah as it is written earlier (Genesis 22:4): And he saw the place from far.
The Radak (ibid) learns this was a place near Beer Sheva:
יפגע במקום, while on his way Yaakov encountered one evening a site less than a day’s walk from Beer Sheva. Since it was already evening, the sun having set, he decided to spend the night there as he was too tired to walk any further. The reason why the letter ב in במקום is spelled with the vowel kametz, suggesting that the place was known, is that the location was known as a site where travelers from Beer Sheva would often spend the night.

As explained by the Ramban (Genesis 28:17), there is also a disagreement about this in Genesis Rabbah (69:7):
Rabbi Elazar in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra said: the ladder was standing in Beer Sheva and reached until the Temple. What was his reason? And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and dreamt and the ladder was there and he was afraid and said "how awesome is this place". Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon said: the ladder was standing in the Temple and reached until Beis El. What was his reason? He [Jacob] was afraid and said "how awesome is this place" and called the place Beis El.

Why is Laban called the "son of Nahor"?

The Torah writes (Genesis 29:5):
And he said unto them: ‘Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?’ And they said: ‘We know him.’
However, when Isaac sent Jacob away the Torah writes (Genesis 28:2):
Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother.
The Radak (ibid) answers:
He mentioned Lavan’s grandfather rather than his father seeing Nachor had been a well known personality whereas Betuel had not. This is also why we find in Genesis 31,53 the expression אלוקי אברהם ואלוקי נחור, seeing that Nachor had been well known.
The Ramban (ibid) explains differently:
It is possible that this was also because of the greatness of Abraham and the entire family identified themselves as descendents of Nahor, the brother of Abraham

Midrash Rabbah (Genesis Rabbah 57:4) says he was an actual son of Nahor:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: He is Laban and he is also Kemuel. Why was he called Kemuel? For he stood against the nation of G-d.
(see our earlier post connecting Laban with Balaam)

Another possibility is that a grandson maybe called a son, as explained by Radak (Genesis 9:24):
the words בנו הקטן refer to Canaan, seeing that he was the youngest of Cham’s sons. There is nothing unusual in a grandson being referred to as a “son.”
Similar, the Ramban (Numbers 26:13) writes:
And it is the custom of the Torah to make grandsons like sons as it says "Laban son of Nahor"

The Kli Yakar (ibid) gives a different explanation:
It seems that he was not asking whether they knew him or not, for surely the people of his city knew him. Instead, he was asking about his deeds and his lineage. About his deeds, he asked if he takes after Nahor who was a good and straight man, or after his father Bethuel the swindler ... and about his lineage, he asked whether he was born from Nahor, the brother of Abraham or maybe his mother gave birth from a different man ...

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Parshas Toldos 5776

Were Esau and Jacob Identical Twins?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:24):
And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb
The Torah describes Esau as having two physical traits that Jacob did not have: he was reddish and he was hairy (Genesis 25:25). By contrast, Jacob is explicitly described as not being hairy (Genesis 27:11).

Targum Jonathan (ibid) implies them not being identical:
And they called his name Esau for he was born complete with hair, beard, teeth and grinders

Rashi writes (ibid) that they were not created separately, implying they were not identical

HaEmek Davar (ibid) writes that they were already separated in the womb, implying they were not identical:
"Behold, there were twins" - and not twins [with a vov]. And this was new for she thought that the separation between them will happen when they come out from her womb but in the womb they were twins. But, that was not so for even in her womb they were twins without an aleph to teach us they were already separated

Ibn Ezra (ibid) learns that they were born in two separate sacs implying them being not identical:
And it was a great wonder this birth, for every person is born with a sac covering him, and here there were two sacs that opened at one time

However, Midrash Shocher Tov (18:132) says that Esau looked like Jacob implying they may have been identical:
Yehudah followed Esau [into the cave by Isaac's funeral] in order to protect his father [Jacob] let Esau tries to kill him. He came in and saw Esau attacking his father and he immediately killed him from the back. Why did he not kill him from the front? Because the facial appearance of Esau was similar to Jacob
Midrash Tanchuma (5:6) writes that during the first 15 years of their lives, people could no tell them apart (implying identical, however, that may refer to behaviour only):
The entire time Esau and Jacob were children, no person was able to tell them apart. When they grew up, Esau became a man who knew trapping and Jacob lived in tents

