Monday, October 02, 2006


While most people use the night after Yom Kippur to begin building their sukkah, I prefer to begin by hammering out posts relating to the upcoming holiday. I have a bunch of topics planned, but if you have any Sukkot related language questions - please post them in the comments.

The verse where we receive the mitzva of lulav (Vayikra 23:40) says:
וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת, וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל

"On the first day you shall take ( u'lkachtem ) the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook"

Kutscher asks an important question. If the verb in the verse is לקח - why is the blessing על נטילת לולב - al netilat lulav? Why is the root נטל used instead of לקח? Both would seem to mean "to take".

His explanation is that while in Biblical Hebrew לקח meant "to take", by the time the Rabbis coined the blessing, the verb - from Akkadian influence - meant only "to buy". And the halacha is that one need not buy the lulav - it can come from hefker (i.e. have no previous owner) or be received as a gift. (I recently heard from Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher that Kutscher heard this idea from a high school student of his, who later became a famous rabbi - Mordechai Breuer).

What is "taken" in the ritual washing of the hands known as "netilat yadayim" נטילת ידים ? Kehati offers two possible explanations in his introduction to Masechet Yadayim:

a) Netilat yadayim refers to the taking of the water in the utensil used to wash the hands, and therefore refers to washing hands with a utensil. Kehati here quotes the Tosfot Yom Tov and Malechet Shlomo. Mark Steiner explains this approach here:

On the expression netilat yadayim: the expression seems to me to be elliptical for "netilat mayim leyadaim" (what is taken is water, not the hands). In Tractate Yadayim, the object of the verb "netila" is always mayim [water], not the hands, as in Yadayim 1:1 "natal [mayim] leyado ahat", Yadayim 1:2 "natal [hamayim] harishonim lemakom ehad," etc. In short, netalat yadayim is simply an elliptical expression for "taking water FOR the hands."

b) The action netilat yadayim comes from the Aramaic word natla נטלא - the vessel used for washing hands. The word natla, in turn, comes from the Greek antlion (bucket). Klein rejects this etymology of natla, and says it derives from נטל and should be viewed literally as "that which is lifted" or "that which is taken". A description and picture of a Greek antlia - machine for raising water - can be found here, and from this Greek root we also get the name of the constellation Antlia.

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