Friday, 15 December 2017

Interesting Words in Parshat Miketz

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
                                       Some Interesting Words in Parshat Miketz

             This parshah includes many interesting words. I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of them.
            Achu:  grass or reed (as food for cattle). This word appears twice in our parshah. It only appears one other time in Tanach, at Job 8:11. It is a word of Egyptian origin.
            Amtachat: bag, sack. This word appears 15 times in Tanach (in various forms). But all of its appearances are in parshat Miketz!  There is a verb mem-tav-chet that appears one time in Tanach (at  Is. 40:22), and means “spread out.” Some relate “amtachat” to this verb. The suggestion is that it is a sack that spreads over two sides of the animal. But Hayyim Tawil, in his An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, relates “amtachat” to an Akkadian word that means “carry, pick up.”
              Avrekh: This word appears only at Gen. 41:43 (va-yikreu le-fanav avrekh).” Most of our commentators see the letters bet-resh-caf and translate it as something like: “bow the knee.” (Rashi takes a different approach.)  But perhaps the word is Egyptian. For example, Tawil mentions the suggestion that is a command to pay attention, and derives from Egyptian. He also mentions that in Akkadian there is a word “abarakku” that means “steward.”
             “Avrekh” eventually became a title for young rabbinic scholars. This is based on the statement of R. Yehudah quoted in Rashi: av be-chakhmah ve-rakh be-shanim.
            Chartumim: This word is found in Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. It is always in the plural. Some relate it to the Hebrew root chet-resh-tet, which itself only appears four times, with perhaps a basic meaning of “engrave.” Tawil points out that in Akkadian it means “interpreter of dreams.” But he thinks that it originates from an Egyptian word with the meaning “the one on duty.” For some further insights into this word, see the entry in the concordance of S. Mandelkern, and the commentary of S. D. Luzzatto to Gen. 41:8 (ed. Daniel Klein), pp. 392-93.
               Melitz: translator. The root of this word is lamed-yod-tzade. But this root also means “scoff, mock.” In Italian, there is an expression “traduttore traditore”: every translator is a traitor! Does the Hebrew language include a similar assumption, that every translator is a mocker, someone who alters the truth? Mandelkern, in his concordance, takes this position and combines all the lamed-yod-tzade words into one entry. (People who author concordances, like Mandelkern, are constantly faced with a dilemma. Do they put words which have identical three-letter roots in the same entry? If the words seem to have a common origin, they do. If not, they set up two separate entries for the root. But often it is unclear whether the two words with the same three-letter root have a common origin.)
             Most scholars would probably take the position that the two lamed-yod-tzade roots do not have a common origin. One clue to this is that “melitz” does not only mean “translator.” It also means “intercessor, advocate.” See, e.g., Job 33:23: “im yesh alav malakh melitz…“(This verse should sound familiar. It is part of the kapparot ritual.)
              Sheol:  This is the Biblical word for the “underworld.” Interestingly, it is not found in other Semitic languages. What does it mean? Is it a reflection of the fact that dead people are sometimes asked for advice? See, e.g., the story of Saul and the witch of Ein-Dor. Or is the meaning entirely different? I hope to discuss this in a future column (when I figure it out!)  (P.S. I did read somewhere that the name of the character “Endora,” on the TV show “Bewitched,” was perhaps based on the Biblical place Ein-Dor!)
             Shever: This word, with root letters Sh-B-R, means “grain.” But where does this word come from? Is it related to Sh-B-R break?
              Some relate Sh-B-R (grain) to the similar word “bar.” Others relate it to “break” and think it means “threshed grain.”
               We can also speculate that food in general may have been called “Sh-B-R” because it breaks one’s hunger. (See similarly Ps. 104:11, referring to drink as “breaking” the thirst of animals.) Even in English we have the word “breakfast.” I.e., food breaks ones fast. Also, in modern Hebrew, to eat after a fast is “lishbor et ha-tzom”
               Nevertheless, Tawil concludes that most likely, the two Sh-B-R words “break” and “grain” are not related. He notes that “shibru” is a type of flour in Akkadian.
                 Taf: child. This word appears in our parshah and throughout Tanach. Its root is tet-peh-peh. (See Is. 3:16.) But what does that three-letter root mean? It means “to toddle” (= walk in an abnormal way.) So we see that it is not only in English that children are called “toddlers.” They are called this in Biblical Hebrew as well!
               Zimrat: At verse 43:11, Jacob tells his sons to take from “zimrat ha-aretz” as a present to Joseph. We all know that the root Z-M-R means “to sing.” There are also a few occasions in Tanach where the root Z-M-R means “to cut, to prune, trim.” (See Lev. 25:3-4 and Is.5:6.) But neither of those two meanings fit Gen. 43:11. (Ok, we could force the “cut” meaning into the term, but it is a stretch.) How do we solve this difficulty?
               We all know the verse in “az yashir” (Ex. 15:2) where God is described as “azi ve-zimrat.” (The last word should be understood as if it were written “zimrati,” as I will explain in a future column.) Now we would ordinarily translate this phrase as “The Lord is my strength and song.” But in the early 20th century the ancient language of Ugaritic was discovered (based on excavations in Syria). Then we realized that in this Semitic language, Z-M-R meant “strength.” Now Ex. 15:2 makes much better sense! It is a poem with two parallel words for “strength”: azi and zimrat. We can use this “strength” meaning in Genesis 43:11 as well. Jacob is telling his sons to take from the strongest, i.e. best, produce of the land.
             I will now kiss this article goodbye with the following discussion:
           Yishak: “Ve-al pikha yishak kol ami” (Paroh to Joseph, Gen. 41:40). Most commentaries relate  “yishak” to the word “meshek” at Gen. 15:2.There Eliezer is described as the “ben meshek” of the house of Abraham. Of course, we do not know what “meshek” means. But from the context, it is evident that it means something like feed, support, or manage. (See, e.g., Onkelos, Rashi and Shadal.) It is possible that that word “meshek” is derived from the Biblical root N-Sh-K which means “equip, arm.” We can adapt most of these understandings to the “yishak” of Gen. 41:40.
             The Daat Mikra mentions the “meshek” approach to “yishak” approvingly but then argues alternatively that “yishak” may mean “kiss” here. It states that to kiss someone can sometimes be a “neshikah shel gedulah” and suggests an analogy to Samuel’s kissing Saul upon anointing him. (See 1 Sam. 10:1.) I did not find this analogy convincing, and I disagree with his suggestion that Paroh was  alluding to Joseph metaphorically kissing all the Egyptian people!
----------------------------------------------------   
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.  Please forgive him that he did not address “Tzafnat Paneach.” He hopes to do so next year!       

