Sunday, 24 September 2017

Some Interesting High Holiday Words

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First


                                             Some Interesting High Holiday Words

        Many interesting words come up in the context of the high holidays. (Many of the paytannim enjoyed using rare words!) I will discuss a few of them.
   D-F-Y (Dibarnu Dofi, from the Ashamnu prayer). This word, dalet-peh-yod, appears only one time in Tanakh, at Psalms 50:20: “You sit and speak about your brother; regarding the son of your mother you give DFY.”  From the context, it seems to be a type of slander. But what is its root and what exactly does it mean? Some relate it to the root G-D-F (blaspheme, defame, scorn). But why would the gimmel drop? Some relate it to the root H-D-F (push). The meaning would be “words that push someone away.” Some relate it to the word D-B-H, which means “slander” (see Num. 14:36). (The origin of this word is itself an interesting issue!)
      Whatever its origin, we do see from its use in Aramaic in the Talmud that D-F-Y means some type of defect. See, e.g., Pesachim 60b and Jastrow, p. 287.
  S-K-R (Sikur Ayin, from the Al Chet prayer). Most siddurim today record the first letter as a “sin,” even though the line is in the position of the samech. But we have evidence that when the “Al Chet” was originally composed, this word was written with a samech. Nevertheless, it is clear that both the lines “netiyat garon” and “sikur ayin” were derived from Isaiah 3:16, where the haughty daughters of Zion are described as “netuyot garon” and “mesakrot einayim,” and “mesakrot” is spelled with a “sin.”
          So what did the root Sin-Kuf-Resh mean in the book of Isaiah? This is the only time this root appears in Tanakh, so no one knows for certain.  Rashi on Isaiah 3:16 offers two interpretations: “looking,” and “putting red make-up on their eyes.”  The basis for these interpretations is that in rabbinic times there was a root in Hebrew Samech-Kuf-Resh which had two different meanings: a “looking” meaning, and a “painting red” meaning. Probably, Rashi’s thinking was that one of these was the original meaning of Sin-Kuf-Resh, even though the spelling changed over the centuries to samech.
          When the “sikur ayin” line was composed for the Al Chet prayer, the word was spelled with a samech. We know what the root Samech-Kuf-Resh meant in Mishnaic-Talmudic times. It meant “looking” or “painting a red stripe.” Since the latter would be an unlikely meaning in the context of the Al Chet prayer, the sin of sikur ayin must have something to do with “looking.” Based on sources such as Bereshit Rabbah 18:2, it seems that the transgression referred to is looking around too much with one’s eyes, i.e., prying into the affairs of others.
         S-L-D  (“viysaledu ve-chilah panecha,” ArtScroll Rosh Ha-Shanah Mahzor, p. 496: “in your presence they will pray with trepidation”). The root Samech-Lamed-Dalet appears only one time in Tanakh, at Job 6:10. The Targum translates it with a word derived from the Aramaic root bet-ayin-yod, which means “request, pray.” Based on this, the word is used by the paytannim throughout the liturgy as if it is a synonym for  “pray.” But we know the root S-L-D from the Mishnah and the Talmud. It is found in the expression “yad soledet bo.” Most likely, it means “spring back,” both in this expression (springs back from the heat) and at Job. 6:10, and it does not mean “request, pray.”


