Sunday, March 27, 2005

Poetic license??!—in which the siddur (prayerbook) contradicts Torah she-bichtav (the Written Law)

This one’s for Naomi Chana (, and anyone else with a good grasp of the history and development of Jewish liturgy.

As I mentioned in a previous post (, I’ve taken to davvening Shacharit (praying the Morning Service) up to the Torah reading at home on Shabbat (Sabbath). This gives me the opportunity to davven at my own ridiculously slow speed and, with luck, to do so with kavannah (intent, focus). It also allows me to recite prayers that I used to skip for lack of time in my vain attempt to keep up with the cantor.

So what’s with this passage from Birkot haShachar (the Morning Blessings)?

"Aval anachnu am’cha . . . zera Yitzchak y’chido . . . adat Yaakov bin’cha b’chirecha . . . But we are your people . . . the seed of Isaac, his (Abraham’s) only son . . . the community of Jacob, Your firstborn son . . .”

Yitzchak is Avraham’s only son? So what’s Yishmael (Ishmael), chopped liver?

Actually, in this case, the Torah shebichtav (Written Law) beat the author of the prayer to the punch by contradicting itself first. In Parshat Vayera, Genesis chapter 22, verse 2, at the beginning of the story of the Akedah (Binding of Isaac), HaShem told Avraham to take his only son and offer him up as a sacrifice. Talk about favoritism, even HaShem can't remember that this guy has two sons.

(For those of us who believe that the Torah had more than one author, methinks the Redactor failed to cover his tracks, for a change. I never cease to be amazed by the amount of evidence left in plain sight that there was more than version of many of the Bible's stories. Didn't this guy understand the concept of invisible seams?)

And since when is Yaakov the firstborn? Okay, maybe you can argue that he’s the firstborn ever since he conned Eisav (Esau) out of his birthright and blessing, but that argument’s a bit iffy, if you ask me.

I find it absolutely fascinating that whoever penned this prayer had absolutely no problem contradicting the Written Torah itself. Apparently, Slifkin’s in good company.

And as long as I’ve scandalized everyone already, what do you mean, “Your firstborn son?” Whose kid is this, anyway?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

R' Shelomo Yitzhhaqi (our friend Rashi) describes the series of descriptions leading up to the command to 'sacrifice' Yitzhhaq as a conversation between God and Avraham:
God: "Take your son..."
Avraham: "But i have two!"
God: "...Your only one..."
Avraham: "But each one is the only son of his mother!"
God: "...The one you love..."
Avraham: "But i love them both!"
God: "...[the one i mean is] Yitzhhaq."
And why didn't he reveal [which son] in the beginning? In order to not confuse him suddenly, so that he wouldn't freak out; and in order to cause him to love the command so he could be rewarded for every [difficult] phrase.

Actually, have you ever heard a Documentary Hypothesist claim that according to one version Yishma‘eil never existed? That would be pretty weird...

On to Yisra’eil/Ya‘aqov!
Shemot/Exodus 4:22 says:
Tell Par‘o - "Thus says God: 'Yisra’eil is my firstborn son!'"

So the Jewish People, as a whole, are called 'God's Firstborn' for some reason. Probably (at least this is what i think) because the firstborn would get a double-portion of inheritance, and Yisra’eil gets both Existence (like the rest of the universe) or Tzelem Eloqim (like the rest of humanity), however you want to define "God's Children"; as well as Torah.

-Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)

Sun Mar 27, 03:38:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Rashi's doing exactly what one would expect a rabbi to do, which is to "explain away" a glaring problem in the text. It's a nice explanation, and it sounds familiar. But with all due respect to Rashi, one of our all-time greats, I don't buy it. No, I'm not acquainted with any interpretation that indicates that Yishmael never existed, but, from a purely p'shat (literal meaning) point of view, that does seem to be indicated by the text as a possibility. I'm reserving judgement, for now.

I checked out that quote from Parshat Shemot, and there, I think you're on the money. I withdraw my objection--Torah shebichtav itself does have HaShem calling the applying the description "Yisrael, my firstborn son" to the entire Jewish people. On the other hand, that still means that Eisav got a raw deal.

Sun Mar 27, 06:18:00 PM 2005  

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