Thursday, March 24, 2011

The mercha kfula in parshas Shmini

Summary: How shall we account for it?

Post: In the midst of parashat Shemini, in Vayikra 10:1, we encounter a mercha kefula, a doubled mercha. Thus, underlined in red:

"a foreign fire which [He] did NOT command them." This appears to be two merchas placed next to one another. How do we account for this?

To develop a better theory of why the mercha kefula appears, it would be a good idea to consider all of them at once. I don't have any searching software to tell me where it occurs through Nach, but Wikipedia states that occurs five times in the Torah:
Mercha-kefulah: Kefulah means "double", because it looks like two merchas together. There are only five in the whole Torah: Gen. 27:25, Ex. 5:15, Lev. 10:1, Num. 14:3, Num. 32:42.
We might as well examine all of these at once. In Bereishit 27:35, in parashat Toledot, we read:

In parashat Shemot, in Shemot 5:15,

In Bemidbar 14:3, in Shelach, in this Chumash, it is a regular tevir,
but in our Mikraos Gedolos (and at mechon-mamre):
Perhaps the tevir was just a typographical error.

Finally, in the final pasuk of Matos, in Bemidbar 32:42:

A few things jump out at me from an examination of these five examples:

1) In three of them, it was on the word lo` (=no), low (=to him), and la (=it). In a fourth, the word halo preceded it. The fifth does not fit this pattern in an obvious manner. That the lah is missing the dagesh might be a hint to what is sparking the mercha kefulah.

2) It appears in all five cases as either a conjunctive or disjunctive trup (we are not sure which) prior to the tipcha. In each case, it is in the second half of the verse, before a silluq rather than before an etnachta. In each of these five cases, it is preceded by a darga, which is the servus of the tevir. In each case, we would ideally have disjunctive trup supporting the terminal tipcha in this position, given the phrase length.

3) It has a feature of a conjunctive accent, in that in the example in Shemot, there is no dagesh kal in the word cho which follows.

I wonder if it is being used to add extra stress to a normal mercha, for purpose of disambiguation of the los, or as a relaxation of the disjunctive trup tevir, which it also resembles. That is, mid-way between mercha and tevir.

Here is what Mikneh Avraham has to say about this trup:

"Trein chutrin {=two rods} is called this for their form is two rods below the word, this beside that, from right to left. And their melody is close to the melody of the tevir, but not with such force, shaking and breaking. And they are separated as well from the tevir because their melody is adjoined to that which follows it, as in {the one in Shemot I referred to above, ponit 3}, lama taaseh cho la'avadecha {J: the dagesh in the text is a typo}, while the tevir is not adjoined."

Sounds right to me.

Here is William Wickes on this strange trup, mercha kefulah:

It seems from his language that he regards it as just a mercha, and it is others who (perhaps incorrectly) regard it as an impoverished tevir.

I think the true purpose might well be along the lines of what I indicated above, but I don't think we have any way of determining. In the meantime, such a "weird" and rare trup naturally calls out for derash. This is fine, in my opinion, though we should keep in mind that it is indeed likely derash rather than peshat.

Here is an interesting one from 2009, from YK:
In the coming week's Parsha, Shemini, I saw a very rare cantillation sign in the passage that speaks about Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon who died while doing work in the Mishkan. The Torah explains that they brought an....:
The rare "trop" below the word "Lo" is called Mercha Kefula or, alternatively, "Trei Ta'amei". Following the methodology of the Gaon, if we take the word "Trei Taamei" literary it means "Two Reasons" in Aramaic (I don't know the exact translation of the other name, Mercha Kefula, but Kefula also means two). The Talmud, mentioned by Rashi in this passage, says that there are two reasons why Nadav and Avihu died - either because they entered the Mishkan drunk or because they said an Halacha in front of Moshe, two actions that cause a death penalty. So here again, the trop gave us a hint about this passage.
One can readily debunk this, though I appreciate the effort and creativity involved. First, I am not sure it is really called Trei Ta'amei. Isn't that where you have two separate trup symbols on the same verse? This is a single trup symbol, I would say, just as zakef gadol is a single trup symbol, even though it involves three orthographic signs, namely a vertical line and two dots. The alternate name is, rather, trei chutrin, meaning 'two rods' or 'two strokes'.

