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The Prince and the Precedent (Vayishlach)

Hi everyone,

Hope your Shabbos preparations are coming along nicely! Just a few quick notes to share with you this week:

1. Linking Out

This week’s article, “The Prince and the Precedent,” has been published directly in The Lehrhaus and can be accessed through this link: http://www.thelehrhaus.com/timely-thoughts/2016/12/13/the-prince-and-the-precedent-genesis-34-in-its-socio-legal-context. For those not familiar, The Lehrhaus is a new online journal which aims “to generate thoughtful and dynamic discourse among individuals within the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond.” Special thanks to the editorial staff for inviting me to contribute this piece.

(And if you’d like to read a previous year’s article on Vayishlach, “What’s in a Name?”—here’s the link to that: https://whatspshat.org/2014/12/05/vayishlakh/).  

2. Looping Back

UntitledOver the past month and a half, we ran a series of three articles here at What’s Pshat? all focused on a single Biblical character: Avimelech, king of the Philistines. The thesis running through those articles was that though Avimelech only makes a handful of appearances in Sefer Bereshit (the book of Genesis)—a couple of times he’s quarreling with Avraham over Avraham’s wife and his well of water, and another couple of times he’s having the same fights with Yitzchak—Avimelech’s conduct in those episodes profoundly shapes the trajectory of the Sefer as whole, in a way that has been almost universally overlooked.

To date, we’ve used “textual clues” to highlight Avimelech’s influence upon three scenes in which he isn’t physically present: Avraham’s hosting the angels (Gen. 18); Avraham’s binding of Yitzchak, i.e. “the akeidah” (Gen. 22); and Avraham’s attempts to find a wife for Yitzchak (Gen. 24).

Well, we can now add a fourth story to that list: the abduction of Dina (Gen. 34). As you’ll read in the this week’s article, Shechem’s abduction of Dina finds eerie precedent in Avimelech’s earlier attempts to abduct the wives of Avraham and Yitzchak. In The Lehrhaus article, this observation is not formally tied to the overarching “Avimelech analysis” we’ve been conducting at What’s Pshat?, so I’m pointing it out here for the benefit of those who have been following the series and may appreciate reading “The Prince and the Precedent” against its backdrop.

3. Looking Ahead

Are there any other stories in Sefer Bereshit which carry echoes of those involving Avimelech? I don’t know about you, but for me, this Avimelech-theory has become “the gift that keeps on giving”—it’s started to feel like I can’t read a single Parshah without suddenly spotting Avimelech hiding “behind the scenes!”

Time permitting, I hope to share some of these observations with you near the end of next month (=after finals/papers season here at YU!) In the meantime, a challenge for those who are up to it: try to see if you can find hints of Avimelech’s interactions with Avraham/Yitzchak (Gen. 20; Gen. 21:22ff, Gen. 26) in the following stories:

  • Toledot: Yaakov seals Esav’s blessing (Gen. 27)
  • Vayetze: Yaakov marries and has children (Gen. 28-29)
  • Vayeshev: Yaakov’s sons grow jealous of Yosef and sell him into slavery (Gen. 37; see also his ordeal with Potiphar’s wife, Gen. 39)
  • Vayeshev: Tamar deceives Yehudah (Gen. 38)
  • Vayigash/Vayechi: Yosef reconciles with his brothers and invites his family to Egypt (Gen. 44:18ff)

Tip—some of the key motifs/terms you may want to look for (though they’re not all present in each story): false siblings identities; vision impairment; state of “not knowing” [לא ידע]; “cover up” [כסה]; “good looks;” “cleanliness” [נקי], clean/dirty hands; “innocence” [תם]; etc.

Happy searching!


1 Comment

  1. Mike Shriqui says:

    Thanks very much Alex. I really enjoyed the article you linked. It was beautifully written. Great point about having to eventually pay the piper. Have a great day my friend and our best to Blima. 🙂

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