Sunday, November 14, 2004

Toldot #5: And the older shall serve the younger?

from the peshat department

The British Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks evaluates the oracle to Rivka in this week's parsha (pdf, html). I analyze it, and am perhaps harsher towards it than I am towards my own material.

At first he renders Bereishit 25:23 in its plain sense:
כג וַיֹּאמֶר ה לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ, וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ; וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ, וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר.
23 And the LORD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
That is, the elder is the one who is doing the serving, and the younger is the one who is being served. However, he is troubled by a later pasuk, namely Bereishit 27:40, in which Yitzchak
מ וְעַל-חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה, וְאֶת-אָחִיךָ תַּעֲבֹד; וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּרִיד, וּפָרַקְתָּ עֻלּוֹ מֵעַל צַוָּארֶךָ.
40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt break loose, that thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck.
This shows that Esav will not serve Yaakov for perpetuity, so the prophecy given to Rivka seems off.

(I would stress though that the first part of the pasuk says that Esav shall serve his brother, which is in accordance with Rivka's prophecy. I would also stress that in Yitzchak's blessing to Yaakov, Yaakov is specifically told that his brothers will serve him, with the blessing matching Rivka's prophecy - in pasuk 29, we read:
כט יַעַבְדוּךָ עַמִּים, וישתחו (וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ) לְךָ לְאֻמִּים--הֱוֵה גְבִיר לְאַחֶיךָ, וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ בְּנֵי אִמֶּךָ; אֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר, וּמְבָרְכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ.
29 Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be every one that blesseth thee.
Also, in pasuk 37, Yitzchak tells Esav:
לז וַיַּעַן יִצְחָק וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵשָׂו, הֵן גְּבִיר שַׂמְתִּיו לָךְ וְאֶת-כָּל-אֶחָיו נָתַתִּי לוֹ לַעֲבָדִים, וְדָגָן וְתִירֹשׁ, סְמַכְתִּיו; וּלְכָה אֵפוֹא, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה בְּנִי.
37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau: 'Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him; and what then shall I do for thee, my son?'
Further, while in pasuk 40 Esav is told that he will break free from his brother's rule, Esav is not told that he will rule over his brother Yaakov.)

Further, later on, in an encounter with Esav when returning from Charan, Yaakov repeatedly refers to himself as Esav's servant.

Rabbi Sacks suggests that Rivka was given an oracle, which is difficult to understand. It is deliberately ambiguous, such that we thought the meaning was that Esav would serve Yaakov, while the true (or perhaps alternate??) meaning which we were only to discover later is that Yaakov is to serve Esav. That is, rather than, "and the older shall serve the younger," it is "and the older shall the younger serve." {To be fair, he couches this in midrashic terms, saying "This is the essence of midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text."}

He claims it is ambiguous in three ways, which I shall evaluate:
The first is based on Radak and Ibn Kaspi who note that the word את is missing. Usually the word את is used to note the object of a sentence. Here it is missing, so they might be placed in opposite order.

An example of this is Iyyov 14:19:
יט אֲבָנִים, שָׁחֲקוּ מַיִם-- תִּשְׁטֹף-סְפִיחֶיהָ עֲפַר-אָרֶץ;
וְתִקְוַת אֱנוֹשׁ הֶאֱבַדְתָּ.
19 "The waters wear the stones; the overflowings thereof wash away the dust of the earth; so Thou destroyest the hope of man."
Where even though the word אֲבָנִים precedes, the meaning of the phrase is "the waters wear the stones" rather than "the stones wear the water." Here, too, there is no word את marking the second word, and in fact in terms of the meaning the word את if present should be attached to אֲבָנִים. He classifies this reversal or word order poetic, which we might well find in an oracle.

I have no real problem with this. Absent the marker את, in theory both are admissible. Yet clearly the older serving the younger is the way the pasuk might be read most straightforwardly.

I would point out to the reader who might make a mistake that it is not the case that every time the את marker is absent the phrase is to be read in reverse order. Consider the pasuk from the usual haftara of parashat Toledot, from the first perek of malachi. In Malachi 1:6 we read:
ו בֵּן יְכַבֵּד אָב, וְעֶבֶד אֲדֹנָיו; וְאִם-אָב אָנִי אַיֵּה כְבוֹדִי וְאִם-אֲדוֹנִים אָנִי אַיֵּה מוֹרָאִי אָמַר ה צְבָאוֹת, לָכֶם הַכֹּהֲנִים בּוֹזֵי שְׁמִי, וַאֲמַרְתֶּם, בַּמֶּה בָזִינוּ אֶת-שְׁמֶךָ.
6 "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is My honour? and if I be a master, where is My fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise My name. And ye say: 'Wherein have we despised Thy name?'"
Here, the את marker is absent, but no one would say that this means that a father honors his son. All would agree it means the son honors his father.

His second argument is that the choice of opposition of רַב with צָעִיר is not appropriate. We should expect bechor vs. tzair. Rabbi Sacks writes:
The second is that rav and tsa'ir are not opposites, a fact disguised by the English translation of rav as "older." The opposite of tsa'ir ("younger") is bechir ("older" or "firstborn"). Rav does not mean "older." It means "great" or possibly "chief." This linking together of two terms as if they were polar opposites, which they are not - the opposites would have been bechir/tsa'ir or rav/me'at - further destabilises the meaning. Who was the rav? The elder? The leader? The chief? The more numerous? The word might mean any of these things.
To this I would put forth the following, from E. Speiser, in the Anchor Bible Genesis, page 194. (With's search inside the book you can actually see the page. Click on this link and choose the second link, on page 194. You will need to log in to an amazon account. The text, where there are special characters, come out wrong in the excerpt, so I corrected it. ) He writes:
the older shall serve the younger. The normal sense of Heb rab is "numerous, plentiful," rather than "great"; actually, the two adjectives are etymologically distinct. In the latter connotation, rab is a cognate of Akk. rabu:. And it is worthy of special notice that the present pair rab : s.a'ir has its exact counterpart, both in etymology and usage, in the Akk. pair rabu: :, which has a precise function in family law. The maru rabu "elder son" was entitled to an inheritance share which was double that of the maru However-and this is particularly true of Hurrian law, and hence a likely source of patriarchal customs- the maru rabu could be designated as such by by the testator contrary to the actual order of birth. In the present instance, we have not only an echo of Akk. linguistic usage but also a significant survival of Mesopotamian legal practice, one which Israel had to outlaw later on; cf. Deut xxi 16. The tradition behind this narrative, as well as behind ch. xxvii, employs thus an authentic and ancient motif in focusing on the joint prehistory of Israel and Edom.

Alternatively, I created a composite image of the relevant part of pages 194-5:

Posted by Hello

Thus, we see that the contrast of rav : tza'ir (Akkadian rabu : tzechru) is in fact appropriate. We could expect bechor vs. tze'ir, but rav is just as appropriate, if not more so, since in Hurrian family law exactly these terms are used. Thus, it is in reality inaccurate to say that it means "great" and not "the older/firstborn." (Of course if you want to take it midrashically, more things go. We can say this specific word was chosen to add ambiguity or additional meaning, which is discovered later.)

{It is also worthy of note that one can specify the rav over the tzeir contrary to actual birth order. This is in fact what happened with Yaakov and Esav. If so, we may have a problem since Yaakov became the rav and Esav the tzair when Esav sold his birthright (and when Yaakov took the blessing). As such, I can add back some of the ambiguity if I chose. When the rav is to serve the tza'ir, is that the originally designated rav and tzair, or does Rivka's oracle reverse itself when Yaakov and Esav's roles reverse?}

Finally, Rabbi Sacks writes:
The third - not part of the text but of later tradition - is the musical notation. The normal way of notating these three words would be mercha-tipcha-sof pasuk. This would support the reading, "the older shall serve the younger." In fact, however, they are notated tipcha-mercha-sof pasuk - suggesting, "the older, shall the younger serve"; in other words, "the younger shall serve the older."
Trup, the musical notation, also has as a primary function the marking and breaking up of the text into a continuous dichotomy showing the relationship of words to each other. Thus, the sense is conveyed by the trup.

