Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

For discussion of post-biblical Hebrew texts and/or comparison to biblical Hebrew structure and lexis.
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Jason Hare
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Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Jason Hare »

Pirkei Avot 1:1
משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי
  וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ
  וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים
  וּזְקֵנִים לִנְבִיאִים
  וּנְבִיאִים מְסָר֫וּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶ֫סֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה
    הֵן אָֽמְרוּ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים
      הֱווּ מְתוּנִים בַּדִּין
      וְהַעֲמִ֫ידוּ תַלְמִידִים הַרְבֶּה
      וַעֲשׂוּ סְיָג לַתּוֹרָה׃
This is the first verse of Pirkei Avot from the Mishnah (seder Nezikin). It’s been broken up into phrases and vocalized. Unpointed and unbroken, it is the following:
משה קיבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושוע ויהושוע לזקנים וזקנים לנביאים ונביאים מסרוה לאנשי כנסת הגדולה והן אמרו שלושה דברים היו מתונים בדין והעמידו תלמידים הרבה ועשו סייג לתורה
1. Read through the passage quickly. Is this a passage that you have heard before? Are there any words that are unfamiliar to you? Do you notice anything strange about the forms or the grammar in distinction to what you already know about biblical Hebrew? Is there anything that seems odd? Can you come up with an explanation for the differences?

2. Try to look up the unfamiliar words in a dictionary like Jastrow’s A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (public domain on Safaria). Leave any questions here on the forum if you cannot figure out the word’s meaning or if it seems to be used in an unfamiliar way.

3. Are you able to read through the phrases several times and begin to pronounce them smoothly as phrases? Is there any chance that you could commit parts of the verse (or even the whole verse) to memory as you read it aloud?

4. Read through the unpointed verse of the verse, making sure that you are able to pronounce the words within their phrases. Does the passage make better sense to you now? Can you begin to think of what meaning is contained in the passage? For example, when it says that Moses received Torah from Sinai, what does “Sinai” mean here? Does it take on more meaning that just the name of the mountain? What were the messages that the men of the Great Assembly (Kneset HaGdolah) gave? What do you think it was important for the rabbis to begin this easily memorable portion of the Mishnah with this verse?

This could be interesting if anyone wants to join in.
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Glenn Dean
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Glenn Dean »

One thing I noticed was the lack of definite articles?
Another is the tranmission from group-2-group is distinctly different from that in Deut 31:9
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

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Glenn Dean wrote: Wed Apr 12, 2023 11:49 am Another is the tranmission from group-2-group is distinctly different from that in Deut 31:9
וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב מֹשֶׁה֮ אֶת־הַתֹּורָ֣ה הַזֹּאת֒ וַֽיִּתְּנָ֗הּ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ בְּנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הַנֹּ֣שְׂאִ֔ים אֶת־אֲרֹ֖ון בְּרִ֣ית יַהְוֶ֑ה וְאֶל־כָּל־זִקְנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
And Moses wrote this law/Torah and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bear the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and to all the elders of Israel.

This says that Moses gave a written copy of the Torah to the cohanim and the elders of Israel. The claim of Pirkei Avot is that Moses passed on the oral Torah, the authority to interpret the Torah, to Joshua—since Joshua was the one who took over for him as leader of the people. Do you think there could be a distinction between the words לָתֵת “to give” (qal of נת״ן) and לִמְסוֹר “to pass on” (qal of מס״ר)? He gave a copy of the Torah to those mentioned, but he passed on the tradition of Torah (notice that מָסֹ֫רֶת “tradition” comes from this root) to Joshua.
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Jason Hare »

Glenn Dean wrote: Wed Apr 12, 2023 11:49 amOne thing I noticed was the lack of definite articles?
That’s definitely a feature. Also, attached pronouns instead of overt direct objects is more common in rabbinic Hebrew. So, we see מְסָרָהּ “he passed it on” instead of מָסַר אֹתָהּ and מְסָר֫וּהָ “they passed it on” instead of מָֽסְרוּ אֹתָהּ (of course, the “it” in both cases is feminine because the object be referred to is the Torah). We also find this in the Bible, but it is far more common in rabbinic Hebrew than in biblical Hebrew.
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

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משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי || Moses received Torah from Sinai.

The Torah itself tells us that Moses went up on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) and received the Torah from Yahweh fifty days after the Israelites left Egypt at the Exodus. This is celebrated in the holiday Shavuot (חַג שָׁבוּעוֹת “The Feast of Weeks”) in the Jewish calendrical cycle.

Where did קִבֵּל come from? We see this verb very sparsely in the Tanach. For example:
Job 2:10b
גַּ֣ם אֶת־הַטֹּ֗וב נְקַבֵּל֙ מֵאֵ֣ת הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים וְאֶת־הָרָ֖ע לֹ֣א נְקַבֵּ֑ל
Shall we receive the good from God and not receive the bad?
HALOT, referencing Wagner 251, says that it is “an Old [Hebrew] verb, which was replaced by לקח, but under [Aramaic] influence was later revived.” This would explain why we see it in Job, perhaps the oldest text in the Hebrew Bible. The normal word that we find meaning both “take” and “receive” is לָקַח, as HALOT mentioned. Having seen a revival of usage after the Babylonian period (under the influence of Aramaic), the distinction between “take” (לָקַח) and “receive” (קִבֵּל) has been maintained in Hebrew until today. I often wonder what more ancient forms are preserved in the rabbinic period that had falled out of use during the time of the Bible’s composition. I also wonder how this might affect our views on when the Bible was composed.

