Thursday, November 16, 2006

parshat Chayyei Sarah: Use of Time-of-Day to Convey Drama and Mood

We see this at the end of parshat Chayei Sarah:
סג וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה, לִפְנוֹת עָרֶב; וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה גְמַלִּים בָּאִים. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.
סד וַתִּשָּׂא רִבְקָה אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ, וַתֵּרֶא אֶת-יִצְחָק; וַתִּפֹּל, מֵעַל הַגָּמָל. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel.
סה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעֶבֶד, מִי-הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ, וַיֹּאמֶר הָעֶבֶד, הוּא אֲדֹנִי; וַתִּקַּח הַצָּעִיף, וַתִּתְכָּס. 65 And she said unto the servant: 'What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?' And the servant said: 'It is my master.' And she took her veil, and covered herself.
סו וַיְסַפֵּר הָעֶבֶד, לְיִצְחָק, אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.
Why bother to mention the time of day? I think this adds to the drama of their romantic meeting, where otherwise we would have a rather dry picture (until this point) of an arranged marriage. The fact that this happened at sunset is important for setting the mood.

Similar effect, in my opinion, in Rut. And in certain mentions of time when Rut went down to and up from the threshing floor. And in time-of-day in Shir haShirim - e.g. עַד שֶׁיָּפוּחַ הַיּוֹם, וְנָסוּ הַצְּלָלִים.

In sefer Bereishit, what comes to mind is Avraham's seeing the destruction of Sodom that he had prayed to prevent, and the possibility that Lot had been killed. In Bereishit 19:
וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם, בַּבֹּקֶר: אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם--אֲשֶׁר-עָמַד שָׁם, אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָה. 27 And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD.
כח וַיַּשְׁקֵף, עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה, וְעַל-כָּל-פְּנֵי, אֶרֶץ הַכִּכָּר; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה עָלָה קִיטֹר הָאָרֶץ, כְּקִיטֹר, הַכִּבְשָׁן. 28 And he looked out toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the Plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace.
And perhaps also in the beginning of Vayera, to give a surreal, dreamlike quality to it:
א וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. 1 And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה. 2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth,
Note how in each case the time of day mention precedes a looking out and seeing something. This might be a standard mechanism for increasing the drama/setting the effect.

1 comment:

Shlomo said...

I came up with slightly different reasons.

In Breishit 19, early in the morning the sun is rising in the east. Avraham's eyes naturally follow the sun towards the east... where he notices what happened to Sedom. (Sedom was probably located almost due east of Beit El, see here).

At the beginning of Vayera, the fact that it's really hot outside makes it more important for Avraham to provide hospitality.

With Yitzchak, it may be that since it is getting dark, he knows that whoever is in the caravan will have to stop and spend the night with him. Thus he approaches the camels instead of ignoring them.

That said I like your "atmosphere" explanation, especially regarding Avraham and the angels.

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