Torah Study Notes 11-22-14

November 22, 2014

Page 176 – The story of Isaac. is  the shortest account of any of the three patriarchs but one of the richest portions in terms of interpretation. The middle story of any trilogy is usually the most interesting. There are references to Abraham but also suggestions as to what will come with Jacob. There are literally two repetitions of the Abraham story but told with slight differences. Note that after the sacrifice scene in Abraham there is no indication that they ever see one another again – suggestive of a frayed relationship.

26:13 “The man grew rich…” So he left to find another place. This is reflective of the previous story of Abraham and Abemeloch. Look at page 133 verse 22 where Abemeloch is referenced. LL: What is the back story? Rich folks usually aren’t asked to leave town. PG: This is usually a question of power – who is in charge and suggests a border dispute between two nations. The Philistines are a people with an army. The Israelites or Hebrews – represented by Isaac – are being pushed off disputed land. How has stopping up the wells helping Abemeloch?

26:18  Isaac re-dug the wells of Abraham but there were disputes as to ownership of the water so he had to dig others. The struggle over water was a historic problem in the near east. There are different narrative traditions woven together here.

26:24  The Eternal appears and another well is dug. This is a renewal of the covenant experienced by Abraham. There is a narrative tension here between the promise and the events. It raises the question, again, as to what is meant by faith. Israel is consistently willing to struggle with the meaning of faith. Consider the story opera of Thais or the Bunuel film Simon of The Desert. Both are accounts of hearing a voice that first says ravish and then offers consolation. Shira – is the voice God or Conscience?

26:26 Abemeloch seeks a treaty – seeing that Isaac is the “blessed of the eternal…” “Sheba” means an oath or pact or promise. Beersheba represents the oath. Look again at page 133 verse 22 which is the parallel story in Abraham. Abemeloch in the Abraham version denies responsibility for filling in the wells. Here the reference is to “sheva” which means seven rather than “sheba”. The details are different. SF: What is the message of Torah here? Why are Abraham and Isaac blessed? Is it because they made an effort to avoid conflict? PG: It suggests that we should order our lives in this manner – conflict avoidance. But it takes two sides to enter into a treaty so Abemeloch gets some credit as well. There is a political aspect here that plays out in Deuteronomy where they enter the land and wipe out the pagan Canaanites. Scripture is not systematic; it is dialectic suggesting different approaches to problem solving. Remember that Israel will be a very small people among large nations and must learn how to survive. But our ideals and aspirations are constantly dashed by reality. The notion of doing well by doing good is a freighted issue. LL: This was one of the essential tenets of Protestantism. JB: Is there a sense of luck in the Torah? PG: It is not “Mozel” as such but consider the Book of Esther which involves the tossing of lots. Mozel is the notion that there isn’t any luck just metaphysical forces beyond our understanding.  There is resistance to the notion of randomness in life that is a subject explored in the Talmud. The issue is not how we got to this place but how we move forward. Going forward is not only the burden of the individual but the community.

26:34  Esau takes to wife Judith – daughter of Beeri the Hitite.  Note age of 40 – a number frequently used to denote significance. See footnote on the number.  Gary Rendsburg   at Cornell points out that the Genesis stories parallel the stories of David and Solomon. Particularly the issues of favoritism and tensions between brothers.  A “new” story must still rely heavily on what people have heard and know. See Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism on what is truly “new”.

LL: How did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob self identify. Here we have intermarriage with the Hitites. PG: The term “Iberu” refers to a wanderer.  See footnote on page 178.

27:1 Isaac grows old and summons Esau for his blessing. Rebecca was listening and told Jacob. She suggested that he fill in for Esau and get the blessing. See Rabbi’s posted essay on bait and switch where there is a higher purpose.  Rebecca knows something that Isaac does not – that Jacob will be the carrier of the covenant. LL: why did Rebecca have to become involved here if she knew that Jacob was chosen by God?  Note that the word Jacob means “heel.” He straightened out – it is the story of an education; a man who becomes Israel – he who struggles with God. This is a bildungsroman.

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