Our Rashi study group is in the midst of an ‘on again, off again’ schedule, though far more off again, given the Jewish holidays. We will not reconvene again until the end of October. Until then, in anticipation of Yom Kippur, and in the spirit of us all seeking forgiveness for our sins and transgressions – if I have written anything to offend you over these past several weeks, I apologize; if I have relayed anything in a manner that is incorrect, I am truly sorry; if I have – oh hell, get over it.
When we last met, just before Rosh Hashanah, we left our motley crew in the course of their exit from Gerar, being admonished by Abimelech, who at the same time offered them refuge and their choice of land to settle. What did he really want, and how did he really feel about this? The scene itself is reminiscent of the shtik in which the comedian will pretend to quiet down the audience applause with one hand, while encourage it with the other. Its hard to figure Abimelech out.
And to Sarah he [Abimelech] said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold! Let it be for you an eye covering for all who are with you; and to all you will be vindicated.”
Rashi (part 2)
YOU WILL BE VINDICATED
You will have substantiation which will allow you to prove and to demonstrate these obviously true words. The meaning of [Hebrew word for vindication] in all places is “clarification of matters”; esprover in Old French. But Targum Onkelos rendered our verse in a different manner. The language of the verse falls upon, i.e., fits, the Targum as follows: Behold! Let it be for you a veil of honor, on account of my eyes which gazed upon you and upon all that is with you. This is why he rendered it, “And I have seen you, and all that is with you.” There are aggadic Midrashim on our verse, but I have given the explanation that which they were meant to expel.
Abraham prayed to G-d, and G-d healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maids, and they were relieved.
AND THEY WERE RELIEVED
This is to be understood as Targum Onkelos renders it, “and they were relieved.” Their orifices opened up and expelled that which they were meant to expel. This is their ‘giving birth’.
In short order verses 16 and 17 tie a number of thoughts together – all seeming to revolve around Sarah and her imminent birth of Isaac – since that seems the only logical reason this chapter 20 is even here, spliced between the renewed promise of a son to Abraham, and the birth of Isaac himself. These thoughts include the blessing that G-d had promised Abimelech that Abraham would provide, and the rejuvenation of Sarah, both physically (at the age of 90) and in the eyes of her people (having just avoided a tryst with Abimelech). It seems there has to be a link between this all.
So our question begins, what might be bothering Rashi about the capitalized phrase, and in particular, the word “vindicated”?
Who is being vindicated, how, and for what reason? For that matter, what might it mean to be vindicated at all, in this context?
The word itself begs for explanation – and as usual, tends to be treated quite differently in other translations or by other commentators – alternatively as rejuvenated, cleared, reproved, and righted, among others.
The Hebrew concept that is conveyed in this verse is literally the ‘opening of the mouth’. Though more often used in a negative sense, with reference to gossip, here it seems to be used in a positive sense, with Abimelech essentially assuring Sarah that ‘you will give people a reason to speak positively about you’. In either event, the verse seems to assume or confirm that Sarah is indeed concerned about gossip, and what people will say about her. Abimelech dispels that concern by assuring her that what people will say, is that “everything I (Abimelech) have said is true – and will serve as a ‘clarification of matters’”. Yet again, we can hear him saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Sarah.” It provides a rather circuitous route for getting to what seems to be a simple endpoint – which is all the opening we need to look for a deeper meaning in the text, and in Rashi.
With regard to Rashi, in the course of this single commentary, he ties in Aramaic and Hebrew, together with the French of his time. All this without an ipad. And you wonder why we still study the guy?
With regard to the French word, this commentary reminds us yet again, that even to this day scholars study Rashi not only for his exegetic wisdom, but also as a lens into the ‘old French’ language of his time.
So what bothers Rashi?
First of all, that old Onkelos fellow (who lived 900 years prior, but still seems to nag Rashi no end) again seemed to have it all wrong. Onkelos concluded that the verse referred to Abimelech’s eyes falling upon Sarah – reminiscent of President Carter having lust in his heart. Rashi distinguishes Onkelos, yet again, by concluding that “Torah falls upon” the verse (i.e., a neat way of saying it has a much more straightforward meaning), in order to provide a different interpretation, namely, referring to the eyes of the people in their view of Sarah.
Finally, we managed to peek ahead ourselves, so to speak, to verse 17, which literally – and finally – provides that Abraham prayed and G-d healed (rofeh).
Here Rashi invokes Onkelos, yet again, though this time – voila! – as support for his proposition that the use of the word ‘relieved’, refers to their expelling things from their orifices. Not a pretty sight, perhaps, but whoever said Genesis had to be pretty?
And where in the world does this come from, you might ask? We recall a prior Rashi commentary, in which he concluded earlier in this very scene (at verse 20:9), that Abimelech was suddenly prevented from touching Sarah when his orifices, and those of all his people, were suddenly closed off – plagued by a “blockage of all the body’s orifices; of semen, and of urine and exrement, and ears, and nose”. Certainly enough to get one’s attention, if not speed toward the next available rest stop.
We can only imagine how anxious they were, and how relieved they become, by suddenly having their orifices reopened again.
So its starting to make sense – orifices, Sarah, blessings …. birth.
We will leave you on that note, until we meet again. Have a good holiday, a good fast, and a good new year. In the meantime, sorry this summary is so late, and that we may not have another one for several weeks, and sorry also that …. oh hell, get over it.
(Photo: Dullhunk: Credit: Kate Whitley. Wellcome Images)