• yehoshua steinberg

Ki Tisa: Year of the Monkey? ~ Yehoshua Steinberg



Article abstract for Parashat Ki Tissa:

We are introduced in this Parashah to the Festival of Gathering, an alternative name for the Festival of Booths, at the תקופה of the year. The Targumim translate this word as "departure," (i.e. the end of the previous year) but this is difficult, since the holiday occurs well after the conclusion of the Jewish New Year. Rashi therefore emphasizes that the word actually means a cycle, and it refers to the beginning of the New Year.

This week's article examines the depth of this word by comparing it to other words listed by the early grammarians as deriving from the same root – including קוף, the frisky monkey! But surprisingly, upon close investigation of many words containing the same two-letter string, a distinct pattern emerges which sheds light on the underlying meaning, one bearing a profound lessons for our own lives.




וְחַג שָׁבֻעֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים וְחַג הָאָסִיף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה (שמות לד:כב).


You shall make the Festival of Weeks with the first offering of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of the In-Gathering shall be at the changing (תְּקוּפַת) of the year (Ex. 34:22).


In this essay we will attempt to discover the meaning of the word "תקופה" in this verse, as well as other words containing the letters 'קפ'.


As an introduction to the topic, we should point out that Ribag and Radak classify the variety of words containing 'קפ' in a few distinct entries:

1. Entry 'קוף' - the word תקופה [1] (as in this verse); as well as the animal known as קוֹף (monkey).

2. Entry 'תקף' - the word תוקף (might, power).

3. Entry 'יקף' - the word היקף (circumference).

4. Entry 'נקף' - words indicating cutting, breaking and injury.


What is the meaning of the word תקופה, and does it have any connection to a monkey? The word תְּקוּפָה denotes encircling and encompassing (היקף) - in our verse, the annual cycle of the year. Radak explains that a monkey's nature is to grab and surround objects with its hand-like paws; and that is the connection between תקופה and קוף.


Ribag adds that the letter ת' in תקופה is not part of its root, and it is similar to the expression לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה (at the turn of the year), which appears in II Sam. 11:1.[2]


By contrast, both Ribag and Radak (as well as Menachem) list the word תּוֹקֶף - which implies strength (חוֹזֶק) or forceful grabbing (לְהַחֲזִיק)[3] - under a separate root, תקף. We see, then, that with respect to the word תֹּקֶף, both agree that the letter תּis part of the root, even though תֹּקֶףappears related in meaning to the two words תְּקוּפָה and קוֹף, in that they all imply the concept of encompassing, as follows. We have already explained the connection between תקופה and קוף. The word תוקף means grabbing, which means holding an object by encompassing it in one's hands.


The word היקף (ambit, circumference)[4] itself is listed by Ribag and Radak in entry יקף. These authors listed an additional entry as well, נקף, under which they include words from verses meaning primarily cutting off, breaking, and bruising.[5] However, regarding a number of verses containing קף-based words that mean encircling,[6]they both indicate uncertainty as to whether to categorize them in entry יקף or that of נקף.


Menachem, following his thesis that the opening letters י and נ are almost always extraneous to the root, lists the verses meaning encircling and those meaning cutting off / destruction in a single entry, קף. He divides this entry into three subcategories, with only a single verse cited under the third subcategory, that of the primate, קוֹף.[7] Radak (under the entry קוף and the subcategory concerning encircling and encompassing) adds that the roots יקףand קוףhave similar meanings, namely, the matter of encircling.


What is the connection between encircling and cutting / injury? We would suggest that even the words dealing with bruises / cutting off are connected to the matter of encircling and encompassing. The explanation is as follows: We find many examples in Leshon Hakodesh of similar words that have two disparate meanings, and sometimes even opposite meanings (דָּבָר וְהִיפּוּכוֹ).[8] Here too, the notion of encircling can have both positive and negative characteristics.

