Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Toledot III: Enriching the Narrative

אם לוקח יעקב - דרך חכמה אמרה רבקה ליצחק להרחיק יעקב מעשו ולא גילתה לו שבשביל שטימת אחיו עשתה כן:

Why is Ya’akov sent away to Lavan’s house back in Aram? According to Bereishit 27:42-45, it is in order ot run away from Esav, who, in his rage over having been robbed of his birthright and blessing, threatens to kill his brother. But according to Bereishit 27:46-28:9, it is in order to find a wife from the old country and to avoid intermarrying with the local Canaanite women. Indeed, two different verbs are used to command Ya’akov’s departure: In 27:43, Ya’akov is told קום ברח—run away, escape (a verb also used in Bereishit 35:1, 7 and Hoshea 12:13)—whereas in 28:2, he is told קום לך—go, travel. These two modes of departure really stand independent of one another: in one, Ya’akov flees in fear from danger; in the other, he strides off with purpose and mission. In one, he quickly abandons the land of his youth, in the other he walks in the footsteps of his ancestors, who also made purposeful journeys from one end of the Euphrates to the other. Both are critical aspects of Ya’akov’s narrative and history, but each stands on its own.

Rashbam, in keeping with his literarily sensitive approach to the Torah, links these two and introduces a marvelously complex dynamic into an already dramatic story. In his comment here, he casts Rivkah as concealing from Yitzhak the fact that Esav was in a murderous rage, instead preferring to enlist his support for Ya’akov’s departure by invoking the trump card of intermarriage. In this reading, the entire plot line about the fear of marrying Canaanite women is ultimately a tool Rivkah uses in order to get Yitzhak to play a role in hastening Ya’akov’s escape. The drama of Yitzhak and Rivkah operating in parallel universes—she firmly rooted in the oracle she heard and he groping in the dark—thus sees itself through to the end. They are never truly working as a team; even at this late stage in the story, Rivkah is still concealing things from him and finding ways to effect what she knows to be the divine will.

Yet another great example of a more linear reading of the Torah as a unitary narrative and the ways in which it adds nuances that transcend the individual narrative components.


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