Friday, July 14, 2006

parshat Pinchas: Chamber or "Belly"?

Towards the end of parshat Balak {beMidbar 25:8}, we encounter the following interesting pasuk:

ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.
ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
The two words highlighted in red are remarkably similar, and we would expect their translation to also be remarkably similar. But, as one may see from this JPS translation, the first is rendered "the chamber" while the second is rendered "her belly."

This accords with Tg. Onkelos's translation of the verse, as well as with Rashi. And if we trust Shadal's judgement in matters such as these, the nikkud and the trup accords with this as well - that the second קֳבָתָהּ means "her belly" rather than "her tent."

If so, how can we account for this divergence in meaning between similarly structured words? Quite simply, poetic word choice, in order to create an echo effect. Or perhaps this was placed deliberately to hint at other meanings. The verse then shouts from the rooftops, Darsheni!!

Ibn Ezra, I suppose with differing grammatical judgement, translates both as "tent" (though he lists female anatomy for the latter as a non-midrashic alternative, labelling the various miracles as midrash). That is, first Pinchas entered Zimri's tent and killed Zimri. Then he entered Cozbi's tent - presumably, she was with Zimri's relatives - and killed Cozbi.

Shadal says the same thing:

אל קבתה : לדעת בעלי הנקוד והטעמים קבתה איננה ענין קבה, אבל (כדעת אנקלוס) ענין נקבוּת , ולפי הפשט היה ראוי להטעים: ויבא אחר איש ישראל אל הקבה וידקר את שניהם את איש ישראל.

That is, while the nikkud and trup accords with a meaning of female anatomy, the baalei nikkud and baalei hateamin were post-Talmudic (as he lays out in his vikuach al chochmat hakabbalah), and thus he feels he may revocalize and rewrite the cantillantion. As such, he suggests an alternate trup division of the pasuk. That is, the pause should be after killing the Ish Yisrael, that is Zimri.

Thus, something like:

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
And he went after the Israelite man into his tent -- and he killed both of them -- the Israelite man
וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
and the woman in her tent

There seems a bit of awkwardness here, with the interjection of אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם.

Let us now turn to consider some of the midrashim, and how they arise from the pesukim. In Sanhedrin 82, Rav Nachman citing Rav brings a pasuk in Mishlei to bear on the incident. However, as I have demonstrated often in the past, the methodology of such midrashim is to interpret a foreign verse to provide details about the local incident, but at the same time interpreting some local pasuk as well to match these details. This local reinterpretation is quite often not made overt.

The gemara in Sanhedrin:
R. Nahman said in Rab's name: What is meant by, "A greyhound [zarzir mathnaim, lit, 'energetic of loins']: an he goat also [tayish]; and a king, against whom there is no rising up?" — That wicked man, [sc. Zimri] cohabited four hundred and twenty-four times that day, and Phinehas waited for his strength to weaken, not knowing that [God is] a King, against whom there is no rising up.
That is, in Mishlei 30:31, we read:
לא זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם אוֹ-תָיִשׁ; וּמֶלֶךְ, אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ. 31 The greyhound; the he-goat also; and the king, against whom there is no rising up.
Interpreting this verse outside of its local context (that is, applying omnisignificance), Rav applies this verse to Zimri, Cozbi, and Pinchas.

זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם on a peshat level is an animal, a greyhound. However, literally, it means "energetic of loins." A perfect reference to Zimri. Why 424 times? This connects to the phrase זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם, for the numerical value of זַרְזִיר is 424. Thus 424 instances of energetic use of his loins. (One need not take this number literally, but one might consider it a way of stressing how long this went on, while at the same time connecting it further to the foreign verse.)

תָיִשׁ literally refers to a he-goat. Yet one may read it midrashically as tash, as in tash kocho, ihs strength is exhausted.

Yet, וּמֶלֶךְ, אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ, God, the king, against Whom there is no standing up, was with Pinchas, and so he did not have to wait for Zimri to be exhausted before making his move.

Perhaps we might also incorporate the word אוֹ. That is, Pinchas could have killed him while he was yet energetic or when he was exhausted, yet he waited, not knowing that since Hashem was with him, he would have prevailed either way.

That is the application of the foreign verse. What about the local verse? Well, there is the tangential assumption that Pinchas was also allowed to kill Zimri while Zimri was actually engaged in the act - based on various halachic principles. Thus, in Sanhedrin 82a, we see Rabbi Yochanan say:
What is more, had Zimri forsaken his mistress and Phinehas slain him, Phinehas would have been executed on his account; and had Zimri turned upon Phinehas and slain him, he would not have been executed, since Phinehas was a pursuer [seeking to take his life].
But this is different that Pinchas waiting for Zimri to become exhausted in the sexual act.

In fact, this קבה/קבתה issue is likely at play. Rav reads not only the second instance as female anatomy, but the first instance as well. Thus:

וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.

Pinchas saw them, and got up from within the congregation, taking a spear in hand.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה

And he went after the Israelite man {entered} her womb opening.

Not only taking הַקֻּבָּה as womb but taking after to mean temporal succession instead of spatial succession. (That is, he did this after -- timewise -- the Israelite mean entered her womb opening.)

Then

וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ

and only then did he slay them both.

Another midrash: Among the miracles that Rabbi Yochanan lists in the Pinchas incident, on Sanhedrin 82b:
[iii] he [Phinheas] succeeded [in driving his spear] exactly through the sexual organs of the man and woman.
this is of course associated with the fact that he pierced through her belly, or rather, female anatomy.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ

But, the derivation is actually even more specific:

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה
And he waited (thus achar) until the Israelite had entered her womb opening.

וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם
And he pierced through both of them, in one act. Or rather, he pierced through both of their sexual organs. שְׁנֵיהֶם may refer specifically to their organs rather to them in general.

אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
That {sexual organ} of the Israelite man

וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
and that of the woman, into her womb.

Thus, the derasha certainly involved שְׁנֵיהֶם, and quite likely also incorporates a match between both instances of קבה.

One final interesting midrash, involving some of the same elements. From Sanhedrin 82a-b. How did Pinchas manage to gte into the tent with the spear in order to kill Zimri and Cozbi?
He removed its point and placed it in his undergarment, and went along leaning upon the stock [of the spear, into which the pointed blade is inserted], and as soon as he reached the tribe of Simeon, he exclaimed, 'Where do we find that the tribe of Levi is greater than that of Simeon? [i.e., I too wish to indulge]. Thereupon they said, 'Let him pass too. He enters to satisfy his lust. These abstainers have now declared the matter permissible.'
So many different elements enter this interesting midrash. The first is the allusion to Ehud, who slew Eglon the king of the Moabites with a sword (see sefer Shofetim 3:12). There, Ehud must resort to similar trickery, giving some other reason for entering alone to meet the king, and hiding his sword in his garment. He was left-handed, and they did not search that side of him.

טז וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ אֵהוּד חֶרֶב, וְלָהּ שְׁנֵי פֵיוֹת--גֹּמֶד אָרְכָּהּ; וַיַּחְגֹּר אוֹתָהּ מִתַּחַת לְמַדָּיו, עַל יֶרֶךְ יְמִינוֹ. 16 And Ehud made him a sword which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he girded it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
and furthermore:

כא וַיִּשְׁלַח אֵהוּד, אֶת-יַד שְׂמֹאלוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הַחֶרֶב, מֵעַל יֶרֶךְ יְמִינוֹ; וַיִּתְקָעֶהָ, בְּבִטְנוֹ. 21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.
כב וַיָּבֹא גַם-הַנִּצָּב אַחַר הַלַּהַב, וַיִּסְגֹּר הַחֵלֶב בְּעַד הַלַּהַב--כִּי לֹא שָׁלַף הַחֶרֶב, מִבִּטְנוֹ; וַיֵּצֵא, הַפַּרְשְׁדֹנָה. 22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, for he drew not the sword out of his belly; and it came out behind.
Thus, we have the sword going into Eglon's belly, just as the spear entered Cozbi's belly. Add to this that both Eglon and Cozbi are Moabite royalty (see previous post about Cozbi being the daughter of Balak), and the parallels basically write a large portion of the midrash.

When about Pinchas claiming to want to enter for the purpose of sinning? Once again, a close reading of the local pasuk.

וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.
So, Pinchas took this spear in his hand, and concealed it as follows: "He removed its point and placed it in his undergarment, and went along leaning upon the stock [of the spear, into which the pointed blade is inserted]"
Thus, the actual blade was hidden in his undergarment, but the romach, the stock of the spear, he took in his hand, leaning upon it like a walking stick.

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה
we take אַחַר not in the sense of following after in time or place, but rather, after in intent. He went "after," in the way of, the Israelite man, to enter her womb, אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה. Or so he said. Thus:
and as soon as he reached the tribe of Simeon, he exclaimed, 'Where do we find that the tribe of Levi is greater than that of Simeon? [i.e., I too wish to indulge]. Thereupon they said, 'Let him pass too. He enters to satisfy his lust.
He enters - וַיָּבֹא, in the same way as Zimri - אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל, in order to satisfy his lust - אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה.

Another possible (though unlikely) point in this midrash is that Pinchas places the point of the spear in his underclothing, and enters under the guise of desiring to satisfy his lust. The spear may well be a phallic symbol, and indeed, what does he do with it?

וַיִּדְקֹר... אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ
he thrusts it into the woman's womb. Indeed, they take pains to compare him to Zimri. Except of course that he does not do what Zimri does, but instead directs his focus in a different direction.

This is what I meant in previous posts about midrashim arising out of midrashic analyses of the pesukim - such that it is somewhat more difficult to claim that Chazal did not intend this as anything but figurative.

3 comments:

Nachmanl said...

Kavah/Kavah:

They both play off the beginning of the Parshah.

The beginningexposition is: “VaYar BALAK” . . .KAVAH li” (the problem)

Resolved by: Vayar Pinchas: el haKUBA/el KUVASAH (the solution)

Of course the infinitive is a joke too: “Vayomer BALAK/LAKOV (beis-lamed-kuf//lamed-beis kuf) oyvai lakichticha . . . ”

And of course KAVA (curse) means (Onkelos): “Lot”, who was avi Moav ad hayom . . .

There’s a lot of this here (asher RACHAVTA [shalosh regalim)//BERACHTA [shalosh pe’amim) as well as some Aramaic and Akkadian jokes.

Good Shabbos
Nachman Levine

joshwaxman said...

thanks!
great stuff!

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