Friday, November 12, 2004

I LIKE/LOVE this parsha question

I have heard several rabbis discuss how we consistently misuse the word "love" in our everyday conversation. As an example, it is not uncommon for a person to say "I love chicken!".

The rabbis commented that a person doesn't really LOVE chicken. He may enjoy the taste of chicken, may enjoy eating chicken, but he doesn't love chicken the same way that he loves his wife. What the person is saying is that he really LIKES chicken.

So here is the problem, in this week's parsha (Parshas Toldos), Yitzhak Avinu says:

"Then make delicacies for me such as I love and bring it to me and I will eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die." (Bereshis 27:4)

How do you explain the fact that Yitzhak Avinu used the word "love" when referring to food? The Torah is always extremely precise in the language it uses. What is it trying to tell us by using the word "love"?

Note: In the original Hebrew, the pasuk says "k'asher ahavti" (such as I love), so this is not just a problem of mistranslation.

I would appreciate any insight anyone may have.


At November 12, 2004 at 7:16:00 AM EST, Blogger muse said...

The "as I love" doesn't refer to the food. It refers to the act of cooking, the fact that Yitzchak loves that his son prepares food for him and does the mitzvah of kvod av.

At November 12, 2004 at 10:52:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems from the parsha, then, that the root ahav means to like/love, depending on context. Here, yitzchak probably meant that he likes the foog, or just meant that he loves the food in the same way that people say "I love chicken!".

At November 12, 2004 at 4:20:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This (not to say "I love fish") is a mussar vort, that stems, unless I am mistaken, from Rabbi Dessler, and others have repeated it in his name. It's not something chazal said.

I've always been troubled by this vort - we have a general principle of dibra torah b'loshon b'nei adom, the torah uses exaggeration, metaphor etc. This has always led me to feel that the moral lesson of R. Dessler is not quite on target. In the past, I've gone so far as to ask why we need differentiate between "like" and "love" when loshon hakodesh uses ahava for both.

Your question is that much stronger - you've come up with a counterproof from a posuk - and I believe your "question" is really an answer, not a question. That is to say, the vort itself is the question.

I think that if you hear words of mussar that are not direct from chazal or at most, an interpretation of rishonim, and it is, on the face of it, contradicted outright by a posuk chumash, you are entitled to say that the mussar is simply wrong.

This is one of the real problems of the mussar movement (as interpreted through latter generations). When mussar is well-grounded in chazal, or in aggadata, we can be sure that we are hearing an "authentic" Jewish teaching. However, it's very easy to impose one's own feelings and instincts on Judaism and to insist that one's own reactions are somehow mandatory.
With all respect to R. Dessler (and I do mean that sincerely), I think this vort is one that you are free to reject, because it's contradicted outright by a posuk.

At November 13, 2004 at 5:16:00 PM EST, Blogger Sara K. Eisen said...

The shoresh (root) alef/hey/bet for the word love is used only 4 times prior to this perek in which it appears no less than 3 times and they all revolve around Yitzhak and reflect some amount of pathos:

1. Bereshit 22:2 - When commanded to perform the Akeda, Avraham's love for Yitzhak is first expressed by Hashem.
2. Bereshit 24:67 - A bereaved Yitzhak is comforted by his love for Rivka.
3. Bereshit 25:28 - Yitzhak loves Esav.
4. Bereshit 25:28 - Rivka loves Yaakov.

It seems to me that the words "ka'asher ahavti" echo the words "asher ahavta" pronounced by Hashem at the Akeda. The only conversation ever recorded between Yitzhak and his father was on their way to Har HaMoria. It is telling that there is no mention of Avraham's love for Yitzhak from Avraham's point of view - the statement comes from Hashem. It is not a huge leap to say that Yitzhak associates love with sacrifice and loss as this may be the first time that Yitzhak senses the passion of his father's love for him as an individual as opposed to another of his many dependents and followers.

The next usage of love appears at the end of the following parsha in the wake of his mother's death. Once again, love for Yitzhak is experienced as part and parcel of loss; he no longer has his mother's love and he needs to supplant it with the love of a wife.

The next two usages of love are also not free from a sense of tragedy, when each parent elects to favor a different son.

When Yitzhak requests his hunted meat from Esav, it brings us strinkingly back to when this word was first used in conjunction with Yitzhak (and in fact, for the first time in Tanach), "asher ahavta." Love for Yitzhak quite literally translates into sacrifice. In Yitzhak's experience, love is demonstrated through sacrifice. The meat that Esav hunts for him is a tangible manifestation of love as Yitzhak seems to understand the concept. Clearly, "ka'asher ahavti" does not refer to the meat per se; rather, to the sacrifice that was made for him.

B'virkat HaTorah,
Sara Eisen

At November 14, 2004 at 11:29:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why some posters here (and on m-jewish) respond to say that it is the mitzva that yitzchok loves. I think this is almost certainly not the case, as you can see from rivka's statement to yaakov later (27:9) - "v'e'ese osom mataamim l'ovicho ka'asher oheyv". See rashi on the spot, it's the taste that yitzchok loves.

I once was told similarly not to say "I can't" when I could, realistically, do something but felt that I just couldn't, emotionally or morally etc.
At the time, I asked how this can be, since the torah itself uses "yachol" to mean were unable to in this sense - rashi brings this several times in his pirush on chumash - eg v'lo yochlu bnei yisrael l'horish es haplishtim, they could but were commanded not to.
It's possible, I suppose, to say that one may say that one "Can't" do something when it is forbidden by God, but not when it is simply "forbidden" by one's own instinct/nature.
But I don't think that really works, because this is not the explanation offered - rashi says repeatedly, dibro torah b'loshon b'nei adom, the torah uses human, imperfect language.
If god speaks this way, man surely can also?

There are many admonitions offered by mostly later ba'alei mussar, and they may have value in training oneself to attend to speech precisely, or in questioning values - does one really love food, or merely like it, etc.

But the bottom line seems to me that one can reject these specific admonitions as simply inconsistent with the torah's own language.

It is extrememly important IMO to always subject mussar ideas to the test of whether they are consistent with torah/diverei chazal. I think this one simply isn't.

At November 15, 2004 at 11:27:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ka'asher ahavti" does not refer to the meat per se; rather, to the sacrifice that was made for him.

[Sara speaks from the emotional and spiritual heart of the matter where human feelings are a metaphor for the divine... She is blessed.]

At November 15, 2004 at 3:48:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ka'asher ahavti" does not refer to the meat per se; rather, to the sacrifice that was made for him."

This is incorrect as can be seen from rivka's repetition of the phrase.


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