Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Explaining My Flippancy Yesterday About Reciting Parshat Haman

Yesterday, I gave a somewhat flippant basis for the inyan of saying parshat Haman, specifically yesterday, Tuesday parshat Beshalach. Why?

To repeat the email I got:
Reb Mendel M'Riminov said that saying Parshas Ha'monn (Shneyim Mikroh V'Echod Targum) on Tuesday Parshas B'Shalach, is a Segulah for Parnasah (Which is today, Tuesday Jan. 30. This is a special prayer that is supposed to help one get a good living financially.
Why be flippant, when it apparently has a basis in Yerushalmi Berachot (couldn't find it our girsa, perhaps someone can point it out in the comments).

The famous Yerushalmi basis is that כל האומר פרשת המן מובטח לו שלא יתמעטו מזונותיו, or perhaps כל האומ' פרש' המן בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא, ושאין מזונותיו נחסרין. (The first is Mishna Berura, which also is talking about the practice of saying it every day.)

We find mention of this in Seder Rav Amram Gaon:
(Wikipedia: Amram Gaon (Hebrew: עמרם גאון) (d. 875) was a famous Gaon or head of the Jewish Talmud Academy of Sura (Persia) in the 9th century. He was the author of many Responsa, but his chief work was liturgical.)

In the Maamadot, he mentions initially that one says parshat HaMan every day.
ביום ראשון קורין בראשית ברא אלהים וגו', עד ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד.
נביאים כה אמר האל ה' בורא שמים וגו', עד בטרם תצמחנה אשמיע אתכם +ישעיהו מ"ג, ה' - ט'+.
פרשת המן בכל יום ויום ויאמר ה' אל משה הנני ממטיר לכם וגו', עד והעומר עשירית האיפה הוא +שמות ט"ז, ד' - ל"ו+.

And indeed, for each day he mentions that one says Parshat HaMan. E.g.:

ביום השלישי קורין בתורה מן ויאמר אלהים יקוו המים וגו'. עד ויהי בקר יום שלישי +בראשית א', ט' - י"ג+.
נביאים. ויקנא ה' לארצו וגו'. עד ולא יבושו עמי לעולם +יואל ב', י"ח - כ"ז+.
וקורא פרשת המן. וענין הקרבנות ואיזהו מקומן כמו שכתבנו למעלה. התמיד פרק שלישי, מן אמר להם הממונה וכו' עד גמירא. וקורא עשרת הדברים.
כתובים. מזמור לאסף אלהים נצב וגו' +תהלים פ"ב+. כמו שכתוב לעיל: וקורא אין קדוש כה' כי אין בלתך, וקורא פטום הקטורת. הלכה, ונשלמה פרים וכו', כמו שכתוב לעיל כל הענין עד הסוף.

He ends all this with:
סליק פרקא סדר מעמדות.
זה המנהג הנכון לנהג היחידים אנשי מעשה. והצבור אין נוהגין כן, שלא יתבטל איש איש ממלאכתו אשר המה עושים, ומקצרין ואומר אחר סיום, קדיש. חזק.

This is thus a custom of some to say every day.

The practice of saying parshat HaMan is also brought down in ספר תשב"ץ קטן סימן רנו, where we find:
ירושלמי כל האומר פרשת המן בכל יום מובטח הוא שלא יתמעטו מזונותיו ואני ערב:

Also, in ספר המנהיג הלכות שבת עמוד קעב:
ירושל' כל האומ' פרש' המן בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא, ושאין מזונותיו נחסרין.

This thus appears to be a fairly old custom, with a few differences:
1) Rather than just Tuesday of parshat Beshalach, it is every single day. We get quite a break here that we only need say it once a year!
2) It does not seem that they read it with shnayim mikra veEchad Targum for it to be effective. Rather, it is part of davening, like the seder haKorbanot, and the Aseret haDibrot, etc. Do you say the Korbanot with Shnayim Mikra veEchad Targum?
3) Rather than helping one get a living financially, it appears to be to maintain one's living. Perhaps one can nitpick on this last point.

I would guess, though I have no source, that the idea of Shanyim Mikra veEchad Targum of this is either someone interpreting korei as this, or else because usually, we do not say parshat haMan, and now, in parshat Beshalach, we encounter it in Shnayim Mikra veEchad Targum, which we should be learning through anyway. Indeed, I would guess that it started as encountering it in Shnayim Mikra, and they said, "Hey! We should make sure to say this, because we have this Yerushalmi."

In Eretz Yisrael, meanwhile, they had a three year cycle, so they would not have encountered parshat Beshalach every year where the Yerushalmi was composed.

What about theologically? I'm generally uncomfortable with these segulot which appear to be magic incantations, particularly those that one says at a specific (apparently propitious) time. But, I should stress, this is likely as not a result of my Ashkenazic upbringing.

How do I make sense of the Yerushalmi? I take Mishna Berura's explanation seriously about all these things, e.g. saying Ashrei every day: {I'm bolding certain parts, but read it all.}

משנה ברורה סימן א ס"ק יג

פרשת העקידה - קודם פרשת הקרבנות. ויכול לומר פרשת העקידה ופרשת המן אפילו בשבת. ואין די באמירה אלא שיתבונן מה שהוא אומר ויכיר נפלאות ד' וכן מה שאמרו בגמרא כל האומר תהלה לדוד ג' פעמים בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן עוה"ב ג"כ באופן זה. וטעם לאמירת כ"ז כי פרשת עקידה כדי לזכור זכות אבות בכל יום וגם כדי להכניע יצרו כמו שמסר יצחק נפשו ופרשת המן כדי שיאמין שכל מזונותיו באין בהשגחה פרטית וכדכתיב המרבה לא העדיף והממעיט לא החסיר להורות שאין ריבוי ההשתדלות מועיל מאומה ואיתא בירושלמי ברכות כל האומר פרשת המן מובטח לו שלא יתמעטו מזונותיו ועשרת הדברות כדי שיזכור בכל יום מעמד הר סיני ויתחזק אמונתו בה' ופרשת הקרבנות דאמרינן במנחות זאת תורת החטאת כל העוסק בתורת חטאת כאלו הקריב חטאת וכו':
"The parsha of the Binding {of Yitzchak} -- before the parsha of the sacrifices. And one is able to say the parsha of the Binding and the parsha of the Manna even on Shabbat. And it is not sufficient with mere saying, but rather he must understand what he is saying and and recognize the wonders of Hashem. And so too that which they say in the gemara that anyone who says Ashrei three times every day is guaranteed that he will be a resident of the world to come, in this manner {that is, not an incantation, but understanding and appreciating this}. And the reason for the saying of all this is as follows: the parsha of the Binding is in order to recall the merit of the forefathers every day, and also to humble his yetzer, just as Yitzchak was moser nefesh. And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his food {/livelihood} comes through special Divine direction {hashgacha pratis}, as it is written {and understood midrashically} "and the one who took more did not end up with more and the one who took less did not end up with less," to teach that increasing effort does not help at all. And it is found in Yerushalmi Berachot that anyone who says the parsha of the Manna {others have here: every day} he is guaranteed that his livelihood will not decrease. And the {saying of the} Ten Commandments is in order to recall every day the standing by Mt. Sinai, and his faith in Hashem will be strengthened. And {the reason for reciting} the parsha of the sacrifices is because of what we say in Menachot: "Zot Torat HaChatat -- Anyone who engages in the {learning of} Torah of the Chatat is as if he sacrificed a Chatat {sin offering}, etc."
Thus, this is not a magic incantation, but rather a mechanism by which one realizes certain facts about the world and reinforces his emuna. The repercussions of such an internalization of these ideas will be all these great things.

Meanwhile, the saying of parshat HaMan, once a year, on a specific day, is most certainly presented as a segula, and thus is not in consonance with the Mishna Berura's explanation.

Which is also why I made reference yesterday to the lecture at Lander College in another post, yesterday. Once again:

ETHICS IN THE WORKPLACE - Saturday night, Feb. 3, 2007, at 8:30 PM

Given by: Rabbi Yosef Viener - Rav, Agudas Yisroel of Flatbush
Franklyn Snitow, Esq. -Senior Partner, Snitow, Kanfer, Holzer, Millus
Michael David - Director, Deutsche Bank

Lecture given at: Lander College for Men
75-31 150th Street
Kew Gardens Hills, NY

Lectures free of charge and open to men and women
One natural consequence of this shift in perspective, that all comes from Hashem, is a motivation to behave ethically in the workplace. And doing so is a great segula.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lecture: Ethics In the Workplace

Just got this in the mail. Looks interesting, though don't know that I'll show:

ETHICS IN THE WORKPLACE - Saturday night, Feb. 3, 2007, at 8:30 PM

Given by: Rabbi Yosef Viener - Rav, Agudas Yisroel of Flatbush
Franklyn Snitow, Esq. -Senior Partner, Snitow, Kanfer, Holzer, Millus
Michael David - Director, Deutsche Bank

Lecture given at: Lander College for Men
75-31 150th Street
Kew Gardens Hills, NY

Lectures free of charge and open to men and women

Why I Oppose Tu BiShvat Seders

Citing Rabbi Miles Krassen at

The kabbalistic seder text known as Peri Eitz Hadar was originally popular in Sephardic (Spanish and Mediterranean) communities and unknown in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) world. According to the author, this is due to the fact that in the Ashkenazic community, the eminent halakhic authority Jacob Emden (1697-1776) attributed Peri Eitz Hadar to Nathan of Gaza, a theologist who considered himself a prophet of Shabbetai Tzvi, the 17th-century pseudo-Messiah. Jewish authorities reviled Shabbetai Tzvi as a heretic because of his conversion to Islam. This material, therefore, was condemned by Emden as a heretical Sabbatean text.

