Rashi on Lech-Lecha

For those new to my blog, I am closing each portion with some observations I make as I read Rashi’s commentary on the portion. While I cannot properly summarize, or probably even understand, some of the subtle theological and traditional points he makes, there are many observations and stories that I can relate. Many of them are serious. Some of them I find quite funny!

Unlike modern textual criticism, Rashi was coming at the text with the belief that it was perfect. Every word and punctuation mark was critical, and the text had to be considered in the light that adding or removing any word would have to change the meaning. As so Rashi sometimes concocts fanciful explanations why a specific word means a specific thing. These don’t appear to be the minimal explanations – he was no fan of Occam’s Razor – and he is pulling some of these stories and legends from other traditional sources.

Here’s an example:  one of the kings that Abram tussles with is King Shember, the king of the Zeboiim. Rashi tells that Shember was a biblical Icarus; he built a set of artificial wings which he wore that allowed him to fly.

Lots more after the break…

Why did Lot and Abram have to split up their flocks? Lot had wicked shepherds who would not pay attention to the property of others, grazing his animals in places that didn’t belong to him. Lot did this for doubly inconsiderate reasons. First, because he didn’t respect the property rights of the Caananites that already lived there because he knew that God had promised the land to Abram. And second, because Abram didn’t have any heirs so Lot “knew” that he would be given the land eventually so why not start now? This obviously caused problems with their neighbors. To make this worse, Lot and Abram looked very much alike – almost like brothers – so much so that they may not have been told apart at a distance. It was for this reason that Abram and Lot needed to separate. But even though they are separated, Rashi interprets the “please separate from me line” where they go on their separate ways almost in opposition to the plain reading of the text. He says that Abram is vowing to be Lot’s protector, even as they are separated, they will never be far apart.

Why did Lot settle in Jordan? Because it was “steeped in lewdness”. And Lot kinda liked that.

Who was the “fugitive” that told Abram about Lot’s capture? This is the giant Og who survived the flood of Noah by hanging onto the side of the ark. But why did he want to tell Abram this? Because he secretly hoped that Abram would enter into the hopeless war and lose so that Og could take the hand of Sarai in his stead.

Why did Abram only chase Kind Chedlaomer as far as (the future site of) Dan? It is because when Abram reached that spot, he had a vision of his future descendants worshipping a golden calf and was weakened.

Who was the mysterious “King of Salem” that Abram meets after his battle with Chedlaomer? Not only is this the only mention of Jerusalem in Genesis, but this mysterious individual also appears to worship the same God as Abram! Who is he? Rashi postulates that he is Shem, Noah’s son and Abram’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. Shem makes this visit to reassure Abram that he does not hold a grudge that he killed Chedlaomer who is also Shem’s descendant.

Why did Abram choose to sleep with Hagar? In fact, he had no choice. The law (Caananite? God’s?) required Abram to be with another woman if he is unable to have children with his wife for ten years. So although this was Sarai’s idea, Abram was compelled to accept it by local practice. Rashi is careful to say that this law did not apply until Abram and Sarai were already in Israel.

Why did the angel send Hagar back to Abram and the spiteful Sarai? Although Haggar and Abram had conceived a child together, Sarai had cursed her with the “evil eye” and caused Haggar to have a miscarriage. Haggar then needed to return to Sarai (and to Abram’s bed) to conceive Ishmael.

And finally:

At the beginning of the portion, Abram and Sarai are forced to travel to Egypt to avoid a famine in Canaan. Rashi reports that Abram was very fearful of his wife’s beauty among the wicked Egyptians. So, he hid and transported Sarai in a box on the way to try and sneak her through customs. Unfortunately, his plan backfired! Sarai was discovered by the officials and immediately taken to Pharaoh for him to fall in love with her. Moral of the story: Don’t try and transport your wife in a box.

Next up: We finally get to the fourth parsha!

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