Friday, May 07, 2004

Relying upon the kabbala:

Vayikra 22:22 speaks of certain blemishes in an animal that make it unfit for sacrifice. The thing is, in Hebrew certain words are common, because they are commonly used. "Say, eat, walk, hand, arm, leg, head, table, etc." And so, the translation of these words are well known.

However, what happens when arcane words are used. Here, these are words to describe various types of blemishes and medical conditions. Consider English. Eczema, scabs, cataracts, etc.. Not necessarily would one know what they mean. Absent some definite passed down information, all one could do it look at the roots of the words, see how they occur in various contexts in the language and related languages, and make a best guess.

That seems to be what Ibn Ezra is doing here.
עַוֶּרֶת אוֹ שָׁבוּר אוֹ-חָרוּץ אוֹ-יַבֶּלֶת, אוֹ גָרָב אוֹ יַלֶּפֶת--לֹא-תַקְרִיבוּ אֵלֶּה, לַיהוָה; וְאִשֶּׁה, לֹא-תִתְּנוּ מֵהֶם עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ--לַיהוָה.

Ibn Ezra translates עַוֶּרֶת as some eye ailment, and says that some say שָׁבוּר is a broken arm and חָרוּץ on the leg (that is, fore-leg and hind-leg respectively), and יַבֶּלֶת means תְּבַלֻּל בְּעֵינוֹ, white in the iris of the eye.

This last one is interesting. Presumably his prooftext (and the one mentioned in the link for Ibn Ezra above) is the word in 21:20 about a blemish in the Kohen. Both words would have the root בלל, meaning mixed. And the next two words in both verses are the same, אוֹ גָרָב אוֹ יַלֶּפֶת in 21:20, and אוֹ גָרָב אוֹ יַלֶּפֶת in 22:22.

Tg Yonatan gives the same translation.

Finally, Ibn Ezra states, and this is really why I am citing this:
וכללו של דבר, אנחנו נסמוך על הקבלה ולא נשען על דעתנו החסרה

To translate, "And (But?) the general rule of the matter is that we shall rely on the received tradition and will not depend upon our faulty intellect."

This is a somewhat surprising statement from Ibn Ezra. As a pashtan, he often does not seem to agree with the tradition as given in the drashot Chazal.

I think he is alluding to this difficulty I mentioned earlier. The best source for what these words and phrases mean, especially esoteric or uncommon words, is tradition. If tradition is accurate, it can tell us what the original connotation of words are, contemporary to the time they were written/spoken. Absent tradition, we do not stand on firm ground. We can try to find an etymology, or deduce from context in parallel verses, but the results should rightfully be considered doubtful.

Thus this statement, while frum, need not stem from frumkeit so much as a rational conception of the limits of intellectual inquiry.

This realization is something I have seen missing in certain scholarly approaches.

Is Ibn Ezra affirming his opinion or rejecting it in his statement? He would seem to be deducing יבלת from the shparallel pasuk, since Tg Yonatan was not known in his day. So it would seem that he is saying that when all is said and done, his educated guesses are just that, and we should rely on the kabbalah, received tradition, instead.

My favorite example of this type of tradition vs. deduction is the phrase "between your eyes" in Shema. The Sadduccees took this to mean literally between the eyes. Chazal say there is a "halacha liMoshe miSinai," and law taught to Moshe on Har Sinai, that "between the eyes" means in the center of the head pate (which is above the hairline). Tzedukim (Sadduccees) rejected the Oral Law (or at least Chazal's Oral Law) and so they took the verse literally.

Now, one can make the argument that a halacha liMoshe miSinai means that they had a very early tradition as to the meaning of the phrase. "Between the eyes" seems to be an idiom, and a contempory understanding of an idiom would be more accurate that an attempted literal translation.

By way of analogy, when they were first working on machine translation, they translating English phrases into Russian and then back into English to see how accurate the translations were. Here is some examples of the input and output, on idioms:

Input: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."
Output: "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten."

Input: "Out of sight, out of mind"
Output: "Invisible and insane"
Output: "Invisible idiot."

So if "between the eyes" is indeed an idiom, a Tzeduki or Karaite approach should be expected to get a wholly inappropriate and inane result. Ibn Ezra dealt with Karaites, so perhaps this is why he makes his statement. (Perhaps he is even affirming his own position from some other tradition and rejecting a different approach.)

Indeed, Biblical scholars a while back discovered the Baal chronicles, in which Baal slays Prince Yam. Poetry from that time, like Biblical poetry, is formed by a sentence in which the second phrase echoes the first, just in different words. For example, "he held the bowl in his hand {something like yado}, he held the cup in his right {hand - something like yemino}." This does not mean that he held two things, a bowl in his {left} hand and a cup in the right. Rather, the two words have close or identical connotations, and the phrases are saying that he held a cup in his right hand. One such phrase is, "He smote prince Yam in the head pate {where we, Pharisees, place tefillin}, he smote prince Yam between the eyes.

There are two such examples in this week's parsha I wanted to address, but don't have the time right now. The first is when we start counting Sefirat HaOmer, based on the meaning of שבת and the phrase ממחרת השבת in Vayikra 23:11 and 15. The second is נֶפֶשׁ תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ in Vayikra 24:18 and on.

In various places, Shabbos means cessation of something. For example, Vayikra 26:6:
וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ, וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד; וְהִשְׁבַּתִּי חַיָּה רָעָה, מִן-הָאָרֶץ, וְחֶרֶב, לֹא-תַעֲבֹר בְּאַרְצְכֶם.
And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.

and Vayikra 25:4:
וּבַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִת, שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ--שַׁבָּת, לַיהוָה: שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרָע, וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר.
But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.

It can also mean week, or a period of seven days, or a period of seven years. Vayikra 25:8

וְסָפַרְתָּ לְךָ, שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת שָׁנִים--שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים; וְהָיוּ לְךָ, יְמֵי שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת הַשָּׁנִים, תֵּשַׁע וְאַרְבָּעִים, שָׁנָה.
And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and there shall be unto thee the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years.

Tzedukim took ממחרת השבת to mean the day after Saturday = Sunday, and thus you count 7 Saturdays. I think Chazal take the first one to mean the day after the *Shabbat*, that is the first period of Pesach when work was prohibited, which we see mentioned a few psukim earlier.

We see elsewhere in this perek that this is a possible definition of Shabbat: Vayikra 23:39:

אַךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּאָסְפְּכֶם אֶת-תְּבוּאַת הָאָרֶץ, תָּחֹגּוּ אֶת-חַג-יְהוָה, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן שַׁבָּתוֹן, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שַׁבָּתוֹן.
Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of the LORD seven days; on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.

and the second one a period of 7 days.

The words Shabbat is those idiomatic and perhaps highly context dependent.

In terms of נפש תחת נפש, while it literally means a life for a life, it seems to be referring to monetaryt payment:

וּמַכֵּה נֶפֶשׁ-בְּהֵמָה, יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה--נֶפֶשׁ, תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ

This, and the meaning of יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ and כֵּן יִנָּתֶן בּוֹ (and Ibn Ezra's commentary on it) in the following psukim is something I hope to treat in more detail later.

I also eventually want to talk about whether the altars outside the Mishkan were only directed towards Seirim, but it is getting late, so I will try so post on this in the near future.


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