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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Parashat Vayetze 5776

In our parasha, after Laban pursues a fleeing Jacob and family, the two make a covenant over a pile of stones. The text tells us that Laban gave this pile an Aramaic name, Y’gar Sahaduta, while Jacob gave it an almost equivalent in meaning Hebrew name, Gal-ed. [The interested reader should see the Malbim on the slight difference in meaning between the two phrases.] But why give us the Aramaic? Surely plenty of times in the Torah people say things in other languages, but usually we do not hear of them [with some minor exceptions like Joseph’s Egyptian name]. And if Jacob is giving it essentially the same name in Hebrew, why tell us Laban’s name for it?
בראשית פרשת ויצא פרק לא
Genesis Chapter 31
(44) “And now, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and it will be a witness between me and you.”
(מד) וְעַתָּה לְכָה נִכְרְתָה בְרִית אֲנִי וָאָתָּה וְהָיָה לְעֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ:
(45) Then Jacob took a stone and piled it as a pillar.
(מה) וַיִּקַּח יַעֲקֹב אָבֶן וַיְרִימֶהָ מַצֵּבָה:
(46) Then Jacob said to his brothers, “Collect stones,” then they took stones and made a heap; then they ate there on the pile.
(מו) וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְאֶחָיו לִקְטוּ אֲבָנִים וַיִּקְחוּ אֲבָנִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ־גָל וַיֹּאכְלוּ שָׁם עַל־הַגָּל:
(47) Then Laban called it, “Y’gar Sahaduta,” and Jacob called it Gal’ed.”
(מז) וַיִּקְרָא־לוֹ לָבָן יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא וְיַעֲקֹב קָרָא לוֹ גַּלְעֵד:
(48) Then Laban said, “This heap is a witness between me and you today;” therefore its name is called “Gal’ed”.
(מח) וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן הַגַּל הַזֶּה עֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ הַיּוֹם עַל־כֵּן קָרָא־שְׁמוֹ גַּלְעֵד:

רש"י שם
Rashi on the Above
Y’gar Sahaduta - the translation of Gal’ed.
יגר שהדותא - תרגומו של גלעד:
Gal’ed - heap of witness.
גלעד - גל עד:

From what I found, the commentaries take three general approaches to this Aramaic intrusion: 1. Sometimes we need to hear other languages to understand the origin of a name later on. 2. This is proof that Aramaic is a good language. 3. Aramaic is an awful language that infected our text as proof of Laban’s evil, or perhaps worse.

Unsurprisingly for those who know his commentary, Rashbam takes a very practical approach. Here he is discussing the name “man” given to the heaven descended food the Israelites ate in the desert. He claims the word “man” is Egyptian for “what”.
רשב"ם שמות פרשת בשלח פרק טז
Rashbam on Exodus Chapter 16
Shmuel ben Meir, 11th and 12th Centuries France
And I say, “It is man” is the translation of “who” [“what”?] since it is Egyptian and they were accustomed to that language and it is like “what.” So Moses wrote in that language that they spoke to inform us that therefore the house of Israel call its name “man” since they were confused and said, “man hu” which is like “what is that?”
ואני אומר מן הוא תרגומו של מי [מה?] ולפי שהוא לשון מצרי ובאותו לשון היו רגילין שהוא כמו מה, כתבו משה באותו לשון שאמרו להודיענו שלפיכך ויקראו [בית] ישראל את שמו מן על שהיו תמיהים ואומרים מן הוא כמו מה הוא.
And so too Y’gar Sahaduta. And like it, “He cast a pur, that is a lot,” (Ester 3:7). It only needed to write, “He cast a lot,” since the megillah was written in Hebrew. But to inform us that this is why they called these days, “Purim”, because of the pur. And had it not been written from the beginning in the language that they spoke in that kingdom, we would not know why it was called, “Purim.”
וכן יגר שהדותא. וכמוהו הפיל פור הוא הגורל (אסתר ג:ז). לא היה צריך לכתוב אלא הפיל הגורל הואיל ובלשון הקודש נכתבה המגילה, אלא להודיענו על כן קראו לימים האלה פורים על שם הפור. ואילו לא נכתב מתחילה בלשון שהיו אומרים באותה המלכות, לא היינו יודעים למה נקרא פורים:

Now let us see the Aramaic is good approach. The minor tractate of So’frim seems to place importance on the use of Aramaic here (which it calls תרגום meaning “translation”.) We are not permitted to read this phrase in Hebrew.
מסכתות קטנות מסכת סופרים נוסח הגר"א פרק א, הלכה ט
Minor Tractates, Tractate So’frim (According to the Vilna Gaon), Chapter 1, Law 9
All of the Torah is in Hebrew, except it has in it things in translation. Hebrew that they wrote in translation and translation that they wrote in Hebrew do not read it. And which is in translation? “Y’gar sahaduta” and its fellows.
כל התורה כולה עברית היא, אלא שיש בה דברים של תרגום. עברית שכתבו תרגום ותרגום שכתבו עברית אל יקרא בו. ואיזהו תרגום? יגר שהדותא וחביריו.  
And there are those who say that they only spoke about “y’gar sahaduta” and “gal-ed” which are two languages: Hebrew and translation. One should not switch them.
ויש אומרים לא דברו אלא על יגר שהדותא וגלעד שהם שתי לשונות של עברית ותרגום שלא יהפכם.
The midrash below presents the use of Aramaic as a way for God to show us the need to respect that language. In all three verses cited the verses could have been written in Hebrew just as the Persian conversations in Ester are in Hebrew, or the Egyptian conversations in Genesis and Exodus are in Hebrew. Instead, it chose to write in Aramaic as a lesson. [Two notes: one is that the text refers to Aramaic as “Persian” [פרסי] but it clearly means Aramaic. Second: the quote from Daniel is actually the Hebrew part of the verse, but it begins a lengthy section of the book which is almost entirely in Aramaic.]
בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת ויצא פרשה עד
Genesis Rabbah (Vilna Edition), Parasha 74
“Then Laban called it Y’gar Sahaduta.” Said Rebbi Shmuel son of Nachman, “This language of Persian should not be trivial in your eyes. For in the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Writings we find that the Holy One, blessed be He, gives it honor. In the Torah, as it says, “Then Laban called it Y’gar Sahaduta.’ In the prophets, ‘As such you shall say to them,’ (Jermiah 10:11) [written in Armaic]. In the writings, ‘Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic,’ (Daniel 2:4).”
"ויקרא לו לבן יגר שהדותא" , א"ר שמואל בר נחמן אל יהא לשון פרסי הזה קל בעיניך שבתורה בנביאים בכתובים מצינו שהקדוש ב"ה חולק לו כבוד, בתורה ויקרא לו לבן יגר שהדותא, בנביאים "כדנה תאמרון להום וגו'," (ירמיה י:יא) בכתובים "וידברו הכשדים למלך ארמית," (דניאל ב:ד)

The source below from the Palestinian Talmud sees different languages having their own strengths. My parentheticals are based on the P’nei Moshe.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת סוטה פרק ז, הלכה ב
Palestinian Talmud (Vilna Edition), Tractate Sotah, Chapter 7, Law 2
אמר ר' יונתן דבית גוברין ארבעה לשונות נאין להשתמש בהן העולם. ואילו הן לעז לזמר רומי לקרב סורסי לאיליי' עברי לדיבור. ויש אומרים אף אשורי לכתב.
Said Rebbi Yonatan of the house of Govrin: There are four languages in the world it is proper to use. And these are they: Loaz [Greek] for song, Latin to draw close, Sursi [Aramaic] for lament, and Hebrew for speech. And there are those who say Assyrian for writing.

Based on our midrash from Genesis Rabbah, the Torah Temimah pretty much puts Aramaic on the same level as Hebrew.
תורה תמימה הערות בראשית פרק לא
Torah Temimah, Notes on Genesis 31
Barukh HaLevi Epstein, 19th and 20th Centuries Lithuania and America
And the matter was quite difficult for me for many years: how do we write a get [bill of divorce] for a women in a mixed language of Hebrew and Aramaic. Do we not hold that a get written in two languages is unsuitable? Until the it was settled for me in the explanation here that there is closeness in linguistics and honor between the two languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. Therefore they are not considered like two independent languages.
וכמה קשה הי' לי הדבר ימים רבים איך אנו כותבין גט אשה בלשון בלול מעברית וארמית, והלא קיי"ל גט הנכתב בשתי לשונות פסול, עד שנתיישב לי לפי המבואר כאן דיש קרבת מקום וכבוד בין לשונות עברית וארמית, ולכן אין נחשבות כשתי לשונות מיוחדות

However, we definitely have the Aramaic is bad approach as well. The Alshekh implies that Laban used Aramaic so the ministering angels would not understand him. Presumably this is because he did not really mean the covenant and therefore the angels could not actually be witnesses.
אלשיך בראשית פרשת ויצא פרק לא
Alshekh, Genesis Chapter 31
Moses Alshekh, 16th Century Turkey
And here Laban spoke in the Aramaic language which is a language reserved for outsiders. For through it the holy angels could not understand him...
והנה לבן אמר בלשון ארמי שהוא לשון מיוחד לחיצונים, שעל כן אין מלאכי הקדש מבינים אותו…
But Jacob called it, “Gal-ed” in the holy language, and in singular language [one word] to hint that Hashem is one and He is the true witness.
אך יעקב קראו גלעד בלשון קדש, ובלשון יחיד, לרמוז אל ה' אחד שהוא העד באמת...

Here we see a source from the Babylonian Talmud explaining that the angels do not understand Aramaic. We also see a commentary explaining why.  Aramaic is not a good language, at least to the angels.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 12b
Did not Rav Yehuda say, “For sure a person should not make his requests in Aramaic.” And said Rebbi Yochanan, “Anyone who makes his requests in Aramaic, the ministering angels do not attend it [the prayer], for the ministering angels do not understand Aramaic.”
והאמר רב יהודה: לעולם אל ישאל אדם צרכיו בלשון ארמי! ואמר רבי יוחנן: כל השואל צרכיו בלשון ארמי - אין מלאכי השרת נזקקין לו, שאין מלאכי השרת מכירין בלשון ארמי!

ראש יוסף מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב
Rosh Yosef on Tractate Shabbat 12b
Yosef Teomim, 18th Century Poland
And the fact that the ministering angels do not attend the prayer with Aramaic, there are those who explain that this language is not good in their eyes.
והא דאין מה"ש נזקקין לארמי יש פירושים שאין טוב בעיניהם זה הלשון

This final source goes even further, blaming Jacob’s causing Aramaic to enter into our Torah as the cause for the descension of his children to Egypt.
חנוכת התורה פרשת כי תבוא
Channukat Ha’Torah, Parashat Ki Tavo
Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, 17th Century Poland
On the verse “An Aramean destroyed my father and he descended to Egpyt,” (Deuteronomy 26:5). There is to explain based on that in the book Galya Razya and these are his words: Since Jacob our father brought the language of translation to the Torah. Laban called it, “Y’gar Sahaduta.” And Jacob called it, “Gal-ed.” Exactly because of this Israel came to exile in Egypt, etc, see there.
בפסוק ארמי אובד אבי וירד מצרימה וגו' (דברים כו:ה). יש לפרש ע"פ מה דאיתא בספר גליא רזיא וז"ל בשביל שהביא יעקב אבינו לשון תרגום בתורה. לבן קראו יגר שהדותא. ויעקב קראו גלעד בשביל כך באו ישראל בגלות מצרימה דוקא וכו' עיין שם.
And there is to say that which the Text said in parashat Va’Yeshev, “Then they lifted their eyes and behold there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gil-ad, etc,” (Genesis 37:25). It means to say that they saw them coming from Gal-ed since Jacob from Gal-ed in the language of translation into the Torah. For this Joseph was forced to go down to Egypt...
ויש לומר דזה שאמר הכתוב בפרשת וישב וישאו עיניהם ויראו והנה ארחת ישמעאלים באה מגלעד וגו' להוריד מצרימה (בראשית לז:כה). ר"ל שראו שבאו מגלע"ד הואיל שיעקב הביא גלע"ד לשון תרגום בתורה ולכך הוכרח יוסף להוריד מצרימה.
And there is to also explain that that which the writer of the Haggadah said, “‘He descended to Egypt, teaches he was forced by the speech,’” it exactly means to say that since Jacob our father spoke Aramaic with Laban, for this he was forced to descend to Egypt.
ויש לפרש ג"כ דזה שאמר בעל הגדה וירד מצרימה מלמד שהיה אנוס על פי הדיבור דייקא ר"ל בשביל שדיבר יעקב אבינו לשון ארמי עם לבן לכך היה אנוס לירד למצרים:

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