Thursday, December 5, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’ye’tze – Bresheet (Genesis): 28:10 – 32:2 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


Parashat Va'ye'tze (“and he departed”) starts out with Ya'acov the fugitive making his way from the land of Yisrael to Cha'ran (Haran). No sooner does he leave Be'er Sheva, “and he comes upon a place" (Gen. 28:11). The verb “(va)'yifga” indicates that "he happened", or even "stumbles upon" this location, as the sun was setting. That night Ya’acov had a dream of “angels” – “mal'a'chim” (ref. v. 12) - ascending and descending a ladder. At the end of the Parasha (and twenty years later), while by himself (although far from being alone), Ya'acov once again will "happen, or "chance" to come across “mal'a'chim” (translated "messengers"), using the same Hebrew verb that we encountered above (“va'yif'ge'u,” ref. 32:1, translated "met" in English). ”Chance" and "messengers of YHVH" are therefore the two elements framing the time capsule of Ya'acov's Diaspora experience. The verb “paga” (root p.g.a., pey, gimmel, ayin), seems to point out that from Ya'acov's point of view, or experience, the circumstances and the messengers were just ‘chance occurrences’, that he did not plan for nor anticipate. The ‘master planner’ and ‘conniver’ was no longer in command! In fact, he was more like a pawn, or an actor who was taking part in a great dramatic scheme directed by someone other than himself. 

Thus, although the opening verse of the Parasha seems to indicate that Ya'acov had in mind a set destiny, his path took him to a less defined and (quite likely) less desired place. We just noted that "he came upon a place…” and that “he stopped over for the night, because the sun had set…" (28:11). The circumstances were imposed upon Ya’acov, and so he stopped at what was a mere "place" (only later, in verse 19, do we find out that there was a town there). As Ya'acov lay down, using a stone for a pillow, he had the aforementioned dream, during which Elohim promised to give him the “a’retz” (“ground, land”) that he was lying upon (v. 13), and to bring him back to this very “adama”  (soil). But as if to suggest that there was a greater dimension (a ‘heavenly’ one) attached to this plot of land, the promise was given in a most awesome manner, with YHVH being described as standing above a ladder that connected heaven and earth (with angels ascending and descending). Ya'acov therefore deemed this place to be the "house of Elohim and the gate of heaven" (28:17).

Yaacov not only "happened" by this "place," he also used one of the stones of the "place" for a pillow. He lay down in this "place" and discovered that YHVH was in the "place," and that this "place" was truly awesome! Finally, he named the "place" Bet-El - the "house of Elohim". The Hebrew word for "place" is “ma'kom”, of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to "rise up". This particular “makom” was indeed the location where Ya'acov's call to rise up was starting to resound! We cannot leave Yaacov and “makom” without mentioning “y’kum”, which is translated “all living things”, and is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 7:4, 23, in reference to that which YHVH created (but which in that particular incident He had also destroyed). Toward the end of Yaacov’s sojourn in Charan, once the decision to leave is made with his wives’ consent, the text stresses that he “rose – va’yakam - and set his sons and his wives on camels…” (31:17).

Back to the present. Needing something tangible to mark his experience, Ya’acov picked up the stone on which he had rested his head, lifted it up as a column and poured oil on top of it (28:18). After naming the place, he made an oath promising to make YHVH his Elohim (providing his conditions are met), adding, "This stone… shall become Elohim's house" (v. 22). Next, we meet the Patriarch-to-be at his desired destination. Upon seeing his beautiful cousin, he mustered up an inordinate amount of vigor, which enabled him to roll a large stone off the "mouth of the well", a feat that ordinarily required several people to accomplish (ref. 29:8-10). Toward the end of the Parasha (in 31:45-47), the covenant made between Ya'acov and his father-in-law, Lah'van (Laban), was also marked by a stone, which he again placed uprightly, as well as by a heap of stones which he named "gal'ed" "a witness heap". Apparently during that season in Ya’acov’s life the "e'vehn" (“stone”) became a marker (‘milestone’) of significant events and experiences. 

Many years later, when the elderly Ya'acov will pronounce blessings upon his sons on his deathbed, he will give his favorite one, Yosef (Joseph), the longest and most complex of the blessings. In the course of his pronouncement Ya'acov will make mention of the Mighty One of Ya'acov, the Shepherd and Stone of Israel -E'vehn Yisrael, all these being titles of YHVH (Gen. 49:24 emphasis and italics added).  This is the only time that the "Stone of Israel" is mentioned in the entire Holy Writ, and not surprisingly it was uttered by the mouth of the one who walked a path made up of many stepping-stones. Later on in the Word, more stones are being uncovered: "the stone which the builders rejected, [and which] has become the chief corner stone" (Ps. 118:22), as well as the "stone to strike and a rock [tzur] to stumble over" for "the two houses of Israel" (Ya'acov's progeny – Yishayahu/Isaiah 8:14, literal translation). Then there is the stone that was laid in Zion, "a tried stone, a tested stone, a costly corner stone for the foundation…" about which it is said that "he who believes in it [Him] will not be disturbed" (Is. 28:16). Finally, the stone which hit Nebuchadnezzar’s giant statue shattering it to pieces is the one that, “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (ref. Daniel 2:31-35). Interestingly, the word "e'vehn", which is spelt alef, b/vet, noon, if read without vowels can be broken up into two words: "av-ben," that is: "father-son". References to Yeshua as the “shepherd” (cf. Matt. 2:6; John 10:2 ff), as well as to Him as the stone/rock (ref. 1st Cor. 10:4) would make Ya’acov’s coinage of the term “Shepherd (of the) Stone of Israel” quite prophetic.

Being a member of the family of Be'tu'el (Bethuel) and Lah'van, Ra’chel's name, not unlike that of her aunt Rivka, is associated with the family business, as “Ra’chel” means a "ewe". Ya’acov mentioned Lah'van's ewes and female goats in 31:38, when he lodged his complaint about the life style and conditions that were imposed on him by his father-in-law during their twenty-year association. Ewes as “ra'chel” (plural “r'che'lim”) are mentioned rather rarely in the Tanach, one of those few instances being Yishayahu 53:7, where the Messiah is described as "an ewe - 'ra'chel' - before its shearers". 

Whereas Ya’acov’s mother Rivka watered the entourage of Avraham’s servants and livestock, in the present episode by the well, her son is the one watering the flocks of his uncle (ref. 29:10). Next Ya’acov proceeds to kiss his cousin. In Hebrew these two actions are described thus: “va’yashk et hatzon” (and he watered the flocks); “va’yishak… le’Rachel” (“and he kissed… Rachel”). Noticed the alliteration employed here, hinting at what will soon transpire in Ya’acov’s life – “watering” (work) in exchange for “kissing” (marrying the one he loved).

