Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Baal HaTurim, Gematriot in Vayikra, and Cow and Sheep Gaits

The Baal Haturim, as usual has a fascinating perush on the parsha. I don't entirely agree with the methodology, but I can point out how he uses gematriot -- to reinforce and bring out points and themes already present from elsewhere.

He first reinforces the theme found in midrashim about how the calling of Moshe is a mark of Moshe's distinction and gedulah. He therefore darshens semichut to the fire at the end of Pekudei.

He notes the small aleph, and interprets this as a mark of Moshe's humility, as an attempt to make himself as if he communication with Hashem was like that of Bilaam, whereas of course it was not.

The crowning of his mother -- see midrash rabba about the selection of Moshe, and the selection of Yocheved, and Bas Pharaoh.

The numerology to get the idea that anyone who learns Torah (in general?? or the laws of the korbanot??) is as if he offered all the korbanot. Perhaps addressing the question of why bother learning this when it is all not in practice, and transforming limmud Torah into the new avodah. Thus, it is participatory.

His gematria that ben bakar is 354, or שנד, which is one off from שנה, thus indicating that ben bakar means of the first year. But of course, it is just a gematria; and at that, it is one-off, and the phrase in the pasuk has a heh -- בן הבקר which would throw it off even further. And it not gematria ben shana, but just shana - 1.

{Update: Oops! I was being very silly here. As Peretz points out, it is 354 as in the days in the lunar year. In which case it works out, except of course for the missing heh for the definite article.}

What is his motivation? To fill in a detail known in halacha; Other pesukim that have that detail; because ben indicates something young, especially when we compare it with the just plain par.

He engages in very fine-grained comparisons between the sacrifice of the ben bakar and the tzon. This is motivated, I think, not just by a sense of subtlely in the Biblical text but also the repetition of almost entirely the same details, with occasional (if any) minor variations. The story then becomes about the differences as much as about what the text itself has to say. (In contrast, we might just say it is the Biblical style by korbanot to have lots of repetition, and slight variations may then be meaningless, accidental, or as means of introducing some variation to keep the text more lively. Of course, such may be theologically troublesome.) One variation is that damo is used by sheep, and he suggests that that is because of its similarity to human blood. That reminds me of the story of the sale of Yosef.

Then, the difference in terms of its kerev and its legs, in terms of how the pesukim differ in describing the identical features -- this is attributed by Tanna deVei Eliyahu to a difference in how sheep and cows walk. I did some research to confirm this, and this perush is rooted in a reality which most people do not get to experience nowadays. When a cow, or other large animal walks, it moves the legs on one side first, and then the legs on the other side. Meanwhile, a sheep moves legs on alternating sides of its body.

To quote a web page about the gait of sheep:
When walking slowly or steadily from one place to another they use a gait that consists of alternate steps with their front legs followed by steps with the opposite hind leg. (i.e. front left, back right, front right, back left, and so on.)
In contrast, as this book on animation discusses, large animals such as horses and cows, move their legs as follows: back-left, front-left, back-right, front-right. Then they start the sequence with back-left again.

I found some videos on YouTube of cows and sheep walking. They walk fairly quickly, so it might be difficult to process it. But people who live on farms certainly experience and know this. That said, while an interesting derash, I am not persuaded that this is the reason for the divergence in description. Anyway, here is a cow walking:

and here is a sheep walking


Anonymous said...

At first reading of the "354" passage I imagined that the intent was not that it is the gimatriya of shana (as otherwise it should have said 355, or at least 354+1=355 - although from what I recall the BH doesn't usually bother to point out the "plus 1" factor) but that 354 is the amount of days in a regular (lunar) year.

joshwaxman said...

oops! you are absolutely right. I'll correct.


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