Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vayera II: The Devil is in the Details

כחום היום - מה צורך לכתוב כחום היום? אלא להודיעך כי בלוט כת' ויבאו [שני] המלאכים סדמה בערב, ולכך אמר להם לוט סורו נא אל בית עבדכם ולינו, אבל אברהם לפי שבאו אליו כחום היום בבקר שאין דרך אורחים ללון אלא לאכול ולעבור, לפיכך לא אמר להם אברהם ללון אלא וסעדו לבכם ואחר תעבורו:

ואל הבקר רץ אברהם - לפי שאמר להם פת לחם, דבר מועט, לפי שדרכם נחוץ ללכת, הוצרך לרוץ ולמהר, לפי שאמר להם מעט ועשה הרבה, ולהגיד חשיבותו של אברהם נכתב כל זה:

ויקח חמאה וחלב - לפי פשוטו של מקרא לא הוצרך לפרש שהביא את פת לחם על השלחן אלא התוספת שלא אמר להם הוצרך לומר שהביא. הבאת פת על השלחן אינו חידוש, אבל החמאה והחלב והבשר שאינו מזומן לכל האורחים הוצרך לפרש:

A number of comments on this week’s parashah reveal Rashbam’s penchant for detail, and his conviction that the Torah is a carefully crafted narrative where even minor phrases are intended to convey a richer picture of the scene at hand. Whereas much of traditional commentary grows out of an assumption of the Torah’s parsimonius use of language and therefore ascribed deep meaning to every jot and tittle in the Torah—see Mar Ukba’s comment to this effect on Eruvin 21b —Rashbam’s distinctive approach is to identify details that tell us something that enhances our understanding of the narrative itself. Here are three examples:

1) Why does Bereishit 18:1 have to tell us that Avraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day? What does this point add? It functions as an explanation for the fact that Avraham does not invite his guests to spend the night. We would hardly expect Avraham to be less hospitable to Lot, and yet it is precisely Lot in Bereishit 19:2 who invites two of these same men to sleep in his home. Why doesn’t Avraham do so as well? The Torah, anticipating our question, notes that while Lot’s guests arrived in S’dom לעת ערב, in the evening, Avraham’s guests came to him in the middle of the day, making such an invitation inappropriate.

2) The beginning of chapter 18 is flooded with the language of speed. Avraham races to Sarah, tells her to hurry up and bake cakes, he then runs to the cattle and rushes to prepare the meat. Rashbam explains that all the hurrying is necessary on account of the fact that he is trying to prepare a full course meal after only promising a loaf of bread, which ought to have taken a relatively short time to bring out. This reveals Avraham’s great quality of promising little but delivering a great deal.

3) The promised bread—and the fruit of Sarah’s labors begun in Bereishit 18:6—mysteriously disappears when Avraham brings the food to his guests in Bereishit 18:8. Rashi offers the explanation that Sarah, in preparation for her pregnancy, was suddenly thrust back into a menstruating state after years of menopause, and this caused the food she had been preparing to become טמא, and thus it had to be discarded. Rashbam sees this omitted detail as pregnant with an entirely different meaning: Of course Avraham brought the bread! What meal doesn’t have bread? The verse only mentions that which was truly significant: all the things that Avraham did not promise but which he brought as extras. This minor “omission” thus highlights again Avraham’s extraordinary hospitality.


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