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Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5769

Parashat Hashavuah: Targum Yerushalmi and Nachum Ish Gamzu vs. Targum Unkelus and R. Akiva

Harav Moshe Ehrenreich

Our parasha opens with the pasuk: “See, I am placing before you today the blessing and the kelala” (Devarim 11:26). Unkelus translates kelala, simply, as a curse. However, the Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi translate it as “chilufa (the alternative) [to the blessing],” which implies something that resembles the beracha. Why do they change the apparent meaning?

The gemara (Berachot 60b) deals with an apparent contradiction between mishnayot. One says to bless Hashem on bad news like he does on good news. Another mishna says that there is a different beracha for bad news (Dayan Haemet). Rava answers that the idea of the same blessing refers to the mindset of happiness that one should have when reciting Dayan Haemet. The gemara continues with a story about R. Akiva that epitomizes his statement, “kol d’avid Rachamana l’tav avid (whatever the Merciful does is for the good).” R. Akiva was forced to sleep in a field, where his light blew out and his donkey and rooster were killed by wild animals. R. Akiva repeated to say that all Hashem does is for the good. It turned out that bandits wreaked havoc in town that night and would have done so to R. Akiva had they noticed him due to his light or his animals’ noises.

The Maharsha wonders why the gemara did not bring the more impressive story of Nachum Ish Gamzu. He was sent to the Caesar with a gift, a box of precious jewels, but thieves removed the jewels and replaced them with dirt. The Caesar decided that the Jews were taunting him and decided to kill Nachum, who was repeating “gam zu l’tova (this too is for the good).” Eliyahu Hanavi appeared as a Roman officer and “proved” to the Caesar that the dirt was Avraham’s secret weapon that enabled him (and now the Romans) to win battles. Nachum was rewarded, for, as he would say, “this too was for the good.”

Why was R. Akiva’s statement in Aramaic, whereas Nachum’s was in Hebrew? Harav Michel Zilber says that this has to do with the fact that Hebrew is a on a higher level than Aramaic, which is known in Kabbalastic thought, as the rear of the Holy Language. Nachum’s story illustrates a higher level than R. Akiva’s. R. Akiva saw a situation of curse but with optimistic belief knew it would turn out retroactively for the better. Nachum saw, in the first place, the dirt as something good that would save. Maybe Nachum’s case was not brought because it refers to a higher level than we can relate to.

Unkelus’s translation relates to Bavel, a dark place where curses are seen as curses, which only later turn out to be good. Yonatan and Yerushalmi look at things on a higher level, whereby apparent curses are alternative blessings. As we read in the haftara “I am, I am your consoler,”- the double language indicates that we see mercy within the pain of exile. In contrast, “I am” at the giving of the Torah, where open miracles abounded, in which good was seen in a one-sided manner. 

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