Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Parshat Nitzavim

Parshat Nitzavim beings with a fun to analyze pasuk:
Devarim 29:9
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם: רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם, כֹּל, אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

"Ye are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel,"

which continues:
טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם--וְגֵרְךָ, אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ: מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ, עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ.
"your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water;"

The difficulty is in the phrase רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם. Within the context, it looks like it is listing the different classes of people who are standing there, starting with the heads, going to the regular people, and then the children, women, and strangers, unto the servants. However, שִׁבְטֵיכֶם means your tribes, which is a collection, each one 1/12th of the Jews, as opposed to טַפְּכֶם in which each individual is a single child.

One sees the bet of שִׁבְטֵיכֶם and wonders idly if, since bet, vav, mem, and peh form the labial group of Hebrew consonants (the dictionary I linked to leaves out peh), one could just switch the bet for a peh and get shoftim, judges. This would then match shotrim later in the pasuk, and rashechem would match zikneichem. (Midrashic rules do allow for switching within a group, like among gutterals.)

Rashi suggests what seems the most likely, that רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם means רָאשֵׁיכֶם to שִׁבְטֵיכֶם. That is, the word "to" is implicit. I would suggest a slight variant, that this is some archaic Biblical form of רָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, in which the כֶם ending gets added to both words in the smichut. Ramban does not say this but does immediately paraphrase רָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, within an attributed view.

Ramban himself thinks that שִׁבְטֵיכֶם is a general word, and that the pasuk first gives the klal and then the prat. First, the rashim and shevatim, and then explains that the rashim are the zekenim and shotrim, and then that the shevatim are all else who are mentioned.

Sforno has the novel suggestion that רָאשֵׁיכֶם = שִׁבְטֵיכֶם; that is, that the heads are those who have the shevet, staff, of ruling.

Finally, Targum Pseudo-Yonatan suggests that רָאשֵׁיכֶם are the heads of Sanhedrin, and שִׁבְטֵיכֶם has an implicit "amarkelei," "officers of," which also involves pasting two words - Sanhedrin and amarkelei in two different positions in smichut.

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