Raboyseyee and Ladies:
In late breaking news but a few hours old, our friends Doba and Kalman Isaacs are excited to announce the arrival of a baby granddaughter, born to their children Yehuda & Sharona Isaacs. Welcome to the world baby Isaacs. Mazel tov to the entire extended Isaacs and Treitel families and a mazel tov as well to grandparents Sima and Jeff Kern and their extended families. A very special mazel tov to great grandmother Miriam Treitel.
The First Blended Family.
This week we begin with a shtikel primer on syphilis? With what? Syphilis! And why would a review of this week’s parsha include a few words on syphilis? Is this a PSA (public service announcement)? This and other questions will be answered below, ober here we go with the basics. Syphilis is a chronic bacterial disease that is contracted chiefly by infection during sexual intercourse, but also congenitally by infection of a developing fetus. From the very beginning, syphilis has been a stigmatized, disgraceful disease; each country whose population was affected by the infection blamed the neighboring (and sometimes enemy) countries for the outbreak. So, the inhabitants of today’s Italy, Germany and United Kingdom named syphilis ‘the French disease’, the French named it ‘the Neapolitan disease’, the Russians assigned the name of ‘Polish disease’, the Polish called it ‘the German disease’, The Danish, the Portuguese and the inhabitants of Northern Africa named it ‘the Spanish/Castilian disease’ and the Turks coined the term ‘Christian disease’. Moreover, in Northern India, the Muslims blamed the Hindu for the outbreak of the affliction. However, the Hindu blamed the Muslims, and in the end, everyone blamed the Europeans. For reasons which remain unclear, no one has –to date- blamed the Yiddin, ober should they? Ober is sexual promiscuity the only way o chapping a case of syphilis? That too we shall find out later.
At the end of the days, who was the first to contract it? Nu: believe it or not, the origin of syphilis is disputed as mentioned above and is the subject of much debate. According to some, syphilis was present in the Americas before it hit the Europeans. Some say it may have been carried from the Americas to Europe by the returning crewmen from Christopher Columbus‘s voyage to the Americas, chazerim that these sailors and explorers were. Shoin, no wonder we call them seamen, if you chap. Or, says another shita (opinion), it may have existed in Europe previously but gone unrecognized –and unnamed until shortly after Columbus’s return. That being said, the first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494 or 1495 in Naples, Italy, during a French invasion. Since it was claimed to have been spread by French troops, it was initially called the “French disease” by the people of Naples. In 1530, the pastoral name “syphilis” (the name of a character) was first used by the Italian physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro as the title of his Latin poem in dactylic hexameter describing the ravages of the disease in Italy. It was also called the “Great Pox”.
Yet another popular misconception often places the blame for syphilis on the American Indians. Ober, haven’t they suffered enough? Were they not snookered and left traumatized for generations for selling all of Manhattan for but $24? They were: ober casino gambling has zicher cured many of their ails. As an aside: when the Oisvorfer was growing up, besides this fellow who played Cochise on the TV show Broken Arrow, there were no other Indians. As I kid, I thought the American mamish killed them off. Ober as soon as tax free casino gambling came along to compensate them for generations of suffering, suddenly there were millions. How? Ver veyst? The emes –perhaps- is azoy: no one race or subspecies of Man is responsible for this venereal malady. Syphilis has been a part of Man’s cultural heritage and physical past since early prehistoric. That far back? OMG! Ober, we began with syphilis why? That too we shall soon find out.
Ober ershtens, let’s begin with one more question: Who had the blended family? What is a blended family? What was it in the days of Avrohom and Soro? Were Toirah personalities mamish involved? Nu, the simple definition of a blended family, also called a step family, reconstituted family, or a complex family, is a family unit where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship, but they have combined to form a new family. In today’s parlance: a blended family is a social unit consisting of two previously married parents and the children of their former marriages. Ober since all these definitions became lore, the blended family has also expanded to include the combination of two zichorim (males), two nikayvis (lesbians), and children they may have had, or will still somehow have, before deciding to switch teams, if you chap.
