Friday, June 06, 2008

Naso: "haMearerim" As Accursed, Causing Curse, Or Something Else?

In parshat Naso:
יח וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה, לִפְנֵי ה, וּפָרַע אֶת-רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה, וְנָתַן עַל-כַּפֶּיהָ אֵת מִנְחַת הַזִּכָּרוֹן מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הִוא; וּבְיַד הַכֹּהֵן יִהְיוּ, מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרְרִים. 18 And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and let the hair of the woman's head go loose, and put the meal-offering of memorial in her hands, which is the meal-offering of jealousy; and the priest shall have in his hand the water of bitterness that causeth the curse.
What is meant by הַמְאָרְרִים? There are many answers.

Rashi writes:
המאררים -
המחסרים אותה מן העולם.
לשון סלון ממאיר (יחזקאל כח, כד).

ולא יתכן לפרש מים ארורים, שהרי קדושים הן, ולא ארורים כתב הכתוב, אלא מאררים את אחרים.
ואף אונקלוס לא תרגם ליטייא, אלא,
שמראות קללה בגופה של זו:
Or in English:
curse-bearing [I.e.,] which eliminates her from the world; it is an expression like [the phrase]“a pricking (מַמְאִיר) briar” (Ezek. 28:24). But it is impossible to render it as“accursed water,” because it was holy, and Scripture does not write אִרוּרִים, but מְאָרְרִים, [meaning]“which cause others to be cursed.” Onkelos too does not translate it as לִיטַיָא,“cursed,” but מְלַטְטַיָּא, “that cause a curse,” [i.e.,] which reveal a curse on the body of this [woman].
I will admit that this Rashi confuses me a bit. At the start, he seems to give a different meaning to the root --prickling -- by comparing it to ממאיר from Yechezkel. That pasuk reads:

כד וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה עוֹד לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל, סִלּוֹן מַמְאִיר וְקוֹץ מַכְאִב, מִכֹּל סְבִיבֹתָם, הַשָּׁאטִים אוֹתָם; וְיָדְעוּ, כִּי אֲנִי אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה. {פ} 24 And there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor a piercing thorn of any that are round about them, that did have them in disdain; and they shall know that I am the Lord GOD. {P}
Yet afterwards he says that it causative -- "causing others to be cursed" rather than an aspect of itself. Which is a different answer. It certainly is possible that it is one answer, for we see with mam`ir and mach`iv that these describe their effects on others. But the fact that he made reference to that other pasuk, where the root is used, tells me that he is taking the semantic meaning from there as well. Thus, he is arguing two points:
  1. It does not mean curse at all, but rather prickly. (but read further)
  2. Even for those who select curse, such as Onkelos, it is not the water that is cursed, but rather it causes curse.
Indeed, even on the pasuk, he says it is a matter of hachava, causing pain. (Thus, we have both pain and causative.) Prickliness is certainly there as well. He says in lashon Ashkenaz it is shtechend, which I would guess means to stick. See what Rashi says, and what Mahari Kara (who was of Rashi's Beis Medrash) says.

Or, from Judaica Press's translation of Rashi on Yechezkel:
pricking [Heb. מַמְאִיר,] a matter of hurting, like (Lev. 13:51): “painful (מַמְאֶרֶת) zaarath,” poignante in French, stinging, pricking.

Meanwhile, others give other explanations. Thus, Shadal writes:

המאררים : בתרגום שומרוני: המבארים; אולי מאררים כמו מאלליא (תרים עי' אנקלוס במדבר י"ג י"ז ) בחלוף ל' ור', כמו ( תהלים ק"ד ט"ו ) להצהיל פנים משמן במקום להצהיר, וכן רתם המרכבה לרכש יושבת לכיש ( מיכה א' י"ג ), אלמנת ארמלה; ואין נראה לפרשו ל' קללה, כי עיקר טבעם לא היה להזיק, אלא לבחון בין טהורה לטמאה, ועוד אם היו מאררים ל' מארה היה ראוי שיאמר ( למטה כ"ד וכ"ז ) ובאו בה המים המרים למאררים, לא: המאררים למרים, שנראה כי אין רע, אם היו מאררים בלבד. ולדעת אח"ם ייתכן לפרש מאררים משורש אור ותהיה הקריאה מאררים, והטעם מבארים ומפיצים אור.

Shadal cites the Samaritan Targum, which is different from the Samaritan Pentateuch (see here). To clarify, the Samaritan Torah has the same as we have in our Masoretic text - hamearerim:

But the Samaritan Targum translates it as המבארים. I am making this supremely clear so that we do not think this is a girsological difference. Even though the two words are quite similar in their letters, one is a translation of the other.

המבארים would mean making clear, clarifying, elucidating. Shadal runs with this explanation, noting that the letters lamed and resh often switch off (indeed, the letters lamnar often do) because of phonological closeness. And there are Biblical cases of this. Thus, where the pasuk says מאררים, we can read it (on a peshat level) as if there were lameds there. And using comparative phonology, we see this resh and lamed switch-off between Hebrew and Aramaic (almana vs. armalta). Further, we see Onkelos use the word מאלליא to mean scouts, or spies, by the meraglim. Thus, as applied here, it would mean investigative waters.

He makes an argument based on word order that it cannot mean cursed. And he also cites אח"ם (don't know who this is) that it may come from the word אור, with the same implication of shining light and thus clarifying.

He did not have to go so far as the Samaritan Targum for this explanation, though. Targum Pseudo-Yonatan makes the same point, translating it as bedukaya:

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