Monday, April 23, 2012

Regarding Extra Words

In a recent post on DOVBEAR, blogger David A. makes the following statement:

As any student of Talmud learns fairly quickly, a fundamental axiom as relates to the study of the Torah is that the Torah is considered perfect and precise so that no text is ever to be thought of as redundant or extraneous. That is, every single word (maybe even every single letter) is meant to teach or convey something, even though we may not always know what is being taught.[1]

I believe that this view, stated in such a blanket way, is a misconception.

For one, we have a Gemara in Nedarim[2] which says as follows:

אמר רבי יצחק... עיטור סופרים... הלכה למשה מסיני.

Said Rabbi Isaac: The “adornments (or crownings) of the scribes” is a law (tradition) of Moses at Sinai.

Ran explains:

ועטור סופרים: תיבות יתירות שנכתבו ליפות הלשון, ונקראות עטור לפי שהן מעטרין את הלשון.

Adornments of the scribes: Extra letters written to beautify the language; they are called adornments because they adorn the language.

So we see it is accepted that there can be text which is extra, simply because it makes the passage read more pleasantly.

If that doesn’t say much, the Gemara in Chullin[3] takes it to a whole other place:

אמר רבי אמי: דברה תורה לשון הואי.

Said Rabbi Ami: The Torah spoke in exaggerated terms.

Rashi explains:

לשון הואי: לשון הדיוט שאינו מדקדק בדבריו ומוציא בפיו דבר שאינו, ולא שיתכון לשקר, אלא לא דק.

Exaggerated terms: The language of a layman who is not exacting in what he says, and releases from his mouth things which are not true; not that he intends to lie; only that he is not exact.

I think it would be a big mistake to overlook these passages.

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