Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bo 2 - Ra?

Steg wonders if the word "ra'ah" in Sh'mos 10:10,

"וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם, יְהִי כֵן ה' עִמָּכֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר אֲשַׁלַּח אֶתְכֶם וְאֶת-טַפְּכֶם; רְאו כִּי רָעָה נֶגֶד פְּנֵיכֶם",
"And he said to them: 'So be HaShem with you, as I will let you and your small children go; see, though, that evil is before your face'." ,

is at all related to the Egyptian sun-deity Ra.

In a comment there, Dave of BaLashon provides a link to an short article on this topic in the Journal of Biblical Literature, which is only accessible from academic institutions (like the one which I'm currently situated at, late at night). To quote my comments on Steg's post (it's easier than writing something from scratch):

I was also wondering about that recently, but wasn't sure if it was more than a coincidence (depending on the equivalence of the 'ayin in the Ancient Egyptian language), but the name "Ra'amses" should have tipped me off.

I skimmed through the article linked to by Dave, and to quickly summarize, you were m'chavein to Midrash Lekach Tov (compiled by R' Toviah ben Eliezer in 11th century CE), who also says that this deity is identical to Ba'al Tzefon. Louis Ginzberg notes that this idea can be combined with the Midrash ShHSh"R quoted by Rashi which says that ra'ah was a star which symbolized blood and death to be a reference to Re', the sun deity of Egypt, symbolized by a red glowing disk (the sun in the minds of desert-dwellers, after all, is vastly different than the sun in our minds).

The author of the article explains that the statement of Pharaoh is thus a mocking retort along the lines of, "Yeah, your God had better be with you when I send you and your children, as you'll be entering the desert, where Re' is strongest."

He also supports the idea that Re' is Ba'al Tzefon by noting that once the Hyksos were expelled in 16th c. BCE (around the time of the shi'bud), Re' became amalgamated with the deity Amon, whose name has the same meaning in Egyptian, hidden, as the Hebrew tzafon.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Bo 1 - Say Cheese!

There's a story that's told about the Chida. I do not know the source for it, and suspect it may be apocryphal, but present it here, nonetheless (because it's cute, which is what counts in these stories).

It seems that he was traveling on a ship with a merchant who was in possession of a large supply of non-kosher cheese. The merchant hired some sailors to threaten to kill the Chida if he did not agree to give a hechsher to the cheese, so that he could sell it to Jews. Faced with this choice, the Chida reluctantly wrote up a te'udas hechsher and gave it to the corrupt merchant.

When the merchant arrived at his destination, he showed the teudah to the rav of the city. The rav looked at the document, and thought for a while. After some time spent in silent thought, he declared, "The cheese is treif!". The bystanders were astonished that the rav would not accept this teudah signed by the great Chida, so waited silently as he explained:

"The text of the teudah says that this cheese is hereby kosher, as it is written in Shmos, 'V'kacha toch'lu oso', 'And thus shall you eat it'. When I saw this latter clause, I immediately suspected that something was afoot. Why would the Chida include this extraneous clause in his teudah? And why specifically mention that this phrase, said in reference to the korban pesach, appears in Shmos? Upon thinking the matter through, it occurred to me that Shmo"T is often used as an acronym for shnayim mikra v'echad targum, which led me to believe that the answer may lay in the Targum on the verse in question. The words immediately following 'V'kacha toch'lu oso' are 'mosneichem chagurim', 'your loins shall be bound up', which Onkelos translates as 'chartzeichon y'hon asirin'. This Aramaic phrase, taken out of its context, can also be translated as 'Your cheese shall be prohibited'. Thus, I realized that the Chida must have been coerced into signing this document, and inserted this extraneous line as a means of signaling to readers that the cheese was, indeed. treif!"


Monday, January 15, 2007

Shlomit's son and Shmuel's father

Ariella at KallahMagazine asks why the son of Shlomis bas Divri, whose conception was alluded to in last week's parsha, was assumed to not be the son of the husband of Shlomis (as described at the end of P' Emor), given the k'lal of “rov beilos achar haba’al", that a woman's pregnancy is assumed to be from her husband.

