Thursday, October 18, 2018

Parshas Lech Lecho 5779

What is Ur Kasdim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 15:7):
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur Kasdim to assign this land to you as a possession.”
It also states earlier (ibid 11:28):
And Haran died in the lifetime of Terach his father, in the land of his birth, Ur Kasdim.
And (ibid 11:31):
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur Kasdim for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.
This is also mentioned later on (Nehemiah 9:7):
You are the LORD the God, who choose Abram, and brought him forth out of Ur Kasdim, and gave him the name of Abraham;
Rashi (ibid 11:28) says
The Midrashic explanation is that he died through his father. For Terah accused his son Abram before Nimrod of haying smashed his idols to pieces, and he cast him into a fiery furnace. Haran waited and said to himself, “If Abram proves triumphant I will be on his side; if Nimrod wins I shall be on his”. When Abram was saved they said to Haran, “Whose side are you on?” Haran replied, “I am on Abram’s side”. They therefore cast him into the fiery furnace and he was burnt to death. It is to this that the name of the place Ur-Kasdim (fire of the Chaldees) alludes (Genesis Rabbah 38:13).
Targum Jonathan (ibid) elaborates that it refers to the makers of the furnace:
And it was when Nimrod had cast Abram into the furnace of fire because he would not worship his idol, and the fire had no power to burn him, that Haran's heart became doubtful, saying, If Nimrod overcome, I will be on his side: but if Abram overcome, I will be on his side. And when all the people who were there saw that the fire had no power over Abram, they said in their hearts, Is not Haran the brother of Abram full of divinations and charms, and has he not uttered spells over the fire that it should not burn his brother? Immediately (min yad, out of hand) there fell fire from the high heavens and consumed him; and Haran died in the sight of Terah his father, where he was burned in the land of his nativity, in the furnace of fire which the Kasdim made for Abram his brother.

Metzudas Dovid (Nehemiah ibid) cites a similar explanation but Kasdim refers to the location:
Our Sages tell us that it was because Nimrod threw him into a fiery furnace while in the land of Kasdim and G-d saved him
Ramban (ibid) also explains this is regarding the location but differently:
In the land of his birth. Only Haran was born in Ur Kasdim. Terach was originally from Aram where his older sons Avram and Nachor were born. Afterwards Terach took Avram with him to Ur Kasdim while Nachor remained behind. That is why when Terach left to return to Aram (v. 31) Nachor is not mentioned.
Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid) explains in a similar fashion:
 It is a fact that Avraham’s birthplace was not Ur in the land of the Casdim, but that he was born on the west side of the river Euphrates. We have direct confirmation of this in Joshua 24,2 where we are told מעבר הנהר ישבו אבותיכם מעולם, “your ancestors have lived on the far side of the river Euphrates from time immemorial.” The word מעולם in that verse is clear proof of the fact that Avraham was not born in Ur. This is also why he was known as אברם העברי, in 14,13, “Avraham from across the river.” Had he been born in Ur Casdim he should have been known as אברם הכשדי, “Avram from the land of the Chaldaens.” Another proof for our contention is the fact that Nachor, Avraham’s brother is reported as living in Charan, a place well west of the river Euphrates. If we find in verse 31 that Terach took his son Avram and Lot the son of Haran with him as well as Sarai his daughter-in- law on his way from Ur Casdim in order to go to the land of Canaan and that they got as far as Charan, this suggests that Nachor was the only one who remained in Ur Casdim at the time. However, the truth is that Nachor had never left his birthplace in the first place. This is also the reason the Torah writes the word “in the land of his birth” in the middle of the verse instead of at its end. The word מולדתו, “his birthplace,” refers to Aram which was well to the west of the river Euphrates. We find that our sages in Baba Batra 91 mention that Avram was a prisoner for ten years, three of them in a place called Kuta, and seven years in a place called Kardo. According to some scholars the former place is identical with Ur Casdim. Others hold that it was west of the river Euphrates.

You should know that Terach begat his sons Avram and Nachor on the west side of the river Euphrates, the land of his fathers, and that subsequently he migrated to Ur Casdim to join his son Avram where his younger son Haran was born. Nachor had stayed in his birthplace in Charan all that time. The words בארץ מולדתו refer to Haran, who had indeed been born in Ur Casdim.

Maimonides, in his Moreh Nevuchim 3,29, writes that there is a record in Egyptian books about agriculture that Avram was born in a place called Kuta and that he disagreed with all the local people concerning their worshiping the sun. The king therefore imprisoned him where he remained for many years. Some time later the king feared that Avram would cause destruction to his country and that he would sway his subjects into changing their religion so that he decided to expel Avram to the borders of the land of Canaan.Thus far Maimonides.
The Malbim (ibid) explains that this refers to the fire itself:
For the Kasdim worshiped sun and fire, and they had a fire that was always lit as part of fire worship ... Ur Kasdim was on the other side of the river and Nimrod was also the ruler there ... and the furnace was also on the other side of the river, except that in Haran there was no ruler. And now you will understand what it means that "our forefathers lived on the other side of the river" ... and that was on the other side of the river and not the land of Kasdim ... it must be that Ur Kasdim refers to the fire of the furnace ...

Radak (ibid) says its name wasn't called that at the time:
 באור כשדים, a place known nowadays as Ur Kasdim, It could not have had that name at the time Terach and Avraham lived, as כשד the son of Nachor had not been born until later (Genesis 22,22) The offspring of this Kessed became were known as the Kasdim.
Rashi (ibid) cites another reason that it refers to valleys (also cited by the Radak):
Menachem ben Seruk, however, explains that אור means a valley, as (Isaiah 24:15) “Glorify ye the Lord in the valleys (באורים)”, and as (Isaiah 11:8) “the den (מאורת) of the basilisk”. Every hole or deep cleft may be called אור.
Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid) explains this may also refer to a mountain:
As to the meaning of the word אור in our verse. The word appears in three meanings. 1) valley or depression; 2) fire; 3) mountain. The reason that it may mean valley is based on Isaiah 11,8 מאורת הצפעוני, ”the den of an adder.” The prophet calls the den of that viper מאורה, and a valley is a depression in the earth. Our verse then would mean: “from the valley of the Casdim.” The reason the word may mean “mountain,” is based on Isaiah 24,15 באורים כבוד ה', “for the glory of the Lord is in the mountains,” and the reason the word was used to symbolise mountains was that the Israelites used to light flares on the mountains to inform the people that the new moon had been sighted so that the people who lived far from Jerusalem would observe the next day as New Moon. This is what is meant in Isaiah 24,15 באיי הים שם ה' אלוקי ישראל, “the name of the Lord G’d of Israel is (even) in the islands of the sea.” The prophet urges the people to proclaim the mighty miracles of G’d by honouring G’d with lights, as if the meaning of the words הר כשדים were “fire.” We encounter this word in Isaiah 44,16 חמותי ראיתי אור “I am hot, I can feel the fire (heat).“

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