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Parsha and Manuscript: Ki Tavo – Treasured and holiness: promise or commandment?

Friday, 4 September, 2020 - 5:56 am

MS. Canon. Or. 81, fol. 179 (1396) Ki Tavo.pngIn the Torah portion of Ki Tavo, Moses addresses the Jewish people regarding the commandment of the bringing of the first fruits (bikkurim) to Jerusalem and the related law of the second tithe (ma’aser sheni) that also must be consumed only in Jerusalem. Having fulfilled this commandment and cleared the house out from all related produce, on the eve of Passover of the fourth year of the sabbatical cycle,[1] a declaration is made that one has offered all the necessary tithes, including the priestly offerings (terumah), the first Levite tithe (ma’aser rishon), the second tithe for the poor, as well as the first fruits, and requests G-d for His reciprocal blessings. These laws are then followed by a stirring closing of Moses’ address, stating that just as the Jewish people have chosen belief in monotheism from all other beliefs, G-d reciprocates and selects them as His people, describing them as treasured, elevated and holy:[2]

 

This day, the Lord, your G-d, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances, and you will observe and fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have selected the Lord this day, to be your G-d, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him. And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments, and to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, so that you will have praise, a distinguished name and glory; and so that you will be a holy people to the Lord, your G-d, as He spoke.

 

Translation of ‘he’emarta’ – elevated of praise

 

The unusual Hebrew phrase he’emarta’ in the verse:[3]You have selected - ‘he’emarta’ - the Lord this day, to be your G-d, And the Lord has selected - ‘he’emarta’ - you this day to be His treasured people’ has been a subject of much scrutiny by commentators and a number of interpretations have been offered. Rabbi David Kimchi, known by his acronym Radak (1160-1235) translates ‘he’emarta’ as ‘you became great’ (higdalta) – or ‘praiseworthy,’ similar to the phrase ‘v’yit’amru’ employed in Psalms:[4]How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult, shall they utter insolent speech, shall all evildoers praise - ‘v’yit’amru’ - themselves?’ Rabbi Judah HaLevi translates the ‘he’emarta’ as ‘saying’ (amar). In this context the verse is saying that just as the Jewish people did that which is just and good in G-d’s eyes to the degree that G-d said He will be their G-d, similarly, G-d shall do such goodness to the Jewish people to the degree that they will say that they will be His people.[5] Ibn Ezra (1089-1167) translates it as ‘elevated,’ drawing from Isaiah:[6]‘And gleanings shall be left in it like the cutting of an olive tree, two or three berries at the end of the uppermost (אָמִ֑יר) branch.’[7] Rashi on the Talmud appears to follow Kimchi that the phrase means: ‘praise, importance.’ This comment appears in his commentary on the following teaching in the Talmud:[8]

 

Rabbi Elazar interpreted the following verses homiletically: “You have affirmed, this day, that the Lord is your G-d, And the Lord has affirmed you, this day, to be His treasure, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His mitzvoth.”[9] Rabbi Elazar explained: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the Jewish people: You have made Me a single entity in the world, as you singled Me out as separate and unique. And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, as you will be a treasured nation, chosen by G-d. You have made Me a single entity in the world, as it is written: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.”[10] And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, as it is stated: “And who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?”[11]

 

Rashi on the Talmud comments that the phrase ‘he’emarta’ means praise and importance (chashivut, sh’vach). Thus, the verse reads: ‘You have made G-d important and praiseworthy this day, that the Lord is your G-d, And the Lord has made you important and praiseworthy this day, to be His treasure.’

 

MS. Huntington 425, fol. 119 (1403) Ki Tavo.pngRashi on the Torah uncertain - Separation or glory / praise

 

Despite the clear translation of ‘he’emarta’ in his commentary on the Talmud,following the view of the Radak, Rashi in his commentary on the Torah appears uncertain about what exactly the meaning of the word ‘h’emarta’ should be.Rashi comments: ‘We do not find any convincing testimony of an equivalent expression in the Scriptures which might give us a clue to the meaning of these words.’ Rashi then suggests two interpretations:  1. It appears to me that the expression he’e’mir (הֶאֱמִיר) denotes ‘separation’ and ‘distinction.’ Thus, here, the meaning is as follows: From all the pagan deities, you have ‘set apart’ the Lord for yourself, to be your G-d, and He ‘separated’ you to Him from all the peoples on earth to be His treasured people.’ 2. Notwithstanding, I did find a similar expression to he’e’mir (הֶאֱמִיר), which denotes “glory” (tif’eret), as in the verse “How long will all workers of violence praise or glorify (yit’amru) themselves?”[12] While Rashi in his commentary on the Torah quotes the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise,’ similar to his commentary on the Talmud, Rashi places this translation as inferior and secondary to his first interpretation: ‘separation’ (hafrasha).

 

Three versions

 

The level of disagreement Rashi has with the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ is highlighted further when viewing the commentary in the manuscripts. Three versions of the commentary may be found:

 

a. In the printed edition, the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ comes after the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as‘separation.’ This is how it is found in the Bomberg Chumash (Venice, 1618), the Amsterdam Chumash (1680) and Dehrenport Chumash (1793).

 

b. In most of the manuscripts of Rashi’s commentary the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ does not appear at all in the commentary. The only indication to a second proposed interpretation is from the opening comment: ‘We do not find any equivalent expression in the Scriptures,’ indicating that Rashi rejects a second interpretation, while not explicitly mentioning the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise.’ This version with only the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation’ can be found in the following manuscripts: MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-25),[13] MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396),[14] MS. Michael 384 (1399),[15] MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425),[16] MS. Huntington 445 (1476-1500)[17] and MS. Huntington 425 (1403).[18]

 

c. A third version of Rashi’s commentary found in the manuscripts brings the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ but mentions it at the beginning of the commentary, as opposed to the end, as found in the printed editions. This can be found in MS Leipzig 1, MS Frankfurt 19 and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408).[19] In the Frankfurt manuscript it elaborates that the first interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ is from the teachers of Rashi but with whom Rashi disagrees and then proceeds to bring the second interpretation - ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation.’

 

MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 110 (1201-1225) Ki Tavo.pngA further related variant

 

A further related variant in the manuscripts pertaining to the level of disagreement Rashi has with the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ may be seen from the opening of the comment in the printed edition: ‘We do not find any convincing testimony of an equivalent expression’ - ‘ein la’hem ed mochich.’ As Rabbi Chaim ben Bezalel (the brother of the famed Rabbi Judah Loew, known as Maharal of Prague) explains, Rashi is suggesting with this expression ‘convincing’ that there are other expressions in Scripture that are similar to the expression ‘he’emarta,’ but none of which are sufficiently convincing (mochi’ach). This expression - ‘convincing’ (mochi’ach) - may be found in MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), MS. Huntington 425 (1403) and MS. Huntington 445 (1476-1500).

 

In MS Leipzig 1, MS Frankfurt 19 (1340), MS. Michael 384 (1399) and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408), the word ‘convincing’ (mochi’ach) is omitted. In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-25), it is found added in the margin.

 

The versions that have the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ omitted all together clearly reflect a view of Rashi that rejects this interpretation as suitable for the plain meaning of the text. The versions that have the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ appearing at the beginning of the commentary, followed by Rashi’s personal preference of an interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation,’ also implies that Rashi in fact rejects the earlier view all together, as elaborated in MS Frankfurt that the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ is an interpretation that was offered by his teachers but one which he rejects. It wold make sense, then, that these versions, reflecting a total rejection of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise,’ would also omit the relative term: ‘convincing’ (mochi’ach) - stating rather: ‘We do not find (any) testimony of an equivalent expression’ - ‘ein la’hem ed.’

 

The versions that have the word ‘convincing’ (mochi’ach) inserted implies, as Rabbi Chaim ben Bezalal explains, a partial acknowledgement of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise.’ This makes most sense in the printed editions that first mentions there is no convincing equivalent expression, but after bringing Rashi’s preferred interpretation with a scriptural source that ‘he’emarta’ means ‘separation’ proceeds to bring the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ also as a possible equivalent expression (though not convincing). 