While Emden was eager to discover Sabbatean influences in many works, modern scholarship does support his contention regarding Hemdat Yamim, the Sabbatean anthology that contains Peri Eitz Hadar. Nevertheless, this seder is a pure kabbalistic text of the Lurianic school, despite its inclusion in the controversial anthology Hemdat Yamim.

Well, one reason I'm against 'em.

{Update: To clarify, the way I read the above is that Nathan of Gaza compiled it in an anthology, not that he authored it, and the work itself it non-Sabbatean kabbalah.}

What Is The Basis of Saying Parshat HaMan Specifically Today?

Important Note: This post was written in jest. For the real basis, see this other parshablog post, which traces it from R' Mendel MiRiminov, to Rav Amram Gaon, to the Yerushalmi.

Received by email, has been on other blogs as well:
Reb Mendel M'Riminov said that saying Parshas Ha'monn (Shneyim Mikroh V'Echod Targum) on Tuesday Parshas B'Shalach, is a Segulah for Parnasah (Which is today, Tuesday Jan. 30. This is a special prayer that is supposed to help one get a good living financially.
Why specifically this week, and why specifically on Tuesday? Avoiding the obvious answers, I think the answer is patently obvious. Today is not just January 30th. It is also Shevat 11. Thirty days from now it will be 11 Adar, which will also (this year, for various reasons) be Taanit Esther.

And not only that, as the first Mishna records (though not halachic practice nowadays), the Megillah is sometimes read on 11 Adar.

We also know that 30 days before the chag we are shoalin vedorshin in the laws of the Chag. This is true by Pesach.

Similarly, by Purim, we need to start preparing 30 days before. And what better way than to read Parshat Haman!

In a related trivia note, which publisher of a Talmud translation mistakenly attributed the three meals on Shabbat to the three meals of Haman?

Beshalach: Is vaEd in Hashem Yimloch LeOlam vaEd Spelled With a Patach or Kametz?

A curious Rashi on a pasuk in Az Yashir. Shemot 15:18:

ה יִמְלֹךְ, לְעֹלָם וָעֶד
18 The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.
The word וָעֶד, as spelled above and in our Chumashim, is with a kametz. Yet, Rashi states:
to all eternity Heb. לְעֹלָם וָעֶד. [This is] an expression of eternity, and the “vav” in it is part of the root. Therefore, it is punctuated with a “pattach.” But in “and I am He Who knows, and [I am] a witness וָעֵד” (Jer. 29:23), in which the “vav” is a prefix, it is punctuated with a “kamatz.”
This is strange. Rashi appears to have a version of the word in which vaEd is spelled with a patach! Thus, the fact that it has a patach here shows that the vav is part of the root, equal to yud ayin daled, and means eternity. If so, perhaps we should pronounce the pasuk similarly.

Is this really so? Well, I got the following from the Mossad haRav Kook Rashi Peirushei HaTorah (an important sefer to have, IMHO, even though I think they got this particular instance wrong):
והוי"ו בו יסוד: ר"ל בעבור שהוי"ו אינה שימושית רק היא תמורת יו"ד אות ראשונה מן השורש "ועד" נקראת אצל רש"י מן היסוד -- באר רחובות
לפיכך היא פתוחה: העיקר הוא כנוסחת חומשים גדולים דפוס באזיל דמילת "ועד" פתח תחת היו"ד -- באר רחובות

I would say that even if the vav is not of the shoresh, it makes sense in context. "Ad" means "until," and it appears to form a hendiadys with leOlam, thus meaning "forever."

(Digression to define hendiadys: "A figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive, such as grace and favor instead of gracious favor." Think of tohu vavohu.)

We would expect a kametz, sure, but remember that this is Biblical poetry and is thus either preserved ancient pronunciation or deliberately archaic forms for stylistic purposes. Thus, we need not explain the patach instead of the aleph. But that seems to be arguing with Rashi (while even taking his girsa, which is recommended by the principle of lectio difficilior, the rule of choosing the more difficult word as original).

The other strong possibility is predicated on the knowledge that a segol was called a patach katan in certain communities, and the tzeirei was called a kamatz katan. (Not to be confused with the homonym kamatz katan, which has the orthographic symbol of kamatz but represents a reduced cholam. If so, Rashi would not be saying that there is a patach under the vav but rather that there is a segol under the ayin rather than a tzeirei under the ayin. Thus, we have no evidence of an alternate girsa in Rashi, even though that one chumash appears to have it. Indeed, that Chumash perhaps has that because of misunderstanding this Rashi!

What does Shadal have to say about this?
ועד : והסגול שתחת העי"ן זר מאד, וראב"ע ביקש להולמו ולא הלמו, כי אמר שהוא בעבור ההפסק כמו ואכל ( בראשית ג' י"ב ) מן ואכל, ואין זה כלום, ראשונה, כי כאן סגול ולהלן צירי ; ושנית, כי גם בלא הפסק העתיד מנחי פ"א אל"ף פעמים בפתח, כמו ואחז בפלגשי ( שופטים כ' ו' ), וחוץ מפעלי נחי פ"א בזמן עתיד לא מצאנו מעולם פתח משתנה בהפסק מאמר לצירי. ורש"י כתב כי הוי"ו משורש המילה ושהיא פתוחה, והנכון כדעת בעל שפתי חכמים שכוונת רש"י על ניקוד העי"ן , כי אנכי היודע ועד ( ירמיה כ"ט כ"ג ) שהוא לשון עדות, העי"ן קמוצה כלומר נקודה קמץ קטן שהוא ציר"י , אבל ועד שענינו לעולם, העי"ן נקודה פתח קטן שהוא סגול ; אמנם ראב"ע באמרו : ומשפט לה"ק בהיות התנועה (זה נ"ל טעות סופר וצריך לומר : הנגינה) באות הבא אחר וי"ו יפתחוהו כמו שור וכשב ועז ( ויקרא ז' כ"ג ) ובעבור זה נפתח ועד ; עכ"ל. כוונתו על נקוד הוי"ו וקרא פתיחה לקמץ, לא שהקמץ נקרא כן, אלא' שהוא פתיחה בערך אל השוא שאיננו תנועה ; ובביאורו הקצר מפורש יותר וזה ישונו: ובעבור היות הטעם באות הראשון כמו לחם וין ( בראשית י"ד י"ח ), נפתח הוי"ו . אמנם לענין שכתב רש"י שהוי"ו במלת ועד היא יסוד, לא ייתכן שיוקח כמשמעו, כי לא נעלם מעיני רש"י ז"ל שאומרים לעד מני עד ( איוב כ' ד' ) ועולמי עד ( ישעיה מ"ה י"ז ) בלא וי"ו, ואיך יאמר שהוי"ו כאן יסוד ? גם מה שכתב במקום אחר ( במדבר כ"א י"ד ): את והב כמו את יהב, כמו שיאמרו יעד מן ועד, עכ"ל, לא יוכיח כלל שהוא מפרש ועד משורש יעד, כי שם כוונתו על הוי"ו הבאה במקום היו"ד בנועד ובמועד וכן במלת ועד שבלשון חכמים ולא (כדעת המעמר ) על מלת ועד שהכל יודעים שאינה מן יעד אלא מן עד כמו לעד ולעולמי עד. ונ"ל ברור כי כוונת רש"י ז"ל כי במילת ועד בציר"י העי"ן , "עד" נוהגת גם בלי וי"ו, אמנם מילת ועד בסגול העי"ן לא תעמוד בלא וי"ו כי בלא וי"ו אומרים עד בפתח, לא עד בסגול, והנה הוי"ו בלתי מתפרדת ממילת ועד וכאילו היא בה יסוד, וכיוצא בזה למטה (פסוק כ"ג) על מילת מרתה כתב רש"י : והתי"ו היא במקום היא הנשרשת בתבת מרה ; ועל מילת וחמתו (בפסוק כ"ג) : הרי ה"א של שורש נהפכת לתי"ו ; הרי שהוא קורא שרשית לכל אות הבלתי מתפרדת מן התבה , ושבנטילתה ענין התבה משתנה אעפ"י שאיננה באמת מן השורש, כי שורש מרה מרר , ושורש חמה יחם.

