Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reader Question

כתוב בסי' עבודת ישראל (בתפילת יהי רצון שבברכת כהנים לפני אמירת תיבת "שלום") "בהתר ולא באיסור". "התר" נכתב עם פת"ח תחת הה"א וקמ"ץ תחת הת"ו. איזה מילה היא זו?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Life as we Know it

In the section dealing with our obligation to reach out and come to the aid of our neighbour, there is a glaring discrepancy, pointed out by Meshech Chachmah, in two adjacent pesukim. The first deals with the ger toshav, a non-Jew who has sworn off avodah zarah but is not subject to all of our mitzvos. We are commanded to support him in his time of need. The pasuk ends of, "vachai imach." The next pasuk, dealing with the prohibition of charging interest, ends of, "vechei achicha imach." The message seems almost the same but the word vachai turns into vechei.

Meshech Chachmah explains the difference between these two similar terms. One might summarize it as follows: Chei is to live whereas chai is life itself. We find the word chai used with respect to HaShem, as in "Chai HaShem," because He embodies everlasting lifeThe word chei is used with respect to more fleeting life, such as Yoseif's use of the term "chei Par'oah."


When we support our neighbour, the ger toshav, it is far more than providing financial stability. Since he has not accepted the full burden of all mitzvos, his sole source of "everlasting life" is his connection to our community. If we do not come to his aid, he will surely stray and give up the life he had chosen. Therefore, reaching out to him is indeed providing him with everlasting life.


The second pasuk refers to achicha, your Jewish brother. He therefore already merits the "everlasting life" by virtue of his service of HaShem and acceptance of all mitzvos, a pact he surely cannot alleviate himself of under any circumstances. Therefore, our financial support, however mandatory, is simply providing superficial, physical life. And so, the word chei is used instead. 

How lo can you go?

A follow-up to Ari's post on Los.
In this week's parsha, (25:29-30) the special laws of the sale of a house in a walled city are discussed. רש"י points out that the laws specifically concern a city that had a wall in the time of יהושע. This, explains רש"י, is based on a דרשה of חז"ל on a קרי/כתיב in פסוק ל. The house is referred to as being in a "עיר אשר לא חומה." The word lo is written לא, suggesting that it is a city with no wall. But it is read as לו (whatever the difference is between the two,) which implies a city that has walls. חז"ל learn from here, even though it doesn't have now, if it had before, i.e. at the time of יהושע, then it is subject to the special laws.

ר' צבי פסח פרנק in הר צבי explains why the קרי and כתיב were set up the way they were (as opposed to the other way around.) The פסוק is referring to a city that is not currently walled. That is why it is written לא. The written text is what we see with our eyes. We see לא because we see that there is no wall. But the קרי is what we hear. We hear that there was a wall before in the time of יהושע and that's why it is read לו.

Even Lo-er

Yet another interesting thought on this פסוק. Dr. Mehullam Klarberg discusses the issue with לו being masculine and apparently referring to עיר which is feminine:

Habayit asher ba'ir asher lo (spelled with Alef [meaning 'not'], but read lo spelled with Vav! meaning ['it has']) choma (Levit 25:30) ('the house which is in the city which has a wall'): The Masora says 'There are 16 written similarly with Alef and read with Vav.' Following both the ketiv ('written') and the kere ('read!') Torat Kohanim explains, 'Even though it does not now [have a wall] but it did have previously.' In a passage of Rashi (11th century) (in most editions this passage appears in brackets and the editor of Torat Chayim, Rabbi Ch. D. Chavel, points out that it did not appear in the first edition of Rashi), both the Masora and the Torat Kohanim are quoted and it is pointed out that the word ir ('city') is feminine so the pronoun referring to it should have been la (spelled with a mapik ('pronounced') Heh meaning ['she has']), and explains that because the written form is lo (spelled with Alef) they tikenu ('fixed') lo in the Masora, one form similar to the other form. According to this passage in Rashi, the Masora has abandoned the requirement for masculine-feminine agreement between a noun and its pronoun (which is obligatory in Hebrew), for the sake of 'one form similar to the other form!' Is it 'fixed' thereby? Research is required to determine the origin and status of this passage in Rashi.
Chizekuni (13th century) (who may or may not have been aware of the above passage in Rashi) is also concerned with the non-agreement of ir and lo. He writes that the word lo refers to sadeh ('field'), which is masculine and, he argues, is understood in the sentence even though it does not occur there. We have had discussion of words implied in sentences as explanations for apparent none agreement elsewhere (Morsels, Emor 5762). 
Malbim (19th century) (who probably was aware of the above passage in Rashi and its problematic status) is also concerned with the non-agreement of ir and lo. He argues that lo refers to bayit. One should see the words asher ba'ir ('which is in the city') as parenthetical and read habayit . asher lo choma directly. According to Malbim the question disappears. There is no problem with lo. 
For my part, I'm not sure how the proposed alternative understandings of לו actually jive with what the פסוק is trying to say. A house that has a wall? What house doesn't have a wall? It is clear that we are talking about a walled city so how is it appropriate to attach the word לו to anything other than עיר?

