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Chayei Sarah

Let me please sip(הַגְמִיאִינִי)a little water from your jug (Gen.24:17).

Pour into me (הַלְעִיטֵנִי), now, some of that very red stew (Gen.25:30).

In requesting a drink from Rebecca, Eliezer used the term הַגְמִיאִינִי,let me sip.Our Sages expounded on the righteousness of Eliezer for expressing himself in this manner: Numbers Rabbah 21:20 – That which the verse states,A righteous man eats to his soul’s satiation (Prov.13:25), is an allusion to Eliezer, who [merely] said to Rebecca, Let me please sip(הַגְמִיאִינִי)a little water– one swallow;[the conclusion of that verse,] but the stomach of the wicked will always be lacking, is an allusion to Esau, who said to Jacob: Pour into me(הַלְעִיטֵנִי), now, [some of that very red stew](Gen. 25:30).R’ Yitzchak son of R’ Ze’ira said: Esau opened his mouth as wide as a camel and said, “I will open my mouth and you put it in,” for [the expression הלעטהrefers to feeding camels, as] we were taught in the Mishnah: One may not stuff a camel [on the Sabbath], nor may he cram it, but [מלעיטין] he may put food down their throats (Shabbat 24:3).

Eliezer’s request for “a little water” is evidence of his modesty and refinement in and of itself, and in conjunction with the wordהגמיאיני, the manner of thinking of this righteous man is fully revealed. The word הגמיאיניdenotes what the Mishnah (Shabbat 8:1) refers to asכדי גמייא,1the amount that a person is able to swallow in one gulp.2By contrast,הלעיטניisthe amount that can be put down the throat of an open-mouthed camel– a prodigious quantity.

However, based on the Midrash’s own definition of these two terms, its explanation of the verse from Proverbs as referring to Eliezer and Esau, respectively, seems perplexing. For eating tohis soul’s satiation” seems a more fitting description of Esau, who sought to fill his stomach to the point of satiation, whereas “a stomach that is lacking” seems more fitting for Eliezer, since such a minimal amount of drink would never leave him fully sated! A deeper examination of the meaning of these words, however, will reveal the key to solving this mystery, with G-d’s help.

Radak assigns the word הגמיאיניto the entry גמא, which he defines as drinking.But he also links two other words to the same root: a) He interprets the verse, with noise and trembling [the horse] drinks up (יְגַמֶּא)the land(Job39:24),to mean that the ease and speed with which the horse traverses the land makes it appear as if it drinks it.3b) Radakalso notes that according to his father, the phrase מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם קָדִימָה,the מְגַמַּתof their faces is like the east wind(Habakuk 1:9), is also derived from the root גמא(drink), with the verse meaning that the arrogance in their faces will make it appear as if the powerful east wind filled their faces with drink.4

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (Gen.2:7)5also sees the word גַם(also) as linked to the root גמא, since alsodenotes adding something to that which already exists, as when one drinks a sip at a time.6

Indeed, it appears that numerous other Hebrew words that contain the two-letter string גםare also related. They are: 1) גמא; 2)לגם; 3)אגם; 4)גמץ; 5)מגמה; 6)גמש; 7)גמל; 8)גמר; 9)גמד. All of these denote one or more of the following characteristics that are related to a water source and being nourished by it: drinking/absorption, addition /concentration, satiation /weaning, moisture /flexibility, modesty /satisfaction. Let us now look at each of these in more detail.

1) Root גמא: This term has two meanings: a)A minimal amount of drink.7b)a light tree גֹּמֶאthat grows near a lake.8

2)Rootלגם:A small amount of drink (in Rabbinic Hebrew). For instance,Midrash Sechel Tov (Gen. 24:17) links the Scriptural גמאwith the Talmudic גמעand לגם. The phrase מְלֹא לוּגְמָיו (Yoma 73b) means a mouthful.The term לְגִימָה9is likewise translated as a mouthful.

