I wanted to write this week about a rather perplexing element found in the Targum “Yonasan” on both of this week’s parshios. No, I’m not referring to the well-known contradiction between Yonasan and the Mishnah (Megillah 25a) regarding the interpretation of the prohibition of passing one’s son to Moloch (see Vayikra 18:21). As MaHaR’aTZ Chayos notes in his work Imrei Vinah (#4), this is one of the places in which “Yonasan” disagrees with what later came to be the accepted halacha, and therefore fell into disuse in the time of the gemara, in favour of the “Babylonian Targum” of Onkelos. Incidentally, see also Tosafos Yom Yov on that mishnah for another understanding which finds the mishnah and targum to be in agreement. But like I said, this isn’t what I’m going to talk about!
Rather, I refer to the way in which “Yonasan” chooses to translate the phrase “ish ish”, which occurs in several places in this week’s Torah portions. Here is a list of all the instances in the Torah where this phrase is employed:
1) Sh’mos 36:4
2) Vayikra 15:2
3) Vayikra 17:3
4) Vayikra 17:8
5) Vayikra 17:10
6) Vayikra 17:13
7) Vayikra 18:6
8) Vayikra 20:2
9) Vayikra 20:9
10) Vayikra 22:4
11) Vayikra 22:18
12) Vayikra 24:15
13) B’midbar 1:4
14) B’midbar 4:19
15) B’midbar 4:49
16) B’midbar 5:12
17) B’midbar 9:10
Just in case anyone didn’t have a concordance. Anyhow, it cases (2)-(12) only, i.e. every instance in the book of Vayikra, but no other, the Targum renders this as “g’var siv u-g’var t’lei” (“either an old man or a young man”), or some other similar formulation. In other words, the Torah is including any sort of man, no matter his age, in these directives.
The question which arises is, what are the parameters of the word “t’lei”, young? If we examine the Talmudic source for this opinion of the Targum, we find that in 15:2, which speaks of a zav, the gemara (Niddah 44a) writes that the repetition of the word “ish” comes to include even a newborn baby in the category of those who can become a zav. Is this what the Targum means? I used to think so, but this is clearly an untenable position. The other cases speak of the prohibition against slaughtering kadashim outside of the Mishkan, against eating blood, the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal, and so on. These can surely not be understood to apply to a baby, or even a minor for that matter. But if the Targum is referring here to someone who has reached the age of maturity – and the word “talya” is usually the Aramaic translation given for “na’ar” (e.g. B’reishis 41:12. See our email of P’ Vayeishev for a discussion of the term “na’ar”, where we wrote that it certainly has the connotation of someone over the age of thirteen) - then why is there a need for the second word “ish”? Isn’t it so that a boy gains the title “ish” at thirteen (see B’reishis Rabbah 80:10)? The gemara and Sifra give other reasons for the other repetitions of “ish ish”: (3) tells us that even if two people bring the same animal as a sacrifice outside the Mishkan, they are liable, (7) and (8) and (11) and (12) include gentiles, (9) includes even those whose masculinity is questionable, (10) includes someone who is uncircumcised. So what to make of these targumim?
One might be tempted to draw a distinction between instances in which a general command is being given, as in all the cases in Vayikra, and the other cases, in which only a small group of people are being commanded for a limited time or for a specific purpose. However, this does account for case (16). At any rate, it seems clear that the Targum is of the opinion that “dibra Torah ki-l’shon b’nei adam”: that “ish ish” is just a “figure of speech”, not significant of any underlying meaning. Why it chooses its particular form of translation only in Sefer Vayikra is rather puzzling, and it may be not entirely heretical to suggest multiple authorship of the targumim on the different books of the Pentateuch. I really don’t know.
* * * * *
The word “acharei”, Rashi tells us in a number of places (e.g. B’reishis 15:1, D’varim 11:30), means that two phenomena are removed from one another, either temporally or spatially. “Achar”, conversely, implies a sequence of events that followed one another in close proximity.
The source for this idea is the Midrash Rabbah (B’reishis 44:5). There, in addition to finding the more well-known opinion cited above, we find an opinion that says precisely the opposite, i.e. that “acharei” means something that followed closely upon the heels of its predecessor, while “achar” means the converse.
Now, clearly this seems a strange thing for two respectable, knowledgeable sages to argue about; and indeed, a quick perusal of a concordance ought to be sufficient to leave the strong impression that in fact there is no such rule. Counterexamples to both theories abound. Thus, Tosafos (Gittin 60a) are bothered by the fact that, according to the gemara, the parasha of Acharei Mos was transmitted to Moshe and Aharon on the very same day that the latter’s eldest sons died. And Rashi, while seemingly resolute in his decision that “acharei” implies a distance between events, appears to blatantly contradict himself in other places (see his comments at the end of P’ Vayeira).
