Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Vayehi III: Pay attention to those notes!

מטרף בני עלית - את יהודה בני לאחר שעלית מלטרוף טרף באומות ותכרע ותשכב בעירך, לא יבא אויב להחרידך ולהקימך ממקומך. זהו עיקר פשוטו. בני כפילו של יהודה. והמפרשו במכירת יוסף לא ידע בשיטה של פסוק ולא בחילוק טעמים כלל:

Here, on Bereishit 49:9, Rashbam shows us the usefulness of cantillation in deciphering the meaning of verses. The verse reads:

גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה מִטֶּרֶף בְּנִי עָלִיתָ כָּרַע רָבַץ כְּאַרְיֵה וּכְלָבִיא מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ:

The verse has four main parts: 1) Yehudah is a young lion; 2) מטרף בני עלית; 3) He crouches and lies in wait like a lion; 4) Like the king of beasts, who can rouse him? The precise meaning of part 2) is discussed here by Rashbam. Rashi had explained this phrase to refer to Yehudah’s withdrawal from the plot to kill Yosef. Picking up on the verb טרף, which is used in conjunction with Yosef’s feigned death, Rashi explains that Yehudah is here singled out for doing what he could to fend off Yosef’s murder. To read the verse this way, the word טרף must be joined to the word בני, in that Yehudah is said to have “risen above” (עלית) the (potential) “murder of my son” (טרף בני).

Rashbam pounces. A close look at the notes reveals that the word מטרף is matched with the note tipha, which belongs to the class of melekh notes, which end phrases. That means that מטרף is in fact separate from the word בני and the phrase must be parsed as follows: My son (בני), you have risen up (עלית) from your prey (מטרף). [Were Rashi to be right, there would have been a merkha or some other appropriate eved note on מטרף to indicate its connection with the word בני.] The principle of כפל לשון further confirms that this phrase out to be conveying the same basic content as part 1) and thus is merely a praiseworthy comment about Yehudah’s power and dominion over his enemies.

[Rashi, Rashbam’s grandfather, is anonymously criticized here with some force as simply not understanding how cantillation plays into the meaning of a verse. For another attack of this sort, see his comment on 49:16, where Rashbam reveals a general hostility to any interpretation that is overly associative and thematic as opposed to attending to the needs of the context at hand.]


At December 26, 2007 at 10:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. This year, I decided that Rashi's interpretation works well with the cantillation note. That is, "m'Teref, bni, alitah". From the episode of Teref, my son, you recovered.

I'll grant that it is tempting to understand the phrase as parallel to internal parts of the verse, although I'd argue that the two halves are parallel to each other, as opposed to parallelism within each of the halves.

I'm not sure which interpretation I prefer, as I have a slightly different approach to the brachot in general, but I don't think the trup indicates one way or the other.

At December 27, 2007 at 10:49 AM , Blogger EMT said...

I think Rashbam's point--aside from the parallelism between בני and יהודה--is that the first part of the verse has nothing to do with the incident with Yosef, and therefore part 2 should be a more basic expression of Yedhuah's strength and power.

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