Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ramban v. Midrash: Where was Avraham Coming From?

Krum as a bagel

Following up on this post, further proof that the Ramban felt free to reject midrashic interpretations -- even those relating to purely historic events -- is in one of his very first comments on this past weeks parsha. The question is where was Avraham coming from when the pasuk says "vayavo Avraham l'spod l'Sarah v'lvkosa"?

The Midrash: From Har HaMoriah, i.e., the Akeida. According to the Midrash, Sarah immediately died upon hearing about the Akeidah. Avraham returned to Chevron to a dead wife.

The Ramban: From Chevron. The Ramban explains that Avraham was living in Be'er Sheva with Sarah when he received the command of the Akeida and immediately returned there after the Akeida (see 22:19: "vayelchu yachdav el Beer Sheva, vayeshev Avraham b'veer Sheva."). Therefore, at the start of this week's parsha, Avraham was already in Beer Sheva, so "vayavo" cannot mean that he was coming from a different place. As Sarah was in Chevron at the time of Sarah's death, Avraham and Sarah must have moved there from Beer Sheva after Avraham returned from the Akeda. Therefore, Sarah died not upon hearing about the Akeida, but sometime thereafter.

Why the Ramban rejects the Midrash: As the above argument suggests, the Midrash can only be understood if Sarah and Avraham lived apart (Sarah in Chevron and Avraham in Be'er Sheva), which the Ramban rejects as implausible. Alternatively, the Ramban explains, the Midrash could be understood if Sarah and Avraham both lived in Chevron at the time of the Akeida, and that Avaham stopped off in Ber Sheva on the way back from the Akeida to plant an Aishel tree as a way to give thanks to God. The pasuk in Chapter 22, "vayeshev Avraham b'Ve'er Sheva" must refer to Avraham's place of residence after Sarah's burial. After seeking to explain the words of the Midrash, the Ramban reiterates his own position:

"V'lo yitachen b'einai sh'ba me'ir acheres el Chevron, she'ilu haya chein, haya mazkir oso ha'makom v'haya hacasuv m'faresh: va'yishma Avraham va'yavo mi'makom ploni."

And it is not possible in my opinion that Avraham cam from some other city to Chevron, becase if this were so, the pasuk would have mentioned that other place, and would have stated explicitly: "And Arvaham heard [of Sarah's death] and he came from such-and-such place."

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