Ki Tisa: Spiritual Weight Watchers ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Ki Tisa

Spiritual Weight Watchers

שֶׁקֶל: silver coin

מִשְׁקַל: weight, weighing scales

שָׁקוּל: equal, balanced

שַׁקְלָא וְטַרִיָא: give and take

שָׁקוּל: to sway from side to side

מִשְׁקְלוֹת: weights

שֶׁקֶל: Silver Coin

זֶה יִתְּנוּ כָּל הָעֹבֵר עַל הַפְּקֻדִים מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַה’
And this is what they will give, all who pass through the counting, half a shekel of a holy shekel, twenty geirahis the shekel, half a shekel, a donation to Hashem.1

Unlike today, money used to have intrinsic value, being actually worth its weight in gold. שֶׁקֶלis not only a coin but a מִשְׁקַל/weight, in this case a measured weight of silver. Today’s paper money is just a sign of the times, reflecting the superficiality of a world that just values externalities without paying attention to the real pearls of life, the פְּנִינִים, the rich inner world that is our core value. We live in a generation that has lost its ability to weigh things.

מִשְׁקַל: Weight, Weighing Scales

We also live in a generation that is obsessed with weight. We are the weight-watchers generation, constantly weighing ourselves, going on diets and exercise regimes just to maintain our balance and squeeze into the latest skin-tight fashions. In the earlier generations that appreciated intrinsic value, a good shidduchwas made with someone fat, as this represented wealth, whereas someone skinny was invariably poor. 

The best shidduchis with a heavyweight as opposed to a lightweight. If we really want someone to challenge us in life, then our sense of achievement will be so much greater if our opponent is a heavyweight, meaning someone who has many layers beneath the surface,who has depth of character and isn’t just a pushover.

The force of gravity is what gives us the feeling of weight, but in actuality, when we break through from the earth’s influence, there is no difference in weight between a hammer and a feather. It’s just an illusion to give us a sense of being grounded so that we don’t just float off into space. We are grounded in a world where there is weight in order for us to learn to weigh things and differentiate between what has intrinsic value and what is fake. In the World of Truth there is no weight, because there is no longer any need to weigh things; in the World of Truth everything has true value.

שָׁקוּל: Equal, Balanced

The giving of the מַחֲצִיתהַשֶׁקֶל/half-shekel as opposed to a full shekel is to symbolize that in this world no man is complete. We all need to give money to atone for our sins and to pay for the korbanos. The goal, however allusive it may be, is to attain shleimus.Shleimusis achieved when we reach a state of balance. Hashem gives us all a mixed bag (lucky dip) of middos/measures. Nobody’s set of middosis like anyone else’s. We each have our own unique mission to find our point of balance, not to be too happy or too sad, too stringent or too wishy-washy, too generous or too miserly, etc. The Rambam stresses the need to walk the middle path.2

To help us attain equilibrium, Hashem has designed us in such a way that we have the tools to measure one against the other. For this reason we have two ears, two eyes, two feet, two hands, a good yetzerand a bad yetzer. Having two eyes, a good eye and a bad eye, gives us a spiritual depth of vision. We are able to compare what is good and what is bad, and just like the body is able to digest food and discard the waste, so too we are meant to separate and identify our middos— which are good and which are bad — in order to get a true measure of who we are. 

שַׁקְלָא וְטַרִיָא: Give and Take

When we refer to the שַׁקְלָא וְטַרִיָא of the Gemara, we mean the give and take, looking at it from different angles and perspectives. This gives us שִׁקוּל הַדַעַת,the ability to weigh things.

שָׁקוּל: To Sway from Side to Side

Why do we shokelwhen davening?

Just like when we rock a baby, the calming to-and-fro motion puts the baby to sleep, so too shokelinghelps to put us in a meditative state, blocking out the outside distractions so thatwe can focus on the פְּנִימִיוּת/inner world.

Shokelis so called because its motion is centered on a point of balance.

So what is it about the rocking motion that calms us down? 
Floating on water, in the sea, or in a float tank, is also very soothing. When one combines the state of weightlessness with the gentle rocking motion of the sea, one can easily drift off. Water beds are a great solution for insomnia. The reason rocking a baby is so effective is because it is the closest thing to being in the womb. Water cots would therefore be a great way to get your baby to sleep! 