         M-H-L (Mehilah): (I am using H here to represent the letter het.) I have discussed this root at length in an article in akirah vol. 18 (available at their site hakirah.org, and republished in my 2015 book). I will only make a few points here:
            -This root never appears as a verb in Tanakh. (Admittedly, there are several names in Tanakh that seem to derive from the letters M-H-L. One example is Mahlat, wife of Esav. But most likely these M-H-L names were given based on the “joy” meaning of the letters M-H-L, which ultimately derives from a different root: either Het-Lamed-Lamed or Het-Vav-Lamed.)
            -The word for “forgiveness” in Tanakh is S-L-H.  In Tanakh it is always God doing the forgiveness or being asked for forgiveness; S-L-H was not a word used to describe individuals granting forgiveness. In Biblical times, we do not know how an individual would have said: “Forgive me, I am sorry that my camel bumped into yours.”
             -The letters M-H-L with a meaning like “forgiveness” first appear in a Dead Sea text. Later, the word  is found in the Mishnah.
            - When we look at the letters M-H-L in the word mehilah, a main issue is whether that initial M is a root letter. Perhaps the root was really H-L-L, in one of its several meanings.
             -Alternatively, the Tanakh includes a root M-H-E with a meaning like “erase, remove.” Perhaps M-H-L was derived from this root.
             -That the verb MHL is not found in Tanakh explains many instances in our tefillot where a citation to a verse about mehilah might be expected and yet none is provided. A good example is the “zechor lanu” section of our selihot (The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, p. 830).
             -From the Cairo Genizah, we learn that the Palestinian version of the daily Amidah did not include the word M-H-L in the “selihah” blessing (in contrast to the prevalent version today). After the initial phrase beginning with S-L-H, the next phrase began with M-H-E.
             -With regard to the possible differences between selihah and mehilah, see my article in akirah.
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                   I will now conclude with my favorite high holiday word:
    P-Sh-P-Sh    The Rama writes (Shulchan Aruch, OH 603) that during the ten days of repentance, everyone is supposed to “le-chapes u-le-fashpesh be-maasav.” We all know that those last two words  mean “examine his deeds.” But where exactly did this root P-Sh-P-Sh come from?
                   It turns out that P-Sh-P-Sh is the word for bedbug! See the entry in Jastrow for “pishpash.” It is found in Mishnah Terumut 8:2, and in both Talmuds.
                      Ernest Klein, in his A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, writes that some connect the verb P-Sh-P-Sh with the word “mishmesh” (touch, feel), from the root M-Sh-Sh. But he concludes that it is more probable that the verb P-Sh-P-Sh comes from the noun for “bedbug,” and that the original meaning of the verb was “he searched himself for bedbugs.” From this arose the meaning “he searched in general.” Whoever would have imagined!
                       But I do admit that Jastrow does not seem to connect the “search/examine” and “bedbug” meanings. He lists them in separate entries.
                       I also have to point out that the term “P-Sh-P-Sh be-maasav” did not originate in the high holiday context. The Talmud, Berachot 5a, uses the term as the recommended course for someone who sees that troubles have come upon him. See similarly Tosefta Negaim, chapter 6. Nevertheless, since the Rama and his predecessors the Meiri and the Maharil have all used the term in the context of the high holiday period, this is justification for my including this term in this column!
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Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (2015). He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.  He is still working on the meaning of the root Kaf-Peh-Resh.  He will hopefully address that one around Yom Kippur time next year.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Nishma_Parshah: Rosh Hashanah and Ha'azinu

Take a look at what's on
for Rosh Hashanah and Parshat Ha'azinu

Haftarah -Scheduling of Shuvah and Dirshu
http://nishma-parshah.blogspot.ca/2017/09/haftarah-scheduling-of-shuvah-and-dirshu.html

Parsha: Ha'azinu, "He Measured the Seas in the Hollow of His Hand"
http://nishma-parshah.blogspot.ca/2017/09/parsha-haazinu-he-measured-seas-in.html

 

Meaning of Yom Teruah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First



                                           What is the Meaning of “Yom Teruah”?

