Thursday, June 24, 2010

Petorah as an Aramaism

Summary: Rashi's midrashic explanation of Petora, and Aramaisms in general in parashat Balak.

Post: Balak sends for Bilaam, to Petor:

5. He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people, to call for him, saying, "A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the "eye" of the land, and they are stationed opposite me.ה. וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹ לִקְרֹא לוֹ לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמֻּלִי:
As Rashi explains Petor:

to Pethor: Heb. פְּתוֹרָה, like this money changer, to whom everyone rushes coins, so did all the kings rush their letters to him [asking him for advice]. [In Aramaic, פְּתוֹרָא means table, denoting the counter over which currency transactions take place. This is synonymous with the Hebrew שֻׁלְחָן, table.Thus, a money changer is שֻלְחָנִי]. According to the simple meaning of the verse, it [Pethor] is a place-name. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 4, Num. Rabbah 20:7]פתורה: כשולחני הזה שהכל מריצין לו מעות, כך כל המלכים מריצין לו אגרותיהם. ולפי פשוטו של מקרא כך שם המקום:

There are presumably various reasons for interpreting "Petora" in this way, due to the slightly unusual kametz heh ending to indicate "to". But one possible input into the midrash is that Bilaam is located in Aram, and thus may use Aramaisms, and Aramaisms may be used in describing him and his actions.

Thus, for example, when Bilaam goes with his servants, the pasuk states  וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ. But regarding the identical situation involving Avraham, the pasuk stated אתו. Minchas Shai claims that the difference in word choice is that עמו is more of an Aramaism.

So too, throughout the prophetic blessings, some scholars say:

All of this could well have influenced Chazal to see פתורה in an Aramaic light as well.

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