Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gra's famous peshat on Vayigash

Summary: The Vilna Gaon has a famous devar Torah interpreting the opening trup on Vayigash. Considering the idea of it, and whether it is compelling.

Post: There is an extremely famous diyuk of the opening trup of Vayigash. I already discussed it several years ago. But here, I revisit it. We will get to see it inside, in Kol Eliyahu, and perhaps explore whether, and why, it is compelling.

The parsha opens with the pasuk to the right, with the trup as written. The trup is thus kadma veazla revii zarka munach segol.

And the Vilna Gaon writes on this, on Kol Eliyahu, what is once again pictured  to the right.

That is, that "the trup on these beginning words can be explained as follows. Earlier, in parshat Miketz {43:9}, it is written that Yehuda said to Yaakov his father that "If I don't bring him to you, and set him before you, I will bear the blame to you forever." And it is stated in the midrash (brought down in Rashi there), "and I will bear the blame to you all the days -- these are in the world to come." And this is what is hinted at in these musical notes. Kadma veAzla revii. That is to say, why did the fourth one of the sons, who is Yehuda (for the order of the sons was Reuven Shimon Levi Yehuda), get up and go before Yosef. And it would have been really proper for Reuven to bear the heavier side of the beam {=take responsibility} on behalf on Binyamin, for he was the firstborn, and not Yehuda, who was the fourth to the sons. And it explains that it was because he zarka munach segol. That is to say, that he threw himself away from rest amongst the am segulah, for he separated himself from olam haba, if he didn't bring him to his father, as mentioned above. Therefore, he bore the heavier side of the beam, and not another."

This is a very creative derash, and may well have midrashic value to it. But if it was not indeed the intent of Chazal, or the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, or Moshe Rabbenu, but is the innovation of the Gra, then it is useful to know, both in terms of the derasha itself, and in terms of whether we should extrapolate to the general case, and employ his methodology to discover hidden messages encoded in the trup. We would not want to establish an encompassing "pnimiyus" approach to trup, believing it to be Chazal's intent, where it is not.

A number of years ago, I pointed out one "problem" with the interpretation, in that the trup is due on purely mechanical grounds. But briefly here, I will point out a few "problems":

  1. Revii does not really mean "the fourth". It probably should be pronounced revia' with a patach ganuv leading into the final letter ayin. And this Aramaic word is the cognate of the Hebrew word ravitz, to lie down, with the Hebrew-Aramaic tzadi-ayin switchoff. Indeed, when Masoretes gave it a name in Hebrew, they called it meyushav. If so, it would be a pun based on a homonym, for revii does not really mean the fourth.

    Of course, both languages existed back then, so it is possible that they intended the pun.

  2. It seems, according to Wickes, that this was not the original name for many of these trup symbols. For example, rather than kadma veAzla, the proper name for kadma is azla and the proper name for azla is geresh. And segolta is a later name, but probably the earlier name was Sh'vi. And while eventually munach, short for shofar munach, came to refer to many different symbols with this identical orthography, this was not originally designated a shofar munach, but rather a shofar illuy. So his derasha is based on the eventual names that popularly came into being.

    Of course, these could have been marked with ruach hakodesh, and thus foreknowledge of the eventual names for these trup symbols. But this already makes it more farfetched.

  3. And finally, there are reasons of syntax which would produce this sequence of trup symbols on purely mechanical grounds. As I discussed in my much earlier post, what determines the trup is the symbol at the end of the phrase being subdivided in two, combined with the number of words until the end of the phrase. And nine or more words until the end gives us a segolta instead of a zakef, and that which divides that is revii, and zarka. See inside Wickes (or else my earlier post) for a detailed explanation. And another parallel syntactic structure elsewhere in Tanach would yield identical trup.

    Of course, we could claim that the particular word choice and sentence construction was done in order to arrive at this trup.

    But this is already quite farfetched, especially when we combine this with the other two significant "problems". Rather, I would note that there are quite a number of pesukim, and each pasuk has trup. And we have the Gra, a creative genius, and other creative geniuses poring over these texts searching for hidden meaning. It stands to reason that purely due to random chance, in one or five of those 23000 psukim in Tanach, that it would be possible for a creative person to find a link between the semantic content of the verse and the ascribed semantic content of the trup. Especially if we are allowed to bring in broader midrashic ideas from other parshiyot, such as Miketz. Show me a link in a statistically significant selection of these pesukim, and in places where the trup is irregular, and then I would grant it greater credence.

    Therefore, I would surmise that while it was remarkable clever and creative to spot and form this connection, it is likely not "true" in the sense of being the intended meaning of the Anshei Knesset Hagdolah, or whoever established the trup
Indeed, do we derive anything from this diyuk that we could not already surmise from the explicit pesukim and existing midrashim? We don't need this interpretation in order to understand Yehuda's motivations. He says it in the pasuk explicitly, that he had made himself a guarantor for Binyamin's safety! And the terms of this surety he offered were laid out in the midrash in Miketz. The Vilna Gaon is not really deducing new facts, but fitting the trup into already-known facts.