Interesting, it doesn’t say that Moses received the Torah on Sinai, but that he received it from Sinai. Does this have any significance in your mind, or is it insignificant? Also, what Torah is being referred to here? Does it mean the written Torah (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב), the oral Torah (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל־פֶּה), or both?
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

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From the commentary included in Albeck’s edition of the Mishnah:
קבל תורה מסיני — קיבל התורה שבכתב ושבעל פה מאת השם בהר סיני. || לזקנים — שהאריכו ימים אחרי יהושע (יהושע כ׳ד, לא ושופטים ב׳, ז). || לנביאים — משמואל עד מלאכי. || לאנשי כנסת הגדולה — כנסיה של זקנים שנתייסדה בתחילת ימי הבית השני. || הם — אנשי כנסת הגדולה. || הוו מתונים בדין — שלא תגמרוהו עד שתעיינו בו יפה. || סיג — גדר והרחקה. שלא יבואו לידי איסור תורה (עי׳ מכילתא בא ו׳ וספרי דברים, ט׳ז).
In the first comment, he mentions specifically that, in his opinion, the “Torah” that Moses received at Sinai was both the written and the oral. His commentary basically says:
Received Torah from Sinai — He received the Written and Oral Torah from HaShem on Mount Sinai. || To the Elders — Who lived long lives after Joshua (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7). || To the Prophets — From Samuel to Malachi. || To the men of the Great Assembly — An assembly of elders that was founded at the beginning of the Second Temple Period. || They — The men of the Great Assembly. || Be deliberate in judgement — That you not complete it until you examine it well. || A fence — a boundary and distancing. That they not come close to a prohibition of Torah (see Mechilta Bo 6 and Sifrei Dvarim 16).
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Glenn Dean
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Glenn Dean »

Jason Hare wrote: Thu Apr 13, 2023 4:42 pm
Glenn Dean wrote: Wed Apr 12, 2023 11:49 am Another is the tranmission from group-2-group is distinctly different from that in Deut 31:9
וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב מֹשֶׁה֮ אֶת־הַתֹּורָ֣ה הַזֹּאת֒ וַֽיִּתְּנָ֗הּ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ בְּנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הַנֹּ֣שְׂאִ֔ים אֶת־אֲרֹ֖ון בְּרִ֣ית יַהְוֶ֑ה וְאֶל־כָּל־זִקְנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
And Moses wrote this law/Torah and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bear the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and to all the elders of Israel.

This says that Moses gave a written copy of the Torah to the cohanim and the elders of Israel. The claim of Pirkei Avot is that Moses passed on the oral Torah, the authority to interpret the Torah, to Joshua—since Joshua was the one who took over for him as leader of the people. Do you think there could be a distinction between the words לָתֵת “to give” (qal of נת״ן) and לִמְסוֹר “to pass on” (qal of מס״ר)? He gave a copy of the Torah to those mentioned, but he passed on the tradition of Torah (notice that מָסֹ֫רֶת “tradition” comes from this root) to Joshua.
I was looking at 1 Sam 16:14, which has סרה:

וְר֧וּחַ יְהוָ֛ה סָ֖רָה מֵעִ֣ם שָׁא֑וּל וּבִֽעֲתַ֥תּוּ רֽוּחַ־רָעָ֖ה מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃

so סרה seems to have a "niphal sense" of departing (versus "to give,to receive")

This is not my thoughts, but he said the reason why priests are NOT mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:1 is because the temple had been destroyed prior to the time of writing, and since priests mostly served in the temple, it wouldn't make "sense" that the Torah would be handed down to them
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

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Glenn Dean wrote: Thu Apr 13, 2023 10:53 pm I was looking at 1 Sam 16:14, which has סרה:

וְר֧וּחַ יְהוָ֛ה סָ֖רָה מֵעִ֣ם שָׁא֑וּל וּבִֽעֲתַ֥תּוּ רֽוּחַ־רָעָ֖ה מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃

so סרה seems to have a "niphal sense" of departing (versus "to give,to receive")

This is not my thoughts, but he said the reason why priests are NOT mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:1 is because the temple had been destroyed prior to the time of writing, and since priests mostly served in the temple, it wouldn't make "sense" that the Torah would be handed down to them
I don’t see the connection between מס״ר “pass on” and סו״ר “turn aside.” These are not the same root.

I could certainly consider that the priesthood was intentionally removed from the progression (especially given its connection with the Sadducees in the Second Temple), but who is the “he” you’re referring to from whom you received this idea?
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Glenn Dean
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Glenn Dean »

Jason Hare wrote: Thu Apr 13, 2023 11:12 pm I don’t see the connection between מס״ר “pass on” and סו״ר “turn aside.” These are not the same root.
oops - I saw the mem and thought "participle of סרה" - thanxs for pointing that it's a different root!
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Re: Pirkei Avot - For Reading and Discussion

Post by Glenn Dean »

Jason Hare wrote: Thu Apr 13, 2023 5:08 pm Interesting, it doesn’t say that Moses received the Torah on Sinai, but that he received it from Sinai. Does this have any significance in your mind, or is it insignificant?
the first thing that came to mind was "is it possible the thinking was that the mountain was thought of as God?? In the same way the "burning bush" was God - so it was the Mountain that gave the commandments to Moses????
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