What's in a Word?

For the week ending 1 April 2017 / 5 Nisan 5777

Jumping for Passover: Part 1

by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

The Hebrew name for the holiday of Passover is Pesach. The Paschal Sacrifice with which the holiday is associated is likewise known as the Korban Pesach (Pesach Sacrifice). What does the word Pesach actually mean? Rashi (to Exodus 12:11; 12:13; and Isaiah 31:5) explains that the word pesach is an expression of dilug and kefitzah. The latter two words are types of jumping, and as we shall see, Rashi correlates the idea of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt to the act of jumping. In order for us to fully understand Rashi’s intent in doing so we must delve into the exact meanings of the words dilug and kefitzah, what each word implies, and how those ideas belay a deeper understanding of the word pesach.

The words dilug and kefitzah appear side by side in a Biblical passage that we read every year on the Shabbat of Passover: The voice of my beloved — behold it comes! — jumps (midaleg) over the mountains, jumps (mikapetz) over the hills (Song of Songs 2:8). What is the difference between these two different words used for jumping? In elucidating that passage, the Vilna Gaon explains, based on the Jerusalem Talmud (Beitzah 5:2), that kefitzah refers to a form of jumping whereby one lifts both feet from the ground. On the other hand, dilug refers to one who “skips” by grounding one foot and using the other foot to spring himself forward. This explanation is also cited by Maimonides (Rambam, 1135-1204) and the Rosh (Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, d. 1328), in their respective commentaries to the Mishnah (Ohalot 8:5).

Rabbi Shimshon of Shantz (d. 1230) offers another way of differentiating between these two words. He writes in his commentary to said Mishnah that dilug is the word used for an animal that jumps, while kofetz is the word used for a human being who jumps. Thus, while Maimonides understands that the difference between dilug and kefitzah is in the style of the jump, Rabbi Shimshon understands that the difference lies in the subject of the action — but both words equally refer to the same way(s) of jumping.

While Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura (1440-1500) cites both of these views in differentiating between dilug and kefitzah, Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz (1782-1860) takes issue with Rabbi Shimshon’s explanation. Bartenura openly accepts Maimonides’ approach and points to different sources which seem to contradict Rabbi Shimshon’s position. For example, the Mishnah (Bava Kama 2:3) which speaks of a case in which a goat jumps from a roof and damages another’s property, uses the word kofetz to describe the goat’s action. Similarly, when the Mishnah (Bava Batra 2:4) rules that one must distance his ladder four cubits from his neighbor’s dovecote so that a marten (a cat-like animal) cannot jump from the ladder to the dovecote, it also uses the word kofetz to describe the marten’s action. Furthermore, when the Talmud (Berachot 19b) relates the halacha that one is permitted to jump over human graves in order to greet a king, the word used for jumping is midaleg. These sources suggest that the word doleg is not exclusive to animals and the word kofetz is not exclusive to humans. Moreover, the above-cited passage in Song of Songs proves that both verbs can apply to the same subject.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) suggests that while both words mean to jump, the difference is in how high. The word dilug implies a higher jump than does the word kefitzah,because in the above-cited passage from Song of Songs the former is used for jumping over a mountain, while the latter is used for jumping over a hill. We may posit that the word dilug could more accurately be translated as “skipping”, while kefitzah means “jumping”. In English the verb “to skip” refers to a leaping gait while walking (e.g., “Johnny happily skipped down the street.”) and to the evasion of something unneeded or unwanted (e.g., “Johnny skipped the boring parts of the book.”). In truth, both actions are conceptually similar, as the advantage of the ambulatory skipping is that one avoids walking on top of something upon which he does not want to tread, effectively “evading” it. Similarly, in Hebrew, the verb form of dilug refers to both of these types of actions.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) explains that kefitzah refers to walking the distance of multiple footsteps with a single step. This may sometimes involve “jumping” above ground, but the goal of such a way of walking is simply its speed in getting to one’s place of destination. When one is kofetz he is not trying to avoid or skip over something; he is simply trying to reach his journey's end faster. The word kofetz is also used idiomatically to refer to any action performed in haste or without proper contemplation. For example, when the Talmud talks about somebody taking an ad hoc oath, he is said to have “jumped and sworn”. The miraculous shortening of one’s journey is known as kefitzat ha’derech, literally, “jumping of the path,” in allusion to the speed with which one reaches his final destination. Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lisa writes that dilug may actually denote a movement that’s faster than kefitzah, but the focus of dilug is nonetheless that which is skipped, rather than the speed of the act.

To be continued…

  • Author’s note: Le’Zechut Refuah Shleimah for Bracha bat Chaya Rachel

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