• yehoshua steinberg

Ki Teitzei: Get Connected ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

Updated: Aug 27, 2020


Parashat Shoftim article abstract:

This week’s Torah portion prohibits the taking of a widow’s clothing as security, using the expression לא תחבול, deriving from the root חבל. Since there are four other words in Classical Hebrew which generally denote collateral, we explore the especial meaning of this particular term. In this connection, we explore a possible link between the gamut of words sharing the two letters חב.


לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר יָתוֹם וְלֹא תַחֲבֹל בֶּגֶד אַלְמָנָה (דברים כד:יז).

… And do not take [as collateral] a widow’s clothing (Deut. 24:17).

Onkelus renders the phrase "do not take as collateral" (לֹא תַחֲבֹל) used here as “do not take a משכונא.”[1]

Leshon kodesh has a number of words related to debts, loans and sureties. Before we parse the word חבל for its components and discuss the biliteral root from which it is derived, we will first explain - in broader terms – the various words related to the sorts of financial transactions in question. All of these words depict the strong bond between borrower / debtor / deposit and lender / owner, to ensure that the debt be repaid and the collateral returned to its true owner, as will be explained:

  1. HVL חבל (collateral, act of taking collateral) – Collateral is called חבל (which also means rope) to underscore the bond between the object and its owner. As RSRH explains on the verse: If you take away [חָבֹל תַּחְבֹּל] your fellow man’s clothing for security, return it to him before sunset (Ex. 22:25); RSRH - "The verse calls collateral חבל, deriving from the same root as the word for ‘rope’. The connection between these two meanings requires explanation. Perhaps collateral is so called because it remains ‘bound’ to the lender, with the borrower enjoined from selling it, thereby causing a loss for the lender."[2]

  2. ARV ערבון (security deposit) - An item which guarantees the connection between the creditor and debtor (similar to the terms ערובין and עירוב פרשיות (mixture / interconnection; see below, paragraph #4), as in: Gen. 38:17 - …’I will send you a goat from the flock,’ and she replied, ‘only if you will give me security [עֵרָבוֹן] until you send it.’[3]

  3. LVA לווה / מלווה (borrower / lender) – Giving money on condition that it be returned is called a הלוואה (loan): Ex. 22:24 - when you lend [תַּלְוֶה] money to My nation.[4] The לווה, borrower, is bound to the מלווה, lender, as RSRH (Gen. 29:34) explains the meaning of the name Levi: "My husband will join [יִלָּוֶה] me. Indeed, the words לווה, loan, and הלווה, to lend, express the strong connection between these two people, when each one sees himself as a borrower and indebted to the other person.”[5] King Solomon, the wisest of all men, compares the relationship of the borrower and lender to that of a slave and his master: Prov. 22:7 - The borrower [לֹוֶה] is a slave to the man who lent him [מַלְוֶה].

  4. SHKN משכון (Aramaic for collateral) – This term is an Aramaic word for collateral. It derives from the Hebrew word root שכן, neighbor, because the lender and the borrower are connected, as though they were neighbors: YS (1:109b) - “Collateral is calledמשכון because it dwells, שוכן, in the lender’s home. This is also the reason the collateral is called ערבון, because of עירוב הרשויות, the mixing of domains, because it is interconnected with the lender’s domain…”[6] Similarly, the Talmud states: Baba Metzia 68a - “What is משכנתא? Because it [i.e. the money] שכוּנה גביה, dwells in (the lender’s) domain”; Rashi - “There is no closer neighbor than that.”[7]

  5. AVT עבוט (surety) - Deut. 15:6 - you will lend [והַעֲבַטְתָּ] to many nations, and you will not borrow [לֹא תַעֲבֹט]; RSRH - “עבט is similar to עבת,[8] [a thick rope]. The association is similar to חבל, rope, and חבול, one who is tied [mentioned above].”[9]

In view of all these words which denote a connection or bond between the borrower and lender, we suggest that the word חוב, debt, is also related to the bond between the borrower and lender. Targumna[10] notes that in the Talmud, the wordחובין refers to the small, round loops that weavers attached to the sides of a garment, לחיבור, to connect, and to stretch the cloth, while combing it. Baba Kama 109a-b - “Don’t put in more than three חובין , strings”; Rashi - “It is the way of combers to connect, by needle, loops made from material along the length of the cloth, to use for stretching the cloth when combing it.”[11]

Similarly, we find the verb קשר, knot, rendered with the Aramaic term חביב. For example: I Sam. 18:1 - Jonathan’s soul was bound [נִקְשְׁרָה] with David’s soul.[12] Targum Yonatan renders the word נִקְשְׁרָה as אִתְחַבִּיבַת. [13]

Avnei Shayish (entryחב ) further suggests that other words containing the two-letter string חב are associated with the concept of חיבור, connection. Let’s examine the words on his list more closely to see how his theory pans out:

  1. חוב (debt) - Ezek. 18:7 - He doesn’t afflict any man; and he returns the collateral of a debt [חֲבֹלָתוֹ חוֹב].[14] As we explained earlier, a debt connects the lender to the borrower. However, according to Maharal[15] and YS,[16] חוב is associated with חביון and סתר, concealment, because the money is concealed from its true owner until it is paid back. Likewise, repayment is called פרעון, deriving from פרע, meaning uncovering, revealing, because upon repayment, the true owner of the money is once again revealed.

  2. חבה / חבא (hidden) -The roots חבא and חבה both mean hidden / closed / concealed, as in: Gen. 3:8-27 - Adam and his wife hid [וַיִּתְחַבֵּא]... Why did you hide [נַחְבֵּאתָ] to escape?[17] I Kgs. 22:25 - a room within a room to hide [לְהֵחָבֵה].[18] Isa. 26:20 - Hide [חֲבִי] for a short moment.[19] Jer. 49:10 - He is unable to hide [וְנֶחְבָּה].[20] Job 31:33 - to conceal my sins in my hiding place [בְּחֻבִּי].[21]

This root actually dovetails quite nicely with our theory because we find elsewhere that the words סתר / סגר, concealed / closed are also used for צרירה / קשירה, binding / tying. For example: Hos. 13:12 - Ephraim’s sins are bound [צָרוּר], his iniquities are concealed [צְפוּנָה]; Metz. Zion - “צרור is tied, as in: צרור כספו, a bundle of money (Gen. 42:35). צפונה means hidden, as in יצפון לצדיק (Prov. 13:22).”[22] Job 14:17 - My sins are sealed in a knot [חָתֻם בִּצְרוֹר]; Metz. Zion - “חתום means סגירה, closed off. בצרור, in a knot, as in: a bundle of money (Gen. 42:35).”[23] Isa. 8:16 - Bind up [צוֹר] the testimony, seal the instruction among My disciples; Metz. Zion - “צור is to tie, as in: Who has bound [צרר] the waters in His garment (Prov. 30:4).”[24] When one wants to conceal an object or any matter, he will tie it up well. This is also the translation of חבא, to conceal and to tie. Tying is obviously a way forging a tight connection, so these roots are also related to connection / binding.

  1. חבב (endearment) – This root connotes a connection of love: Deut. 33:3- You also loved [חֹבֵב] the nations. [25]Some explain that חובב has a dual interpretation: love[26] and also obligation, because true love finds expression in mutual responsibilities: Mei HaShiloach (Year 5620) - “חֹבֵב is חיבה, love, and also חוב, obligation. Like a father who forces his son to learn Torah. In the son’s eyes, this is a burden.”[27] RSRH (to Deut. 33:3) - “חֹבֵב is present tense of חוב… חובב is a transitive verb[28] meaning to obligate, or to bring about the fulfillment of the obligation.”[29] Ramban translates חבב as להחביא, to conceal:[30] Ramban (there) - “It seems to me that חובב comes from the verse, to conceal my sins in my secret place [בְּחֻבִּי] (Job 31:33). And as in: a room within a room to hide [לְהֵחָבֵא] (I Chron. 18:24). And: there is His concealed [חֶבְיוֹן] strength (Hab. 3:4)... The entire nation is holy, and Hashem hides them with His hand. This is similar to, I put My words in your mouth and by the shadow of My hand I cover you (Isa. 51:16).”[31] All of these commentaries ofחיבה seem to be associated with קשירה, to tie, because when a person loves an object or someone, he wishes to cover and protect it from all harm. So again we have a חב word related to tying / connecting.

  2. חבל (a rope) - Avnei Shayish (ibid.) writes: "A rope is used for tying. Also, חבל in reference to collateral, as in חָבֹל תַּחְבֹּל (Ex. 22:25), which indicates connection” (i.e. the lender attaching the borrower's possession to the loan as a security, as we explained above).[32]

  3. חבק (hug, embrace) - Avnei Shayish (ibid.) writes: "This means clinging and being connected, as in: a time to embrace [לַחֲבוֹק] (Ecc. 3:5), hugged [וּתְחַבֵּק] a gentile bosom (Prov. 5:20), a little clasping [חִבֻּק] of the hands to sleep (Prov. 6:10)." All of these words express the idea of connection in one way or another[33].