{I might object to the classification of the trup as a later tradition. Which almost surely the specific orthographic signs used to mark the text are of a later origin, I don't know how early the musical tradition used to express the syntactic breakup, and therefore meaning, of the text goes back. It is after all, Oral. One could also say that the nikkud is of later origin. While the orthographic signs used to note the signs are, how early do the sounds go back in Oral tradition? Perhaps back to the origin.}

At any rate, I do not believe the specific trup pattern actually tells any such tale. I am in a unique position of having studied the system of trup so that I can evaluate the claim. Most people cannot, so I offer the following.

The pattern in the pasuk is noun imperfect-verb noun. He is saying that we should expect mercha tipcha silluq (sof pasuk is properly the two dots after each pasuk, and not the vertical line on the last word of the pasuk.) Instead we get tipcha mercha silluq. There is a tipcha on the word rav. This would divide off the word ורב as separate from the rest of the phrase יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר.

I can see how one might say that. tipcha is a melech, otherwise known as a disjuctive accent. Its purpose is to divide off the phrase up to and including the word which bears the sign, from the remainder of the phrase, which will be marked by either an etnachta or a silluq. Meanwhile mercha is an eved, or conjunctive accent, which does not divide the phrase.

However, what determines how phrases are divided is complicated. It involves musical issues such as meter, as well as whether a noun or a verb leads the clause. And the fact that the first word, verav, is separated off, does not by any means mean that something is irregular and that the older is the one being served.

In fact, were I to choose the trup, I would have chosen exactly the same pattern. Think of it in English. You can either say "The older {N} | shall serve {V} the younger" or *"The older shall serve | the younger." (The one marked by a * is the one that does not occur. N marks Nouns, V marks Verbs. The | notes the pause.) Earlier in the pasuk we have "and one nation {N} | from another nation {N} shall be stronger {V}" and not *"and one nation {N} from another nation {N} shall be stronger {V}." It continues "And were finished her days | to give birth."

You need to really evaluate each phrase, and see what works. Specifically, you need to look through all of Tanach, and see what happens when you have the pattern {N}{V}{N} in a a single phrase, and see how it is divided. Then you can see if the example of {N}{V}{N} in which the subject and object order are reversed follows the same pattern or not. These examples may be hard to find, because we must have only this in the phrase, and usually we have the V rather than the N leading.

However, I can find a couple of examples. The first, and I think best, can be found in the usual haftara for Toledot. (This year was different because today, Sunday, is Rosh Chodesh.) I think it is best because I managed to discuss it earlier. In Malachi 1:6 we read:
ו בֵּן יְכַבֵּד אָב, וְעֶבֶד אֲדֹנָיו; וְאִם-אָב אָנִי אַיֵּה כְבוֹדִי וְאִם-אֲדוֹנִים אָנִי אַיֵּה מוֹרָאִי אָמַר ה צְבָאוֹת, לָכֶם הַכֹּהֲנִים בּוֹזֵי שְׁמִי, וַאֲמַרְתֶּם, בַּמֶּה בָזִינוּ אֶת-שְׁמֶךָ.
6 "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is My honour? and if I be a master, where is My fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise My name. And ye say: 'Wherein have we despised Thy name?'"
As noted above, even though the object is missing its את marker, we still know that the son honors the father and not the other way around.

I would also note that if we look at the trup, (mechon mamre has one with trup here.) we see

ו בֵּ֛ן יְכַבֵּ֥ד אָ֖ב וְעֶ֣בֶד אֲדֹנָ֑יו וְאִם־אָ֣ב אָ֣נִי אַיֵּ֣ה כְבוֹדִ֡י וְאִם־אֲדוֹנִ֣ים אָנִי֩ אַיֵּ֨ה מֽוֹרָאִ֜י אָמַ֣ר ׀ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֗וֹת לָכֶם֙ הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ בּוֹזֵ֣י שְׁמִ֔י וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּ֕ם בַּמֶּ֥ה בָזִ֖ינוּ אֶת־שְׁמֶֽךָ׃

The pattern, if you will recall, is "the son{N} will honor {V} his father {N}." The trup in this case is a tevir on בֵּ֛ן, a mercha on יְכַבֵּ֥ד , and a tipcha on אָ֖ב. If you know the rules for determining trup, you will know that for a phrase marked off by a tipcha, the tevir is the disjunctive accent. That is, tipcha : silluq :: tevir : tipcha. Thus, it is marked off as "the son | will honor his father," just as "the older | will serve the younger." That is, N | V N.

