Wednesday, December 30, 2009

For how long does Binyamin consume his prey?

Summary: A Chizkuni on Vaychi, where he parses a pasuk apparently against its trup, past the etnachta, as baboker yochal ad la'erev. With the same justification he offered in last week's parsha.

Post: Biblical poetry often enough behaves strangely, and Yaakov's blessings, or predictions, to his children is Biblical poetry. In the beginning of shishi of Vaychi, we see the following address to Binyamin {Bereishit 49}:

כז  בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב יִטְרָף, בַּבֹּקֶר יֹאכַל עַד; וְלָעֶרֶב, יְחַלֵּק שָׁלָל.
27 Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth; in the morning he devoureth the prey, and at even he divideth the spoil.'

As we see in the image above, the etnachta is on the word ad, stopping the phrase right there. And the vav of vela'erev indicates the beginning of a new idea. But what does the 'ad of yochal ad mean?

Rashi finds a match for ad as spoil, in an Aramaic cognate as well as in a pasuk in Hebrew.

in the morning he will devour plunder: Heb. עַד, an expression of plunder and spoil, translated into Aramaic as עִדָאָה. There is another example of its use in Hebrew:“Then plunder and booty (עַד שָׁלָל) were divided” (Isa. 33:23). He (Jacob) is referring to Saul, who arose at the beginning of the“morning (other editions: עַד is the blossoming) and sunrise” of Israel. — [From Esther Rabbah 10:13]

בבקר יאכל עד: לשון ביזה ושלל, המתורגם (במדבר לא יב) עדאה. ועוד יש לו דומה בלשון עברית (ישעיה לג כג) אז חולק עד שלל מרבה, ועל שאול הוא אומר שעמד בתחלת פריחתן וזריחתן של ישראל:
and in the evening he will divide the spoil: Even when the sun will set for Israel through Nebuchadnezzar, who will exile them to Babylon, he (Benjamin) will divide the spoil. Mordecai and Esther, who were of [the tribe of] Benjamin, will divide the spoils of Haman, as it is said: “Behold, the house of Haman I have given to Esther” (Esther 8:7) (Esther Rabbah 10:13). Onkelos, however, rendered it as regarding the “spoils” of the priests, i.e., the holy things of the Temple, [namely the priests’ share of the sacrifices].

ולערב יחלק שלל: אף משתשקע שמשן של ישראל על ידי נבוכדנצר שיגלם לבבל, יחלק שלל. מרדכי ואסתר שהם מבנימין יחלקו את שלל המן, שנאמר (אסתר ח ז) הנה בית המן נתתי לאסתר. ואונקלוס תרגם על שלל הכהנים בקדשי המקדש:

This is quite nice, as it provides us with the Biblical parallelism we expect, by matching up with shalal. And if the language is arcane, so be it. We should expect such arcane words in Biblical poetry.

Ibn Ezra, as well, declares that the word ad means shalal. Thus,

מט, כז]
בנימין -
דמהו לזאב כי גבור היה. והאות אנשי הגבעה.

עד -
תרגום שלל.
וכן אז חלק עד שלל.
ליום קומי לעד.
בגד עדים.

ולערב יחלק -
הטרף ששלל לבניו וישועה, אמר כי זה רמז לשאול שנצח את עמלק.

וטעם בבוקר - בתחלת המלכות

ולערב -
בגלותא על דבר מרדכי. וזהו דרך דרש ודעת המתרגם ארמית ידוע.

Radak as well claims it is shalal:

אבל בנימין בבקר ובערב יאכל עד אויביו ויחלק שללם, ועד כמו שלל, תרגום סלל עדאה

So too R' Yosef Bechor Shor.

׳״עד״ לשון שלל, ביזה
עדאה ״בלשון ארמי.

And Shadal as well, that ad means shalal, though with an interesting explanation of the entire idea:

כז ] זאב יטרף : זאב אשר יטרף, זאב הטורף. בבקר יאכל עד : נאמר על הזאב, והטעם שהוא טורף ואוכל גם בבוקר וגם בערב, כי מפני שרוב יציאת הזאב היא בערב (זאבי ערב, חבקוק א' ח', וצפניה ג' ג') וכשהוא טורף בערב איננו מניח כלום לבוקר (כמו שפירשו האחרונים מליצת לא גרמו לבקר שבצפניה ג' ג') אמר, כי בנימין יהיה כזאב האוכל בבוקר מה שטרף בלילה, שלרוב הטרף אשר יטרף יישאר לו ממנו לבוקר, ואח"כ טורף גם ביום, ולערב הוא מחלק לגוריו ולחבריו מה שטרף ביום. עד : שלל, כמו אז חלק עד שלל מרבה (ישעיה ל"ג כ"ג) וכן אבד חשבון עד דיבון (במדבר כ"א ל' ), דיבון היתה לבז. יחלק שלל: אמרו כי כן דרך הזאבים לצאת בחבורה ולחלק טרפה ביניהם וכל זה אמנם ברכה לשבט בנימין שיהיה גבור ותקיף, וכן היה, כמו שראינו בשופטים כ'.
in the morning he eats spoils: this is said upon the wolf, and its import is that he tears up and eats both in the morning and the evening. And this is because most of the goings out of the wolf is in the evening (ze'eivei erev, in Chabakuk 1:8 and Tzefania 3:3) and when he tears up {prey in general} at night, he does not leave anything for morning (as the Acharonim explained the turn of phrase "lo garmu laboker" in Tzefania 3:3); it says that {uniquely} Binyamin will be like a wolf who {does} eat in morning that which he tears up at night, for because of the large amount of prey which he tears, he has left over for himself of it in the morning, and after this he tears up {prey} also in the day, and at night he divides to his whelps and to his friends that which he tore up in the day. 'ad: is shalal, etc.