Another possible reason is that the soul is compared to a flickering flame, as it says: נֵר ה’נִשְׁמַת אָדָם.3The soul is naturally in a state of motion like a flame, so when we rock our bodies, we tune into that motion, helping us to connect more with the soul and less with the body.4

Byshokeling, we give the body a sense of weightlessness, which in turn pulls us away from the gravity of the earth’s heaviness. In a sense, we are able to leave this world and enter the world of soul, Hashem’s world, a world without מִשְׁקַל.

מִשְׁקְלוֹת: Weights

מַעַשֶׂה שֶׁהָיָה: I learned a very valuable lesson from the following incident. Once,while I was parking my car, I drove into a bollard, causing a dent in the bodywork. I went to the garage and they estimated the cost of repairing the damage to be six hundred shekels. I decided I could live with the dent, as it didn’t warrant the expense of being fixed. The next day, one of my neighbors drove into the back of my car. We were in the same kollel, and he was honest enough to tell me that he had caused the damage. I went back to the garage and asked for a quote. It was also six hundred shekels. I thought that if I also get the original dent fixed at the same time, he might be able to do it cheaper. He said he would do it for one thousand shekels (a savings of two hundred shekels), so I would end up only paying four hundred shekels for my damage, which seemed more reasonable, while my neigbor would pay the remaining six hundred shekels. The next day the car was returned to its original state. Even though I usually see my neigbor in kollel every morning, I didn’t see him for the next three days. On the fourth day, while on the way to the kollel, I thought about the fact that perhaps it would be fairer to spread the benefit of the two hundred-shekel cost difference between us, instead of me reaping the entire benefit. Five hundred shekels each would be a much better solution, being that all our money comes from Hashem. On Rosh Hashanah we all get a fixed amount of money for the year. If I were to keep one hundred more shekels for myself than I was supposed to receive, Hashem would just take it away from me by other means, e.g., with an extra parking ticket or dental expense, etc. 

Within five minutes of making my decision, I saw my neighbor and told him that he would have to pay five hundred shekels. He was impressed by how good the price was.

On that very Shabbos, when I was going through the weekly parshah, it suddenly hit me that what I was reading exactly paralleled the events of the week. Towards the end of Ki Seitzei, Hashem warns us not to use big and small weights when it comes to weighing measures on the scales. Rather than cheating people, one should be שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק/complete and righteous, meaning that when giving to others, don’t weigh with the smaller weight so they get less, and when taking for yourself don’t weigh with the bigger weight so you get more. 

This is what Hashem was telling me: that when weighing things, the scales should be balanced. It should not be less for him and more for me. Being righteous means even in a situation when you are not actively cheating someone — six hundred shekels is the damage he caused and that’s what he should have paid. But since I was also benefitting by saving two hundred, the scales were dipping in my favor, so even in that situation Hashem says do the right thing and balance the scales at five hundred each. I also got the added benefit of feeling great! 

There is an expression that tells one to “put words into action,” however this was more the case of “putting action into words!” Seeing the words in the parshahfelt like Hashem was kissing me and giving me His stamp of approval.

Right after the teaching of using balanced weights, known as מִשְׁקְלוֹת, is the mitzvah to remember Amalek. The Kli Yakar notes that the connection of Amalek to someone who cheats people by using faulty measures is that one who does so is acting as if he believes that Hashem doesn’t see him. This is the middahof Amalek, who came when the people complained and said, “Is Hashem still with us or not?” When we don’t see the אֶמֶת —that Hashem is in control of our finances — and instead we cheat to get what we feel we deserve, then we take Hashem out of the picture. When we realize, though, that Hashem is behind everything, then we can deal in equal measures and give without feeling that we are losing out.

Just like Amalek follows after the lesson of מִשְׁקְלוֹת/equal weights, so too Parshasזָכֹר(the mitzvah to remember Amalek) comes after Parshasשְׁקָלִים, which comes to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. The symbolism of the Golden Calf reveals that the root cause of the sin was due to the lust for gold and money. One who lusts after money will stop at nothing to fulfill his desires, and this will invariably lead to cheating others, which then takes Hashem out of the picture, causing Amalek to come and bring us back to our senses.

This was the purpose of Haman, from the seed of Amalek: to bring us back to G-d consciousness.

In the Gemara in Megillah, Haman weighs shekalimcorresponding to the headcount of the Jewish People in order to bribe Achashverosh to issue a decree to wipe out the Jewish nation.5And for this reason, Hashem preempted Haman’s shekels with the giving of the half-shekel, the merit of which helped neutralize the potentially harmful shekels of Haman.