Score one for Shadal and Siftei Chachamim.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Beshalach: the sanctuary, O Lord, [which] Your hands founded

Within Az Yashir, we encounter {Shemot:15:17}:
יז תְּבִאֵמוֹ, וְתִטָּעֵמוֹ בְּהַר נַחֲלָתְךָ-- {ס} מָכוֹן {ר} לְשִׁבְתְּךָ פָּעַלְתָּ, ה; {ס} מִקְּדָשׁ, אֲדֹנָי כּוֹנְנוּ {ר} יָדֶיךָ. {ס
17 Thou bringest them in, and plantest them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.
Rashi comments on this:
the sanctuary Heb. מִקְּדָשׁ. The cantillation sign over it is a “zakef gadol,” to separate it from the word ה following it. [The verse thus means:] the sanctuary which Your hands founded, O Lord. The Temple is beloved, since, whereas the world was created with “one hand,” as it is said: “Even My hand laid the foundation of the earth” (Isa. 48:13), the sanctuary [will be built] with “two hands.” When will it be built with "two hands"? At the time when “the Lord will reign to all eternity” [verse 18]. In the future, when the entire ruling power is His. — [from Mechilta and Keth. 5a]
What was the other option, which Rashi is excluding? Well, zakef is a disjunctive accent, separating from the word following it. Without it, it would be mikdash-Hashem, "Hashem's sanctuary your hands have established."

We can see this visually. Note that both tipcha and zakef act to divide a phrase in two where the phrase ends in a silluk (and sof pasuk) and so where you have both, the zakef, the earlier one, must subdivide first (or else the zakef makes no sense, not splitting a phrase ending in silluk). There is a zakef on mikdash, and a tipcha on the next word, Hashem.

Thus, we get:

A sanctuary || Hashem your hands have established
where the second phrase is then broken up into
Hashem || your hands have established

has an interesting suggestion relating the zakef gadol of mikdash with the dagesh in the same word (such that it is miqqedash):

מקדש : דגש הקו"ף לתפארת הקריאה, ונ"ל ששמוהו כדי שיהיה השוא נע, וזה כדי להרבות הברות התיבה, וזה כדי שיהיה נשמע יותר ניגון הזקף הגדול

"The dagesh in the quf is to beautify the reading {and does not imply a different meaning than mikdash} and it seems to me that they placed it there so that the sheva would be na {rather than nach}, and this is turn is to increase the pronunciation of the word, and this is so that the zakef gadol's melody would be heard more."

The trup, though, is marking that clarifies ambiguous parsings. Is there anything in the pasuk itself we can muster as evidence towards this parsing?

I would suggest that the principle of Biblical parallelism can reinforce this parsing. After all, Az Yashir is a song, and Biblical songs typically display Biblical parallelism. The pasuk, again, is:

תְּבִאֵמוֹ, וְתִטָּעֵמוֹ בְּהַר נַחֲלָתְךָ-- {ס} מָכוֹן {ר} לְשִׁבְתְּךָ פָּעַלְתָּ, ה; {ס} מִקְּדָשׁ, אֲדֹנָי כּוֹנְנוּ {ר} יָדֶיךָ.

The parallelism is: מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ פָּעַלְתָּ ה || מִקְּדָשׁ אֲדֹנָי כּוֹנְנוּ יָדֶיךָ
Thus, מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ parallels מִקְּדָשׁ
פָּעַלְתָּ parallels כּוֹנְנוּ יָדֶיךָ
YKVK parallels Adonai

Thus last parallelism and rewording is not so obvious, since we don't pronounce YKVK as such nowadays, but rather as Adonai, so it sounds to us like it is identical. But in reality, it is a standard parallelism with the second part rephrasing the first part, usually serving the same function. Thus, we bolster the parsing marked by the trup.

Beshalach and the Weak Fa

A quick explanation of the first Ibn Ezra on the parsha. The parsha begins {Shemot 13:17}:

יז וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. 17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
What in the world is the vav doing in velo` nacham? We would have to translate it, "[and] it came to pass when Pharaoh had let the people go; and God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near..." The first portion before the and then appears to be a phrase in and of itself, standing alone. This is indeed plausible, as if to say that the following events happened when Pharaoh had sent them out. Yet it seems slightly awkward, especially with the ב of beshalach. It should be "when Pharaoh led them out something happened." Lop off the vav and it reads much better.

Ibn Ezra comments: ולא נחם: וי"ו ולא נחם כפ"א רפא בלשון ישמעאל.

It appears at first glance as if Ibn Ezra is saying that that vav in velo nacham is like the feh rather than the peh (fricative {rafeh} vs. plosive, with a dagesh vs. without a dagesh) in Arabic. So what does a feh mean in Arabic?

In fact, it means something different. If I recall correctly, many years ago in class, Dr. Steiner (most recently famous for the Egyptian Semitic snake incantation mentioned at PaleoJudaica) explained that it is not feh rafeh but rather fa rafeh, the weak fa in Arabic.

To cite Wikipedia:
The definite article "al-" is a clitic, as are the prepositions "li-" "to" and "bi-" "in/with" and the conjunctions "ka-" "as" and "fa-" "thus, so".
If I further recall correctly, "weak" here is not a phonological description (of f vs. p) but rather a syntactic description. Apparently, in Arabic there are strong fas and weak fas, where strong ones bear the full force of the word as above, and the weak one is just a weak connector.

Thus, Ibn Ezra is saying that vav in Hebrew is sometimes weak in this sense, being a weak connector rather than connoting "and." Thus, the translation above does not have the problem presented above. We can just imagine that the vav is not there.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Daf Yomi Taanit: Berachot 14a: What Does It Mean To Taste During a Fast?

A short while ago in Rif Yomi, the Rif {Rif Taanit 4a} cited a gemara in Berachot and discussed whether one may taste during a fast, and then gave a definition of tasting, citing a Yerushalmi for support:
גרסי' בפ' היה קורא בתורה בעא מיניה אשיאן תנא דבי רבי אמי מר' אמי השרוי בתענית מהו שיטעום
אכילה ושתיה קביל עליה והא לא קא אכיל או דילמא הנאה קביל והא קא מתהני
אמר ליה טועם ואין בכך כלום

תניא נמי הכי מטעמת אינה צריכ' ברכה והשרוי בתענית טועם ואין בכך כלום

We learn in perek Haya Korei BaTorah {Berachot 14a}: Assian the Tanna {reciter of Tannaitic sources} in the academy of Rabbi Ammi inquired of Rabbi Ammi: One who is dwelling in fast, may he taste?
Eating and drinking he accepted upon himself, and he is not here eating, or perhaps benefit he accepted upon himself {not to do} and here he is benefiting?
He {Rabbi Ammi} said to him: He may taste, and there is nothing in this.

A brayta also say so: A taste does not require a blessing, and one who dwells in fast may taste, and there is nothing in this.

ועד כמה רבי אמי ורבי אסי טעמי עד רביעיתא
ומפרשי רבנן דצריך לאזהורי כי היכי דלא ליבלע כלום:

And until much? Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi would taste up to a reviit.
And the {post-Talmudic} Sages explained that {in tasting} he needs to be careful that he does not actually swallow anything.

ירושלמי בנדרים בפרק קונם יין שאני טועם
נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כבר אבד תעניתו
רבי אבא בשם רבנן דתמן והוא שאמר יום סתם ומתענה יום אחר כדי לקיים נדרו הואיל ושכח ואכל ביום זה
הא אם אמר יום זה מתענה ומשלים
ולא אמרן אלא אם בלע אבל אם טעם לא
כלומר אפי' אמר יום סתם אם לא אכל אלא טעם בלבד מתענה ומשלים אותו היום:
Yerushalmi, in Nedarim Perek Konam Yayim {perek 8, Nedarim 26b}:
If someone vowed to fast, forgot and ate, he has already lost his fast.
Rabbi Abba cited the Sages of there {Bavel}: And this is where he said "a day" plain {rather than this specific day}. And so he fasts another day in order to fulfill his vow, since he forgot and ate on this specific say. But, if he said "this day," he finishes the fast. And they only said this if he swallowed. But if he merely tasted, no.
That is to say, even if he says "a day" plainly, if he did not eat but only tasted, he finishes the fast on that day.
This is a fairly convincing argument. Yet, I could present a counterargument for both Bavli and Yerushalmi, and define tasting as putting a tiny amount of food in one's mouth and swallowing it.

