Thursday, February 03, 2005

Amos the psilos

The other day someone came to this site with the search words Amos and psilos. He or she hit this page, which has a post about Amos 7:14:

וַיַּעַן עָמוֹס, וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֲמַצְיָה, לֹא-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי, וְלֹא בֶן-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי: כִּי-בוֹקֵר אָנֹכִי, וּבוֹלֵס שִׁקְמִים.
"Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah: 'I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees;"

that is, Amos the boles of sycamores, with the observation that in Geez, a balas is a fig, so the pasuk probably means figger of sycamores (as Dr. Steiner had pointed out in his class on Amos).

The page also had a post titled "Did a dialectal difference between Babylonian and Galilean Aramaic lead to a mistaken psak?" which discussed Yechezkel Kutscher's suggestion that because the Babylonian Aramaic did not distinguish between absolute and definite forms of Aramaic nouns and Galilean Aramaic did, the Yerushalmi treated a statement from Bavel as the feminine absolute rather than Babylonian masculine absolute. In discussing this, I cite a yerushalmi that uses the words psilos (though the printed addition, not recognizing the Greek word, transformed the last letter from a samech to a mem sofit). A psilos is someone with a speech impediment, such that, for example, in trying to say nazir, he will say instead nazik.

Indeed. the reason I posted these two posts in such close proximity is that I had in mind what the searcher was searching for - a midrash that Amos was a psilos, and the Rashi who on that basis explains the hapax legomenon (a word occuring only once in Tanach) boles.

The midrash is in Vayikra Rabba 10:2. The context is the Jews rejecting every prophet Hashem sends. I will translate the portion in red:
ר' עזריה בשם רבי יהודה בר סימון פתר קריה בישעיה
אמר ישעיה מטייל הייתי בבית תלמודי
ושמעתי קולו של הקב"ה אומרת (ישעיה ו) את מי אשלח ומי ילך לנו
שלחתי את מיכה והיו מכין אותו בלחי
ה"ה דכתיב (מיכה ד) בשבט יכו על הלחי
שלחתי את עמוס והיו קורין אותו פסילוס
דא"ר פנחס למה נקרא שמו עמוס
שהיה עמוס בלשונו
מעתה את מי אשלח ומי ילך לנו
ואומר (ישעיה שם ) הנני שלחני א"ל הקדוש ברוך הוא ישעיה בני טרחנין סרבנים הם
אם אתה מקבל עליך להתבזות וללקות מבני את הולך בשליחותי ואם לאו אין אתה הולך בשליחותי
אמר לו על מנת כן (שם נ) גוי נתתי למכים ולחיי למורטים ואיני כדאי לילך בשליחות אצל בניך א"ל הקב"ה ישעיה אהבת צדק
אהבת לצדק את בני
ותשנא רשע
ששנאת מלחייבן
על כן משחך אלהים אלהיך
מהו מחבריך
א"ל חייך כל הנביאים קבלו נבואות נביא מן נביא (במדבר יא) ויאצל מן הרוח אשר עליו וגו'
(מ"ב ב) ויאמרו נחה רוח אליהו על אלישע
אבל את מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא (ישעיה סא) רוח ה' אלהים עלי יען משח וגו'
חייך שכל הנביאים מתנבאים נבואות פשוטות ואת נחמות כפולות (שם נא) עורי עורי התעוררי התעוררי שוש אשיש (שם נא) אנכי אנכי הוא מנחמכם (שם מ) נחמו נחמו
I sent Amos and they called him a psilos.
For, as, Rabbi Pinchas said: why was his name Amos? Because he was burdened (amus) in his tongue.
They were basically saying, of all the people who Hashem could have picked to send, they sent this one who has a speech impediment (so in another text).

We see though the meaning of psilos from this midrash.

Rashi cites this midrash three times. Once on Yeshaya 6:8, and once on Yeshaya 50:5.

