A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.
The second is that rav and tzair are not opposites, a fact disguised by the English translation of rav as “older.” The opposite of tzair (“younger”) is bechir (“older” or “firstborn”). Rav does not mean “older”; it means “great,” or possibly “chief.” This linking together of two terms as if they were polar opposites, which they are not – the opposites would have been bechir/tzair or rav/me’at – further destabilizes the meaning. Who was the rav? The elder? The leader? The chief? Was it the more numerous? The word might mean any of these things.
The third – not part of the text but of later tradition – is the musical notation. The normal way of notating these three words would be mercha-tipcha-sof pasuk. This would support the reading, “the older shall serve the younger.” In fact, however, they are notated tipcha-mercha-sof pasuk – suggesting, “the older shall the younger serve”; in other words, “the younger shall serve the older.”
A later episode adds yet another retrospective element of doubt. There is a second instance in Bereishit of the birth of twins, to Tamar (Bereishit 38:27-30). The passage is clearly reminiscent of the story of Esau and Jacob:
There were twins in her womb, and while she was in labor one of them put out a hand. The midwife took a scarlet thread and fastened it around the wrist, saying, “This one appeared first.” No sooner had he drawn back his hand than his brother came out, and the midwife said, “What! You have broken out first!” So he was named Peretz. Soon afterwards his brother was born with the scarlet thread on his wrist, and he was named Zerach.
Who then was the elder? And what does this imply in the case of Esau and Jacob? (See Rashi to 25:26, suggesting that Jacob was in fact the elder.) These multiple ambiguities are not accidental but integral to the text. The subtlety is such that we do not notice them at first. Only later, when the narrative does not turn out as expected, are we forced to go back and notice what at first we missed: that the words Rebecca heard may mean “the older will serve the younger” or “the younger will serve the older.”
A number of things now become clear. The first is that this is a rare example in the Torah of an oracle as opposed to a prophecy (this is the probable meaning of the word chidot in Bamidbar 12:8, speaking about Moses: “With him I speak mouth to mouth, openly and not in chidot” – usually translated as “dark speeches” or “riddles”). Oracles – a familiar form of supernatural communication in the ancient world – were normally obscure and cryptic, unlike the normal form of Israelite prophecy. This may well be the technical meaning of the phrase, “she went to inquire of the Lord,” that puzzled the medieval commentators.
The second – and this is fundamental to an understanding of Bereishit – is that the future is never as straightforward as we are led to believe. Abraham is promised many children but has to wait years before Isaac is born. The patriarchs are promised a land but do not acquire it in their lifetimes. The Jewish journey, though it has a destination, is long and has many digressions and setbacks. Will Jacob serve or be served? We do not know. Only after a long, enigmatic struggle alone at night does Jacob receive the name Israel – meaning: “he who struggles with G-d and with men and prevails.”
The most important message of this text is both literary and theological. The future affects our understanding of the past. We are part of a story whose last chapter has not yet been written. That rests with us, as it rested with Jacob.
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
The following is President Obama’s statement on Passover (April 14, 2014). As he has in the past, the President held an official Passover Seder at the White House. Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Passover in the United States, in Israel, and around the world. On Tuesday, just as we […]
The tendency to rely on human beings rather than G-d has been our curse throughout the centuries.
“Who is wise? One who learns from each person” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
“I’ll try to help as we can,” said Mr. Goodman, “but we already made a special appeal this year. Let me see what other funds we have. I’ll be in touch with you in a day or two.”
Rashi is bothered by the expression Hashem used: “the Jews need only travel.”
‘Three Festivals, Even Out Of Order’
Two husbands were there to instruct us in Texas hold ‘em – and we needed them.
Question: Why do we start counting sefirat ha’omer in chutz la’aretz on the second night of Pesach when the omer in the times of the Beit Hamikdash was cut on Chol HaMoed?
A few background principles regarding the prohibitions of chametz mixtures on Pesach may provide some shopping guidance.
According to the Rambam, the k’nas applies to any chametz on Pesach with which one could, in theory, transgress the aveirah – even if no transgression actually occurred.
She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.
Marror is the reliving of the bitter enslavement and matzah is the under-eighteen-minutes redemption.
Rabbi David Bar-Hayim argues it is time for Ashkenazim to abandon the prohibition against Kitnyot. What do you think?
In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.
There is much in this episode that is hard to understand, much that has to do with the concept of holiness and the powerful energies it released that, like nuclear power today, could be deadly dangerous if not properly used. But there is also a more human story about two approaches to leadership that still resonates with us today.
Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.
The account of the construction of the Tabernacle in Vayakhel-Pekudei is built around the number seven.
Vayakhel is Moses’ response to the wild abandon of the crowd that gathered around Aaron and made the golden calf.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you fail. Such is life.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-rare-torah-oracle/2012/11/14/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: