To Dwell in Possibility: Avraham, the Soil and the Clan in Parshat Chayei Sarah

Guest Post by Robert M. Blum

Last week, Sarah compared Walt Whitman to Avraham, whose “expansiveness” as a figure and founder of various peoples, including the Israelites, is exemplified by his hospitality in Parshat Vayeira. The conceptual key to this reading and comparison is Lewis Hyde’s notion of “gift exchange,” particularly with respect to art, which differs from market exchange in its spiritual underpinnings as well as the bonds formed through gifts. This notion of a gift economy was actually first developed by Marcel Mauss in his anthropological study of pre-modern societies also titled The Gift. A review of the Avraham narratives in light of Mauss’ broad conception of gift exchange reveals aspects of Avraham and his legacy that seem to be in tension with the expansive Whitmanian figure we encounter in Parshat Vayeira.

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