Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lech L'Cha/Vayera smackdown, or G-d's a sexist

Josie noticed it right away, and, leaning over to Debbie, asked why, when G-d told Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) that Sarah Imeinu (Sarah our Mother) was going to get pregnant and Avraham laughed, G-d said nothing about his laughter (see Parshat Lech L'Cha, Genesis, chapter 17, verse 17), but when G-d told Avraham again that Sarah was going to get pregnant and Sarah laughed, G-d rebuked her (Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 18, verses 12-15)? Debbie nonchalantly informed her that the quote from Lech Lecha was from the E strand and the quote from Vayera was from the J strand. So I checked the choice of names used for G-d, and, sure enough, the Lech L'Cha quote uses Elokim, and the Vayera quote uses HaShem (er, the name of G-d that begins with a yod in Hebrew and a j in German and English). (For further explanation, see Documentary Hypothesis.)

I've complained before that G-d isn't very fair to Sarah. For openers, if G-d's already planning on Sarah getting pregnant, why doesn't G-d bother telling anyone before Sarah gives Hagar to Avraham as a surrogate mother? For closers, why is that the only time G-d ever speaks directly to Sarah, it's to yell at her?


Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Purely speculation on my part, but could it relate to the fact that God wasn't all that pleased with the way Sarah treated Hagar after the birth of Ishmael (also discussed in this week's parasha)?

Sun Nov 01, 12:07:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hey, if HaShem had bothered telling anyone that Sarah was going to get pregnant--and notice, by the way, that HaShem tells *Avraham*, not Sarah--that whole business with Hagar and Yishmael would never have happened. So if G'd is peeved at Sarah, G-d has some nerve, because it's G-d's fault in the first place!

Sun Nov 01, 12:33:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tevel said...

The way I see it is this: by not telling Sarah what's going to happen, G-d gives Sarah a chance to choose between the yetzer hara and the yetzer tov. And let's not claim that this is an unfair test. Sarah has just as much freedom to choose as anyone else. We don't get to blame G-d for our actions. =D

As well, the midrash says that what Sarah saw was not just Hagar's mocking and Ishmael's contempt; she sees that Ishmael plays violent, dangerous games with Yitzchak, and her reading is that Ishmael is just waiting for a chance to kill him and make it look like an accident.

Sun Nov 01, 11:17:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Excuses, excuses, Tevel. The question of whether the text was fair or unfair misses the point, which is that the test was totally unnecessary. G-d already knew that Sarah was going to have a son, so why did G-d have to put her in this position in the first place? "We don't get to blame G-d for our actions." No, but we *do* get to blame G-d for *G-d's* actions.

The midrash is interesting, but, in my opinion, dismisses the obvious, which is that Sarah was bound and determined to protect her own son's inheritance. Why turn Yishmael into such a villain, just to make Sarah look better?

Mon Nov 02, 12:37:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tevel said...

I was rereading the portion at the minyan tonight, and I have to disagree with your characterization that this was a rebuke. I dunno; I just don't read it that way. =D

Mon Nov 02, 08:29:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'
13 And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?
14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.'
15 Then Sarah denied, saying: 'I laughed not'; for she was afraid. And He said: 'Nay; but thou didst laugh.'"

Tevel, whether or not HaShem intended his remark to be a rebuke, it seems clear to me that Sarah interpreted it as one. And HaShem's final words to Sarah certainly sound accusatory to me.

Well, you know the old saying--"Two Jews, three opinions." :)

Tue Nov 03, 10:29:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Shira, as Rachel Adler points out, G-d was not listening to Sarah. She didn't laugh and say ANYTHING about having a baby, she was laughing at the image of two old "geezers" getting it on.

Not only is G-d unfair, S/He is inattentive. ;-}

Wed Nov 04, 04:36:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hmm, now that you mention it . . . :)

Wed Nov 04, 04:43:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous YC said...

Tests in general are unnecessary. But that is what makes it a test if indeed this was a test

Not often in prophecy does God say this will happen on this date. and God already promised them a child.

Also we are talking 13 yrs later (between Hagar having a child and Sarah having a child)

Thu Nov 05, 01:45:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Maya Resnikoff said...

I learned this week that Abarbanel says that the whole episode with Sarah laughing happened in a vision that G-d gave to Abraham. It doesn't solve all the problems, but it does solve some of them, and is an interesting idea.

Thu Nov 05, 01:59:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Tests in general are unnecessary. But that is what makes it a test if indeed this was a test" You may have a point, YC.

But G-d did not promise *them* a child, he promised *Avraham* that Sarah would have a child. G-d never anything directly to Sarah, other than when he rebuked her.

"Also we are talking 13 yrs later (between Hagar having a child and Sarah having a child)" So why should G-d even be surprised, much less offended, that Sarah was skeptical? What did G-d expect?

Thu Nov 05, 02:06:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Debka_notion, Abarbanel's idea is interesting, in theory, but it doesn't work for me--I'm not crazy about explanations that dance around the p'shat/literal meaning.

Thu Nov 05, 02:10:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Talia bat Pessi said...

Onkelos explains that when Sarah laughed, it was mockingly, but when Avraham laughed, it was joyously. (idk if I agree with it, just sharing)

Mon Oct 25, 08:54:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Talia, thanks for the information.

Tue Oct 26, 01:06:00 PM 2010  

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