Kavanot: פרשת עקב תשע״ט

Thoughts on Tanach and the Davening

In this week’s parasha, we have (yet again) the mitzva of tefillin:

ושמתם את דברי אלה על לבבכם ועל נפשכם; וקשרתם אתם לאות על ידכם והיו לְטוֹטָפֹת בין עיניכם׃

דברים יא:יח

I want to look at that word, טוֹטָפֹת. What is (or are) a טוֹטָפֹת? The targum is not helpful; it just translates it as תפלין. We know what it is, but what does the word mean?

ותשוון ית פתגמי אלין על לבכון ועל נפשכון ותקטרון יתהון לאת על ידכון ויהון לתפלין בין עיניכון.

תרגום אונקלוס, שם

The King James English translation similarly describes what it is, but it is still unclear what the word comes from:

Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

King James Version Deuteronomy 11:18

A frontlet:

Bridal Frontlet

The word appears 2 other times, but only in the same context:

והיה לאות על ידכה וּלְטוֹטָפֹת בין עיניך; כי בחזק יד הוציאנו ה׳ ממצרים׃

שמות יג:טז

וקשרתם לאות על ידך; והיו לְטֹטָפֹת בין עיניך׃

דברים ו:ח

The hint we have is the parallel pasuk in פרשת בא:

והיה לך לאות על ידך וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה׳ בפיך; כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה׳ ממצרים׃

שמות יג:ט

And that is one translation cited by Rashi (it’s his second. We will bring the first one later):

ולטוטפת: תפילין…ומנחם חברו עם (יחזקאל כא:ב) והטף אל דרום, (מיכה ב:ו) אל תטיפו, לשון דבור, כמו (לעיל פסוק ט) ולזכרון, שהרואה אותם קשורים בין העינים יזכור הנס וידבר בו.

רש״י, שמות יג:טז

בֶּן אָדָם שִׂים פָּנֶיךָ דֶּרֶךְ תֵּימָנָה וְהַטֵּף אֶל דָּרוֹם; וְהִנָּבֵא אֶל יַעַר הַשָּׂדֶה נֶגֶב׃

יחזקאל כא:ב

However, Ibn Ezra really doesn’t like that interpretation:

לטוטפות: אין למלה הזאת ריע במקרא. והמכחישים אמרו, שהוא מגזרת והטף אל דרום (יחזקאל כא:ב). וזה לא יתכן, כי שרש הטף, ”נטף“, וזה חסר נו״ן וכפול הטי״ת.

אבן עזרא, דברים ו:ח

He attributes it to המכחישים, ”the deniers“. He is not claiming Rashi is denying anything; he is talking about the Karaites, who denied the nature of תורה שבעל פה:

Karaite Jews do not wear tefillin in any form. According to Karaites, the Biblical passages cited for this practice are metaphorical, and mean to “remember the Torah always and treasure it”. This is because the commandment in scripture is “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart”… ”And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for forehead ornaments between thine eyes“ (Deuteronomy 6:5,9). Since words cannot be on one’s heart, or bound on one’s hand, the entire passage is understood metaphorically.

Wikipedia, Karaite Judaism

So Rashi, who has no issues with Karaites in his community, has no problem with saying that the פשט of טוטפת is “memorial” even though you might argue that it is metaphoric and means “keep these words in mind”, while the דרש expresses the law by which we make that memorial concrete. Rashbam, in his commentary on the לאות על ידך, makes this explicit:

לאות על ידך: לפי עומק פשוטו: יהיה לך לזכרון תמיד, כאלו כתוב על ידך. כעין (שיר השירים ח:ו) שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל לִבֶּךָ כַּחוֹתָם עַל זְרוֹעֶךָ.