Eleven of Ya'acov's twelve sons were born in Cha'ran. Leh'ah gave birth to the first four, whose names express her attempts at appeasing her husband. The firstborn was therefore named - Re’u’ven - meaning, "behold, a son". Next is Shim'on, whose name stems from the verb "to hear" (indicating that her plea for another son has been heard). Following him is Leh'vi, of the root "to accompany", (being sure that now, upon his birth her husband will ‘accompany’ her). Leh'ah's fourth son was Yehuda, whose name is related to "giving thanks" or to "praise". Ra’chel's maid, Bil’ha, whom the former gave to her husband so that she could be (literally) built through her, is next in line.  Rachel used the same words as Sarah did in relationship to Hagar (ref. Gen. 16:2. As we saw there in “being built” – ebaneh – are also imbedded the letters for “ben” - son). Her anguish about being barren came to the fore in the names that she gave the sons that her maid bore to Ya’acov. The meaning of the name of the first, Dan, is "judgment". or "dispensing justice/vindication". Bilha's second son was Naphtali, meaning "writhing" or "twisting", and by implication "struggle" (denoting Ra’chel's struggle with her sister). However, Leh'ah was not going to stand by and allow her sister to be "built up" through her maid (30:3). Thus she too gave her maid, Zilpah, to her husband, hoping to have more sons through her. Zilpah birthed Gad, meaning "fortune" (as in "luck"). However, the pronouncement made there by Leah – “ba-gad” –  as she named this one, may also mean “he betrayed” (perhaps in reference to Ya’acov’s relationship with her). Zilpa’s next pregnancy yielded Asher, whose name is of the root "happiness" (or being “confirmed”). Leh'ah's words, "I am blessed [or happy], for the daughters shall call me blessed" (30:13), recall the words of Miriam, Yeshua's mother, upon the birth of her Son (ref. Luke 1:48). Leh’ah herself birthed the next one, and named him Yisas'char, from the root to "hire", since she became pregnant with him upon "hiring" Ya'acov from Ra’chel for a 'fee', in the form of a mandrake plant that was picked by Re'uven. But once the baby was born, Leh'ah recalled the other meaning of the name, which is "wages", saying: "Elohim has given me my wages, because I gave my maid to my husband" (30:18). Leh'ah's sixth son was Z'vulun, whose name stems from the rare “zeved”, which means "endowment or gift”. But Leah did not stop there, she said, “now will my husband dwell with me” (30:20). “Dwell” here is “yizbeleni”, which can also mean “honor me”.  Thus this son’s name, as is the case with some of his siblings’ names, has a twofold meaning, in spite of the root of the words not being identical. Thus, it is not always the grammatical accuracy which is prominent, as is evident in this narrative, but rather associative thinking, being prevalent in the Biblical text (and the Hebraic mindset).

After Leh’ah gave birth to Dinah (whose name, like Dan’s, means "judgment" or "justice"), Ra’chel's desire was granted her and she too bore a son. "Elohim has taken away (a'saf) my reproach, [and] she named him Yosef, saying, 'may YHVH add (yosef) to me another son'" (v. 23, 24 emphasis added). While Ra’chel was contemplating how her shame and disgrace were being removed by giving birth, she was also expressing hope that this one, who opened up her womb, will serve as a signal for more sons to follow. The two words, “asaf” (a.s.f., alef, samech, fey), here "take away" while literally "to gather", and “yasaf” (y.s.f., yod, samech, fey) "to add" and "to repeat", are related both in sound and meaning. When looking down the road of history these two words become prophetically significant. Yosef certainly was "added to" by his brother Binyamin (Benjamin), and also by receiving a double portion among the tribes of Yisrael when each of his sons became a tribe in his own right. Prophecy predicts the ingathering of the House of Yosef (and "his companions") at a future day, thus fulfilling the second meaning of his name.

The two 'camps' of Ya'acov's descendants are alluded to at the end of the Parasha. In 32:1-2 Ya'acov, as we pointed out before, meets the angels or messengers of YHVH, upon whose sight he exclaims: "This is the camp [or encampment] of Elohim’, and he named the place Ma'cha'na'yim". “Ma'cha'na'yim” is a plural form of “ma'cha'neh”, meaning “camp”. The particular ending, as attached here to the noun, renders the camp a "multiple" one, or a "double camp".  What did Ya'acov see when he looked at this ‘band of angels’? What was it about them that caused him to refer to a "camp" or to an "encampment", and why a double, or a multiple, one? 

In next week's Parasha we will see how, for strategic reasons, Ya'acov will divide up his family into two companies (literally “camps”), before going to meet his brother Esav. Was the idea already brewing in his mind when he saw the angels/messengers, and thus he projected duality to their "camp"? Or was it the messengers from YHVH who advised him to so divide up his family before the crucial meeting? Perhaps through something they said or did he learned that in the future his family would divide up into two camps. Is there a direct connection between the angels who were ascending and descending the ladder, when he first departed from the land of Yisrael, and these particular “mal'achim” here, who greeted him upon his return? Was YHVH thus reminding him of His promises? 

We cannot leave our Parasha without examining the verb “to steal” – which recurs eight times in chapter 31, and is used (in Hebrew) in a number of ways. In verse 19 we learn that Ra’chel stole the household idols, and immediately following that it says: “and Jacob stole away”, literally “stole the heart” (of Laban). The latter accused his nephew of “stealing away”, with once again the literal rendering being “stealing my heart”, then of “stealing away” – literally “stealing me”, and what’s more, of “stealing the household idols” (vs. 26, 27, 30). In Ya’acov’s retort against those accusations, he said, among other things: “These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock.  That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night” (vs. 38-39 italics added). However, the Hebrew rendering of the last expression is: “I was stolen by day and stolen by night” – “ganov gunavti” (g.n.v, gimmel, noon, bet/vet), describing Ya’acov’s state of vulnerability while with his employer. Many years later, his favorite son, Yosef, will repeat these very words in the Egyptian jail: "For indeed I was stolen away – ganov gunavti - from the land of the Hebrews” (Gen. 40:15).

Theft, the potential for such and the fear of being dispossessed of one’s property are usually connected to its accumulation. Verse 18 of chapter 31 indeed sheds light on the great value that the protagonists of this Parasha placed upon their property (as if it wasn’t self-evident already…). The words “livestock”, “possessions”, “gained” and “acquired” appear 6 times in this verse. “Livestock” is “mikneh”, with its root being k.n.h (kof, noon, hey) – “purchase”. “Possessions” and “gained” are both couched in r.ch.sh  (resh, kaf/chaf, shin) – acquire. Thus, in Hebrew the six references are divided equally between “purchase” and “acquire” in their different forms. It is as if these terms are ‘stockpiled’ in one verse in order to illustrate the verse’s content. Yaacov’s fear (here of losing what he has accumulated) is being echoed even when invokes the “Elohim of Avraham”, to which appends the “fear of Itzhak”. “Fear of Yitzhak” is rendered as “pachad Itzhak” (31:42, 53). “Pachad” is not awe or reverence, but rather fear in its raw form. When calling upon Elohim, Ya’acov evidently appeals to Him only ‘on the merit’ of his ancestors (Avraham and Nachor), and at the same time his inner heart condition is being revealed as he associates his immediate forebear (i.e. his father) with… fear.

*Parashot, plural of “Parasha”


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

In this week’s Parasha we encounter some very basic and ‘earthy’ terms (although not without being reminded that the earth is connected to the heavens via a…. ladder). Let us learn how to use some of these words:

I am rising up from the place (masculine)
Ani kam min ha’makom 

I am rising from the place (feminine)
Ani kama min ha’makom

Yaacov rises up (or rose up) from the place
Ya’acov kam min ha’makom

The stone is on the ground
Ha’eh’ven al ha’aretz

Ya’acove kissed Rachel
Ya’acov nishek et Rachel

No Stealing!
Lo lignov!