Some more examples, but these have two words in the subphrase being separated off and so are not as great. Still, the trup could have been written so as not to separate off this subphrase - namely, had the disjuctive accent been moved forward to reside on the verb rather than on the noun:

Bereishit 3:18: (and here for Hebrew/English)
יח וְק֥וֹץ וְדַרְדַּ֖ר תַּצְמִ֣יחַֽ לָ֑ךְ וְאָֽכַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃
"Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
There is a tipcha on "thistles," a mercha on "shall it bring forth," and a etnachta on "to thee." This is then "Thorns also and thistes {N} | shall it bring forth {V} to thee {N}." That is, N | V N.

In the next pasuk,
יט בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֨יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב׃
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
The trup is as follows: A pashta on "thy face," a munach on "shalt thou eat," and a zakef katon on "bread." In this case again, the pashta is the disjunctive accent marker in a phrase ending in a zakef katon, with the munach simply being a conjunctive accent. (Recall, disjunctive divides, and conjuctive links.) Thus, tipcha : silluq :: tevir : tipcha ::pashta : zakef katon.

What this means is that we have "In the sweat of the face {N} | shall thou eat {V} bread {N}." Again, N | V N.

What about when the meaning (that is, the subject and object) is reversed? We had the case in Iyyov, given by Radak. What happens in that N V N phrase?

The verse can be seen in Iyyov 14:19:

יט אֲבָנִ֤ים ׀ שָׁ֥חֲקוּ מַ֗יִם תִּשְׁטֹֽף־סְפִיחֶ֥יהָ עֲפַר־אָ֑רֶץ וְתִקְוַ֖ת אֱנ֣וֹשׁ הֶֽאֱבַֽדְתָּ׃
"The waters wear the stones; the overflowings thereof wash away the dust of the earth; so Thou destroyest the hope of man." {Note: the order of water and stones are reversed in the translation.}
This is a strange case because it in Iyyov, and there are special trup marked for Iyov, Mishlei, and Tehillim. However, I will classify them. On "stones" אֲבָנִ֤ים ׀, we have a mehuppach legarmeih. This is noted by the ֤ and the ׀. On "wear", שָׁ֥חֲקוּ we have a mercha. {Update: In my miqra`ot gedolot it is an illuy on "wear," which is what we should expect. It doesn't really matter - both are servi, that is, conjunctive rather than disjunctive accents.} On "water," מַ֗יִם , we have a revi'a gadol. And you guessed it. The revi'a gadol and the mehuppach legarmeih are disjunctive accents, while the mercha {or illuy} is a conjunctive accent.

Further, the mehuppach legarmeih is the disjunctive accent we would expect to divide off the revi'a gadol. That is, Thus, tipcha : silluq :: tevir : tipcha :: pashta : zakef katon :: mehuppach legarmeih : revi'a gadol.

Thus, once again, we have "the stones {N} | wear {V} the waters {N}." Thus, N | V N.

This is true even though the meaning is reversed. N | V N seems to be the way of separating the verse.

When looking at this pattern of N V N in a single phrase, this is the only accent patten I have found. That is, I did not encounter N V | N in a trup clause. This might be the rule.

In fact, if we look at the second treatise of William Wickes in his book, "Two Treatises on the Accentuation of the Old Testament" about determining how to divide a verse within the dichotomy, we see that he writes a chapter entitled "On Syntactical Dichotomy." On page 45, he writes:
I. The SUBJECT may precede, and - from its independent position - is generally marked off from the main dichotomy...
and he then gives several examples. On page 46 he writes:
II. The OBJECT may precede, and as its position at the head of the clause implies a distinct emphasis, it is marked off from the main dichotomy.
Only when the verb precedes (on page 49) do we have different rules.

Thus marking off the first Noun, be it the subject or the object, is exactly what we are to expect. We should not expect to see mercha tipcha silluq, as Rabbi Sacks has suggested. There are exceptions, and explanations to the exceptions, which Wickes provides.

Thus, the best source for the verse being ambiguous is the one given by Radak - the absence of the את marker.

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