For example, a belt is created for the beneficial purpose of fastening a garment, but fastening it excessively is liable to cause bruises and wounds[9] (or even worse, strangulation),


We also find this underlying conceptual connection of surrounding / encompassing (or its derivative meaning cutting / injury, as explained above) in other words containing the two letter string 'קף'. The following are seven examples to test our thesis:


1. קפד (A. hedgehog, B. cutting, C. binding / tying)

A (the hedgehog) As an introduction, let us point out that even the type of encircling that leads to cutting off can have a positive aspect to it, namely, encircling to separate and disengage from the enemy. This brings us to an animal called in Scripture קִפּוֹד, which, according to Rashi (to Isaiah 14:23), means heritzon in Old French.[10] Present-day books explaining Rashi’s Old French definitions explain that this refers to the hedgehog,[11] which is a herisson in Modern French, and is called a קִפּוֹד in Modern Hebrew. The קִפֹּדis also mentioned in Mishnah Kilayim (8:5), where Bartenura explains that its body is covered with sharp bristles, and when a person touches it, it rolls up like an orb, hiding its arms and legs in its stomach.[12] Thus, we have references to it folding itself into a circular and surrounding form in order to disconnect itself from the enemy.[13]

B. The root קפד also appears in Scripture as a verb, with most commentators defining it as cutting off: Isa. 38:12 - like a weaver I have קִפַּדְתִּי my life; Radak (paraphrased) - “I have cut off my life quickly, like a weaver, hurrying to cut off the rough edges of his fabric”; Metz. Zion - “קִפַּדְתִּי- this means cutting off, as in: a cutting off is coming (Ezek. 7:25). Ezek. 7:25 - קפדה בא, A cutting off is coming; they will seek peace, but there will be none; Rashi - “קפדה בא- a cutting off, similar to: I have cut off my life quickly, like a weaver (Isa. 38:12).”[14]

C. However, Malbim (to Isa. 38:12) writes that the word in that verse (קִפַּדְתִּי כָאֹרֵג חַיַּי), like the one in Ezekiel 7:25 (קְפָדָה בָּא), refers to binding and tying. Noting that Targum Yonatan always translates the verb קפד as shortened or limited,[15] Malbim sees its use in Ezekiel as meaning that they will be bound and tied up by chains , since the effect of chains and fetters is to restrain and shorten that which they are tied around.[16] Rashi (to Isa. 38:12) himself cites an alternate explanation of קפד that is not related to cutting off, and which may support the approach of Malbim. Rashi bases this on his version of Targum Yonatan, who translates the verse: קִפַּדְתִּי כָאֹרֵג חַיַּי, as: אִתְקְפָדוּ כְּנַחַל גְדוּדִין,[17] meaning, “a stream that flows quickly because it is bounded on both sides by high banks.” From this, Rashi infers that Yonatan interprets קִפַּדְתִּי as restrained.[18] Ergo, we find a form of restriction and gathering together in the interpretation of קפד by both Targum Yonatan and Malbim - the “restriction of the stream’s width by its banks” by Targum Yonatan, and the “physical restriction of the prisoners by their shackles” by Malbim.


Malbim takes this one step further, linking the verb form of קפד to the aforementioned self-furling creature called קִפּוֹד: “The animal covered with quills is likewise called קִפּוֹד in Hebrew and Aramaic, because it folds itself up (root קפל) when it encounters an enemy. Similarly, the [verb] root in Hebrew is based on the folding up of the chains, or the weaving threads that are woven together, as the warp and the weft are bound together.”[19]


In conclusion, there seems to be a dispute regarding the meaning of the verb קפד. Rashi and his camp interpret it as cutting, while Malbim understands it as restraining, tying, or binding. We should point out, however, that even these share a common aspect; one who is restrained by chains is no longer free, and effectively cut off from the world. These two characteristics also co-exist in the porcupine, which restrains its predators with its sharp quills.

