Vayigash: Confused About Crying ~ The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

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Vayigash: Confused About Crying ~ The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

Joseph rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted (לִבְכּוֹת)to weep; so he went into the room and wept (וַיֵּבְךְּ)there (Gen.43: 30).

The root ‘בכה‘ (wept) appears seven times in the weekly Torah reading of Vayigash— more than in any other weekly Torah reading.

In his Machberet(under the two-letter root בך‘),Menachem ben Sarukassigns all the Scriptural occurrences of בכיה‘ to one of two subsections:

  1. verses in which the term means a מְבוּכָּה(quandary/bewilderment/entrapment).

  1. Job28:11 — מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת חִבֵּשׁ1From the weeping, He fashioned rivers.

  2. Job38:16 — הֲבָאתָ עַד נִבְכֵי יָם2Have you entered the entrappedareas of the sea?”

  3. Psalms84:7 — עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא3Those who transgress, are in deep weeping.

  4. Joel1:18 — נָבֹכוּ4עֶדְרֵי בָקָר — herds of cattle are bewildered.

  5. Esther3:15 — וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן נָבוֹכָה5and the city of Shushan was bewildered.

  6. Micah7:4 — עַתָּה תִהְיֶה מְבוּכָתָם6now you will become perplexed.

  7. Isaiah9:17 — וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ7גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן — they will become bewildered by the intensity of the smoke.

  1. verses that denote weeping/wailing

  1. Jer.31:14 — נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים8wailing, bitter wailing.

  2. I Sam.1:10 — וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל עַל הוּבָכֹה תִבְכֶּה — She prayed to G-d, weeping continuously.

  3. Gen.37:35 — וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ אָבִיו9And his father bewailed him.

  4. Isaiah30:19 — בָּכוֹ לֹא תִבְכֶּה10you will not have to weep.

Following his usual practice, Menachemdoes not allude to any contextual link between the two categories, or even whether there exists such a connection whatsoever. However, the very fact that he chose to assign a particular verse to a specific subsection serves as an interpretation of that verse , as is evident from the hundreds of examples in which Rashiexplains the meaning of a verse by the simple statement that “Menachem linked” a given expression to a particular subsection. For example, he assigned the verse “עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא“,those who pass through the valley of בָּכָא,tothe category of verses that denote quandary— thus explaining that the word בָּכָאdenotesquandaryand complexity.

As noted, Rashimentions Machberet Menachemhundreds of times in his commentaries, and it is rare to find an instance in which Rashidisagrees with his interpretation. Therefore, it is particularly surprising to find that in this case, Rashidiffers with his interpretation in two of the verses that he assigned to the category of quandary:

  1. In the Psalms(84:7) verse, עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, Rashiinterprets it as those who transgress [Your laws and are] in the depth of the weeping11and howling.12

  2. In his comments to the Job(28:11) verse — מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת חִבֵּשׁ, from the waters of the deep He fashioned rivers — Rashistates: “At the time of Creation, when the lower waters wept; ‘בכי‘ is similar [in meaning] toנִבְכֵי יָם inJob38:16.

Now, although Rashiseemingly interprets the word מִבְּכִיin the second verse as an expression of weeping,he then cites as a comparative reference the expression נִבְכֵי יָם inJob38:16, which he interprets in his commentary to thatverse as the entrapped areas (נִבְכֵי)of the sea, and which he equates to the expression, they areנְבוּכִיםin the land (Ex.14:3), which he translates there as “imprisoned, with no knowledge of how to exit or where to go to.” (Indeed, in his commentary to the Exodusverse, he also cites this Jobverse as another example ofimprisonment/entrapment.) Furthermore, even the expressions בְּעֵמֶקandמִבְּכִי,which Rashiexpresslyinterpretsin Psalms84:7 and Job28:11 as expressions of weeping,are cited by him in his commentary to Ex.14:3as examples of ‘מבוכה‘. Likewise, in his comments to Isaiah9:17, he interprets וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּas “they will be bewildered and entrapped … as in מִבְּכִינְהָרוֹת(Job28:11); בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7). Thus, Rashi’smeaning in explaining all these verses —which seemingly cite contradictory interpretations of the same expressions in several instances — seems to require further explanation.

In his commentary to the Exodusverse, they are(נְבוּכִים) in the land, Ibn Ezra differs with Rashi’sview13that the word ‘נְבוּכִים‘ is similar in meaning to ‘נִבְכֵי יָם‘, with both of them used in the sense of being entrapped,or closed off. Rather, he sees them as derived from two entirely separate roots. The termנְבוּכִים” is from the root ‘בוך‘, and means “like a man who cannot find a solution and does not know what to do” (with the נוּןat the beginning merely added due to the passive form of this usage). By contrast, נִבְכֵי יָם” is based on the 3-letter root ‘נבך‘, and means depths of the seas,or sea waves(as Ibn Ezrasuggests in his comments to Job38:16) — which certainly does not apply to the wilderness.14

The commentators on Rashi,in explaining his view, state that this is an instance par excellence of the dispute between the French Sages and the Spanish Sages regarding how to assess the roots of words. For example, Mizrachi,commenting on Rashi’s comparing “נְבוּכִים” to “נִבְכֵי יָם“, writes:15“The correct [understanding of Rashi] is that the Rabbi ob”m was of the opinion that the words נְבוּכִים,נִבְכֵי יָם,עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, andמִבְּכִינְהָרוֹת, are all derived from the two-letter root (i.e., בכ‘). For he was one of the French Sages, who argued that all words that are missing either the second or third letter of the three-letter root (known as ‘פעל‘) are actually two-letter roots.”

However, we must still explain Rashi’sview concerning the words containing the two-letter root בכ‘, which he seemingly interprets sometimes as expressions of weeping,and in others as expressions of a quandary,as we have shown above.

Perhaps we find such an explanation in HaKetav V’haKaballah,who writes in his comments to the words וַיִּבְכּוּ אֹתוֹ‘,and they bewailed him(Ber.50:3): “The verb בֶּכִיis derived from the root ‘בך‘ according to R’ Shlomo Pappenheim.16Thus, he sees weepingas a combination of the expression ‘מבוכה‘ [derived from the root ‘בוך‘ according to the Spanish Sages] and the expression ‘בכיה‘ [derived from the root ‘בכה‘ according to the Spanish Sages], both of which contain the two-letter root ‘בכ‘ and involve aspects of confusionanddelirium— with the former representing its inner cause, and the latter representing its external symptoms.17

Perhaps we can offer some support for the argument of HaKetav V’haKaballah from the Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit2:1):18“R’ Berachiah decreed thirteen fast days [as days of penitence and prayer for rain and an end to a drought], but no rain descended, and [instead,] at the conclusion [of all the fast days], locusts arrived [and destroyed whatever remained of the crops].” The Talmud then relates that R’ Berachiah addressed the community as to the failure of their fasts, expounding the verses inMicah(7:3-4) as follows: “ ‘On the day that you awaited, your punishment will come — On the day that we awaited for relief, the locusts came upon us —now shall be 19ְמבוּכָתָם[i.e.,] on account of their wailing and weeping [the rains will come].”20

As we noted, the author of HaKetav V’haKaballah saw the notion of complexityandbewildermentas common to both ‘מבוכה‘ and ‘בכיה‘, since a quandaryultimately leads to a feeling of helplessness.However, in his comments on the verse in Exodus(14:3), in which he equates the word נְבוּכִיםwith the words נִבְכֵי יָם,עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, andמִבְּכִינְהָרוֹת,Rashiincludes other terms, thereby anticipating and resolving Ibn Ezra’sdifficulty with Rashi’slinkage of נְבוּכִים” to “נִבְכֵי יָם” – before Ibn Ezra ever posed the question. By using the terms “imprisonedand sunk into describe the underlying meaning of both verses, Rashiused concepts that relate to both the sea and the wilderness on an abstract level, since it is possible to experience a feeling ofimprisonmentand sinkingin every difficult situation whose solution is not straightforward. Additional terms used by Rashiin interpreting various expressions of ‘מבוכה‘ are: closure(e.g.,Isaiah9:16;Joel1:18; Job38:16) and scrambling(Joel1:18; Micah7:4).21

It is based on the above definitions that Rashialso defined the root ‘אבך‘. In his comments to the clause,וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן ,and they will be overcome (וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ)by the intensity of the smoke(Isaiah9:16), he writes: “They will be bewilderedand enclosedby the heavy smoke of the conflagration. וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ — For every expression of [the form] נבך‘, the root of the word is merely ‘בך, as in מִבְּכִינְהָרוֹת(Job28:11) and בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7).

Avnei Shayish (root ‘אבך‘)suggests additional roots that are constructed fromבך‘ (namely ‘סבך‘ and ‘רבך‘), thus the list of derivatives would be: ‘אבך‘, ‘נבך‘, ‘סבך‘ and ‘רבך‘. The fundamental meaning linking all these terms according to Avnei Shayishis:grasping/attachment.Their different first letters merely denote differences between their secondary concepts:

1) Root אבך:וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן(Isaiah9:16),meaning, the smoke clouds wereconnected.22

2) Root נבך:נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ(Ex.14:3), meaning, they are caughtwithout an ability to exit.

3) Root סבך:נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ(Gen. 22:13), meaning,graspedin the thorns.23

4) Root רבך:מֻרְבֶּכֶת תְּבִיאֶנָּה(Lev.6:14), meaning,stuckthrough frying.

In listing מֻרְבֶּכֶתamong this group of words meaning attached, Avnei Shayishis referring to the consolidation of the dough. Tosafos Brachah (toVayikra6:14)suggests that the word מֻרְבֶּכֶתdenotesstirringand mixing(as per the aforementioned view of R’ Shlomo Pappenheim cited inHaKetav V’haKaballah). He offers support from Pesikta,24which equate מרבכת‘ and ‘מנבכת(due to the phonetically related letters למנר), with מנבכת25derived from the root נבך‘, as in נִבְכֵי יָם (Job38:16).

In summary, there are two overarching explanations regarding the link between all the words containing the two-letter string ‘בך‘: (1) confusion, bewilderment anddisorientation. (2) closure, imprisonment, grabbing, andattachment.However, it seems obvious that these two explanations are not necessarily in conflict with each other, since a confused person is one who feels that he is being held back from advancing and making progress; he is seized and sruck in his place. Similarly, we can explain the link in reverse manner, for one who is stuck in a cul-de-sac is liable to reach a situation of confusionand quandary,which can ultimately lead to feelings of depression and aggravation that are expressed with weepingand tears.

However, in contrast to the common meaning of the term ‘בכה‘ (i.e., weepingdue to internal bewildermentand aggravation) elsewhere in Scripture, the appearance of the root in this weekly portion actually implies a feeling of release from pain. At long last, Joseph had found relief from his pain and reconciled with his brothers. Thus, the בכיה‘ in our verseis a weepingof joy and renewal. May it be the will of G-d that all our weepings shall be weepings of joy, and that G-d shall hear our prayers and open up the Heavenly Gates of Tears — and send us the true redeemer speedily in our times, Amen.

1Rashi:“At the time of Creation, when the lower waters wept; ‘בכי‘ is similar toנִבְכֵי יָם inJob 38:16 (see discussion that follows).

2Rashi:נִבְכֵי יָם meansenclosed areas of the sea, as in, they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land (Ex.14:3).

3Rashi:Those who transgress [Your laws and are] in the depths of weeping.

4Metz. Tzion: “A notion of bewilderment,as in the verse (Ex. 14:3),they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land.

5Ibn Ezra: “נָבוֹכָה” is from the same root as, they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land; like a man who erred, and does not know what to do.”

6Metz. Tzion: “מְבוּכָתָםmeans a sense of bewilderment,as in the verse (Ex. 14:3),they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land

7Rashi: “They will be bewildered and entrapped by the strength of the smoke from the conflagration. ויתאבכו‘ — In every expression [of the root] נבך, the root of the word is merely בך‘ — as in מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת (Job28:11); עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7) — with the letter nunonly included on occasion. Here, an א‘ is included in lieu of a ‘נ‘, as in the ‘א‘ of אִבְחַת חָרֶב,the dread of the sword(Ezek. 21:20), and the א‘ of אַחֲוָתִי בְּאָזְנֵיכֶם,let my expression [be] in Yourears(Job13:17).

8Radak: “בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים denotes weeping with a bitter heart, in the sense of (אֲמָרֵר בְּבֶּכִי)I shall weep bitterly (Isaiah22:4) and (וּבָכוּ אֵלַיִךְ בְּמַר נֶפֶשׁ)They will weep for you with embittered soul(Ezek27:31).

9Rashi: “Isaac weptbecause of the troubles of Jacob.”

10Rashi: “You will not have to beseech G-d with weeping, for he will heed your outcry [even without it].”

11Based on the Sages’ exposition in Eruvin19a, “What is [meant by] that which is written,עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא ? That they weep and shed tears like the spring (i.e., constant flow) of the Altar drains.”

12Most of the commentators interpret the word בָּכָאto mean a type of tree, or a place where they grow these trees calledבְּכָאִים,with the clause interpreted plainly as those who pass by the valley of the בְּכָאִים.Radak(to this verse) states: “עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא means ‘a valley in which there were בְּכָאִים,’ which are trees that in the language of the Mishnah are referred to as תּוּתִים”(see also his other two explanations). Metz. Dovidsays it means a valley where they grow חוֹחִים, and equates it to מִמוּל בְּכָאִים inII Sam. 5:23.Malbimsimply explains it as “types of trees,” and also cites מִמוּל בְּכָאִים inII Sam. 5:23.

13R’ A. Weiser notes that he differs with Rashi and Rashbam.

14Tzintzenet Shaito Ex. 14:3.

15See Gur Aryeh(loc cit.) for similar comments.

16Cheshek Shlomo (rootבך‘, p. 27b): “Also derived from ‘בך‘ is the verb בכה‘, meaning weeping,i.e., revealing the quandary in one’s heart with an external demonstration via raising one’s voice and shedding tears.

17Elsewhere (Ex.22:28), he takes this one step further, positing that this same duality that exists with respect to the internal vs. external meaning of ‘בכה‘ also applies to the root דמע‘. Just as the primary meaning of בכה‘ is the internal confusionand bewildermentin the heart of the one who weeps, whereas the weepingis merely the secondary external demonstration of that internal feeling, so too is the primary meaning of the word דמע‘ the internal confusionin his heart that leads to the external tears (with this primary definition borrowed from its usage as the mixingof crops that are terumahin crops that are free of terumah), and the tearsis a derivative Rabbinic meaning.

18Compare also to the Babylonian Talmud, Taanit25b.

19Ein Yaakov (inHaKosev) explains that מְבוּכָתָםmeanstheir weeping.That is, the prophet suggests the only method that will bring results — now shall be their weeping,i.e., they will only be answered if they will weep for their sins with a broken and humble heart. For it is the manner of penitents to fast and to weep, as it is written (Joel2:12): Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with lamentation.

20Perhaps this is also an allusion to G-d’s “measure-for-measure” method of reward and punishment, with their lack of tears being the cause of a lack of rain — as we find in the verse (Jer.31:8): With weeping they will come (i.e., through prayer and penitence — Rashi)… I will guide them on streams of water.

21As to Rashi’s seemingly inconsistency in interpreting certain verses as referring sometimes to confusion and sometimes to crying, as we’ve seen in the Yerushalmi, the two are inextricably linked and are used interchangeably.

22Malbim(Isaiah9:17) interprets it as the confusion of order that is present in clouds. That is, the clouds overlap and connect with one another in a chaotic and tangled manner.

23Metz. Tzion also uses this definition throughout Scripture. For example, in his comments toJer. 4:7, he interprets מִסוּבְּכוֹas referring to the branches that grab onto one another; in Nahum1:10, he defines סְבוּכִיםasgrabbingand braiding; and in Isaiah10:34, he interprets סִבְכֵיas denoting grasping.He also defines the related root שבך‘ as denoting braidingand weaving, which are related to entrapmentand grabbing (seeMetz. Dovidto I Kings7:17). See also Radak(roots ‘סבך‘ and ‘שבך‘), who also connects these two roots.

24Pesikta Zutresa, a.k.a.Lekach Tov(Vayikra6:14) states: “מֻרְבֶּכֶת — this teaches us that it was prepared with boiling water, since boiling have an aspect of תרבוך(stirring/mixing). Others say that מֻרְבֶּכֶתis related to the expression נְבוּכִים(confused), because the waters are confused/agitatedwhen they are boiling. The letters נ‘ and ר‘ interchange, as in נבוכדנצר/נבוכדרצר

25The word מנבכת‘ (and נִבְכֵי יָם) according to this view would thus denote areas of turbulence/rapids/whirlpools where the waters are “mixed” and “stirred.”

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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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