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Parashat Behar-Bechukotai from 5762

Shin Mem Tet (shamat); Shin Bet Tav (shavat); Mem Vav Tet (mat)

veshaveta ha'aretz shabbat (Levit 25:2) ('and the land will rest a rest') The Targum Onkelos translates the word veshaveta as vetashmeit and the word shabbat as shemit'tha. The 'Chalamish' program found 15 words in the Bible derived from the root Shin Mem Tet. In the Torah, it is used once for 'allowing the land to lie fallow' (Exod. 23:11), six times for releasing debts (Deut. 15:1-9), and once, as the name of a particular year (Deut. 51:10). In the rest of the Bible it is generally used to indicate release of something being held firmly (eg Sam. II 6:6). However Rashi explains the word veshamat'ta (Jer. 17:4) by reference to our verse, that is to say 'allowing the land to lie fallow', while Radak explains it as referring to the people being exiled from the land; the word then having a similar meaning to that elsewhere in the Prophets (see also Targum Yonatan).

It seems that one can discern a core meaning here. In the Torah too the word seems to mean release of something being held firmly, as in the rest of the Bible. 'Allowing the land to lie fallow' and 'releasing debts' are instances of that general meaning. It is of interest to compare the meaning of this root to that of two other roots.

1) Mem Vav Tet; may connote 'to lose one's hold' or 'to fall apart.' Roots with the second letter a 'silent' Vav (Nachei Ayin Vav) are related to roots with the second and third letter identical (kefulim) and in the latter, one of the repeated letters is frequently omitted, and a Dagesh in the remaining one indicates this. A double Tet of this kind may account for the Dagesh in the Tet of the word shemittah. This suggestion is not original; Jastrow (Dictionary, shemittah) refers to Mem Vav Tet. Indeed the addition of a Shin to an existing root in order to establish a new root is well known in Mishnaic Hebrew, e.g. the root Ayin Bet Dalet ('serve') with Shin added becomes sha'beid ('mortgage'); the root Chaf Lamed Lamed ('all' or 'include') with Shin added becomes shachleil 'complete'. This construction is known as the Shaf'eil. Perhaps the same construction may occur in the Bible. Professor D. Sohlberg pointed out that there is no need for the Shaf'eil argument to explain shemittah as there are words with a Dagesh in that position without any suggestion of Shaf'eil. These are kelimma ('shame') (Jer. 51:51 and elsewhere) and kehilla ('congregation') (Neh. 8:7). Clearly he is right. Nevertheless the fact remains that we have here two roots with two letters the same, in the same order, and these roots have similar connotations.

2) Shin Bet Tav: In this root the first letter is Shin - identical with the first letter of the root of Shin Mem Tet. The second letter of each of these roots (Mem and Bet) belongs to the bumaf group of letters articulated by the lips. Similarly the third letter of each root (Tet and Tav) belongs to the detelnat group of letters articulated by the tongue on the alveolar ridge. Letters belonging to any one articulatory group are interchangeable (Rashi Lev. 19:16). We can see that these two roots are close both in sound and meaning.

Although the three roots are separate and independent, they all seem to be related both in sound and meaning.

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The Root Samech Pe Chet

sefiach-ketzirecha (Levit. 25:5) ('seed which grew by itself of your [previous] harvest') The program 'Chalamish' found 17 words derived from this root in the Bible. They mean: 'mark on the skin' (5 times), seed which grew by itself (6 times), joining a group of people (twice), serving G-d (once), garment (twice), venting one's anger (once). Looking for a 'core' or common connotation we might say there is an indication of a relationship between a principal person or object and an accessory or subordinate.

What is the principal thing - mentioned in our verse - to which the seed, which grew by itself, is related? Rashi in commenting on the phrase sefiach-ketzirecha explains 'even if you did not plant it, and it grew of the seed which fell during harvest, that is called safiach'. It would then seem that the seed that is a descendant of last year's harvest, is subordinate to it. R' A. ibn Ezra writes 'it is clear that it is of the same form as "please let me join" (Sam. I 2:36), that refers to joining a group of men. We can see that according to R' A. ibn Ezra the relationship is not one of linear descent. However Ramban does not accept this distinction. He writes 'that which grows of itself in the field without plowing or conscious planting is called sefiach-katzir which is joined to the harvest of the previous year,it is of the same form as venispechu al beit ya'akov (Isa. 14:1) ('and they joined the house of Ya'akov').' While Ramban describes safiach in terms of linear descent his example is one of non-linear descent. See also R' S. R. Hirsch.

These comments have been put into book form for publication in English and Hebrew. Dedications are available for both books.

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
E-mail address: fredit@bezeqint.net

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