  4. חבר (multiple meanings relating to connection) - This word expresses various types of binding / connecting / gathering / friendship. Avnei Shayish (ibid.): “Also, the word חבורה, a wound, refers to a gathering or pooling of blood in one place due an injury, as in: a wound [חַבּוּרָה] for a wound (Ex. 21:25).”[34]

  5. חבש (bandaging, binding, fastening) - Avnei Shayish adduces Scriptural passages which use this root in the sense of bandaging: you didn’t bandage [חֲבַשְׁתֶּם] the broken (Ezek. 34:4),[35] and: the day that Hashem will bandage [חֲבֹשׁ] the injured of His nation (Isa. 30:26).[36] חבש also means enclosing, and by extension, governments, which have the ability to confine and incarcerate: I cannot be the ruler [חֹבֵשׁ] (Isa. 3:7),[37] Is the enemy of justice ruling [יַחֲבוֹשׁ]? (Job 34:17).[38] And in Talmud it is used in a similar way: the imprisoned [חבוש] can’t free himself from jail (Brachot 5b).[39] The verb חבש has similar, related usages, such as: he saddled [ויַּחֲבֹשׁ] his donkey (Gen. 22:3).[40]

  6. חבץ(multiple meanings) - In the Talmudic vernacular, this word refers to the gathering, congealing, and the consolidation, of components, as occurs in cheese-making. Rashi (Shabbat 95a) offers two definitions of מחבץ: In his first explanation Rashi explains that this refers toputting milk in a cow’s stomach (where it coagulates). In his second explanation, he writes, "I think that מחבץ is when one takes a rubber utensil and places the coagulated cheese inside. The extra whey then drips off."[41] Rashi’s two explanations are essentially two stages in cheese-making. According to both interpretations, the concept of חיבוץ is to place the unfinished, milky product into a container of some sort until it consolidates and solidifies. Similarly, Rashi (Brachot 36b) describes a food called חביץ, which is also formed by adding liquids such as oil and honey to flour.[42]

  7. חבת (frying pan) - Avnei Shayish explains that the מחבת is a vessel used to fry and to join bits of flour together through frying. The meal offerings in the Temple were consolidated by frying in oil in the מחבת.[43] Thus, there is a similarity between the חביתין, meal offering, which was solidified by adding oil, to the food called חביץ, mentioned above, which was kneaded with oil and honey. The difference lies in the fact that while the former is fried in oil, the oil being external to the mixture, the latter is formed by kneading the oil directly into the mixture.

This concludes Avnei Shayish's proposed list of words tied to the biliteral חב root. We humbly suggest adding to this list aadditional terms, such as:

  1. חבצלת (rose) - Song 2:1 - I am the rose [חֲבַצֶּלֶת] of Sharon, the rose from the valley.[44] חבצלת comes from the two words חביון, hidden, and צל, shade, as the Midrash explains its petals cover and hide each other (see above חבה): Song Rabba 2:3 - “When it is small, it [a rose] is called חבצלת, and when it gets older, it is called שושנה… Why is it called חבצלת? Because it is חבויה בצלה, it hides in its shadow. It hides in its own shadow, because there are many petals that shadow [overlap] one another” (see also Matanot Kehuna there).[45]

  2. רחב (wide) - Gen. 26:22 - He called it Rechovot [רְחֹבוֹת], saying, ‘now Hashem has given us ample space [הִרְחִיב] and we will be fruitful in the Land.[46] הרחבה means enlarging an entity, attaching an addition onto the original. Of note is that רחב is a permutation of חבר, connection, because when two objects join together, the result is a single larger one. This is alluded to by: Shlah Hakadosh (Yoma - Perek Derech Chaim Tochachas Mussar [57]) - “Acquire for yourself a friend [חָבֵר]… Connect (חַבֵּר) yourself to him and always speak with him at length [רחב].”[47]

  3. תחב (jam, wedge)- In the Mishnah, we find the word תחיבה expressing a forceful connection of one object (in)to another, or tightly inserting something in between two objects.[48] For example: Ohalot 3:4 - “Two bones and on them [i.e. attached to them] about two olive measures worth of flesh [of a corpse]… this is impure. If they [the two olive measures] were forcefully inserted [תְחוּבִים] by a man, it is pure”; Bartenura - “The flesh wasn't originally attached to the bone; a person stuck it on, like someone who is תוחב, impales, meat onto a skewer.”