Volume 24 Number 03
                       Produced: Thu May 16  6:39:04 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Blunted Teeth
         [Mois Navon]
Masorah Remarks I
         [Mechy Frankel]


From: <mnavon@...> (Mois Navon)
Date: Thu, 16 May 1996 12:30:37 +0200
Subject: Blunted Teeth

Much discussion has been generated over the question of the suitability
of the response to the wicked son in the Haggadah: "And you will blunt
his teeth".  Though the expression has gained its fame from its citation
in the Haggadah, it is employed numerous times throughout the Midrash
and Talmud with varying implications.  The expression is sometimes used
in its literal sense to mean actual breaking teeth, as in the Midrash
which illustrates the reunion of Esav and Yaakov wherein Esav fell on
Yaakov's neck which turned to marble thus causing Esav to "blunt his
teeth" (Ber. Rab. 78:9).  The literal usage notwithstanding, the
expression is also found in the figurative sense.  We find one such
example in Rashi's commentary to the verse in Vayikra (26:20): "And your
strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its
produce, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits."  Rashi
comments on the first words, "And your strength shall be spent in vain",
as follows:

    Behold, if a man does not toil in his field - neither tills, nor 
    sows, nor weeds it , nor clears away the thorns, nor hoes it, 
    and then at harvest time blight comes and strikes it (i.e. the 
    field, i.e. destroys that which sprung up of itself), surely it 
    does not matter much (and the man does not take it to 
    heart).  But if a man has toiled - he has ploughed, sown, 
    weeded, cleared away the thorns and hoed it, and then 
    blight comes and strikes it, surely then the teeth of that man 
    have become blunt!

R. Silverman (modern supercommentator) understands Rashi's application
of the "blunt teeth" expression allegorically meaning "becoming
speechless, terror-stricken".  Given that the literal meaning is not the
intention in this instance, a more comprehensive understanding of this
idiomatic usage of the "blunted teeth" expression can be obtained by
further analysis of Rashi's uncharacteristically wordy parable.  The
parable describes a situation wherein man has worked and yet for no
purpose, for no outcome, simply put, for nothing.  He is thus confronted
with that stark empty reality.  This bitter emptiness, that one's
efforts went for naught, is analogized to feeling as though one's "teeth
had been blunted".  In other words, blunted teeth is an expression used
to describe that feeling of emptiness one is overcome with when
realizing that one has worked for nothing.[1]

This definition of blunted teeth neatly fits the mandated response to
the wicked son.  The father is instructed by the Haggadah to explain to
the wicked son (so labeled due to his disassociation from his people)
that if he were in Egypt, he surely would not have been saved.  Egypt
traditionally connotes the (spiritual) antithesis of Israel.  Whereas
Egypt[2] represents the pursuit of materialism to the exclusion of
spirituality, Israel by contrast is the nation that bears witness to the
Creator of the world Who has given a purpose to mankind (i.e., created
the world with a purpose).  If one disassociates oneself from this
people, then one has disassociated from the notion of a purposeful
Creation.  One is thus relegated to the meaninglessness that is the
necessary and logical conclusion of living in a Creatorless world.[3]
This meaningless, strictly material world is referred to as "Egypt".
Furthermore, it was in Egypt where the Jewish nation was subjugated to
working for naught.[4] And thus the answer to the wicked son: Since you
disassociate yourself from the people whose mission it is to bear
witness to the notion of a purposeful Creation, you are then relegated
to Egypt, a life of ultimate meaninglessness.  The father is to impart
this lesson until the son comes to the very harsh realization, that in
leading a life disconnected from the purpose of Creation, his life would
be working for naught, his "strength shall be spent in vain".  As such,
he could be said to have attained the feeling described as "blunted

[1]    Existentialists such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre 
assert that as life is a mere physical coincidence, man must endow 
his life with some meaning, lest he perish in the pain of life.

[2]    Egypt, Mitzraim, by its very name alludes to its nature, 
(MaiTzarim-narrow straights), confinement, lack of freedom.  As 
such, Egypt represents life bound by pursuit of the physical, and 
confined to the physical.

[3]    If the physical world is all there is, i.e., if there is no 
metaphysical source to life, then life is ultimately purposeless.  Life 
is then nothing more than the chance result of innumerable 
coincidences, and human beings are nothing more than self-aware 
molecules.  We differ from all other molecular combinations only 
in that we want to believe that our particular combination has some 
ultimate meaning and purpose (Dennis Prager, The Nine Questions 
People Ask About Judaism, p.25).