Long before the term was introduced and before movies and TV shows featuring blended families became popular, the heylige Toirah, in this week’s parsha will introduce us to Avrohom, his eishes chayil Soroh (in our parsha still referred to as Sorai), and a woman by the name of Hogor. For a short while they all lived happily together along with a son born to Avrohom from Hogor. Who Hogor was, what she was doing in the Avrohom household, and where she came from, is avada a machloikes –what isn’t- ober let us roll with the medrish which tells us that Hogor was Paroy’s daughter. Paroy and his daughter? Don’t we first meet them as we begin Sefer and Parshas Shemois (the book of Exodus)? We do! Ober, this Paroy fellow, efsher the first of a long line of them, along with their kingships and country, play a very significant role in the history of the Yiddin. Let’s not forget how many times we mention Mitzrayim (Egypt) daily in our davening, in our mitzvah observance, during Kiddush and elsewhere. Our glorious history is inextricably linked to Paroy and the Mitzrim. Why? Ver veyst!?
As the pisukim tell us, at some point in their marriage -many suggest ten, others even longer- a still barren Soro decided to create a shtikel blended family of her own when she instructed Avrohom to take (have sexual relations with) her longtime handmaid Hogor as a second wife, and have a child with her. No wonder she is referred to as a tzadedkes, a very righteous women; would your wife do that for you? Avada nisht! Hogor, according to many, was from Mitzrayim, her name Hogor might also be read as ‘Ha Ger,’ perhaps suggesting that she was a ger (a convert). Gishmak. Avada we all know that Hogor gave birth to Yishmoale and together they lived, Avrohom, Soro, Hogor and Yishmoale. Some years later –as we shall learn next week- Soro became pregnant, gave birth to Yitzchok, and together they all now lived – Avrohom, Soro, Yishmoale, and Yitzchok, for the next twenty four months until Soro, overcome by jealousy and efsher insubordination from Hogor who felt superior, instructed her compliant husband to kick her and Yishmoale out of the house. The blended family experiment, first introduced by Soro over 3500 years ago, came to an abrupt end.
Who was Paroy in our parsha? What role did he play? Speaking of playing, many a medrish tell us that Paroy had every intention of playing with Soro, if you chap. Is he the same bad dude who enslaved the Yiddin for 210 years or longer? Seemingly, he was a predecessor. For reasons which remain somewhat unclear, Toirah personalities including Avrohom and Moishe, as well has the Yiddin in general, had bad history with the various iterations of Paroy, the Mitzrim, and the country of Mitzrayim. As part of the RBSO’s “master plan” our entanglement with Paroy and the Mitzrim dates back thousands of years but seemingly begins in earnest in this week’s parsha. Why the RBSO chose them as our protagonists, ver veyst? Why Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) decided to (also) marry an Egyptian princess, ver veyst? The heylige Novee (1 Milochim (Kings) 3:1): tells us that Shlomo, the wisest man to ever live, was seeking a political alliance with the Mitzrim whom he saw as lucrative trading partners, and a source for an abundance of fine military horses. What to do? Marry an Egyptian princess though he clearly violated several of the RBSO’s explicit commands placed on a king. Shoin: it’s good to be the king, especially if you are Dovid Hamelech (King David). More on him at the appropriate time. In any event, the RBSO avada gave him a pass; he did get to build the first Beis Hamikdash (Temple). Certainly, he knew a thing about laying things down, if you hap. The bottom line: these personalities were but human; humans make mistakes, the RBSO is –at times- forgiving. And that Raboyseyee, is the beautiful thing about our heylige Toirah and Novee: it tells us about human frailties.
Ober let’s get back to our parsha which recounts the first ever trip to a place called Mitzrayim, a trip taken by the first of our forefathers – to be so anointed only later and after passing a few qualifying tests- and by his beautiful eishes chayil, Soro. As an aside, the heylige Toirah and many an exegete, tell us how beautiful a woman she was. Seemingly, there is something to a woman’s looks, ver veyst. Says the heylige Toirah: the Mitzrim saw how beautiful the woman was. Says the medrish quoting the heylige Gemora, azoy: R’ Azarya and R’ Yoinoson said in the name of R’ Yitzchok (not the writer of this review), azoy: the consummately beautiful image of Chava (Eve) was given over to the chiefs of all the generations. Says the Maharzu: Soro was taka beautiful but not quite as beautiful as was Chava. Nu, avada that’s’ no surprise since the RBSO Himself was involved in putting Chava together; would He create something less than beautiful? Avada not! In any event, it’s taka emes that at least three of our four foremothers are described as being beautiful, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Was external beauty a prerequisite for being selected? Says the heylige Gemora (Migillah): Soro is included among the four most beautiful women in the world, together with a woman known as Rochov. Rochov is avada known to many for the role she played during the times of Yihoishua. As well, she was well known for other matters such as being a giving hostess, if you chap, ober those for another day. Who’s on the list of four: Rochov, Avigayil, Esther, and Soro, beauty queens each. Says the Gemora (Sanhedrin 39b): even Avishag, one of Dovid’s 18 wives, was not half as beautiful as was Soro. In order to portray Soro’s beauty, the Rabbis say that, in comparison to her, all other people are as a monkey to humans. Of all the other contenders, only Chava Eve was comelier, so says the heylige Gemora (Buba Basra 58a). Got the picture? She was a knockout! Veyter.
