• yehoshua steinberg

Kedoshim: Sacrifice Delayed, Sacrifice Denied - Yehoshua Steinberg


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A discussion of the rare scriptural word פגול (abominable, loathsome), and its relationship with the range of other words containing the two-letter string פג.

וְכִי תִזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח שְׁלָמִים… בְּיוֹם זִבְחֲכֶם יֵאָכֵל וּמִמָּחֳרָת… וְאִם הֵאָכֹל יֵאָכֵל בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי פִּגּוּל הוּא (ויקרא יט:ה-ז).

When you slaughter a feast peace offering… It may be eaten on the day you slaughter it and on the next day… But if it shall be eaten on the third day, it is פגול; it shall not be accepted (Lev. 19:5-7).

There are two occurrences of the word פגול in the Pentateuch, and the word is rendered by Onkelus in both instances as מרחק (repugnant, repellent). Torah Sheleimah notes that Onkelus employs this root רחק in the translation of no less than six additional Scriptural words: עֲרֵלִים  (Lev. 19:23), נִדָּה  (ibid. 20:21), וָאָקֻץ  (ibid. v. 23), גָּעֲלָה  (ibid. 26:43), תוֹעֵבָה  (Deut. 7:26), שָׂנֵא  (ibid. 16:22).

The theme common to all seven phrases may be that all refer to an object or state that is forbidden or distanced[1] due to some defect.[2]

Torah Sheleimah suggests a connection between the wordsפגל  and פג, based on the position of Ribag and Radak,[3] who categorized פגל as changing, meaning that the status of the meat of an offering altered and set apart from its usual status: Torah Sheleimah (ibid. [section 17], paraphrased) – “It seems to me that there is a connection between the root of the word פגול and the root פג, which the grammarians searched diligently to find but did not. However, based on the approach of Ribag and Radak, we can say that the root is פג, as in: and its scent was not נָמָר (Jer. 48:11), which is translated by Yonatan as וריחיה לא פג.[4] This is what [the Sages] said,[5] that by a disqualifying thought at the time of slaughtering, holiness departs from the offering.”[6]

We suggest that a similar connection exists between all the words sharing the letters פג in Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, namely:

  1. פג, 2. פגל, 3. פגר, 4. פגע, 5. פגש, 6. פגם, 7. פגן, 8. ספג.

Let us examine them one by one.

  1. פג – In his first subsection of the entry ,פג Menachem cites the following verses: his heart paused [וַיָּפָג] (missed a beat),[7] I am faint [נְפוּגוֹתִי] and exceedingly crushed,[8] give yourself no respite [פוּגַת],[9] my eye will flow and not cease – without relief [מֵאֵין הֲפֻגוֹת],[10] my wound oozes through the night and does not cease [וְלֹא תָפוּג],[11] The Torah is weakened [תָּפוּג תּוֹרָה] [12]. The commentators explained the root פג with such diverse meanings as standing still / slackening / weakness, cessation, nullification, a break. However, the common denominator among them is prevention and withholding, as each of these roots expresses the prevention of progress of some sort.[13] In his second category Menachem added, “The fig’s פגיה have blossomed (Song 2:13).” Ibn Ezra explained that פגיה  means figs that are not yet ripe. Based on this, we could suggest that the two categories of Menachem have in common the ideas of tarrying, preventing and stopping.[14]

  2.  פגל – The core meaning was explained above as something withheld or distanced due to some defect.

  3. פגר – Yonatan Ben Uziel translates the wordפגר  (carcass) as פגול: I Sam. 17:46 – I shall offer the carcass [פגר] of the Philistine camp; Yonatan – ואתן פגול משרית פלשתאי.[15]

We demonstrated above that all the definitions of פגל involve distancing from something because of a defect, and this fits with other examples of the word פגר in Scripture, which indicate cessation, prevention and exhaustion,[16] such as: I Sam. 30:10 – Two hundred men remained, who were too exhausted [פִּגְּרוּ] to cross the Brook of Besor. פגר  also denotes destruction, as per the Targumim, where the root פגר appears as the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew term הרס (destruction).[17] The Hebrew words מפלה and גויה, both of which mean corpse, are also rendered as פגר in Targumim.[18] This last meaning of a dead carcass leads us to the next root, פגע:

  1. פגע – This word often takes on the meaning of death or injury.[19] The second definition of the word פגע is a chance meeting.[20] This meaning also conveys delay, waiting, and temporary stoppage, for the definition of a meeting is the devotion of time to engage with one’s fellow, although his other missions will consequently be delayed.

