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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Jacob’

Kerry’s Dream and Abbas’ Nightmare Meet in Biblical Beit El

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The Israeli government has announced a new step in plans to build 300 new homes in Beit El, in  northern Samaria, just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to convince Mahmoud Abbas to return to talks if Israel slaps a freeze on building for Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Reports from Israeli sources earlier this week stated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has buckled under pressure from Kerry, and probably President Barack Obama, to freeze construction to bring Abbas back to the so-called negotiating table.

“Negotiations” in Arab Doublespeak means that Israel must accept Palestinian Authority territorial and political demands or they will be forced down its throat, either by the United Nations or by “resistance,” another Doublespeak word, which means terror.

No government  official has denied the reports of a “de facto” building freeze, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is conveniently in China.

Kerry hosted the government’s unofficial Minister for the Peace Process, Tzipi Livni, in Washington last week and continued discussions with her in Rome this week, where he said he will return to Israel in two weeks.

Journalists covering the State Department asked why he is returning after having been here last month, but the reports of the unofficial freeze provide the obvious answer.

But smack in the middle of Kerry’s Big Momentum – run as fast as you can with the ball so that everyone is too dazzled to see that the ball is a bomb – the government announced the next step for building 296 more homes in Beit El.

The town is not just another community in Samaria. More than 6.000 national religious Jews live there. Beit El is a symbol of the national religious movement in Judea and Samaria. A yeshiva bearing the town’s Biblical name has wide influence across the country. It is home to two of the most prominent national religious rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, head of Yeshiva Beit El, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is widely respected and consulted by many Jews who are not part of the “club.”

After the announcement of the preliminary approval of the homes, the Palestinian Authority immediately said everyone can forget about trying to dig up the bones of the peace process.

As with almost every announcement of building new homes, the one in Beit El refers only to one of several bureaucratic steps before the bulldozers can start digging, not less than a year from now.

Israel has been through this time after time, the most famous incident being the announcement of another bureaucratic stage having been completed for building homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

The news broke just as Vice President Joe Biden was landing in Israel, causing high tension between Jerusalem and Washington for a long time.

Coincidental or not with Kerry’s dream for resumed direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas, the Beit El housing project proves that Israel is trying to “sabotage” Kerry’s efforts, according to senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“We condemn this new decision which is proof that the Israeli government wants to sabotage and ruin the US administration’s efforts to revive the peace process,” he said. “This is a message to the American administration and a blow to the peace process. This aims to drag the region into violence instead of peace and stability.”

Violence.

Erekat did not even have the diplomacy to say “resistance.”

It is out-and-out violence, and obviously Kerry would blame Israel if the Arabs kill more Jews. Otherwise he would have to go back on his statement earlier this year that the proof that Abbas is such a great peace partner can be found in the fact that not even one Jew was murdered by Palestinian Authority terrorists in 2012.

What about 2011? Well, that is history. Let’s look at the present and not the past and talk peace.

And what about the present the year 2013? Uh, yeah, well, sure, a Palestinian Authority terrorist stabbed to death a father of five, but that was an isolated incident, and after all, the murderer was not a member of a known terrorist gang.

Kerry does not have to defend himself. He has Livni to do that for him. Both of them desperately need a peace agreement, Kerry because he wants to be president and Livni because she needs something to justify her being politically alive. The latest polls shows that her party would win zero seats in if elections were held today.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

The Dangers of Favoring One Child Over Another

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I’ve always seen Jacob as characterized by two central yet seemingly contradictory facets. On the one hand he is the patriarch who is always around his kids. He is a father and a husband first and foremost. A really family man. On the other hand, his family appears to be deeply dysfunctional, with strife, bitterness, and jealousy rending the family asunder.

Beginning with the time he was as boy Jacob witnessed his father Isaac’s favoritism toward Esau. When he gets older Jacob repeats this error by favoring Joseph. It’s unbelievable that the Torah actually says, “And Jacob (Israel) loved his son Joseph more than all his other sons.” Which father does that, or is so blatant about it?

