Chayei Sarah - Bakol
Chananya Weissman

חיי שרה

בכל


[כד:א] וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַיהֹוָה בֵּרַךְ אֶת אַבְרָהָם בַּכֹּל:

בראשית רבה (נט:ז)

וה' ברך את אברהם בכל, רבי יודן ורבי נחמיה. רבי יודן אמר שנתן לו נקבה. אמר לו רבי נחמיה, עיקר ביתו [גירסה אחר "בתו", ועיין שם במפרשים] של מלך אין כתוב בה ברכה! אלא וה' ברך את אברהם בכל, שלא נתן לו בת כל עיקר:


[This disagreement, sans the rebuttal of the second opinion, also appears in Bava Basra 16B, with Rabbi Meir taking the position that Avraham didn't have a daughter and Rabbi Yehuda responding that he did.]

Q: It is highly unusual for disputants in the Gemara to take positions that are polar opposites of one another.  Generally they disagree only about the limits and finer points of a Halachic matter or philosophical principle.  It is difficult to accept that some tannaim believed that having a daughter is a blessing, while others would argue that specifically not having a daughter would be a blessing!  

The latter opinion requires elucidation in any case   how could it be that Rabbi Nechemia and Rabbi Meir could interpret not having a daughter as the fulfillment of an all-encompassing blessing?  (Some misguided Jews would take this opinion literally and as "proof" that Chazal denigrated women   but it is not our purpose to debate nonsensical beliefs and their intellectually dishonest bearers.)    

A: Indeed, no one would seriously argue that not having a daughter is a blessing under any kind of normal circumstances.  However, Avraham was not living under normal circumstances.  Despite his lifetime of heroic dedication to spreading the concept of one living God, the world remained filled with idolaters, to the extent that his chosen son and immediate descendants married daughters from idol-worshipping families.  Especially in ancient times, a husband could compel his wife to follow his spiritual path if necessary, and thus the tremendous difficulty in finding an appropriate spouse was ameliorated somewhat for his male progeny.  

If Avraham were to marry off a daughter, she would be at the mercy of her husband, in a society where mercy in spiritual matters would not be easily forthcoming.  Indeed, the only explicit mention of daughters to the avos is Deena, whose tribulations provided nothing but heartache to Yaacov.  In light of this, it may well have been a blessing for Avraham to be spared the tzoros and perhaps inevitable tragedy of trying to find an appropriate husband for a daughter.                      

Rabbi Yudan and Rabbi Yehuda would argue that even in those uniquely perilous times, the blessing of having a daughter outweighed the perils and challenges of assuring her spiritual protection and fulfillment.  

As always, the words of Chazal are vindicated, and any failure to discover and appreciate their integrity and Truth is our own.