The common thread between these two meanings of פגע may be summed up as deficiency and loss. The deficiency in death is obvious. But we have demonstrated, there is also a loss entailed in the meaning of meeting – a loss of time. This could explain yet a third meaning deriving from פגע  – prayer / plea[21], for reciting prayers and entreaties entail “delaying” the other daily tasks to be accomplished, as above.[22]

However, the connection of פגע to prayer may actually lie in the first derivative meaning of   פגע mentioned above,  death or injury, as follows. There is a well-known dispute between Rambam and Ramban regarding the source of the obligation to pray. Rambam[23] holds that this is a general obligation, in that the Torah does not specify details such as time, place or circumstances. Ramban[24] on the other hand, maintains that the actual Biblical prayer requirement applies only in times of distress and danger (בעת הצרות ), from the verse: If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God (Num. 10:9). In any case, since Rambam too agrees that there is indeed Biblical obligation at least in times of affliction and tribulation (Rambam, Ta’aniot 1:1), ergo both concur that crying out to God in such times is a Biblical commandment. In other words, when death or injury threaten -when one is liable to פגיעה- this is precisely when he is obligated to call out entreaties to God.[25]

  1. פגש – As shown above in the root פגע, both meanings of this word – meeting and plea / prayer – involve a loss of time.

  2. פגם – When used in the Talmud concerning food, פגם means a food’s flavor has weakened.[26] In several instances, Rashi explains that this word derives from פג, as in Pesachim 30a, where he states: “we hold that when flavor [of a non-kosher ingredient] is imparted that is a פגם [to the food], the food is permitted. And this flavor, since it has been around for [all of] the days of Passover, its flavor has been weakened within the walls of the vessel.”[27]  פגם can also refer to damage to utensils, such as: Succah 48b – “On that day the corner of the altar was נפגמה.” Likewise, פִי חָרֶב, the sharp edge (or point) of the sword is translated by Yonatan as the פגם of the sword.[28] Perhaps it is so called in Aramaic because it causes weakening and destruction.[29] Or, because the sharpening of a sword causes פגמים in the blade itself.[30]

  3. פגן – This Aramaic word is the translation of the word scream, as in: the betrothed girl cried out [צָעֲקָה] (Deut. 22:27), which Yonatan translates asפָּגְנַת .[31] From here derives the word הפגנה, which in Talmudic vernacular means the forlorn person’s outcry for compassion (with the intention of weakening or softening his oppressor’s position). Rosh HaShanah 19a – Come and cry out [והפגינו] at night. So they went and cried out at night; Rashi – והפגינו They called out in the markets and in the streets so that the government ministers would hear and have mercy on them.

  4. ספג – This Aramaic word, meaning to absorb, appears in the Talmud in verb form specifically regarding one who receives / absorbs forty lashes for his intentional violation of a Biblical transgression.[32] This word as well appears connected to the root פג, because one who receives lashes is weakened physically.

From this root derives also the noun ספוג (sponge). The main purpose of this object is to absorb liquids, generally unwanted fluids, such as spills and cuts.[33]

In conclusion, all the words containing the letters פג in Biblical Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic, are connected to defect or weakening in quality, time, or strength. May the Master of the Universe deliver fatal blows (יפגע) against our enemies, making them absorb (שיספגו) blow after blow, until all their strength shall peter out (יפוג), and there shall remain be nothing but repugnant (פגול)

blowseeir present location (kudos to Binyamin Kaufman for this insight) carcasses (פגרים) from them, while we become ever stronger and ascend always higher and higher.

[1]  ומצינו “תפיגין” כתרגומה של “הסרה” (מושג קרוב  להרחקה): ש”א א:יד – הָסִירִי אֶת יֵינֵךְ; ת”י – תְפִיגִין יַת חַמְרִיךְ.

 [2]This definition also fits with the other nuances used by the Biblical commentators in their own interpretations of the word פגול: Targum Yerush. to Lev. 7:18 defines it as invalid / disqualified; Rashi to ibid. 19:7, Isa. 65:4 and Kid. 21b defines it as abominable / repugnant; Ribag and Radak (entry פגל) define it as a change in odor or appearance (seemingly a negative change); and RSR Hirsch and Haketav Vehakabbalah (Lev. 7:18) define it as separated / divided.

[3]  שהגדירו “פיגול”  כהשתנות ריח או מראה. כך לשון רד”ק (ערך ‘פגל’): הוא הבשר שנשתנה ריחו ומראהו.

[4]  ראה ריב”ג, רד”ק (ערכים ‘פוג’, ‘פג’), שפירשו ‘פג’  כענין רפיון וחלישות (כלומר, השתנות לריעותא – התרחקות ממצב תקין).

[5]  כגון זבחים ב:ג, ה.

[6]  ויש להעיר כי שרש ‘פגל’=’פלג’ (שסע, בקע) בחילוף מיקום אותיות. ת”י תרגם “ימיר” (שפי’  שינוי) במלה “מפלגין”: מיכה ב:ד – חֵלֶק עַמִּי יָמִיר; ת”י – תְּאֵיבִין חוּלְקַתְהוֹן מְפַלְגִין; רש”י – חלק עמי ימיר – נחלת חלק עמי נחלף לעכו”ם. “המיר” כאן הוא שינוי לריעותא -התרחקות / התפקעות ממצב תקין- וכן יש להציע בפתרון “פיגול” ע”פ קירבת ‘פגל’=’פלג’. גם “פיגול” מצביע על פקיעת עצם ממצבו המקורי / רגיל למצב גרוע יותר. ור’ הכוה”ק (וי’ ז:יח) שג”כ העיר על קירבת ‘פגל’=’פלג’, וגם קישר את כל עניני ‘פגל’ למשמעות  ריחוק (כולל “שינוי ריח או מראה” -התרחקות עיונית- ממצבו המקורי של עצם). ויש להעיר שתרגם התרגום ירושלמי (וכן המיוחס ליב”ע) את המלה “ויפג” במלה “פלג”: בר’ מה:כו – וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ; ת’ ירושלמי – וְאֲפְלַג לִבֵּיהּ ולפי האמור,  חלישות ורפיון, “הפגה” מתפרשת כמו התרחקות והפקעת גוף ממעמדו הרגיל.

[7] Gen. 45:26. Ibn Ezra defines וַיָּפָג to mean that Jacob’s heart stopped / became silent.

[8] Ps. 38:9. Metz. Tzion definesנְפוּגוֹתִי , תָפוּג, and תָּפוּג as referring to flaccidity / weakness.

[9] Lam. 2:18. Ramban (to Gen. 45:26) definesפוּגַת  as cancellation / cessation.

[10]  איכה ג:מט.

[11]  תה’ עז:ג; מצ”צ – תפוג – ענין רפיון וחלישות, כמו: תפוג תורה (חב’ א).

[12]  חב’ א:ד; מצ”צ – תפוג – ענין רפיון וחלשות, כמו: נפוגותי ונדכיתי (תה’ לח).

[13]  נעיר שרש”י פירשה מל’  חילוף והעברה בכל מקום במקרא, כמו: בר’ מה:כו – וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ; רש”י – ויפג לבו – נחלף לבו והלך מלהאמין. איכה ג:מט – מֵאֵין הֲפֻגוֹת; רש”י – מאין הפוגות – מאין חליפין והעברה. ת