Monday, December 17, 2007

Problematic Texts I


The stories of the Torah do not always end up so pleasant. And as much as I like to emphasize the fact that Yaakov and Esav seem to reconcile at the end of their lives in burying their father, there exists within Judaism (thank you Max Sparber for that language) the idea that they remained bitter until the end of their lives. After implying that he would follow his brother and live near him, he manages to have Esav go one way first, enabling him to go another.

According to Midrash Rabbah, at the end of his life, when Yaakov was carried up to the cave of Machpelah, his right to be buried there was disputed. Naphtali had to run back to Egypt for the deed to show that he (ahem) indeed was entitled to be buried there.

When Hushim, son of Dan, saw Esau restraining them from burying Jacob, he killed him. The violence that takes place while legal remedies are being sought..... The sad addendum to this needless violence is that the Midrash suggests that Jacob was pleased to see his brother killed. And that this fulfilled a prophecy of Rifka, that they would both die on the same day.

Here is the text:

בראשית רבה (תיאודור-אלבק) פרשה צז ד"ה (כא) נפתלי אילה

(כא) נפתלי אילה שלוחה מלמד שקפץ למצרים כאייל והביא שטר המערה לקבור את אביו, עד שהוא הולך בא חושים בן דן והיה חרש, וכשראה עשו מונען מלקבור את אבינו יעקב, דקרו בידו על צוארו, והתיז את ראשו, ונפלו שתי עיניו על מיטתו שליעקב אבינו, ופתח עיניו וראה נקמה ושמח שנ' ישמח צדיק כי חזה נקם (תהלים נח יא), ונתקיימה נבואת רבקה שאמ' למה אשכל גם שניכם יום אחד (בראשית 45:27

Bereshit Rabbah 98:17-

NAPHTALI IS A HIND (a female stag) LET LOOSE (XLIX, 21). This teaches that he sped to Egypt like a hind and brought the title-deeds of the cave [of Machpelah], so that his father could be buried. While he was gone there came Hushim the son of Dan, who was deaf. When he saw Esau restraining them from burying our father Jacob, he stabbed him with his hand through the neck and struck off his head. His [Esau's] two eyes fell upon the bier of our father Jacob, whereupon he [Jacob] opened his eyes, saw vengeance, and rejoiced, as it says, The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance (Ps. LVIII, 11). Thus was fulfilled Rebekah's prophecy when she said, Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day (Gen. XXVII, 45)?

Would anyone like to offer ideas about how to approach these problematic texts?

1 comment:

Ʀahٹლą'i said...

Hushim was a craftsman/smith, and as such, he was exempt from the Misswoth (commandments or laws). Craftsmen like him were also considered to be maddened.

When Hushim saw the quarrel he was bewildered and did not understand why the burial of his grandfather has been delayed and why the body is in disgrace.

If he would ask the Elders or his brethren, surely they would discourage him from taking such action, and surely they condemned it, but the question is - did he act justly?

Certainly you judge him by today's "Western" standards, but you have to understand, brother, that back in those days people lived by the rule of law -- unwritten law -- which was agreed upon by word of mouth. Words, unlike today, had great importance and weight and were not taken lightly. Therefore one who does not keep his word (such as Esaw), is considered a criminal whose crime is punishable by death.