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Sacrifice Delayed, Sacrifice Denied – The Wonders of the Holy Tongue for P’ Kedoshim

Leviticus 19:5-7: When you slaughter a peace offering… It may be eaten on the day you slaughter it and on the morrow… And if it would be eaten on the third day, it is פגול; it shall not be accepted.

There are two occurrences of the word פגולin the Pentateuch, and Onkelosrendersthe word in both instances asמרחק(distancing, repelling). Torah Shleimah notes that Onkelos utilizes the root רחקin the translation of no less than six additional Scriptural words, all of which he views as distinct: עֲרֵלִים– forbidden(Lev.19:23), נִדָּה– loathsome(ibid. 20:21), וָאָקֻץ– and I was disgusted (ibid. v. 23), גָּעֲלָה– repelled(ibid. 26:43), תוֹעֵבָה– abomination(Deut. 7:26), שָׂנֵא– hates(Deut. 16:22). However, it seems to me that there is a common theme among the seven words, namely, they all refer to something that is forbidden or distanced due to some defect1.

Following the view of Ribagand Radakthatפגלmeansa change in odor or appearance2,Torah Shleimah further suggests that the underlying root of פגולis actually the two letter string פג. For the נָמָרword in the verse (Jer.48:11), and its scent was not diminished (נָמָר),is translated by Targum Yonatanasפג, which Aruchdefines as a term denoting slackness/weakness3. He also suggests that the ruling in the Mishnah (Zevachim2:3, 5) that an offering loses its sanctity through invalid thoughts at the time of its ritual slaughter is also alluded to by the termפִּגּוּל. Thus, the common link in both of Torah Shleimah’ssuggestions is a change for the worse.

It is also interesting to note that the root ‘פלג’, a permutation of the word ‘פגל’, also seems to be connected to the root פג. For the word יָמִירin the verse (Micah2:4), God is exchanging (יָמִיר)the portion of my people,is translated by Targum Yonatanas מְפַלְגִין, thus demonstrating that he sees division (פלג) as signifying exchangeand change. Likewise, Targum Yerushalmitranslates וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ(Gen.45:26) as וְאֵפְלַג לִבֵּיהּ, linking ‘פגל’and ‘פג’, with both of them indicating the division of a single unit into segments. Once again, the change here is for the worse: a transformation from a unified entity to divided fragments.

I wish to suggest that a similar connection exists between all the words sharing the letters פגin Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, namely: 1. פג; 2. פגל; 3. פגר; 4. פגע; 5. פגש; 6. פגם; 7. פגן; 8. ספג.Let us examine them one by one.

  1. Pagפג – In his first subsection of the entry ,’פג’ Menachem cites all of the following verses: וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ (Gen. 45:26)4,נְפוּגוֹתִי וְנִדְכֵּיתִי (Psalms 38:9)5,אַל תִּתְּנִי פוּגַת לָךְ (Lam. 2:18)6,מֵאֵין הֲפֻגוֹת (ibid. 3:49)7,וְלֹא תָפוּג (Psalms 77:3)8,תָּפוּג תּוֹרָה (Chabakuk 1:4)9. The common thread in the various interpretations of the commentators appears to be an impedimentor hindrance; a defectof some kind. Even according to Rashi (in his comments to Gen. 45:26, Psalms 38:9, and Lam. 3:49), who interprets this root to meanexchange/passing on,it is used in the sense of weakening and ceasing of one’s strength and power, strongly resembling Radak’sinterpretation (in Psalms 38:9) thereof as flaccidity/weakness.

Under the second subsection of the entry ,’פג’ Menachem cites the word פַגֶּיהָ(Song of Songs 2:13), which Ibn Ezra interprets as, her pre-ripened figs. Given that premature fruits are by definition deficient, there thus appears to be a common thread across the two subsections of Menachem, with both of them involving defect, delay, detention, andcessation.

  1. Pagalפגל– The core meaning was explained above as somethingwithheld or distanced due to some defect.
  2. Pagarפגר– Rashi (Gen.15:11) links פגרandפגל, noting that Onkelos translates פְּגָרִים(animal carcasses) as פַּגְלַיָא10.Now, we have already demonstrated above that all the definitions of פגלinvolvedistancing from something because of a defect,and this also fits perfectly for a פגר, the corpse of a living being whose life and soul have departed. This would also seem to be the link to the two other Biblical usages ofפגר: 1) The word פִּגְּרוּ(I Sam. 30:10) is variously defined by the commentators to mean delay, inaction, prevention,and fatigue.2) In numerous instances (see Ex. 19:21, 24; Judges 6:5, 14:8; Micah 5:10), the root פגרappears as the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew term הרס(destruction), and the Hebrew words מַפֶּלֶתandגְוִיַּת, both of which mean death. [This usage of פגרasdestructionand deathleads us directly to פגע, our next example of a term containing the string פג.]
  3. Pegaפגע- This word often takes on the meaning of a fatal blow11. The second definition of the word פגעis a meeting12. This meaning also conveys delay, waiting, andtemporary stoppage, for the definition of a meeting is the devotion of time to engage with one’s fellow, although his other missions will consequently be delayed. This also would explain the other meaning of the root פגע, namely, a plea/prayer(see Rashi to Gen. 28:11; Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 53:12, and Targum to Jer. 15:11), for prayers and pleas require setting aside time in which the pleader is constrained from pursuing his ordinary occupations. I also believe that there is a common thread in all the meanings ofפגע, namely, a deficiencyandloss. Thedeficiencyin death is obvious. However, as we have demonstrated, there is also a loss entailed in the meanings of meetingand plea/prayer— a lossof time.
  4. Pagashפגש- As shown above, both meanings of this word— meetingand plea/prayer— involve a lossof time.
  5. Pagamפגם- In the Talmudic vernacular, פגםmeans something whose taste has become tainted13.Likewise, פִי חָרֶב, the sharp edge (orpoint)of the sword is translated as the פגםof the sword by Targum Yonatan (Jud. 1:8). Perhaps it is so called in Aramaic because it causes weakening, destructionand death. In any case, the common thread amongst of all the usages of פגםonce again seems to be defect.
  6. Paganפגן- In the verse, the betrothed girl cried out(Deut.22:27), Targum Yonatan translates the word cried outasפָּגְנַת.Perhaps this is also the reason that the Midrash(Vayikra Rabbah26:4) refers to the ordinary citizen as a פגן(possibly related to the English “pagan”), for like the assaulted “betrothed girl,” who is powerless to do anything but cry out, so too does he lack meaningful power. This is also the source of the Talmudic term הפגנה, meaning theforlorn person’s outcry for compassion. As Rashiexplains the word הפגינו(R.H. 19a): “They shouted in the markets and the thoroughfares, so that the ministers would hear them and have compassion on them.” We also find the word תְפִיגִיןas the Aramaic translation of הָסִירִי,remove.
  7. Safagספג- This Aramaic word, meaning to absorb,appears in the Talmud in the specific sense of one whoreceives/absorbsforty lashes for his intentional violation of a biblical transgression (see, for example, Nazir 16b). Since this word does not appear in the Talmud in any positive connection (i.e., we do not find it used in connection with absorbinga compliment or a kiss), it seems reasonable to suggest that this too is connected to the root פג, in the sense that the person being flogged is physically weakened and loses strength through the lashes.

Perhaps we can also offer an explanation for the more generally used Talmudic word סְפוֹג(see Shabbat 134b), which is interestingly similar in sound to its English cognate, sponge.The primary purpose of this object is to absorb liquids, that is, toremove and diminish their presencefrom their present location14.

In conclusion, all the words containing the letters פגin Biblical Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic, are connected to defector weakeningin quality, time, or strength. May the Master of the Universe deliver fatal blows (יפגע) against our enemies, making them absorb(שיספגו) blow after blow, until all their strength shall peter out (יפוג), and there shall remain be nothing but repugnant (פגול)

blowseeir present location (kudos to Binyamin Kaufman for this insight)carcasses (פגרים) from them, while we become ever stronger and ascend always higher and higher.

1[This definition also fits with the other nuances used by the Biblical commentators in their own interpretations of the word פגול:Targum Yerush.to Lev.7:18 defines it as invalid/disqualified;Rashito ibid. 19:7, Isaiah65:4 and Kiddushin21b define it as abominable/repugnant;Ribagand Radak(entry פגל) define it as a change in odor or appearance (seemingly a negative change); and Hirsch and HaKetav VeHakabbalah (Lev.7:18) define it as separated/divided.].

2[כך לשון ריב”ג(ערך’פגל’)]:הוא הבשר שנשתנה ריחו ומראהו.[ורד”ק כתב דברים דומים].

3[ערוך השלם,ערך’פג’ (א’)שם,שפירש’פג’מעניןרפיון וחלישות].

4Ibn Ezra definesוַיָּפָגto mean that his heart stopped/became silent.

5Metz. Tzion definesנְפוּגוֹתִי,תָפוּג, and תָּפוּגas referring to flaccidity/weakness.

6Ramban (to Gen.45:26) definesפוּגַתascancellation/cessation.

7איכה ג:מט.

8תה’עז:ג;מצ”צ-תפוג-ענין רפיון וחלישות,כמו:תפוג תורה (חב’א).

9חב’א:ד;מצ”צ-תפוג-ענין רפיון וחלשות,כמו:נפוגותי ונדכיתי (תה’לח).

10[Similarly, the word פגר(I Samuel17:46), referring to a human carcass, is translated asפגולbyTargum Yonatan. See also HaKesav Vehakabbala(Lev.7:18) for various explanations of the root פגל].

11[seeEx.5:3;I Sam.22:18; I Kings2:25, 31, 32; Isaiah64:4].

12[SeeOnkelosand RashitoGen.28:11;Jos.16:7, 19:11; Targum Yonatan toI Sam.10:5; Job36:32].

13[Rashiexplains in Pesachim30a, 44b and A.Z.38b, that – הופגטעמו, its taste has deteriorated].

14[Kudos to Binyamin Kaufman for this insight].

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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