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Toldot – B’resheet (Genesis) 25:19 - 28:9 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Last week's Parashat Cha’yey Sarah ended with the chronicles of Yishma'el's descendants. This week’s portion opens up with the chronicles of his brother, Yitzchak.  But while “toldot” means "begetting" (root y.l.d - “to give birth”), here “toldot” starts out with the barrenness of Yitzchak’s wife. Rivka’s condition, however, is inserted in an almost parenthetical manner and is couched between Yitzchak's intercession on her behalf and YHVH's response to the plea. 

In 25:21 it says that Yitzchak “entreated” - “vaya'a'tor” (a.t.r. - ayin, tav, resh) – YHVH, and "YHVH was entreated “(vaye'ater) of him" (italics added). The very form of the verbs (“entreat” – “entreated”) - both in the original Hebrew and in the English translation - points to the closeness of the “entreatee” to the “entreater,” and the latter’s deep empathy for the former.

When the request is granted it takes the form of not one, but two sons, the first of whom comes out red all over (ref. 25: 25). The word for “red” is “adom”, and as we saw in Parashat B’resheet (Genesis 1-4), “adom” is connected to “dam” (“blood”), “adama” (“earth”), and thence to Adam, "the first man" who is "earthy" (ref.1 Cor. 15:47). Esav, the firstborn, illustrates therefore the principle that the natural precedes the spiritual (ref 1 Cor. 15:46), despite the fact that his twin turns out to be, for a considerable time period, almost as 'earthy' as the ‘Hairy Red.’

This second boy, who emerged out of Rivka's womb while holding on to the “heel” – “ah'kev” - of his brother was hence named “Ya'acov” (ref. 25:26). Coming in the footsteps of his sibling, his name, which also means "to follow", perfectly matches the order of the births. In Scripture, the image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel-grabbing’ often refers to hindering or trapping someone, as we see in the following examples:

“Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse's heels” (Gen. 49:17); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9); “They mark my steps” (literally “heels” in Ps. 56:6). The following words in T’hilim (Psalms) 41:9 hint at Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend, which did eat of my bread, has lifted his heel against me”.  This type of friend and follower typically steals quietly behind the one whom he follows, with a “crafty” intent (as indeed was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Thus, from the same root of “heel” and “to follow”, (a.k.v. - ayin, kof, vet) stem words like “crafty, cunning and deceptive”, as is illustrated by the alliteration in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 9:4:  “surely every brother deals craftily (ah'kov ya'akov)” (italics added).

In the first scene that brings the two siblings together, Ya'acov is busy cooking lentil broth, while his brother happens to be returning, famished and exhausted, from the field. Esav is sorely tempted when his glance strikes what he calls “ha'adom, ha'adom
ha'zeh” - "this red, red stuff… therefore his name was called Edom" (25:30) - again from the root “adom” – “red”. The area of Edom, which later was inhabited by Esav's descendants, is indeed noted for its red soil. Everything about this hunter speaks of adom-adama – earth and earthiness. Whether Ya'acov anticipated his brother's famished condition or not, we do not know. Nevertheless, while in English it says, "Jacob cooked a stew", in Hebrew it says: “va'ya'zed Ya'acov na'zid” which, aside from cooking stew can also be read as: "Ya'acov devised an evil plot" (25:29). After all, 'cooking up' such a plan was only consistent with his name! The word “nah’zid” - “broth” - stems from the root z.y.d. (zayin, yod, dalet) which is shared by the verb to “cook”, and more specifically, to “boil up and seethe”. This verb also lends itself to “evil-doing” and “malice” – such as “zed” and “zadon” (e.g. Ex. 21:14, where “a man schemes” is “yazed”).  All of this seems to be at variance with the earlier description (25:27) of Yaacov, as an “eesh tam”, literally “a man of integrity” (although most translations use “peaceful” here), “living in tents” (while Esav’s lifestyle and implied disposition is very different). The inconsistency in the depiction of Yaacov’s character is not surprising in the narrative of this particular Parasha, which is replete with contrasts, masquerades, and pretense.   

Ya’acov does not waste any time. He proposes right away an exchange: broth for birthright (ref. v. 31). And while in English these words form an alliteration, in Hebrew the verb "sell” (in the imperative form) – “michra,” and "birthright" – “b'chora”, sound alike. (Perhaps this linguistic association is what gave Ya'acov the idea in the first place…). Ya'acov, however, does not provide the goods until he makes his brother swear to him that he will not renege on his “sh'vu'ah” (“oath”, connected, as we have learned in previous Parashot, to being “full and satisfied”). After the deal is struck the two depart, and until further notice both seem to be content.

Later on, when the time comes for Esav to claim his birthright (that is the right hand blessing of the father before death), startled by his brother’s cunning, he “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ... ‘Is not he rightly named, Ya'acov? For he has supplanted (akav) me...?’” (Gen. 27:34, 36).  The prophet Hoshe'ah (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya'acov”) to their progenitor:  “In the womb he took his brother by the heel- akav” (Hos. 12:3).

 “In the wake of”, or “as a result of”, or in short “because”, is the Biblical word “ekev “(again deriving from the root a.k.v).  In 26:4-5 of our Parasha, YHVH says to Yitzchak: “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because [“ekev”] Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (italics added). Following Avraham’s implicit obedience he was told: “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because – ekev - you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:18). “Ekev” is found in Dvarim (Deuteronomy 8:20): “So you shall perish because you would not listen”. It is also in David’s self-implicating reply to the prophet Nah'tan (Nathan), who challenged him with a parable following his sin with Bat’sheva (Bathsheba): “He must make restitution for the lamb, because he did this thing and had no compassion (2nd Sam.12:6, italics added). Thus, this little “ekev” (rooted in heel) - “because” – becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice hangs.

Ya'acov, too, because of (“ekev”) his actions (particularly that of deceiving his father), had to endure the consequences. By the end of the Parasha he becomes a fugitive, running for his life from his brother, and later (in the next Parasha), to be deceived by his father-in-law, Lah'van (Laban). The “heart” of Ya'acov is well described by Yirmiyahu, who says that it is “more deceitful (akov) than all else”.

In a few weeks time, in Parashat Vayishlach, we shall see how Ya'acov, while on the road back from Padan Aram to Cna’an (Canaan), will plan once again to use some cunning by walking behind – which also suggests ‘following’ - his entourage, that was to go ahead of him to greet Esav. At this point he will be met face to face, as he himself testifies in B’resheet (Genesis) 32:30, by YHVH Elohim. Yisrael, according to the name that will be given to him after this encounter at Penniel, will be made to turn around on his heels as it were (and become lame in the process), never to be the same again. Thus when the “crooked” (“akov”) places become “mishor” – that is “straight” (ref. Is. 40:4b) - Ya'acov will become “Yeshurun” (“yashar” - straight”), true to his name “Yisra’el”, which can also be read “yashar-el” (“El is upright”). As such, the nation is addressed by their Elohim: “But now listen, O Ya'acov, My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen; thus says YHVH who made you, and formed you from the womb [as ‘crooked’ Ya'acov], and Who will help you: do not fear, O Ya'acov My servant; and you Yeshurun [who was ‘straightened’ by Elohim] whom I have chosen” (Is. 44:1, 2). Lastly, Ya'acov was to become one of the forefathers of Messiah, of whom it was prophesied that His heel would be “bruised” by the serpent. However, as we know, the “Seed of the woman” was destined to triumph by crushing and trampling down the serpent’s head with His heel (ref. Gen. 3:15; cf. Luke 10:19; Rom. 16:20; Heb.1:13b).

