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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Emily Dickinson and the Wordless Cry of the Shofar

The Bible does not contain very much information about Rosh Hashanah. Nowhere in the Torah is it described as a day of kingship, a day of judgment, or even a new year. The only information we have about the day is that it is a “yom teruah,” or perhaps, “zikhron teruah,” a day of, or remembrance of, teruah. In the Talmud, teruah is defined as yevavah, as a kind of crying (Rosh Hashanah 33b), but the plain meaning of the Chumash seems to be closer to a day of “sounding.” This sounding does not necessarily imply praise, celebration, or even prayer. Yom Teruah is, most literally, a day of sound.  And from the perspective of the Bible, this sound does not have a specific valence, it does not tell us what to think or what to feel.

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