Chizkuni, however, explains 'ad as "until". He writes:

זאב יטרף : יטרוף רוב בהמות
כל כך שבכל בקר תהא אכילתו מספקתו עד לערב
שיחלק בו משלל טרפו לגוריו ומשל הוא־ וי״ו דולערב
יתירה היא וכמוה רבות ואין להשיג מן האתנחתא
שבעד כמו שפי׳ בפרשת ויגש גבי במיטב הארץ:

a wolf that tears up: He tears up so many animals that every morning, his food suffices for him until the evening, such that {?} he divides up the spoils of his prey to his whelps. And it is an allegory. The vav of    וְלָעֶרֶב  is extraneous, and there are many like it. And one cannot object from the etnachta in the word 'ad, as I explained in parashat Vayigash, regarding bemeitav ha`aretz.

I discussed this bemeitav haaretz in Vayigash once or twice already. A pasuk in Shirat Devorah, in Chizkuni's opinion, must be parsed against the trup, reading past an etnachta, in order to make any sense. As far as I can make out, he extrapolates from there to other instances that one can read past an etnachta, and that this does not violate the parsing provided by the trup. I have stronger reservations against his application to the pasuk in Vayigash, because Shirat Devorah is Biblical poetry. That objection falls away here in parshat Vaychi, because Yaakov's blessings are also Biblical poetry.

Chizkuni's interpretation here is rather novel and noteworthy. And it pays to consider all available possibilities of interpretation and parse, in order to best select the correct one. But ultimately, we want to discover the intent of Hashem, and of Yaakov Avinu. And ultimately, I believe that Rashi and the many other meforshim are correct, while Chizkuni is incorrect.

Yes, it is true that 'ad to mean "spoils" is irregular. But this is a feature, not a bug. Indeed, it is a regular feature of Biblical poetry to use arcane words, sometimes hapax legomena, sometimes ones we see once or twice elsewhere in Tanach. So there is nothing off-putting about interpreting 'ad as "spoils".

More than that, a regular feature of Biblical poetry is parallelism. And this parallelism manifests itself in language, ideas, and syntax. Looking at the end of the pasuk:
בַּבֹּקֶר יֹאכַל עַד; וְלָעֶרֶב, יְחַלֵּק שָׁלָל
if we assume that 'ad is a synonym for shalal -- as we have evidence from other pesukim -- then the first part matches up to the second part. Furthermore, baboker is a perfect contrast to ve-la-erev. And the verb in the middle differs, but has similar meaning. And there is syntactic parallelism, as well as semantic parallelism.

While Chizkuni's treatment of 'ad allows it to have a "simpler", more common meaning, there is little motivation for this in the context of Biblical poetry. And not only does baboker ad la'erev have the slight irregularity of an extraneous vav (not necessarily a problem, again, since this is Biblical poetry), and not only does it run right over the trup, but worst of all, it spoils the nice syntactic parallelism and semantic parallelism.

As an aside, I have a list, culled from Rashi, of extraneous vavs. And I am not sure that this really fits the pattern, at least that which I saw from the first few examples, which is that it is an irregularity which appears in the beginning of a subordinate clause. Even though it need not be there, one can see how the vav serves to introduce this new sub-idea. (Go through them one by one to see what I mean.) But here, syntactically, it would be right smack in the middle of a clause! I disagree with this running roughshod over the rules of dikduk and trup, by pointing to a few explainable counterexamples and extrapolating that etnachta doesn't matter and a leading vav doesn't matter.


YAS said...

"Biblical poetry often enough behaves strangely"

No, you often behave strangely, as did Biblical poets. Literature doesn't behave.

joshwaxman said...

no. i behave *weirdly*, not strangely.

but here you go:

And here are first-nun verbs behaving strangely:

and here are modal verbs behaving strangely:

and here are Italian past participles behaving strangely:

and here is a Swedish preposition behaving strangely:

and here is a departicular deictic particle *NOT* behaving too strangely:

and so on and so forth. if parts of speech can behave strangely, so can literature.

but isn't it strange behavior to nitpick in this manner?


kol tuv,


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