In conclusion, the שֶׁקֶלis not just a coin, it is a weight. It is a שֶׁקֶל הַקֹדֶשׁ/a holy coin. What makes it holy is how we use it. The way we use our money reveals who we are; it is the measure of a man. Hashem has placed us in world of weight to enable us to compare things and weigh things one against the other. But let’s not waste our time being obsessive weight watchers; rather, Hashem wants us to be spiritual weight watchers, weighing the profit and loss of doing a mitzvah versus the profit and loss of doing an aveirah.6If we make ourselves aware of the fact that there is an all-seeing eye above us, and that all our actions are recorded, then we will not come to use our weights disproportionately to cheat others and ourselves. By sanctifying our מִשְׁקְלוֹת/weights, the shekels we give to Hashem in Parshas Shekalimbecome בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹדֶשׁ/a holy shekel, and then there will be no more need for Hashem to send Amalek, and in this way we will מְקַיֵים הַמִצְוַה שֶׁל מְחִיַית הַעַמָלֵק/fulfill the mitzvah of erasing the name of Amalek.

1Shemos30:13.

2Mishneh TorahDe’os1:4.

3Mishlei 20:27.

4ZoharPinchas115–117.

5Megillah 13b.

6Avos 2:1.




Ki Tisa: Divine Dictator or Populist King ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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Divine Dictator or Populist King

After Joseph told his brothers about his dreams, which seemed to foretell Joseph’s eventual rise to greatness and leadership over his brothers, the brothers responded, “Will you reign over us? Will you rule us?” (Gen. 37:8). Joseph’s brother were not simply waxing poetic by repeating their question twice, they were alluding to two different concepts. The first question asks if Joseph thought he will become a melech (king) over his brothers, while the second questions asks him if he will be a moshel (ruler). What is the difference between a king and a ruler?

Some explain that a melech is the king on top, while a moshel is a governor or the like to whom the king has delegated certain powers or sovereignty. However, the consensus view understands that a melech and moshel are both the same in terms of their position of power; they only differ in how they got there.

The commentators explain that a melech is someone whose ascent to the throne is commissioned directly by the people. In other words, if the people willingly elect to anoint someone as their leader, he is called a melech. If the people do not necessarily accept their leader’s sovereignty willingly—rather he takes it from them by force—then he is called a moshel. Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik of Switzerland explains that for this reason the Midrash (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer ch. 16) says that a groom is comparable to a melech. Just as even the most Machiavellian melech must constantly make concessions to his people in order that they lovingly accept upon themselves his sovereignty, so must a groom always act with patience and reliability, so that his wife will continuously want to remain his partner.

The Vilna Gaon expands on this approach in differentiating between a melech and moshel. He writes that the melech arises from within the camp of the masses. The melech possess no inherent advantage over anyone else, except for the fact that the people had decided to recognize him as king, otherwise, he is their equal. The moshel, on the other hand, serves as a leader because of his abilities, not just because of the people’s whims. The moshel proves his worth in battle and the like, showing that he is more talented than everyone else. Using his abilities, he grabs ahold of his constituency and forces them under his rule. This approach explains why the Jews offered Gideon the position of moshel (Jud. 8:22). That is, even though the masses willingly offered him this leadership position, he would have still been called a moshel, not a melech, because they only offered him the position due to his acknowledged military prowess.

The term melech is also applied to G-d, the ultimate King of the Universe. Interestingly, the Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 16a) justifies the practice of reciting during the Mussaf prayer of Rosh HaShanah different Biblical verse that speak of G-d’s Kingship, by explaining that G-d said, “you shall say before Me [verses about] kingship in order to make Me king (melech) over you”. By saying these verses, the Jewish people affirm their acceptance of G-d’s role as King of the Universe. But the Talmud assumed that saying those verses is not just an affirmation of accepting God’s kingship, but rather makes Him into a king. Why is G-d’s kingship contingent on the Jews’ acceptance of His sovereignty? Based on the above, the answer is clear: By showing their willing acceptance of G-d’s kingship, the Jews are consolidating G-d’s role as a melech of the world, as opposed to simply a dictatorous moshel.