רשב״ם, שמות יג:ט

Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, had a major problem with the Karaites and does not want even a hint of their heresy in his commentary:

In his Torah commentary, Ibn Ezra quotes Karaite commentators extensively, occasionally even detailing his debates with them. While he cites some Karaite interpretations with agreement and respect, such as those of certain eleventh century Jerusalem Karaites (the grammarian, Aharon ben Yeshuah and the communal leader, Yeshua ben Yehudah), his stance vis-à-vis Karaism was principally defiant and discrediting. Apparently he was contesting not merely ancient Karaite views that had gained a foothold in various Middle Eastern Jewish communities over several centuries, but active Karaite contemporaries in his native Spain…

Rabbi Yonatan Kolatch, Masters of the Word, vol.2, p. 280, quoted in Rabbi Gil Student, Ibn Ezra and Karaites

That’s all fine, but Rashi actually brings another interpretation first:

ולטוטפת: תפילין, ועל שם שהם ארבעה בתים קרויין טטפת, טט בכתפי שתים, פת באפריקי שתים….

רש״י, שמות יג:טז

Rashi cites Sanhedrin 4b that the name totafos was chosen because it alludes to four, the number of the head-tefillin's compartments, since the word טט…means two in Katpi and פת…means two in Afriki, two ancient languages.

Artscroll Chumash, loc. cit.

Now that is just weird. Why would the Torah use foreign words for tefillin, and why is 2 and 2 so important (and if so, why not just a Katpi or Afriki word for four?). And is Afriki, “African”? It sounds like it, but there’s no single African language. The original gemara only makes things worse. It discusses the proof that the head-tefillin has four compartments:

והתניא: לְטֹטָפֹת לְטֹטָפֹת וּלְטוֹטָפֹת—הרי כאן ארבע, דברי רבי ישמעאל. רבי עקיבא אומר: אינו צריך. טט בכתפי, שתים, פת באפריקי, שתים.

סנהדרין ד,ב

What is רבי ישמעאל saying? He’s making an analogy from another דרשה:

מב בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת׃ מג לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; אֲנִי ה׳ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם׃

ויקרא פרק כג

מה טעמא דרבי שמעון? (ויקרא כג) ”סכת סכת סכות“ מלא, הרי ארבע.

ירושלמי סוכה ג,א

So if we look at the way the words are written, it has סכת, which could be see as סֻכַּת in the singular, twice, and סֻכּוֹת, which is clearly plural, once, adding up to 4 walls of the sukkah. But this דרש doesn’t work with טוֹטָפֹת since the ו is in the wrong place. It doesn’t indicate a plural:

לטטפת לטטפת לטוטפת - תימה דלא כתיב וי״ו בין פ״א לתי״ו בכולהו…

תוספות, סנהדרין ד,ב

So it’s a very weak דרש. And רבי עקיבא basically says this: אינו צריך, it’s not necessary (necessary for what? It’s either the correct פשט or not). I can derive the four compartments from these obscure languages. What languages are they? The Soncino Talmud just transliterates Katpi and Afriki but the footnotes cite the possibility that they mean “Coptic” and “Phyrgian”. Now that means something!

The latest stage of the Egyptian language…grammatically closely related to Late Egyptian, which was written with Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Asia Minor during Classical Antiquity (c. 8th century BC to 5th century AD). Phrygian is considered by some linguists to have been closely related to Greek and/or Armenian.
Adapted from Wikipedia

So these are actual languages from the descendents of יפת and חם; they are not Semitic languages at all. Why would the Torah use them? The footnotes in the תורת חיים chumash (published by Mossad haRav Kook; I’m not sure who actually wrote the notes) tries to justify this:

אין הפשט שהתורה תדבר בלשון כתפי ובלשון אפריקי, ח״ו לומר כן. אלא טט הוא לשון הקודש, אלא שאין אנו יודעים פרושו, ואמרינן כיון שמצינו בלשון כתפי ואפריקי ש”טט“ הוא שתים ו”פת“ הוא שתים, אמרינן דגם בלשון הקודש הוא כן…כשברא הקב״ה עולמו היה רק לשון הקודש, וכשבלל הקב״ה הלשונות בדור הפלגה בא לשון הקודש גם בשאר הלשונות, אם כן ממילא הוא לשון הקודש הבא בלשון אחר גם כן.