Back to our narrative:  Following closely on the heels of the oath that Esav took by his brother’s instigation (25:31-33), YHVH reminds Yitzchak of His oath to Avraham, and at the same time cautions him not to go down to Egypt, in spite of the famine in the land (ref. 26:1-5), saying: “Do not go down into Egypt. Dwell in the land which I shall tell you” (v. 2). The imperative “dwell,” “sh’chan” (sh.ch.n, shin, chaf, noon), is also “settle and abide” and it is from this root that “mishkan”, the “tabernacle” in the wilderness, derives its title. On this very issue, David makes an emphatic statement: “Trust in YHVH, and do good; you shall dwell in the land, and you shall be fed on truth” (Ps. 37:3 italics added). Continuing to address Yitzchak, in the next verse (25:3), YHVH says to him: “Dwell in this land…” (italics added), but this time the verb used is “gur”, from which is obtained the term “ger” – sojourner (and “fear”). Notice that above, YHVH exhorts Yitzchak to live in “the land”, whereas the second reference is to “this land”. If Yitzchak abides in the land, “which I [YHVH] shall tell you”, he will have a secure and sure dwelling, but living in this land (‘this world’) he will only be a sojourner (cf. Heb. 11:9). If in fact a distinction is made here between “the land” and “this land”, even though dealing with the same piece of real-estate, perhaps it is Yitzchak’s choice of attitudes which is being addressed.  

At this point in time Yitzchak and Rivka happen to settle in Grar (notice the alliteration of “gur” and “Grar”, 26:1, which is probably intended), and when tested, by being asked about his wife, the Patriarch does not resort to truth. Like his father before him, fear for his life causes him to present his wife as his sister, and thus he fulfills the “living/sojourning as a fearful stranger  in this land”, rather than the former option of “abiding… where YHVH shows him”. What finds Yitzchak out is his act of (literally) "laughing with his wife" (26:8), translated in English "caressing" (or some other equivalent expression). If nothing else, in this episode Yitzchak remains… at least… true to his name…

It is in this year of drought that Yitzchak, against all odds, is sowing seed. “Seed” is “zerah” (of the root z.r.a, zayin, resh, ayin, which is also shared by “arm” – “z’ro’ah”), with the yield being "one hundredfold" (26:12). Earlier (in 26:4) YHVH spoke to Yitzchak about his progeny (“zerah”), mentioning its future increase. Is the great harvest that Yitzchak reaps here (during the famine) symbolic of the future fulfillment of YHVH's word, under all and any conditions?  

Yitzchak's wealth increases tremendously and his neighbors, the Philistines, are jealous of him (26:14) and thus Avimelech their king demands, "Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we" (v. 16). “You are much mightier” is “atzam’ta,” from the root a.tz.m (ayin, tazdi, mem). The usage and meaning of this term will prove to be very significant during the Egyptian exile (in Sh’mot – Exodus – chapter 1 it is found in verses 7,9 and 20), and will motivate the Par’oh (Pharaoh) to try to annihilate Yisrael. 

In our case, Yitzchak’s jealous neighbors take recourse in filling up all the wells that have been dug by Avraham's servants (ref. 26:15, 18b). In doing this they are "withholding benefits from both themselves and their cattle! But in addition to stopping up the wells, they fill them with earth so as to obliterate their existence altogether and make sure that no water would ever flow out of them again. Why did they wish the land to be desolate?[1]”  The explanation that follows, quoted from Haketav Vehakabala, points out that Yitzchak gave the wells the same names that his father had given them (as we see in v. 18). “These names, such as, YHVH Will See, YHVH is My Sign, The Well of Him that Lives and Sees Me, mark the kindness of the Lord."[2] This was done in order "to spread abroad the knowledge of the Lord and show the people that idols were valueless. Avraham thought out a wonderful device to help to bring those who were misled, under the wings of the Divine Presence. He called the well by a name that would drive home the lesson of the existence of the One True God. By this, he would arouse in them an awareness of the truth by saying, ‘Let us go and draw water from the well of the eternal God!’ The wells were a public necessity, and in this manner, the people were initiated into the knowledge of the true God. Whilst he was alive his fear was upon them [i.e. the locals], as they left the wells intact with their names, but after his death they reverted to idolatry. In order to erase from their memory the names of these wells, which recalled the very opposite of their false opinions, they stopped them up. With the disappearance of the wells, the names also disappeared…. Isaac followed in his father's footsteps and endeavored to dig out these same wells and resurrect their names in order to restore the crown of the true faith to its former glory."[3]  

The wording in 26:19, where Yitzchak's servants dig "a well of living water" (translated “running water”), confirms what we have just read regarding the wells of the Patriarchs. The locals fill up the wells, and now they are being re-named, as pointed out, in order to erase the testimony of the Elohim of Yisrael. The name of the first well is “Esek,” “contention” (v. 20). The name of the next, is “Sitna”, “hostility; accusation” (v. 21). It is from the same root, s.t.n (sin, tet, noon), that we get the word “Satan” -  the “accuser”. A closely connected word to “sitna” is “sin'ah” (s.n.a, sin, noon, alef) - “hatre”. This verb is used in Yitzchak’s query in 26:27: “Why do you hate me?” A similar word, both in sound and meaning appears toward the end of our Parasha. In 27:41 it says of Esav that he "bore a grudge against Ya'acov", which is “sotem” (s.t.m. sin/shin, tet, mem). The progressive rate of hostility is seen very clearly by this string of sounds: “soten”, to accuse, “sotem”, to bear a grudge, and “soneh”, to hate”, thus demonstrating accurately how each of these conditions, if left unchecked, will lead to the next one.

When a third well is dug up, some distance away, “they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rechovot, for he said, 'at last YHVH has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land’” (26:22). “Rechovot” is of the root r.ch.v (resh, chet, vet), meaning, "broad, wide, or making room". Thus, enlarging and broadening the subsistence space brings relief, as we see in T’hilim (Psalms) 4:1, where David cries out: "Answer me when I call, O Elohim of my righteousness, You gave room [“hirchav’ta”] to me in trouble – literally in a place of narrowness” (italics added), words with which, in his present situation, Yitzchak would certainly have concurred.

[1] Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.  Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y
2 ibid
3 ibid

 Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Here some of the words we will be incorporating into our study of everyday Hebrew: The root “r.ch.v for “broad” is shared by “rechov” – street. The Biblical “ger” – sojourner, and the root g.u.r (“fear”) lend themselves to “residing” in Modern Hebrew.
From “Miskan” and “shochen” – dwelling – we obtain “shachen” – “neighbor”, while “selling” is still “mocher” and “seed” or “seeds” are “zerah” and “z’ra’eem” respectively.  And of course we can’t leave out the “laughter” which has been accompanying us since last week. Yeshurun as Yaacov’s name to be is a reminder of honesty and uprightness. We will view how that is being used nowadays.

