Sunday, February 05, 2012

Further thoughts on לילי vs ליל in Onkelos on Bo

There were some rather good comments to a post on parashat Bo two weeks ago (perhaps read that post first), which I would like to bring to the fore and present and discuss in a post. The post was about the seeming plural of לילי in Targum Onkelos, in translating leil shimurim and while acknowledging that it is (or can be) the singular from a peshat perspective, taking it as the plural from the perspective of remez.


יב,מב לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים הוּא לַה', לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:  הוּא-הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה לַה', שִׁמֻּרִים לְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְדֹרֹתָם.  {פ}לֵילֵי נְטִיר הוּא קֳדָם יְיָ, לְאַפָּקוּתְהוֹן מֵאַרְעָא דְּמִצְרָיִם:  הוּא לֵילְיָא הָדֵין קֳדָם יְיָ, נְטִיר לְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְדָרֵיהוֹן.  {פ}

Mar Gavriel relates the why of it:
Right, Dr. Steiner has talked about this in class:

לֵלְיָא – why the yud? It must be from an old reduplicated form *laylayu.

This is like the old *maymaymu. For many years, Dr. Steiner wondered why the form מַ֫יִם looked dual. Now, he realizes – it’s neither plural nor dual: it’s singular!

In the Mishna, in a number of places, we find לֵילֵי שַׁבָּת (parallel to יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת), which is singular. Similarly, one construct form of מַיִם is מֵימֵי. (More common is just מֵי, and in medieval piyyut we see also מֵימוֹת.) Later, it was mis-analyzed as dual or plural, and construed this way—but we still find examples where מַ֫יִם is singular: 

There are various absolute forms of *laylayu in Hebrew: The most common form retains the case ending, לַ֫יְלָה; there also exist לֵיל (Isaiah in משא דומה); and לַיִל (in Isaiah 16:3).

And Yaak makes two interesting points.
First of all, some versions of Onkelos just has ליל.
Indeed. (Though Shadal in Ohev Ger does not note any differing versions.) Here is one such example, from Dfus Savyonita, 1557, one of the texts Shadal regularly references:

Thus, it seems like he had the apparent plural לילי consistently across the texts he consulted.

But consider this Chumash:

1703תנ"ך. תורה. תס"ג. ברלין
חמשה חומשי תורה : ... מקושטים ומלובשים בעשרה לבושי אורה ... והמה ... תרגום אונקלוס ותרגום יונתן ב"ע [בן עזיאל] ותרגום הירושלמי ... רש"י והרשב"ם והראב"ע ... המסורת ... ופירוש הרב בעל הטורים ... ובעל תולדת אהרן ... פי' הרד"ק על ההפטרות ...
ברלין : [חמו"ל], תס"ג-תס"ח.

Still, if I would have to choose from ליל and לילי, I would select לילי. It seems to me to be an obvious case of lectio difficilior, the rule of the more difficult word being the original. The Biblical Hebrew text has simply ליל, and לילי looks, on a surface level, to be a plural. It makes a lot of sense that a scribe would consider לילי to be a scribal error and then 'correct' it to ליל.

An emendation in the opposite direction does not work as readily. Yes, a scribe might know the midrash and so change to לילי in order to support it, deviating from the singular in the Biblical Hebrew text. But this would be a deliberate emendation to introduce a midrash, which is not the typical role of a scribe. So, lectio difficilior supports לילי as the original.

Yaak also noted that:
Secondly, the Remez of the Chelek Hadikduk makes perfect sense to me (yes, Remez is my cup of tea - pardon the pun) since if you look at the Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi, it lists the nights that are hinted to.
This is a pretty strong point, IMHO. It is not just some random midrash but rather is a midrash that other (likely later, but still) Targumim saw fit to include in translating the verse. And I've seen both ליל and לילי in use in these Targumim.

Targum Yonasan reads:
Four nights are there written in the Book of Memorials before the Lord of the world. Night the first,--when He was revealed in creating the world; the second,--when He was revealed to Abraham; the third,--when He was revealed in Mizraim, His hand killing all the firstborn of Mizraim, and His right hand saving the firstborn of Israel; the fourth,--when He will yet be revealed to liberate the people of the house of Israel from among the nations. And all these are called Nights to be observed; for so explained Mosheh, and said thereof, It is to be observed on account of the liberation which is from the Lord, to lead forth the people of the sons of Israel from the land of Mizraim. This is that Night of preservation from the destroying angel for all the sons of Israel who were in Mizraim, and of redemption of their generations from their captivity.

And Targum Yerushalmi reads:
[JERUSALEM. TARGUM. It is a night to be observed and celebrated for the liberation from before the Lord in bringing forth the sons of Israel, made free from the land of Mizraim. Four nights are there written in the Book of Memorial. Night first; when the Word of the Lord was revealed upon the world as it was created; when the world was without form and void, and darkness was spread upon the face of the deep, and the Word of the Lord illuminated and made it light; and he called it the first night. Night second; when the Word of the Lord was revealed unto Abraham between the divided parts; when Abraham was a son of a hundred years, and Sarah was a daughter of ninety years, and that which the Scripture saith was confirmed,--Abraham a hundred years, can he beget? and Sarah, ninety year old, can she bear? Was not our father Izhak a son of thirty and seven years, at the time he was offered upon the altar? The heavens were (then) bowed down and brought low, and Izhak saw their realities, and his eyes were blinded at the sight, and he called it the second night. The third night; when the Word of the Lord was revealed upon the Mizraee, at the dividing of the night; His right hand slew the firstborn of the Mizraee, His right hand spared the firstborn of Israel; to fulfil what the Scripture hath said, Israel is My firstborn son. And he called it the third night. Night the fourth; when the end of the age will be accomplished, that it might be dissolved, the bands of wickedness destroyed and the iron yoke broken. Mosheh came forth from the midst of the desert; but the King Meshiha (comes) from the midst of Roma. The Cloud preceded that, and the Cloud will go before this one; and the Word of the Lord will lead between both, and they shall proceed together. This is the night of the Pascha before the Lord, to be observed and celebrated by the sons of Israel in all their generations.]

Despite this, I am not really persuaded. The nature of the derasha even in these Targumim is to see leil Shimurim as a general night of protection and salvation. Thus, a leil netir umezuman, perhaps withthe entire phrase or perhaps with just shimurim yielding umezuman. And we see in Tg. Yerushalmi a simple rendition of this idea. It does not require the plural, but rather the singular, whether that singular appears as ליל or לילי in the Aramaic text. The details of the four nights within this midrashic expansion comes from the same close derivation of each phrase in the pasuk that Chelek HaDikduk described.

So there is no need for the remez -- though that seems to be a major aspect of of remez in general, namely, allusions to midrashim which are elsewhere derived. I am not persuaded that this was Onkelos' intention.

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