I don't know that any brother, be it Yehuda of Reuven, would be required to take responsibility and offer himself up in Binyamin's place. Especially if they thought Binyamin had indeed stolen the gevia, but perhaps even not in that situation. However, this does put some good focus on the issue of Yehuda vs. Reuven's roles. Even back when the brothers were planning to kill Yosef, both Reuven and Yehuda took part. And a bit earlier, at the end of Miketz, it was Reuven who chastised them about their actions against Yosef. And it was not just Yehuda who made this promise to Yaakov. See what Reuven said:

לז  וַיֹּאמֶר רְאוּבֵן, אֶל-אָבִיו לֵאמֹר, אֶת-שְׁנֵי בָנַי תָּמִית, אִם-לֹא אֲבִיאֶנּוּ אֵלֶיךָ; תְּנָה אֹתוֹ עַל-יָדִי, וַאֲנִי אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ אֵלֶיךָ.37 And Reuben spoke unto his father, saying: 'Thou shalt slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee; deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him back to thee.'

As such, it is an extremely good question how come in each place it is Yehuda or Reuven acting. Reuven had his children's welfare to think of, while Yehuda had his own (unless of course Yaakov did not accept Reuven offer, as we see in the next pasuk, but did of Yehuda's offer). And grappling with this question is good peshat and good derash.


Anonymous said...

Geez. Talk about Talmudic. It's a drasha for heaven's sake! Just take it for what it is, a cute vort that ties in the trup to the words.
Re: Revi'i: I think you have the etymology backwards. Revi'i is a Hebrew word for four(th), which also is used in Hebrew to denote crouching (on all fours) as we find in the Torah regarding cross-breeding two animals and sexual relations with an animal. The Aramaic word is just a translation of that (I don't think Ravatz has anything to do with it). So indeed, the Trup, the names of which are in Aramaic, is called Revia, since it rests on top of the letter...but it's certainly not that farfetched (even given your supreme nitpickiness) to use the Trup Revia AS A DRASHA in it's original form, meaning fourth.

joshwaxman said...

"cute vort"
yes, and as a cute vort i have no problem with it. i am not so certain that that is how the *Gra* intended it, though. (he makes other trup-based interpretations, apparently.) and how *some* people might run with it, to speak about the deep meaning of the trup. here, Josh M. of haProzdor, certainly takes it seriously. And I've seen others take this seriously. but yes, as a cute vort, as it is often repeated, there is nothing wrong with it, and it is great fun.

certainly there are many words with the tzadi-ayin switchoff, such as צאן-עאן, רצה-רעה, ארץ-ארע, עץ-אע, and many others. and see shemot 23:5, where כִּי-תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ, רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ is translated in Onkelos as אֲרֵי תִּחְזֵי חֲמָרָא דְּסָנְאָךְ, רְבִיעַ תְּחוֹת טֻעְנֵיהּ.

meanwhile, Onkelos does not use the same word in Aramaic as a simple cognate to translate leRivah. see Kedoshim, in Vayikra 20:16, where וְאִשָּׁה, אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרַב אֶל-כָּל-בְּהֵמָה לְרִבְעָה אֹתָהּ is translated as וְאִתְּתָא, דְּתִקְרַב לְוָת כָּל בְּעִירָא לְמִשְׁלַט בַּהּ.

despite this, i certainly agree it means rest. after all, when the masoretes refer to the Revia (rather than revii, which a few do on occasion), that is the term in Aramaic. But in Hebrew it is the meyushav. But the reason for calling it that -- I am not convinced that it is because it "rests" on top of the letter. Too many other cantillation signs have similar names. Etnachta also means rest. Munach could mean rest. Sharei (=Segolta). Yetiv.

but there may indeed be dispute whether the name comes from its position or its melody. though position is very kvetch-able. for example, many have claimed that shofar munach is called that for its position rests *below* the word. yet now revii is called that because it rests *above* the word. I suppose we could call other restive words that for resting to the left side or the right side. ;) Wickes, however, maintains that it is due to the character of the melody.

kol tuv,

Daniel Pinner said...

A Chiddush of my own based on the Trop:

The Ba’al ha-Turim notes that the phrase “Kumu tze’u” (“Arise, get out…”), occurs twice in the Tanakh: once when Lot told his sons-in-law to leave Sodom, and 401years later when Pharaoh demanded that Moshe and Aharon and all the Jews leave Egypt. Just as Lot’s sons-in-law refused to leave Sodom and therefore perished there together with all the sinners, so too, says the Ba’al ha-Turim, “the Jews were divided into groups, and there were those among them who did not want to leave, and they died in the three days of darkness” (commentary to Genesis 19:14).

There is a closer connexion than just the repetition of the two words “kumu tze’u”. In both cases, the phrase “kumu tze’u” is preceded by the word “va-yomer” (“he said”); both times there is a dagesh in the tzaddi, even though there is no grammatical reason for this dagesh, the only two cases in the entire Torah where a tzaddi has an unwarranted dagesh; and in both cases, the trop is identical for the entire phrase.

The trop is pashta, mah’pach, pashta, munach, zakef-katan, which connote: the overturning spread forth, the respite of the small upright one spread forth. In the case of Lot and his sons-in-law, the overturning spread forth over the vast conurbation of Sodom and Gomorrah, referred to as mah’peichat S’dom va-Amorah (Deuteronomy 29:22, Jeremiah 49:18); the small upright family – Lot and his two surviving daughters – fled to the hills where they found their respite.

And 401 years later, the overturning spread forth over the whole of Egypt, and the remnants of Israel – one-fifth, or one-fiftieth, or one-five-hundredth of the original nation, the happy few survivors of the Plague of Darkness – left upright to find in the wilderness their respite from slavery.

(Entire D'var Torah at )


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