3)Rootאגם: This term has two meanings: a) a confluence of water10; b) a light tree that grows near a lake Radak interpretsthe verse: and theאֲגַמִּיםthey burned with fire(Jer.51:32),as follows: The גֹּמֶאtrees that grow near the rivers were burned with fire, so that the abundance of these trees would not hinder their entrance into the city.11

4)Rootגמץ:a type of pit.12This can be compared to anאֲגַםbecause a pit absorbs / drinks everything that is put into it, similar to the nature of the lake or swamp.

5) The word מגמה:drinking/longing.13

6)Rootגמש: In the Talmudic vernacular, גמישmeans bending /crouching(see Yoma 67a and Rashi,ad loc.).14The Midrash15explains that Jochebed placed the infant Moses in a wicker (גֹמֶא)basket, because it was a soft material that could withstand a confrontation with either a hard or a soft object in the river. The flexibility of the גֹמֶאstems from the fact that it is situated upon waters that it absorbs constantly, so that it is always wet and soft).

7)Rootגמל(camel): There are two manners by which the name גָמָלmay be connected: a)גָמָלis similar to גוּמָא(pit), in that they both drink and absorb that which is placed within them; b)One may read גָמָלas a compound root: גםand מל. That is, the camel first drinks profusely (גוֹמֶא, related to גם)from a water source, and eventually is cut off (נִמוֹל, related to מל) from the need to drink for an extended period.16We also find the same link in an alternate usage of the root גמלin the verse, וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַיִּגָּמַל,The child grew and was weaned(Gen. 21:8), rendered by Onkelos as ואתחסיל, literally חסלmeaning termination.

8)Rootגמר:cessationגמרshares a meaning with גמל, i.e. הִגָמֵל,the end of the nursing period, when the child is weaned from his mother’s milk.17Indeed, a certain Halachic teaching that we find in Tosefta(Parah 11:7) with the expression גִּבְעוֹלִין שֶׁלֹּא גָמְרוּ,stalks that were not completed,appears in identical wording in the Mishnah at the same location (Parah 11:7), with the sole exception that the word גָמְרוּis replaced by גָמָלוּ(see Rash,ad loc., who notes that it means ended, as in the word הִגָמֵלthat is used regarding the weaningof Isaac.18

9)Rootגמד(a short cubit): The word גֹּמֶדthat appears in Jud. 3:16 is interpreted by Rashi as an abbreviated/cut offcubit. The root גמדalso appears in Ezek. 27:11, in the word גַמָּדִים, which Metz. Tzion interprets as dwarfs,since they are of an abbreviated height. Thus, גמד“,a small measure of length,shares the meaning ofsmall measurewith the verb גמיאה.

The first words in this list denote the supply of water and its use, with the lake /pond /swamp(אַגַם)at the center of this water system. The reeds that grow amid this swamp dwell in security, assured of their sustenance under ordinary circumstances.19Human beings who find themselves in similar circumstances do not feel any pressure; their basic sustenance is assured. As long as the source of their nourishment carries on in its usual manner, why should there be cause for concern? Their confidence in the continuously flowing well provides them with spiritual satisfaction. They drink calmly, with no need to accumulate stacks of reserves or fill warehouses for the future. And just as the reed that is supplied with water from the swamp is healthy and flexible, so does a sense of trust and confidence provide human beings spiritual powers that allow them to “flow” — the flexibility and ability to handle all manner of situations and difficulties.

Human life commences with reliable sustenance from one’s mother, and the child swallows a mouthfulat a time, as per his need. Ultimately this period of nursing ends with a weaningprocess; slowly but surely he is weaned from his mother’s milk and becomes accustomed to solid foods in stages.20So too does God prepare for a person at every stage of his life the essential tools that allow him to cope with all the challenges that crop up when he is weaned off his present state and slowly enters another. In the words of our Sages, “G-d prepares the cure before the wound.21” Likewise, the camel that sets out on a lengthy journey — and thus must be weaned from its usual sustenance sources — is armed with the necessary devices which enable it to cope with its hunger. It fills its stomach and hump sufficiently, and thus embarks on the journey without incident and without concern.

All this is alluded to in the word הַגְמִיאִינִי: “It is sufficient for me to take a small gulp at present, for I am certain that G-d will also(גם) provide me each time with the מגמהthat quenches my thirst and fulfills my other needs — as the reed (גומא) is sustained by the swamp (אגם).22The polar opposite of this worldview is that of Esau, which is constantly focused on the next meal. The minute he swallows the food that then fills his stomach, he’s already preoccupied with the source of the upcoming meal. Whatever he has eaten is gone, swallowed up in the dark caverns of his stomach.23That food has vanished into oblivion, and he is already lacking.

By using the word הַלְעִיטֵנִיin asking Jacob for food, Esau sought to compare himself to a camel. In the words of Rashi, he stated, “I shall open my mouth, and you pour a lot into it,” as we were taught in the Mishnah (Shabbat 24:3) [regarding the feeding of a camel on Shabbat], “One may not stuff a camel [on the Sabbath], nor may he cram it, but [מלעיטין] he may put food down their throats.” Esau also sought to mimic a camel in another sense — his effort to remove any dependency on outside sources, first and foremost from the “One Who satisfies all living things,” may His Name be blessed. However, a camel has a major advantage over the person who seeks to mimic it — for its satiation at the moment is bona fide satiety. The Esaus of the world, on the other hand, never cease to worry about the future for even a second… even at the very moment that their stomachs are filled to the maximum.

This attitude of the wicked toward the life of This World is reflected in their attitude toward the World to Come. In the words of the Midrash (Eliyahu Zuta [Ish Shalom, Ch. 19]): Jacob said to Esau: There are two worlds before us — This World and the World to Come; This World has eating and drinking, business dealings, marrying a woman and bearing sons and daughters, but the World to Come is not like that… Immediately, Esau disavowed [belief in] the Revival of the Dead [in the World to Come], stating: “If the living who possess a spirit and a soul die, how can those who already died live?” For the evil, the end of This World is nothing but darkness — “lights out. ”24

The righteous, on the other hand, witness G-d’s propensity to provide us with ever more benefits in this world, and thus trust that G-d will continue to add goodness upon goodness in the World to Come as well — and so shall it be for them.

May we all merit great wealth, truewealth, namely, to be satisfied with our portion in This World. In doing so, we shall merit the bliss of the goodness of our portion that we have been assured גםto receive in the World to Come.

1In its Talmudic usage, the Scriptural rootגמאis spelled both asגמאandגמע(Rashi, ad loc.; see also Ramban to Deut. 21:14).

2According to the Bartenura.Tosafos Yom Tovadds that this quantity is less than מלא לוגמיו, a mouthful.

3Rashialso seems to suggest the same meaning in the second of his two interpretations. Even his first interpretation, that יְגַמֶּאmeans “it makes גוּמוֹת(pits/depressions)” in the ground, may be reconciled with Radak’s interpretation, since a pit “drinks” and absorbs that which is placed in it.

4Rashialso interpretsמְגַמַּתas based on the root “drink,” albeit based on an understanding of מְגַמַּתaseagerness,as their faces “drink and absorb” their aspirations.

5רשרהבראשיתב:זויפחבאפיוויפחבאפיונשמתחייםמשמעות[שרש]אפף“:לשאוףאלקרבובתשוקה.ומכאןמלתהקישוראף“…דבריםשנאמרותחילהגורריםלתחומםאתהאמורלאחריהם. (והשוהגםמשרשגמאומגמתפניהם[חבא:ט]).

6This view is also supported by HaKetav Ve’ha’Kaballah (Ex.8:17) and Ohr Chadash(Gen.24:17; Ex.7:19).

7רשי ברכד:יזהגמיאיני נא לשון גמיעה.תויט ח:אכדי גמיעה בגממיבעיא להו כדי גמיאה או כדי גמיעה אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק הגמיאיני נא מעט מים מכדך (ברכד)…והוא פחות אפילו מכדי לוגמיו.

In R. Hirsch’scomments tothe verse:my flesh longs(כָּמַהּ)for you(Psalms 63:2), he suggests that the root גמאmeans drinking because, like the similar verbכָּמַהּ, it denotes the thirsty one’s longingfor water, just as the Talmud refers to mushrooms/truffles as כְּמֵהִין, because they longfor water.

8The word גֹּמֶאis so called because it is a light wood that grows near an אֲגַם(lake) and floats upon its waters (see Metz. Tzionto Isaiah18:2), or because it only grows when the land is suffused with water (seeJob8:11). Likewise, Targum Yerushalmi’s translation of the word אָחוּ(marshland) in Gen. 41:1 and Targum Yonatan’s translation of the word סּוּף(reeds) in Ex. 2:3 are bothגוּמַיָא.

9יומא ח:בוְהַשּׁוֹתֶה מְלֹא לֻגְמָיו,חַיָּב.סנהדקג:גדולה לגימה שהרחיקה שתי משפחות מישראל.

10שמות ז:יטעַל יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל אַגְמֵיהֶם.Radakalso suggests in his Sefer HaShorashimthat the same definition applies to the verse (Isaiah 19:10), כָּל עֹשֵׂי שֶׂכֶר אַגְמֵי נָפֶשׁ. However, in his commentary to the verse itself, he interpretsאַגְמֵיnot as lakes, but as the depressed, comparing it to עָגְמָה נַפְשִׁי לָאֶבְיוֹן(Job30:25).See also Malbim’s commentary there.

11מכאן נראה שאגמיםבמובן עץ האגם נקרא גמאבלשון יחיד ואגמיםבלשון רבים (בני אמש ני).

12קהלת י:חחֹפֵר גּוּמָּץ בּוֹ יִפּוֹל.

13The early commentators disagree as to its root: some say it is גמה, some say it is גמא, and some say it is גמם. In his commentary to Chabakuk 1:9, Rashi explains that מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם means the drinking / longing of their faces, and that the phrase יְגַמֶּא אָרֶץ in Job 39:24 means that the horse runs great distances with such speed that it appears as if it drankup the land before it (this resembles Radak’s interpretation that we cited earlier. See also the two interpretations of Metz. Tzion).

14יומא סז.מצוה בשעירזמנין דגמיש ליה לרישיה; רשידגמיש ליה לרישיה יכוף ראשו תחת גופו.

15שמות רבה א:כתבת גמא (שמב).למה גומארשמואל בר נחמני אמר:דבר רך, שיעמוד לפני רך ולפני קשה.

16R’ Hirsch (Gen.21:8) makes a similarlink by arguing that the word גמלhas the same meaning as the verb קמל, which means cutting off(see Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 19:6). [See also R’ Hirsch to Gen. 12:14-19, 21:8, 24:19.]

17See I Sam.1:22.

18וכן:שא א:כבעַד יִגָּמֵל הַנַּעַר;מצציגמלענין גמר ההנקה.

19כלשון הכתוב:איוב ח:יהֲיִגְאֶה גֹּמֶא בְּלֹא בִצָּה.

20כדכתב מצצ:ישעיח:הוּבֹסֶר גֹּמֵל יִהְיֶה נִצָּה;מצצגומלרל תגדל מעט מעט והושאל מלהילד הנגמל משדי אמו.

21Midrash Sechel Tov: Ex. 3:1

22This perspective was also the secret of the manna’s power to satiate the Israelites in the Wilderness. AsMaharshawrites in Yoma 75a in explanation of the verse, Humans ate the bread of angels; He sent them food for satisfaction(Psalms 78:25), “This refers to the righteous and the unique individuals among Israel who merely requested enough to eat.” In other words, it was only to those who were not concerned about the future, who merely ate and drank according to their present needs, and were confident that Hashem would send them all their needs — to them alone He sent them food for satisfaction, in the same sense as our Sages’ teaching, “Who is a rich man? One who is satisfied with his portion.”

23See R’ Hirsch’s proposed linkage between לעיטה(overeating) and עלטה(darkness).

24Ironically, Esau was prescient: what awaits the wicked after their demise is indeed nothing but gloom and oblivion, as Chazal tell us: שמר יד:בויט משהויהי חשך אפילה.מהיכן היה החשך ההוארנחמיה אמר מחשך של גיהנם,שנאמר:אֶרֶץ עֵפָתָה כְּמוֹ אֹפֶל צַלְמָוֶת וְלֹא סְדָרִים וגו‘ (איוב י:כב)ריהודה בר אמר במה הרשעים מתכסים בגיהנם בחשך.

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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

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