Yisrael lives on a broad street
Yisrael gar bir’chov ra’chav (lit. in a street wide)

The honest neighbor sells seeds
Hashachen ha’ya’shar mocher z’ra’eem (lit. the neighbor honest…)


The honest neighbor sold seeds
Hashachen ha’ya’shar machar z’ra’eem (lit. the neighbor honest…)


Yitzchak laughed
Yitzchak tza’chak

Rivka laughed
Rivka tza’chaka









Thursday, November 21, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Cha’yey Sarah - B'resheet (Genesis) 23-25:18 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Although the name of this week’s Parasha means “Sarah’s life”, it is actually her death and burial which are described in the opening verses. Verse 1 presents a rather curious rendering of Sarah’s length of years: “And the life of Sarah was a hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah” (literal translation). It is as though the life of Sarah is being divided up into time periods, the first hundred years, then twenty and the last seven. Her place of death is also ‘overly’ specified: “Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron in the land of C’na’an”. It then tells us that, “Avraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”. Were Avraham and Sarah separated before that? In 22:19 it says that Avraham dwelt at Beer Sheva. Could it be that the couple separated? Some postulate that this indeed was the case, after Avraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. But now, with Sarah’s departure Avraham is seen looking to purchase a burial plot for his deceased wife and for his family. He has his eye set on a particular site in Kiryat Arba, opposite Mamre “which is Chevron” (23:19). Notice that both Kiryat Arba and Mamre are mentioned as names of Chevron. The “Oaks of Mamre” is where we met Avraham at the beginning of last week’s Parashat Va’yera. Earlier on, in 14:13, Mamre (and his oaks) is mentioned together with his two brothers who were the Amorite allies of Avram, as he was called then. Hence the Amorites/Canaanites named the place Mamre, whereas Arba was one of the giants (“anak”, e.g. Joshua 14:15). Avraham seeks out Efron (Ephron) the Hittite1, who is the owner of a cave called Machpela.

Machpela” stems from the root k.f.l (kaf, fey/pey, lamed), which means “double”. In all likelihood the cave was made up of more than one chamber (thus making it especially suitable for burial purposes).2 Efron’s name, quite appropriately, is derived from the root “ah’far” (a.f.r. ayin, fey, resh) meaning “dust of the ground”. It is the same dust that is mentioned in B’resheet (Genesis) 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” - famous words that were pronounced over Adam after he had succumbed to temptation. “Ah’far” is also the term YHVH uses when He makes His promises to the Patriarchs concerning the multiplicity of their seed (see Gen. 13:16; 28:14). Thus the combination of dust (in Efron’s name) and duplication (in the name of the burial cave) point to this very promise,?in?spite?of?the?themes?of?death?and?burial?and?in?their very presence.

Notice the response to Avraham’s description of himself as a “stranger and an alien” (23:4) by the sons of Het: “Your are a prince of Elohim among us” (v. 6). Avraham’s humility and lack of pretentiousness and presumptuousness is met by great respect (cf. Matthew 23:12) and by a truthful pronouncement regarding his position. 
Hebrews 12:9 confirms that even though a recipient of great promises, “he [Abraham] lived in the land of promise as a stranger,” the Hebrew word being “ger” of the root g.u.r (gimmel, vav, resh) which essentially means ‘fear’, speaking of the vulnerability of a stranger (more on this root will be elaborated in another Parasha down the road).  Avraham pays a “full” amount (v. 9) for his acquisition (in spite of the offer to the contrary, v. 6), as did his grandson Ya’acov when the latter purchased a field in the town of Sh’chem (Shechem, in Gen. 33:19), and likewise David, generations later, when he bought Ornan’s (Araunah) threshing floor in Yerushalayim (2nd Sam. 24:24, upon which the Temple was later built). Not coincidentally, Chevron, Sh’chem (where Joseph is buried), and the Temple Mount are some of the most contested sites in the land of Yisrael!

The narrative of Chapter 23 presents us with some challenges, as it is characterized by on going repetitions, with every point being reiterated. Here are some examples: In verse 6, “bury, burial, bury your dead”, are repeated over and over. In both verses 7 and 12 Avraham is said to be “bowing down to the people of the land”, with the addition of “the sons of Heth” in the first citing. The mention of the “sons of Heth” reoccurs so many times to the point of sounding superfluous. The transaction for the purchase of the cave and its field is mentioned in vs. 9, 13, 16, and 18, while verse 17 enumerates every article within the property. The question arises as to the purpose of all this  repetitious information and details, which is capped by “… the cave of Machpelah, before Mamre, that is Hebron in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as a property for a burial place” (vs. 19, 20). The writer itemizes the conditions, the details, as well as the individuals involved, not leaving any room for doubt or mistake. All of this leads to the conclusion that B’resheet chapter 23 constitutes a legal document, a contract or a deed with all of its stipulations ensuring clarity regarding the ownership of the said property, while also citing the many witnesses who were present. Hence, contesting the rights to this land is in direct defiance of the Word of Elohim! 

The payment that Avraham made was in hard cash: 400 shekels of silver. The three consonants that form the root for “shekel,” sh.k.l (shin, kof, lamed) also form the verb “to weigh”. Thus, the price paid for the plot was made up of 400 equal units of approximately one half ounce each. All in all Avraham paid about 200 “weighted” ounces, or 12 pounds of silver. Soon, in 24:22, we will read about the “weight” (“mishkal”) of the golden nose rings and bracelets that were given to a young maiden in exchange for water.

But back to “Chevron”, a name that is made up of the root ch.v.r (chaf, vet/bet, resh), shared by the following: “to tie, bind, join, unite, friend, and company”. Although in the course of its long history this town has not seen much unity and friendship (it served as David's capital during his seven-year rule over the house of Yehuda-Judah, before he united all of Yisrael, and is currently divided between a hostile Muslim population and a small Jewish presence), its name may point to conditions which will prevail in?days?to?come. In addition to these positive meanings, ch.v.r. also acts as the root for “chavura” – wounding, injury, bruises - such as we read in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 53:5, regarding what was to be inflicted upon the Messiah. Only these “bruises” can “heal” the breaches of Chevron to “friendship and unity”.

Chapter 24 highlights Avraham’s senior servant, who “ruled over all his possessions” (v. 2). The servant is described as a “moshel” (one of the words for “ruler”). “Moshel” shares its root (m.sh.l, mem, shin, lamed) with “proverb, parable, example, to be like, resemble and comparable”. In Tehilim (Psalms) 28:1 the writer cries: “I have become like – “nimshalti” - those who go down to the pit”. The parable in Yechez’kel (Ezekiel) 12:22 is called a “mashal”. In Shmuel Alef (1st Samuel) 10:12 Shaul (Saul) is made a public example of (as a prophet), with the use of “mashal”. The people of Yisrael likewise became a none-too-positive example among the nations, or an object lesson such as described in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 24:9 where they are called: “a reproach and a proverb… in all places where I shall drive them” (italics added). There are many more examples of the usage of the verb and noun emanating from m.sh.l, but how is this connected
?to?the?elderly?servant?