The solution to this conundrum, it seems to me, is to suggest that the argument revolves not around simple questions of When? and Where?, but rather hinges on the more subtle elements of relativity and causality. This is the position of the Gur Aryeh (B’reishis 22:20). So, for example, the Book of Yehoshua begins with the words: “And it was ‘acharei’ the death of Moshe, the servant of God…” The commentaries all seem to agree that the events described in this first chapter occurred approximately one month after the death of Moshe. Yet is that a lot of time, or a little? It all depends on how you look at it. If we look at the tremendous impact of Moshe’s death, the loss of numerous laws during the period of mourning, the discrepancy between the levels of prophecy achieved by Moshe and his student, Yehoshua, then one would surely be justified in stating that “acharei” denotes a separation, the dawn of a new era. Or, if one were to look at the crossing of the Jordan and the repossession of the Land of Israel, one would not fail to note the epochal nature of this changing of the guard.
Conversely, if one were to consider the continuities between the reign of Moshe and that of his student, the similarity of the miracles performed by them (see Taanis 21a), one could be equally justified in concluding that “acharei” serves to connect two events, to note the fluidity of historical development.
And so it is with the death of the sons of Aharon and the subsequent commandment limiting Priestly access to the Holy of Holies. Clearly, the causal relationship between the two incidents goes without saying. The attitude of spiritual elation and ecstasy that figured so prominently in the form of worship espoused by Nadav and Avihu is to be replaced by one of sobriety and self-control; that of a transcendental experience, of man seeking to commune with God, replaced by a doctrine in which God “condenses” Himself and comes down to meet man on his own terms. In this sense, “acharei” implies a divide, a dramatic shift in the religious paradigm.
(Incidentally, there is a similar sort of argument found in Megillah 11a. The verse states that Achashverosh ruled from Hodu to Kush: one opinion has it that Hodu and Kush were very close together, while the other holds that they were very far apart, at opposite ends of the world. According to the first opinion, the intent of the verse is to tell us that he ruled the world with as much authority as he wielded over the relatively small expanse between those two adjacent nations.
Now, it seems obvious that both Rav and Sh’muel had a pretty good idea of where these two countries (approximately India and Ethiopia) were situated. But of course, the distance between the two depends upon which direction you travel in. Both agree he ruled the whole world, as the gemara states; the question is simply with what degree of authority did he exercise in the remoter regions.)
* * * * *
Having just finished studying Tractate Kareisos this week, I thought I would write about the best-known section of the tract, i.e. the baraisa that deals with the composition of the incense offering (“ketores”). The baraisa (Kareisos 6a) tells us that if the incense lacked any of the eleven component spices, the penalty for such a transgression would be death.
Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this law is derived from a verse at the beginning of this week’s portion. God tells Moshe to inform his brother that he is not to appear in the Holy of Holies any time he chooses; it is only when he brings the incense offering that he is permitted to enter (Lev. 16:3); if one of the spices is missing, then his offering is worthless, and it is as though he has entered the Holy of Holies empty-handed.
Rashi’s explanation implies two things about the baraisa’s prohibition. First, it seems to suggest that the severe penalty for omitting a spice is only for the Yom Kippur service; for the daily incense offerings, which were not brought into the Holy of Holies, the prohibition would not apply. Secondly, it implies that the penalty is not for the act of burning a deficient pan of spices, but rather for the act of entry. Thus, if one had forgotten that entry into the Holy of Holies was generally not allowed, but was fully aware that he was about to burn a compound that was missing an element, he would in theory be exempt from the severe penalty of divinely imposed death.
Many later authorities (Be’er Sheva, Magen Avraham, R’ Akiva Eger) have pointed out that Rashi’s understanding runs counter to a passage in Tractate Yoma (53a), which makes it very clear that the prohibition of leaving out a spice is distinct from that of illicitly entering the Holy of Holies. Be’er Sheva cites the Rambam (Hilkhos Kelei Hamiqdash 2:8), who notes that the real issue is that by skipping one of the ingredients, one has thus brought it a “foreign fire”, a type of incense offering not prescribed by the Torah. Exodus (30:9) prohibits these sorts of things, though it makes no mention of the death penalty for transgressors.
According to the Rambam, then, it is always prohibited to leave a spice out, and the prohibition is related to the act of kindling the incense.
It is noteworthy that this argument between Rashi and Rambam is somewhat relevant to our everyday practice. The issue of whether or not to recite this baraisa every day, or only on Shabbos, is tied to the idea that if one recites it too hurriedly, one might omit one of the components of the ketores. While the Beis Yosef plays down this concern, it is mentioned by Rema (O.C. 132). While according to Rashi, this would only apply on Yom Kippur, for Rambam this would (theoretically) be an everyday concern.