This leads, of course, to enormous, almost deadly resentment toward Joseph from his elder siblings. But in this past Shabbat’s Torah reading, just when you think that the family is finally united and things are healed, Jacob does it again. In Egypt, in his dying moment, after Joseph has forgiven his brothers their attempt and fratricide and brought everyone together, saving them from famine, Jacob first seeks to bless Joseph’s children, but not necessarily the children of his other sons. And second, he gives the first-born blessing to Efraim, and not Menashe, who is the older son.

What is it about Jacob that he seemingly can’t stop the favoritism? When Joseph objects and essentially says, “Please father, bless Menashe first, for he is the firstborn,” Jacob responds, within earshot of the older boy, “I know, my son. I know. And while he will grow to be a great man, he will be outdone by his brother.” Surely Menashe didn’t feel good hearing this.

Is this simply a case of family dysfunction becoming a family heirloom, passed from generation to generation? I have seen this hundreds of times with families I have counseled. The same toxic patterns are repeated from parent to child to parent to child. Studies show, for example, the high prevalence of repetitive adultery in families. If your parents cheated, there is a likelihood that you will cheat as well. The same is true of divorce. Children of divorce have a far higher rate than the national average.

Is that what this is about? Abraham favored one son, Isaac, and cast off Ishmael, albeit with Sarah’s prodding and even God’s acquiescence. Isaac repeats the favoritism with Esau, thereby scarring Jacob deeply. And Jacob repeats it first with Joseph, then with Joseph’s children, and then with just one of Joseph’s son. Seemingly unable to break free of the pattern, Jacob’s family remains divided by bitter jealousies.

This might explain why Jacob, in last week’s Torah reading, makes one of the more startling statements of the Torah. When introduced to Pharaoh and asked how old he is, presumably because he looks older than his years, Jacob responds, “I am 147 years old. My life has been short and bitter, and has not reached the length of my ancestors.” Whoa. Talk about a downer.

But there are few things in life that can cause greater pain than family dysfunction and continual fighting. No parent likes watching their children assail each other.  Jacob was worn down by the constant strife. But he also seems challenged to rise above its basic causes.

Amid the Bible’s descriptions of his paternal shortcomings, I have always identified with Jacob more than any other Biblical personality, with the exception possibly of King David (whose humanity is so vividly detailed in the Bible). The reason: Jacob is so lifelike, complex, and real. He is a man whose righteousness is defined not by perfection but by a constant striving to live by the will of God amid the scarring he has endured and the human limitations that tie the hands of us all. He is the father of his nation, named for that constant wrestling and striving, “Israel, he who wrestles with God.”

To use a modern example, Abraham would be like George Washington, seemingly perfect and inscrutable. The marble man. One, the father of monotheism. The other, the father of his nation. But Jacob would be Jefferson. Jefferson, the quintessential American. The man of great complexity and even greater contradictions. But the true author of our independence. The man who, is his multifaceted, intricate nature captures the true spirit of America in all its glory, its virtue, its inconsistencies, and its shortcomings.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Hebron Advocate Shares Hundreds of Articles on Real Life, Love of Gritty Biblical City

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Hundreds of articles detailing the real life and passionate fight of the Jewish community of Hebron to maintain their historic and modern claims to the city purchased by the Jewish patriarch Abraham have been published online.

David Wilder, the spokesperson for The Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron, has made available almost 20 years worth of writings, revealing the personal, local, and national struggle to preserve the Jewish presence in the hotly contested city, sharing the setbacks, successes, heartbreak and hope – and most of all, the unswerving determination of the Hebron faithful.

Wilder, who has lived for the past 30 years in Hebron and neighboring Kiryat Arba, was born in New Jersey, and speaks around the world on behalf of Hebron, raising funds to develop the community and welcome guests who come to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs – resting place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah – and the Tomb of Ruth and Jesse.

Malkah Fleisher

The Refusal To Be Comforted

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The deception has taken place. Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Is this your son’s robe or not?” Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We then read: “Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son for a long time. His sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, ‘I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’ ” (37:34-35).

Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted? A midrash gives a remarkable answer. “One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living.”

Jacob refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Joseph was alive. That, tragically, is the fate of those who have lost members of their family (the parents of soldiers missing in action, for example), but have no proof that they are dead. They cannot go through the normal stages of mourning because they cannot abandon the possibility that the missing person is still capable of being rescued. Their continuing anguish is a form of loyalty; to give up, to mourn, to be reconciled to loss is a kind of betrayal. In such cases, grief lacks closure. To refuse to be comforted is to refuse to give up hope.

On what basis did Jacob continue to hope? The late David Daube made a suggestion that I find convincing. The words the sons say to Jacob – “Haker na – Do you recognize this?” – have a quasi-legal connotation. Daube relates this passage to another, with which it has close linguistic parallels:

“If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping … If it [the animal] was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal” (Shemot 22:10-13).

The issue at stake is the extent of responsibility borne by a guardian (shomer). If the animal is lost through negligence, the guardian is at fault and must make good the loss. If there is no negligence, merely force majeure, an unavoidable, unforeseeable accident, the guardian is exempt from blame. One such case is where the loss has been caused by a wild animal. The wording in the law – “tarof yitaref – torn to pieces” – exactly parallels Jacob’s judgment in the case of Joseph: “tarof toraf Yosef – Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We know that some such law existed prior to the giving of the Torah. Jacob himself says to Laban, whose flocks and herds have been placed in his charge, “I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself” (Bereishit 31:39). This implies that guardians even then were exempt from responsibility for the damage caused by wild animals. We also know that an elder brother carried a similar responsibility for the fate of a younger brother placed in his charge (i.e. when the two were alone together). That is the significance of Cain’s denial when confronted by G-d as to the fate of Abel: “Am I my brother’s guardian (shomer)?”

We now understand a series of nuances in the encounter between Jacob and his sons when they return without Joseph. Normally they would be held responsible for their younger brother’s disappearance. To avoid this, as in the case of later biblical law, they “bring the remains as evidence.” If those remains show signs of an attack by a wild animal, they must – by virtue of the law then operative – be held innocent. Their request to Jacob, “haker na,” must be construed as a legal request, meaning, “Examine the evidence.” Jacob has no alternative but to do so, and in virtue of what he has seen, acquit them.

A judge, however, may be forced to acquit someone accused of the crime because the evidence is insufficient to justify a conviction, yet he may hold lingering private doubts. So Jacob was forced to find his sons innocent, without necessarily believing what they said. Jacob did not believe it, and his refusal to be comforted shows that he was unconvinced. He continued to hope that Joseph was still alive. That hope was eventually justified. Joseph was still alive, and eventually father and son were reunited.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Fear Or Distress?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Jacob and Esau are about to meet again after a separation of 22 years. It is a fraught encounter. Once, Esau had sworn to kill Jacob as revenge for what he saw as the theft of his blessing. Will he do so now, or has time healed the wound? Jacob sends messengers to let his brother know he is coming. They return, saying that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with a force of 400 men. We then read: “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8).

The question is obvious. Jacob is in the grip of strong emotions. But why the duplication of verbs? What is the difference between fear and distress? To this a midrash gives a profound answer:

Rabbi Judah bar Ilai asked whether fear and distress are identical. The meaning, however, is that he was “afraid” that he might be killed and that he was “distressed” that he might kill. For Jacob thought that if he prevails against me, will he not kill me? If I prevail against him, will I not kill him? That is the meaning of “he was greatly afraid” – lest he should be killed – “and distressed” – lest he should kill.

The difference between being afraid and distressed, according to the midrash, is that the first is a physical anxiety while the second is a moral one. It is one thing to fear one’s own death, quite another to contemplate being the cause of someone else’s. However, a further question now arises. Surely self-defense is permitted in Jewish law. If Esau were to try to kill Jacob, Jacob would be justified in fighting back, if necessary at the cost of Esau’s life. Why then should this possibility raise moral qualms? This is the issue addressed by Rabbi Shabbetai Bass, author of the commentary on Rashi, Siftei Chachamim:

“One might argue that Jacob should surely not be distressed about the possibility of killing Esau, for there is an explicit rule: ‘If someone comes to kill you, forestall it by killing him.’ Nonetheless Jacob had qualms, fearing that in the course of the fight he might kill some of Esau’s men, who were not themselves intent on killing Jacob but merely on fighting Jacob’s men. And even though Esau’s men were pursuing Jacob’s men, and every person has the right to save the life of the pursued at the cost of the life of the pursuer, nevertheless there is a condition: ‘If the pursued could have been saved by maiming a limb of the pursuer, but instead the rescuer killed the pursuer, the rescuer is liable to capital punishment on that account.’ Hence Jacob feared that, in the confusion of battle, he might kill some of Esau’s men when he might have restrained them by merely inflicting injury on them.”

The principle at stake, according to the Siftei Chachamim, is the minimum use of force. Jacob was distressed at the possibility that in the heat of conflict he might kill some of the combatants when injury alone might have been all that was necessary to defend the lives of those – including his own – who were under attack.

There is, however, a second possibility, namely that the midrash means what it says, no more, no less: that Jacob was distressed at the possibility of being forced to kill, even if that were entirely justified.

At stake is the concept of a moral dilemma. A dilemma is not simply a conflict. There are many moral conflicts. One example: may we perform an abortion to save the life of the mother? This question has an answer. There is a right course of action and a wrong one. Two duties conflict and we have meta-halachic principles to tell us which takes priority. There are some systems in which all moral conflicts are of this kind. There is always a decision procedure and thus a determinate answer to the question, “What shall I do?”

A dilemma, however, is a situation in which there is no right answer. I ought not to do A (allow myself to be killed); I ought not to do B (kill someone else); but I must do one or the other. To put it more precisely, there may be situations in which doing the right thing is not the end of the matter. The conflict may be inherently tragic. The fact that one principle (self-defense) overrides another (the prohibition against killing) does not mean that, faced with such a choice, I am without qualms. Sometimes being moral means that I experience distress at having to make such a choice. Doing the right thing may mean that I do not feel remorse or guilt, but I still feel regret or grief that I had to do it.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

David Petraeus and the Biblical Lessons of Why Men Want Two Women

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

The David Petraeus scandal, where a national hero betrays a solid, devoted, soul mate of a wife to be with a young hot thing who gets his blood pumping seems as old as time itself. In earlier times a general or king would usually have two women to being with to  fulfill two very different needs. The pedigreed wife for children and to rule as a consort – and recall that Petraeus married the daughter of the Superintendent of West Point – and a mistress for passion and excitement. But Petraeus had to resign because our society does not tolerate unfaithfulness. It expects men who are accomplished in their public life to be equally accomplished in marriage by finding find both dimensions in one woman, namely their wives.

The Biblical story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah (which we read in last week’s portion) provides insight into what men search for and the tragedy of not  orchestrating disparate needs into one indivisible woman.

When Jacob first meets Rachel, he seeks to impress her by moving a giant stone, then kisses her, and breaks into tears. He then offers Laban, her father, seven years of work in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage. The years pass by so quickly that ‘they appeared in his eyes as if they were just days.’

Jacob’s love for Rachel is one of deep passion and yearning. It is love as covetousness, lust, and desire. It is the fieriest kind of romantic love. It is also the most tragic. Romantic, passionate, lustful love that is balanced by partnership and intimacy nearly always ends badly. Either because the fires die down, or because the fire burns so brightly that it consumes both participants. Fiery, lustful love rarely ends up with a happily ever after. Jacob feels in his bones that his passion for Rachel must end disastrously. Thus, he is drawn to kiss her, but he immediately weeps. He recognizes that in this imperfect world, perfect love is impossible to attain. He wants Rachel to be his soul mate, but he intuits that he will never fully possess her is destined to lose her.

