Sedra: Bechukotai - Livre d'Or

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Sedra: Bechukotai
Friday, 30 May 2003 at 11:43 pm
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Disclaimer: This is a fairly technical post. I'm working on the assumption that if you don't understand the terms, you're not likely to be interested in the content. I have a vague project to put a glossary or similar on my website, something along the lines of this absolutely gorgeous definitions set, which may in fact help to some extent with this post, as well as being extremely amusing.

English Bible reference: Leviticus 25:3-46

Last week I went over the river for shabbat lunch with RB and his housemates. And studied the parshe with RB. So I was using his texts; in this particular case, an ArtScroll single volume edition of Leviticus with the text, what passes for a translation chez ArtScroll [no, this is a post about Bechukotai, not a rant about ArtScroll...] and Rashi with a sort of funny gloss plus a very little bit of modern collated commentary à la Hertz.

Bechukotai is one of those sedrot that get skipped over most years because they are tacked on to other more interesting things. (I had a lot of fun with Acharei Mot a few weeks ago, which normally gets completely overshadowed by Kedoshim.) The bit we looked at is one of those odd passages where God promises all kinds of wonderful things that will happen if you obey and threatens reciprocally terrible things if you don't. (There's also stuff about vows but we didn't properly get that far.)

This is of course theologically problematic, this simplistic reward-and-punishment stuff. And this version of it not quite your typical Deuteronomy stuff which you can relate to as a mimic of the standard legal formula for treaties between vassals and kings in the surrounding culture. It seems somehow more personal, though obviously it is couched in national rather than individual terms.

I'm going to be a stereotypical Jew and ignore all that theological business in favour of detailed textual analysis though. There's a phrase which keeps coming up (with slight variations), "If you walk with me [k-r-y]"... This is clearly a linguistic problem; Rashi has several paragraphs on it. The translations RB and I were both using gave this as 'casually': if you treat me [God] casually, then I'll punish you. This is partly justified by the Rashi, but then so are about 6 other alternatives; Rashi was very obviously in some doubt about this word.

The problem with this is that one point (v 27-28), God says, "if you walk with me with [k-r-y], then I will walk with you in a fury of [k-r-y]". So Artscroll renders this as 'a fury of casualness'. Lovely phrase! The only image I could think of was, if you are having an argument with someone, and instead of insulting at you, yelling at you, etc, they say, really sneeringly, 'whatever', as if your opposition wasn't even worth registering.

To be honest, I personally would have reconsidered my translation of [k-r-y] in the light of this. I'm not obsessive about translating the same source language word with the same target word all the time (in fact, I tend to regard this as a bad approach), but clearly in this particular verse you need to use the same word for both, otherwise you completely lose the point. 'A fury of casualness' just doesn't make sense. Eventually I got home and looked it up in my trusty Fox translation1, and he renders "[if you] walk with me with opposition, I will walk with you in the heat of opposition". Sounds a lot more sensible to me.

Since it is traditional not to end an exposition on a negative note, I will point out that after all the threats, the passage ends with redemption even of those who have gone through all the increasing depths of sin and ignored all the warnings and suffered the ultimate punishment: "I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and my covenant with Abraham... for I am the Eternal their God".

1] At some point I shall post something about this amazing translation and why it is so much better than any other. But not just now.

And yes, I should be preparing this week's sedra rather than blogging last week's. Or at least sleeping so that I can do so sensibly before shul tomorrow morning!

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