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Vayishlach

בראשית לד:ה– וְיַעֲקֹב שָׁמַע כִּי טִמֵּא אֶת דִּינָה בִתּוֹ וּבָנָיו הָיוּ אֶת מִקְנֵהוּ בַּשָּׂדֶה וְהֶחֱרִשׁ יַעֲקֹב עַד בֹּאָם.

“Yaakov heard that he [Shechem] had defiled his daughter Dinah, while his sons were with his cattle in the field; Yaakov kept silent [וְהֶחֱרִשׁ] until their arrival” (Genesis 34:5).

Leshon hakodesh has a number of words that denote silence, such as”שקט”, “דומה”, “חשה” “הס” and “שתק”. The root חרש” also indicates silence, but it is a difficult root to pin down, due to its diverse meanings. We will now try to grasp the core meaning of this unique root, and why the Torah chose to employ it here, concerning Yaakov’s silence in the wake of the tragedy of Dinah.

The various meanings ofחרש are:

  1. חרישת קרקע– Plowing the soil. A מחרשה is the farming tool called a plow.1
  2. אטום אוזן– Deaf.2
  3. שתיקהSilence.3
  4. אומן– A craftsman.4
  5. מחשבה/הכנה– Thought; preparation.5
  6. חריתה– Engraved.6
  7. מין יער– A forest.7

Commentators and grammarians differ as to the common denominator among these diverse meanings. Aside from Yeriot Shlomo, they focus only on certain selections from the above list.

  1. Rashi – core meaning isthought/planning, which he connects in Mishlei3:29 to the idea of “plowing”:

“Do not devise (אל תחרוש) evil agasint your fellowman.” Rashi equates לחרוש withלחשוב, adding that “devising” is directly connected to this word’s meaning as plowing. “Just as the plow makes room for the planting of seeds, so too the deviser of evil prepares a place in his heart for evil schemes and how he will carry them out.” In Iyov4:8 the term “חֹרְשֵׁי אָוֶן” –sowers of injustice– appears. Rashi defines this as “those who plan out evil in their thoughts, like one who plows and prepares a field before and after planting.”

It remains to be explained why Rashi did not relate to other definitions of חרש, such as a deaf person or a forest. This will be addressed later.

  1. Shoresh Yesha(entry(‘חרש’: The core meaning is silence: 1- a deaf person generally cannot speak either. 2- a craftsman, who can carve out or otherwise produce any form. All of the wise of heart who do creative work go about their work in silence. 3- A חורשהis a quiet forest, far from the activities of people.
  2. RSR Hirsch (Exodus 4:11): The core meaning is plowing of the land. Related to this are 1- deafness, and 2- thought. “חורש means to plow and till the soil, and a deaf person is simply one who ‘plows’ the field of his thoughts, only this field, the source of his thought processes, does not receive seed from the outside world.
  3. Ho’il Moshe8(Judges 16:2): The core meaning is “severing.” This idea is connected to 1) a craftsman, and 2) a forest (see Exodus 31:5). A craftsman cuts wood to use in his work, and a forest9is where one cuts wood for use in heating or building.

As to Rashi’s reason for emphasizing the connection between thought and plowing, while omitting other definitions such as craftsman, it appears Yeriot Shlomopicked up on this difficulty. Like Rashi, Yeriot Shlomoconnects plowing the soilwith thought/planning, but he adds the meaning of craftsman as a sub-category withinthought/planning, because a craftsman cannot produce even the simplest article without first planning it. However, the definitions “deaf” and “forest” are more loosely connected to the core meaning. Although quiet ideally accompany thought and planning, handiwork preparation can be accomplished without it. There is no quiet like the quiet experienced by a deaf person. Similar to this is the quiet one finds in a thick forest. The following is a condensation of YS’s words:

Yeriot Shlomo(2:36b) – The core meaning is preparing/readying (similar to plowing the soil, which readies the field for planting, and borrowed from the idea of thought/planning is the definition, silence): 1. The prime meaning is plowing the soil, which is the development and mastering of the soil, preparing it for planting. 2. Thought: So too one can “plow” in an analytical sense…just as plowing is about preparing a field for planting, so too there is mental preparation, i.e., the planning that goes into realizing one’s wishes. 3. A craftsman takes wood, stone and metal and makes them into something useful… there is no difference between preparing the soil or preparing other things… [or even] mental ‘plowing’… when one first envisions what he wants to do and then thinks about how to do it. 4. Deaf: From the idea of silence comes the word for one who cannot hear.105. Forest: The intent here is a thickly wooded area.11This too stems from the idea of silence, because in the dense forest there can be only silence; the thick wall of trees make it like a closed room, into which wind cannot penetrate and make itself heard.”

According to this, all definitions of חרש stem from the idea of the thought/planningthat goes into plowing the soil, with silenceborrowed from the idea of thought, since quiet is ideal for thinking and planning, but is not imperative, as mentioned above. It could be that Rashi agrees that silence is a borrowed term and therefore omitted it, stressingthought and planningas the essential part of plowing the soil, which serves as the prototype for all creative work.

We find the word “silence” expressed as חרשin the section of the Pentateuch dealing with the annulling of vows (Numbers 30:4-5): “…and her father was silent (החריש) about her, then all her vows shall stand.” Whereas Onkelostranslates החרישsimply as “silent,”12Targum Yonatanadds the idea of being deliberatelysilent.13Likewise concerning the vows of one’s wife (Numbers 30:8), the Torah uses the word החרישto express silence.14The choice of the word החריש, as opposed to the numerous alternatives listed at the beginning of this essay, shows that this is not “accidental” silence, but rather a “deliberate” silence, one that is part of a bigger plan. The Sifreistates this idea explicitly.15

We see as well from the Talmud’s explanation of this verse that that the intent here is to silence employed in pursuit of a goal. (Nedarim79a): “כי החריש לה- For he was silent about her. The verse refers to one who remained silent in order to confirm [the vow]. What then shall I establish as the subject of “אם החרש יחריש לה אישה— and if her husband shall be silent? Theverse is speaking about one who remains silent in order to distress[his wife].”

We find other branches of this form of “silence” elsewhere in Scripture, such as silence for the sake of listening: (Isaiah 41:1) “Be silent to Me, O islands,” which Rashi and Radak explain as “being silent in order to hear better.”16

There is alsogaining time/remaining, as in Habakuk1:13: “You remain silent when a wicked man swallows up one more righteous than he,” which Targum Yonatanexplains as “and you grant an extension of time to the wicked…” The “silence” in these two verses is clearly one that is employed in order to achieve an end (the first, to be able to listen; the second, to allow extra time).17

We can now return to our opening subject. When Yaakov heard the tragic news of what had happened to Dinah, he was quiet – וְהֶחֱרִשׁ. Even in the midst of his pain over this tragedy, he behaved with the wisdom of “a man of understanding will be silent (יַחֲרִישׁ)” (Proverbs 11:12). All of Yaakov’s life was dedicated to the rule that “the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons.” With this he taught his sons — and all of us — that one must never act impetuously, no matter what the situation. First, stop and think. No act is undertaken without first thinking, taking counsel and planning.

So explained the Talelei Orot(Psalms 21:1), that the word חרשitself expresses thought, meaning silence with planning and intent toward a specific end.18

We conclude with the prayer of the Psalmist: “To You, Hashem, I call, my Rock, be not deaf to me” (Psalms 28:1).

1בֶּחָרִישׁ וּבַקָּצִיר(שמ’לד:כא),לֹא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹרוּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו(דב’כו:י),צִיּוֹן שָׂדֶה תֵחָרֵשׁ(יר’כו:יח).אֶת מַחֲרַשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת אֵתוֹ…לַמַּחֲרֵשֹׁת וְלָאֵתִים(ש”איג:כ-כא).

2לֹא תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ(ויקרא יט:יד),וְאָזְנֵי חֵרְשִׁים תִּפָּתַחְנָה(ישעיה לה:ה).

