Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Minchas Shai on Hashem or Angels as an Etymology for Bet El

Summary: I considered this question, on parashat Vayishlach, last week at length. But I was thinking from the perspective of Targumim and girsology. This from a masoretic perspective, courtesy of Minchat Shai.

PostIn parashat Vayishlach, we read the following pasuk, and Rashi:

7. He built there an altar, and he called the place El Beth el, for there God had been revealed to him when he fled from before his brother Esau.ז. וַיִּבֶן שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ וַיִּקְרָא לַמָּקוֹם אֵל בֵּית אֵל כִּי שָׁם נִגְלוּ אֵלָיו הָאֱ־לֹהִים בְּבָרְחוֹ מִפְּנֵי אָחִיו:
The difficulty is that niglu is plural while HaElohim, if we are monotheists, is presumably singular. There are three possibilities one might consider:

  1. HaElohim is plural and refers to a number of deities. This narrative was adapted from an original in which many gods revealed themselves to Yaakov. This is possibly the position of (some of the) the apikorsim.
  2. HaElohim is plural and profane. It refers to angels, of malachei haElokim, just as bnei Elohim might refer to angels. After all, Yaakov did see angels ascending and descending the ladder. This is the position found certainly in Targum Pseudo-Yonatan, but possibly also in Onkelos.
  3. HaElokim is singular and holy. It refers to Hashem, and the plurality of the noun and the associated verb niglu is only one of formality. Certain words connoting mastery or ownership take the form of the plural (e.g. baalav), sort of like the royal we in English. This is the position of Rashi, Chazal, Onkelos, and so on.

Whether the name is holy or profane matters as a matter of scribal intent -- a sofer is supposed to have special intent when writing Hashem's name, and so it is a matter of masoret.

Minchas Shai comments on this issue:

He asserts that the Targumim translate it as malachaya daHashem. This is not actually accurate. Read my previous post on the matter. Targum Pseudo-Yonatan does, as far as I can tell. But there are variant texts. Thus, the Teimani version of Onkelos renders this as Hashem, rather than as Hashem's angels. And Shadal explains why he thinks this is correct. And the Peshitta underwent a similar divergence of translation. See inside.

So Minchas Shai is working from the text of Onkelos before him, and so believes that all the Targumim are in agreement, that it means angels. Minchas Shai adds that many meforshim explain it this way.

Yet, he notes two counterpoints. One is Rashi, who explains that it is option (3) above:

had been revealed to him: Heb. נִגְלוּ, the plural form. In many places, the noun referring to godliness or mastership appears in the plural form, like“Joseph’s master (אִדוֹנֵי יוֹסֵף)” (Gen. 39:20),“if its owner (בְּעָלָיו) is with him” (Exod. 22:14), and it does not say בַּעִלוֹ. Likewise, אֱלָהוּת (godliness), an expression of judgment and lordship, is mentioned in the plural form, but none of the other names [of the Deity] are found in the plural form. — [from Sanh. 38b]
נגלו אליו הא-להים: במקומות הרבה יש שם אלהות ואדנות בלשון רבים, כמו (להלן לט כ) א-דני יוסף, (שמות כב יד) אם בעליו עמו, ולא נאמר בעלו, וכן אלהות שהוא לשון שופט ומרות נזכר בלשון רבים, אבל אחד מכל שאר השמות לא תמצא בלשון רבים:

The other is that Rashi's source, in Sanhedrin 38b:
R. Johanan sad: In all the passages which the Minim have taken [as grounds] for their heresy,36  their refutation is found near at hand. Thus: Let us make man in our image,37  — And God created [sing.] man in His own image;38  Come, let us go down and there confound their language,39  — And the Lord came down [sing.] to see the city and the tower;40  Because there were revealed [plur.] to him God,41  — Unto God who answereth [sing.] me in the day of my distress;42  For what great nation is there that hath God so nigh [plur.] unto it, as the Lord our God is [unto us] whensoever we call upon Him [sing.];43  And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, [like] Israel, whom God went [plur.] to redeem for a people unto himself [sing.],44  Till thrones were placed and one that was ancient did sit.45
The question from pasuk 7 and and the answer from pasuk 3 are precisely what Shadal brings as evidence:

ג  וְנָקוּמָה וְנַעֲלֶה, בֵּית-אֵל; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה-שָּׁם מִזְבֵּחַ, לָאֵל הָעֹנֶה אֹתִי בְּיוֹם צָרָתִי, וַיְהִי עִמָּדִי, בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הָלָכְתִּי.3 and let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.'


ז  וַיִּבֶן שָׁם, מִזְבֵּחַ, וַיִּקְרָא לַמָּקוֹם, אֵל בֵּית-אֵל:  כִּי שָׁם, נִגְלוּ אֵלָיו הָאֱלֹהִים, בְּבָרְחוֹ, מִפְּנֵי אָחִיו.7 And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el, because there God was revealed unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

Since these pesukim work in concert, and in pasuk 3 Hashem is clearly singular, we have our answer.

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