Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Machaneh as a feminine and masculine noun

Summary: In Vayishlach, Rashi notes that 'camp' is used in both the masculine and feminine genders. What in the pasuk prompts this? And would Rashi necessarily agree with how Gur Aryeh develops this?

Post: Yaakov is afraid of what will happen when Esav arrives. And thus, in Bereishit 32:9:

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר, אִם-יָבוֹא עֵשָׂו אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה הָאַחַת וְהִכָּהוּ--וְהָיָה הַמַּחֲנֶה הַנִּשְׁאָר, לִפְלֵיטָה.
9 And he said: 'If Esau come to the one camp, and smite it, then the camp which is left shall escape.'
Rashi writes:

one camp and strikes it down: Heb. וְהִכָּהוּ הַמַחִנֶה הָאַחַת. [The word] מַחִנֶה is used both in the masculine and feminine genders. [Other examples are:] (Ps. 27:3):“If a camp encamps (תַּחִנֶה) against me.” This is feminine. (Below, 33: 8)“this (הַזֶה) camp.” That is masculine. Likewise, there are other things (nouns) that are used both in the masculine and feminine genders, e.g. (above 19:23):“The sun (הַשֶׁמֶשׁ) came out (יָצָא) upon the earth” ; (Ps. 19:7):“From the end of the heavens is its source (מוֹצָאוֹ) .” These are masculine. (II Kings 3:22):“the sun shone (זָרְחָה) on the water.” This is feminine. And likewise, רוּחַ, wind (Job 1:19):“when, behold, a great (גְדוֹלָה) wind came (בָּאָה) .” This is feminine;“and struck (וַיִגַע) the four corners of the house.” This is masculine. [Another instance is] (I Kings 19:11):“and a great (גְדוֹלָה) and strong (וְחָזָק) wind, splitting (מְפָרֵק) mountains.” This is both masculine and feminine. Likewise, אֵשׁ, fire, as (Num. 16:35):“And fire went forth (יָצְאָה) from before the Lord,” feminine gender; (Ps. 104:4):"burning (לֹהֵט) fire, masculine gender.

המחנה האחת והכהו: מחנה משמש לשון זכר ולשון נקבה. (תהלים כז ג) אם תחנה עלי מחנה, הרי לשון נקבה, (לג ח) המחנה הזה, לשון זכר. וכן יש שאר דברים משמשים לשון זכר ולשון נקבה, (לעיל יט כג) השמש יצא על הארץ, (תהלים יט ז) מקצה השמים מוצאו, הרי לשון זכר. (מ"ב ג כב) השמש זרחה על המים, הרי לשון נקבה. וכן רוח (איוב א יט) והנה רוח גדולה באה, הרי לשון נקבה, (שם) ויגע בארבע פנות הבית, הרי לשון זכר, (מ"א יט יא) ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים, הרי לשון זכר ולשון נקבה. וכן אש (במדבר טז לה) ואש יצאה מאת ה', לשון נקבה. (תהלים קד ד) אש לוהט, לשון זכר:

What is Rashi's local concern? It is that local to this pasuk, the word machaneh is used as both masculine and feminine. Thus, the word הָאַחַת shows that is is feminine. But in the second half of the pasuk, the word הַנִּשְׁאָר shows that it is masculine. And more than that. In the first half of the pasuk, the word וְהִכָּהוּ is short for vehika oto, which is masculine. Perhaps that is why the dibbur hamatchil only encompasses המחנה האחת והכהו. I would add that the pronoun of vehikahu really only makes sense if there was an antecedent. And typically, there should be person, number, and gender agreement between the anaphor and the antecedent.

If the antecedent of oto in vehikahu is machaneh, and machaneh was already established to be feminine, then we have a disagreement in gender between the anaphor and the antecedent. The answer may be that machaneh is not just occasionally feminine and occasionally masculine, but that the same token in its place in the pasuk can service as both, such that there is no disagreement. This may indeed be Rashi's point with the ruach pasuk, where gedolah is feminine and chazak is masculine, such that Rashi states that this word is both masculine and feminine. And similar the ruach gedolah is baah, which is first feminine, yet it continues to strike the four corners of the house,

Rashi demonstrates machaneh as purely feminine, and purely masculine, using other pesukim. And then gives other examples of such words. And of course the instances of a word being simultaneously masculine and feminine.

