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October 6, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Lech Lecha

One reason I decided to use the Scharfstein Chumash this year is because I may want to give it to one of my nieces as a bat mitzvah present.  Having said that, I occasionally wonder whether it is fit for anyone over 10.

One negative attribute of Scharfstein is its use of midrash completely unanchored to the Biblical text.  (It shares this attribute with more “adult” Chumashes such as Artscroll, but at least Artscroll credits its sources more frequently).

One example: after God tels Abraham about Sarah’s new son, Abraham says to God: “May Ishmael receive a special blessing from you?” (Gen. 17:18).  Scharfstein writes that “Abraham knows that his son Ishmael does not have the intelligence, charisma or faith to continue the tradition and become his successor as the founder of a great nation.”  But Scharfstein cites no source for this assertion nor is it evident from the text.  At this point, all the text has told us is that Sarah will give birth to a son whose descendants will themselves be nations (17:15)- something equally true of Ishmael (17:19).   After Abraham asks his question, God tells him that Isaac will be his successor- but before then, there is no reason to believe Abraham knows this.

By contrast, 19th c. rabbi Shmuel David Luzzato (Shadal) translates this passage slightly differently (as “It would be enough for me if Ishamel lived before me”) and interprets it merely as a request “That You might guard him from all evil.”

To be fair, Scharfstein is acting in a venerable tradition: sometimes Chazal uses Midrash to “dumb down” the Torah by making its “good guys” more clearly good and its “losers” (such as the disinherited Ishmael) more clearly bad.  I suppose this is appropriate for very small children.  But I’m not sure it even makes sense for teenagers, let alone grownups.


One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Oct 10 2013 1:54 pm

    I have no patience with ” midrash completely unanchored to the Biblical text.” It reminds of the old joke about the play by Shakespeare whose translation into Yiddish is described as “fahr griosser undt fahr besser, bigger and better.” 🙂

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