Monday, November 08, 2004

Toldot #1: Fetal Fighting

When Rivka was pregnant with her twins, they struggled within her. As the pasuk says, in Bereishit 25:22,

כב וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִם-כֵּן, לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי; וַתֵּלֶךְ, לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת-ה.
"And the children struggled together within her; and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to inquire of the LORD."

One explanation of the phrase וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ given in midrash rabba is that this one ran (רץ) to kill the other, and this one ran to kill the other one. I've wondered for a while about the basis for this midrash.

We might entertain the notion that the second צ get replaced by a ח, to form the root רצח, meaning "kill." However, the root used in the midrash is הרג, not רצח. And clearly the root רצצ is being kept, and specifically to mean to run, rather than, as in the English JPS translation given above, to struggle.

Today it hit me. וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ is taken to denote "run." Further, the word בְּקִרְבָּהּ is being interpreted midrashically as an Aramaic word בִּקְרָבָא, biqra:bha:(` ) means "war." The mapik heh in בְּקִרְבָּהּ is read as a regular heh, which switches off often enough with aleph at the end of a word to denote the definite article in Aramaic, since as matres lectiones (vowel letters) they are actually not pronounced. (Thus the aleph ` above I put in parentheses, to note that it elides.) A new vowel pattern is assigned to the word.

Thus, they ran ( וַיִּתְרֹצְצו) at each other to make war (קְרָבָא), and thus to kill each other.


John said...

If they based their interpretation on an Aramaic word, one would hope that "b'kirbah" (i hope that's right) has some root in the original Hebrew.

joshwaxman said...

You're right; קרב does actually have roots in Hebrew.

Even so, I think that all this close reading is on a level of interpretation other than the plain literal, and on a literal level they are taking it to mean struggle with each other. As such, it probably wouldn't matter if it did not have Hebrew roots.

Your comment inspired the somewhat lengthy post here.


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