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Times of Israel: Imparting the true narrative

In reaction to President Trump's announcement that the Unites States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, there have been criticisms that this will hinder the peace process: the response will be violence. Is such a continuous threat of violence, though, not also deserving of criticism? In regard to this, please see my latest post on the Times of Israel blog at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/imparting-the-true-narrative/ .

Please feel free to comment here or on the Times of Israel site.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday, 11 December 2017

United with Israel: Applying the Balfour Declaration Correctly

That the Balfour Declaration has to be acknowledged as a significant and positive document in the history of the Jewish People is not in question. What this significance is, though, has to be carefully articulated. Many supporters of Israel, sadly, give it an importance that is, in fact, detrimental to Israel's standing among the nations of the world -- and we have to be extremely careful about this. In regard to this, please see my latest post in the United with Israel blog at https://unitedwithisrael.org/applying-the-balfour-declaration-correctly/.

At the present time, this posting is not up on the UWI Facebook page; my hope is that it will be in the near future. Please feel free to comment here or on one of the UWI sites.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 10 December 2017

What Motivated the Decrees of Antiochus?

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First


                     What Motivated Antiochus to Issue his Decrees?                                                                                                                                                                                     
                 Antiochus (=Antiochus IV) acceded to the throne in 175 B.C.E.  In the beginning of his reign, a priest named Jason purchased the high priesthood with a bribe. At Jason’s initiative, many Jews in Jerusalem began to follow a Hellenistic way of life. A few years later, Menelaus usurped the high priesthood from Jason with his own bribe.
                 In 167 B.C.E., Antiochus issued his decrees:
                       The king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah
                       containing orders to follow customs foreign to the land, to put a stop to
                       burnt offerings and meal offering and libation in the temple, to violate
                       Sabbaths and festivals, to defile temple and holy things, to build illicit
                       altars and illicit temples and idolatrous shrines, to sacrifice swine and
                       ritually unfit animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised and to draw
                       abomination upon themselves by means of all kinds of uncleanness and
                       profanation, so as to forget the Torah and violate all the commandments.
                       Whoever disobeyed the word of the king was to be put to death. (I Macc.1:44-50).           
Antiochus also ordered the burning of Torah scrolls and the death of anyone found with such scrolls.
               Some Jews chose death as martyrs, but many complied with the king’s orders, willingly or out of fear of punishment.
              The persecution reached Modein, where Mattathias, a priest, had settled with his five sons after fleeing Jerusalem. In Modein, Mattathias slew a Jew who had publicly sacrificed upon a pagan altar. He also slew the king’s official who had ordered the sacrifice. Mattathias then fled with his sons to the mountains. Other Jews joined them.

              Eventually, the Jewish fighters gained in numbers and they began to strike back at  the royal government and the apostate Jews. They demolished some of the pagan altars that had been erected. Mattathias died early in the revolt, but the revolt and the effort to liberate territories continued, led by his son Judah. Eventually, the Temple area was liberated, and on the 25th of Kislev in 164 B.C.E. the Temple was rededicated, and the sacrificial service restored. (The fight for independence continued after that. It was not until 142 B.C.E. that Judea finally achieved independence.)                                                                                  
            There are three main approaches that historians have taken to explain the decrees of Antiochus:
           ° One approach views the decrees as motivated primarily by his desire to spread Hellenism or to culturally unify what was perhaps a crumbling empire. In this approach, Antiochus presumably would have desired to interfere with other religions in his empire as well.
           °   Another approach views Menelaus and his Hellenistic followers as the main force behind the enactment of the decrees. In this approach, it is thought that Antiochus himself was indifferent about whether the Jews observed the Sabbath and holidays, the rite of circumcision, and the dietary laws. But in the minds of the Hellenistic Jews who found these rituals barbaric, it was important to reform Judaism to eliminate them. 
            °   A third approach views the decrees as primarily a response by Antiochus to what he perceived as a revolt by the Jews. 
             Language that supports the first approach is found at I Macc. 1: 41-43:
                              41: The king wrote to all his kingdom, for all to become
                                     one people and for each to abandon his own customs.
                              42: All the gentiles agreed to the terms of the king’s proclamation.
                              43: Many Israelites, too, accepted his religion and sacrificed to
                                     idols…

              But a weakness with the first approach is that we have very little other evidence of attempts by Antiochus to interfere with the religious practices of peoples in his kingdom.

