Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Parsha, meaning topic

A while ago on parshat Yitro I claimed that parsha could mean things other that just the Torah portion that we read in a week. I suggested that in terms of Yitro who added a single parsha in the Torah, this meant the specific few pesukim about appointing judges, rather than the entire Torah laining. Of course it could mean the first perek which has petuchot/setumot around it {under a traditional and meaning of parasha}, but posited that because the specific pasuk was named, what was meant was just the few pesukim involving that topic.

What follows are three examples where parsha appears (to me, at least) to have this meaning of topic rather than something surrounded by petuchot/setumot. I would further posit that the reason for the petuchot/setumot is to show in the text one such topic.

My most recent encounter is in Rif on Rosh HaShana 4a {not yet posted on the Rif blog}. There:
There is an explanation from the Gaon. And their question was regarding this that
they taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael that he passes by {the sin} the first time, and this is the Attribute. Rava said: And the sin itself is not erased.
That this of Rabbi Yishmael is established regarding one who fears Heaven, and is always involves in performing mitzvot, and keeps the strict prohibitions and at times violates the minor prohibitions, the Attribute of Hashem is that He passes by the first ones and forgives him, and he is is the category of the righteous; and the sin itself is not erased, but rather it stand suspended until the time of death. At that time, they calculate - if his merits outweigh these specific sins, these sins are passed by rishon rishon, and they are not reckoned against him, and it is as if he never did them. But if these are overpowering, and his deeds are found to be, when they are all combined and weighed against each other, that he has mostly demerits, then each one is reckoned against him; and this is the Attribute listed in the ways of Hashem. And this is the explanation of the 6th Attribute in the parsha of vaya'avor.
And vaya'avor does not seem to be surrounded be petuchot and setumot. Here it is in Shemot 34:6.

Another instance occurs in Rosh Hashana 17a:
And Bet Hillel say: And the Abundant is Mercy {rav chesed} tilts it {of the intermediate people} towards mercy, and upon them David said {Tehillim 116}:
א אָהַבְתִּי, כִּי-יִשְׁמַע ה-- אֶת-קוֹלִי, תַּחֲנוּנָי. 1 I love that the LORD should hear my voice and my supplications.
and upon them is said {our Gemara: David said} the entire parasha {section} - דַּלֹּתִי, וְלִי יְהוֹשִׁיעַ.
I discussed the basis of this derasha in the preceding post. Yet it is clear that this does not extend for the entire perek in terms of the meaning but just until daloti. The rest of the perek has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, and the gemara itself gives an endpoint. Check out Tehillim 116.

One final example is in Pesachim 116a {cited in the Rif here}, where we are told in the Mishna that he darshens Arami Oved Avi until he finishes the entire parsha:

According the comprehension of the son the father teaches.
And he expounds from {Devarim 26:5}
ה וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
until he finishes the entirety of the passage {parsha - either at pasuk 8, as we do it, or pasuk 9}.
What is meant by the entire parsha? If we mean until the setuma, see where it ends. We do not darshen any of these three pesukim.
ט וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ. {ס} 11 And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee. {S}
Perhaps this means we are delivering the haggada incorrectly, but more likely it means that there is an alternate definition of parsha here, which is "topic."

More examples as I come across them.



Ari said...

Very interesting piece. In your last example, the citation should be Pesachim 116a, NOT 115b.

Love your blog.

Good shabbos

joshwaxman said...


joshwaxman said...

now fixed.

Fishbone said...

Could I please have a definition of "Parashat". I am not Jewish, (but I am grafted in)
I am reading TheLost by Daniel Mendelsohn. He begins some chapters with the word Parashat. For example, Parashat Noach".
Thank you so much

joshwaxman said...


parashat means "the parsha of". parasha/parsha is the absolute form, and parashat / parshat is the construct form.

thus, the section / story of X.


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