The Vilna Gaon takes note of an apparent contradiction between two verses cited at the end of the Aleinu prayer. In one verse, we say, “For to G-d is the kingship (melucha), and He rules (moshel) over the nations” (Ps. 22:29). This verse implies that G-d holds two roles: for the Jews, He is considered a melech because they willingly accept His rule, and for the other nations of the world, He is a moshel because He rules them despite their objections. Afterwards, however, we say, “G-d will be the king (melech) over the entire world—on that day G-d will be [recognized as] one and His name as one.” (Zech. 14:9). This implies that He will be a melech over the entire world. The answer must be that while in contemporary times, not everyone accepts G-d’s role in the world, in the future Messianic Era, when all truth will be finally revealed, everyone will recognize His role and accept it upon themselves—so G-d will universally be a melech, not a moshel.




Ki Tisa: Year of the Monkey? ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

Ki Tisa

You shall make the Festival of Weeks with the first offering of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of the Harvest shall be at the changing (תְּקוּפַת) of the year (Exodus 34:22).

This verse is cited in Sifrei HaShorashim of Rabbeinu Yonah ben Ganach (hereafter, Ribag) and Radak under the root “קוף”. Both authors also cite the word “קוֹף” (monkey) as a derivative of this root. The word “תְּקוּפָה” denotes encircling and encompassing (היקף) – this being the annual cycle in the case of our verse. Radak explains the root’s connection to a “קוֹף” on the basis of its nature to grab and encompass objects in its hands. Ribag explains that in the expression “תְּקוּפַת הַשָׁנָה”, the opening letter תְּ is not part of the root, as we find similarly in the verse, It happened at the turn (לִתְּשׁוּבַת) of the year (II Samuel 11:1), with the word תְּשׁוּבַת comprised of an added letter תְּ that is not part of the root “שׁוב”. By contrast, both authors (as well as Machberes Menachem) listed the word “תּוֹקֶף” — which implies strength (חוֹזֶק) and forceful grabbing (לְהַחֲזִיק) [see Job 14:20, and Metz. Tzion, ad loc., who links it to Ecclesiastes 4:12] — under a separate root, “תקף”. According to Ribag, the meaning of תֹּקֶף in the Talmudic vernacular is also to grab forcefully, as we find in Bava Metzia 3a: “So that everyone will not grab (תּוֹקֵף) the garment of his fellow.” We see, then, that with respect to the word תֹּקֶף, they all agree the letter תּ is part of the root, even though תֹּקֶף appears related in meaning to the other two words תְּקוּפָה and קוֹף, in that they all imply the concept of היקף (encircling, encompassing).

The word היקף itself [which appears in Job 1:5; Psalms 17:9, 22:17; Isaiah 15:8; Joshua 6:3] is cited by Ribag and Radak under a different root, “יקף”. These authors also listed a separate entry, “נקף”, under which they include words from verses meaning primarily cutting off, breaking, and bruising [see Isaiah 3:24, 17:6, 29:1; Job 19:26]. However, in a number of verses containing קף-based words that mean encircling, they both indicate uncertainty as to whether to link it to the root “יקף” or “נקף”. Menachem, following his usual thesis, combines both the verses meaning encircling and the verses meaning cutting off/destruction under a single root, “קף”, although dividing them into three sub-sections, with only a single verse cited under the third section, that of the (primate) קוֹף [I Kings 10:22]. Radak, under the entry “קוף” and the sub-section concerning encircling and encompassing, adds that the roots “יקף” and “קוף” are two roots with a similar meaning, namely, the matter of encircling.

The Missing Link

I would like to propose that all of these matters —both those dealing with encircling and those dealing with bruises and cutting off— are connected to the matter of encircling and encompassing. My suggestion is based on the fact that many words in לשון הקודש have dual —or even opposite (דָבָר וְהִיפּוּכוֹ)— meanings. A well-known example of דָבָר וְהִיפּוּכוֹ is the word “קדש”, which means separation from immorality and holiness on the one hand, and immorality itself on the other hand. Likewise in our case, the notion of surrounding has both a positive and negative aspect to it. For example, a belt is created for the purpose of fastening, but fastening something excessively is liable to cause bruises and wounds (or even worse, strangulation, if one fastens even a neck tie too tightly around one’s neck). We find an allusion to the dual meaning of this root in Isaiah (3:24): And in the place of the belt, abrasion (נִקְפָּה) — i.e., the site where the belt was fastened will have cuts and bruises. [In its plain meaning, this clause is but one of many examples of middah k’negged middah (measure for measure) punishments that are enumerated in the chapter, which prophesies that gaudy and immoral manner of dress and comportment will bring comparable punishments. Nevertheless, the metaphoric example that it presents here refers to actual bruises on their bodies in the locations where they wore ostentatious belts.] It should also be noted that elsewhere in Isaiah, in his comments to verse 10:34, Malbim offers a different perspective to the duality of this root, suggesting that the breaking/wounds meaning of the root “נקף”, is directly related to the surrounding of “היקף”, in that they refer to bruises or breaks/cuts that surround and encompass the object or person that they affect.

