Friday, January 16, 2015

Who Was Putiel? Does it Matter?

Rav Turetsky

The Torah (Shemot 6:25) states that Aharon’s son Elazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and that Pinchas was their child. We are told nothing about who Putiel is, leading many to question his identity. Ibn Ezra (ad loc) suggests he was a member of the Jewish people, though the Ibn Ezra does not appear to be aware of any textual support for that view. 

1. Rashi (ad loc) cites the Talmud’s comment (Sotah 43a) that Putiel was a decedent of Yitro, who acquired the name Putiel based on the dedication he once had to idol worship.[1] While this explanation offers an explanation of who this character was, one can certainly question why he would be referred to in such a seemingly derogatory manner. Yitro had repented for his idol worship and was certainly worthy of being referred to by one of his other names.

One suggestion offered is that the Torah teaches that Yitro did not undergo a radical change of personality and character during his religious transformation. The same Putiel that had worshiped idols with such dedication channeled that same trait and energy towards Avodat Hashem. Sometimes there can be a tendency to alter one’s personality during one’s quest for religious success. Yitro reminds us that channeling our traits and learning from our past is the correct response, rather than running away from them.

2. Netziv (ad loc) offers a beautiful suggestion. We do not know who Putiel was, and that is a valuable lesson on its own. Elazar chose to marry a wife not based on her lineage, but based on her own virtues. She would be best positioned to build a family with him and partner with him throughout their Avodat Hashem.

Both ideas highlight two important lessons about relating to our past. Rashi reminds us that we need not run away from who we are. We can learn from our past and develop as a result. Netziv reminds us that what really matters is less our lineage and where we come from and more what we do on our own with our lives.

May we be Zoche to internalize both values!

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] He also notes a connection to Yosef’s victory over the Yetzer Harah.

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