A difficult verse
lo yitama ba’al be’amav lehechalo (Lev. 21:4) What does ba’al mean? What does be’amav mean? What does lehechalo mean? Targumim (Aramaic paraphrases): 1) Onkelos (two versions): The Ashkenazi (A) (Chumash Ha’amek Davar and others): la yista’ev raba be’amei le’achalutei, (‘a great man/husband [who is a priest] shall not defile himself among his people as this is his desecration’); The Yemenite (Y) (Chumash Torat Haim, ed. R’ Y. Kapah - from manuscripts), widely regarded as the more accurate, (perhaps because Yemenites maintain the ancient custom of reading Onkelos alongside the Torah in the synagogue) is: la yista’ev beraba be’amei le’achalutei (‘he [the priest] shall not defile himself for a great man among his people as this is his desecration’). (According to both versions of Onkelos ‘wife’ is not mentioned in this passage.) 2) Yonatan ben Uziel: la yiste’ev ba’ala le’itetei elahen kad keshera leih beram likriva dehinun avdin ovedei ameih yitchal aleihon (‘a husband shall not defile himself for his wife unless she is permitted [for him], however he shall defile himself for relatives who follow the ways of his people’). Torat Kohanim explains the verse very similarly to the translation of Yonatan ben Uziel.
Sa’adya Gaon (according R’ Y. Kapah’s Hebrew translation of the Arabic) says ‘even for a great man of his people – even a prophet or a king – as this is his desecration.’ Sa’adya Gaon is following Onkelos -Y.
Rashi explains that the plain meaning of the verse is in accordance with the interpretation that is in Yonatan ben Uziel and Torat Kohanim.
R’ A. ibn Ezra explains that the verse means: ‘A priest shall not defile himself among either priests or Israelites as this is his desecration.’ While in explaining ba’al, R’ A. ibn Ezra is following Onkelos A, his interpretation of be’amav (‘priests or Israelites’) is original.
Rambam rules ‘A kohen must defile himself for his wife and this rule is of Rabbinic origin’ (Avel 2:7). The Kesef Mishne explains that Rambam is following Onkelos.
Other views are to be found in Rashbam, Ramban, Ralbag and Chizekuni.
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Grammar for counting
usfartem lachem (Lev. 23:15) (‘and you shall count for yourselves’): When using words to perform a Mitzva, such as counting the Omer, errors in grammar do not invalidate the Mitzva so long as they do not change the meaning. Nevertheless using correct grammatical Hebrew is a requirement lechat’chila - that is, it enhances the performance of the Mitzva. Hence it is valid to ask, how should one count: the tens first or the units first, esrim ve’arba’ah or arba’ah ve’ esrim?
R’ Yosef Caro in his encyclopedic work on Halacha, Bet Yosef, deals with this question with regard to dating a Get (‘bill of divorce’). He refers to Rishonim (‘early authorities’) among whom we find a variety of views, and then quotes the Mishna that records two opinions regarding the counting of the eight sprinklings of the sacrificial blood of the Day of Atonement. There we find that in R’ Meir’s opinion one should count, ‘one and two, one and three, etc.,’ while in R’ Yehudah’s opinion one should count, ‘two and one, three and one, etc.,’ and the Gemara explains that each of these teachers of the Mishna was reporting his own local usage or dialect (Yoma 55A). The Bet Yosef suggests that this demonstrates that counting tens first or units first is equally valid (Sh.A., Even HaEzer 126 S.V. Katav).
The Magen Avraham deals with this question with regard to counting the Omer. He rules: One should always count with the smaller number first for example echad ve’esrim yom and refers to Shulchan Aruch, E.HaE. 126; however, he continues: in Yoma 55 we see that this depends on local custom in their [R’ Meir and R’ Yehudah’s] way of counting (i.e. dialect), and in our country even in everyday speech (Yiddish and German) the units are mentioned first (Magen Avraham 489:5). The Magen Avraham writes of a universal rule (‘always’) and then adds a local explanation. Is the implication of this explanation by the Magen Avraham that English speakers (and speakers of modern Hebrew) who generally say the tens before the units ('twenty-one, twenty-two') should, when counting the Omer, mention the tens before the units? To answer this question let us see how this passage of Magen Avraham is paraphrased in Shulchan Aruch Harav (RSh”Z):
It is preferable to say the units before the tens e.g. echad ve’esrim and not esrim ve’echad. This is so in these countries, where it is customary to count the units first, but in places where it is customary to count the tens first one may, in counting [the Omer], also follow the custom of one's own place (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 489:8 presently being translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger and Uri Kaploun for Kehot Publication Society).
Following the above Magen Avraham, and therefore interpreting it, RSh”Z rules that in regions where the tens are mentioned before the units in ordinary speech there is no preferential order for tens and units for counting the Omer. It follows that for present-day English and Hebrew speakers, the order of tens and units printed in siddurim is not binding.
I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
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