In a comment on an earlier post, Z wrote:
The Torah relates that Leah's eyes were rakot.
but it is not clear just what rakot means. It could be praise, juxtaposed to praise of Rachel. Or, it could be describing a deficiency, such that Rachel was more beautiful, such that Yaakov loved Rachel.
The gemara in Bava Basra 123a puts forth two opinions:
Rav (alternatively, Rava) maintains that they were actually weak and teary. Rabbi Eleazar maintains that the pasuk would not state such a genus of tzaddikim, and so it means that her gifts are long. Referring to the Kohanim and Leviim who would come from her, as well as Malchus Yehudah. The gemara goes on to explain how Rav does not consider this a genai, because it reflects her tears at the prospect of marrying Esav.ועיני לאה רכות מאי רכות אילימא רכות ממש אפשר
בגנות בהמה טמאה לא דבר הכתוב דכתיב מן הבהמה הטהורה ומן
הבהמה אשר איננה טהורה בגנות צדיקים דבר הכתוב אלא א״ר אלעזר
שמתנותיה ארוכות רב אמר לעולם רכות ממש
Rav's explanation clearly works out better on a peshat level, while Rabbi Eleazar's appears to work solely on a derash level. For he talks of her gifts, rather than her eyes. Whatever happened to ain mikra yotzei midei peshuto?! (The answer, to my mind, is that ileima and other cues suggest this is not necessarily Rav and Rabbi Eleazar's reasons, and argument, but rather, much of it was the setama digmara filling it in. And they could work in parallel. Alternatively, Rabbi Eleazar does not maintain ain mikra.)
Rashi cites Rav's position, which works out much better according to peshat:
Rashbam maintains they were soft, as a sign of beauty.
And Onkelos also appears to take it as praise:
And Ibn Ezra differs with them and says like Rashi, that we should adopt the simple implication:
Those people who ask why this should be so, that her eyes were poor, are under the misconception that all creatures must be equal. (Thus, sure, she had this flaw, but that is acceptable. And it is not such a terrible thing to have this flaw; and perhaps for the Torah to describe the existence of the flaw.)
Then, he cites Ben Ephraim, that it is chaser the initial aleph, such that it means aruchot (long), and he, ben Ephraim, is chaser aleph.
Ben Ephraim was a Karaite. And I would guess that it is Yaakov ben Ephraim Kirkesani, though I don't have a copy of his Sefer Hanitzanim to check that he says this. A pity, because I would like to see what he writes specifically. Does he intend it as a praise of her beauty, or a description of her flaw? How can one have long eyes? Well, one can have long eyelashes, which people (nowadays) consider beautiful. Although eyelashes which are too long can be a flaw. See what is stated in Bava Kamma daf 117 about Rabbi Yochanan:
As R. Johanan was then a very old man and his eyelashes were overhanging he said to them, 'Lift up my eyes for me as I want to see him.' So they lifted up his eyelids with silver pincers. He saw that R. Kahana's lips were parted and thought that he was laughing at him.Given that Yaakov Ben Ephraim is a Karaite, and given how Ibn Ezra often holds no punches, it does not surprise me that he would offer this insult, in a mocking manner.
The question is just what the insult was. There are two possibilities I have seen. To cite Tzofnas Paneach:
Thus, not chaser aleph, but chaser aluf, a teacher, or wisdom.א[וטעמו ארוכות], פירוש: כמו שדרשו חז"ל [והוא
היה חסר אלוף] . פירוש: מלשון ואאלפך חכמה (איוב ל"ג ל"נ). כלומר
היה חסר לימוד וחכמה בעבור כי מה שפירש אינו בדרך הפשט
So too does Ezra Lehavin explain as the primary explanation:
Thus, aleph as aluph. But then, the more famous explanation, that if we remove the aleph from Ephraim, we would gen Parim (or Ben Parim), for he does not have intelligence, just like an animal.חסר אלף . כלומר שהיה איש לא למוד. והוא מלשון מלפני מבהמות ארץ ־ וי״מ שאם
נחסיר אלף מאפרים ישאר פרים שאין לו דעת כבהמה:
Yahel Or gives this famous explanation first, but then notes some interesting things:
Thus, first that he was an animal. But second, other manuscripts have aluph. For the aleph of the word aruchot is part of the shoresh and should not disappear. And one manuscript has iluf.אפרים חסר
אל"ף, נשאר פרים כלומר בהמה, ויש ספרים שכתוב
והוא חסר אלוף כלומר למוד , כי האמת שהאל׳ף של
ארוכות הוא שרש ולא יחסרוה, ובכתב יד יש"ר הגירסה
והוא היה חסר אילוף
Ohel Yosef and Motot say that is means chaser limud. Mekor Chaim says like Yahel Or, with parim as well as giving other girsaot.
What are the merits of each position?
In favor of cows:
- The fellow is a Karaite, and so perhaps Ibn Ezra was willing to be not merely insulting but would even resort to name-calling.
- Does Qirqisani usually go by Ben Ephraim alone? We would have to check. If not, choosing Ben Ephraim as the designation might have been a setup for the joke.
- It works out so well, since the insult plays on the very type of derivation Ben Ephraim was giving. You think you can just claim a letter is missing? I'll claim a letter is missing in your name. Let us see how you like it!
- While the alternative girsaot would preclude such an interpretation, those might be scribal errors or else corrections because of discomfort with him calling him an ox.
- Not a support at all, but I thought it would be appropriate to point out that in Akkadian, Leah (liatu) means "cow".
In favor of learning:
- It also makes sense as an insult. The fellow spoke of a missing aleph, so he is missing wisdom and learning, which we call write as אלף.
- If the alternative girsaot are original, then it would preclude it referring to ben Ephraim's name. If not, we can still kvetch it into אלף.
- The strongest argument, IMHO: The cow interpretation seems somewhat grammatically forced. Because Ibn Ezra should say that Ben Ephraim's name is יתר, not חסר! Rakot was missing an aleph, but his name has an extraneous aleph. Of course, one can answer it, that Ibn Ezra is instructing to read his name as if it were chaser. But then it is not so parallel.
I would lean away from aleph and towards aluph. But I see merit in both readings, and so would not really choose one over the other.
Of course, there could be other reasons, and a lot that I missed out on. If so, my leanings might change.