Monday, October 29, 2012

Parshat Lech L'cha--my husband's view

You can read the basics here.

My husband's decided to do something new this year--he's studying the commentary in the Plaut chumash instead of the good old Hertz.  I think this change of books may be encouraging him to view the parshiot/weekly Torah readings from a more modern-scholarship perspective, rather than from a traditional rabbinic perspective.

We have several stories in this parshah, according to my husband, and they appear to be from several sources or traditions.  He thinks that there were probably more stories that didn't make the "editor's cut," so to speak, and don't appear in the Bible.

  1. The first sentence of this parshah is already a departure from the end of Parshat Noach.  As yours truly mentioned, Terach was already en route to K'naan/Canaan when he died in Charan/Haran.  (I think that he may have settled in Charan because he was too old and frail to continue the trip.)  Now, in the first sentence of Lech L'cha, HaShem is talking to Avram alone and telling him to leave his country, which, in fact, he'd already done.  As for going to a land that HaShem would show him, Terach had begun the family's trip to K'naan.  So this story does not appear to be the same story as the story of Terach leaving Ur Kasdim/Ur of the Chaldees and heading for K'naan, and appears to come from a different source.
  2. How was Avram chosen?  No indication whatsoever is given in the written text.  What was G-d looking for?  My husband says that we should look at the story or stories thus far for a possible answer.  Prior to the flood, there was no conception of law or social control, and society as a whole was chaotic, to the point that HaShem felt it necessary to destroy what He'd made and start from scratch.  This time, HaShem instituted the beginnings of social order and law, and chose to participate in history.  He began with such basics as laws against killing another human and eating the limb of a living animal.  But the flood did not change humanity's rebellious, self-centered nature, and HaShem's vision of a just world didn't seem imminent.  Enter Plan C:  G-d would create a nation that would be role model for all humanity, and Avram would be that nation's progenitor.  My husband is convinced that the choice of Avram was not random, but rather, that there was a back story that didn't make the final cut.
  3. The parshah goes almost directly from Avram's entry into K'naan to a departure for Egypt because of a famine, a non-sequitor that appears to be (from a) completely story.  My husband comes up with the rather wild notion that Sarai had to be taken by Pharaoh, just as Chavah/Eve was "taken" by the serpent, in order to give G-d an opportunity to intervene to prevent temptation and/or evil, which he did not do with Chavah.  He says that he was probably influenced in coming up with this wild notion by his earlier reading of Subversive Sequels in the Bible::  How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other, by Judy Klitsner, a book which we both recommend strongly.
  4. The side-trip to Egypt also seems to be the source of Avram's wealth, which was never mentioned before.
  5. The next story shows Lot separating from Avram and going to the east.  Now it's my turn to come up with, well, not a sequel, but, rather, a prequel--later in the Torah, two tribes and a half-tribe choose to stay on the east of the Jordan River because it's more economically beneficial, which was the same reason for Lot's choice.
  6.  Where the did the story war of the kings come from?  It's seems to be of little relevance, simply showing that Avram is (a) capable of staging a war, (b) cares enough to rescue his family members, (c) cares about his reputation and doesn't wish to be seen as taking advantage of a challenging situation.
  7. Hagar.  (a)  Since we never heard of her before, it's not unreasonable to assume that she was part of Avram's booty from Egypt.  (b)  According to my husband, it was important for her to have a son with Avram because other tribes in the area claimed descent from Avram, and a son by a concubine was necessary to maintain the alleged superiority of the still-future Yitzchak/Isaac's descendants.
  8. Not much to say about circumcision, other than that it was a common custom in the ancient Near East, but it was usually done at age 13, so the change to eight (8) days after the boy's birth is something new.
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