In a comment there, I mentioned a medrash (source forgotten, but a similar idea is mentioned in the Tzei uL'mad section of the Hagaddah under Vayar es Onyeinu) that that mentions that the men and women were separated, with the men forced to sleep outside of the city, in order to prevent marital relations. This being the case, perhaps it was known with surety that Sh’lomis and her husband had not been in contact during the night for the requisite window – in which case it would not necessarily be known by the court whom the father was, but the guy would still be a sh’tuki.

I also noted a similar idea regarding Mar Shmuel's conception, which I found in a footnote in M'yasdei HaTalmud, by R' Yoel Schwartz (Kest-Leibowitz ed., pg.78, translation mine):

"In Seder HaDoros, it is brought down in the name of the Ba'al Halachos Gedolos that it happened that a non-Jewish woman from Media who was an expert in the language of birds foresaw that Shmuel's father would bear a son who would become a great sage, and this woman wanted that the son would be from her. She promised him in exchange for this privilege a great sum of money. Abba bar Abba fled from her, went to his house, and at that time his wife became impregnated from him with her son, Shmuel. Abba bar Abba returned only for a short time, and then went on his way. Since the return of Abba was not known, and his wife conceived, they suspected her, and brought her to beis din to give her lashes for this. Her son Shmuel, who was then in her womb, had already been bestowed with great spiritual abilities, and when they flogged her, he would bend himself towards the lashes in order to absorb the beatings with his head. For this reason, they called Abba "Avuha DiShmuel" in order to emphasize that he was the father of Shmuel, and not like they had originally incorrectly suspected his wife."

(Although an adulteress usually gets chenek, being that there were no eidim here but rather only a strong suspicion, beis din could not administer the Torah-mandated punishment, so apparently used their superlegal powers to administer a punishment of their own choice).

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Giuliani for President!

Sorry, but Rudy Giuliani doesn't have a snowball's chance on the East Coast of winning the US Presidential election in 2008. He's a popular, affable guy and has the moderate politics that will be necessary to win the coming election in this rapidly polarizing nation, but I find it difficult to believe that voters in the rural part of the country between the two coasts will feel comfortable voting for a City Slicker as president (unless the Democratic party entirely loses their mind and nominates Hillary Clinton, who only has a chance of winning a national election if the Republicans nominate Sam Brownback (Newt Gingrich would be a toss-up)). My personal prediction is Bill Richardson over John McCain in a Clintonesque walk.

However, there's one other country that Giuliani could theoretically become president of: Israel.

The current holder of that office would have been long gone by now if the Knesset were able to accomplish anything. Giuliani is clearly one of the bigger Zionists in the world, as well as being an overall decent guy, who's well known for his battles against corruption in the financial world and against organized crime. The fact that he's a political outsider makes him a very attractive option, as people become more disillusioned with Israel's political parties (Exhibit A - the Gil party). The fact that he's not a resident doesn't matter, being that Albert Einstein at one time was offered the chance to become Israel's first president. Nor should the fact that he isn't Jewish be a major concern, as the hands-down best king of Israel during the 2nd Temple Era, Agrippa I (formally Marcus Julius Agrippa), wasn't Jewish either. Granted, Chazal say that Israel was doomed to destruction because they flattered the righteous but not-really-Jewish Agrippa by calling him their brother, but Israel is probably doomed to destruction anyway with its current leaders, so I don't know why these technicalities should bother us.

Call up your Knesset member today (sorry, forgot, non-representative parliamentary system...) and tell them that you want a change: Reuvy Yuliani for President!

Adon Olam: The heretical tune

When I daven for the ammud, I try to make it a point to say the tefillos using the proper phrase parsing. Two common examples of lines in davening that are often parsed in questionable ways are in Shochein Ad at the beginning of Shabbos Shacharis and in Az B'kol at the beginning of the Shabbos Shacharis Kedushah. In the first instance, the popular way of parsing the first line is "Shochein Ad Marom - v'Kadosh Sh'mo", which literally means "He Who dwells eternally above - and holy is His name". A smoother parsing would be "Shochein Ad; Marom v'Kadosh Sh'mo" - "He Who dwells eternally; exalted and holy is His name", which does not have the extraneous conjunction connecting the two phrases. In the latter instance, the popular way of parsing the first line is "Az B'kol Ra'ash Gadol - Adir V'Chazak Mishmi'im Kol", which would literally mean, "Then, with the sound of a great clamor, "Mighty" and "Strong" give forth a voice", which would make sense if Adir and Chazak were known to be names of angels (as per the context of Kedusha), but is curious otherwise. It was suggested to me that a more accurate parsing would be "Az B'kol Ra'ash Gadol Adir V'Chazak - Mashmi'im Kol" - "Then, with a mighty and strong sound of a great clamor, they give forth a voice".

