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Parashat Lech Lecha 5762

What is the teva of our father Abraham?

lech lecha (Gen. 12:1) ('go') '…that I spread the knowledge of your teva in the world'. (Rashi, ad loc, based on a Midrash, Tanchuma Lech Lecha 3.) What does this mean? The development of changes in Hebrew throughout the generations is too large a subject for this column, but the Sages said 'the language of Torah is distinct, and the language of the Sages is distinct' (Hulin 137b). Since Talmudic times many more changes have taken place in the language. Here we will limit ourselves to looking at the changes that have occurred in words derived from the root Tet, Bet, Ayin.

In the Tanach we find verbs derived from this root and it means sink, immerse, drown. The noun taba'at ('ring') also appears frequently and it would seem that it was called so because rings were made with symbols on them to impress (or sink) into a seal. In the language of the Sages words derived from this root are matbe'a ('coin'), tiv'a ('authority' the thinking here may be that one who has authority can mint coins), and also tiv'ah (a particular coin) (Jastrow). The Gemara in Nidda (20b) uses the word tiv'a; the two major Talmudic dictionaries explain the word differently; Jastrow explains it as 'a coin', Melamed as 'Nature'.

In 1705 the Chacham Tzvi wrote (Responsa No. 18) to the leaders of the congregation Sha'arei Shamayim (London) about the sermon delivered by their rabbi, R' David Nieto, who said 'Hashem Yitbarach and Nature, and Nature and Hashem Yitbarach are all One. I say that I said this and I confirm this and prove it, as David haMelech supports it in Psalm 147 "…He covers the heavens with clouds and prepares rain for the earth and causes the grass to sprout on the hills"; but you need to know (pay heed Jews, for it is the first principle of our faith) that the noun teva was coined relatively recently - some four or five hundred years ago, close to our own era, and is not to be found in the works of our early Sages'. After quoting this passage from R' D. Nieto's sermon, the Chacham Tzvi refers to him as 'the exalted Sage, our Master and Rabbi, David Nieto' and praised his opinions. These rabbis are saying that teva meaning 'nature' was coined in the Middle Ages, and teva in the Gemara in Nidda cannot mean nature.

The period when Rabbi David Nieto indicated that the word teva ('Nature') originated is that of the Ramban and indeed the Ramban uses the word teva in this meaning. He writes 'No man has a share in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until he believes that all our matters and happenings are all miraculous and are not teva or the way of the world. Rabbi Yehuda ibn Tibbon's Hebrew translation of Sefer Kuzari also provides examples of this new meaning of the word teva, 'there is a cause for something which moves of itself, and comes to rest of itself, and that cause is teva'. Clearly in both of these cases teva means Nature.

In the Chumash with Rashi translated into English (Rosenbaum and Silberman, Jeruslaem 1973) 'your teva' is translated as 'your character'. After discussing the various meanings of teva in the Talmudic period, Jastrow, out of character with the goal of his dictionary, adds '[In later Hebr.: nature, character, Nature.]'. We can see that Jastrow agrees with the opinion of R' D. Nieto as reported by Chacham Tzvi. In accordance with the 18th century rabbis, and in accordance with Jastrow a 20th century scholar, a preferred translation of Rashi's comment of '…that I spread the knowledge of your teva in the world' would be '…that I spread the knowledge of your authoritative [opinions] in the world'.

* * * *

uvein ha'ai (Gen. 13:3) ('And between the Ai') The Mislol (a widely quoted Hebrew grammar book, first published in Hamburg, 1788, my edition Vilna, 1858 p.165) states:

A proper noun is a noun which is known and recognized as being that and no other; like the names of men and women such as Avraham … Sara … and the names of mountains … and rivers … and peoples and the like. A proper noun is distinct from other nouns by virtue of four features: 1. it cannot be used in the plural to say "Avrahamim" … because a proper noun only refers to a specific single item; 2. it does not accept the definite article Heh to say "haAvraham" …; 3. it does not accept pronominal suffixes to say "Avrahamcha" … 4. it does not accept the construct state (semichut) to say "Avraham Yerushalayim" where the intention is Avraham of Yerushalayim; for all of the above denote definition, and there is no need for definitive information for this noun as it is known to be specific.
Although this rule applies throughout the Tanach, here there is an exception. Ai is a proper noun naming a city but nevertheless comes with the definite article. It seems to me that in spoken Hebrew the rule 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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