Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What is the tzir'ah?

Summary: Hornet or sickness? Rashi, along with midrash, and Ibn Ezra.

Post: From parashat Eikev, with Rashi, about how Hashem will aid the Israelites in conquering the Canaanites once they cross over the Yarden:

20. And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish.כ. וְגַם אֶת הַצִּרְעָה יְשַׁלַּח יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּם עַד אֲבֹד הַנִּשְׁאָרִים וְהַנִּסְתָּרִים מִפָּנֶיךָ:
The tzir’ah: Heb. הַצִּרְעָה, a species of flying insect which injected poison into them [the Canaanites], making them impotent and blinding their eyes wherever they hid. — [Sotah 36a]הצרעה: מין שרץ העוף, שהיתה זורקת בהם מרה ומסרסתן ומסמאה את עיניהם בכל מקום שהיו נסתרים שם:

(Also from Midrash Aggadah.) Midrash Aggadah's version:

וגם את הצרעה.  מלמד שהצרעה עברה עמהם בירדן ׳ וכל אותם
אורבים שהיו מטמינים עצמם במערות כדי להרוג, היתה הצרעה נכנסת לשם ומכה
אותם בעיניהם והיו מתים

That is, there was already a hornet that aided them in the time of Moshe. The gam is perhaps inclusive, telling us that Hashem will also send the tzir'ah. And the known tzir'ah that they have already seen.

The version in Sotah states that the tzir'ah, this special hornet, did not pass over the Yarden with them. Rather, this only happened in the time of Moshe. The reference seems to be to Yehoshua 24:12:
יב וָאֶשְׁלַח לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה וַתְּגָרֶשׁ אוֹתָם מִפְּנֵיכֶם שְׁנֵי מַלְכֵי הָאֱמֹרִי לֹא בְחַרְבְּךָ וְלֹא בְקַשְׁתֶּךָ:

where the two kings of the Emorites would be taken to be Sichon and Og, from the time of Moshe. If this is contrasted with the wars the Israelites must wage, with sword and bow, then it didn't pass.

At any rate, in Sotah 36a:
A Tanna taught: The hornet did not pass over [Jordan] with them; but behold it is written: And I will send the hornet before thee! {Shemot 23:28, referring to the land of Canaan!}  — R. Simeon b. Lakish said: It stood by the bank of the Jordan and injected a virus [into the Canaanites] which blinded their eyes above and castrated them below; as it is said: Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above and his roots from beneath etc. {Amos 2:9} R. Papa said: There were two hornets, one in the period of Moses and the other in the period of Joshua; the former did not pass over [Jordan] but the other did.
I am unsure what the basis is for saying that the hornet did not pass, as in that brayta, such that this needs resolution. If anyone knows, please drop me a comment. Otherwise, I will leave it as an open question. The answer is alternatively separate hornets or that the hornets attacked but did not pass over.

Onkelos translates it as ערעיתא, hornet.

Ibn Ezra understands it as a type of sickness of the body, along the lines of צרעת. So does Ibn Janach, that it is כליון ודבר. Perhaps this makes more sense in context, of killing off the remnants in hiding. See also Ibn Ezra on parashat Mishpatim, on Shemot 23:28, as well as Yahel Or and Karnei Or there.

Digressing to a Radak I saw on that pasuk in sefer Yehoshua:
[כד, יב]
שני מלכי האמורי -
פירש: וגרשה שני מלכי האמרי גם כן, והם סיחון ועוג.

וכן אמרו רבותינו ז"ל:

שתי צרעות היו חדא דמשה וחדא דיהושע והצרעה היא מין זבוב רע מטיל ארס.
ואמרו: כי הייתה הצרעה מכה בעיניה ומסמא עיניהם ולא היו יכולין להלחם ובאין ישראל והורגין אותם, כמו שאמר: לא בחרבך ולא בקשתך .

צרעה ארעיתא.
ואמר למה נקרא שמה ארעיתא?
שעומדת לקראת אדם ומכה בפניו.

אשר קרך דארעך.
This is a bit strange. In our Onkelos, tzir'ah is consistently translated as ערעיתא with a leading ayin rather than aleph. This is an extremely straightforward translation. It is near transliteration. That is, there are two ayins in Aramaic, one corresponding to the ayin of Hebrew and one corresponding to a tzadi of Hebrew. (Or rather, when this strong letter was to be encoded, it was mapped in Hebrew to the letter tzadi and in Aramaic to the ayin.) Thus, the leading ע in Aramaic is equal to the leading צ, and so it is the word צרעה. If there is indeed a Targum which renders it with a leading aleph, this would come from a relaxing and switching of these two gutturals, not from דארעך. Our version of Targum local to sefer Yehoshua does not have this, but I suppose Radak did.

Although interestingly, from the language of ארעא as mishap, occurrence, there is the masculine plural ארעייא which means evils, diseases. (See Jastrow, pg 125.) This is just coincidence, though.

I would also note Shadal. He does not take the two kings of sefer Yehoshua to be Sichon and Og. Therefore, it is rather fulfillment of the promise in Chumash, in the land of Canaan, even though the specifics are not found elsewhere:
וגם את הצרעה יהושע כ " ד י " ב הזכירה לישראל א " כ בהכרח נתאמת הדבר אע " פ שלא נזכר המאורע הזה בפירוש הסיפור כיבוש הארץ .

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