Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Parshas Vayeitzei 5778

What are the Teraphim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 31:19):
Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep. And Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s.
and later on (Genesis 31:30):
Very well, you had to leave because you were longing for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?”
This seems to imply that these objects were idols of some sort, and Radak (31:30) explains similarly:
he called his Teraphim “my gods,” as he and his kind of people relied on them just as we rely on the true G’d.
This is also implied by Rashi (31:19) which explains Rachel's motivation:
her intention was to wean her father from idol-worship
Daas Zeikinim (31:19) explains that they were oracles of some sort that can provide information:
“Rachel stole the teraphim; what precisely are “teraphim”? According to Pirke de rabbi Eliezer chapter 36, they were deities that people like Lavan worshipped. How did they originate? A firstborn male human being was slaughtered; they cut off his head, salted it (to preserve it from decomposing) using both salt and oil. They inscribed on the forehead of that slain person the name of a deity such as a demon, hung it up under the tongue of the slain person on the wall, lit candles in its honour, prostrated themselves before it, and it would start speaking to the worshipper. (presumably answering questions addressed to it, like to an oracle.) These teraphim are referred to as doing this in the Book of Zecharyah 10,2: כי התרפים דברו און, “for the teraphim spoke delusions.” Rachel stole them so that they could not speak to their father and tell him that Yaakov had fled and where he was going. Not only this; she may have used the opportunity to destroy all idols in her father’s home.
(Other commentators also explain that Rachel's motivation was to make sure Laban can't tell where they went)

However, as the Ramban and others ask, we find teraphim in the house of King David, so they cannot be idol-related. As it says later on (Samuel I 19:11-16):
Saul sent messengers to David’s home to keep watch on him and to kill him in the morning. But David’s wife Michal told him, “Unless you run for your life tonight, you will be killed tomorrow.” Michal let David down from the window and he escaped and fled. Michal then took the teraphim, laid it on the bed, and covered it with a cloth; and at its head she put a net of goat’s hair. Saul sent messengers to seize David; but she said, “He is sick.” Saul, however, sent back the messengers to see David for themselves. “Bring him up to me in the bed,” he ordered, “that he may be put to death.” When the messengers came, they found the teraphim in the bed, with the net of goat’s hair at its head.

Tur HaAruch explains differently, that these were astrological or clock-like devices that can predict the future, but not idol-related:
It is most likely that the teraphim were objects which enabled people to know the time of day, and in that connection they were also used to help them to predict future events  The root of the word is from רפה, “weak” as in רפי ידים, “weak-handed,” or נרפים אתם, “you are weak” (in the sense of lazy, not pulling one’s weight.) The reason people call these objects תרפים is to hint that the reliability of these objects in predicting future events is not very strong, although in the majority of instances the predictions prove more or less accurate. Only people who do not pray to the Lord, the Creator, would be foolish enough to put their trust in them. Some people argue that astrologers possess the power to summon up certain images at a time which they can accurately predict. Ibn Ezra writes that teraphim are objects made of copper which are designed to help us determine portions of an hour, such as minutes. Some people claim that some astrologers possess the skill to raise some life-like shapes at a predetermined hour, and that apparition appears to speak intelligently.
Metzudas Dovid (Samuel I ibid) explains that they were statues of people:
Teraphim are made in the shape of people, and some are used for idol worship and some are made in the shape of someone known, and women used to make them in the form of their husbands, so they can lovingly gaze on them [i.e. these figures]
Ibn Ezra (Genesis 31:19) also cites another explanation:
Some say these are copper vessels that are made in order to know the time, and others say that they are astrological and speak at certain times, but to me it seems that they are made in the shape of a person and are made to accept Heavenly powers and more than that I cannot explain

What are the Dudaim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 30:14):
Once, at the time of the wheat harvest, Reuben came upon some dudaim in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s dudaim.”
Rashi (ibid) explains:
דודאים are violets: it is a plant. In Arabic it is called Jasmin.
Rashbam explains differently:
flowers of the fig tree; In Song of Songs 7,14 these flowers are described as rich in fragrance.
Ibn Ezra and others explain that the root of this plant had a shape like a person, seemingly referring to a plant called the "mandrake"

The Radak and other commentators explain that this herb was thought to help in having children:
Perhaps Reuven had heard some place that this herb is supposed to help women get pregnant, and that seeing his mother had not had any babies lately, he meant to help her in this regard. The popular belief in the efficacy of the dudaim in this respect is not based on fact. If it had been true, why did Rachel not get pregnant after eating them? Also Leah did not get pregnant as a result of eating dudaim, for the Torah says: וישמע אלוקים אל לאה, that G’d listened to Leah’s prayer. (verse 17)

The Ramban and others explain that it used because of a good smell and not to help to have children

Otzar haMidrashim cites a Midrash that explains that the donkey that Reuben was leading ended up being tied to the dudaim, and while trying to escape, it pulled out the root and died; and as the result of that, Reuben found it and brought it to Leah, thus causing Issachar to be born. That is how the Midrash explains "יששכר חמר גרם" (Genesis 49:14).

(There may be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, for the plant currently known as "mandrake" has highly toxic leaves, so it is possibly that the donkey ate the leaves at the some point and got poisoned, but it was also the pulling of the root caused Reuben to know that the plant was by its shape like a person)

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