By contrast, he experiences none of the same passion for Leah. When he is fooled into marrying her, he accepts Leah as a partner and eventually the mother of his children. But his yearning is for Rachel. Leah feels hated and names the first of her three children after her experiences of rejection from Jacob. Reuben is for the God ‘who saw my affliction and granted me a son.’ Simeon is for the God ‘who saw that I am hated.’ Levi is the son whose birth ‘will bring my husband closer to me.’ Only with the fourth son, Judah, which means ‘praise to God,’ do we begin to see a name that gives the child an intrinsic identity rather than one that relates instead to the relationship of his father to his mother.

Leah longs for Jacob the way that Jacob longs for Rachel. But for Jacob, Leah represents a maternal, practical partner with whom he shares a life but has no passionate connection. It reflects, arguably, the way Petraeus viewed his own loyal wife. They have intimacy but no intensity. They have a family but no fervor or fire. He loves her but does not long for her. He does not want bad things to happen to her. He wishes to protect her but she is not the delight of his soul.

Yet Jacobs knows in his heart that Leah, rather than Rachel, is destined to be his soul mate. (No doubt Petraeus knew in his heart as well he was always destined to return to his wife, if she would accept him back). She is destined to bear most of his children, share his life, and share eternity with him by being buried at his side. Leah represents stability and order. She will be Jacob’s anchor. She is his permanence. The woman who tethers him to family. Yet he will never make peace with love that is only functional and not romantic, stable but not passionate.

Rachel is playful, girlish, and evinces, at times, immaturity that is often characteristic of   women whom men desire mightily. She can also be callous about Jacob’s love for her, so confident is she in the  of his desire. When Reuben brings flowers for his mother Leah, Rachel strikes a deal with Leah to exchange the flowers for a conjugal night with Jacob. What Leah longs for, Rachel treats as mere currency. Unlike Jacob who understands intuitively the tragic nature of passionate, romantic love, Rachel thinks they have endless time to be together. One night will make no difference. But Jacob knows the clock is ticking.

Women like Leah ultimately both triumph and suffer. They triumph because in their stability they end up gaining the commitment of men who build families and lives with them. But they suffer because they never feel the passionate desire of their husbands. They never really feel wanted. They never truly feel special. And a woman wants to be lusted after even more than she wants to be loved.

But it is the amalgamation of both types of love that is meant to characterize the successful marriage. Not a man in a relationship with two women, but a man and woman whose marriage incorporates both dimensions. Husbands and wives are meant to have passion and practicality, fire and firmness, lust and love, desire and durability. Rachel and Leah are meant to be one.

The Jewish laws that will follow with the giving of the Torah at Sinai will prescribe half of the month devoted to passion and sexual fire, and half of the month devoted to soulfulness and intimacy. The orchestration of the two is what makes a marriage whole. We are meant to be lovers and best friends, paramours and soul mates, people who ache for each other but settle down with one another to create a life of stability and permanence. Our wives should be our mistresses and our companions, our excitement and our anchor. We never wish to lose our lust, but we also need to accompany lust with love.

It was Jacob’s inability to value both dimensions that lead to many problems in the life of his own family. Jacob seems scarred from his childhood. His father favored Esau, so from his earliest age he tasted rejection. Later, he will repeat many of these mistakes in favoring Joseph, creating even more dysfunction and sibling rivalry among his own children than he experienced with Esau. Likewise, he favors one wife and one type of love. He struggles to appreciate the stability of Leah and gravitates exclusively toward the drama of Rachel. With Rachel he fights and argues. She accuses Jacob of being responsible for her not falling pregnant. He fires back that he is not God and is not responsible for her infertility. But dramatic relationships are addictive and Rachel is the drug of choice. But in favoring Rachel so exclusively Jacob risks becomes emotionally monolithic, never quite mastering the art of relationships. He is, interestingly, far better at adversarial relationships than intimate ones. He outmaneuvers the wily Esau to take his blessing as well as his immoral and cunning father-in-law Laban. He wrestles with an angel and defeats him. He has learned from an early age to survive on his wits.

