Friday, November 20, 2009

Parashat Tol'dot Diminished Letter Quf = Familial Desperation


In Bereyshit/Genesis 27:46, Parshat Tol'dot we have a letter Quf (ק) which is written very tiny - it's also the leading letter in its word. You can find this pasuq/verse in the following Chumashim:
Plaut p.188, Cohen p.157, Hertz p.101, Sforno p.147, JPS p.42, Jerusalem p.31, Stone p.140

וַתֹּאמֶר רִבְקָה, אֶל-יִצְחָק, קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי, מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת; אִם-לֹקֵחַ יַעֲקֹב אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת-חֵת כָּאֵלֶּה, מִבְּנוֹת הָאָרֶץ--לָמָּה לִּי, חַיִּים.

And Riv'qah said to Yitz'chaq: 'I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Ya'aqov marries a Hittite woman, such as these local women, why should I go on living?'

Va-tomer Rivqah el-Yitz'chaq qatz'ti ve-chayai mip'ney b'not Cheyt im-loqeyach Ya'aqov ishah mi-b'not Cheyt ka-eyleh, mi-b'not ha-aretz, lamah li chayim?

The Quf in the word קַצְתִּי qatz'ti - "loathe" - is written smaller than its neighbours because Riv'qah was hiding her true reason for sending Ya'aqov away from his father Yitz'chaq. She didn't really dislike her Hittite daughters-in-law – wives of Esav - as much as she pretended. Riv'qah is lying to her husband. She asked Yitz'chaq to send him away to protect him from Esav's veangence, under the pretense of finding a wife. Because what does the pasuq/verse previous to this one say? That Esav was hunting Ya'aqov down in order to kill him.

This is the last pasuq/verse in the pereq/chapter – what happens next? Yitz'chaq sends Ya'aqov away to Riv'qah's family to find a wife...or two!

Why did Rivqah lie to her husband?
Because had she told Yitzchaq the straight truth, he wouldn't have acted. Yitzchaq loved Esav so much. So much. He could never have believed that Esav would ever harm Ya'aqov, so he would not have sent him away to the safety of Rivqah's family. In those days and at that time, the Code of Hammurabi reigned supreme in the Middle and Near East, so if a father did not give his adult son permission to leave, he did not leave. Period.

Yitzchaq, we learn in 21:1, is old and blind:

וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בְּנִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הִנֵּנִי

And it happened that when Yitzchaq was old, and his eyes were dim, and he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said to him: 'My son'; and he said unto him: 'Here I am.'

Is that why it was so easy for Rivqah and Ya'aqov to fool Yitzchaq? A midrash teaches us that when Yitzchaq was bound on the altar and his father Avraham was about to slit his throat, he was so traumatised and terrified - and who wouldn't be? - yet he kept it all inside, and braved the experience. As he refused to express his terror, and did not cry, the angels gathered all around the scene felt his terrible pain and cried themselves - crying the tears of angels into Yitzchaq's eyes- so he would be blinded, shielded from what was about to happen. It was then that Avraham stopped and let him go.

The Akeidah, Yitzchaq's binding and emotional torture, left him with a serious case of PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is why he was only comforted from his mother's death by getting married, this is why he prays to El-Shaddai alone in the twilight out in the field, this is why he is a quiet, passive figure in the rest of his narrative. This is why he is forever emotionally distant and can only sometimes connect with Rivqah. This is why he cannot see - not because he is physically blind, but because he cannot tell one son from the other most of the time, because of his own unhealed brokenness, because he is still blinded by the tears of angels.

Sometimes we do things out of desperation to move barriers which cannot otherwise be moved. It's dangerous and always causes damage, but how much greater the damage to do nothing? Rivqah made a very difficult decision here, and chose the lesser of two evils: deceive her husband or let one son murder the other thereby and destroy the family and our future.

So why the letter Quf?

Although Riv'qah, a leader in her family as this letter is in its word, saved one son's life and prevented her other son from becoming a murderer, and although she saved her family and the future of the Jewish people by lying to her husband, she still lied. And this last lie in the string of deceptions she'd engineered is the one which finally made her realize that her קְדֻשָּׁה q-edushah had been diminished. And that she would have to make a great sacrifice, a קָרְבָּן q-orban, by sending her favourite child away, in order to begin to mend the damage.

What do we know about Riv'qah? We know she was the kind young girl who offered to water Eliezer and his camels. We know Yitz'chaq loved her as much as his life. We know she desperately wanted to be a mother. We know she was blessed with twin sons who struggled – קְרָב q-arav - against each other their whole lives. We know she received prophecy about the future of her family. We know she acted with the right intentions. And we know that she never saw Ya'aqov again...

Copyright © A. Barclay

No comments:

Post a Comment