The servant, as a representative of Avraham, was to carry out the duties that were delegated to him. As such, we see him striving to serve by approaching his assignments in the same manner as his master would have done. This, therefore, is the format for the conduct of a true Godly ruler, or leader, who takes his orders from above, endeavoring to carry them out like his Master, thus becoming a representative ‘sample’, a “mashal” or a likeness of the One whom he follows. The Elohim of Yisrael said: “he who rules over (“moshel”) men, by ruling (“moshel”) in the fear of YHVH, will shine as the light of the sun in the morning….” (2nd Sam. 23:3, 4). One such ruler was Yoseph, whose trials and tests were the purifying work of “the Word of YHVH”. Once he was “conformed” to this Word, he was appointed a “ruler [moshel] over all of the king’s possessions” (Ps. 105:18-21). “What is man…” in the eyes of his Creator? Tehilim (Psalms) 8:6 says, “You have made him to rule”, being the verb “tam’shile’hu”, which may be read also as, “you have made him like…”, or, “you have made of him a proverbial example”. These examples point to a representational form of rule, or leadership. Avraham's servant certainly displayed this characteristic of conforming to his master, so much so that his master’s Elohim became his! Yeshua’s words attest to the fact that he too operated by this principle: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). He therefore declared: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Avraham’s representative or delegate is instructed to perform a mission, but is not told how to carry it out. He chooses to present a 'fleece' to "YHVH, the Elohim of my master Avraham" (24:12). The fleece and its fulfillment have to do with water, or the means of obtaining that commodity. Hence we find here “well” (v. 11), “spring (or source, v.13), and trough” (v. 20). The first two are “be'er” and “ayin”, and the last one is “shoket” (from the verb “le'ha'shkot” - "to give a drink"). “Ayin” is also the word used for “eye”. Although ‘officially’ no direct link has been established between “spring” (or “source”) and “eye”, Yeshua refers to the latter as a type of a source when He says in Matthew 6:22: “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light”. The root of “be'er” (“well”) is identical to the root “ba'er” (b.a.r, bet, alef, resh), which means to “expound or clarify”, as it appears in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 1:5, 27:8, and in Chavakook (Habakkuk) 2:2 (where "make it plain" should read "clarify" or "expound"). And thus it is the episode by the well which makes the results of his mission clear to the inquiring servant, as he is "gazing at her [the girl] in silence [and wondering]… whether
YHVH had made his journey successful or not” (24:1 italics?added).?

But?he?did?not?need to?wonder?for long…

"Success" is “hatzlacha,” from the root tz.l.ch. (tzadi, lamed, chet), which is also “to prosper", and is used a number of times in this Parasha. The primary root means to “advance, or cross" (such as in 2nd Sam. 19:17), and by extension also the “coming of the Spirit” (see Judges 14:6). Whenever its meaning is "success" the verb appears in the active causative form rendering it: “to cause to advance". The verb and noun teach us, therefore, that prosperity and success may be obtained only with the help of an ‘external force’, just as is exemplified here by the servant who is completely dependent on YHVH to “cause him to advance”. The servant's awareness of this fact is also expressed by his prayer in 24:12: "O YHVH Elohim of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham". In this instance the root tz.l.ch for "success" does not show up at all. The literal wording here for "give me success" is, "to bring about" - “hakreh” - literally, “cause to happen”. “Happening, occurrence, incident” are “mikreh”.  Avraham’s servant, however, being cognizant of the fact that the Elohim of his master is in control of life’s supposed random happenstances, relies on Him to put together the ‘natural’ circumstances in such a way, so as to make clear His
?choice?of?the?sought-for?bride.

The chain, of the desired events that were brought about, starts with the appearance of a young maiden named Rivka (Rebecca, 24:15). Her rather curious name originates from the root letters r. v/b. k. (resh, vet/bet, kof), which are also the root letters of “marbek”, that is, “stall”. itself stemming from an Aramaic word meaning "to crouch”. “Marbek” is always used in connection with fatted calves (ref. 1st Sam. 28:24; Jer. 46:21; Amos 6:4; Mal. 4:2). Rivka's name points without question to the importance her family attached to their possessions. By naming her thus, they 
were also expressing hopes regarding their their?live?stock.

Later on, upon her departure to the land of C’na’an, Rivka's family blesses her saying "...Our sister, you will become [multiply into] thousands of ten thousands and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies" (Gen. 24:60). This blessing is being uttered by Rivka’s family members without being aware that a similar blessing, about the seed possessing the gate of those who hate them, was also pronounced by YHVH's angel over Avraham, when the latter was obedient to the call to offer up Yitzchak (Gen. 22:17). It is quite likely that Avraham’s servant was informed about this blessing. Now, hearing it again in these present circumstances, the "success" of his mission was being
?confirmed?to?him?yet?again.

Gate” is “sha'ar” in Hebrew (sh.a.r, shin, ayin, resh). Because much of the administration, jurisprudence, and business took place by the city gate, he who possessed the gate also had charge over the entire city (or area). The “gate of the enemy" denotes, therefore, the enemy's area of control and dominion. Earlier on in our Parasha, “gate” has been referred to in Avraham’s business transaction:  “And Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the ears of the sons of Heth, of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying…  ‘The field of Ephron was certified… to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city’” (23:10, 18, italics added,
cf. Ruth 4:1-11). These transactions by the "gate" have lent that word yet other meanings: "measure, calculate", or "recon," as we shall see in next week's Parasha (Gen. 26:12), where the term used is "one hundred times/fold over”, and in Hebrew, “she’arim” (“gates” plural).

In addition to the themes of dominion and power in Rivka’s blessing, mention is made of "tens of thousands" - “alfey revava” (24:60). “Revava” is “ten thousand”, whereas “a thousand” is “elef”. “Elef” (a.l.f - alef, lamed, fey), which with a slight modification is the name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “alef”, lending it a place of prominence, and by implication pointing also to great numerical value. “Aluf” is "chief", but at times also means “a companion”, A large group of (proverbial) "companions" makes up the number one thousand - “elef”, whereas “revava” (ten thousands) stems from the very common root of r.v/b. (resh, vet/bet) meaning "much, great and chief". In the next Parasha we will meet "the greater [who will serve] the younger", which will also be designated by the term “rav”?(25:23). 

The Parasha ends in the same way it had begun: burials are the order of the day. First Avraham dies "in a ripe old age, an old man satisfied…” (25:8). "Ripe" or “full” here is “saveh'ah”, which also means "satisfied" (of the root s.v.a, or sh.v.a), a word we examined last week when we looked at the figure “seven” and “oath” (notice the last period in Sarah’s life, in 23:1, is seven – “sheva”). And just as was mentioned about Sarah, her husband’s life span is also divided up into “a hundred years, and seventy years, and five years” (v. 7). Avraham too is buried in the Cave of Machpela (v. 9). Finally, the last verses of the Parasha deal with the death of Yishma'el (v.17),
?whose?burial?place/is?not?mentioned.

Multiplicity in various forms, leadership, prosperity, dominion and greatness are some of the terms we encountered in this Parasha, whose main narrative is ‘sandwiched’ in between deaths and burials. These deaths, however, highlight all the more the blessings granted to the progeny left behind, accentuating the abundance of life for which this progeny was destined.

1 The Amorites and Hittites are both descendants of Canaan the
son of Ham (see Gen. 10:15, 16)
*Confirmed by archaeological evidence


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

“Friendship”, “success”, “weight”, “much”, “drinking water”, and “life” were some of the terms we came across in our Parasha. Let’s see how we can put then into use in Modern Hebrew. When we want to wish someone to “do well” (“have success”) in most everything, we say “be’hatz’la’cha” (literally - “in/with success”). We also examined the connection to “shekel” and “weight”. Nowadays “shekel” is the currency of Israel, but we still use “mishkal” as “weight”, and “sho’kel” for “to weigh”. Rivka’s family blessed her with becoming “revava” (ten thousand), which is rooted in “rav” – “much, many, great”, and used commonly as the adjective “harbeh”. Rivka’s kindness and sensitivity were measured by her willingness to give a drink of living water – “water” is “mayim” while “life” is “chayim”.


Do well, friend! (addressing a male)
Be’hatz’la’cha chaver
Do well, friend (addressing a female)
Be’hatz’la’cha chavera!

How much does this weigh?
kama ze shokel?

It weighs much
ze shokel harbeh

A drink of living water
mash’keh mayim chayim 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yera B’resheet (Genesis) 18 - 22 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


Va’yera,” which is translated "he appeared," actually means "and he showed himself," and even more literally: “and he caused himself to be seen”.  “Yera” stems from the root r.a.h. (resh, alef, hey), meaning to "see."  Some of its other derivatives are: "seen, to show, to be seen, and sight". Certainly, "seeing" plays a major role in this Parasha.  Yes, YHVH does show Himself to Avraham – but it was up to the latter to do the seeing.  The opening statement in 18:1-2 reads thus: “YHVH appeared to him… and he lifted up his eyes and saw… three men!" This peculiar wording indicates that while looking, Avraham had to see beyond what met his eye. But before we continue, let us note that last week’s Parashat Lech Lecha also had its share of “seeing”, such as in 12:7, where it is ‘seen’ twice (as “appreared”), similar to the way it is used in our Parasha. Then there was the concern of the beautiful Sarai being “seen” by the Egyptians (12:12, 14). In 13:10 Lot “lifts up his eyes” and sees the expanse of land which appeals to him. However, Avram’s magnanimity pays off, as in 13:14ff YHVH promised to give him all the land which his sight captures (and that includes Lot’s territory). Chapter 15 opens up with Avram’s vision, and then with “seeing” the stars that were symbolic of his future progeny. Later, Hagar, who was carrying Avram’s child, “saw that she had conceived, and her mistress became despised in her eyes” (16:4). As a result of the conflict between the two women Hagar fled with her child. There, in the wilderness, she was met by an angel at a spring of water (“spring” is “ayin” in Hebrew, meaning also “eye”), “then she called the name of YHVH… You-Are-the-El-Who-Sees –Me - El Ro’i – for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” (16:13). Even the well that was there, was to commemorate this “seeing”, by being named (by Hagar) the well of the Living-One-Who-Sees-Me (Be’er La’Hai Ro’i). This, then, forms the backdrop of all the “seeing” that will be mentioned in our Parasha of Va’yera.

The principle promulgated by Yeshua in Matthew 25:40, namely, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me", is apparent throughout chapter 18.  Avraham (as he is called now) appears to be keenly aware of the fact that by entertaining strangers, one could unknowingly (or knowingly), be entertaining (at the very least), angels… (ref. Hebrew 13:2).  The strangers passing by, whether one of them is or is not YHVH Himself, are greeted by their host, in word and deed, with great respect and homage not unbefitting royalty. 

The passage at hand (in chapter 18) contains significant interplays between singular and plural* as in verse 3 Avraham addresses the three men who had just appeared to him as "Adonai" (“Lords”) saying: “…If now I have found favor in your [single person] sight, pass not away from your servant". Verses 4 and 5, however, employ the second person plural, whereas in verse 10, where the promise of the son who is to be born to Sarah within the year is pronounced, there is a switch to singular again (“and he said I will return”, italics added). It is YHVH who is actually mentioned in verses 13 and 14, as the One addressing Avraham (relating to Sarah’s response), while in v. 16 the “men rise up” and get ready to leave. Starting with verse 17 the scene changes altogether.  In the passage which commences here (describing Avraham's intercession on behalf of the cities of Sdom and Amora – Gomorrah - vs. 23-32), YHVH, and the men who until now seemed to represent Him, are referred to as totally separate entities: “And the men turned their faces away from there, and went toward Sodom. But Abraham still stood before YHVH” (v. 22). The blurred distinction (in regards to YHVH) within the three-person party leaves us baffled as to ‘who is who’ here, and raises the question whether there is a hidden message in this unusual and enigmatic text formulation. Later on, when Lot and the members of his family are being led out of Sdom by the messengers-visitors, there is a similar lack of distinction between YHVH and His ‘agents’ (ref. 19:16-21 with another interchange between singular and plural).* Thus, although this Parasha is characterized by ‘seeing’, the reader’s vision is often quite impaired (or challenged).

Back to chapter 18, where Avraham’s guests stand and view Sdom from a distance, while the Elohim who "showed Himself" to Avraham determines (v. 17) to (literally) not "cover" His plans from His servant, and to inform him what He was about to do (to Sdom and Amora).  YHVH then declares that He Himself aims to "come down and see if they had done according to the outcry that had come" to Him (18:21 italics added).  In this instance, the "seeing" is a symbolic "inspection" or a declaration of intent that will obviously be followed by action on YHVH’s part. 

Following Avraham's bargaining scene with YHVH, we meet his nephew Lot as he is sitting in the evening by the gate of Sdom (whereas his uncle had been sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of day).  Now it is his turn to "see" (19:1).  Lot greets the two messengers (quite likely of the same “threesome” who had visited his uncle) by rising up and bowing down, just as his relative had done.  He too offers to have his guests' feet washed, and is anxious to supply them with refreshments.  As it is evening time, Lot also offers them a place for the night, which they are very reluctant to accept (or are they simply testing him?), and do so only after much imploring on the part of their host.  The meal served by Avraham under the tree was far more peaceful than the feast at Lot's house in the city of Sdom (notice that up until now each reference to “city” has been connected to wickedness, Kayin built a city, ref. 4:17; Nimrod was a city builder, ref. 10:11-12, the tower of Babel builders intended to build a city, ref. 11:4).  Before Lot’s guests are about to retire, the town's evil men surround the house (ref. 19:4, 5). The messengers, however, quickly and supernaturally blind the eyes of the would-be-assailants (ref.  19:11). Next, Lot tries to talk his family into leaving town, but his sons-in-law perceive it to be a joke ("laughing" is the word in Hebrew in verse 14). This laughter, however, is only short lived, as in verse 25 YHVH overthrows the two cities and in verse 28 Avraham is mentioned watching (literally “seeing” - “vayar” - of the  root r.a.h) “the smoke of the country”.

Laughter was also part of the above-mentioned scene with Avraham and his guests.  The three visitors came in order to reaffirm, once again, the promise of a son. Sarah, who overheard this conversation, laughed in her tent and later denied it (18:12-15).  What’s more, this is not the last time that she is seen laughing.  After giving birth, exactly within the year as YHVH had declared, Sarah says, "Elohim has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of it will laugh at me" (21:6 italics added).  And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking” (the word is again “laughing,” v. 9, italics added). "Seeing" this “laughter” results in the banishment of Hagar and her son Yishmael (Ishmael).  The banished handmaiden wanders in the wilderness by Beer Sheva, and when her drinking water is used up she places her son under a shrub and exclaims: “Let me not see the death of the boy.  And she … lifted up her voice and cried" (v.16 italics added). “And Elohim opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave drink to the boy” (v. 19 italics added).

