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Looking With One’s Heart

The final verse in this week’s parsha states: Deut. 29:8 – Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may תשכילו in all that you do.

At first blush, תשכילו should mean gaining wisdom (השכל), as the word is rendered by the Targum in other places (e.g. Gen. 48:14, Jer. 3:6, 9:23). Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi does translate it here with a similar term, understanding (התבוננות).

But from its first appearance in Genesis (3:6), we find the verb השכל rendered as אסתכלא, a term generally used (from Mishnaic times on, e.g. Eiruvin 4:2, regerring to looking through a telescope) interchangeably with לראות, to see/look.

On the other hand, הסתכלות is not synonymous with ראייה, simple looking, since אסתכלא is often found as the Targum of learning, delving (e.g. Deut. 32:7, 29; Is. 41:20, 44:8). And such is its Aramaic meaning in the Book of Daniel (7:8).

This all seems to point to a meaning related to looking deeply, intense observation, similar to the word בינה, related to the word בין (“between”), that is: “reading between the lines”[1]. Thus, the Zohar () 2:116b-117a) uses the expression “the mind’s eye” in conjunction with התבוננות (from בינה) when discussing beholding Heavenly beings such as angels (see also “Daf al Hadaf” [Menachos 43b], who explains on this basis other usages of הסתכל difficult to reconcile with simple viewing).

Thus, the Targumic renderings of להשכיל as gaining wisdom and הסתכלות would collectively point to understanding and knowledge. A third term used in the Targum “צלח” (generally meaning “success”) could fit as well, since a wise and understanding person is certainly more likely to “succeed” than a fool or ignoramous[2]. This is indeed Onkelus’ rendering of our verse (Deut. 29:8), and many other places (e.g. Josh. 1:7, Is. 52:3)[3].

Among the occurences of ‘שכל’ rendered as wisdom by Onkelus is Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons: Gen. 48:14 – And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, שִׂכֵּל his hands; for Manasseh was the firstborn. While Rashi and most other commentators follow Onkelus’ translation, Abravanel likens

שִׂכֵּל to סכל, suggesting a connection to סַכֵּל in II Sam. 15:31, usually translated as “to thwart,” and to הִסְכַּלְתָּ in Gen. 31:28, interpreted as “acting foolishly” by the commentators there!

Is Abravanel then suggesting that Jacob was acting foolishly by crossing his hands over to bless Ephraim? The Sages say that he did so by Divine inspiration[4]! Likewise, the term סַכֵּל (thwarting) in Samuel is rendered by the Targum as ruining… was then Jacob intending to ruin something? Again, his actions were directed from On High, intended for the betterment of the Israelite People.

This last point may however be the key to understanding Abravanel’s intention, because ironically there a common attribute to a wise man and a fool. A fool is in the habit of ruining plans, both his own and other people’s, most often out of thoughtlessness and disregard for consequences.

But thwarting plans may be a necessity at times for wise people as well. In fact, one of the hallmarks of wisdom is the recognition that the status quo is not etched in stone, that improvement is always possible. And just like home improvement, the process may include some inconvenience, and some dismantling of old structures in preparation for the future upgrade.

With this in mind, let’s look at Laban’s entire rebuke of Jacob in context:

Gen. 31-27-28 – Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and did not tell me, that I might have sent you away with mirth, and with songs, with tambourine, and with harp? And why did you not let me kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done הִסְכַּלְתָּ in so doing.

Laban is clearly claiming that he had planned a lavish “going away party” for Jacob’s entire clan, but in fleeing, Jacob ruined all the plans[5]!

The Midrash[6] records a seemingly subtle dispute between R’ Yuda and R’ Nehemia regarding the aformentioned verse in Gen. 48:

His left hand upon Manasseh’s head, שִׂכֵּל his hands – R’ Yuda says this means נישכלו faltered[7] when attempting to bless Manasseh. R’ Nehemia says his hands “gained wisdom” and blessed Ephraim instead.

R’ Yuda appears to parallel Abravanel’s commentary, namely that שִׂכֵּל  means thwarting and ruining, but instead of comparing שִׂכֵּל  to סַכֶּל (thwarting), he compares it to [8]שכול (faltering, losing). R’ Nehemia’s is identical with Onkelus’, who who interpreted שִׂכֵּל  as an expression of wisdom.

However, the Pesikta[9] quotes R’ Nehemia’s opinion somewhat differently:

His hands were השכילו to the Holy Spirit.

The Zera Ephraim commentary explain השכילו to mean כיוון, they were directed in a different bearing. But how is השכילו connected to diection? For this we turn to the Book of Joshua. After Moses’ death, Hashem told Joshua to always study the Torah and obey its commands, and specified a reward for such observance:

Johua 1:8 – This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth… to do according to all that is written on it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall תַּשְׂכִּיל.

For the word תַּשְׂכִּיל in this case, the Targum offers a unique translation: תַּכְשָׁט. What does תַּכְשָׁט mean, and how is it related to תַּשְׂכִּיל? The root כשט in Aramaic is equivalent to the root קשט in Hebrew[10], the latter appearing twice in Scripture (Ps. 60:6, Prov. 22:1), both times meaning “truth.”

However, Chazal used the word as a synonym for shooting an arrow [11]! The connection appears to be that just as “truth” and “straightness” are virtual synonyms, so too must an arrow be pointed straight the target to succeed (the metaphors match as well: “straightshooter”; “straight as an arrow”).

Indeed we find קושט (shooting), יריה (also shooting) and מכוון (properly directed) used interchangeably in the Midrashim[12]. In summary, all of a משכיל’s actions are purposeful and are directed and straight to the target. We pray to Hashem for the merit of seeing, observing deeply and gaining wisdom and inspiration in His House on Mount Moriah, speedily in our times!

 [1] [ובעל ספר אפיקי ים פירש את המלה מלשון ‘בֵּין’]: אפיקי ים שבת קד. (ר’ יצחק אייזיק חבר, בעל הפתחי שערים) – ובינה הוא… להבין דבר מתוך דבר ולחלק החכמה לפרטים, ולכן נקראת בינה מל’ בין, הבניים (ש”א יז:ד). [ונראה שתכונה זו שייכת גם לבנין, היינו בנין סברא איתנה. הרי סברא אמיתית בנויה על היכולת “לקרוא בין השורות” – להבין דבר מתוך דבר, והיא בין השאלות ששואלים לע”ל (שבת לא.). כך במישור הגשמי, כל חוזקו של בנין תלוי על שילוב של טיט וטיח בין הלבנים].

[2]  [ומעין נימוקו של מצ”צ בספר משלי]: משלי א:יב – מַשְׂכִּיל צַדִּיק לְבֵית רָשָׁע; מצ”צ – משכיל – ענין הצלחה, כי המצליח במעשיו נראה להבריות שעושה בהשכל.

[3]  [דוגמאות נוספות לתרגום זה: ש”א יח:ה, יד; ירמיה י:א, כ:יא, כג:ה].

[4]  [ראה במדבר רבה יד:ה].

[5]  [כ”ז כמובן רק טענתו של לבן, אבל יעקב בוודאי עשה בחכמה, כפי שהשיב מיד: כִּי יָרֵאתִי… פֶּן תִּגְזֹל אֶת בְּנוֹתֶיךָ מֵעִמִּי (בר’ לא:לא). ולכן יש שפירשו (ראה למשל מגיד תהלות [ר”י ממליץ, פ’ ויצא])אף את הביטוי הייחודי “הִסְכַּלְתָּ עֲשׂוֹ” מענין שכל, ומשמים הוציא את הניב הזה שיש לפרשו לכמה פנים. ואולי עפ”ז יש להבין למה רש”י לא פירש את המלה “הִסְכַּלְתָּ” בשום מקום, וגם התרגומים רק העתיקו את המלה מעברית ולא תרגמו, בניגוד לת”י בנביא שרגיל לתרגם שרש ‘סכל’ כלשון טפשות (ראה ש”א יג:יג, כו:כא, יר’ ד:כב, ה:כא, כי היא מלה רבת-משמעויות)].

[6]  [בראשית רבה (אלבק) כי”ו צז:יג-יד].

[7]  מהרז”ו  (לפס”ר פיסקא ג) – א”ר שכל – לשון מְשַׁכֵּלָה וַעֲקָרָה (שמ’ כג:כו), כדֹב שַׁכּוּל (הושע יג:ח). מנחת יצחק (למ”ר הנ”ל – ת”ד) – נישתכלו ידיו – נראה לפרש שר’ יהודה קורא שכל בשי”ן ימנית, והיינו נשמטו ידיו של יעקב מליתן בכורה למנשה, שסירבו לנוח על ראש מנשה. ור’ נחמיה מפרש ניתחכמו, וכמו שמתורגם באונקלוס: אחכמינון לידוהי.

[8]  [בחילוף אותיות זסשר”ץ. וכן יש להעיר על קירבת שרש ‘כשל’ וכן ‘כסל’ בחילוף מיקום אותיות].

[9]  [פס”ר פיסקא ג’, והשוה במדבר רבה יד:ה].

[10]  [רמב”ן בר’ מא:מז, וי’ כג:כח. ובענין הקשר בין במשמעויות השונות, ע’ רשר”ה תה’ ס:ו, מלבי”ם משלי כב:א].

[11]  [ראה במדבר רבה יב:ג].

[12]  [פס”ר מא:ו, תנחומא וירא מה].

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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