Like many a man who has experienced insufficient love in his childhood, Jacob finds intimacy challenging. Love for him is more of a high than a deep sharing of self. He seeks the deep thrill of love that comes from a woman of passionate nature like Rachel rather than a woman of deep emotion like Leah. Jacob gravitates to the romantic love of the poets rather than the practical love of real life.

But, whatever man’s plans, God often intends something different. Jacob lusts for Rachel but his future is with Leah.

We men of the modern era can draw the appropriate lesson.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

The Rare Torah Oracle

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Rebecca, hitherto infertile, became pregnant. Suffering acute pain, she went to inquire of the Lord – “vateilech lidrosh et Hashem” (Bereishit 25:22). The explanation she received was that she was carrying twins who were contending in her womb. They were destined to do so long into the future:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger – “v’rav ya’avod tzair” (Bereishit 25:23).

Eventually the twins are born – first Esau, then (his hand grasping his brother’s heel) Jacob. Mindful of the prophecy she has received, Rebecca favors the younger son, Jacob. Years later, she persuades him to dress in Esau’s clothes and take the blessing Isaac intended to give his elder son. One verse of that blessing was “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you” (Bereishit 26:29). The prediction has been fulfilled. Isaac’s blessing can surely mean nothing less than what was disclosed to Rebecca before either child was born, namely that, “the older will serve the younger.” The story has apparently reached closure – or so, at this stage, it seems.

But biblical narrative is not what it seems. Two events follow that subvert all that we had been led to expect. The first happens when Esau arrives and discovers that Jacob has cheated him out of his blessing. Moved by his anguish, Isaac gives him a benediction, one of whose clauses is: “You will live by your sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck” (Bereishit 27:40).

This is not what we had anticipated. The older will not serve the younger in perpetuity.

The second scene, many years later, occurs when the brothers meet after a long estrangement. Jacob is terrified of the encounter. He had fled from home years earlier because Esau had vowed to kill him. Only after a long series of preparations and a lonely wrestling match at night is he able to face Esau with some composure. He bows down to him seven times. Seven times he calls him “my lord.” Five times he refers to himself as “your servant.” The roles have been reversed. Esau does not become the servant of Jacob; instead, Jacob speaks of himself as the servant of Esau. But this cannot be. The words heard by Rebecca when “she went to inquire of the Lord” suggested precisely the opposite, that “the older will serve the younger.” We are faced with cognitive dissonance.

More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all of Torah’s narrative devices: the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past. This is the essence of midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text (see the essay “The Midrashic Imagination” by Michael Fishbane). The present is never fully determined by the present. Sometimes it is only later that we understand the now.

This is the significance of the great revelation of G-d to Moses in Shemot 33:33, where G-d says that only His back may be seen – meaning, His presence can be seen only when we look back at the past; it can never be known or predicted in advance. The indeterminacy of meaning at any given moment is what gives the biblical text its openness to ongoing interpretation.

We now see that this was not an idea invented by the Sages. It already exists in the Torah itself. The words Rebecca heard – as will now become clear – seemed to mean one thing at the time. It later transpires that they meant something else.

The words, “v’rav ya’avod tzair,” seem simple: “the older will serve the younger.” Returning to them in the light of subsequent events, though, we discover that they are anything but clear. They contain multiple ambiguities.

The first (noted by Radak and Rabbi Yosef ibn Kaspi) is that the word “et,” signaling the object of the verb, is missing. Normally – but not always – in biblical Hebrew the subject precedes, and the object follows, the verb. In Job 14:19, for example, the words “avanim shachaku mayim” mean “water wears away stones,” not “stones wear away water.” Thus the phrase might mean “the older shall serve the younger.” But it might also mean “the younger shall serve the older.” To be sure, the latter would be poetic Hebrew rather than conventional prose style, but that is what this utterance is: a poem.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-rare-torah-oracle/2012/11/14/

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