 

Chronology of the text

 

This would suggest the following chronology in the development of the text of Rashi: the initial understanding of Rashi was a total rejection of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ indicated by either omitting the interpretation altogether in the text of Rashi or by bringing it first. In both these instances the relative phrase ‘convincing’ is not applicable, as it is totally rejected. A second stage in the development of the text is an understanding of Rashi’s view that the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ is not completely rejected but rather just not convincing. This is reflected in the insertion of the word ‘convincing’ (mochi’ach).

 

With the acceptance of the view of Rashi that the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ is also a possible equivalent interpretation, though not convincing, the interpretation ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ was either inserted into the text of Rashi after Rashi’s preferred interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation, as opposed to the six manuscripts mentioned above that had it omitted,[20] or rearranged from being at the beginning of the commentary (to be rejected) to the end of commentary (implying  acceptance, even if not convincing.

 

MS. Michael 384, fol. 133 (1399) Ki Tavo.pngImplications of the variants on subsequent comments

 

The implication of the above variants – how the commentary is arranged – is how it impacts the following comments of Rashi that sets out to explain the following two verses relating to the Jewish people - as G-d’s treasured people and a holy people. The first verse states: ‘And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you.’ The second verse states: ‘so that you will be a holy people to the Lord, your G-d, as He spoke.’

 

On the first verse pertaining to ‘treasured people,’ Rashi quotes from the verse ‘as He spoke to you’ and comments by providing the source in Exodus before Mount Sinai where G-d relates to the Jewish people as a treasured people:[21] “And you shall be to Me a treasure.” On the second verse, pertaining to ‘holy people,’ Rashi quotes from the verse in Deuteronomy: ‘And so that you will be a holy people, as He spoke’ and comments by providing a scriptural source, where G-d relates to the Jewish people as a holy people, from Leviticus:[22] “And you shall be holy to Me.” 

 

A discrepancy between these two comments is that the first quotes from the verse only the words ‘as He spoke to you’ without quoting the actual words from the verse pertaining to the Jewish people being treasured, whereas in the second comment, Rashi quotes from the verse pertaining to the Jewish people as a holy people: And so that you will be a holy people, as He spoke.’

 

This discrepancy, however, is only relevant according to the version that brings the second interpretation of the expression ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ after the interpretation as ‘separation,’ as per the printed editions including the 16th - 17th century Bomberg, Amsterdam, Dahrenport Chumashim until today. According to this version, the two parts of the verse: ‘to be His treasured people’ and ‘as He spoke to you’ are in fact not juxtaposed, as can be seen above in the comment of Rashi according to the printed edition, where it is interrupted by the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise.’

 

According to the versions in the manuscripts[23] that either omit the second interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ denoting “glory” (praise) all together or bring it before Rashi’s preferred interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ denoting ‘separation,’ the two parts of the verse ‘to be His treasured people’ and ‘as He spoke to you’ are in fact juxtaposed, as the end of the comment of Rashi about the meaning of the word ‘he’emarta’ in fact ends with the words ‘to be His treasured people.’[24] The next comment of Rashi suitably, then, continues by quoting the continuation of the verse as the heading of the next comment: ‘as He spoke to you’ – and then proceeds to provide the reference for the notion of ‘treasure’ pertaining to the Jewish people from Exodus.[25]

 

Summary

 

In summary, the level disagreement or acceptance of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ and arrangement of the two interpretations in Rashi’s comment, as reflected in the variants in the Rashi manuscripts and printed editions, not only effects our understanding of the meaning of the biblical verse but has a side effect – a subtle impact on the consistency in style of the subsequent comments of Rashi.

 

Further variants

 

Beyond the desire for consistency in the wording of the commentary of Rashi regarding how he quotes the biblical verse pertaining to the concept of ‘treasured people’ and how he quotes the biblical verse pertaining to the concept of ‘holy people,’ the following question may be asked: is it of significance to biblical interpretation whether the phrase ‘to be His treasured people’ is juxtaposed to ‘as He spoke to you’ in the quotation of the biblical verse in the comment of Rashi[26] or if the quotation from the biblical verse in the comment of Rashi only consists of: ‘as He spoke to you?’ We will try to explain the significance by first presenting a further variant in the commentary of Rashi.

 

In the biblical verse there is a discrepancy between this two statements: ‘to be His treasured people’ and ‘to be His holy people.’ In the verse pertaining to ‘be His treasured people’ it states: ‘as He spoke to you,’ whereas in the verse pertaining to ‘be His holy people’ it only states: ‘as He has spoken,’ without the addition ‘to you.’

 

In the printed edition of Rashi’s commentary and most of the manuscripts the quotation of the biblical verse in the comment ‘to be His treasured people’ and ‘to be His holy people’ is the same as the biblical verse: in the comment ‘be His treasured people’ it states ‘as He spoke to you,’ while in the comment ‘be His holy people’ it states ‘like He has spoken,’ without the addition: ‘to you.’ In two manuscripts, however, there is no difference between these two quotations, as both state: ‘as He spoke to you.’  This can be seen in MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408)[27] and MS Frankfurt 19.[28]

 

Promise or command

 

This indicates possibly there are two ways to understanding the text pertaining to the concepts of ‘treasured people’ and ‘holy people:’ a. They are the same concept but expressed in two phrases or b. two different concepts. We can read the statements ‘to be a treasured people’ and ‘to be a holy people’ as a promise from G-d to the Jewish people or a commandment to the Jewish people. In Exodus,[29] before Mount Sinai, the statement: ‘you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples’ appears to be a promise,[30] while the statement in Leviticus: ‘you shall be holy’ appears as a command. This distinction would explain the difference phrases in the verses: pertaining to the statement: ‘to be His treasured people,’ it states: ‘as He spoke to you,’ denoting a promise to the Jewish people, whereas pertaining to the statement: ‘you will be a holy people to the Lord, your G-d,’ it states only: ‘as He has spoken,’ without ‘to you,’ denoting a different concept: commandment.

 

This may explain the arrangement of the interpretation in the first comment of Rashi pertaining to the phrase ‘he’emarta.’ As explained, the omission of the second interpretation - ‘he’emarta’ denoting ‘praise’ – allows for the juxtaposition of the two parts of the verse: ‘to be His treasured people’ with ‘as He spoke to you,’ making the comment of Rashi consistent with the following comment of Rashi that also quotes from the verse both parts of the verse: ‘you will be a holy people’ and ‘as He has spoken.’ The placing of the wordings together - ‘to be His treasured people’ with ‘as He spoke to you’ - removes the highlighting of the words: ‘as He spoke to you,’ thus undermining the distinction between the different phrases - ‘as He spoke to you’ denoting ‘promise,’ as opposed to ‘as He has spoken’ - without the additional ‘to you’ - denoting ‘command.’ Bringing the second interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ denoting ‘praise’ at the end of the commentary, thereby interrupting the continuity of the text ‘to be His treasured people’ with ‘as He spoke to you,’ breaks up these two parts of the verse, allows the quotation of the verse for the subsequent comment pertaining to ‘be His treasured people’ to only consist of ‘as He spoke to you.’ This clarifies the difference between the concept of ‘promise’ in relation to ‘to be His treasured people’ and the concept of ‘command’ in the statement: ‘you will be a holy people to the Lord, your G-d.’[31]

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, we presented various interpretations for the unusual phrase ‘he’emarta’ in the verses: ‘You have selected - ‘he’emarta’ - the Lord this day, to be your G-d. And the Lord has selected - ‘he’emarta’ - you this day to be His treasured people,’ including the view of Rashi in the Talmud that ‘he’emarta’ denotes ‘praise.’ We pointed out that Rashi on the Torah prefers the interpretation denoting ‘separation.’ In the manuscripts there are three ways the two interpretation ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ are related to: brought first, and then rejected, omitted, or brought as secondary to ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation.’ We argued that the arrangement of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ impacts the subsequent comments of Rashi not only in style and consistency but also in the interpretation of the concepts of ‘treasured’ and holiness’ of the Jewish people: are these ideas understood as commandments or promises made to the Jewish people. We concluded by suggesting that the arrangements of the interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘praise’ in the first comment of Rashi in the printed edition – after the first interpretation of ‘he’emarta’ as ‘separation’ allows for a focus on the distinction between the two concepts: the concept of treasured people is a promise in the book of Exodus before Mont Sinai, whereas the concept of ‘holiness’ was a command: by keeping the commandments the Jewish people become holy to G-d.

 

 


 

[1] The actual date for this is, according to Rashi, the day before the first day of Passover, or, according to Maimonides, the day before the seventh day of Passover.

[2] Deuteronomy 26:16-19.

[3] Deuteronomy 26:17-18.

[4] Psalms 94:3-4.

[5] Be’er Mayim Chaim on Deuteronomy 26:17:20.

[6] Isaiah 17:6.

[7] Rabbi David Altschuler of Prague (1687-1769) in his commentary Metzudat Tziyon also follows the view of Ibn Ezra.

[8] Talmud Chagigah3a. A similar teaching may be found in Talmud Berachot 6a:Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said to Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin: What is written in the phylacteries of the Master of the world? Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin replied: It is written: “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?” (I Chronicles 17:21). G-d’s phylacteries serve to connect Him, in a sense, to the world, the essence of which is Israel. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak continues: Is the Holy One, Blessed be He, glorified through the glory of Israel? Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin answered: Yes, as indicated by the juxtaposition of two verses; as it is stated: “You have affirmed, this day, that the Lord is your G-d, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His laws and commandments, and listen to His voice.” And the subsequent verse states: “Andthe Lord has affirmed, this day, that you are His treasure, as He spoke to you, to keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 26:17–18). From these two verses it is derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel: You have made Me a single entity [ḥativa] in the world, as you singled Me out as separate and unique. And because of this, I will make you a single entity in the world, and you will be a treasured nation, chosen by G-d. You have made Me a single entity in the world, as it is stated that Israel declares G-d’s oneness by saying: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And because of this, I will make you a single entity in the world, unique and elevated with the utterance: “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?” Consequently, the Holy One, Blessed be He, is glorified through the glory of Israel whose praises are written in G-d’s phylacteries.

[9] Deuteronomy 26:17–18.

[10] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[11] I Chronicles 17:21.

[12] Psalms 94:4.

[13] Fol. 110

[14] Fol. 179.

[15] Fol. 133.

[16] Fol. 220.

[17] Fol. 93.

[18] Fol. 119.

[19] Fol. 101.

[20] MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-25), MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), MS. Huntington 445 (1476-1500) and MS. Huntington 425 (1403).

[21] Exodus 19:5.

[22] Leviticus 20:26.

[23] MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-25), MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), MS. Huntington 445 (1476-1500) and MS. Huntington 425 (1403).

[24] This paragraph in Rashi’s comment states: ‘Thus, here, the meaning is as follows: From all the pagan deities, you have set apart the Lord for yourself, to be your G-d, and He separated you to Him from all the peoples on earth to be His treasured people.’ The last words in the above paragraph: ‘to be His treasured people’ serve as both, part of the previous comment and the heading for the following comment that opens with ‘like He spoke to you.’ This is then consistent with the wording of the subsequent of Rashi that all includes the concept or ‘holy people’ and the statement ‘like He has spoken.’

[25] Exodus 19:5. This argument is made in Likkutei Sichot 24:157, footnote 5.

[26] Even though the first part ‘to be His treasured people’ is technically part of the earlier comment.

[27] Fol. 101.

[28] A further variant in MS. Michael 384, fol. 133 (1399), is the comment - ‘And so that you will be a holy people as He spoke: And you shall be holy to Me’ – is omitted completely.

[29] Exodus 19:5.

[30] Likkutei Sichot 24:160, footnote 22.

[31] In Likkutei Sichot 24:159-160 it makes a similar argument in the context of the distinction between G-d speaking concerning the Jewish people in Exodus, implied by the phrase ‘as He spoke to you’ that may be interpreted as ‘concerning you. This is based on the commentary of Rashi on Genesis (28:15), where the verse states: ‘I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you (l’ach)." Rashi comments: ‘I have spoken concerning you:  for your benefit and concerning you.’ In this essay, and as indicated in Likkutei Sichot (ibid), the distinction is in fact also pertaining to the distinction between of promise versus command. 

 

 

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