{Update: As YK points out in the comment section below, the Teimanim indeed refer to the mercha kefula as trei taamei.}

Perhaps we can make a colorful alternate peshat based on choter. Consider how it is used in Yeshaya 11:1, Veyatza choter migeza Yishai. Maybe we can make it refer to Nadav and Avihu themselves... Rashi does list two reasons Nadav and Avihu died. From Vayikra 10:2:

2. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.ב. וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
ותצא אש: רבי אליעזר אומר לא מתו בני אהרן אלא על ידי שהורו הלכה בפני משה רבן. רבי ישמעאל אומר שתויי יין נכנסו למקדש, תדע שאחר מיתתן הזהיר הנותרים שלא יכנסו שתויי יין למקדש. משל למלך, שהיה לו בן בית וכו', כדאיתא בויקרא רבה:

But this is a machlokes. And other midrashic suggest other reasons, more than these two. Thus:
In the Midrash (see Vayikra Rabba, 20:6-10, Sanhedrin 52a), however, we unexpectedly find a long list of purported causes for the death of Aharon's children. Even more confusing is that many of the reasons listed in the Midrash seem to be entirely unrelated to the verse's explicit description of their sin! Aside from Rashi's comment (that they either made a halachic decision on their own, or entered the Mishkan in a drunken state) we are also told that Nadav and Avihu refused to marry and bear children. Furthermore, they were heard to comment, "When will these old men [= Moshe and Aharon ] pass on, so that we may be the new leaders of the nation!" Another Midrash tells us that they sinned by entering the Mishkan without donning a Me'il (the high-priestly robe) -- an altogether cryptic suggestion considering that they were not high-priests.
Another attempt is here, in Birkas Avraham:

His suggestion is that the mercha kefula is to note two "NO"s. How so? He leads off with the Baal HaTurim, who writes that the explanation of this pasuk, of אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם, is "which 'NO' He commanded them." We can see the Baal HaTurim here.

Thus, he is stressing that this sort of phrase does not mean something neutral, that there was neither a positive nor negative command. Rather, it means that they had been negatively commanded regarding this. He compares it to worshiping "all the host of heaven which I have not commanded."

Birkas Avraham then says that this is what the trup of mercha kefulah hints at on the word lo, that is to say, that they were not commanded to bring, and more than that, they were even commanded to NOT bring a foreign fire. And he then saw that in sefer Pardes Yosef he says the like, see inside.

And he then saw in Shu"t Binyan Shlomo (to Rav Shlomo Hakohen of Vilna), in his novella on the Torah in the beginning of the sefer, that he explains the trup of mercha kefula with an introduction of the words of his brother, Rabbi Betzalel, za"l, and concludes his words that Nadav and Avihu violated two transgressions (lavin), upon the transgression of "do not drink yayin and shechar", and upon the transgression of "do not come at all times to the Holy", for it is known that the melody of mercha kefula sounds like it is written two times lo, to hint that they transgressed upon two commands, see inside.

Before proceeding further, I would just note that the same objections can apply as I gave above. Namely, why restrict to just those two? There are plenty of other sins than two elaborated upon in the midrash! And I am not convinced that this really accords with Baal HaTurim, either. He just wants to reorder the words in the pasuk.

We might as well consider these two sources he mentions. First, Pardes Yosef:

"Which I did not command, and in Baal HaTurim, the command of NO He commanded them, and R' Y. Bezinsky of Radom wrote to me a proof from the mercha kefula on the word lo. Howbeit, in Devarim (17:3) {Josh: which is Baal HaTurim's prooftext to this meaning}, lechol tzeva hashamayim asher lo tziviti, and at the end of the pasuk there is no place for a mercha kefula {Josh: because the word lo is the second to last word of the pasuk; see here.}And in Yirmeyahu 19:5, laBaal, asher lo tziviti, the Alshich explains that He did not need to command on it being forbidden because it was so obvious, and therefore, there is no mercha kefulah. And in Devarim it is not possible to explain so. And in the Chidushei Aggadot of the Maharsha on Megillah (9b) he brings a Yerushalmi, "asher lo tziviti -- to the nations of the world -- leovdam, and also not to serve them he did not command." And there is to say based on the Alshich, see the severity of the sin of idolatry, for until Mattan Torah I did not command explicitly not to serve them, because it was obvious, and only when serving idolatry increased, then did I increase to warn also Israel at Matan Torah; and after all this, they served it, and it is astonishing that the nation which heard God's voice at Matan Torah did this. And this is what is in Sanhedrin 56b..."

An interesting attempt at harmonization. I think Baal HaTurim would simply say not like the Alshich, but would regard it as yet another proof. And apparently Pardes Yosef would like this mercha kefula to be systematic, and so wishes to account for why it does not appear in the two other instances. For Yirmeyahu, he could have given a much simpler answer, that mercha kefulah appears in places tevir would usually appear, and this word lo appears before a zakef katon, not a tipcha, and so could never possibly have received a mercha kefulah. I did not look the Maharsha up inside, but at a glance at the summary, this seems like taking the Yerushalmi to mean the opposite of what it means. Besides this, the kefula part of the name is just a description of the orthography, and I don't find the appeal to the melody so convincing. All in all, a nice elaborate construct, but I don't think any of it is emes.

Also, there is no attempt to explain the mercha kefulah consistently across all five occurrences in the Torah.

At the end of the day, I will admit that for such rare trups, it is quite possible it was introduced for midrashic purpose. But haphazard and unsystematic attempts to assign random midrashic or rishonic interpretations to it fail to convince me. It also remains possible that this is an intermediate trup, as I discussed above, and that we should first look at the parsing of the pasuk in its systematic way to find the answer.


YK said...


Nice post, and as a regular reader of your blog I was pleasantly surprised to see my piece appear here.

Looking back, I failed to clarify that the Sephardim call this trop Trei Taamei. You can see it here. I guess that will drop your first objection.

In regards to your second objection, you have a good point. However, you can ask the same question to Rashi, why did he choose those two reasons while the Midrash had many others. I can speculate that Rashi thought these two are the mainstream views on this matter, but again, your point is valid.

It sounds to me that the Birkat Avraham has the same understanding, although he calls it Mercha Kefula and that will work less good than Trei Taamei.

Anyways, I guess it's fairly obvious that we are no match to the Gaon's trop phatim! But we can try.


joshwaxman said...

thanks, and oops! i'll correct the post to reflect this.

all the best,

Mar Gavriel said...


1. I Kings 10:3

וַיַּגֶּד-לָ֥הּ שְׁלֹמֹ֖ה אֶת-כָּל-דְּבָרֶ֑יהָ לֹֽא-הָיָ֤ה דָבָר֙ נֶעְלָ֣ם מִן-הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א הִגִּ֖יד לָֽהּ׃

2: I Kings 20:29
וַֽיַּחֲנ֧וּ אֵ֦לֶּה נֹ֥כַח אֵ֖לֶּה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים וַיְהִ֣י׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י וַתִּקְרַב֙ הַמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וַיַּכּ֨וּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל אֶת-אֲרָ֛ם מֵאָה-אֶ֥לֶף רַגְלִ֖י בְּי֥וֹם אֶחָֽד׃

3. Ezekiel 14:4:
לָכֵ֣ן דַּבֵּר-א֠וֹתָם וְאָמַרְתָּ֨ אֲלֵיהֶ֝ם כֹּה-אָמַ֣ר׀ אֲדנָ֣י ה֗' אִ֣ישׁ אִ֣ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ יַעֲלֶ֨ה אֶת-גִּלּוּלָ֝יו אֶל-לִבּ֗וֹ וּמִכְשׁ֤וֹל עֲוֹנוֹ֙ יָשִׂים֙ נֹ֣כַח פָּנָ֔יו וּבָ֖א אֶל-הַנָּבִ֑יא אֲנִ֣י ה֗' נַעֲנֵ֧יתִי ל֦וֹ בָ֖ה בָ֖א בְּרֹ֥ב גִּלּוּלָֽיו׃

4. Habakkuk 1:3
לָ֣מָּה תַרְאֵ֤נִי אָ֙וֶן֙ וְעָמָ֣ל תַּבִּ֔יט וְשֹׁ֥ד וְחָמָ֖ס לְנֶגְדִּ֑י וַיְהִ֧י רִ֦יב וּמָד֖וֹן יִשָּֽׂא׃

5. Zechariah 3:2 (haftara for Beha‘alothkha and Hanukka):
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה֝' אֶל-הַשָּׂטָ֗ן יִגְעַ֨ר ה֤' בְּךָ֙ הַשָּׂטָ֔ן וְיִגְעַ֤ר ה֙' בְּךָ֔ הַבֹּחֵ֖ר בִּירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם הֲל֧וֹא זֶ֦ה א֖וּד מֻצָּ֥ל מֵאֵֽשׁ׃

6. Ezra 7:25
וְאַ֣נְתְּ עֶזְרָ֗א כְּחָכְמַ֨ת אֱלָהָ֤ךְ דִּֽי-בִידָךְ֙ מֶ֣נִּי שָׁפְטִ֞ין וְדַיָּנִ֗ין דִּי-לֶהֱוֹ֤ן דָּאְנִין֙ דָּאיְנִין֙ לְכָל-עַמָּא֙ דִּ֚י בַּעֲבַ֣ר נַהֲרָ֔ה לְכָל-יָדְעֵ֖י דָּתֵ֣י אֱלָהָ֑ךְ וְדִ֧י לָ֦א יָדַ֖ע תְּהוֹדְעֽוּן׃

7. Nehemiah 3:38
וַנִּבְנֶה֙ אֶת-הַ֣חוֹמָ֔ה וַתִּקָּשֵׁ֥ר כָּל-הַחוֹמָ֖ה עַד-חֶצְיָ֑הּ וַיְהִ֧י לֵ֦ב לָעָ֖ם לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃ פ

8. II Chronicles 9:2
וַיַּגֶּד-לָ֥הּ שְׁלֹמֹ֖ה אֶת-כָּל-דְּבָרֶ֑יהָ וְלֹֽא-נֶעְלַ֤ם דָּבָר֙ מִשְּׁלֹמֹ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א הִגִּ֖יד לָֽהּ׃

9. II Chronicles 20:30
וַתִּשְׁקֹ֖ט מַלְכ֣וּת יְהוֹשָׁפָ֑ט וַיָּ֧נַֽח ל֦וֹ אֱלֹהָ֖יו מִסָּבִֽיב׃ פ


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