Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chayei Sarah—Family Values?

In Vezos Habracha I raised the possibility that the Torah set the “family” values priority lower than one might think. I didn’t visit the issue in as much detail there, nor in the first few parshiyos of Bereishis, where—as I mentioned three weeks ago—the Torah deals mostly with the “world at large”.

My Mother sent me an email a few years ago headed “Would Yeshivish People Date Anyone From The Torah?” [I’ve included the detailed text at the end of this bit.] But even taking a more serious angle the families are hardly nuclear and certainly dysfunctional:

*Avraham’s [and, later, Yitzchak’s] “sister” line when faced with a monarch casting eyes on their spouse [a theme that will repeat itself later, in a different form, re David and Batsheva];

*Avraham’s taking of a concubine at Sarah’s insistence, then chasing her out [and causing her to miscarry], taking her back in, then chasing her out again….

*…when, among other things, a teenage Yishmael either tries to kill and/or molest his half-brother Yitzchak [“metzachek” has a dual connotation], resulting in his [and his mother’s] SECOND exile from the Abrahamic household;

*and, to close out the first leg of the cycle, the strong link between the death of Sarah following [if not as a direct result of] the Akeda, and the story of how Avraham and Eliezer arrange the shidduch between Yitchak and Rivkah.

[In another link to the theme of “Its Good Ta Be Da King” above re Pharaoh and the Avimelechs, Besuel himself was an ardent practitioner of the droit de signeur, or the right of the local magistrate to ritually deflower a virgin before her wedding night [“Besuel” can be not necessarily loosely translated as “Lord of the Virgins”], and the midrash relates that Besuel was under pressure to administer said defloration to his own daughter by the locals who were rather perturbed at the possibility that she might be exempted. Apparently, one of the reasons for his Divinely-executed sudden death during the night [Rashi on 24:55] was that he was more inclined to actually assert his privileges.]

I mentioned in Noach re the incident between Noach, Cham and Cannan how the Torah seems to make an inexorable connection between same-sex relations and violence. In an only slightly more subtle sense, this whole series of events may show the Torah’s rather dim view of the exercise of power in sex [Rashi on 24:57, s.v. “nish’ala es pihah, where we learn the halacha of “ein masi’in isha elah mida’ata”.] I would take this a step further: while the Torah is likely inevitably patriarchal, it does not necessarily view this as a good thing [see my Vayetzei from last year, and].

In what might seem to be a tangential point, I would actually use the Torah’s discomfort with the admixture of sex and power as one of the reasons that it insists so strongly upon matrilineal descent. While almost all other familial halachos are patrilineally determined, the Torah does not want the establishment of its “family” to be based upon a simple equation of evolutionary biology and raw tribalism. When you contrast between the fact of the machinations behind the shidduch and the fact that Yitzchak and Rivkah made the only monogamous marriage among the Avos, this parsha may actually serve as a stronger support for this notion than one might think.

And now, the email I promised:

Would Yeshivish People Date Anyone From The Torah?

There's Avraham Avinu: He seems to be frum but really he's a BT and his father made idols, not our

Yitzchak Avinu: Well his grandfather made idols, there was all that nastiness with Lot and is half brother in an arab.

Yaakov Avinu: His great-grandfather made idols, his brother went off the derech, his mother comes from a very treyfe family and he wasn't shomer negiah with Rachel Imeinu before they were married and he spent a lot of time with his uncle, who's mammesh a rasha.

Yosef HaTzaddik: His mother had an idol once and she died early, plus he's a slave and his brothers don't like him, must be something in that and with all the issues with Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak and Yaakov Avinu...better not to.

Moshe Rabbeinu: Oy, what a maaseh!!!! His parents separated, then they got back together, his parents abandoned him, put him in a basket, he was raised by goyim...not our kind for sure. He may be close to Hashem but his background is so problematic we wouldn't want him in our family!

Caleb's descendants: We don't want to marry into that family. Enough said.

David HaMelech: Descendants from a Geyoret, not our kind of people. Sure a few generations have gone by but all things being equal shouldn't we look for someone with mor e 'jewish' background.

Shlomo HaMelech: See above, all his mother's marriage was very dubious, he is rich though but the yichus and family background is very tricky

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