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Questions On Parashat Ki Teitze / Tetze

I love asking why the Torah uses what appears to be repetitive or otherwise unusual language, and continue with these questions for Parashat Ki Teitze.

As always, if you have better answers or find problems with my own, please comment to let me know! I’m not embarrassed by the possibility of mistakes, so don’t worry about shaming me by pointing them out!

(Previous posts were on Massei / Masei, Matot / Matos, Balak and Pinchas).

1. Verses 21:15 and 21:16 state, “[15:] If a man will have two wives, the one beloved and the one hated, and they bear him sons, the beloved one and the hated one, and the firstborn son will be [born] to the hated one, [16:] then it shall be on that day that he causes his sons to inherit whatever will be his, he cannot give the right of the firstborn to the son of the beloved one ahead of the son of the hated one, [who is] the firstborn.”*

Q: If the verse has just stated that a man has one beloved wife and one hated wife, and then states that they bear him sons, why repeat “the beloved one and the hated one?” It’s obvious who’s bearing the sons – we just said it!

A: A possible answer is that the repetition serves to emphasize that both wives bear multiple sons. Had the apparent repetition not been there, these other interpretations might have been tenable:

  • They each bear him one son, which in total suffices for the verse to say “they bear him sons,” sons in the plural.
  • One wife bears one son, but one wife bears multiple sons, which allows the verse to say “they bear him sons,” they in the plural. E.g. Each bore at least one son.

*[Artscroll translation, including “[born]”. I added “the” twice in the text of 15 because that corresponds more precisely to the Hebrew text, and marked the additions in italics. I also added “[who is]” based on my understanding of the text; absent that addition, “the firstborn” can be seen as superfluous because we can imply who the verse is talking about.]

2. Verse 15 uses slightly varying spelling and pronunciation to refer to the hated wife the second time she’s mentioned. The Hebrew reads: “כי תהיין לאיש שתי נשים האחת אהובה והאחת שנואה והיה הבן הבכור לשניאה

[Emphasis added.]

Q: Why go from “senuah” to “seniah,” swapping the vav for a yud? What difference does it make? Why use a peculiar form of the Nifal passive tense when it’s clear what is meant in the normal Nifal conjugation? The variation is especially remarkable as the following reference to her reverts back to the ordinary spelling, senuah.

A: Changing the vav to a yud makes the word seniah, which contains the word “sheni,” or the masculine spelling of “second.” Further, if you change the ess sound in seniah for a “sh” sound – because it’s the same consonant – then reading the word we have a homonym for the feminine spelling of “second.”

While this second bit of manipulation seems a bit of a stretch to my Western mentality, we do see similar techniques of interpretation used by our Sages. For example, later in Ki Teitze, Rashi notes that our Sages compared Canaanite slaves to a donkey, based on a verse in Genesis. There, Abraham told his Canaanite slaves to stay “with the donkey,” where the pronunciation of “with” can be changed so the word means “nation.” [The spelling of the word remains identical: “עם החמור” .]

Another example of such is the “keri-ketiv” part of the Oral Law, which tells us to read differently than it is spelled in the Tanach. Daily prayer provides an example, where we read the words, “Don’t read ‘your sons’ but rather ‘your builders'” [“אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך”]

Thoughts, comments? Let me know!

Posted in Judaism.

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