                   The Torah gives very little explanation of the holiday that we call today Rosh Ha-Shanah. The Torah calls it only “yom teruah” (in parshat Pinchas) and “zikhron teruah” (in parshat Emor).What are the meanings of these brief terms “teruah” and “zikhron teruah”? What is the plain sense understanding of this reason for this holiday?  Neither of the above Biblical sections even mention the word “shofar” or  the concepts of judgment or new year!
                    The word “teruah” (root: Resh, Vav, Ayin) points us in various directions. While it clearly means a loud sound, sometimes it is a loud sound of war or threats, and other times it is a loud sound of joy or praise. (The word “teruah,” in its various forms, appears over thirty times in Tanakh.) Other examples of its use are Numbers 10:5, where it is a signal for the tribes to move, and Numbers 23:21, where it is a sound of homage to the king (“u-teruat melekh bo”).
                 I am now going to give a sample of the different approaches to understanding the “yom teruah/zikhron teruah” holiday.
                 Samuel David Luzzatto takes the approach that the fundamental meaning of the holiday is that a teruah is blown to announce the new year. He notes that in the case of the jubilee, the Torah records a blowing of “shofar teruah” in Tishrei (on the 10th) to declare the beginning of that special year. So by analogy, our blowing of a teruah in Tishrei is also likely done to proclaim a new year. (As to “zikhron,” Shadal interprets it to mean something like “declaring,” citing Is. 12:4.)
                 Radak (comm. to Ps. 81:4) suggests that the blowing of a teruah can symbolize the freeing of slaves (e.g., the case of the jubilee year, Lev. 25:9). He theorizes that our ancestors in Egypt must have been freed from work on the first day of Tishrei, even before they left in Nissan. He believes that this event is what our blowing on the first day of Tishrei was enacted to commemorate.
               Rav S.R. Hirsch (comm. to Lev. 23:24 and Num. 29:1) sets forth the following interesting approach to the holiday. He translates “zikhron teruah” as a teruah which causes one to retrospect on one’s life. Just as the seventh day of the week invites us to reflect weekly, so too this holiday on the seventh month was set up for reflection/introspection. He writes that the yearly teruah on this day calls us to a spiritual yovel, just as the teruah of the fiftieth year calls us to a social yovel. Our yearly teruah is a call for repossession of those spiritual measures that were originally our very own and which we have parted from. Because the day is in essence one of self-introspection, this explains why the verses state little else about it.
             Ramban first focuses on the phrase “zikhron teruah.”  At Num. 10:10, the Torah refers to the Israelites’ blowing of chatzotzrot with their holiday sacrifices and states that this blowing will result in a zikaron before God. (See also 10:9.) By analogy, Ramban suggests that the phrase “zikhron teruah” in our context must also be a reference to a blowing which produces a zikaron before God.
            But then he asks the obvious question. The Torah has not explained why we have to produce a zikaron before God on this day. He concludes that because the holiday is in the same month as Yom Kippur, it must be that we are producing this zikaron because it is a Yom Din. (The idea of Rosh Ha-Shanah being a Yom Din is found in Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:2.) Ramban does not say this explicitly, but he implies that the purpose of the zikaron we are producing is to act as a reminder to God to judge us favorably on this day of Yom Ha-Din. See similarly Bereshit Rabbah 56:9.
            (Note that in our tefillot, Rosh ha-Shanah is called Yom Ha-Zikaron. This term for the holiday is very ancient. It is already found in the Dead Sea Scrolls! It probably even originated well before this.  Maybe whoever inaugurated the use of this term for our holiday had something like the Ramban’s view in mind, i.e., viewed the meaning of “zikhron teruah” as a “teruah” that produces a “zikaron.” But without knowing in what early century and by what early group the term “Yom Ha-Zikaron” first came into use, it is hard to get into the minds of its authors.)
             Many others also view the words “zikhron teruah” as the key to understanding the holiday. But they interpret the phrase differently. They interpret this phrase as indicating that the holiday is in essence a commemoration of that famous earlier shofar blast described in Exodus chapter 19, the one associated with the giving of the Torah. This interpretation is first found in Philo (1st century C.E.) But many others over the centuries have taken this approach. (But note that Exodus 19 does not use the word “teruah.”) 
               It bears pointing out that the root Z-Ch-R can mean both a “mentioning/proclaiming” and a “remembering.” Some of the above approaches are focusing on a meaning like “mentioning/proclaiming” and others are focusing on a meaning like “remembering.”
             I would now like to mention a completely different approach to understanding the Torah’s brevity when it comes to this holiday. I first saw this approach in an article by Rabbi Michael Berger, “The Moadim of Parashat Emor,” in the periodical Alei Tziyyon (5756). But it is also implicit in the Rambam in his Moreh Nevukhim. The suggestion is that the Torah does not give a specific theme to this holiday on the first day of the seventh month because the holiday is, in essence, merely an adjunct and preparatory holiday for Yom Kippur. The Torah recognizes that we cannot do proper teshuvah on Yom Kippur without a ten day period of repentance. Yom Teruah is merely the inauguration of this period and the beginning of preparation for Yom Kippur. That is why no independent theme is expressed for the holiday! The concept of the Ten Days of Repentance, in this reading, is already implicit in the Torah itself.
                  Here are the words of the Rambam, in the Friedlander translation from the Arabic (chapter 43): “The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast...”    
                    It is also interesting to investigate how the Karaites observed the holiday. In general, their observances were based on the Biblical verses alone, without our Oral Tradition. One Karaitic approach was not to have any ritual blowing because “yom teruah” was understood to mean “the day where we raise our voices joyfully [in prayer].” (But there were varying Karaitic approaches to the holiday. See Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 7, page 228, n. 19.)
                 I will close with one more insight. When one opens up a standard daily Siddur, e.g, ArtScroll, p. 111, one sees the following choices for the recitation of Yaale ve-Yavo: Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, and Sukkos. But do you think it is possible that Yaale ve-Yavo might have been composed for one particular holiday first, and was later adjusted so it could include the others? What particular holiday could that have been? Let us look at its text: ve-yipaked, ve-yizakher, zikhroneinu, u-fikdoneinu, ve-zikhron avoteinu, ve-zikhron mashiach...ve-zikhron yerushalayim...ve-zikhron kol amkha… zakhreinu Hashem…u-pakdeinu... Almost certainly, this prayer was originally composed for Yom Ha-Zikaron!  Admittedly, there is no proof for this, but it seems evident based on the above language. I first saw this insight in an article by Prof. Meir Bar-Ilan. 
               Yaale ve-Yavo is found in the Rosh Ha-Shanah zikhronot section in the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon. (See, p. 223.) Perhaps the zikhronot section of Rosh Ha-Shanah was what it was originally composed for!
               (When I quoted the text of Yaale ve-Yavo above, I quoted the text in the ArtScroll Siddur, because that is the text we are all familiar with. I should have quoted the text in the Siddur of R. Saadiah. But his text is very similar to what we recite today.)
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Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. He wishes everyone a meaningful “Yom Teruah” and “Zikhron Teruah,” in whatever interpretation they adopt for these terms.