Torat Emet - Vayera 2 - Dan in the Time of Avraham

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Parshat Vayera 2

-Does the Torah say that Avraham went to Dan, a city that did not exist until after the time of Moshe?

The Problem

As Avraham began to battle the four kings who had kidnapped his nephew Lot, the Torah (Genesis 14:14) tells us that he chased them until Dan (וירדף עד דן). This minor detail has given major difficulties to some. After all, Dan was Avraham's great-grandson. How could there have been a city named after him at that time? Furthermore, Judges (18:29) tells us that the city was originally named Layish and only later, in the time of the judges, was it conquered and named Dan. If the city was only named Dan long after Moshe's death, the use of the city's name in the Torah implies that this passage was composed no earlier that the time of the judges. Has this detail proven that some of the Torah was not written by Moshe?

Grammatical Solution

The answer to this question can be found with a grammatical phenomenon that is evident in many places throughout the Bible. Deuteronomy 22:6 has a strange formulation of a simple idea. Literally, the verse reads "One may not take a mother on its children" (לא תקח האם על הבנים). We are prohibited from taking away a mother bird while its children are with it in their nest. Yet, the verse awkwardly states that we cannot take a mother on its children (האם על הבנים). However, the verse reads smoothly when we take into account that when two consecutive words end and begin with the same letter one of them may be dropped. This is one of many grammatical rules in Hebrew that are meant to facilitate easy pronunciation. Just like a double letter is frequently replaced with a dagesh chazak to make the word easier to pronounce, one of two double letters in consecutive words is sometimes dropped. Try saying ha-em me-al over and over again quickly. It is not easy because the two מs conflict with each other. That is why one of them was dropped from the verse. If we read this verse as it would have been without this grammatical phenomenon, it would have said "One may not take a mother from on its children" (לא תקח האם מעל הבנים). Because "mother" ends with a מ and "from on" begins with a מ, one of the מs was dropped.

We can see this phenomenon occur in 1 Kings 20:33 "they quickly took it up from him" (וימהרו ויחלטו הממנו). Rashi explains that the ה of הממנו also serves the previous word which should have read ויחלטוה. Because the two consecutive words begin and end with the same letter, one of the הs was dropped. Similarly, we see throughout the Bible the phrase "the priests, the levites" (הכהנים הלוים), e.g. Deuteronomy 17:9, which refers only to the priests and not the levites. When we take into account the phenomenon described above, the phrase reads "the priests from the levites" (הכהנים מהלוים) which is much smoother.

Based on this well-attested phenomenon, and below we will give many more examples, R' Reuven Margoliyot (Hamikra Vehamesora, ch. 20) suggested that the city to which Avraham chased the four kings was not Dan but Dedan. The verse should read "And he pursued until Dedan" וירדף עד דדן). However, since the word "until" (עד) ends with a ד and Dedan (דדן) begins with a ד the first letter of Dedan was dropped. This theory is further supported by the fact that there are two people named Dedan mentioned in Genesis (10:7; 25:3). Jeremiah (49:8) even mentions the "dwellers of Dedan" implying that there was a place named Dedan.

While there is no reason why Dan could not have been the name of a region or a city in the time of Moshe (see here for such an explanation), which would alleviate the original question, we believe that a little taste of grammar has revealed the true meaning of the text. This revision of the name of the city is not necessary to answer the question. However, we believe that it is correct and, as a side benefit, solves our original problem.

Examples of the Dropping of Double Letters in Consecutive Words

Genesis 19:25 ויהפוך את הערים האל[ו] ואת כל הככר
Genesis 19:33 ותשקינה את אביהן יין בלילה [ה]הוא
Genesis 31:9 ויצל אלקים [מ]את מקנה אביכם
Exodus 15:2 עזי וזמרת[י] י-ה
Exodus 19:2 השמרו לכם [מ]עלות בהר
Joshua 7:5 וירדפם [מ]לפני השער
2 Samuel 5:2 אתה הייתה [ה]מוציא והמבי[א] את ישראל
Isaiah 1:20 ואם תמאנו ומריתם [מ]חרב תאכלו
Jeremiah 2:31 מדוע אמרו עמי [י]רדנו
Ezekiel 13:2 ואמרת לנביאי[ם] מלבם

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Contributor(s): Gil Student
Last revised: 2/19/02
Aishdas 2002