On a recent Shabbos, the sh'li'ach tzibbur for mussaf used the popular lively tune for Adon Olam whose refrain goes "adon olam (adon olam) - asher malach (asher malach) - b'terem kol (b'terem kol) - y'tzir nivra (y'tzir nivra), etc. - The intended meaning of the line is "The Eternal Master, who reigned before any creation was created". However, by breaking up the s'michus between the words kol and y'tzir, it comes out meaning "Eternal Master who reigned; Prior to all, a creation that was created" - In other words, instead of saying that God existed before any creation, it seems to say that God existed before anything else, but is still a creation that was created. Hence, it would appear that a less heretical parsing of the phrase would be "B'terem - kol y'tzir nivra", maintaining the connection between the words "kol y'tzir" so as to make clear that this is the subject of nivra, rather than God Himself.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Shemos 1 - Egyptian linguistics

It was pointed out to me some years back that the Egyptian names that appear in Chumash seem to have a vastly different letter distribution than the rest of Chumash. To jot down a few of the names and words that we recently came across that appear to be of Egyptian origins (I apologize for the use of this cryptic transliteration scheme):


28 letters. According to the usual distribution of letters in the Torah, a random selection of letters of this size should contain in it 1.0 aynin, 0.4 pei-in, and 1.6 reishin instead of the 4 aynin, 6 pei-in, and 3 reishin that are actually present. Other words that contain these letters include TzPRD'A, a word that looks decidedly un-Hebrew and that appears only (to my recollection) in next week's parsha and EPR'A, a Pharaoh who's mentioned in Yirmiyah 44:30 (admittedly an entirely different era than the one currently under consideration).

R' Yaakov Kaminetsky, as quoted in a Peninim article from Vayechi 5762, notes that the Pei and Reish are also both found in the name of Ephraim, Yosef's younger son, thereby showing that Yosef had begun to consider himself more Egyptian by that point.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vayechi 3 - Yaakov and Yisroel

What is the pattern underlying the Torah's choice of which name of Yaakov to use in the sections after he is given the additional name Yisroel? On the surface, Yaakov represents weakness (the bottom of the foot) and crookedness, while Yisroel represents strength (s'rarah) and straightness (yashar), but how does this manifest in the individual pesukim?

T-0 is 32:29, in which the angel whom Yaakov fights with says,
"לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ--כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל."
"Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but rather Yisroel, for you have striven with God and with man, and prevailed". Through the rest of the passage of Yaakov's encounter with the angel, he is still called Yaakov, with the exception of the final, seemingly parenthetical note about the children of Yisroel not eating from the slipped sinew from this point on, although when providing a reason, the verse refers back to the thigh of "Yaakov".

Throughout Yaakov's encounter with Eisav (33:1-17), the name Yaakov is used.

The name "Yaakov" is also used when he settles in Shechem (33:18-ch.34), with the exception of that when he builds an altar, he invokes the God of Yisroel.

In the first half of ch. 35, until the arrival in Beth-El, he is called Yaakov. In verse 9-10, God reinforces the name change, saying,
" שִׁמְךָ יַעֲקֹב: לֹא-יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב, כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יִשְׂרָאֵל."
"Your name, Yaakov: your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but rather Yisroel shall be your name." God does not reiterate the reason given by the angel. An additional difference is that the angel used the word "yei'ameir", say, while God used the word "yikarei", call.

During the rest of the encounter, until Rachel's death, he is still called Yaakov. Immediately, following (35:21-22), the name Yisroel is used three times, but at the parsha-break immediately following Reuven's sin, it reverts to Yaakov, and this name is used until the end of the section.

Yaakov is mentioned one time in the section of Eisav's genealogy, as is the name Yisroel, but the latter refers to the first king of Israel, which is some time in the future (the mefarshim argue if it refers to Moshe or to Sha'ul).

