Monday, April 02, 2012

Thoughts on ve'et amaleinu

Continuing the analysis of Arami Oved Avi, and in particular the pasuk:

ז  וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-ה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע ה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ.7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.

We had analyzed up to and including the word anyeinu. But then took a break of a year. The haggadah continues:

Anyeinu had been interpreted as perishut derech eretz.

Now, וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ is understood as referring to the sons, and the (seeming) prooftext is {Shemot 1}:

כב  וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה, לְכָל-עַמּוֹ לֵאמֹר:  כָּל-הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד, הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ, וְכָל-הַבַּת, תְּחַיּוּן.  {פ}22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: 'Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.' {P}

This is not a classic proof-text though, in the sense of this pasuk showing that עמל means sons. Rather, it is an elaboration of what אלו הבנים means, so that the short declaration in Arami Oved Avi retells the story of the Exodus.

How should עמלני mean the sons (for בנים here means sons rather than children)? It is unclear.

A: Semantic Extension
I would suggest that this was selected to mean the birth of something as an extension of perishut derech eretz of anyeinu. Since these are near synonyms juxtaposed in a pasuk, we should look for a shade of meaning along similar lines. Thus, it was difficult for them to conceive due to the excessive work, as was the plan of the Egyptians (see earlier in the perek), and then when they did manage to conceive, something along the same lines was targeted.

B: Proximal Extension
Indeed, even without idea of near synonyms selecting similar targets, it makes narrative sense. The previous anyeinu selected the earlier plan of the Egyptians, as was the prooftext:

י  הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ:  פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ.10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.'
יא  וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים, לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת, לְפַרְעֹה--אֶת-פִּתֹם, וְאֶת-רַעַמְסֵס.11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses.

and when that didn't work, sensibly, the next word in Arami Oved Avi should target the next plan. That would possibly be Pharaoh's plot involving the midwives, but they managed to avoid killing any babies, and so the next logical plan would be the one at the very end of perek aleph, which actually succeeding in paining the Hebrews.

Indeed, the next work, and link, it לחצינו, with a skip to Shemot 3:9, with the intervening story of Moshe's birth, arrival at Pharaoh's palace, and fleeing to Midyan. And so it might simply be following the structure of the narrative in sefer Shemot.

C: The meaning of עמל

Perhaps עמל can be taken to mean specifically work that fails. Certainly עמל means labor. But it also has the occasional sense of misfortune. So maybe labor in vain.

I don't really trust this, based on context, but see the following verses. Kohelet 2:

כא  כִּי-יֵשׁ אָדָם, שֶׁעֲמָלוֹ בְּחָכְמָה וּבְדַעַת--וּבְכִשְׁרוֹן; וּלְאָדָם שֶׁלֹּא עָמַל-בּוֹ, יִתְּנֶנּוּ חֶלְקוֹ--גַּם-זֶה הֶבֶל, וְרָעָה רַבָּה.21 For there is a man whose labour is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skill; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

See in Iyov 7:3:

ג  כֵּן הָנְחַלְתִּי לִי, יַרְחֵי-שָׁוְא;    וְלֵילוֹת עָמָל, מִנּוּ-לִי.3 So am I made to possess--months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.

How amal is positioned in poetic parallelism with shav, vanity. Maybe עמל actually has this secondary meaning of vanity. And occasionally, it is placed against these in the context of birth {Tehillim 7}:

טו  הִנֵּה יְחַבֶּל-אָוֶן;    וְהָרָה עָמָל, וְיָלַד שָׁקֶר.15 Behold, he travaileth with iniquity; yea, he conceiveth mischief, and bringeth forth falsehood.

Not aven as iniquity, but as vanity. And it then parallels both sheker and amal. But see the full context of this pasuk.

If one is looking for labor (in the full sense of the word) coming to vanity, then indeed, boys born to be cast in the Nile is a perfect fulfillment.

1 comment:

Joe in Australia said...

עמל can also mean property, or something acquired as a result of labor. I suppose this might be a way of getting the desired meaning. Alternatively, perhaps עמל can mean the thing which is carried, in which case the implication of עֲמָלֵנוּ is that the sons were (meant to be) physically carried to the Nile to be killed.


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