4 Sons & Sons

A discussion of Pesah/Passover generally and the Hagadah specifically. Please comment and contribute!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ba'al ha-Turim

I like the Ba'al ha-Turim. For those of you not in the know, Jacob ben Asher (1270-1340) grew up in Germany and moved to Toledo, Spain in his 30's where he would live the rest of his life. I'm not even going to mention his Arba'ah Turim which codified Jewish law for practical use and served as a model for the Shulhan Arukh. (This is where his nickname comes from: Ba'al ha-Turim = Master (or author) of the Turim).

I'm talking about his commentary on the Torah. Let's keep in mind that he wrote not one but two commentaries on the Pentateuch. His major commentary, simply referred to as "Perush al ha-Torah", is rarely studied. Apparently, it heavily relies on the Ramban. The commentary that is studied today and is printed in our Mikra'ot Gedolot is the Rimze (allusions of the) Ba'al ha-Turim. J. ben A. referred to this commentary as parpra'ot, condiments and indeed it consists chiefly of homiletical tidbits based on gematria, odd spellings, tagin and acronyms.

Let's look at a few Haggadah related examples: This first one is Be-reshit (15:13):


יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי-גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם, וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם--אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה.
13 And He said unto Abram: 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

He takes the phrase "Ki ger" whose last letters are yud and resh. The gematria comes to 210 the same as the word "redu" "go down". The Egyptian exile lasted 210 years.

And this: Shemot (1:7)
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

This verse uses 6 terms to describe the increase of the Israelites in Egypt. This corresponds to the Midrash that says that the women had sextuplets with each pregnancy.

And here: (Shemot 1:10)


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.'

The gematria of the word havah, come is 12. That is to say, come let us outsmart the 12 tribes.

This is all very nice, but not earth-shattering stuff. Now we come the category of his perush (commentary) that I really dig. He takes a word in the verse and compares it to other occurances of the same word (or sometimes root) in all of Tanakh.

Let's look at Shemot 1:11:
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.

The word anoto, "to afflict it" appears one other place in Tanakh (II Shemuel 13:32) in relation to Amnon and Tamar. There anoto means "violated" "since the day he violated his sister Tamar". Just as there is a sexual context in that place, here we have a sexual context in that the Bene Yisra'el (Israelites) minimized their marital relations. The root ayin-nun-heh is used to imply the interruption of marital relations in other places as well. We'll see Deut. 26:7, quoted later in the Hagadah, is interpreted in this vein. In Gen 31:5, Lavan warns Yaakov not to take extra wives thereby minimizing his contact with the four wives he already had.

I gotta say, I love this stuff. All of Tanakh is one intertextual treasure trove. Let's look at Shemot 1:22:

וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ - אֵלוּ הַבָּנִים. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: כָּל הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן. "Our burden," this refers to the children, as it is said: "Every boy that is born, you shall throw into the river and every girl you shall keep alive."

The word ha-yilud, "that is born", appears one other place in Tanakh (II Shemuel 12:14) where Natan is reproving David regarding Avshalom. Just as David was punished from within his household, Pharaoh was punished through Mosheh, who grew up in his household.

Now, is that cool or what?

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