               In our second approach, Menelaus and his Hellenistic followers are the main force behind the enactment of the decrees. A main support for this is that, at Antiquities XII, 384-85, Josephus writes that Menelaus was the one who convinced Antiochus IV to compel the Jews to abandon their religion. But none of the other narrative sources connect the decrees with Menelaus or his followers. Moreover, the decrees of Antiochus were not limited to particular rituals that Hellenistic Jews might have viewed as barbaric. The decrees essentially compelled the Jews to reject their entire religion. It seems unlikely that this was the vision of Menelaus and his followers, even assuming that Menelaus was an ardently Hellenistic Jew.            
               The third approach seems to be closest to the truth. It relies in large part on the fifth chapter of II Maccabees, which describes the events of 168 B.C.E. The chapter begins with  mention of Antiochus’ second incursion into Egypt. According to the author of II Maccabees,  the deposed high priest Jason heard a false report that Antiochus had passed away while in Egypt. Jason then took 1000 men and mounted a surprise attack on Jerusalem, presumably to recapture his office from Menelaus. Some details about the fighting are provided. Eventually, at verse 5:11, the author of II Maccabees concludes: “[w]hen the king received news of the events, he concluded that Judaea was in revolt.”
              The author of II Maccabees continues (5:11-16):
                               [H]e broke camp and set out from Egypt. With the fury of
                               a wild beast, he took the city, treating it as enemy territory
                               captured in war. He ordered the soldiers to slay mercilessly
                               whomever they met and to butcher those who withdrew into
                               their houses…[F]orty thousand fell by the sword and an
                               equal number were sold as slaves. Unsatisfied with these
                               atrocities, Antiochus had the audacity to enter the holiest
                               temple in the whole world…With polluted hands he seized
                               the sacred vessels and swept up the gifts deposited by many
                               other kings…

           The author of II Maccabees implies that Antiochus misunderstood the situation before him. In this view, there was no Jewish revolt in Jerusalem against Seleucid rule at this time, just a misunderstanding by Antiochus. But several scholars have taken a further step and speculated that Antiochus was correct and that there was a Jewish revolt in Jerusalem against Seleucid rule at this time.  Whether or not Antiochus was correct in his understanding, it is clear that Antiochus now regarded Jerusalem as a hostile city and behaved toward it accordingly. The suggestion is then made that Antiochus viewed the scribes and the interpreters of Jewish Law as leaders in the revolt and its aftermath, and as the ones who had the support of the masses. This Jewish Law had to be extirpated, Antiochus reasoned, if the city was to be controlled.     
            Finally, a story has come down to us in various ancient sources about the humiliating manner in which Antiochus’ attempt to invade Egypt was rebuffed in 168 B.C.E. When Antiochus was with his forces in Egypt, Roman forces caught up with him and ordered him to withdraw. When Antiochus said he needed time to consult with his advisers, the leader of the Roman forces took out a stick, drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus, and insisted that he make his decision before he took another step. Humiliated, Antiochus yielded and agreed to withdraw his army from Egypt. This event occurred about eighteen months before the persecution of Judea was launched in 167 B.C.E. It has been suggested that this humiliation influenced him and led him to overcompensate in the manner in which he responded to the rebellion he perceived in Judea.  
--------------------------------------------
The above is an abridged version of an article published in Ḥakirah, vol. 16 and in the author’s book Esther Unmasked.                                

         

Thursday, 7 December 2017

3 Days of Prayer to Combat 3 Days of Rage

From the Rabbinical Council of America


Today President Trump announced that the US Government recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.   We are grateful to the President for his leadership and request that everyone call the White House expressing support for this courageous act.
This announcement, however good it is, has potential to ignite riots in Israel and beyond.  In light of this possibility, we request that everyone prays to Hashem for peace in Israel and all communities around the world, and recites Tehillim, especially Chapter 83 & 126.
In addition, in response to the "Three Days of Rage" being initiated by our enemies, let us create "Three Days of Tefilah" where we increase our kavanah, especially when we recite the berakhot ofve-li-Yerushalayim Ircha and Retzei..
May we merit the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of  Zechariya haNavi:
 
כֹּה אָמַר ה' שַׁבְתִּי אֶל צִיּוֹן וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם וְנִקְרְאָה יְרוּשָׁלַם עִיר הָאֱמֶת וְהַר ה' צְ-בָאוֹת הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ כֹּה אָמַר ה' צְבָ-אוֹת עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ מֵרֹב יָמִים
וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת מְשַׂחֲקִים בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