2. קפל (folding) - The root קפל, with the opening letter ק, first appears in the Mishnah (Shabbat 15:3).[20] This later Hebrew word is derived from the Scriptural word כפל (doubling), with the opening letter כ, as noted by Malbim in his comments on the verse (Isa. 40:2): For she has received from the hand of Hashem double (כִּפְלַיִם) for all her sins. Noting the difference between כִּפְלַיִם and פִּי שְׁנַיִם, both of which mean double, Malbim explains that פִּי שְׁנַיִםsimply refers to a doubling of the total amount, whereas כִּפְלַיִם refers to a doubling via folding one half onto the other half (as in Ex. 26:9 -וְכָפַלְתָּ אֶת הַיְרִיעָה ).[21]


While Malbim differentiates between כִּפְלַיִםand פִּי שְׁנַיִם, the Sages used them interchangeably: Midrash Aggada Gen. [Buber] 70:1 - “Elisha was a great man, [as] you find that all the miracles that Elijah did, Elisha did twice as much [כִּפְלַיִם], as it states (II Kgs. 2:9): וִיהִי נָא פִּי שְׁנַיִם בְּרוּחֲךָ אֵלָי - May twice as much as your spirit be mine.”[22] Therefore, the root כפל does mean twice as much in quantity; however, the root קִיפּוּל in the Mishnah also derives from וְכָפַלְתָּ אֶת הַיְרִיעָה, and you shall fold the… curtain (Ex. 29:9), although here this root surely does not mean double the quantity, as Malbim astutely observes. In other words, while both words imply a doubling of quantity, there is an important distinction. Folding a garment doubles its thickness (height) on the one hand, but halves its length on the other. Thus, the single act of קיפול causes opposite outcomes:[23] A) doubling; B) cutting in half.[24]

3. קפץ (gathering, clenching) - Regarding the mitzvah of charity, the Torah states: Deut. 15:7 - Nor shall you (תִקְפֹּץ) clench your hand [shut] against your destitute brother.[25] Thus, the word תִּקְפֹּץ is understood as if it stated תִּקְבֹּץ or תִּקְמֹץ, both of which denote closing and clenching of the hand.[26] Gathering and closing represent another aspect of encircling and encompassing; the surrounded content becomes gathered together (מקובץ) and restricted within the encircling boundaries.

4. קפא (coagulated, frozen) - The concept of קִיבּוּץ (gathering) leads us to the root קפא(frozen, congealed), which is essentially the concentration and compaction of individual units into one solid קִיבּוּץ. Zeph. 1:12 - I will deal with the men who are frozen (הַקֹפְאִים) on their lees. Ibn Ezra cites the similar Scriptural usage in Ex. 15:8: קָפְאוּ תְהוֹמוֹת, the deep waters congealed, regarding the waters that rose up and stood still in the splitting of the Red Sea, noting that “something that settles and is gathered together is called קִפָּאוֹן.” Radak in Zeph. provides a nearly identical definition, citing as an example that the congealment of milk is called קִפָּאוֹן.[27]

5. עקף (circumambulate, circumvent, avoid) - The root עקף(circuitous) appears in the Talmud (Baba Kamma 113a) in a discussion regarding a particular monetary dispute, where it states that “we deal with him בעקיפין (in a roundabout way).”[28] This root is reminiscent of the root יקף ("הקף"), denoting encirclement and surrounding, albeit that עקףmay denote only a partial encirclement.[29]

6. חקופא (see explanation) - Ezra 2:51 - Sons of Bakbuk, sons of Chakufa, sons of Charchur[30] (these are families that ascended from Babylon). We often find examples whereby the Talmudic Sages homiletically expound on proper names mentioned in Scripture. Regarding the name חֲקוּפָא, they said: Gen. Rabba 71:3 - “There are those whose names are loathsome, but whose actions are admirable.”[31] The commentators explain that חֲקוּפָא is a loathsome name because it implies a קוֹף (monkey),[32] or הֲכָּאָה (hitting).