Re’eh: The Slippery Year? – The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

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The root שמט appears six times in Parshat Re’eh, and only two other times in the rest of the Pentateuch:

This is the matter of the Sabbatical year [שְׁמִטָּה]: Every creditor shall relinquish [שָׁמוֹט] his authority over what he has lent his fellow (Deuteronomy 15:1-9).[1]

 

The root appears another seven times in Scripture, but while all the appearances in the Pentateuch are connected with the Sabbatical year, elsewhere this root is unconnected to this Mitzvah, where it bears meanings such as falling, slipping, weakening  and disintegration.[2] For example: II Samuel 6:6 – And Uzzah reached out to the Ark of G-d and grasped it for the oxen had dislodged [שָׁמְטוּ] (it); Radak (paraphrased)כי שמטו הבקר  – meaning their limbs broke off … according to Targum Yonatan the meaning is that the oxen caused it to slide down.  II Kings 9:33 – He said “Push her out of the window” [שִׁמְטוּהָ] and they pushed her out [וַיִּשְׁמְטוּהָ]; Radak – they dropped her from the window to the ground.

 

Similarly, the Mitzvah of the Sabbatical year, in a certain sense, means the weakening of one’s hold on his land and his money, to render them ownerless and let them “fall” out of his possession. With this in mind, we can suggest a connection between words containing the string מט, which all have in common one or more of the following qualities: 1) falling, collapsing, 2) giving in, bending over and curdling inwards, 3) throwing, placing down, hurling. Related to collapsing is the prevention of collapse, namely: 4) to lean on, to be supported. Let’s analyze the roots, one by one:

 

  1. מט – 1a – התמוטטות – Slipping, heading toward a fall: Leviticus 35:45 – And his means falter [ [וּמָטָה יָדוֹin your proximity; Ibn Ezra – וּמָטָה יָדוֹ from the same derivation as לא ימוט  – he will never falter (Psalms 112:6), and the מ is part of the root, and my foot falters [ [מטה רגלי (Psalms 94:18)… and you shall support him, this is the opposite of מטה ידו, that he should not fall. Psalms 17:5 – my footsteps did not falter [נָמוֹטּוּ]; Metz. Zion – נָמוֹטּוּ, this means slipping or being about to fall, as in: Their foot will falter [תמוט] (Deuteronomy 32:35): 1b[3]למטה – a low-lying place, bottom (as the result of a fall or collapse). Exodus 26:24 – They shall be equal at the bottom [מִלְּמַטָּה]. 1c –  [4]מִטָּה – a cradle or bed for sleeping (upon which a person “leans” when at rest): Genesis 48:2 – And he sat up in the bed [הַמִּטָּה]. Song of Songs 3:7 – the bed of Shlomo. 1d[5]מַטֶּה – a cane or walking stick (to keep its user from falling): Exodus 4:20 – Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand.

 

  1. מטל- According to Ramban, a מטיל is an iron tool that is brought down with force [להטיל אותו] against an object in order to smash it, i.e., to cause it to collapse.[6] Job 40: 18 – His limbs are like an iron weight [כִּמְטִיל]. Ramban – An iron metil is a large hammer that a man wields against a boulder to smash it, as in (Jonah 1:5), they cast [וַיָּטִלוּ] the wares that were on the ship into the sea.[7]

 

  1. מטר- In addition to precipitation, we find the verb מטר used for other things, such as coals: He will rain down coals upon the wicked (Tehillim 11:6). From here, Ramban in Parshat B’Shalach infers that מטרmeans throwing, or falling from above: Exodus 16:4 – Behold, I shall rain down for you food from heaven; Ramban (paraphrased) – Onkelos is of the opinion that this means descending… but it would seem to be as in Lamentations (3:12), like a target [כַּמַּטָּרָא] for the arrow, even though it is a different root, because any throwing that comes from above… is called מטרה, because arrows rain down upon them.[8]

 

  1. חמט-A chomet is one of the impure rodents listed in Parshat Shemini (Leviticus 11:30): A) Rashi translates this word as “snail,” both here and elsewhere.[9] B) We find in Aramaic the root חמט as the translation of כרע, which means to bend over or fall: Isaiah 46:1 – Bel is kneeling [כרע], Nebo is doubled over. Their idols were loaded on the beast and animal; Targum Yonatan renders כרע there as ;חמיט[10] Alshich – Bel is kneeling… – This verse refers to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, which fell over after the incident of Chanania, Mishael and Azariah, and broke into pieces because of Daniel. C) We also find the root חמט used by the Sages, such as the Mishna in: Shabbat 54b ואין הזכרים יוצאין בעגלה – – rams may not go out with a wagonette – so that their tails don’t get bruised; Rashi explains that this is in order that the rams not be bruised by stones and rocks;[11] and from the Piskei HaRi”d it seems that the tail gets bruised against the ground due to its weight and the fact that it faces downward (compare this to the translation of הכריע, as we mentioned): Piskei HaRi”d so that their tails don’t get bruised – Meaning, because their tails are so long and fat, they will break if they get scratched by the ground. In verse 78:31 of Psalms: He bent over the chosen of Israel; The Aramaic translation of “bent” is אחמט. D) We also find a “kav chumtun” in the language of the Sages. This refers to earth with a high salt content: Shabbat 31a – This can be compared to one who asks his emissary, did you mix into it [the stored wheat] a “kav of chumton” [to preserve it]? Rashi – a “kav of chumton”, salty earth which keeps the fruits from becoming wormy. Perhaps Rashi is here hinting that the term “chumton” derives from the word חומט – snail.[12]

 

Rav David Tzvi Hoffman z”l (Parshat Shemini) suggests that a snail is called a חומט because it curls up into its shell in times of danger – similar to the translation of כרע as חמיט. He noted that the word “חמיט” refers to curling inwards or shriveling in the Targum Suri as well.