Note that the Bavli does not define tasting, just distinguishing it from eating and drinking. And furthermore, there is a set measure up to which one may taste -- a reviit for liquids. If the point of distinction whereby tasting would or would not be permitted is
אכילה ושתיה קביל עליה והא לא קא אכיל או דילמא הנאה קביל והא קא מתהני
Eating and drinking he accepted upon himself, and he is not here eating, or perhaps benefit he accepted upon himself {not to do} and here he is benefiting?
and tasting is permitted, then why should it be permitted only up to a certain point, that of a reviit? Having the pleasure of the taste of drink in one's mouth is just that pleasure, it is not drinking or eating! And even if one placed, either simultaneously or sequentially, two reviit in one's mouth and then spat it out, one would not be eating. So why should there be an upward limit on tasting? (One might counter-argue that when liquid is in one's mouth, a tiny amount is absorbed into the bloodstream, a phenomenon encountered when doing a lot of wine-tasting, even when the wine is consistently expelled from one's mouth.)

On the other hand, if tasting involves swallowing a bit each time, then the upwards limit of reviit (either including or not including the upward limit as permitted) makes sense. For even if we consider the concept of chatzi shiur as prohibited, that is achila, eating, of a chatzi shiur, and this tasting is not considered achila (/shetiya). However, once we reach the full measure of reviit, even though each time he swallowed only a tiny amount, we would find this problematic and perhaps even within the realm of achila, since all together it adds up to what one would eat/drink, and perhaps it is now considered achila/shetiya, rather than just the hanaah from the taste.

However, the Rif brings forth a very convincing argument with his citation of the Yerushalmi which stated ולא אמרן אלא אם בלע אבל אם טעם לא, thus setting up "tasting" as opposed to "swallowing." It is thus clear that tasting means without swallowing.

Yet there are difficulties with this. Firstly, what is the definition of eating, achila, when the Yerushalmi states נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כבר אבד תעניתו?

Ran (on the daf of Rif) suggests that the measure of eating is that of a koseves, a date, and learns this from a parallel to the affliction of eating by Yom Kippur. This Ran seems problematic in that it sets up an apparent contradiction between the beginning of the Yerushalmi and the end.

In the beginning, we state נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כבר אבד תעניתו. If we define this as eating a koseves or more, then if he ate less than that he does not lose his fast. At the end, we state ולא אמרן אלא אם בלע אבל אם טעם לא. This states that if he swallowed, he loses his fast, but if he merely tasted, he does not. The simplest implication of this is that if he swallowed less than a koseves, since this is not mere tasting, he would indeed lose his fast.

(This is a question common to the style of the setama digmara, which typically then resolves it with a chasurei mechsera vehachi katani.)

Further, if the known implication of achila in the beginning was a koseves, then what need was there at the end to mention tasting. With tasting, he did not swallow a koseves!

Perhaps one can rescue this by setting up a similar distinction to the strange one in Bavli about tasting up to a reviit or less than a reviit. That is, in the beginning it was speaking about eating a koseves or more. And, we would have thought that this included even tasting and not swallowing a koseves. Then, towards the end, we have a clarification -- either that putting a koseves in one's mouth and not swallowing is considered nothing, or perhaps (if we were exactly parallel to the reviit in the Bavli) putting less than a koseves in one's mouth and not swallowing is considered nothing. The former is problematic, as it contradicts the Bavli's upper limit of reviit even for tasting. The latter is problematic, for what need would one have to distinguish between tasting and swallowing in such a case?

One can resolve this Ran in a few ways. Perhaps these questions are not valid questions, and it is just the way of the gemara, and so:
a) eating and thus swallowing a koseves would cancel a fast, but tasting and not swallowing a koseves would not
b) eating and thus swallowing a koseves would cancel a fast, but eating less than a koseves would not cancel a fast, yet should not be done; meanwhile, mere tasting is entirely permitted. This is not really the implication of ולא אמרן אלא אם בלע אבל אם טעם לא, where the issue is canceling the fast, but we are saying that the gemara is being somewhat inexact.

Or else, one could say that the Ran was incorrect in his giving a measure of koseves to the eating which cancels a fast, and in truth, swallowing any amount would cancel the fast.

There is a further "problem" with the Ran. Specifically, our girsa of the Yerushalmi is different from that of the Rif on two counts, and the first is that where Rif's Yerushalmi has נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כבר אבד תעניתו, our Yerushalmi has נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כזית כבר אבד תעניתו.

Thus, Ran would appear to be incorrect in positing a koseves as a measure of eating which would cancel a fast, since we have a version of the Yerushalmi that explicitly gives the measure of a kezayis.

I would note that the type of fast under discussion here is one adopted via vow, and this thus falls under the definition of standard achila rather than a definition of a fast. Thus, I would argue that kezayis actually makes more sense than koseves here, and thus I would side with the explicit Yerushalmi in our girsa over the Ran's perush to the girsa where it is missing.

Of course, this could be an incorrect girsa. And all the questions we have asked above on the Ran can now be asked on this explicit Yerushalmi, substituting the word koseves with kezayis.

Thus, we tend to think that the Ran is conceptually correct that there is a minimum measure for eating, even if he might be incorrect in the specific measure.

How then can we resolve the questions we asked above? First, let us see the Yerushalmi inside, as we have it:

נדר להתענות ושכח ואכל כזית איבד תעניתו.
ר' בא בשם רבנין דתמן והוא שאמר יום סתם.
הא אם אמר יום זה מתענה ומשלים.
לא אמר אלא אכל.
הא טעם לא.

We can note two differences from the Yerushalmi of the Rif. The first is that it is ואכל כזית rather than just ואכל, as we have discussed above.

The second is that rather than stating ולא אמרן אלא אם בלע אבל אם טעם לא, we have לא אמר אלא אכל .הא טעם לא That is, rather that tasting being contrasted with swallowing, tasting is contrasted with eating.

Now, one could argue haynu hach, they are identical, and this is just substitution of one term for another. This certainly makes sense according to those who say that tasting means not swallowing. Thus, אכל means בלע.

On the other hand, we can say that what is meant here by אכל is exactly what was meant by אכל above, that is, achila of a kezayis. Meanwhile, טעם refers to (perhaps much) less than a kezayis. Or alternatively, it refers to normal eating (even of chatzi shiur), whereas tasting, even tasting and swallowing, is not considered normal eating (and is not considered chatzi shiur).

It then makes sense to impose minimal shiur of a kezayis (or koseves), as above.

Of course, this would have broad implications for fast days, and quite possible clashes with other definitions of chatzi shuir from elsewhere, such that it would disprove this. Tzarich Iyyyun Gadol.

And it need not be said, this discussion is not intended halacha lemaaseh.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Results of People's Choice Awards for JBlogs

Congrats to Josh Yuter at Yutopia for winning in his category of the JBlog Awards. He's a silver winner in the "Best Jewish Culture Blog."

This means he gets to display this graphic in his sidebar:

I nominated my two blogs (parshablog and alfasi) in the "Best Religion Blog" category, but DafNotes was the Gold winner in that category. (See here.) Nor did I take silver or bronze. All of which entitles me to put the following graphic in my sidebar:

Go parshablog!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Va`era: Hashem's Great Pinky

in the parsha. What is the meaning of Etzba Elokim?

As I wrote in a previous post on parshat Eikev:
In terms of the writing of the luchot, we hear that God wrote them with his finger:

י וַיִּתֵּן ה אֵלַי, אֶת-שְׁנֵי לוּחֹת הָאֲבָנִים--כְּתֻבִים, בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים; וַעֲלֵיהֶם, כְּכָל-הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ--בְּיוֹם הַקָּהָל. 10 And the LORD delivered unto me the two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.
Since what is happening is writing, and writing is often done with one's hand, one might actual imagine God writing with His Great Pinky -- though such may well be heresy. The whole thing might be allegorical describing some process in human-comprehensible terms. Or, I would suggest, what is actually happening is that בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים is an idiom meaning "wondrous and miraculous." We see this earlier by the Plague of Lice, when Pharaoh's magicians exclaimed this. Shemot 8:15:
יד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים בְּלָטֵיהֶם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת-הַכִּנִּים, וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ; וַתְּהִי, הַכִּנָּם, בָּאָדָם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה. 14 And the magicians did so with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; and there were gnats upon man, and upon beast.
טו וַיֹּאמְרוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, אֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים הִוא; וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב-פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא-שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה. {ס} 15 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: 'This is the finger of God'; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken.
That ends what I wrote there.

Continuing the discussion here in this post of Va`era, first let me note Rashi:
It is the finger of God This plague is not through sorcery; it is from the Omnipresent. — [from Exod. Rabbah 10:7]
Thus he clearly takes Elokim to be kodesh rather than chol. Perhaps mention of "this plague" here corresponds to etzba, thus the striking of a finger, similar to the striking by a hand. Or perhaps not. More analysis of this midrash in Midrash Rabba is due, but perhaps for another time.

On that note, Shadal writes as follows:

אצבע אלהים הוא : ראב"ע פירש מכה אלהית , כטעם יד ה' ( למטה ט' ג' ), וכן תירגם אנקלוס : מחא מן קדם ה', ולפי זה לא הודו כי אלהי משה הוא שעשה זאת, אלא שהיא מכה מאת האלהים ; ונ"ל כי אין אצבע כמו יד, כי מכין ביד ואין מכין באצבע, אבל אצבע נאמר על הצווי , כמו שלח אצבע ( ישעיה נ"ח ט' ), והנה אצבע אלהים ענינו צווי אלהי רצון אלהי . והחרטומים הודו כי מעשה משה ואהרן היה בצווי אלהי ובמאמרו, ולפיכך לא השתדלו עוד בלהטיהם. ואין לומר שלא הודו, ושלכן נתחזק לב פרעה, כי הנה למטה ( ט' ז' ) וישלח פרעה והנה לא מת ממקנה ישראל עד אחד ויכבד לב פרעה ולא שלח את העם, שעל כרחנו פירושו אעפ"י שראה הנס, מ"מ הכביד את לבו, אף כאן אעפ"י שהודו החרטומים, הוא לא הודה או עשה נגד מה שהיה מוכרח בלבו להורות, כדרך הכופרים.
Thus, according to Ibn Ezra, etzba does indeed accord with makka, though Elohim refers in general to divine acts, and thus not specifically to Hashem.

Shadal understands it not as makka, which would be implied by hand, but rather as tzivuy, commands, and gives precedent. Thus, the magicians admit that Moshe is working at the command of God, and thus give up their magical efforts. And even though they admitted, Pharaoh did not.

My own take on this is that etzba here means "handiwork." Thus, this act was God's handiwork, and bore the mark of being so. A closer English expression comes to mind, though it is based on technological advances which developed much more recently, and thus would not be a basis for the idiom -- "This bears God's fingerprint."

Daf Yomi: Taanit daf 12: Eating After Waking Up Before A Fast

While preparing Rif Yomi, I came across the following interesting gemara and pesak halacha regarding someone who broke off eating and slept before a fast, whether he could resume, and under what circumstances:
{Rif Taanit 3b}
{Taanit 12a}
אמר רבא לא שנו אלא שלא גמר אבל גמר אינו אוכל
איתיביה אביי ישן ועמד הרי זה אוכל
התם שלא סילק
איכא דאמרי אמר רבא לא שנו אלא שלא ישן אבל ישן אינו אוכל
איתיביה אביי ישן ועמד הרי זה אוכל
התם במתנמנם
היכי דאמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר כגון דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר:

Rava {our gemara: Abaye} said: They only learned this {about being able to eat in the morning before a fast} where he did not finish {his meal} but if he finished it, he may not eat.
Abaye {our gemara: Rava} objected {from a brayta}: If he slept and arose, he may eat.
There, he did not remove {the table}.

Some {versions} say:
Rava said: They only learned this where he did not sleep, but if he slept, he may not eat.
Abaye objected: If he slept and arose, he may eat.
There {where he may eat} is where he {merely} dozed.

What is the definition of this dozing?
Rav Ashi said: {Taanit 12b} He is asleep but not asleep, awake but not awake, such that you call him and he answers, but it not able to respond with thought {to give a reasoned response} but if you remind him, he remembers {e.g. if you ask him while is is dozing like this, "Did you hear such and such?" he will be able to remember.}

הא מילתא לא אפסיקא בה הלכתא בהדיא אלא מדחזינא לגמרא דקא טרח לפרושי מתנמנם שמעי' דהלכתא כי האי לישנא בתרא
ועוד דאיסורא דרבנן הוא ולקולא עבדינן הלכך בין סילק בין לא סילק אם לא ישן אוכל ושותה עד שיעלה עמוד השחר הדין הוא סברא דילן

In this matter, the halacha is not explicitly set up. However, from the fact that we see that the gemara troubles itself to define "dozing," we deduce that the halacha is in accordance with this latter phrasing. And furthermore, it is a Rabbinic prohibition, and we conduct ourselves leniently. Therefore, whether they removed {the table} or did not remove, if he did not sleep, he may eat and drink until daybreak. Such is our opinion.

{Though see Ran as to the relation between the two leshonot and the subsequent context in which this dozing is done.}

ואיכא מרבוותא מאן דכתב הכין קי"ל דלגבי תענית דאכיל בלילי ומפסיק אם גמר וסילק לא יאכל אבל אם לא סילק ודעתו עוד לאכול אע"פ שישן עומד ואוכל
והאי מימרא דיליה אתי כלישנא קמא
And there is among the {post-Talmudic} Sages one who writes as follows, that we establish that by a fast in which he ate ate night and stopped, if he finished {his meal} and removed {the table} he may not eat, but if he did not remove and his thoughts are still to eat, even though he slept {entirely, not merely dozed}, he may arise and eat. And this statement of his goes according to the first phrasing.
So ends my citation of Rif.

There are slight girsological differences between the text in our gemara and the text in the Rif in terms of the disputants in the first lashon of the gemara. While our printed text has Abaye saying and Rava objecting, Rif here has Rava saying and Abaye objecting, just as in the second lashon. And Masoret haShas on the side of our gemara notes that old seforim have this text like the Rif, and so does the Rosh. (Bach also notes a change from ישן ועמד in the second lashon to אכל ועמד.) Etcetera.

I am not sure that I am persuaded by Rif's proof that we rule in accordance with the second lashon, based on the fact that Rav Ashi's took the trouble to define dozing. This is a twist on the general deciding principle (kelal horaah) that where the Amoraim have a give and take (shakla vetarya) within one opinion in a dispute, it is strong evidence that they felt the halacha is in accordance with that opinion, for otherwise they would not have gone to the bother. This instance is not really a give and take, but rather merely a definition of the term, but the proof follows the same general idea.

The reason I am not entirely persuaded is that a) I am not certain that Rav Ashi actually made his statement defining mitnamnem in this gemara, but rather there is strong reason to believe it was transferred from elsewhere and b) if the Savoraim indeed transferred it, their opinion does not carry the full halachic weight of the Amoraim, since Ravina/Rav Ashi were sof horaah, and c) it truly seems that the reason for this transfer is not because of specific halachic ruling in accordance with this opinion, but rather is a regular feature of the gemara in which it defines this term.

On to the details of what I set out above.

Our gemara defines dozing as follows: היכי דאמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר כגון דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר. If Rav Ashi set out to define it here, then one might effectively argue that this was because the halacha was in accordance with this particular lashon. However, this exact phrase actually occurs exactly five times in Bavli (see this Google search). In each case, it begins היכי דמי מתנמנם and proceeds to cite Rav Ashi for this exact definition.

When the exact same gemara occurs in more then one place, we usually assume that one of these places was the original location, the original context for the statement within a discussion amongst Amoraim, and then there was a transfer to the other sugya or sugyot. (I could see an argument to be made about Rav Ashi, as a redactor, that he placed his statement initially in each of these contexts. However, we claim transfer in so many other cases that it is safe to assume the same here as well.)

Let us then examine the statement in its various contexts throughout Shas.

1) One instance is in the 9th perek of Nidda, Nidda 63a:
איזהו רוק תפל: תנא כל שלא טעם כלום מבערב סבר רב פפא קמיה דרבא למימר כמאן דאמר לא טעם מידי באורתא אמר ליה רבא מי קתני בערב מבערב קתני לאפוקי היכא דקדים ואכיל
אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן איזהו רוק תפל כל שעבר עליו חצות לילה ובשינה
למימרא דבשינה תליא מילתא
והתנן ישן כל היום אין זה רוק תפל ניעור כל הלילה הרי זה רוק תפל
התם במתנמנם
היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר
Thus, the context is an apparent contradiction in defining rok tafel between a statement by Rabba bar bar Chana citing Rabbi Yochanan and a Mishna. (Perhaps we can say that the first generation Amora from Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Yochanan, has a competing tradition, or perhaps we can harmonize as the gemara does.)

Note that the contradiction between these sources is done anonymously, by the setama digmara. The harmonizing detail proposed by the setama is mitnamnem, dozing. Then, perhaps it is Rav Ashi who pipes up, helpfully defining the term, or more likely it is the setama bringing from elsewhere Rav Ashi's statement defining the term. Since the context is not a discussion between Amoraim, I would interpret it as the latter.

2) A second occurrence is in the second perek of Megillah, Megillah 18b. The Mishna said that if one reads the megillah with long pauses, dozing in between, one fulfills the obligation. In the gemara, Rav Ashi defines dozing.

