Thursday, November 12, 2009

Age Doesn't Matter

Or does it?

There is a lot of talk in the parsha blogosphere about the age of Rivkah at her wedding.

I wrote about it last year [original post is here, and how some people disagreed (understatement) is here (note the disclaimer they add because of the inflammatory nature of the article), and another blog which picked it up is here. And the last one - to which I was the last to comment - is here - (his layout is the same as arabbiwithoutacause... :) ]

Rabbi Marc Angel wrote about it this year over here

Lessons to be Learned Are More Important

Practically speaking it does not matter if Rivkah was three at her wedding, nor does it matter how old Yitzchak was at the Akedah, nor does it matter what caused Sarah to die at age 127.

My Chayei Sarah parsha class this year focuses on these issues.

I have found numerous sources which indicate a younger Yitzchak (most likely 13 at the akedah), and older Rivkah (more likely 14 at her wedding), and that Sarah did not die at 127 from the shock of being told by an outsider that Avraham was on top of a mountain about to kill her son.

So Why Make a Big Deal?

I think that it is more important to see that there are differences of opinion, which are all legitimate, they are typically backed by talmudic or midrashic sources, and we need to open our eyes.

Many people learned something once as a child, had it reinforced over and over without ever subjecting it to real critical-thinking analysis, and have ingrained it in their psyche so deeply that a suggestion which challenges their assumptions is not only difficult to conceive, it must be labeled heretical (!) which will automatically make it meaningless, useless, and not worthy of a response.

Sounds a little like communism, no?

A Better Flavored Palate

Bear in mind that the source for the ages of 37, 3 and Sarah's death caused by news of Akedah is because all three events take place within 8 verses of each other in the Torah - the end of Chapter 22 and the beginning of Chapter 23.

With that argument, however, let us look at the end of Chapter 16 and the beginning of Chapter 17, in which Avram is first 86, and then in the very next verse he is 99.

13 years pass in the space between sentences.

Why can't we say the same thing takes place here, a quick skip of 13 years between the Akedah and the birth of Rivkah? Another 11 years or so pass before Sarah dies... Now we are talking!

If Yitzchak is 13 at the Akedah, then the test remains all about Avraham, because the agenda was hidden from Yitzchak, he could not figure it out, and the fact that Avraham is able to overpower him is not even mentioned. Yitzchak is still a child. Were he 37, his submission would be a bigger test of faith than that of his father for doing exactly what God told him. God never told Yitzchak to sacrifice himself.

If Rivkah is 14 at the time she is propositioned for marriage to Eliezer's master, then we have no problem with her carrying tons of water for camels (approximately 300 gallons), her thoughtfulness, and her family's willingness to let her go based on her own agreement. The fact that she is called a "נערה" in the Torah (a term which usually indicates an age significantly higher than 3) is no longer misunderstood.

If Sarah did not die because of the shock of the Akedah, we can reconcile why she and Avraham seem to be living in different places at the time of her death, we can understand a little better why Yitzchak is still mourning for his mother by the time Rivkah arrives (despite the fact that some midrashim suggest he went away after the at-age-37-akedah and might not have even known about his mother's death until he brought Rivkah into Sarah's tent), and we also remove from the Torah an example of someone who dies from shock.

Any person who dies in the Torah is either murdered, punished, or dies of natural causes such as old age (or to protect them from bad things that may happen). We never find an incident where "shock" causes someone's soul to exit the body.

While the incident of the Akedah may have been shocking, there are many midrashim which indicate Sarah actually met Yitzchak afterwards (meaning, hearing the news of her husband on top of the mountain with a knife in his hand did not kill her).

Other midrashim suggest she lost (depending on how you count how long she should have lived), either 38, 43 or 48 years of her life over the way she treated her husband when Hagar first became pregnant. If this is the case, her death at 127 has nothing to do with the Akedah, no matter how you slice it.

Bottom Line

Let us open our eyes to new ideas, let us learn lessons from whichever age you prefer, but to decide what is the simple meaning and explanation without fully exploring the breadth of Torah to find other approaches... Not just intellectually deceiving (to yourself), but the ultimate disservice to your growth as an educated Jew.

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