Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Power of a Pronoun

The Book of Genesis contains many genealogical lists–the descendants of Adam and Eve, the descendants of Cain, the descendants of Noah, etc. In addition to chronicling the complete family tree of the Jewish people, the Torah also includes genealogical charts for Ishmael and Esau, children of the forefathers who did not become part of the Jewish people.

At the end of the chapter dedicated to the children of Esau, there is a seemingly strange concluding sentence: “He is Esau the father of the Edomites” (Genesis 36:43).  The peculiar use of this defining pronoun “He” (Hu in Hebrew) is noted and commented upon in the Talmud: “He is Esau, the same in his wickedness from beginning to end” (Megillah 11a). This grammatical structure - he is so-and-so - implies an unyielding personality trait. There are several examples of other wicked people for whom this structure is used: Achashverosh, the king during the time of Esther (Esther 10:1), Datan and Aviram, the rebellious Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt (Numbers 26:9), and King Ahaz, a king of the southern kingdom of Judah who turned to idolatry and sacrificed one of his sons to Moloch (II Chronicles 28:22).

“He is,” however, is not used only for bad people. The same passage in the Talmud records where this phrase is used to imply righteousness: Abraham (I Chronicles 1:27) and Aaron and Moses (Exodus 6:26). About King David, the Talmud actually explains the verse “And David, he is the youngest” (I Samuel 17:14): “He (David) persisted in his humility from beginning to end; just as in his youth he humbled himself before anyone who was his superior in Torah, so in his kingship he humbled himself before anyone who was his superior in wisdom” (Talmud Megillah 11a),

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