This week’s parsha is filled with momentous happenings, some of the most famous and troubling stories in the whole Torah. However, in continuing to understand the prism through which Ibn Ezra reads the Torah, I want to focus on a much smaller matter. After Sdom and Amorah are destroyed, we read of a disturbing scene with Lot and his two daughters. Thinking that the entire world has been wiped out, the ‘eldest’ daughter decides that the only way to ensure the continuation of the human race is to procreate with the lone remaining male – her father. Both she and her younger sister do this, resulting in the biblical nations of Amon and Moav (Bereishit/Genesis 19:37-38).
However, we must also remember that the first place we meet Lot’s offspring is in an equally disturbing scene in the city of Sdom where the three angels that visited Avraham come to warn Lot about the impending doom. They are quickly surrounded by the townspeople, who wish them harm. In a strange expression of his priorities, Lot offers the townspeople his daughters instead (19:8), though fortunately that promise is never taken up, as the angels blind the mass of people converging on the house. As the city is about to be destroyed by Hashem, Lot ensures that his daughters are in the (somewhat incapable) hands of their future husbands, as the text relates: “And Lot went out and spoke to his future sons-in-law, the one’s who were to take his daughters, and said to them: arise, get out of this place, because Hashem is going to destroy the city. And he was like a jester in their eyes” (19:14, translation mine).
Picking up on all of this (and probably more), Ibn Ezra is troubled by the characterization – in the scene we began with – of one of Lot’s daughters as ‘the eldest.’ Ibn Ezra comments: “And the eldest one said. It would appear that Lot had another wife who had died before [the second wife who was turned into a pillar of salt]…” A classic commentary on the Ibn Ezra, the Avi Ezer, explains: “A rational approach would suggest that Lot gave his oldest daughters to his future sons-in-law. If so, the term ‘eldest’ does not apply here – only eldest from her mother” (ibid. translation mine). In other words, because it was an accepted custom to marry off your daughters in order of age, and we know that two of Lot’s daughters were set to be married, the two daughters that escaped Sdom with Lot must have been younger. Therefore, the only sense to be made out of the word “eldest” is that Lot had an earlier marriage in which he had two daughters, followed by another marriage that produced the two daughters who escaped with him. While this comment itself does not resound with enormous implications for how we understand the Torah, I think it is representative of the attention to detail – and, maybe even more important, the intimate understanding of the lives of the Biblical characters – that the Medieval commentators show us again and again.
An attention to
Detail while reading Torah;
A great trait