P' Vayeishev starts out referring to Yaakov, but then says that Yisroel loved Yosef. Yisroel is the one who sends Yosef to his brothers, but the bereaved father who tears his garments is Yaakov.

He leaves the story immediately following, and does not come back until Yosef becomes viceroy over Egypt, when Yaakov tells his sons to go to Egypt to buy food, but it is the sons of Yisroel who come to Egypt. They return to their father, Yaakov, missing one son and requesting that he risk a second, and all are terrified by the appearance of their money in their sacks. When Yehudah steps forward to take responsibility, though, Yisroel accepts, and advises his sons how best to find favor in the eyes of the viceroy.

When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, it is the sons of Yisroel who return to Canaan with the good news. They tell Yaakov their father than his beloved son is still alive, and his spirit is revived, at which point he transforms back into Yisroel and resolves to see his son. Yisroel offers sacrifices to God in Be'er Sheva before leaving the land, but when God appears to Yisroel in a vision at night, he calls him Yaakov, twice.

Yaakov leaves Be'er Sheva, and Yisroel's sons take their father Yaakov to Egypt.

The geneaological interlude refers in the beginning to the sons of Yisroel, but every other mention is by the name Yaakov, including the reference to Yaakov's sons' wives at the end of the section.

Yosef and Yisroel reunite, but it is the aged, frail Yaakov who appears before the king of Egypt.

Yisroel dwells in Egypt and multiplies in it, but the name used here seems to be a reference to the family as a whole.

Yaakov lives for 17 years in Egypt, before Yisroel's life comes to a close. When he takes to his sick bed, Yaakov tells his son to bring his grandchildren before him. When Yisroel sees Yosef's sons, Yosef introduces them, and Yisroel blesses them.

Yaakov calls all of his sons to him for a final speech. In his introductory statement, he tells Yaakov's sons to listen to Yisroel, their father. He condemns Shim'on and Levi to be divided amongst Yaakov and scattered amongst Yisroel. In telling over Yosef's story, he invokes the Mighty One of Yaakov and the Stone of Yisroel. At the end, the verse calls them the tribes of Yisroel, and Yaakov dies.

The physicians embalm Yisroel, but strangely, he is not mentioned by either name until the end of his burial narrative.

Finally, when Yosef reassures his brothers that God will remember them, he invokes the oath that God made to Yaakov.

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Vayechi 2 - LiYshu'as'cha Kivisi, HaShem

Starting from the episode of the butler and baker at the end of Vayeishev (3 weeks ago) and ending immediately before the burning bush in next week's parsha, this passuk, at the end of the blessing of Dan, is the only place where HaShem's 4-letter name, associated with Divine mercy, appears. Every other time God is referenced within this section, it is by the Shem Elakus, associated with Divine judgement. This seems to be fitting, as this section describes the events leading up to Yaakov and his sons going down to Egypt, so the absence of the Shem Havayah highlights the gravity of this period of exile. The Name of Mercy does not return until God appears to Moshe and instructs him to bring the Jewish people out from Egypt.

The one exception is this verse, which is a prayer for future redemption, in which Yaakov temporarily steps out of the exile in which he and his family are situated, and invokes Divine mercy.


Vayechi 1 - Nimretzes

I was browsing through my old e-mails, and found this e-mail that I sent out this past summer to my chavrusa (who became engaged last night!), which "happens" to be inyana d'shab'sa. It was a follow-up to a sugya of aggad'ta that we covered in Shabbos.
I probably should have looked up nimretzes in my Melachim last night to see how the m'farshim teitch the word, but didn't think to. It occurred to me this morning that perhaps an understanding of the word can be obtained by comparing it to the libial cognates of the word ( i.e., BWMP). There's a decent chance that MRTz is related to BRTz, which is used in the Mishnah in Menachos to refer to that which overflows from a k'li shareis, and to PRTz, meaning breaking forth. Nimretzes probably means roughly what we thought it meant last night, but the way that the word arrives at its meaning is probably along the same lines that BRTz and PRTz are conjugated. The word Meretz, according to wikipedia's entry on the political party in Israel, means energy or vitality, which has a similar feel to it as the other words discussed in this entry.