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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vayakhel, Shemos 36:28. Li'me’kutze’os Hamishkan. Love, Lions, and Corners

It has been said that cultures for whom certain things or concepts are particularly important will develop many separate words to describe relatively minor variations in these things or concepts. For example, instead of using one noun with a variety of adjectives, different nouns are created. This is known as Focal Vocabulary . The famous example, though I'm told that linguists dispute its truth, is that Eskimos have a many different words for snow. If that's your entire landscape, of course you will, over time, develop words whose meanings incorporate the various states of snow, such as hard, granular, soft, slippery, loose, slushy, etc. I assume that skiers have the same arsenal of nouns. In Hebrew, it's Sheleg, period.

In Hebrew, how many words are there for lion? Five: Ari, Kfir, Layish, Shachal, and Gur refer only to lions, which, evidently, are symbolically powerful in our culture. In English, there is only one-- Lion. How do you say you like or love? You like your neighbor? Ani oheiv oso. You love your wife? Ani oheiv osah. You like pizza? Ani oheiv pizza.

Having said this, let's look at the parsha. How many ways are there to say "Corner" in Hebrew? Pinah, or keren. But in this parsha, it appears in an unparalleled panoply of iterations.
36:28– by the krashim, Me’kutze’os.
37:3– by the Aron, Pa’amosav.  (By the way, the Ibn Ezra apparently got fed up with all these synonyms, so he translates "Pa'amosav" as feet.  According to him, the Aron Kodesh had feet, and didn't sit directly on the ground.  His raya is from "Mah yafu pa'amayich ba'ne'alim."  Tosfos in Yoma says it had not four, but eight rings, four for the badim that actually carried it, and four for the decorative badim.)
37:13– by the Shulchan, HaPei’os.
38:2– by the Mizbach ha’olah, Pinosav.
(Karnos, of course, appear on the Mizbechos, but they really look like Karnayim, so I'll leave those out.)

So, if you want to talk about fighting, use Latin (bellum, pugna, macto, litis, certo). For love, Greek (agape, eros, storge, philia, thelema). For lions in corners, Hebrew is your language of choice.  (You might be interested in looking into the field called Phonaesthetics.)
(This actually is like the Yerushalmi in Megilla 1:9. The Yerushalmi there says "four languages are proper for the world to use;

א"ר יונתן דבית גוברין ד' לשונות נאים שישתמש בהן העולם ואלו הן לעז לזמר רומי לקרב סורסיי לאילייא עברי לדיבור

Greek for song, Latin for war, Aramaic for elegy, and Hebrew for speech." The meforshim there learn לקרב means "to draw near, or convince," but I think it means "for war." There's no reason to think the list changes from nouns to verbs, and stam their pshat is tzarich iyun.)

What’s pshat? Why so many ways of referring to corners? After Parshas Teruma and Tetzaveh, where we were endlessly boxed, (Mishbetzos on the Choshen and the Eifod and the Kesones Tashbeitz), suddenly we are cornered.

Rabbi Yitzchok Resnik PhD (abd) said that these parshiyos, which describe the fabrication of the Mishkan and its contents, speak to craftsmen in their specialized language. Every craft, every profession, has its own lexicon, its own patois or jargon. For example, "A stretcher and a joint" has an entirely different meaning to a bricklayer and to a paramedic. Perhaps these are terms that are used variously by cabinetmakers, by goldsmiths, and by carpenters, and they express differences in how they are crafted or how they are used.

I said, just for homiletic aerobics, that intersections can have many different meanings. When two things that are moving in different directions meet, they might be unaffected by the meeting, they might simply end where they meet, or they might change completely, they might attain a new identity. A corner is the intersection of two sides, and maybe these different words express the various outcomes of intersection.

Previous postings on Vayakhel and Pekudei, every one of which is lots better than the above:

The Latent Holiness of Human Love

The Wisdom of Mussar and Seichel: This is not an Oxymoron.

Knitting our Brows about Why King David Couldn't Build the Beis Hamikdash

The Hidden Prophecy of the Destruction, and Rebuilding, of the Batei Mikdash


Anonymous said...

You might have addressed this before AND I might have asked but is the Story with Reb Moshe and the Pacemaker with Beis Din Hagodol true.And did Reb Moshe hold that women should make Birchas Hachamah (meaning did his wife do it or other female family members.

Barzilai said...

The story with the pacemaker is true. And the Feinstein women did not make the birchas hachamah last time. I was on the East Side with Reb Moshe, and the women were not there. I assume they did not participate because of the minhag by kiddush levana, but I don't know that for a fact.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're ok. Nothing new in almost a week.

Barzilai said...

Thank you for asking. I'm fine, but inundated with Pesach and Tax season obligations.

Anonymous said...

Harav Shimon Eider zt”l, the well-known Lakewood posek and trailblazing author of acclaimed sifrei halacha in English, told him in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein that women are to make the bracha of Birchas Hachama, b’sheim umalchus. Harav Forchheimer told his audience of close to 1,000 that Rav Eider also said that at the last Birchas Hachama, in 1981, Harav Shneur Kotler zt”l, Rosh Hayeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha, instructed the women of the kehillah at that time to recite the bracha.

Daniel said...

Really enjoyed the various points raised in this post. Thank you.
The answer is a little less satisfying as I'm sure you'll agree.

b said...

I do agree, on both points.