As he was about to enter Mitzrayim, Avrohom said to his wife Sarai (her name at the time), “I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Mitzrayimians see you, and think, ‘she is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.” When Avrohom entered Mitzrayim, the Mitzrim taka saw how very beautiful the woman was. Paroy’s courtiers saw her and praised her to the king, and shoin, against her will, and mistama to the consternation of her shell- shocked husband, Soro was taken into the king’s palace. One last point: the heylige Toirah tells us azoy: “And because of her, it went well with Avrohom, he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses, and camels. What a trade!
Yearly as the Oisvorfer reads these pisukim and how Avrohom -efsher ill-advised – made a plan to save himself, and nearly put Soro into harm’s way, I begin to wonder if I am allowed to think that Avrohom failed her. How could he -knowing just how beautiful she was, even at her advanced age- allow his eishes chayil to wind up in the king’s harem? Interestingly, later in the parsha, Avrohom shows real moxy and determination when he bravely gallops off to war to save his kidnapped nephew Loit. Ober when it came to his own eishes chayil Soro, he puts her at risk of sexual exploitation to protect himself? What’s taka pshat? Was Avrohom looking to enrich himself and to sacrifice her? Ober raboyseyee, let’s not forget that the RBSO selected him to be the first of our forefathers, and He must have had a good reason, maybe ten of them. Also, let’s not forget how honest Avrohom was. After warring and winning against the kings who were holding Loit hostage, and after the king’s offered him quite the reward, he told them azoy: “if so much as a thread or shoe- strap; or if I shall take from anything that is yours” will I accept from the spoils of war. How does that conflate with the Avrohom who seemingly accepted a great deal of wealth in return for what appeared to be the sale of his wife? Are we even allowed to think that our zeyda Avrohom did the wrong thing? Is such thought permitted? We shall address that below.
Ober, what about the syphilis intro? Avrohom had just arrived to K’nan as per the RBSO’s instructions to leave his own city and country, and after the RBSO promised to make him into a great nation. On the heels of this great promise, a famine hit K’nan, and a nomadic Avrohom packed up to seek better pasture in Mitzrayim, leaving the land the RBSO has promised him. Shoin, we all know what happened next: Unprotected by her husband, Soro was whisked off to Paroy’s harem. In exchange, Pharaoh showered Avrohom with riches. In plain English: Paroy traded various animals, slaves, and other valuables for Soro who ended up in the King’s palace and boudoir and where Paroy seemingly had intentions of showing her his royal scepter, if you chap.
Since Avrohom didn’t properly protect Soro who was the promised mother of a new nation that would bless the whole world, the RBSO had to step in to keep her away from Paroy’s bed. And so He did. How? The heylige Toirah tells us that the RBSO sent “great plagues” Paroy’s way, on him and on his house. Great or severe plagues is a literal translation of the words “ni’go’im gidoilim. As an aside, later in the heylige Toirah we will come to learn that the word ni’go’im or negah, refers to sores or wounds. They don’t typically kill but do come with pain in areas that tend to hurt quite a bit, if you chap. Let’s read the posik innaveynig. Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 21:17), azoy: “and Hashem afflicted Paroy along with his household with severe plagues because of the matter of Sorai the wife of Avrohom.”
Let’s get back to the RBSO’s plan to save Soro from being violated. The heylige Toirah tells us only that the RBSO smote Paroy and his house with great plagues. As an aside, the medrish (Tanchuma) tells us azoy: Paroy’s ministers were similarly stricken with whatever Paroy got. When the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 12:17) says: “and his household,”—pshat is that his slaves, the walls, pillars, vessels and all things got theirs. And these plagues were worse than any affliction that ever came, or would ever come, upon human beings.