Let us attempt to explain various words containing the two-letter string “קף” based on this proposed duality of the root meaning surrounding/encompassing. As an introduction, let us point out that even the type of encircling that leads to cutting off, can have a positive aspect to it, namely, encircling to separate and disengage from the enemy. The following are seven examples to test our thesis:

  1. Kapad “קפד”:

There is an animal in Scripture called “קפוד”, which, according to Rashi (to Isaiah 14:23), means heritzon in Old French. The present-day books explaining Rashi’s Old French definitions state that this  refers to the hedgehog, which is a herisson in Modern French, and is called a “קִפּוֹד” in Modern Hebrew. [Rashi also uses this definition for the same word in an altered spelling, “קופר” (Shab. 54b). He also uses this explanation for the Scriptural word “אֲנָקָה” (Leviticus 11:30), for the Talmud’s mention of “אֲנָקָה” (Chullin 122a) among those creatures whose hides are particularly tough and flesh-like, and for the Aramaic word “יילי” cited in the Talmud (BB 4a), which he notes is the Aramaic translation of “אֲנָקָה”, and which he defines as a small creature whose hair is as hard as needles. Thus, “אֲנָקָה”, “קִפֹּד” and “קופר” are all defined by Rashi as the herisson, or hedgehog.] Moreover, in his comments to the Mishnah’s use of the word “קִפֹּד” (Kilayim 8:5), Bartenura states that it is a creature whose body is covered with sharp bristles, and when a person touches it, it rolls up like an orb, hiding its arms and legs in its stomach. Thus, we have references to its folding itself into a circular and surrounding form in order to disconnect itself from the enemy. [It should be noted that we find some instances of the word “קִפֹּד” that most commentators define as a certain type of bird (see Rashi and Metz. Tzion to Zephaniah 2:14, and Rashi to Isaiah 34:11), but the more common usage is that which we have cited here.]

We also find instances in Scripture of the root “קפד” appearing in verb form, with most commentators defining it as cutting off (see Rashi and Metz. Tzion to Isaiah 38:12, and Rashi to Ezekiel 7:25). However, Malbim to Isaiah 38:12 writes that the word in that verse (קִפַּדְתִּי כָאֹרֵג חַיַּי), like the one in Ezekiel 7:25 (קְפָדָה בָּא), refers to binding and tying. Noting that Targum Yonatan always translates the verb קפד as shortened or limited (see Isaiah 50:2, 59:1; Micah 2:7) he thus sees its use in the Ezekiel verse as meaning that they will be bound and tied up by the chains mentioned in verse 23, since the effect of chains and fetters is to restrain and shorten that which they are tied around. Likewise, Rashi (to Isaiah 38:12) himself cites an alternate explanation of קפד that is not related to cutting off and resembles Malbim’s explanation of limiting, and is based on his version of Targum Yonatan, which translates the clause “קִפַּדְתִּי כָאֹרֵג חַיַּי” as “אִתְקְפָדוּ כְּנַחַל גְדוּדִין”. [Heichal Rashi notes that that our alternate version of the Targum Yonatan text states “אִתְקְפָדוּ כִּגְוַל גַרְדָאִין”, a reference to weaving.] Thus, since Yonatan sees the verse as using the simile of “a stream that flows smoothly because it is bounded on both sides by high boundaries”, Rashi infers that he interprets קִפַּדְתִּי as I restrained. Ergo, we find a form of restriction and gathering together in the interpretation of “קפד” by both Targum Yonatan and Malbim — the “restriction of the stream’s width by its boundaries” by Targum Yonatan, and the “physical restriction of the prisoners by their binding chains” by Malbim.

                Malbim takes it one step further, linking this verb form of “קפד” to the creature called “קִפּוֹד”: “The animal covered with thistles is likewise called קִפּוֹד in Hebrew and Aramaic, because it folds itself up (root “קפל”) when it encounters an enemy. Similarly, the [verb] root in Hebrew is based on the folding up of the chains, or the weaving threads that are woven together, as the warp and the weft  are bound together.

  1. Kapal “קפל”:

Malbim has thus led us directly to the word “קִיפּוּל” (folding). The root “קפל” with the opening letter “ק” first appears in the Mishnah (Shab. 15:3), and is derived from the Scriptural word “כפל” with the opening letter “כ”, as noted by Malbim in his comments on the verse (Isaiah 40:2), For she has received from the hand of Hashem double (כִּפְלַיִם) for all her sins. Noting the difference between כִּפְלַיִם and פִּי שְׁנַיִם, both of which mean double, he explains that פִּי שְׁנַיִם simply refers to a doubling of the total amount, whereas כִּפְלַיִם refers to a doubling via folding one half onto the other half. Thus, just as in Exodus 26:9, the word וְכָפַלְתָּ refers to the folding over of one half of the Tabernacle’s curtain onto the other half, and the word מקפלין in the Mishnah refers to folding clothes, the word כִּפְלַיִם in this Isaiah verse means that the length of years was folded in half (i.e., the doubling of the punishment’s severity allowed for the length of suffering to be halved). Hence, we see from Malbim that there are two distinct nuances of the Scriptural root “כפל”, and that the meaning of the Mishnaic term “קיפול” is an alternate form of the Scriptural usage of “כפל” in the Exodus verse, And you shall fold (וְכָפַלְתָּ) the sixth curtain. A closer look reveals that whereas both Scriptural meanings imply a doubling in quantity, in the case of folding a garment there is a dual, and indeed contradictory result: the folding of the garment doubles its thickness (height) on the one hand, but it halves its length on the other. Thus, the single act of “קיפול” causes opposite outcomes: 1) doubling; 2) cutting in half. [It should be noted that the Mishnaic “קיפול” does not refer exclusively to perfect folding (in half), as with a pressed garment, but also to folding over or rolling up in a more general sense, as in the Mishnah in Shab. (2:3), “The material wick that was folded (שקפלה) but not singed” — which means the rolling of the threads to make a wick (see also Devarim Rabbah 4:11).]

  1. Kafatz “קפץ”:

Another aspect of encircling and encompassing is that the surrounded content becomes gathered together (מקובץ) and restricted within the encircling boundaries. The root of קְבִיצָה (gathering) is “קבץ”, a root resembling “קפץ” (based on the phonetically related “lip” letters “ב-ו-מ-פ” — see Hirsch to Exodus 41:35, 49:1-2). In its Commandment concerning the mitzvah of charity, the Torah states (Deuteronomy 15:7): Nor shall you (תִקְפֹּץ) squeeze your hand [shut] against your destitute brother. Thus, the word תִקְפֹּץ is understood as if it stated תִקְבֹּץ or תִקְמֹץ, both of which denote closing and squeezing the hand. [See likewise the use of the word קָפְצָה in Job 5:16, and in the Talmud (Chullin 91b and Rashi ad loc.). See also Aruch on the Aramaic root “כווץ”, and the aforementioned commentary in Hirsch.]

  1. Kafa “קפא”:

The concept of “קִיבּוּץ” (gathering) leads us to the root “קפא” (frozen, congealed), which is essentially the concentration and squeezing together of individual units, i.e., their”קִיבּוּץ” . In the verse in Zephaniah 1:12, it is prophesied: I will deal with the men who are frozen (הַקֹפְאִים) on their lees. Ibn Ezra cites the similar Scriptural usage in Exodus 15:8, “קָפְאוּ תְהוֹמוֹת” (the deep waters congealed), regarding the waters that rose up and stood still in the splitting of the Red Sea, noting that “something that settles and is gathered together is called קִפָּאוֹן”. Radak provides a nearly identical definition, citing as an example the congealment of milk into cheese.

  1. Akaf “עקף”:

The root “עקף” (gathering) appears in the Talmud (BK 113a) in a discussion regarding a particular monetary dispute, where it states that “we deal with him in a ‘roundabout’ way בעקיפין)).” This root is similar to the encirclement and surrounding root “הקף” (based on the phonetically related “guttural” letters “א-ה-ח-ע”), albeit only a partial encirclement.

