The Twice-Told Story of Choosing a Wife for Isaac

In this week’s Torah reading, Abraham tasks his servant Eliezer with traveling to Abraham’s homeland (northern Mesopotamia) to select a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer serendipitously meets Rebecca at a well and is taken to her family’s home. There he presents a marriage proposal, and in doing so he retells the story—previously told by the narrator—of Abraham’s assignment to him and of his encounter with Rebecca at the well. There are numerous differences between Eliezer’s account and the earlier one, and these have been subjected to careful analysis by such great rabbinic commentators as Isaac Abarbanel (1437–1508) and Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865), as well as by modern academic scholars. These differences, however, were either ignored or dismissed by the major medieval commentators, generally known for their meticulousness and their focus on the plain-sense reading of the text (p’shat). Martin Lockshin explains why:

The medieval commentators turned to p’shat in the first place because they opposed what they saw as over-reading of the Bible in classical Midrash [talmudic-era rabbinic exegesis]. They consistently dismissed what has been labeled the midrashic principle of omni-significance, the idea that everything in the Bible has to have significance. As Samuel ben Meir (1085–ca. 1158) often wrote, “according to the p’shat, there is no reason to analyze this further.” By this, he meant that, on the [plain-sense] level, nothing more could be legitimately read into or out of the text than what he wrote in his commentary. Samuel ben Meir often knowingly offered prosaic interpretations of biblical texts in order to demonstrate that not everything was significant.

Thus, it seems that the Jewish creators and strongest proponents of p’shat exegesis in the 12th century were so opposed to midrashic over-reading of the Bible that they on occasion under-read the text, as happened in the case of Abraham’s servant, causing them to miss fine points that were then left for later exegetes to discover. This investigation suggests that while it is problematic to over-read a text, it is equally problematic to under-read it.


More about: Abraham, Biblical commentary, Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Midrash, Rashbam


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy