Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayetze 5765

Cows and Cranberries

There is an interesting scholarly debate about one little word in the haftarah for parashat Vayetze.

This haftarah text is by that ever popular fellow who married a harlot to make his point about Israel's unfaithfulness to Gd - Hosea. Luckily, we get to avoid those difficultly metaphorical early chapters.

Near the end of the haftarah, in Chapter 14 verse 2&3, we read-

2. Return, O Israel, to the Eternal your Gd, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. 3. Take words with you, and return to the Eternal and say:

That's the first half of the verse. Verse 3b, has some syntactical problems with the Hebrew, which reads:

Kol tisa avon v'kach tov, unshalmah parim s'fateinu

One translation of this is :

Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips.

And another:

Forgive all iniquity and accept the good; and we shall offer the fruit of our lips.

And yet another:

May you forgive all iniquity and accept good [intentions] and let our lips substitute for bulls.

In their struggling to translate and understand the text, scholars have disagreed on one word-the word parim. It does mean, in Hebrew, bulls. But scholars could not understand exactly the construction of those last three words. Because it would seem to mean "and completed bulls lips" which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So many translators have chosen to render it as if meaning that what passes from our lips (prayers) shall be offered in place of sacrifices (bulls.)

It's a nice read, and I personally like it, because it is one of the earliest indicators in Tanakh that the Jews were evolving past the need for animal sacrifices.

Yet the Septuagint and Syriac version of the Torah both translate the words as "fruit." In Hebrew, "p'ri." (The Septuagint is a translation from Hebrew to Greek purportedly assembled by 70 scholars who all agreed on the translation.)

Remember that the Torah has no vowels. So the first three letters of the word now being rendered (and rendered by the masoretes) as "parim" could have been p'ri at one point, when someone accidentally added a final mem to the word as a scribal error, and this was the version that was passed down to us. Considering the translations from both the Septuagint and Syriac, this seems quite likely--that the word was originally just pey-resh-yod, without the final mem.

So why does all this matter? Well, for one thing, offering the fruit of our lips is quite a different sentiment from giving the offering of our lips in place of bulls (for sacrifice.) The former is about intention, the latter is about methodology.

And it's all so appropriate, coming this year in proximity to the American holiday of Thanksgiving. One that we celebrate both by the "sacrificing" of an animal (the turkey) and enjoying a cornucopia full of fruits (not to mention the cranberry sauce.)

So which is it that we might offer on this American holiday as American Jews? The offering of our lips instead of bulls, or the fruit of our lips? Is this a carnivore versus vegetarian issue?

What does it all mean? I am still trying to figure it all out. After all, these are called "Random" musings. Happy musing.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some additional musings on this parasha:

Vayetze 5764-Terms and Conditions
Vayetze 5763-Now and Then
Vayetze 5762-Change in Perspective
Vayetze 5760-Taking Gd's Place

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