This is my blog for topics of general, Jewish interest, named for the magazine I launched in 2005. I have additional blogs for other areas. Follow on Twitter or on Google+ under Ariella Brown. Please note that comment moderation is on, which could keep your comment from appearing right away.
Today I went to Michal Horowitz's parsha shiur. She spoke about Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's take on the Avos and other Jewish leaders. He makes the point on Bereishis 12:10 on the question of Avraham's directing his wife to say she is his sister. The Ramban identifies this as a lack of faith on the patriach's part, but R' Hirsch offers a rationale. In ancient Egypt, it would have been safer to appear as single woman escorted by her brother than as a married woman with her husband. That's becuase anyone who wanted to take the married woman would kill her husband, and the woman would be left defenseless and dishonored. That's what Avraham explains, "and they will kill me, but you they will keep alive" (12:12). That expression, “keep alive” is the same one used in Shmos in which the Egyptians plot to kill the Israelite baby boys but keep the girls alive for their own carnal purposes. By acting as her brother, Avraham would be able to negotiate and …
The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. - Mark Twain ( in 1888 )
Which word will bring which effect? The answer, of course, depends on the context.
As I reviewd Parashas Noach, I recalled a lecture that Rabbi Copperman delivered about the effect of language and why particular expressions are employed in particular contexts in the Torah. When Noach is directed to gather the animals into the ark, he is told to take a pair of each (Bereishis 7:2): וּמִן הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא שְׁנַיִם אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ and of the animals that are not clean, two, a male and its mate.
That formulation is repeated agin in the eight verse: מִן הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה וּמִן הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנָּה טְהֹרָה Of the clean animals and of the animals that are not clean
It's particularly striking because the Torah doesn't add in excess words, and it is possible to write this in…