What plagues did He visit upon Paroy? Were these plagues the forerunners of what the Mitzrim would endure when the RBSO visited ten upon them? What were they? Says Rashi: Paroy was stricken with the affliction of ‘rasan’, seemingly some form of skin disease making relations (sexual one’s) difficult for him. Because the very next posik tells us that Paroy summoned Avrohom and scolded him for not telling him that Soro was his wife, medrish (kitzur Mizrachi and the Sifsei Chachomim) tells us that Soro must –at some point- have told Paroy that she was indeed a married woman. Ober says another medrish (Tanchuma 5) that Paroy was not stricken with ‘rasan’ whatever that skin disease is, and was instead hit with a case of tz’ra’as, a different type of skin affliction to which we will be introduced in Sefer Vayikro. The bottom line: we don’t really know if Paroy was instantly stricken with but tzo’ra’as which affected his skin, or with this ‘rasan’ which also afflicted his royal penis thereby making relations challenging. In either event, the result was that Soro, tough taken to the palace, was not taken by the king’s scepter.
Ober say the Yalkut translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, OBM, a giant of man who wrote many very interesting books and seforim, azoy: Paroy was punished in three ways. The first involved a skin infection. Of the 24 known infections, the worst if called Ra’than or Rasan, which makes sexual intercourse very difficult. Of interest, just following the word “Rathan” he writes the word syphilis with a question mark which is surrounded by parenthesis. Was Paroy then the first to have suffered from syphilis? And was he the first to be so afflicted without having had sexual intercourse? It’s quite possible, so suggests the medrish, that the RBSO was in fact the inventor of this disease which predates Columbus and even the Indians by thousands of years. And now you know. Shoin, we introduced the Yalkut, let’s also learn of yet another affliction visited upon Paroy and his household. One medrish tells us that the second punishment involved a number of women who were in the midst of childbirth. The birthing process stopped and they were left in limbo in midst of their deliveries. The royal palace was filled with screams as a result of the agony they were experiencing. Ober that’s nothing compared to this pshat, also suggested by the Yalkut who says and we quote, azoy: ”….the vaginal openings of the women and the penises of the men were blocked by divine action.” Shoin, what exactly took place, ver veyst, ober it appears that the RBSO sent Paroy a stern message: hands and penis off a married Soro.
Ober a few questions remain? Ershtens: what did Paroy do wrong? Wasn’t it Avrohom who lied and told him that Soro was single and available? He did! What’s pshat? Secondly, how could Avrohom put his own wife into danger? Was he not acting selfishly? Third, are we allowed to ask these questions, especially about Avrohom’s behavior?
And the answers raboyseyee are azoy: Avada our sages were perplexed with the same questions, ober leave it them to figure everything out, and avada they did. Their answers aren’t necessarily what went down, but they are logical and ver veyst? Paroy got punished they tell us ,because at some point during the one-night sleep over, when Paroy was making his advances, Soro must have told him that she was married. Though the RBSO came to the rescue and Soro remained undefiled, seemingly he – the medrish tells us, touched her shoe or shoes. Touched her shoes? Avada he should have known better than to mess with a woman’s shoes; it’s the third rail! As to how Avrohom was able to put his wife in danger…no lesser a Toirah giant than the Ramban suggests that Avrohom and Soro acted poorly. Says the Ramban and we quote: “Know that Avrohom our father unintentionally committed a great sin by bringing his righteous wife to a stumbling-block of sin on account of his fear for his life. He should have trusted that G-d would save him and his wife and all his belongings, for G-d surely has the power to help and to save…..” and if that weren’t enough, he also writes this: “Our mother [Soro] transgressed by this affliction, as did Avrohom by allowing her to do so. So G-d heard her [Hogor’s] affliction and gave her a son who would be a “pereh odom” (a wild ass of a man) to afflict the seed of Avrohom and Soro with all kinds of affliction. Oy vey. On the other hand, not all agree with the Ramban. Shoin!
The bottom line: what’s most inspiring about studying the heylige Toirah weekly is that the biblical characters are human. They may be our valorized ancestors, but they also consistently make mistakes, leaving a record of paradigmatic human foibles from which we can learn. The RBSO gave them a pass (He will give Avrohom another one in next week’s parsha), proving that the RBSO believes in second and even third chances. What a relief.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv