Thursday, January 26, 2006

Daf Yomi Pesachim 2a/3a: The Ambiguous אור

The first Mishna in Pesachim begins אור לארבעה עשר (or, according to the girsa that Rashi rejected, אור לארבעה עשר). As the gemara itself asks, מאי טעמא לא קתני לילי?

Now, the gemara of course answers
לישנא מעליא הוא דנקט. But לילי was the Aramaic - מאי אור? רב הונא אמר נגהי ורב יהודה אמר לילי. Perhaps ליל would work.

But the question to address first is: is
אור truly ambiguous?

I do not think that any Amora could truly be confused and think that אור in this context means morning. After all, even if one is momentarily confused and thinks that אור here means day, he will soon see the error of his ways when he encounters the third Mishna (on 10b), which states that if he did not search on אור of the 14th, he searches at the 14 in the morning:

ר' יהודה אומר בודקין אור י"ד ובי"ד שחרית ובשעת הביעור וחכ"א לא בדק אור י"ד יבדוק בי"ד לא בדק בי"ד יבדוק בתוך המועד לא בדק בתוך המועד יבדוק לאחר המועד ומה שמשייר יניחנו בצינעא כדי שלא יהא צריך בדיקה אחרי

Indeed, this is in fact the conclusion of the gemara, which decides on this basis (Pesachim 2b) that אור must mean "day." And the Amoraim knew all the relevant Mishnayot. So the word אור, as it is used here, is not truly ambiguous. (Indeed, no Amora really confuses the issue. The entire tangent stems from the ambiguity of Rav Huna, who says naghei, but who truly understands the word to mean "night.")

אור is an fact a fairly common word for night. Even as the setama digemara asks whether it means day or night, it asks whether it means yemama` or `oreta` {/`ureta`}
, saying at points, אלמא אור אורתא הוא. The Aramaic equivalent of אור is אורתא. So it is not truly out of the ordinary for this word to be utilized in Hebrew as well to mean night. We would not expect a discussion of why the gemara chose the word אורתא.

How can the word
אור, which seems to most commonly mean "light," mean "night?"

Jastrow writes:

That is, he claims that the base meaning of אור is in fact "perforate, break through, shine," and from there we get אור as light, but also as break. Thus, break of day. And thus, break of night = twilight, evening. Rosh Hashana 22b and Sanhedrin 70b are additional examples of אור used in this way. Jastrow's gives some examples of this base meaning of אור. Yeshaya 58:8:
ח אָז יִבָּקַע כַּשַּׁחַר אוֹרֶךָ, וַאֲרֻכָתְךָ מְהֵרָה תִצְמָח; וְהָלַךְ לְפָנֶיךָ צִדְקֶךָ, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה יַאַסְפֶךָ. 8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.
and Berachot 22a:

תניא ר' יהודה בן בתירא היה אומר אין דברי תורה מקבלין טומאה מעשה בתלמיד אחד שהיה מגמגם למעלה מרבי יהודה בן בתירא אמר ליה בני פתח פיך ויאירו דבריך שאין דברי תורה מקבלין טומאה שנאמר (ירמיהו כג) הלא כה דברי כאש נאם ה' מה אש אינו מקבל טומאה אף דברי תורה אינן מקבלין טומאה

It has been taught: R. Judah b. Bathyra used to say: Words of Torah are not susceptible of uncleanness. Once a certain disciple was mumbling over against R. Judah b. Bathyra. He said to him: My son, open thy mouth and let thy words be clear, for words of Torah are not susceptible to uncleanness, as it says, Is not My word like as fire. Just as fire is not susceptible of uncleanness, so words of Torah are not susceptible of uncleanness. (Soncino translation)
which Jastrow translates as "and let thy words come forth" = speak boldly.

One could also posit that the basis for Or meaning night is lashon sagi nahor, lit. "language of much light." This is euphemistic language in which a blind person, who sees no light, is called a sagi nahor, one with much light. Here, "light" would be used to refer to the absence of light, at night. And as the gemara suggests, this is לישנא מעליא הוא דנקט.

Similarly, Rav Huna's definition as naghei, Aramaic equivalent of nogah, "light," would also be euphemistic usage, in the particular speech in his location. Alternatively, Jastrow assigns a similar base definition of breaking through for nogah.

David G. at adafaday notes that Hasagot HaRaavad suggests that it is called Or because it is the beginning of the night when it is still light. Would he say the same for each occurrence of the Aramaic word אורתא? David G. also notes that the Ran claims that this word is used because it is the beginnng of the masechta, a suggestion the Raavad dislikes because the word is used elsewhere, not only in the beginning of the masechta.

The Raavad and Jastrow share in common that one might say that the very beginning of night is intended. After all, Jastrow writes about the "break" of night, and translates it as either evening of twilight. They come atit from different approaches, of course.

I might also say that this is not the break of night but rather, "as the 14th breaks," and since days in the Hebrew calendar begin at night, this is when the 14th breaks. The idea would be to do it as soon as possible when the 14th comes in, because of zerizut or so as not to forget and then neglect.

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