QUESTION: What is the connection between the two meanings of the word פה which can be vowelized as פֶה (mouth) or as פֹה (here)? And do any of these two words have to do with Pesach (פסח)?

Home Forums Words With Different Meanings QUESTION: What is the connection between the two meanings of the word פה which can be vowelized as פֶה (mouth) or as פֹה (here)? And do any of these two words have to do with Pesach (פסח)?

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    QUESTION: What is the connection between the two meanings of the word פה which can be vowelized as פֶה (mouth) or as פֹה (here)? And do any of these two words have to do with Pesach (פסח)?

    ANSWER: Interesting question. I’m not sure the answer will completely satisfy, but worth a shot. The first thing that comes to mind is the Rashi in Vayera (quoting Vayikra Rabbah §23:9):

    בראשית יט:יבוַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶל לוֹט עֹד מִי לְךָ פֹה;רשיומדרש אגדה עוד מאחר שעושין נבלה כזאת מי לך פתחון פה ללמד סניגוריא עליהם,שכל הלילה היה מליץ עליהם טובות,קרי ביה מי לך פה.

    The commentaries explain that this Midrash is homiletically readingפֹהasפֶּה. As you know, I believe that this genre of drashaאל תיקרי– comes to teach us not only a moral / ethical / spiritual insight or lesson, but tangentially hints to an underlying לשון על לשון link between the two seemingly disparate meanings.

    I think that another, less direct, link between the two words can be found in the later commentators’ drashon the word פסח. The Arizal’s homiletic derivation is well-known: פֶּהסַח, “the mouth speaks” (about the story of the Exodus on the Seder night).

    Less well-known is the Shlah Hakadosh’s exposition, explaining that פֶּהסַחrefers to the fact the mouth speaking about the Exodus changes the סַח(speaks) into חַס (care):

    שלה פסחים הגה מצה שמורה (אות קסא)– ‘פסחרמזפה סח‘,שיהיה סח לספר,ואז יהיה נעשה מן סח‘ – ‘חס‘,דחס רחמנא ויפרקינן.

    This idea is slightly altered by the Toldos Yaakov Yosef, a student of the Baal Shem Tov, who changes it to פֹּהחַס:

    תולדות יעקב יוסף בן צבי הירש הכהן,תלמיד הבעשטתולדות יעקב יוסף שמות פרשת באפסח מצה ומרור,והוא רמז על דברי חכמים בנחת נשמעים (קהלת ט:יז),לדבר פה חס,שיחוס על עצמו על נפשו היקרה שלא לעקרה ממקום החיים והקדושה.

    This interpretation, I think, is in turn derived from the Mechilta(and Targum Onkelos to Ex. 12:27), where the word ופסחתיis explicitly interpreted as an expression of חַס, or חַייס –meaningshelteror protection:

    שמות יב:כזוַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח פֶּסַח הוּא לַהאֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל בָּתֵּי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל;תאותימרון דיבח חיסהוא קדם יי דחסעל בתי בני ישראל.

    מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בא מסכתא דפסחא פרשה זופסחתי עליכם עליכם אני חסולא על המצריםבשכר מצוה שאתם עושים אני נגלה וחסעליכם שנאמר ופסחתי עליכם.אין פסיחה אלא חייסשנאמר כצפרים עפות כן יגן ייצבאות על ירושלם גנון והציל פסוח והמליט (ישעיה לא:ה).

    Now, while the Arizal’s drashis clearly referring to the פֶּה, the Shlahand company would seem to be implying פֹּהחַס – protect here, namely, shelterthe Israelite houses from the משחיתcharged with bringing the Plague of the Firstborn.

    As far as the connection between “here” and “mouth”, the only author I’ve seen address the issue is Cheshek Shlomo. He points out that (and I’m obviously paraphrasing) there are other words for “here,” such asהלום, and, in the Talmud, כאן. The word פֹּהdiffers from those words because it connotes not only “here” alone, but an accessibility, a center of gravity. In human terms, a person who is ready and able to communicate and interact with the world around him. The prototypical instrument of communication, and the primary means of interaction in the human body, is precisely the פֶּה(mouth) The פֶּה announces that one is “here,” is present, and it is a person’s “foreign minister” in dealing with others.

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