As promised in my last post, here some words on the angels’ visit of Abraham which supposedly takes place on Pessach (or so I read on Chabad). First, the source text:
And He said: ‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’ […]
(Genesis 18:10, translation from Mechon Mamre)
So how and where does Pessach enter into this? Rashi says this in his comment on the verse:
At this time in the coming year. It was Passover, and on the following Passover, Isaac was born […]
(Rashi on Genesis 18:10, translation from Chabad)
And where did he get this from? Well, I found some answers online (R. David Silverberg: Parashat Vayera, from third section on), let’s try to piece it together. Very fascinating stuff! Source is of course the Talmud, where we find many such questions. The underlying assumption is always that the patriarchs kept the whole Torah, including holidays commemorating events that hadn’t happened yet. If you find this disturbing, skip ahead to the next post.
In this specific case, the discussion hinges on the meaning of the Hebrew "LaMo’ed ashuv eleicha". The word "mo’ed" could mean "festival". So which festival? The Talmud says Isaac’s birth was on Pesach. There must be enough time between the visit and the "next festival" for pregnancy and birth, so the Talmud discusses two opinions for the visit, Succot (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 11a) and somewhere between Yom Kippur and Succot (Tractate Bava Metzia 86b). This is the widest timeframe possible between two festivals. And – of course – there is another opinion. Chazal (sages from that time whose statements did not necessarily enter into the Talmud) state that the visit was on Pesach and the birth was on Pesach the next year. This is the view Rashi is citing in his comment that we saw above.
There’s more that we could discuss, but here’s what I wondered about the most when I read the Hebrew: The word "mo’ed" under discussion is not in the verse! Here’s the verse again, this time in Hebrew (sorry for the formatting):
וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו.
[Vayomer, shuv ashuv eleicha ka’et chaya, veHine-ben, leSara ishtecha; VeSara shama’at petach haOhel, veHu acharav.]
No "mo’ed"! I was utterly confused until I read on and found the verse the discussion is actually referring to:
הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן.
[Hayipale meAdonay, davar; laMo’ed ashuv eleicha, ka’et chaya – uleSara ben.]
Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.’
(Genesis 18:14 at Mechon Mamre)
There it is, our "mo’ed". So what does Rashi have to say about this verse?
At the appointed time: At that time that was appointed, that I set for you yesterday, [when I said] (17:21): “at this time next year.”
(Rashi on Genesis 18:14, translation from Chabad)
Genesis 17:21 says "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.", containing "laMo’ed" as well. Only verse 18:10, the one Rashi puts his comment on, does not. Well… he could’ve saved the world from this post by putting the comment somewhere else!
Ok, a short summary: Abraham is visited by angels, they tell him that they will come back "laMo’ed" when he will have a son. The word "mo’ed" in Genesis 18:14 may be interpreted as "festival". The sages discuss different festivals, including Pesach. Rashi selects Pesach and this is in turn what Chabad references. To really understand the argument, we’d need to talk about the date of Abraham’s circumsision, the date of the angels’ visit of Lot, the date of Isaac’s birth – but this post is long enough as it is.