דף יז,א משנה הקורא את המגילה למפרע לא יצא קראה על פה קראה תרגום בכל לשון לא יצא אבל קורין אותה ללועזות בלעז והלועז ששמע אשורית יצא קראה סירוגין ומתנמנם יצא היה כותבה דורשה ומגיהה אם כוון לבו יצא ואם לאו לא יצא היתה כתובה בסם ובסיקרא ובקומוס ובקנקנתום על הנייר ועל הדפתרא לא יצא עד שתהא כתובה אשורית על הספר ובדיו:

דף יח,ב גמרא
מתנמנם יצא וכו': היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מידכר:

This is not in the context of a discussion of Amoraim, though of course Rav Ashi is an Amora. It is quite plausible that Rav Ashi is directly defining the term in the Mishna, and the reason no other Amora discusses this with him is that this is not a matter of dispute.

However, one curious feature here that we must pay heed to is the introduction of the statement with היכי דמי. In fact, היכי דמי occurs systematically within this gemara in Megillah, in the analysis of this Mishna. Thus, on Megillah 18a:

קראה תרגום לא יצא וכו': היכי דמי אילימא דכתיבה מקרא וקרי לה תרגום היינו על פה לא צריכא דכתיבה תרגום וקרי לה תרגום:
which is an anonymous (and thus likely stamaitic) analysis of the Mishna.

Again on Megillah 18a, immediately following the above:
אבל קורין אותה ללועזות בלעז וכו':
והא אמרת קראה בכל לשון לא יצא
רב ושמואל דאמרי תרוייהו בלעז יווני
היכי דמי אילימא דכתיבה אשורית וקרי לה יוונית היינו על פה
א"ר אחא א"ר אלעזר שכתובה בלעז יוונית

In this instance, it is an anonymous analysis of Rav and Shmuel's analysis of the Mishna, which then leads into a named Amora's elaboration.

The next instance is on Megillah 18b, in the section we have seen already:
מתנמנם יצא וכו': היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מידכר
which is Rav Ashi's definition of the term mitnamnem, a term which occurs in the Mishna. It could well be that Rav Ashi stated this on this Mishna, and the setama adds the connective introductory glue of היכי דמי מתנמנם. It could also be that the setama wishes to define this term, just as it systematically defines other terms, and copies Rav Ashi's definitional statement from elsewhere.

The next instance immediately follows on Megillah 18b:

היה כותבה דורשה ומגיהה אם כוון לבו יצא וכו':
היכי דמי אי דקא מסדר פסוקא פסוקא וכתב לה כי כוון לבו מאי הוי על פה הוא אלא דכתב פסוקא פסוקא וקרי ליה
ומי יצא
והאמר רבי חלבו אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב הלכה כדברי האומר כולה ואפי' למ"ד מאיש יהודי צריכה שתהא כתובה כולה
אלא דמנחה מגילה קמיה וקרי לה מינה פסוקא פסוקא וכתב לה
This is once again a clearly anonymous, and thus stamaitic section, though the analysis is based on known statements of known Amoraim. And once again it is analysis of the Mishna.

Thus, it seems clear that the היכי דמי is part of the setama's systematic analysis of the Mishna. At first glance, this would seem to be disappointing. It would seem that this gemara in Megillah can not be our source text.

However, in fact the opposite seems the case. We have seen that the setama can be the connective glue introducing named Amoraim who are local to this gemara. Thus the setama analyzed Shmuel and Rav's statement in order to introduce Rav Acha's citatation of Rabbi Eleazar, which is clearly a local statement and analysis of the Mishna. So too, even if Rav Ashi actually defined it here as an analysis of the Mishna, the setama could introduce it with היכי דמי.

Why should it introduce it with היכי דמי? Simply put, the setama favors regularity and systematic approaches in analysis, and presents a systematic definition of the terms in the Mishna, introduced each time by היכי דמי, at times introducing the Amoraic statements already present and at times introducing its own analysis.

Indeed, the fact that the word היכי דמי occurs is good evidence that this gemara in Megillah is the source text for all. That is, the context of multiple היכי דמיs in analyzing the Mishna shows that this is a local feature, and thus it is a feature expected here. It is not out of place in any other gemara, such that we should ask why the words היכי דמי occur, but it stands to reason that its genesis was in this local gemara in Megillah. That it occurs in those other locations implies that it was transferred from this location, together with the phrase היכי דמי.

This is not to say that this is the only location where we have היכי דמי in context. Indeed, the next occurrence, in Yavamot, also has היכי דמי in proximity (though there are other reasons for thinking it did not originate there). However, the first instance, in Niddah, does not have היכי דמי in context, nor does the fourth occurrence, the gemara in Taanit, nor does the fifth occurrence, the gemara in Pesachim.

3) A third occurrence of the segment היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מידכר occurs in the sixth perek of Yevamot, in Yevamot 54a:

גופא אמר רב יהודה ישן לא קנה ביבמתו דאמר קרא יבמה יבא עליה עד דמכוין לה לשם ביאה
והתניא בין ער [בין ישן אימא בין ערה בין ישנה והתניא בין ער] הוא בין ישן הוא בין ערה היא בין ישנה היא
הכא במאי עסקינן במתנמנם
ה"ד מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר כגון דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר גופא

As I frequently note, the word גופא at the end of a segment is evidence that the analysis that preceded it was stamaitic. It signifies a return to the actual original Amoraic text of the gemara. Here, Rav Yehuda had a statement that a yavam cannot acquire a yevama in levirate marriage while asleep. The setama raises the issue that this appears to contradict a brayta, and they resolve and harmonize this (a common stamaitic approach) by saying that the brayta refers to a case of mintamnem. Then, Rav Ashi defines mitnamnem. If we accept that the setama is post-Rav Ashi, then this definition must have been brought in from elsewhere.

4) A fourth occurrence occurs in the gemara intially under discussion, in the first perek of Taanit, on Taanit 12b:

איכא דאמרי אמר רבא לא שנו אלא כשלא ישן אבל ישן אינו אוכל
איתיביה אביי ישן ועמד הרי זה אוכל
התם במתנמנם
היכי דמי מתנמנם אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע אהדורי סברא וכי מדכרי ליה מדכר

Once again, this is an anonymous harmonization of Rava's statement with that of a brayta cited by Abaye. (Perhaps one can say that Abaye's was an effective disproof, or that this is a correct harmonization.) That this statement of Rav Ashi defines a term in the setama's harmonization implies that this is the setama transferring the definitional statement from elsewhere.

Perhaps we could say that it is not the setama harmonizing here but rather Rava answering Abaye, and Rav Ashi is giving a helpful definition. However, the fact that it is not preceded by אמר ליה, and all the more so because we have better candidate source texts, it is quite likely that this is indeed the setama transferring from elsewhere.

5) The final, fifth occurrence is in the tenth perek of Pesachim, on Pesachim 120a:

דף קכ,א משנה ישנו מקצתן יאכלו כולן לא יאכלו

דף קכ,ב משנה רבי יוסי אומר נתנמנמו יאכלו נרדמו לא יאכלו הפסח אחר חצות מטמא את הידים הפגול והנותר מטמאין את הידים:

דף קכ,ב גמרא ר' יוסי אומר נתנמנמו יאכלו נרדמו לא יאכלו
ה"ד נתנמנם
אמר רב אשי נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר כגון דקרי ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר
אביי הוה יתיב קמיה דרבה חזא דקא נמנם
א"ל מינם קא נאים מר
א"ל מינומי קא מנמנם
ותנן נתנמנמו יאכלו נרדמו לא יאכלו

Here, the Mishna sets out sleeping as an impediment to continuing the meal. Rabbi Yossi makes a distinction between nitnamnemu and nirdemu, which then would then prompt a definition of the terms.

To that end, there are two perhaps-identical definitions offered in the gemara. The first is offered in a direct manner by Rav Ashi, that it is נים ולא נים, "dozing but not dozing, etc." The second may be deduced from the anecdote related in the gemara about Abaye and Rabba:

אביי הוה יתיב קמיה דרבה חזא דקא נמנם
א"ל מינם קא נאים מר
א"ל מינומי קא מנמנם

"Abaye was sitting before Rabba. He saw that he was dozing (namnem). He said to him: Master is sleeping (na`im). He said to him: I am (merely) dozing (menamnem)."

Thus, this anecdote in its way shows the meaning of the terms na`im and mitnamnem, which is then of great utility in understanding the Mishna. The gemara makes this clear by stating immediately thereafter ותנן נתנמנמו יאכלו נרדמו לא יאכלו.

Could this be the source text of the transfer, and all other sugyot destinations? Perhaps. Rav Ashi is giving his definition directly on a Mishna, just as he was in Megillah. And this particular gemara seems a vortex for defining mitnamnem, so Rav Ashi's statement would be quite at home here.

On the other hand, while the gemara in Megillah gives ample basis to expect the words היכי דמי, such that the statement looks quite local there, this gemara in Pesachim does not have other examples of היכי דמי in immediate context.