Hearing Los

A few years ago I was pondering what it means when there is a kri/ksiv when the kri and ksiv are homonyms. A prime example of this is when there is a kri/ksiv on the word lo when both the kri and ksiv are read lo, but one is spelled lamed aleph and the other lamed vav. While this issue has crept into my head several times, especially when the laining of the week would have an example, I never dedicated much time to pursuing the idea until recently. In the back of my head I kept wondering if the possible solution to this issue was something that could be a fundamental way of understanding lashon hakodesh.

There are certain languages that are considered to be tonal and others that are not. Being a tonal language means that the pitch which a speaker uses is not just helpful in understanding context and emotion, but even definition. For example, many tonal languages have homonyms found in the language that change meaning based on whether the speaker enunciates these words with a high pitch or low pitch tone. I began to consider that maybe lashon hakodesh is somewhat tonal in nature. It is important to note that there are very few homonyms in lashon hakodesh, but the tonal nature would be just as integral to the enunciation of any word, not just a homonym, as the proper vowels being used. Thus, if one were to say a word that should have a high pitch sound incorrectly, he may have spoken the word incorrectly and it might not have any meaning. It would be comparable to changing the vowels of a word without spelling a new word with the rearrangement such as spelling versus spilleng. Whereas, if it were a homonym that were spoken incorrectly, it could actually have a new meaning.

An integral part of laining is the fact that the words are read with a specific cantillation, trop. The nature of trop is such that it forces the reader to read the text with proper perspective. Many times the trop forces the reader to take pauses in places that had the reader continued reading without pause he would have misunderstood the verse. In this fashion the trop helps keep the proper punctuation in place. Perhaps, trop also forces the reader to enunciate with proper pitch in order to give that element to the word. Trop forces the reader to sound some words in higher pitch than others.

In order to test this hypothesis I decided to research the occurrences of kri/ksiv on the word lo as mentioned above. (Note: From this point on I will refer to lo with an aleph as aleph and lo with a vav as vav.) There are eighteen examples in tanach when there is a kri/ksiv with the kri being vav and the ksiv being aleph. The following cantillation marks can be found on the words being discussed: esnachta, munach, mahpach, tipcha, mercha (including one with a makaf to the following word containing a mercha), and sof pasuk (connected to the sof pasuk via makaf). I then decided to see how many alephs there were with the above trop. I was hoping to find very few or no alephs with this trop and a disproportionate amount of vavs that would. The theory would then be supported since it would then seem that the trop is adding the tonal element and although the word is written aleph it is sounded vav due to the trop. This would then prove that the kri adds the tonal element and although the word is written as aleph, the ksiv, it is read as vav, the kri.


The research did not show the anticipated results, but it showed something extremely interesting. I actually found the opposite of what I had anticipated to be true. With alephs I found the above mentioned trop occurred a total of two-thousand five-hundred and nineteen times. When I looked for similar vavs I found that there were only four times that they had the above trop. I found that to be somewhat astounding as such a staggering difference clearly displays that the alephs with that trop is normal and that the vavs are exceptions. If it was normal for the vavs one should see a much higher rate of having these cantillations. I also found it notable that all four exceptions can be found in Sefer Yirmiyah. Although one can come up with many theories as to why this is the case, that is not the purpose of this writing.


Just to be certain, I then took the examples when the ksiv is vav and the kri is aleph and found that there are only two cases like that in tanach. Interestingly, both are found in Sefer Shmuel and one has a pashta and the other is attached to a word with a kadma. When looking at the alephs that had these markings I found only one such occurrence. However, the vavs can be found with these markings one-hundred and two times. The one exception mentioned above is found in Sefer Devarim.


It would seem that the trop clearly does not reflect the kri rather it is an element of the ksiv. It is uncertain whether this is some function of trop or if it is an issue of lashon hakodesh being somewhat tonal, but it is fascinating to notice that trop does not reflect the kri. In today’s day and age it is certainly unreasonable to correct the shaliach tzibbur if he makes a mistake in trop with regard to a kri/ksiv of this nature or any other word, since we find no halachic precedent to do so. Perhaps, even when they were more attune to these issues they were only lechatchila and preferred, but not absolute ways of reading. Or, perhaps since we are not so familiar with these changes to the words we only correct items that are noticeably different to the populace.


Regarding the first question, how does one practically read a kri/ksiv that has the kri and ksiv as homonyms, I am still not one-hundred percent sure of the answer. Maybe kri means the intention and thought of the reader, so if in his head he was thinking aleph then it is an aleph. Again, I am not familiar with any source stating that if the shaliach tzibbur mentions he intended the wrong word that he must go back to that earlier place. So, I guess I am open to suggestion.


The following were the kri/ksiv cases with aleph as ksiv: Shemos 21:8, VaYikra 11:21 and 25:30, Shmuel 1 2:3, Shmuel 2 16:18, Melachim 2 8:10, Yeshaya 9:2, 49:5 and 63:9, Iyov 6:21, 13:4 and 41:4, Mishlei 19:6 and 26:1, Tehillim 100:1 and 139:16, Ezra 4:2, Divrei HaYamim 1 11:20.

The exceptions were: Yirmiyah 48:12, 49:1, 49:31 and 50:32.

The following were the kri/ksiv cases with vav as ksiv: Shmuel 1 2:16 and 20: 2.

The exception was: Devarim 32:29.