 

  1. קמט – to curl inwards or shrivel – as in skin that dries up and withers (in effect collapsing): Job 16:8 – You have shriveled me [ותקמטני], it has become a witness against me; Metz. Zion – ותקמטני – This means shriveling,[13] as in: who were cut down [אשר קמטו] before their time (Job 22:16).

 

  1. שמט – to slip – The words Shemittah and hashmatta also share the general meaning of falling, as shown above. Meaning, we are commanded to “loosen our grip” on our possessions for at least one full year, freeing ourselves for spiritual pursuits. Our very act of relinquishing our property is what gains us the Torah’s promises of bountiful crops and our secure dwelling on the land: Leviticus 25:19 – The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill, you will dwell securely upon it.

 

May we all be blessed with peace, security, spiritual and material blessing without end. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The six appearances are:

דב’ טו:א-ט – מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה שְׁמִטָּה. וְזֶה דְּבַר הַשְּׁמִטָּה שָׁמוֹט כָּל בַּעַל מַשֵּׁה יָדוֹ אֲשֶׁר יַשֶּׁה בְּרֵעֵהוּ… כִּי קָרָא שְׁמִטָּה לַה’… אֶת אָחִיךָ תַּשְׁמֵט יָדֶךָ… קָרְבָה שְׁנַת הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ.

 

 [2] ‘מט’ הוא שרש המלים הבאות לדעת מחברת מנחם. ולדעת רד”ק, המלים נחלקות לג’ שרשים: ‘מוט’/’מטט’/’נטה’.

[3]  שרשה ‘מטט’ לרד”ק, ‘מט’ למנחם.

[4]  שרשה ‘מטט’/’נטה’ לרד”ק, ‘מט’ למנחם.

[5]  שרשה ‘נטה’ לרד”ק, ‘מט’ למנחם.

[6] Similar to the contemporary word טיל, missile—a spear-like instrument that is hurled against an enemy.

[7] Other examples:

שא כ:לג – וַיָּטֶל שָׁאוּל אֶת הַחֲנִית עָלָיו לְהַכֹּתוֹ; מצ”צ – ויטל – השליך כמו: ויטילו את הכלים (יונה א). יר’ טז:יג – וְהֵטַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ; רד”ק – והטלתי – ענינו והשלכתי. יונה א:ד – וַה’ הֵטִיל רוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה אֶל הַיָּם; אב”ע – וה’ הטיל – השליך דרך משל. יונה א:ה – וַיָּטִלוּ אֶת הַכֵּלִים; מצ”צ – ויטילו – ענין השלכה, כמו: והטלתי (יר’ טז).

[8]  והשוה למה שהבאנו בענין שרש ‘מטר’ במאמרינו לפ’ תצוה, ובהערות שם.

[9]  תה’ נח:ט – כְּמוֹ שַׁבְּלוּל תֶּמֶס יַהֲלֹךְ; רש”י – שבלול – יש פותרין לימצ”א בלעז. וכן פירש”י “חומט” ו/או “שבלול” (שבת עז:, חגיג’ יא., ובמו”ק ו: נקט במלה “לימצו”ן”. ומעניין שהמלה כנראה זהה גם בארמית, שכן פירשו “שבלול” גם במדרש (ב”ר נא:א) בלשון “לימצא” (ובילקוט [תהלים, רמז תשעו] גרס “לומצון”)

[10]  ת”י – חֲמִיט בַּל אִתְקְטֵף נְבוֹ הֲווֹ צַלְמָנֵיהוֹן דְמוּת חֵיוָא וּבְעִירָא. וראה גם תמ”י (תרגום מיוחס יונתן) דב’ כח:לה, והתרגום לאיוב ד:ד ותהלים עח:לא.

[11]  ובדומה לכך, ר”ח פתרה כלשון  עיפוש: רבינו חננאל – פי’ דלא נחמטה שלא יעלה כעין עיפוש באליה.

[12]  וראה גם “קובץ ליקוטי הערות וחידושים ר’ יוסף אדלר”, דף ק”ל (גאב”ד טורדא ונשיא לשכת הרבנים בטרנסילבניה), שהסביר בטוב טעם את הקשר לכלי המכונה “חמיטה” (מעשרות א:א). וצ”ע בענין העוגה הדקה הנק’ “חמיטה” (טבול יום א:א), ושמא י”ל שנקראת כן ע”ש שהיא נאפית בכלי הנקרא “חמיטה” הנ”ל (כדוגמת “חביתה” ע”ש הכנתה ב”מחבת”).

 [13] לעוד נימוקים בענין שרש ‘קמט’, ראה את מאמרינו לפ’ צו.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website BiblicalHebrewEtymology.com.

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg