Friday, February 20, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–T’rumah 5775–Dis Legomenon Driving Me Crazy, Mon!

Of all the things to get fixated upon when reading through the haftarah for parashat T’rumah:

הַיָּצִועַ [הַיָּצִיעַ] הַתַּחְתֹּנָה חָמֵשׁ בָּֽאַמָּה רָחְבָּהּ וְהַתִּֽיכֹנָה שֵׁשׁ בָּֽאַמָּה רָחְבָּהּ וְהַשְּׁלִישִׁית שֶׁבַע בָּֽאַמָּה רָחְבָּהּ כִּי מִגְרָעוֹת נָתַן לַבַּיִת סָבִיב חוּצָה לְבִלְתִּי אֲחֹז בְּקִירוֹת הַבָּֽיִת:

I started with the NJPS translation

The lowest story [of the annex] was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the top one was seven cubits wide; on the outside of the Temple, all around, he had provided recesses, so that [the beams] did not have a hold on the outside walls of the Temple [in order to have support.]

First off, that’s an awful lot of ‘splaining add in to that there translation. However, that’s not what had me stuck. A plain reading of the text led me to picture that the annexes on either side of the main Temple structure got wider going up. I thought “wait a minute.” Why would each successive story of a three story side building be wider than the story below it? How, exactly, would this apparently cantilevered structure work? Especially since the support structure was not tied in to the main walls of the Temple itself. To work, a cantilever must provide adequate balancing force. Of course, engineering-wise, I am probably over-thinking that. A structure in which the floor of the next story projects out from the preceding floor by only a cubit (approx 17.5 inches) of overhang might work just fine, depending upon the load and the design.

Then I thought to myself, yet again “now wait a minute.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drawing or representation of Solomon’s Temple that showed the side annexes as overhanging each other, each floor being wider than the one below it. Sure enough, a search online and through various books yields representations in which either the three stories of the annex are the same width, or they get progressively narrower going up. There weren’t many sectional, side-elevation, or cutaway depictions, but those I found were widely inconsistent. Some of them seemed to explain my apparent question. One depicted annexes that were all the same width measure to the outside wall, but the interior dimensions on each floor grew progressively wider (and the walls themselves narrower.)  There’s a certain logic to that – making the upper stories lighter than the supporting ones.

I also started looking through dozens of translations. It’s all in how you translate/interpret the ancient Hebrew. Hebrew that likely was not written by architects or engineers, and so might lack a certain specificity and level of detail. Some translations used language like “the width of the chambers” rather than “width of the walls” or “width of the stories.” That is to say, it was describing the interior width of the rooms on the stories, and not the overall external width.

Given all the other explanatory bracketed text in the NJPS translation, why would they not clear up any possible confusion by adding something like “The  [internal dimensions] of the lowest story [of the annex]…” After all, they added “[of the annex]” to make clear that which the text did not – that the dimensions given here related to the side annexes and not the Temple building itself.

Then I thought, yet again “now wait a minute.” The first word of 6:6, hayatziyah, means (possibly)“extension,” i.e. what is being called the “annex.” So why did the NJPS committee put in “[of the annex]” in brackets like that, when the Hebrew says that?  Well, it’s not that simple, because we have a ketiv/koreh situation here,

הַיָּצִועַ [הַיָּצִיעַ] הַתַּחְתֹּנָה חָמֵשׁ

 as the consensus seems to be that the word written in the text has an vav in place of the second yod, probably a scribal error.With the vav, it appears to be a form of a word meaning “couch,” “bed,” and most often “chamber” in poetical Hebrew, though the vowel pointing would be different – it would be hayatzua.) That would be a whole different perspective:

The lowest story of the couch was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the top one was seven cubits wide…

Obviously, that makes no sense. Thus we read the word as “hayatziyah,” “the extension” Which leads me to question yet again why the NJPS translation committee put “of the annex” in brackets since it’s clearly there in the text, and there’s little dispute there’s a typo!

Or is there? If we read it as hayatzua, then the translation could be:

The lowest story of the chamber was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the top one was seven cubits wide…

or alternatively

The chamber’s lowest story was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the top one was seven cubits wide…

That starts to sound more like interior dimensioning to me. It means, however, going against the scholarly consensus.

All of this is further complicated by the fact that, just a few verses later, in verse ten, the same “typo” occurs, and again the consensus is that it is a misspelling of the word “hayatziyah” and not an improperly vowelized “hayatzuah.” So this mystery word is not a hapax legomenon, a word that appears only once, but a dis legomenon, a word that appears only twice. Forms of the word yatzuah appear 11 times in Tanakh. That would seem to undermine the case for these two occurrences not being incorrect spellings of yatzuah. On the other hand, the fact that this dis legomenon appears its two times only 4 verses apart might lend credence to its being a unique word of its own,  Then the Septuagint comes along with yet another theory, reading the word as “hatzela,” (requiring the vav to be read as a lamed instead, a bit more of a stretch, meaning “side-chamber” as evidenced by its choice of word in the Greek.

Strong’s Hebrew lists

 יָצוּעַ and יָצִיעַ

together, and links them to the verb root


meaning to spread out (as a bed sheet.) That root, however, appears only four times. Pretty thin ice.

So we have a word, appearing just twice, and only a few verses apart , with an uncertain meaning in the Hebrew. Contextually, and logically, it seem easy to make sense of it: Solomon’s Temple had three-story side buildings whose support structures did not extend into the actual Temple walls, and the internal corridors or rooms in side side buildings got progressively slightly wider from the bottom to the top story.

The apologists for the inexactitude in this brief haftarah say that the writers and redactors of the Tanakh were not concerned with exacting architectural details (say what??!!??) Yet the descriptions in our parasha for the construction of the parts of the mishkan are rather specific. Something doesn’t add up here. It does add up, if you believe, as I do, that G”d was happy to have us build a portable mishkan, but wasn’t really so excited to have us have a King and a fixed, permanent Temple. As affixed as Judaism has become, over time, to the Temple in both its iterations, and to the land where it stood (and I do not question the centrality of eretz Yisrael and even Yerushalayim to Judaism,) I do wonder if G”d really wanted us to build a Temple in a fixed place – especially considering that we lost it, twice. Would G”d give us two Temples only to allow them to be destroyed?

Is there, possibly, a deeper understanding that we were never meant to be that fixated, that permanent, that perhaps we were meant to always have a mishkan that was portable? If we had kept the mishkan model, and not built the Temples, we would not be now still mourning their loss. The rabbis would not have had to re-invent Judaism, and the sort of Judaism that we have now, in which our mishkan can be anywhere in the world we want it to, in multiple iterations simultaneously, would be accepted as normative. I love Israel, and want to see her safe and protected, and live in peace. Nevertheless, there is a part of me that wishes that G”d had never permitted us to build the first and second Temples,and allowed us a faith that was always portable and always would be.

But I digress. A fair digression to be sure, but it doesn’t help me with the dilemma at hand. Or does it? Is the inexactitude exactly what I suspect it could be – that G”d could care less about the details of Solomon’s Temple, because never really wanted it to be built anyway. It was a concession – just like letting us have a King. Remember that old “parenting curve” I always talk about, especially in reference to Torah? Well, maybe G”d relenting and letting us have a King and then a fixed place of worship was more bad parenting – a parent trying to deal with an obstinate teen and just throwing up his hands? Then with our continual bad behavior, it’s no wonder that G”d did nothing to keep the Temple from being destroyed-twice.

Hey, here’s an idea. An alternate history of the Jewish people, in which we never get a King and we never get a fixed temple for worship. I wonder what that would have been like, and where it would have left us today?

Ugh, I must stop digressing. The real question remains “why did I get so hung up on this one little thing?” In the whole scheme of things, it seems to relatively unimportant. Yet, for something so unimportant, thousands of words have been written, images and drawing and models created, showing how Solomon’s Temple might have looked. Looking them over, not one of them is exactly the same. By the same token, not one of them shows side buildings that are wider at the top than the bottom. I guess everyone assumed that would just be too weird. Tough I am surprised that, in the many drawings, no one has attempted to portray this possible understanding of the text. What do you do when you’re a literal fundamentalist, and the words are inexact? (I often wonder, with so many different translations of Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and even the Quran around, how can one even consider oneself a biblical literalist or fundamentalist, when all these varied translations differ? Which literal understanding do you follow? Methinks the literalists are as guilty as anyone of liberal interpretation!)

Stopping to chew on this one twice-appearing word has certainly provided me with lots of fodder for thought, discussion, and exploration. This, as always, is the true joy of Torah. In this new month of Adar, in which turning things upside down is celebrated, it’s just as good a time to turn and turn the Torah – every which way but loose.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2015 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

T'rumah 5774 - Dollhouse
T'rumah 5773 - Virtual Reality, Real Virtuality, or Really Virtual?
T'rumah 5772-When Wool and Linen Together Are Not Shatnez
T'rumah 5771 - TorahLeaks
T'rumah 5770 - Finessing Idolatry, or Outgrowing It?
T'rumah 5769 - Planning for Always
T'rumah 5767-You Gotta Wanna - The Sequel
T'rumah 5766-No Tools Allowed
T'rumah 5765-Ish Al Akhiv
T'rumah 5764-Redux 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5763-Semper Paratus
T'rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T'rumah 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna

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