Finally, Rashi makes use of the midrash to explain the hapax legomenon boles. He writes, on Amos 7:14:
ובולס שקמים.
מחפש בשקמים לראו' איזה עתו לקוץ כדי להוסיף ענפים
ואיזה ראוי לקורות
שכן דרך שקוצצין בתולות השקמה
ובולס כמו ובולש
אלא שעמוס מגמגם בלשונו
שכך אמרו למה נקרא שמו עמוס שהיה עמוס בלשונו
ישראל קוראים אותו פסילוס כדאיתא בפסיקתא:
And a boles of sycamores:
Searching in the sycamores, to see which one's time it is to be cut in order to increase leaves
And which is appropriate for boards
For it is usual that they cut betulot shikma (young sycamores)
And boles is like (=) bolesh.
But because Amos had a speech impediment
For so they say {this is Rabbi Pinchas} why was his name called Amos? Because he was burdened (amus) in his tongue
the Jews called him psilos, as see in the Pesikta.
I doubt that the word boles was what influenced R Pinchas to make his statement, but Rashi makes good use of it.

Of course, Amos does not turn every shin into a samech, or else he would have said he was a boles sikmim, rather than shikmim. Perhaps it is an occasional slip.

One could also claim (except that we have the better etymology of balas = fig) that it is the phonological context that prompts this change. That is, the close proximity of thin shin in the next word, shikmim, sycamores, is what led to a weakening in the shin into a samech at the end of the previous word, bolesh. That is, the following phonological rule is applied:

/sh/ --> [s] / ___ # sh

which means that /sh/ becomes [s] in the context of being followed by a word boundary (#) and then a shin. Try saying bolesh shikmim a few times fast, with little pause between words, and see how the shin is weakened. Add a speech impediment to the mix, and it is even easier.

Why would R Pinchas give this explanation for Amos's name?

One possibility is how Amos handles the name Yitzchak in the same perek, 7.

In pasuk 9:
ט וְנָשַׁמּוּ בָּמוֹת יִשְׂחָק, וּמִקְדְּשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל יֶחֱרָבוּ; וְקַמְתִּי עַל-בֵּית יָרָבְעָם, בֶּחָרֶב. {ס} 9 And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. {S}
and in pasuk 16:

טז וְעַתָּה, שְׁמַע דְּבַר-ה: אַתָּה אֹמֵר, לֹא תִנָּבֵא עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלֹא תַטִּיף, עַל-בֵּית יִשְׂחָק. 16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest: Prophesy not against Israel, and preach not against the house of Isaac;
The second one is Amos' reiteration of Amatziah's command.

It is somewhat irregular to write Yischak instead of Yitzchak. and this might represent a difficulty in pronouncing the emphatic tzadi, falling instead into the non-emphatic sin. We do have one occurrence in Yirmiyahu 33:26:

כו גַּם-זֶרַע יַעֲקוֹב וְדָוִד עַבְדִּי אֶמְאַס, מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים, אֶל-זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם, יִשְׂחָק וְיַעֲקֹב: כִּי-אשוב (אָשִׁיב) אֶת-שְׁבוּתָם, וְרִחַמְתִּים. {פ 26 then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David My servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captivity to return, and will have compassion on them.' {P}
However, that is the only other time, so one might rely on the multiple instances in Amos, especially if there is other supporting data, such as his name.

Also, it is something of a tradition for prophets to have speech impediments (Moshe), or impure lips which need fixing (Yeshayahu), or are to young to speak well (Yirmiyahu), or are silent until commanded to speak (Yechezkel) . So it is not strange to have another prophet with difficulty speaking.

I would suggest that perhaps one might also read Amos' statement in Amos 3:7-8 as a defense against what R Pinchas says people were complaining.
ז כִּי לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, דָּבָר, כִּי אִם-גָּלָה סוֹדוֹ, אֶל-עֲבָדָיו הַנְּבִיאִים. 7 For the Lord GOD will do nothing, but He revealeth His counsel unto His servants the prophets.
ח אַרְיֵה שָׁאָג, מִי לֹא יִירָא; אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה דִּבֶּר, מִי לֹא יִנָּבֵא. 8 The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?
That is, if Hashem speaks, how can I but prophesy, even though I have difficulty doing so. True, this does not answer why Hashem would choose someone with a speech impediment in the first place, but perhaps R Pinchas was looking at this pasuk when he said his statement.

1 comment:

Bo said...

You might google coppicing and revise your translation re sycamore forestry practices.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin