The Haamek Davar explains Genesis 17:16–19 as follows: In verse 16, God tells Abraham that He "will give [Abraham] a son from" Sarah. Because Sarah is no longer physically capable of childbearing, Abraham understands this blessing as meaning that there will be a boy whom Sarah adopts and then presents to Abraham as his. In verse 17, Abraham expresses this understanding, and in verse 18 he prays that the adopted child be Ishmael. In verse 19, God clarifies that "your wife Sarah will give birth to a son for you" and not just rear one. [Note that God never uses the word "born" or "birth" or the like until verse 19.]

However, the wording of the Haamek Davar is puzzling to me. In his commentary on verse 17, he writes that the adopted child

will thereby be called "born to her", like "a son was born to Naomi" [Ruth 4:17]….

Why does Haamek Davar feel a need to explain how the son would be considered born to Sarah, as if this clarifies God's earlier statement that that would take place? God had never said a son would be born to Sarah, that we need to explain such wording as meaning adoption. I mean, the Haamek Davar's wording I just quoted sounds like an allegorical reading of a verse, except that there's no verse he could be explaining this way.

And then in verse 19 he does it again: When God clarifies that Sarah will give birth, Haamek Davar explains that it's

not like you're thinking — rather, she'll give birth, in its usual meaning.

"In its usual meaning" sounds, again, like he's referring to some statement of God's, "give birth", that Abraham had misinterpreted as adoption and that God was now clarifying really does mean giving birth. But there's no such statement! What gives?

1 Answer 1


According to Ha'amek Davar's reading, Abraham understands the blessing to predict that Sarah may adopt a boy who will be considered her own.

Abraham asks:

הַלְּבֶן מֵאָה שָׁנָה יִוָּלֵד וְאִם שָׂרָה הֲבַת תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה תֵּלֵד?‏

Notice that here Abraham asks if Sarah will give birth (תלד), even though Hashem didn't use the word "birth" (as you mentioned).

But if Abraham is asking about Sarah giving birth, how does Ha'amek Davar explain that Abraham was thinking of adoption? So he explains that even an adopted child may be considerd "born" to someone other than his parents, just like it says "יֻלַּד-בֵּן לְנָעֳמִי" ("a son was born to Naomi" - even though he was Ruth's).

  • I think Abraham said (b'libo, to himself) "She can't give birth! [God must therefore mean adoption.]" and (to God) "lu…". I tried (obviously insufficiently) to make that clear in my description of verse 17 in the question.
    – msh210
    Feb 21, 2016 at 20:48
  • @msh210 I think this reading ignores the whole part where the Ha'amek Davar feels the need to explain how could it be that such an adopted son is called "born". He is explaining - "yes, I know that Abraham used the verb "born", but you can think of an adopted child as 'born', so there's no contradiction.". Otherwise, that whole explanation is redundant.
    – Cauthon
    Feb 21, 2016 at 20:53
  • If I understand your comment correctly, that redundancy is basically my question, above. I don't think that this answer is correct though, because I don't see how Abraham's mentioning birth would be relevant here.
    – msh210
    Feb 21, 2016 at 21:15
  • @msh210 Yes, it is exactly your question, and I don't see any other way of answering it. You're assuming Abraham asks "how could she give birth? Hashem probably means adoption", but if this is the case - there's no need in explaining why the word "birth" can be considered adoption (quite the contrary). However, if Abraham is asking "will I and Sarah receive a child and adopt him?", then we need that explanation - how can we say that he's asking about adoption, if he uses the word "birth"? Here comes the explanation - an adopted child can be considered "born".
    – Cauthon
    Feb 21, 2016 at 21:21
  • "נסתפק בכונת הדבור וגם נתתי ממנה ולא אמר וגם תלד. ע״כ אולי אין הכונה שתלד ממש אלא אופן אחר שיהי נדבק בה איזה ילד. אשר יהא כרוך אחריה ויהי נקרא בזה יולד לה": This means Abraham caught on to the fact that God didn't say "תלד" and inferred that Sarah won't "תלד" (end of :17). Your splitting (in the answer) "תלד" from "יולד" I think can't be sustained. That said, I suppose you could argue nonetheless that he's saying "she'll תלד = adopt". But the questioning ה argues against that.
    – msh210
    Feb 21, 2016 at 23:37

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