Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Plethora of Pehs

A short while back, I asked what pasuk in Pinchas has the letter peh in every word, the possible significance, and whether this phenomenon occurs elsewhere. In the comment section, רשקולניקוב gave some good answers, noting many (all?) places in Tanach where various letters occur in every word in the pasuk. See there.

The particular pasuk presenting plenty of pehs was Bemidbar 26:39:
לט לִשְׁפוּפָם, מִשְׁפַּחַת הַשּׁוּפָמִי; לְחוּפָם, מִשְׁפַּחַת הַחוּפָמִי.39 of Shephupham, the family of the Shuphamites; of Hupham, the family of the Huphamites.
I wonder whether the occurrence of the same letter is statistically significant. Regardless, here it is caused by a simple phenomenon. There are only three words in the pasuk. One is mishpachat which has a peh, and two are names and their derivatives. Elsewhere we see patterns in naming kids, such as Muppim and Chuppim; and Seva, Savta, and Savtecha. That Shufami and Chufami are similar names, and thus share similar letters, is not impressive. And since mishpachat should occur with names, we get this result.

There is also a mem in every word of this pasuk.

Baal Haturim takes note of this phenomenon and explains that, as these are the families of Binyamin, it is a reference to that fact that he had a peh, a mouth, but did not tell on his brothers about the sale of Yosef. An interesting idea.

But I doubt he came up with this idea just from the prevalence of peh. I claim that quite often that Baal Haturim takes existing ideas already derived by midrashic means and uses gematriot and other textual features to hint at those. But these innovations from Baal Haturim are often not the primary source for this. Even if it is not immediately obvious. Maybe this is the source, but maybe not.

In this instance, we see on the choshen that the last precious stone on the bottom row was the Yashphei. From Shemot 28:20:
כ וְהַטּוּר, הָרְבִיעִי--תַּרְשִׁישׁ וְשֹׁהַם, וְיָשְׁפֵה; מְשֻׁבָּצִים זָהָב יִהְיוּ, בְּמִלּוּאֹתָם.20 and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be inclosed in gold in their settings.

This is darshened as Yesh Peh, in a midrash cited by Rabbenu Bachya:
"Binyamin had many contradictory thoughts about the sale of Yosef by his brothers, all of which are reflected in the different colors of the jasper. The reason the gemstone was assigned to the tribe of Binyamin had to do with the founder of that tribe not being able to decide if to tell his father that Yosef was most likely alive, or to keep silent as he could not foresee how Yaakov would react to such information. In the end he controlled himself, stopped himself, and di not reveal what he knw. The yashfeh may be understood as two words, i.e. `yesh peh', "he has a mouth," or words to that effect. The name of that stone alludes to the fact that Binyamin deserved credit for keeping silent about what he knew his brothers had done to his older brother Yosef." (Rabbeinu Bachya - Shemot 28:15)
But there is also in Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim:
לא רגל על לשונו זה בנימין שידע מכירת יוסף ולא גלה לאביו.

Baal Haturim (above) also noted how Shephupham became the family of HaShuphami, where the first pheh appears to drop out. He explains this as a hint that Binyamin died as a result of the Serpent {which brought death into the world, but not because of his own sin}, for it is stated {in Bereishit 3, regarding the punishment of the snake}:
טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ: הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב. {ס}15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.' {S}
and so we are to take the modified word shufam as a reference to yeshufecha rosh, or perhaps better, to the end of the pasuk, which has the snake bruising the heel.

When does Baal Haturim know this factoid from? Well, it is mentioned in Shabbat 55b:
An objection is raised: Four died through the serpent's machinations, viz., Benjamin the son of Jacob, Amram the father of Moses, Jesse the father of David, and Caleb the son of David. Now, all are known by tradition, save Jesse the father of David, in whose case the Writ gives an explicit intimation. For it is written, And Absalom set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Ithra the Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother. Now, was she the daughter of Nahash? Surely she was the daughter of Jesse, for it is written, and their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail? Hence it must mean, the daughter of one who died through the machinations of the nahash [serpent].
Soncino has a snarky footnote here, "It may be observed that the Talmud calls this an explicit intimation." But I would point out that surely Baal Haturim's derivation could also be a candidate for "explicit intimation." Perhaps it is further removed. Still, the gemara considers it a tradition rather than derivation. And Baal Haturim finds a hint to support this tradition.

I would like to add an explanation for the disappearance of the pheh on a peshat level. First, we have to realize that we pronounce a pheh differently than in days of old. We pronounce a pheh as a labiodental fricative (labiodental, lips/teeth, with our upper teeth on the bottom lip -- try it and see). But initially, a pheh was a bilabial fricative (with both lips, just like by a peh). It is like whistling but with your lips closer together.

The disappearance of this first pheh might be readily explainable as a phonological phenomenon. The sound immediately after it is the shuruk, an "oo" sounds. Both the vav (w) and the pheh (f) are labials. And so it is very easy to see how the pheh, especially the pheh mentioned above, could be assimilated into the vowel. Try it a few times fast to convince yourself, if you wish, of how that first pheh almost disappears.


Anonymous said...

To Make it a more Seasonal Post-There is somthing like this in Kinnos Where it goes in order od the Aleph Beis but once The Peh comes before the Ayin Because the Meraglim spoke with there Peh what they did not see with the Ayin

Anonymous said...

"Binyamin had many contradictory thoughts about the sale of Yosef by his brothers, all of which are reflected in the different colors of the jasper."

How are the contradictory thoughts, about the sale of his sibling, reflected in the different colors of the jasper ?
Which particular colors and which particular contradictory thoughts about the sale of said sibling was he harboring.
And are those contradictory thoughts reflected in the speckled patterns too ?

"The reason the gemstone was assigned to the tribe of Binyamin had to do with the founder of that tribe not being able to decide if to tell his father that Yosef was most likely alive, or to keep silent..."

I'm not following this piece.
Who chose the gemstones.
Was the jasper gemstone chosen, due to the name of the stone and the fact that he had knowledgeable opinions but kept his mouth shut (in a good way) or cuz the colors jasper is generally available in,purportedly reflected the contradictory thoughts Binyamin harbored about the actual sale?

Wikipedia spells the semitic version with an additional "e" "yashepheh,"

would that be referring to having e-words or e-mouthing in 2009 ;-)

I'm not suggesting that knowing when to shut up and when to shout consistently and continuously, is not the single most important understanding to have a handle on in a given argument and situation.

jaded topaz

רשקולניקוב said...

Not all, but most. I skipped some of the psukim with the letter vav and short psukim with less than 5-6 words.


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