Furthermore, Rav Ashi is later than Abaye and Rabba. If his statement were local to Pesachim, why lead off with his statement? Better to begin with the earlier statement of Abaye and Rabba, which might well even serve as a basis for his statement.

Finally, what is the need for two definitions here. Abaye and Rabba, with this incident, gave an excellent definition of mitnamnem, and Rav Ashi's statement really just echoes it. It is dozing but not entirely dozing. Certainly it is true that Rav Ashi's statement gives more detail than that, but it really seems that Abaye and Rabba's definition should suffice, and indeed, initially did suffice, to define mitnamnem in Pesachim.

I wrote above that this gemara in Pesachim seemed a vortex for definitions of mitnamnem. A vortex is "a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that surrounds it." Indeed, once we have one definition in Pesachim, that of Abaye and Rabba, it is possible that the setama saw fit to engage in inter-sugya borrowing to transfer Rav Ashi's statement from Megillah, in order to shed further light on the topic at hand.

In sum, of the five sources, only Megillah and Pesachim seem likely candidates for the original location of the source-text. The gemara in Taanit appears to be a transfer, and a transfer by the setama digmara, and so I am unconvinced by Rif's argument that the fact that Rav Ashi or the gemara bothered to define mitnamnem, we rule in accordance with the second lashon.

And what of the fact that the setama digmara troubled itself to bring this definition here? I am still not persuaded, firstly because the setama is post-Talmudic and thus not necessarily binding halachically, but secondly and more importantly, I am not convinced that the reason for troubling to bring a definition here is that they held conclusively like the second lashon.

Rather, it seems to me that the gemara is consistent in bringing Rav Ashi's definitional statement wherever the word mitnamnem occurs. Thus, Rav Ashi's statement occurs five times in Shas, and the word mitnamnem occurs in 6 different locations: the five we mentioned (though in Pesachim the word is nitnamnemu/nitnamnem, leading with a nun rather than a mem) plus one instance in Berachot 3b:

ודוד בפלגא דליליא הוה קאי מאורתא הוה קאי דכתיב (תהילים קיט) קדמתי בנשף ואשועה וממאי דהאי נשף אורתא הוא דכתיב (משלי ז) בנשף בערב יום באישון לילה ואפילה אמר רב אושעיא אמר רבי אחא הכי קאמר <דוד> מעולם לא עבר עלי חצות לילה בשינה. רבי זירא אמר עד חצות לילה היה מתנמנם כסוס מכאן ואילך היה מתגבר כארי רב אשי אמר עד חצות לילה היה עוסק בדברי תורה מכאן ואילך בשירות ותשבחות.

Why does the gemara not give Rav Ashi's definition here? There are a few possible reasons. Firstly, it is clear that David did not entirely sleep from context. Second, it gives its own definition here of היה מתנמנם כסוס. Thirdly, in this instance Rav Ashi himself holds that he was not mitnamnem but rather was learning Torah, so it might appear awkward to offer Rav Ashi's definition immediately before Rav Ashi's denial. Finally, an exact definition is not required here since this is narrative aggada rather than halachic material that might (but might not) require technical definition if we were to rule in accordance with it.

In all other contexts, though, mitnamnem is defined by Rav Ashi's statement. This suggests to me that the motivating factor is simply to transfer and apply a known Amoraic statement consistently to other sugyot because of the ambiguity of the word mitnamnem, rather than a concern prompted by a knowledge that we rule in accordance with a specific opinion.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Va`era: An Interesting Etymological Connection

An interesting etymological connection just occurred to me, related to this week's parsha.

France: צרפת
French: צרפתי
Frog: צפרדע

Coincidence? I think not.
Balashon, what say you?

P.S.: An oldie:
Q: What do you call a stupid frog?
A: Dumb Tzfardea.

SOY Seforim Sale Starts in Ten Days

Check out their website here.

They even have a meebo window there to chat with a Seforim Sale representative.
The S.O.Y. Seforim Sale is the largest Jewish book sale in North America, and is operated by the students of Yeshiva University. The sale provides discounted prices on the widest selection of rabbinic and academic literature, cookbooks, children's books, music and lecture CDs, and educational software.
Check it out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

parshat Va`era: How Did The Egyptian Magicians Create Frogs?

The answer is obvious! Belateihim! As it states {Shemot 8:3}:
ג וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 3 And the magicians did in like manner with their secret arts, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.
What are these secret arts? Magic?

I am not considering the issue of how Moshe managed to bring up frogs, or whatever tzefarde'im are. That was a nes, which either means Hashem's close control over nature to direct all those frogs, or else something outside the realm of nature, depending on how you take your miracles. But what about the chartumim?

Well, one could say that magic is real, and they practiced it. The rationalists amongst us won't like this much, though.

Shadal has an interesting suggestion, in which the secret art they knew was science, and, well ...

ויעשו כן החרטומים בלטיהם : לקחו כלי מלא מים שהיו בהם ביצי צפרדע, ובלטיהם (בחכמת הטבע) מיהרו יציאת הצפרדעים מן הביצים

"They took vessels full of water which had in them frog eggs, and with their lateihem (with scientific knowledge) they sped up the exiting of the frogs from the eggs."

Is such a thing possible? Indeed, it seems to be.

To cite a Wikipedia article on Frogs:
The eggs of some species laid out of water can detect vibrations of nearby predatory wasps or snakes, and will hatch early to avoid being eaten.[14]
The Wikipedia article was citing Warkentin, K.M. (1995). "Adaptive plasticity in hatching age: a response to predation risk trade-offs". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 92: 3507-3510.

That article is available here.

A separate question was whether this scientific knowledge, or something akin to it, was available in the time of Shadal. And a separate question is whether such knowledge was available in ancient Egyptian times. And a separate question is whether this is a plausible explanation of the pasuk, given context. All these questions, I'm not addressing here.

Va`era: "And In You and In Your People" -- Hyper-literalism and Anagram

Another interesting Rashi is the one on Shemot 7:29:
כח וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ; וּבְבֵית עֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמֶּךָ, וּבְתַנּוּרֶיךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶיךָ. 28 And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bed-chamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs.
כט וּבְכָה וּבְעַמְּךָ, וּבְכָל-עֲבָדֶיךָ--יַעֲלוּ, הַצְפַרְדְּעִים. 29 And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.'

Rashi comments:

ובכה ובעמך - בתוך מעיהם נכנסין ומקרקרין
and into you and into your people and into all your servants They [the frogs] would go into their intestines and croak. — [from Tanna d’vei Eliyahu, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 7]

A related source:
אליהו רבה (איש שלום) פרשה ח ד"ה צפרדעים, מפני מה
צפרדעים, מפני מה באו עליהן, אמרו להן לישראל, צאו והביאו לנו שקצים ורמשים ונשחוק עמהן כמה שאנו רוצים, לפיכך הביא הקב"ה עליהן צפרדעים עד שנשמע קולן מתוך כריסן של מצריים שהיו אומרים קו לקו, ולא עוד אלא כשהיו הולכין לבית הכסא היו יוצאין מהן ונושכים אותם בנקביו ואין לו בושה כיוצא בה, שנאמר ושרץ היאר צפרדעים [וגו'] ובכה ובעמך וגו' (שמות ז' כ"ח וכ"ט). אמר לו פרעה למשה, בכשפים אתה בא עלי, קראו תינוקות מבית רבן ויעשו כיוצא בזה, שנאמר ויקרא גם פרעה לחכמים ולמכשפים וגו' (שם שם /שמות ז'/ י"א), ומשה ואהרן עשו את הדם ומכשפין עשו את הדם, משה ואהרן עשו צפרדעים ומצריים עשו צפרדעים, מיכן ואילך אין העולם יכול לבראות פחות מכעדשה

What is the textual basis for this Rashi? Part of it is fairly straightforward. In the previous pasuk, we had וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ, with many ב's, which meant in. This is thus also interpreted to mean "in." Thus, "in you and in your people and in your servants" is taken, hyper-literally, to mean inside.

Judaica Press tries to translate in accordance with Rashi. Thus, while the JPS translation had:
"And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants."

Judaica Press had:
"and into you and into your people and into all your servants"

But there is more textual basis. Note Rashi says בתוך מעיהם נכנסין ומקרקרין. I believe that there is derasha via anagram at play here. ובכה ובעמך becomes ובכה ובמעך. Perhaps we can make something of the fact that this is the only portion of the verse cited in the dibbur hamatchil (but most likely not.)

