My Dear Deer
In the Haftarah for the Torah portion of Shemot, the prophet Yeshayahu decries the Kingdom of Israel’s moral decline by saying that its tzvi tiferet (“splendor of its glory”) had withered away (Isa. 28:1, 28:4). He predicted that, nonetheless,
Earlier in his prophecies, Yeshayahu also foretold that after
The Holy Land is described as the most tzvi of all other lands (Ezek. 20:6). Rabbi Yom Tov of Seville (1260-1330), also known as the Ritva, writes that this means that the Land of Israel is the most “beautiful” land. Radak, on the other hand, explains that this means that the Land of Israel is the most “splendid” and “desirable” of all lands, because it has the most perfect, balanced climate.
Various appellations of the Land of Israel refer to it as the Desired Land: eretz chefetz (Mal. 3:12), eretz chemdah (Jer. 3:19, Zech. 7:14, and Ps. 106:24), and eretz ha-tzvi (Dan. 11:16, 11:41). Just as chefetz and chemdah are different forms of “desire,” so too is tzvi. In one instance, the Holy Land is simply known as “the tzevi” (Dan. 8:9), because it is the most desirable of all lands (Ibn Ezra there), and is desired by all people (Gersonides there). Indeed, Midrash Shocher Tov (to Ps. 5) asserts that the Holy Land is called eretz ha-tzvi because all the nations of the world “desire” it and “want” it. Rasag (to Dan. 11:16) adds that the Holy Land is called eretz ha-tzvi because G‑d “wants” (i.e. chooses) that land to dwell His presence there.
The prophet Yechezkel criticizes the Jewish People for taking the “tzvi of
The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a, Chullin 60a) relates that when
In the book of Daniel the Aramaic word tzva (spelled TZADI-BET-ALEPH) appears in the sense of “wishes” or “wants.” Rabbi Eliyahu HaBachur (1469-1549), also known as Elias Levita, writes in Meturgaman that tzva means emet v’yatziv (“true and well-grounded”). At the same time, the word tamrukei (Est. 2:3-12) in the sense of “cosmetics,” is translated into Aramaic as tzavhata, which HaBachur explains is an expression of “beauty and glory.”
Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) explains that yatziv (“well-grounded”) and tzvi are related because both derive from the two-letter root TZADI-BET, meaning “standing” (see Gen. 24:13, Ex. 2:4, and Deut. 29:9). Something “well-grounded” stands on well-established bases, and so it is related to this root. Similarly, tzvi in the sense of “want” or “desire” is directly related to this root because something desirable always remains in one’s thoughts as though it is constantly “standing” in front of him.
Tzvi is also the name of a kosher wild animal (Deut. 14:5), commonly translated as “deer” or “gazelle.” Rabbi Pappenheim explains that the word for “deer” is related to “desire” because, although deer and does are usually quite tame, they are among the most desirous mammals and can become wild and dangerous when in heat during their matingseason.
I would suggest that “deer” is related to desire because deer are known for their ability to run swiftly, such that they are generally free to follow their heart’s “desires.” Moreover, as we have seen above, tzvi is also related to “beauty,” and we find that calling someone deer-like is a complementary term of endearment in the Bible (see Song of Songs 2:9, 2:17, 8:14). This likely refers to the deer’s sleek physique along with its beautiful antlers (although usually only the males have antlers, except for reindeer). Indeed, Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843-1916) posits that a deer is called a tzvi (from the TZADI-BET root) because of its elegant, stately way of “standing.”
Rabbi Pappenheim writes that other words derived from the biliteral TZADI-BET root include:
·matzeivah - a monument “erected” to mark a tomb or cultic place of idolatry.
·tzava - a “standing” army, ready to take orders (as opposed to a more haphazard militia which has to be assembled).
·tzavah - the act of bloating (Num. 5:21-22), because something swollen and distended is less likely to move from its place but will rather remain “standing” there.
·tzav - turtle (Lev. 11:29), whose large shell makes him appear “bloated”.
·tzav - covered wagon (Num. 7:3, Isa. 66:20), whose shape resembles a “turtle” (see also Bamidbar Rabbah §12:17 about why the wagons are called tzav).
Midrashic exegesis understands that tzvi asapplied to the Holy Land is related to “deer” rather than to “desire” or “beauty.” The Talmud (Ketuvot 112a, Sifrei to Deut. 11:10) says that just as a deer is bigger than its skin (such that once it is skinned, the skin shrivels and cannot be restretched over the deer’s body), so too are the fruits of the Holy Land more plentiful than the Land itself (i.e. Israel is geographically too small to store all the produce that it yields). Alternatively, just as a deer is light-footed and runs swiftly, so does the produce of the Holy Land ripen extra-quickly (see also Shemot Rabbah §32:2).
Although colloquially, tzava (with an ALPEH at the end) means “army,” it literally means “legion” (i.e., gatherings/groups of people). Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (1923-1986) and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) connect tzava to “desire/will/wanting” by offering the same idea: The army, or any group of people, can be said to be “joined” together if and only if they share a certain “want” or “desire.” If they unite for one common goal, then they can become one army. If not, they are just a hodge-podge of unrelated individuals.
When switching from Hebrew to Aramaic, the letter TZADI commonly transforms into a TET. This is true of the Hebrew tzvi (“deer”) whose TZADI transforms into a TET in Aramaic to become tvi. The Semitic TET-BET root in Hebrew and Aramaic means “good,” and of course “goodness” is something that is both “desirable” and “beautiful.”
The Modern Hebrew slang word sababa is untranslatable, but is used to express enthusiasm, satisfaction or agreement, along the lines of “awesome” or “cool.” It actually comes from the Arabic tzababa, which means “great/excellent” in spoken Arabic, although its technical meaning is “yearning/strong love.” This Arabic word is actually related to the Hebrew/Aramaic words that we have been discussing, and so sababa should actually be pronounced tzababa like its origins would suggest (similar to Baba Tzali becoming Baba Sali).
In short, the word tzvi has a plethora of meanings, including: “desire/wanting,” “deer/gazelle,” “beauty/glory,” “good,” and “delightful/awesome.” In next week’s article we will continue exploring the theme of “desire/wanting” by explaining how tzvi differs from the seemingly synonymous words ratzon and chefetz.
To be continued…
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