Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dotted Letters Example #2b: Be-reyshit/Genesis 19:33, Parshat Va-yeira


Be-reyshit/Genesis 19:33, Parshat Va-yeira relates the time when Lot is drunkenly seduced by his own daughters, after they escape the destruction of Sodom. You can find the verse in the following Chumashim:
Plaut p.132, Cohen p.98, Hertz p.69, Sforno p.99, JPS p.28, Jerusalem p.19, Stone p.90

וַתַּשְׁקֶיןָ אֶת-אֲבִיהֶן יַיִן, בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא; וַתָּבֹא הַבְּכִירָה וַתִּשְׁכַּב אֶת-אָבִיהָ, וְלֹא-יָדַע בְּשִׁכְבָהּ וּבְקוּמָהּ.

And they had their father drink wine that night. And the elder daughter went in, and slept with her father; and he didn't know when she lay down, nor when she got up.

“ yada be-shikhvahh u-ve'qumahh.”

The root of the word וּבְקוּמָהּ, u-ve'qumahh, is קם. This is translated here as "arose" or "got up". It can also mean to be established or built, to be realized (as in a plan) or to persevere. And this is just what happened. The previous two verses, 19:31-32, read:

וַתֹּאמֶר הַבְּכִירָה אֶל-הַצְּעִירָה, אָבִינוּ זָקֵן; וְאִישׁ אֵין בָּאָרֶץ לָבוֹא עָלֵינוּ, כְּדֶרֶךְ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.

And the elder daughter said unto the younger daughter, "Our father is old and there isn't a man in the world to come into us in the way of all the world.

לְכָה נַשְׁקֶה אֶת-אָבִינוּ יַיִן, וְנִשְׁכְּבָה עִמּוֹ; וּנְחַיֶּה מֵאָבִינוּ, זָרַע.

So, let us have our father drink wine, and we'll sleep with him so we can preserve the seed of our father.'

So why is u-ve'qumahh such an important word? Because not only did each girl rise up after having intercourse with her father, but each girl did indeed realize her plan to establish herself through re-building their family by preserving their father's seed. They would persevere.

And that is why the scribal oddity in 19:33 is a dot above the second letter Vav in וּבְקוּמָהּ.

The dot tells us of one of Lot's great failings.

Lot's name (לוֹט) means covered, wrapped, concealed, you never really knew the true man. He spent his whole life being mentored and supported by holy tzaddiqim Avraham and Sarah, yet when given the choice, he chose a life in Sedom and gAmorah.

Lot is like No'ach, only “relatively righteous” compared with the people around him. He may have been the most righteous person in Sedom, but that sets such a low bar...

Talmud Bavli Nazir 23a and Be-reyshit Rabah 51:8 say that the dotted Vav tells us that Lot was unaware of his elder daughter's lying down but by the time she'd finished with him he was aware of her getting up, and acted as if he wasn't.

Lot was innocent of the first incest incident, but the next night he still knowingly allowed himself to be seduced a second time, by his younger daughter. He knew and he didn't stop it.

This second Vav in וּבְקוּמָהּ is dotted because Vav means “hook”, and it is the letter of connexion. So this being the second Vav in the word and his being guilty of the second inappropriate connexion, it gets a dot to make us aware of this dimension of the story.

Shame on you, Lot. You were responsible to look after your traumatised children, not breed with them. You deserve grandchildren named Ben-Ammi ("son of my people/family") and Mo'av ("from Dad").

Copyright© A. Barclay

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