[4]    The Talmud (Sotah 11a) records a discussion between Rav 
and Shmuel as to the object of the Jews' labor in Egypt.  Though 
there is a technical dispute, both agree that the work being done 
was all for naught (i.e., building structures that subsequently 
collapsed of their own weight, or simply fell into the ground due its 
unsuitability for building).  The Torah describes the work enforced 
by the Egyptians on the Jews as "rigorous labor" (avodat parech).  
The Rambam defines "rigorous labor" (avodat parech) as that 
which has no time fixed time and which is not needed (Hil. Avadim 
1:6). (See also R. Yaakov Culi, Meam Loez Passover Haggadah, 


From: Mechy Frankel <"FRANKEL@GD"@hq.dna.mil>
Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 14:25:18 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Masorah Remarks I

1. Catalyzed by M. Steiner's remarks (vol 23 #70) on the dirash of the
Four Sons and the differing oasanu-esichem haggada textual tradition of
the Yerushalmi and Mechilta, a number of recent correspondents, have
commented, either directly or en passant, on different textual versions
of the torah. Since such matters tend to range somewhere beyond the
orbit of many standard jewish educational curricula, even (or perhaps
especially) the more intensive ones, I thought it might be useful
background to review the facts related to the current state of
uncertainty as operationally manifested today in the differences found
among both torah scrolls used for shul leining and in printed editions
of tanach. As frum jews we assume there is such a true -albeit
irretrievably lost- version.

2. Of course traditional sources have always indicated that the form of
the torah scroll has changed over time. The most glaring is the shift in
script from pre-paleo hebrew script to the kisav ashuris, (the square,
or "assyrian" script) wrought by Ezra (see Sanhedrin 21b-22a)
Non-withstanding the talmudic view that Ezra only restored the original
graphical form of the text, we see the unquestioning acceptance that
changes had indeed occurred.  Another traditional example of change in
form may be found in the Ramban's introduction to his perush on torah
where he cites a tradition that originally the torah was written
continuously, with no spaces between words, a practice which had
obviously changed but caused Ramban no heartburn. Interestingly, there
may be some archeological support for this tradition, since ancient
inscriptions (such as the famous Mesha stone written in closely related
Moabite) do not display spaces between words either. Intimations of
changed torah circumstances are also to be found in the mystical
literature though their practical relevance would seem inaccessible.

3. The following survey is intended only as a snapshot of the present
textual reality. We exclude from the following differences arising from
simple printing errors in various editions, of which there are
many. While following a just-the-facts-mam program here, I also hope to
provide a follow up posting focused on some of the halachic
ramifications. Some of the following list entries have, or ought to
have, significant halachic implications (A-C), others have little to

A.  Differences in spelling. 
 a. Mostly maleh-chaser (plene-defective) with 9 such differences total
between the Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Yemenite torahs in use
today. (the generic problem of maleh-chaser uncertainty is identified as
far back as the Talmud, Kidushin 30a, "..veanan loa bekinan", see
however R. R. Margolis' iconoclastic pishat in his Hamikra Vehamesorah.
See also R. Aryeh Ginzburg in the Gilyone Hashas to Shabbas 55b where a
long list of differences not only between the talmudically quoted
textual versions and the modern (19th century) torahs but also between
medieval versions cited by rishonim and his own, see also the Minchas
Shai to Vayikra 8/8 where he despairs of finding a satisfying
understanding of discrepencies of letter, pasuk, and word count
discrepencies, see also, if you have a strong stomach, my letter on vav
di-gachone in MJ 19/17)

b.  Devarim 23/2 "pitzuah dacah" spelled with either a hey (sephardic)
or aleph (ashkenazic, yemenite) in different scrolls. In the printed
editions the new Mossad Harav Kook-Breuer edition utilizes an aleph
while Mikraos Gidolos, Koren, and others spell with a hey. see the
Minchas Shai here who, ultimately relying on Remah, somewhat agonizingly
opts for the hey, and under this influence many ashkenazic torahs today
also use a hey). This aleph-hey ambiguity is more properly grouped with
the maleh-chaser since it does not change the meaning and forms a single
consonental reading aid grouping (matres lectionis) with the yud-vav
(oasios yeihu).
 Incidentally, there would seem to be little doubt that the most
authoritative text of all, the one personally corrected by Ben Asher,
spelled it with an aleph though unfortunately it cannot be checked
directly since - even assuming that the Keser Aram Tsovoh is the Ben
Asher manuscript used by the Rambam - that section is missing.  but it
is also clear that the Minchas Shai could not have seen it.