תורת חיים, הערה 57 ל־רש״י, דברים ו:ח

But again, that’s weak. If ה׳ confused all the languages, then there should be no etymological connection between them and Hebrew. However, if you Google ancient Egyptian and Phrygian, you find a very interesting story:

Now before Psammetichus became king of Egypt [7th century BCE], the Egyptians believed that they were the oldest people on earth…Psammetichus, when he was in no way able to learn by inquiry which people had first come into being, devised a plan by which he took two newborn children of the common people and gave them to a shepherd to bring up among his flocks. He gave instructions that no one was to speak a word in their hearing; they were to stay by themselves in a lonely hut, and in due time the shepherd was to bring goats and give the children their milk and do everything else necessary…because he wanted to hear what speech would first come from the children, when they were past the age of indistinct babbling. And he had his wish; for one day, when the shepherd had done as he was told for two years, both children ran to him stretching out their hands and calling “Bekos!” as he opened the door and entered. When he first heard this, he kept quiet about it; but when, coming often and paying careful attention, he kept hearing this same word, he told his master at last and brought the children into the king’s presence as required. Psammetichus then heard them himself, and asked to what language the word “Bekos” belonged; he found it to be a Phrygian word, signifying bread. Reasoning from this, the Egyptians acknowledged that the Phrygians were older than they.

Herodotus, The Histories, 2:2

This is Herodotus, the “father of history”. Every educated person in Tannaic times had read Herodotus. I’m sure רבי עקיבא knew Herodotus, and Herodotus says that Coptic and Phrygian are the most ancient languages.

So I have a hypothesis. רבי עקיבא and רבי ישמעאל faced their own version of Ibn Ezra’s Karaites; there were plenty of Jewish sects that denied the validity of the תורה שבעל פה. They would have claimed that והיו לטוטפת בין עיניכם was metaphoric, and tefillin was a custom made up by the rabbis. And the truth is that every detail of what makes “tefillin” is הלכה ממשה מסיני, the ultimate form of תורה שבעל פה.‎ רבי עקיבא and רבי ישמעאל aren’t claiming that the four chambers are actually derived from the pasuk. They are making an argument against the מכחישים.

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי שָׁקוּד לִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָה, וְדַע מַה שֶּׁתָּשִׁיב לָאַפִּיקוֹרוֹס.

משנה אבות ב:יד

If טוֹטָפֹת means anything like “a thing with four parts” then it isn’t metaphoric. And רבי עקיבא can say, “Even if you don’t accept the way we interpret the Torah, clearly this unique word comes from the most ancient languages in the world, and it meant ‘two plus two’ in ancient Egyptian. לטוטפת בין עיניכם must mean a literal, physical thing.” And even if it’s not a proof, it is at least an argument that can help keep the מכחישים at bay:

המינין שאלו את רבי שמלאי כמה אלוהות בראו את העולם?…חזרו ושאלו אותו מה אהן דכתיב (בראשית א:כו) נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ? אמר להן ”ויבראו אלקים את האדם בצלמם“ אין כתיב כאן אלא ”ויברא אלקים את אדם בצלמו“.

אמרו לו תלמידיו: לאלו דחיתה בקנה; לנו מה אתה משיב? אמר להן: לשעבר אדם נברא מן העפר…מאדם ואילך ”בצלמינו כדמותינו“; אי אפשר לאיש בלא אשה ואי אפשר לאשה בלא איש אי אפשר לשניהן בלא שכינה.

ירושלמי ברכות סב,ב ט:א

We, who live with the תורה שבכתב and the תורה שבעל פה on an everyday basis, know exactly what טוטפת are. Questions of etymology are fun but not central to our faith.