Thursday, July 02, 2015

Listen up, morons!

In a parsha sheet I read last Shabbos (Chukas), I saw the following:

Someone at my table in shul expressed dissatisfaction with this Rashi. How would klal Yisrael know Greek? or that Moshe was specifically choosing a Greek word here, rather than the Hebrew word morim [to mean, say, סרבנים, rebellious ones, as Rashi says earlier]? Was there even a Greek language at that time?

I suggested that there may well have been a Greek language (yaft Elokim leyefet) or some precursor thereof, and that perhaps Rashi (or whatever midrash he is channeling) was doing comparative linguistics, and explaining the meaning of a Biblical Hebrew word on the basis of its Greek cognate. And that the Hebrew term got its meaning from the Greek, as a loan word, or vice versa.

I had my own problem with this devar Torah, at least as written. It is internally inconsistent! If the Greek expression morim indeed means:
"fools who instruct their mentors"
then this indicates that within Greek culture at that time, they regarded someone who instructed his mentor to be a fool. If so, how can Rav Trunk turn around and say that Moshe used this Greek term in order to highlight the contrast of Torah studies with secular studies:
"[exemplified by Greek culture and influence]. Each subsequent generation improves and adds to the advances of the previous generation, and it is likely that students can attain greater heights than their mentors."
? The Greeks themselves considered such a student who would presume to instruct his mentor to be a fool!

I think the answer here was a hasty translation in this parsha sheet, and one with which Rav Trunk would not have agreed.

Rashi was actually giving three separate translations of the word morim, in quick succession:
1) סרבנים -- rebellious ones. Compare morim with mordim.
2) Greek cognate - morim, meaning fools.
3) A Hebrew play on words, morim, those who presume to teach those who are their teachers.

So there is a period or comma between לשון יוני שוטים and מורים את מוריהם. And so the Greeks themselves would not regard such a person who taught his teachers to be a fool. And Rav Trunk was connecting items (2) and (3). This is my guess and reconstruction of what Rav Trunk meant, but then I didn't hear the dvar Torah firsthand[1].

Looking now at Judaica Press, I see that they possibly render this Rashi similarly:

Shall we draw water… from this rock?: Since they did not recognize it, for the rock had gone and settled among the other rocks when the well departed. The Israelites said to them,“What difference is it to you from which rock you draw water for us?” Therefore, he said to them, הַמּוֹרִים, obstinate ones; in Greek, ‘fools,’ those who teach (מוֹרִים) their teachers. [He said,] “Can we draw water from this rock regarding which we were not commanded?” - [Midrash Tanchuma Chukath 9, Num. Rabbah 19:9]המן הסלע הזה נוציא: לפי שלא היו מכירין אותו, לפי שהלך הסלע וישב לו בין הסלעים, כשנסתלק הבאר, והיו ישראל אומרים להם מה לכם מאיזה סלע תוציאו לנו מים, לכך אמר להם המורים סרבנים, לשון יוני שוטים, מורים את מוריהם, המן הסלע הזה שלא נצטוינו עליו נוציא לכם מים:

At any rate, we can look at Greek dictionaries and figure out what the likely Greek word was. We can determine whether it just meant "fools" or "fools who instruct their mentors".

And we quickly arrive at the Greek word μωρός. That is, moros, foolish, or μωρὸν, moron, foolishness, or Μωρέ, more, fool, or μωροὶ, moroi, fools. The word just means "fools",  not "fools who instruct their mentors".

Note that this Greek word is the root of the English word "moron". Which means that Rashi is actually rendering this phrase uttered by Moshe as "Listen up, morons!"



[1] The above might be unfair to Rav Blum. After all, Rav Trunk was interpreting the Greekness of the expression plus the message of 'those who instruct their mentors' specifically as of Greek origin, so this might just be an inconsistency in the dvar Torah itself.

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