Rabbi Samson Rephoel Hirsch (ibid) learns they there were identical twins, just slightly different in appearance

(see also this article from YU Torah for scientific background)

Who Called Esau Edom?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:30):
And Esau said to Jacob: ‘Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.’ Therefore was his name called Edom.
The Ohr HaChaim (ibid) says Esau called himself Edom:
He - Esau - called his name Edom and the reason was not because a reddish person was called "red" twice only because he was going to die
Malbim (ibid) gives a different reason:
He himself called himself Edom to show off how red he was and that he loved to shed blood
Daas Zekeinim (ibid) writes that other people called him that before but now he started to use that name also:
We are told this, as from now on Esau called himself “the red one,” whereas at birth only other people called him thus on account of the colour of his skin.
Midrash Sechel Tov (ibid) says it was Jacob:
Because of the doubling of the language that he called the stew twice, therefore Jacob called his name Edom
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in Sefer Taamei DeKra (ibid) writes that it was the Torah itself for we find Jacob referring to him as Esau

(see also earlier where he discusses that Esau never got named by his father)

The Magic of Abimelech

The Torah writes (Genesis 26:8):
And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was with Rebekah his wife.
The Zohar (Toldos 98) explains:
Abimelech was a smart man, and he looked through his astrology which is called "a window" (just like later on in Judges 5:28 regarding Sisera's mother)
(see also Sefer Shaarei Aharon for other explanations of this verse;  see also our earlier post regarding Balak who had a magic bird that spied for him)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Parshas Chaye Sarah 5776

Why is Hebron called Kiriath Arba?

The Torah writes (Genesis 23:2):
And Sarah died in Kiriath Arba—the same is Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Rashi (ibid) provides two explanations deriving from the word "Arba" meaning "four":
Because of the four giants who lived there: Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai and their father. Another explanation: because of the four couples who were buried there, each with his wife - Adam and Chava, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah.
The Rashbam (Genesis 23:2) cites a third explanation - that it was called after a famous person named Arba who was the grandfather of the giants:
The name of the person who founded or owned this town was Arba. We know this from Joshua (15:13) where he is described as the father of a giant. The reference to a town by mentioning an outstanding citizen is familiar to us from Numbers (21:27-29) where the capital of the Emorites is described as Krias Sichon - the city of Sichon
The source of the Rashbam is from the Book of Joshua (15:13-14) (see also Rashi there citing the same explanation):
And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a portion among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, even Kiriath-arba, which Arba was the father of Anak—the same is Hebron. And Caleb drove out thence the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak.
[see also our earlier post about giants]

Targum Jonathan (Deuteronomy 1:28) identifies them as the sons of Ephron:
and the sons of Ephron the giant were also there
Tosefta deTargum (Joshua 15:13) identifies the father of the "Anak" as Tzohar, the father of Ephron, and "Anak" as Ephron.

Yalkut Shemoni (ibid) cites more explanations, also based on the word "Arba" - four:
Why was it called Kiriath Arba? Because of the four righteous men who lived there - Aner, Eshcol, Mamre and Abraham. And of the four righteous men who got circumcised there, and because of the four matriarchs who were buried there - Chava, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. And four men - Anak and his three sons. And from there Abraham our father chased after the four kings. Also, the city changed owners four times: first to tribe of Judah, then to Caleb, then to Priests and then to Levites.
Midrash haGadol (ibid) cites more explanations:
... because of the four patriarchs that were buried there - Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... because it one of four places in Israel - Dana, Krias Sana, Tamnas Serach and Hebron ... because Abraham left it like the light of the sun that was created on the fourth day ... because of the four cries that she cried at her passing...

Who was Keturah, the Wife of Abraham?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:1):
And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah
Rashi (ibid) says this as Hagar:
Keturah - this is Hagar, and she is called Keturah because her deeds were as sweet as incense ...
The Rashbam (ibid) disagrees (see also Ibn Ezra):
קטורה, according to the plain meaning of the text this woman was not identical with Hagar.
Yalkut Shemoni (Job 8, 904) says she was from Japheth:
And three wives married Abraham - Sarah, a descendent of Shem, Keturah, a descendent of Japheth and Hagar, a descendent of Ham
Sefer HaYashar (ibid) says she was a Canaanite

The Talmud (Zevachim 62b) says her name was Yochani 

[see also Sefer Mayim Rabim, pp. 147 for in-depth discussion]

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