3מַחֲרִישׁ לָדַעַת(בר’כד:כא),וְהֶחֱרִשׁ יַעֲקֹב עַד בֹּאָם(בר’לד:ה),כִּי הֶחֱרִשׁ לָהּ(במ’ל:טז),-וַיִּתְחָרְשׁוּ כָל הַלַּיְלָה(שופ’טז:ב),אַל תַּחֲרֵשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ(ש”א ז:ח).

4וּבַחֲרֹשֶׁת אֶבֶן לְמַלֹּאת(שמות לא:ה),וְחָרָשׁ לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּכֹל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל(ש”א יג:יט),וְאָבִיו אִישׁ צֹרִי חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת(מ”א ז:יד),הַפֶּסֶל נָסַךְ חָרָשׁ(ישעיה מ:יט).

5יוֹעֵץ וַחֲכַם חֲרָשִׁים(ישעיה ג:ג),כִּי עָלָיו שָׁאוּל מַחֲרִישׁ הָרָעָה(ש”א כג:ט),אַל תַּחֲרֹשׁ עַל רֵעֲךָ רעה(משלי ג:כט),חֹרְשֵׁי אָוֶן(איוב ד:ח).

6חֲרוּשָׁה עַל לוּחַ לִבָּם(יר’יז:א).

7וְחֹרֶשׁ מֵצַל(יחז’לא:ג),כַּעֲזוּבַת הַחֹרֶשׁ וְהָאָמִיר(ישעיה יז:ט),וַיֵּשֶׁב דָּוִד בַּחֹרְשָׁה(ש”א כג:יח),וְדָוִד בְּמִדְבַּר זִיף בַּחֹרְשָׁה(ש”א כג:טו).

8ר’משה אשכנזי,ליוורנו,תר”ל.

9וְחֹרֶשׁ מֵצַל(יחז’לא:ג).

10לֹאתְקַלֵּלחֵרֵשׁ(וי’יט:יד),כְחֵרֵשׁלֹאאֶשְׁמָע(תה’לח:יד).

11במדבר זיף בחרשה (ש”א כג:טו),ובחרשים בנה בירניות (דה”ב כז:ד),ודומיהם.

12תא-וישתוק לה אבוהא ויקומון כל נדרהא

13תי-וְיִתְכַּוֵון וְיִשְׁתּוֹק לָהּ אִיבָהָא.

14במל:ח-וְשָׁמַע אִישָׁהּ בְּיוֹם שָׁמְעוֹ וְהֶחֱרִישׁ לָהּ וְקָמוּ נְדָרֶיהָ;תי-וּבְיוֹמָא דְשָׁמַע יִתְכַּוֵון לְקַיְימוּתְהוֹן וְיִשְׁתּוֹק לָהּ

15ספרי מטות קנג-והחריש לה אביה -עד שיהא מתכוין לה שאם נדרה בתו ואמר סבור הייתי שאשתי הרי זה יחזור ויפר שנאמר והחריש לה עד שיהא מתכוין לה.

Although the Sifrei and Talmud seem to derive the idea of “deliberate” silence from the additional word לה(meaning the father or husband is silent to her), it seems that if one is silent only by chance, such as if he is asleep, he is not included in the category of החריש, as per the Targum Yonatan.

16הַחֲרִישׁוּ אֵלַי אִיִּים;תי-אֲצִיתוּ לְמֵימְרִי נַגְוָן וּמַלְכְּוָן;רשי-החרישו אלי -כדי לשמוע דבר;רדק-החרישו אלי איים -החרישו שתקו והאזינו אלי.

17חבא:יג-לָמָּה תַבִּיט בּוֹגְדִים תַּחֲרִישׁ בְּבַלַּע רָשָׁע צַדִּיק מִמֶּנּוּ;תי-וּלְמָא אַתְּ מִסְתַּכֵּל בְּאָנְסִין וְאַתְּ יָהֵיב אַרְכָּא לְרַשִׁיעַיָא וּמְסַלְעֲמִין לִדְטָבִין מִנְהוֹן.

18In Mirkevet Argaman (pg. 206), we find an interesting allusion to this idea, based on the final letters of the words “”אתמקנהובשדהוהחרישיעקב, which spell the word ת’ש’ו’ב’ה, repentance.

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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