This all takes a hyper-literal, midrashic approach to the Chumash text. If I wanted to take a more peshat-oriented approach, I could note how the previous pasuk, pasuk 28, mentioned all the locations the frogs would go - houses, ovens, kneading troughs, etc., and interspersed within this which it would apply to. Thus, locations:

כח וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ; וּבְבֵית עֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמֶּךָ, וּבְתַנּוּרֶיךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶיךָ. 28 And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bed-chamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs.
and to whom it would apply:

כח וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ; וּבְבֵית עֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמֶּךָ, וּבְתַנּוּרֶיךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶיךָ. 28 And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bed-chamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs.
After all this, it might be confusing, or necessary to underscore, all the people to whom this would apply (or according to other interpretations, the order). Thus, the next pasuk is really simple repetition:
כט וּבְכָה וּבְעַמְּךָ, וּבְכָל-עֲבָדֶיךָ--יַעֲלוּ, הַצְפַרְדְּעִים. 29 And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.'
Shadal has a different approach to this. Related to my earlier post about the meaning of ascend, he focuses on the word ascend in pasuk 29, and takes this somewhat more literally than I did above. Thus:

ובכה ובעמך : יעלו גם על בני אדם, כלומר במלבושיהם ובחיקם

They will also ascend on people {and not just houses, ovens and kneading troughs} -- that is to say, in their clothes and on their laps. This would also serve to account for the repetition of what was after all mentioned in the previous pasuk.

An Israeli Think Tank

I saw this picture on page 5 of the Jewish Week last week, much larger and with caption. (It lacks a caption in the online version.) And was much amused.

The image was captioned thusly:

An Israeli think tank is helping the government understand the existential threats that face the country. While Israel at the Lebanese border, above, struck back at Hezbollah forces last summer, the government has been slow to realize wider dangers, the think tank claims.

(And the image, of course, is a bunch of soldiers thinking and talking with one another while on a tank. Either someone there has a sense of humor, and this is deliberate, or someone lacks a sense of humor, and so didn't catch it. Heh.)

Oh... and I'm preparing some responses to the questions asked of me by email and comment, but it is in a queue and I'm dealing with things in FIFO order.

A Double Standard?

Cross-Currents, January 16:
On the Charedi side of the ledger the following contrast is interesting, though not necessarily dispositive: In Monsey last year a local citizen was publicized as a brazen seller of non-kosher chickens purposely labeled as kosher in outrageous disregard to the community’s sensitivities. In Monsey a few months later a local citizen was publicized as a leader of the NK effort to brazenly embrace Iranian leadership while purposely dancing on the ashes of our exterminated grandparents and further endangering 5 million Jews in Israel in outrageous disregard to the community’s sensitivities. The chicken seller was run out of town, mainly by Charedim. For some reason the Iran-kisser is happily ensconced at home. This is not a call for action, but merely a vignette which understandably could be interpreted by the public as an indication of the values truly held.
Letter to the Editor, Jewish Press, Jan 17
Unwelcome Guest
A family checked into the Park House Hotel in Boro Park last week under an assumed name (we now know it was the wife’s maiden name). We did not know the true identity of this family, who paid in cash for their stay through Motzei Shabbos.
On Friday afternoon someone recognized the head of the family as being none other than Mr. [edited by blog owner] , who recently traveled to Iran with members of Neturei Karta to attend the notorious Holocaust denial conference there.
When we were informed as to his true identity we asked Mr. Friedman to leave, but he refused. We checked with the police and were advised that since he had paid for his stay, we had no legal cause to put him out.

A demonstration outside the hotel against Mr. Friedman caused great angst to our other guests, to many prospective guests, and to neighborhood residents.
We wish to make clear that had we known who Mr. Friedman was, we would not have taken his reservation, nor would we have accepted him as a guest in our hotel.

Israel Tyberg


Park House Hotel

Brooklyn, NY

Update: On the other hand, Monsey isn't Boro Park. Still, we are talking about Chareidi reactions. Anyway, a bit later there is this letter:

Disappointing Turnout
I would like to express my outrage at the relatively small turnout at the anti-Neturei Karta rally last week in Monsey. As a frum Monsey resident who was there, I am offended that no more than a few hundred people felt the need to show their opposition to these lunatics who openly consort with the most vicious anti-Semites of our time, in effect lending credence to their sick lies and twisted revisionism.

Even worse, they have the chutzpah to parade themselves in front of the media as authentic representatives of Torah, which makes us all look bad. The least we as Orthodox Jews could have done was show up in large numbers to change that perception.

Why do I have the feeling that if financial losses were somehow at stake, people would be up in arms and rallying by the thousands? Shouldn’t the need to protest against a group of Jews who smear the memory of the Six Million Million kedoshim have equal footing?

Shame on all those who didn’t attend. When will we ever learn?

Mordy Chaimowitz
Monsey NY

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

parshat Ve`era: Ve'alu: Ascend From Or Upon?

While looking through Rashi on parshat Va`era, I had the following thoughts:

Shemot 7:28:

כח וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבַחֲדַר מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְעַל-מִטָּתֶךָ; וּבְבֵית עֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמֶּךָ, וּבְתַנּוּרֶיךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶיךָ. 28 And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bed-chamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs.
כט וּבְכָה וּבְעַמְּךָ, וּבְכָל-עֲבָדֶיךָ--יַעֲלוּ, הַצְפַרְדְּעִים. 29 And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.'
On pasuk 28, Rashi comments:
and they will go up from the Nile.
into your house and afterwards, into the house of your servants. He [Pharaoh] introduced the plan first, [as it is written:] “He said to his people…” (Exod. 1:9), and with him the retribution started. — [from Sotah 11a]
A very quick and surface "What Is Bothering Rashi?" That is, why does Rashi feel the need to clarify "from the Nile?" The answer: otherwise, we would wonder what ועלו goes on. וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ is the phrase, so it could have meant "and they will alu in your house, and they will bau in your house." However, עלו means "coming up," so it is coming up from somewhere, and we know they came up from the Nile. Indeed, the pasuk begins וְשָׁרַץ הַיְאֹר, צְפַרְדְּעִים, וְעָלוּ וּבָאוּ בְּבֵיתֶךָ, and thus the Nile is explicitly mentioned, so they are coming from the Nile, from where they swarmed, and then entered into the house.

Indeed, one can point out that the trup is somewhat in agreement with this parsing. Here is the trup chart I generated for this pasuk: (I'm not going into the mechanics of how trup generates this tree. See William Wickes' book for detail.)

וְשָׁרַ֣ץ הַיְאֹר֮ צְפַרְדְּעִים֒ וְעָלוּ֙ וּבָ֣אוּ בְּבֵיתֶ֔ךָ וּבַֽחֲדַ֥ר מִשְׁכָּֽבְךָ֖ וְעַל־מִטָּתֶ֑ךָ וּבְבֵ֤ית עֲבָדֶ֨יךָ֙ וּבְעַמֶּ֔ךָ וּבְתַנּוּרֶ֖יךָ וּבְמִשְׁאֲרוֹתֶֽיךָ

Note that veAlu is separated from uVa`u beVeitecha by the disjunctive trup pashta. Of course, this might be entirely expected even without this, since a clause with three words in it needs to be subdivided, and perhaps this is a place we would expect such subdivision. I'll think about this point some more (and recheck Wickes about clauses beginning with verbs, and where the syntactic break should be).

Update: Thanks to Mississipi Fred MacDowell of On the Main Line who pointed out that Wickes is online (a good read, check it out). This is from page 56. Note that we should indeed usually expect the verbs to be together, and the fact that it is not appears to bolster Rashi's reading, at least from a trup perspective.

What would be the alternative? Well, עול is fairly common in Aramaic to mean "enter," and עלל is indeed a Biblical Hebrew word meaning "enter," (see e.g. Jastrow on this point) so it could mean that they will come to and enter the Egyptians' houses.

Even if it means ascend, picture a swarm of frogs swarming all over the people and their houses, covering them, and then getting into the houses. This could be the meaning of ועלו, to ascend upon, rather than to ascend from.

Indeed, perhaps the next pasuk could reinforce this:
כט וּבְכָה וּבְעַמְּךָ, וּבְכָל-עֲבָדֶיךָ--יַעֲלוּ, הַצְפַרְדְּעִים. 29 And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.'
where Rashi does not repeat his statement from a pasuk earlier (perhaps feeling it redundant). But note how JPS translates it "come up...upon."
And the next perek begins:
א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֱמֹר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן נְטֵה אֶת-יָדְךָ בְּמַטֶּךָ, עַל-הַנְּהָרֹת עַל-הַיְאֹרִים וְעַל-הָאֲגַמִּים; וְהַעַל אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 1 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Say unto Aaron: Stretch forth thy hand with thy rod over the rivers, over the canals, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.'
ב וַיֵּט אַהֲרֹן אֶת-יָדוֹ, עַל מֵימֵי מִצְרָיִם; וַתַּעַל, הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ, וַתְּכַס, אֶת-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 2 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.
ג וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 3 And the magicians did in like manner with their secret arts, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.
But it can go either way.

Note also how Shadal uses the word in his commentary to pasuk 29:

ובכה ובעמך : יעלו גם על בני אדם, כלומר במלבושיהם ובחיקם.


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