Rashi's point, on the level of peshat, would seem to be that this is nothing to be concerned for. This is a grammatical oddity, and nothing more. And therefore a peshat interpretation would not make a big deal of this irregularity.

Rashbam says something similar to his grandfather, which might provide insight into Rashi's intent:
המחנה האחת -
לשון נקבה הוא, כדכתיב: אם תחנה עלי מחנה.

הנשאר -
לשון זכר.
הרבה מצינו תיבות פעמים זכר פעמים נקבה.
כמו: השמש יצא על הארץ.
ותך השמש.

רוח סערה עושה דברו.
ורוח באה מעבר המדבר ויגע בארבע פנות הבית. 

He focuses on different word -- haachat vs. hanishar, without mentioning vehikahu. So this might be Rashi's concern as well, despite the dibbur hamatchil. Regardless, both of them make the point that this is just a grammatical feature, and that there is no interpretation to be made here based on the gender distinction.

Gur Aryeh (Maharal) writes:
זכר ולשון נקיבה ומ״מ נראה לי שצריך ליתן
טעם למה נקרא בלשון זכר ובלשון נקיבה
מיד זה אחד זה ואין זה בלי טעם ונראה
כי כאשר ידבר על דבר אחד לא על עיקר
הדבר יקרא בלשון נקיבה וכאשר ידבר על
עיקר הדבר ועצמו ידבר עליו בלשון זכר ואין
דבר בעולם שאין לו דבר שהיא עיקר ודבר
שאינו עיקר הדבר ולפיכך ידבר על השמש
בלשון נקיבה כאשר אינו מדבר מאמתת עצם
השמש וידבר עליה בלשון זכר כאשר מדבר
מאמתת השמש ודבר זה בעצמו גם כן כאשר
ידבר על המחנה ואינו מדבר בעיקר המחנה
ידבר בלשון נקיבה א׳׳ל כאשר ידבר בעיקר
המחנה יאמר בלשון זכר ולפיכך אמר אלו
אמר והכה אותה היה משמע שאינו מכה עיקר
המחנה אבל כאשר אומר והכהו משמע עיקר
המחנה במה שהיא מחנה וזה שלא נשאר דבר
בה ולא תאמר שיכה קצת ועיקר המחנה קיים
כך יראה

This is a possible explanation of the grammatical distinction. However, even though he makes it seem that this is additional to Rashi -- that Rashi is concerned with resolving the grammatical issue simply, but that one can add that there is a distinction -- it seems to me that in fact Gur Aryeh is contradicting Rashi. Rashi is saying that there is no distinction, and that one should not deduce peshat facts based on this.

Furthermore, if Rashi's concern is the gender agreement between anaphor and antecedent, then he is stating that the same word machaneh is both, and thus can take the feminine adjective and yet a masculine anaphor.

Further, it is certainly true that almost every item in the world has both an ikkar and a tafel. But that doesn't mean that that is the cause of the masculine / feminine distinction. (Also, perhaps the theory arises from a bit of gender bias.) Rather, it can just be a convenient thing to attribute the distinction to. And how can we prove otherwise, if this is a random distinction I can introduce into any verse I like?

Further, does this theory even pan out? In tachaneh alay machaneh, why should we assume that it is not the main machaneh camping against him? Wouldn't it be stronger if the main machaneh were doing so, yet his heart does not fear, for Hashem is with him? In terms of the shemesh, when it comes, sometimes it is ba and sometimes ba`ah. Can you examine the pesukim and really make a convincing distinction between all of these? And what about the ruach, where there is a shift within adjectives on the same noun? It is gedolah, feminine, followed by chazak, masculine? Is this ruach the main ruach, or something tafel to it? Indeed, in the pasuk under discussion, the fear is that Esav will come to the im yavo Esav el ha-machaneh ha-Achat vehikahu. In accordance with Gur Aryeh's theory, I understand why hikahu is zachar. But if Esav going to go up to only a fraction of the camp, before smiting the entirety? How does Gur Aryeh account for the masculinity of machaneh, that it merits ha-Achat?

Therefore, it seems to me that no only is this against Rashi and Rashbam, but it is grammatical derash rather than peshat, and that it is unconvincing and inconsistent derash at that.

1 comment:

Yosef Greenberg said...

"Also, perhaps the theory arises from a bit of gender bias."

Is saying that HKBH is also mentioned as a lashon zachor also what you term 'gender bias'?

IIRC, this isn't the only place where this type of distinction is made in such a way.


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