c. differences in entire words which may change the meaning.  see e.g.
Bireishis 9/29: vayihee (Koren, Letteris), or vayihiyu (Breuer), Mishlei
8/16: shoftei eretz (Koren-1977) or shoftei tzedek (Letteris, Cassuto,
Breuer, Koren-1983), Yehoshua 8/22: loa (Mikraos Gidolos, Letteris) or
lahem (Breuer, Koren), Shimuel 1 30/30: either bi-bor ashan (Cassuto,
Breuer), or bi-cor ashan (Letteris, Koren).  Tsephania 3/15: si'ri'ee
(Koren, Breuer), sir'ee (Mikraos Gidolos), siriee(?) (no
meseg-Letteris).  These are drawn from a list of about 80 examples, for
which reliable manuscripts or authorities attest to differences, brought
down at the end of the Koren tanach.  Of course the mother of all such
word variant witnesses goes back to the three temple scrolls which
differed by a total of just three words. The canonical torah version,
actually conforming to none of these three most authoritative templates,
was then reconstructed through a case by case majority vote between the
three scrolls. see Maseches Sofirim Ch 6, Halacha 4, or see Yerushalmi
Taanis 4.

For completeness we should mention R. Margolis' vehement and well argued
view (also in his Hamikra Vehamesorah) that all discrepencies between
chazalic quotations and the actual text arise not from some, caviyachol,
different version than ours, but rather that they represent recordings
of oral dirashos wherein chazal made deliberate changes to avoid
violating the principle of "devarim shebikisav ee atoh rishai li'omron
bi'al peh" (see Gitin 60b) i.e. the blanket prohibition on orally
quoting the written text from memory.

B.  Difference in pasuk division.
 The pasuk breakup of the ten commandments is treated differently in the
various published editions. Commandments 6-9 in Shemos 20 are presented
in a single pasuk in Breuer, Koren, Letteris and others but as four
separate pisukim in Letteris and others. In Devarim 5, the commandment
starting "loa yihiyeh licha.." may either start a new pasuk, or in some
editions begin in the middle of a pasuk. The generic problem of lack of
mastery of pasuk division is aso noted generically in Talmudic times,
see Kidushin 30a, "..bima'arava posku leih lihai keroh li'slusa pisukei"

C.   Difference in pisuchos and sisumos ("open" and "closed" parshiyos). 
 There is a classic dispute concerning the appearance of an open parsha
at either Vayikra 7/22 or 7/28 (see the Minchas Shai on 7/22). The new
Mossad Harav Kook-Breuer edition has a pisucha at 7/22, while Mikraos
Gidolos, Koren and Letteris editions have no parsha at 7/22 and an open
one at 7/28 . See J.  Penkower's lengthy article, "Maimonides and the
Aleppo Codex", Textus 9, 1981, for a reconstruction of the source of
this confusion (as well as similar confusion related to Shemos 20/14b,
Shemos 8/1, and Devarim 27/20)

D.   Differences in Nikud.
 numerous differences between the editions but usually doesn't affect
the pishat. However in Yirmiyahu 11/2 it makes a difference if
"vidibartem" is vocalized with a segol (plural, as Koren, Breuer,
Letteris,..) or a kametz (singular, Biblia Hebrica).

E.  Differences in "special" letters. 
 There are a host of special letters (larger or smaller than average,
etc.)  identified in the Talmud and Maseches Sofirim. See also the
article on "oasios" in Vol 1 of Encyclopedia Talmudis. Torah scrolls
today do not mark all of the letters identified in the various sources
e.g. see the dirash predicated on the presence of a (presently normal)
small yud cited in Vakra Raba 23/13, or the lists provided in the
encyclopedia, and variations amongst scrolls in use today do
exist. While sitting shiva in Israel a few years ago, I personally
leined from a 13th century scroll still, quietly, in use in one
Jerusalem neighborhood, which had some non-standard oasios sizings. It
also had some other unusual for today differences, e.g. it was written
on deer skin and had about 60 lines per page.

F.  Difference in chapter division
 While division of tanach into pirakim, or chapters, per se is a useful
medieval Christian innovation (courtesy of the Archbishop of Canterbury
no less), lack of agreement in chapter division also reflects an
underlying difference in the parshanus. e.g. Bireishis 31/55 (Koren,)
may instead appear as Biresishis 32/1 in other editions (Breuer,

G.   Differences in book order.
 While the Talmud Bava Basra 14b prescribes the proper order of tanach
texts, it is not generally followed in today's printed
editions. e.g. today's editions have Yishaya preceding Yirmiya and
Yechezkel, contrary to the talmudic arrangement. Most editions of Tanach
including Mikraos Gidolos, finish off with Divrei Hayamim, In Breuer's
it is the first book of the Kisuvim. There are also numerous differences
in the printed editions in the order of the Five Megilos and of Eyuv,
Mishlei, and Tehilim.

There are also many other minor differences between the various printed
editions based on different documentary traditions such as those
associated with the use of cantillation signs, mesegs, makafs, or the
arrangement of poetical sections, but enough for now.

Mechy Frankel                                    W: (703) 325-1277
<frankel@...>                              H: (301) 593-3949


End of Volume 24 Issue 3