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Monday, November 22, 2010

Vayeishev, Breishis 38:2. What to Look For in a Mechutan.

וַיַּרְא שָׁם יְהוּדָה בַּת אִישׁ כְּנַעֲנִי וּשְׁמוֹ שׁוּעַ וַיִּקָּחֶהָ
Yehuda saw there the daughter of a Canaani man named Shua and he married her.
Rashi- כנעני: תגרא:  Canaani means, as Onkelos interprets it, a merchant.

Normally, the word "Canaani" means 'a native of Canaan'.  Occasionally, however, it can mean a 'merchant'.  Here, Rashi says that the meaning of the word is only the latter, a merchant, and not a native of Canaan.  In truth, there are other words that can be used to refer to a merchant, but no others that mean Canaanite, so there has to be compelling evidence that it means a merchant.  The reason for this pshat is given in Pesachim 50a: it is extremely unlikely that Avraham having warned Yitzchak to never marry a Canaanite, and Yitzchak having warned Yaakov to stay away from them, that Yehuda would marry one.  Therefore, Canaani can only mean merchant.


The question then is, why did the Torah bother to tell us that Yehuda married the daughter of a merchant?  What difference does that make?  If he was a Canaanite, it's interesting information, considering the family's antipathy to Canaan.  But if he was simply a merchant, who cares?


Harav Eliezer Ginsburg just published (Mesorah) a sefer called Mesilas HaMaharsha, in which he gathers  and discusses everything in the Maharsha that is relevant to Chumash.  This particular discussion has nothing to do with any Maharsha, but he brought it anyway because he liked it.  He says on this passuk that he saw that the sefer Otzar Chaim brings from Reb Nachum of Chernobyl the following: Yehuda did not seek out a woman with a family background of refinement and learning.  Instead, he looked for the daughter of a merchant who was wealthy and who had extensive properties.  The result of this inappropriate focus was that the children she bore were deeply flawed- Eir and Onan.  On the other hand, when he took Tamar, who was a meyucheses, being the daughter of Shem, he then fathered Peretz, the progenitor of the royal house of David.


I would add another point.  Why would the Torah choose this word to describe a merchant, when it obviously has other meanings?  It's like in Yehoshua, where Rachav is called a Zonah (Yehoshua 2:1), which many explain to mean 'a seller of mezonos.'  Why choose such a unpleasant word to describe a mezonos seller?  We have to say that the ambiguity is intentional, perhaps meaning in the old days of "kevuda bas melech penima" that a woman who is in a shop all day, selling little things to numerous customers, is not respectable.  Here, too, we can say that he's was called Canaani to tell us that Yehuda overlooked serious personality flaws- which were like those of the Canaanim- because he was a successful merchant.


Important Reservation!  I take no responsibility for the vort.   If this Reb Nachum is the famous one, then he is a talmid of the Baal Shem and the Mezritcher Magid and can only be questioned, not criticized.  But I must say that you have to be 'brave' to attribute fault to Yehuda.  And I certainly wouldn't take it upon myself to say that if you take a wealthy shidduch even though there's no yichus, you deserve to end up with children that are sexual deviates.  Also, I think that after the Holocaust and two thousand years of galus, anyone that willingly calls himself a Jew is a meyuchas.  It's easy enough to do what Secretary of State Albright's and Governor Allen's  parents did and join the gentile world.  You'd have all the natural advantages of being a Jew without the enormous disadvantages of being known as one.  The main reason I posted it is simply because the vort caught my attention, as it did Reb Leizer's.


Post script/Update:

I had a conversation in the comments with an anonymous writer, and he/she made some valid points.  I realized that the post had left out certain important things, which led to the fair criticism.  I also realized what it is about the vort I found so interesting.  So I need to add the following, based on what I wrote in the comments:


  •     Drush, by it's nature, stems from the attitude of the darshan, not from the words of the passuk. That being the case, you have to be more careful- more critical-   when listening to drush than when listening to halacha, because drush is opinion and attitude projected onto the passuk. The provenance of drush is of far greater importance than that of halachic discourse.
The Rambam's dictum about accepting the truth from whoever said it would not apply to mussar, hashkafa, ethics, because the authority of the teacher is most often predicated not on rigorous logic, but instead on the life that person lives, his or her ethical wisdom and moral strength and discipline.
You might say that "yichus" matters more in Drush than in Halacha.  That's an oversimplification, but it's an oversimplification of a truth.
Specifically, I really don't see this vort as telling me anything at all about pshat in the passuk. I think the Drush method was used as a vehicle to voice a criticism of the naive assumption that marrying into wealth is an unmitigated boon. It certainly is wonderful if the spouse is a kind and decent person who also is insulated from the financial worries of life. But if you choose a rich boor over a regular mentsch, you might regret it.
  •     As I say above, the key to drush is the wisdom and virtue of the darshan.  Ironically, though, once the darshan is deemed worthy of attention, the scholarly quality or the analytical rigor of his words matters less.  So, in halacha, we don't really care so much about what kind of person the speaker is, but we analyze his words minutely.  In drush, we care very much about what kind of person the speaker is, but once we accept that he is worth listening to, we have to suspend our critical faculty and attend to the deeper truths that he is presenting.
By the way, where does that old expression אין משיבין על הדרש come from?  It's from the time of the Rishonim/early Achronim, as far as I can tell; here's the Rama MiFano, Part II number 125.

  •     This whole discussion reminds me! When my kids were going out, I used to warn them to be very, very careful not to be distracted by superficial and unimportant things. If a person is refined, and intelligent, and kind, and from a good family, you can't let these things distract you from what's really important in a spouse: is the person very rich?
I have a sort-of-relative who was going out with a very wealthy man. On one date, he asked her, "Tell me the truth. Do you like me because of who I am inside, or because I'm filthy rich?" She answered, "Tell me the truth. Do you love me because of who I am inside, or because I'm drop dead gorgeous?" With that conversation, they realized they were perfect for each other, and they are long and happily married.  Invei Hagefen Be'invei Hagefen.  UPDATE: After fifteen years of marriage, they're getting a divorce.   He got bored.

  • I also pointed out the irony of criticizing bad yichus when the mother of malchus was Rus, a convert, whose yichus score, technically, is pretty low.  Obviously, a person can overcome even the worst yichus; mamzer talmid chacham precedes kohen gadol am ha'aretz.  And it's even easier to undermine the best yichus in the world.  I will refrain from listing examples.   The point of the vort, I suppose, is that here, there was no countervailing personal quality in the daughter of Shua.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

So instead of saying that Yehuda married a canaani, we're going to say he was shallow and only after money? Also what does "refinement and learning" even mean? I understand refinement, but were any of the imahaot from "families of learning"? Certainly Rivka, Rachel and Leah weren't. And while they may have had other qualities that offset their bad childhood influences, so might have this daughter of Shua.(Also, there was nothing to learn, and even accepting that Yeshivat Shem Vaever existed in the sense of a institution of torah learning there would be no chiyuv for this Shua person to learn whatever pre-Matan Torah yeshivas taught anyway) Finally, a person who only looks for a wealthy shidduch (regardless of yichus) and then raises bad children probably only has their own skewed sense of priorities to blame.

b said...

Look, I can't help that Chazal say that Yichus is valuable. Obviously, Rus came from a bad yichus, and was the mother of the house of David. But all things being equal, yichus matters.

Rivka etc. came from families of hoodlums. But evidently there were certain familial characteristics that distinguished them from the others in their area.

What did yeshivas Shem Ve'Ever teach? I believe that our Torah and even all the dinim derabanan are part of an ancient tradition that was formalized in Matan Torah. Avraham and Lot ate Matza before there was a yetzias mitzrayim and there was a mitzva of milah and gid hanasheh and yibum and so forth.

Refinement and learning can be good things, I think. They're no guarantee, as we saw in the highly educated Germans murderers and exquisitely refined Japanese vivisectionists during World War II. But sometimes they are good. I think they're preferable to crass vulgarity and hedonism.

Anonymous said...

I'm saying I don't see the basis for this dvar torah. Even assuming yichus matters how do we know Shua had no yichus? And the fact there is no medrash saying that he learned in yeshiva hardly proves that he lacked refinement. This just seems like speculation. It also seems that the answer came before the "question". As far as learning in Yeshivat Shem Vaever, even accepting that they really kept all the mitzvot (which i don't) are we really going to judge a non-"Jew" (or whatever the avot are considered) for not learning there? And maybe he did!

"But evidently there were certain familial characteristics that distinguished them from the others in their area"

Why? Because they were good people? It seems clear that they were good DESPITE their upbringing, not because of it. Or is it impossible that the avot cared more about the character of the woman they were marrying than her family?

b said...

Drush, by it's nature, stems from the attitude of the darshan, not from the words of the passuk. That being the case, you have to be more careful, if not critical, listening to drush than to halacha, because drush is opinion and attitude projected onto the passuk.

To tell the truth, I really don't see this drush vort as being anywhere near pshat in the passuk. I think it was meant to use Drush format as a vehicle for criticism of the common notion that marrying into wealth is an unmitigated boon. It certainly is wonderful if the spouse is a kind and decent person who also is insulated from the financial worries of basic life. But if you choose a rich boor over a regular mentsch, you might regret it.

b said...

That reminds me! When my kids were going out, I used to warn them to not allow themselves to be distracted by superficial and unimportant things. If a person is intelligent, and kind, and refined, and from a good family, you should not let that distract you from what's really important in a spouse: is the person very rich?

I have a sort-of-relative who was going out with a very wealthy man. On one date, he asked her, "Tell me the truth. Do you like me because of who I am inside, or because I'm filthy rich?" She answered, "Tell me the truth. Do you love me because of who I am inside, or because I'm drop dead gorgeous?" After that conversation, they realized they were perfect for each other, and they are long and happily married.

Never before has Invei Hagefen Be'invei Hagefen been so true.

Lubcha said...

See Rashi Yevamos 42b (and Kiddushin 70b)...if you know who your father is...you have yichus!

(however, Tos' in Yevamos 47b and Kiddushin ibid. argues...another chumra people have taken on)

b said...

I like a comment with good citation form. I just can't imagine asking the shadchan "Does she know who her father really is?"

great unknown said...

Note that so far nobody has brought up the alternative of actually getting into a sugyah for the sheer pleasure of it, including, and perhaps especially, rischa de'oraysa.

Lita, where have you gone?

This brings to mind the Telzer Rov's dictum that one may not say Torah in a beis hakvaros. [Yes, I know that's a halacha going back to the gemora; his application is the dictum I am referring to.]