  1. Chakufa “חקופא”:

We often find examples whereby the Talmudic Sages “explained” the meaning of names mentioned in Scripture. The name חֲקוּפָא, cited in Ezra 2:51 is explained in the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 71:3): “Four categories were mentioned regarding names of people: (1) There are those whose names are admirable and their actions are admirable; (2) there are those whose names are loathsome and their actions are loathsome; (3) there are those whose names are loathsome but whose actions are admirable; (4) and there are those whose names are admirable but whose actions are loathsome. In the category of those whose names are admirable but whose actions are loathsome are Esau (עֵשָׂו), whose name is [related to the word] עשו (i.e., עֲשׂוֹ, meaning one who ‘performs’ good deeds), but [in actuality] he did not perform [good deeds]. Yishmael (יִשְׁמָעֵאל), whose name [connotes] one who obeys [G-d] (i.e., Yishma-el, means ‘he obeys G-d’), but [in actuality] he did not obey [G-d]. In the category of those whose names are loathsome but whose actions are admirable are the [Babylonian] exiles, [for example,] the children of Bakbuk, the children of Chakupha (חֲקוּפָא), the children of Charchur etc. (Ezra 2:51), who merited to ascend [from Babylon to Israel] and build the Temple.” The commentators explain that חֲקוּפָא is loathsome because it implies a קוֹף (monkey), or הֲכָּאָה (hitting). Both explanations relate to the definition of קף provided above.

  1. Shakaf “שקף”:

There are two words with different meanings that derive from the root “שקף”: 1) gaze or view; 2) the upper part of a door frame, the lintel (מַשְׁקוֹף). In his comments to the verse, And they gazed (וַיַשְׁקִיפוּ) upon Sodom (Genesis 18:16), Rashi states that every incidence in Scripture of the term הַשְׁקָפָה is a gazing in a negative connection (as in this verse, where the gazing angels foresee Sodom’s destruction), except for its usage in the “confession of the tithes,” when we ask G-d to “gaze down (הַשְׁקִיפָה) from Your holy abode. This, he explains, is because the gifts for the poor are so powerful, that they turn G-d’s Attribute of Punishment into his Attribute of Compassion. The lintel too has a negative association as well, as Rashi (to Exodus 12:7) explains that above a door is called a מַשְׁקוֹף because the door bangs (שׁוֹקֵף) against it when it is closed. [To support his claim that the root שׁקף means to beat, Rashi cites the words in the verses, the sound of a “fluttered” (נִדָף) leaf (Leviticus 26:36), and a “bruise” (חֲבּוּרָה) for a bruise (Exodus 21:25), whose Aramaic translations in Onkelos are שָׁקִיף and מַשְׁקוֹפֵי respectively.] Thus, it would appear that the core concept in both of these meanings of שקף is damage and beating. [Others offer different links between the two meanings. See, for example, Radak’s Sefer HaShorashim on the root שקף.]

I believe that the Talmudic Sages imply a different meaning for the root “שקף” in their comments in Tosefta (Sukkah 3:4) on the verse (Numbers 21:20), and overlooking (וְנִשְׁקָפָה) the surface of the wilderness. Noting that it refers to the previous verse (18), The well that the princes have dug, that the nobles of the people excavated, through a lawgiver, with their staffs, they explain it as follows: “[The well] ‘surrounded’ the entire Israelite encampment and provided water for the entire wilderness, as it is stated, ‘וְנִשְׁקָפָה the surface of the wilderness.’ ” It thus seems that they understood the word וְנִשְׁקָפָה to mean and it surrounded, reading וְנִשְׁקָפָה as if it stated וְהִקִיפָה. They thus seem to suggest that the root “שקף” implies “an all-encompassing look,” in which one gazes upon the entire surroundings with a single look. Indeed, we also find an allusion to this in relation to Sodom, as the verse states, And [Abraham] gazed down upon Sodom and Gomorrah and the “entire” surface of the land of the plain (Genesis 19:28). Likewise, the view from the [level of the] lintel (מַשְׁקוֹף) is a more encompassing view than that which one receives by gazing through a window, or from the door below it. The lintel indeed suffers blows from the many slammings of the door; therefore, its “gazing” is linked (in a “borrowed” manner) to banging and damage. However, G-d transforms this negative property to the good, and provides goodness to “the entire expanse” of the earth precisely through the word הַשְׁקִיפָה.

 

Let us close with a prayer, that we shall all live lives that are “surrounded with” (מוּקָפִים) meaning, important challenges, and everlasting accomplishments. May we complete multi-year “periods” (תְּקוּפוֹת) growth and hope for additional success in the future.

A year without such aspirations may aptly be termed “The Year of the Monkey” — “circling” without purpose… grasping at straws.