Hagar's eyes are opened in the wilderness of Beer Sheva. The episode that follows (21:22 – 32) expounds on the meaning of that town’s name.  Beer Sheva is literally "the well of seven".  The words “adjure, charge, and oath” share the same root (sh.v.a, shin, bet/vet, ayin). “Satisfaction, or to have had enough” (especially regarding food), is “sovah”, being of the same root (although the letter “shin”, the “sh” sound, is modified to a “sin” - “s” sound).  The usage of the number seven is often indicative of “fullness” and “completeness”, and as such it is also a solemn promise, or an oath that can be guaranteed simply by repeating it seven times (or by using multiplications of seven).  The connection between these two words ("seven" and "oath") is well illustrated here in our story, namely in Avraham and Avimelech's settlement.  Avraham places seven (“sheva”) ewe lambs in front of Avimlelech, as a witness to the fact that he had dug the well that was now under dispute.  Following this action "he called that place Beer Sheva, because there the two of them took an oath (sh'vu'ah, v. 31)".  In Matthew 18:21, we see Peter proclaiming that the act of forgiving up to seven times is sufficient.  Yeshua, of course, goes beyond that but He too stays within the ‘realm of seven’ saying, "up to seventy times seven” (v. 22).  Truly, “…The words of YHVH are pure words; as silver… refined seventy times" (Ps.  12:6). The figure ‘seventy’ tells us that His words promise to guarantee full satisfaction.  "…On the day when YHVH binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted… the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days" (Is. 30:26).  Again, the guarantee of fullness in the form of "sevens" renders it like an oath.  The sunrise and sunset dictate the formation of any given day, just as the sun and the moon control the length of the months and seasons of the Biblical year.  The seven-day week, however, seems to be quite arbitrary - but is it?  Elohim chose to create the world in six days and then to add one more at the end, which He set apart for rest, remembrance, and declaration.  The sanctification of the seventh day, the commemoration of the number "seven" (in naming the “week” “shavu’a”), the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has accomplished, and its guaranteed fulfillment are all innately expressed in the Hebrew language by the root sh/s.v.a: "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied (“es'be'ah”) with Your likeness when I awake" (Ps. 16:11 & 17:15). To seal off the episode of Avraham’s test, YHVH declares: "By Myself I have sworn – nish’ba’ti - ’ says YHVH, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed…” (22:16-17 italics added)    

This blessing is the culmination of Avraham’s test, known as the "binding of Yitzchak (Isaac)," or “Akedat Yitzchak.”  After a three-day journey, set off by the words “lech le’cha”, with Yitzchak and two of his servants “…Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…” (22:4 italics added).  Responding to his son's question, as to the whereabouts of the lamb for the sacrifice, Avraham says, "Elohim will see for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (v. 8 literal translation, italics added).  YHVH does indeed "see" (translated as “provide”) a substitute for Yitzchak in the form of a ram…  "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns.  And Abraham called the name of the place ‘YHVH Yir'eh - will see’ - as it is said to this day - 'it shall be seen on the mountain of YHVH'" (v.13-14 emphasis added). 

In the opening verses of our Parasha we saw Avraham “seeing” YHVH by using his 'inner eyes' and discernment, even when looking upon three men.  YHVH is also seen as the One who reveals His "secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7) prior to judging Sdom and Amora, though not before doing His own "seeing" of the state of affairs there (ref. 18:21). Further, His messengers' aura of light impairs the vision of the spiritually blind.  Avimelech sees YHVH in a dream which prevents him from sinning with Sarah (ref. 20:3, 4).  What the latter “sees” (ref. 21:9) causes her to send Hagar and Yishmael away, but their needs are “seen to” by YHVH in the wilderness (ref. 21:014-19).  Finally, YHVH is the One who “sees” (present tense) for Himself the sacrificial Lamb provided by Him for all time (ref. 22:8, 14). And so, as it is in the beginning so it is at the end of the Parasha - YHVH reveals Himself.  More on Avraham’s, this time long range vision, is found in the words of Yeshua who declared to the Pharisees: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Quite likely this is connected to Avraham’s statement regarding the future “lamb for the sacrifice”.

Earlier we noticed that Avraham was sitting at the tent door “in the heat of the day” (18:1) denoting daylight, while Lot was sitting at the gate of the city of Sdom “in the evening” (19:1), denoting darkness (cf. John 3:19, 8:12, 12:35, 46; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:5,7). But in the Parasha as a whole, it is the expression “early in the morning” that keeps reoccurring. In three out of four times it relates to Avraham (19:27; 21:14; 22:3), and one time to Avimelech (20:8). “And he rose early” is rendered each time, “va’yashkem” of the root sh.ch.m (shin, kaf/chaf, mem) which is also applied to the word “shoulder”. This is illustrated very graphically in 21:14: “And Abraham rose up early  - “va-yashkem” - in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder -”shichma” -  (italics added). The connection of those two terms is thought to be imbedded in the very reason for rising early, which is to put one’s shoulders to work. However, the two examples (out of the three) of Avraham’s early rising and setting to do as he is told (“Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice” – 21:12, and “… so Abraham… took… Isaac his son… then they came to a place that Elohim had told him, 22:3, 9), have a common theme. In each of those Avraham is told to give up his son, his firstborn. But whereas in the first instance, which appears to be a rehearsal for the second, he reacts (21:11), when the second episode comes round he obeys implicitly (see 22:12b). Interestingly, Avraham, whose original call was “lech lecha” (12:1), words with which he complied without as much as blinking an eyelid, was once again addressed by these very words (as we noted last week) when he was told by YVHVH to go to Mount Moriah and there offer up his son (ref. 22:2)  

In 19:37 and 38 we learn of the origin of the Moabites and the Amonites. The fact that they are the product of an incestuous relationship is expressed by the name of the older of the two: Mo’av” stems from “m’av”, meaning “from a father”, as the boy had been begotten by his mother’s father (his own grandfather). The second boy’s mother names him “Ben Ami” (Ammon), meaning “son of my people”, which is also a reference to the close family tie. Lot’s daughters’ conduct is not surprising, as earlier on, when the men of Sdom demanded that he hand over his guests to them, their father attempted to offer these two daughters in place of the visitors (ref. 19:4-8). If Ham, and especially his son, Kna’an, were cursed for revealing the father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:24, 25), the same, and more, would be applicable to Lot’s descendents, Moav and Amon.

*In all these cases this is much more pronounced in the Hebrew original than in the translations, one reason being that in English there is no distinction between you singular and plural, which there is in Hebrew.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

We will “look” at and “see” the usage of “seeing”, roeh/ro’ah (m.f.), as well as at Avraham’s position by the opening – petach - of his tent – ohel - versus Lot’s at the city – eer - gate – sha’ar. As we noted above, “rural dwelling” and its implication is sharply contrasted with “urbanism” (remember last week’s “country living”?).   Here we go:

What do you see?
(masculine) Ma ata ro’eh?
(feminine) Ma at ro’ah?

I am seeing Avraham at (the) entrance to the           tent
(masculine) Ani ro’eh et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel.
(feminine) Ani ro’ah et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel

I am seeing Lot at (the) gate of the city.
(masculine) Ani ro’eh et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer.
(feminine) Ani ro’ah et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer

Vocabulary:
ro’eh/ro’ah – he/she sees
Petach – opening (b’fetach – at opening).
(The p and f sounds are designated by the same consonant. P or f sounds depend on the placement of the consonant within the word, thus in this case the “p” sound becomes an “f”)
Ohel – tent (ha’ohel – the tent)
Sha’ar – gate (b’sha’ar – at gate)
Eer – city, town (ha’eer – the city, the town)

Note: as you may have noticed, the definite article “the” – “ha” – isn’t used within the sentence in exactly the same way as it is in English.