Talmud Tips

For the week ending 20 October 2018 / 11 Heshvan 5779

Menachot 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Mighty Missing Comma

Rabbi Ezra said: “Let the mighty (G-d) take revenge for the mighty (Jewish People) from the mighty (Egyptians) via the mighty (water).”

Who isn’t familiar with the “Song of the Sea” — Shirat Hayam — that is part of our daily prayers? These verses from the Book of Exodus recount the praises that the Jewish People sang upon being saved by G-d from the Egyptians who were chasing them and were drowned in the aftermath of the parting of the Red Sea.

On our daf, Rabbi Ezra, as a guest of Rabbi Preida, composed a catchy and clever poem based on a number of verses in the Torah: “Yavo Adir vayifra l’adirim m’adirim b’adirim” —“Let the mighty (G-d) take revenge for the mighty (Jewish People) from the mighty (Egyptians) via the mighty (water).” Rashi explains that this statement refers to what G-d said when He exacted revenge against the Egyptians by drowning them in the Red Sea.

Rabbi Ezra teaches what appears to be a novel interpretation of a well-known verse in Shirat Hayam (Shemot 5:10): “You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mayim adirim.” Although mayim adirim is often translated in Chumashim as “mighty water,” Rabbi Ezra explains that that the verse should be interpreted as if there is a comma between these two words, since mayim refers to the water, whereas adirim refers to the mighty Egyptians who drowned in the water of the sea.

In fact, the Mishna Berura (51:17) writes in the name of the Pri Megadim that one should pause between the words mayim and adirim since the word adirim refers to the Egyptians and is not a modifier of the word mayim. This is consistent with the teaching of Rabbi Ezra in our sugya. The te’amim (cantillation notes) for this verse seem to support this interpretation since the note preceding the word adirim indicates a pause to indicate that the word adirim is not an adjective for the word mayim in the verse, but rather is a new and independent word — i.e., the might Egyptians who drowned in the might water of the Red Sea.

The Mishna Berura adds that one should say Shirat Hayam with happiness, and conjure an image in his mind to see himself as if he had crossed the Red Sea today.

Rabbi Ezra taught additional clever teachings in a poetic manner regarding essential connections between G-d and the Jewish People, such as Shlomo Hamelech building the Beit Hamikdash, and Moshe Rabbeinu’s role in teaching us the Torah after G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai.

One teaching is, “Yavo yadid ben yadid v’yivneh yadid l’Yadid b’chelko shel yadid v’yitkapru bo yedidim.” This phrase expresses G-d’s command to: “Let Shlomo Hamelech, the descendant of Avraham Avinu, build the Beit Hamikdash, for G-d, in the portion of Binyamin, to atone for the Jewish People.” Appropriate verses in Tanach are cited to support this teaching.

Another teaching is, “Yavo tov v’yekabel tov m’Tov l’tovim.” Here God is saying: “Moshe Rabbeinu should come and receive the Torah from G-d for the Jewish People.” Again, appropriate verses are cited. For example, the verse referring to the Torah being “tov/good” is in Mishlei (4:2): “For I gave you good teaching (i.e., the Torah)….” And the verse teaching that Tov/Good also refers to G-d is in Tehillim (145:9): “G-d is good to all, and His mercy is on all His works.”

  • Menachot 53 a-b

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